Paul's First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:1–15:35)

The apostle Paul is known to have taken three missionary journeys during which he founded or planted many churches and ministered to many others. All of this took place following his post-conversion preaching, training, travel, and time in Antioch, Syria, which had become the center or base of the Christian church.

In Acts 13:13, we read of a man named Mark leaving Paul during his first missionary journey. While that isn';t a great way to start a life of ministry, Mark finished strong. It is believed that this is the same Mark who penned the gospel that bears his name.

Paul is referred to as the first missionary to the Gentiles, and the start of his first journey is recorded in Acts 13. This journey took place around A.D. 46–48 and was his shortest — both in time and in distance traveled. But it was this first journey that established Paul as a key figure in the spread of the gospel of Christ to the Gentile world. Acts gives this account of Paul and Barnabas';s commissioning:

Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way. (Acts 13:1–3)

On Paul';s first journey he was accompanied by men named Barnabas and Mark. The journey began in Seleucia, the seaport of Antioch in what is now Syria (Acts 13:1–4). From there, Paul, who was still called Saul, sailed to the island nation of Cyprus. They landed in the city of Salamis, where they preached in the Jewish synagogues (13:5). They then traveled the entire southern coast of Cyprus until they reached a place called Paphos (13:6), where the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus was converted after Paul rebuked a sorcerer there (13:6–12). It was at this time that Paul became the leader in the missionary journey, and also when his name was changed from Saul to Paul (13:9, 13).

From there, Paul and Barnabas visited the following places:

  • Perga, where John Mark left them (Acts 13:13)

  • Pisidian, Antioch, where many were converted (13:14–41)

  • Iconium, where many Jews and Gentiles alike were converted (13:51)

  • Lystra, where Paul was stoned (14:8–19)

  • Derbe (14:20)

  • The Bible says that after visiting Derbe, Paul and Barnabas returned by ship to their home base of Antioch (Syria) and that, “Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too” (Acts 14:27). Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for a period of time (probably around a year) after that first missionary journey, dealing with various issues and questions in the church there. But it was only a matter of time before Paul had the urge to go and do what God had called and prepared him to do.

    Study Questions

    How was Barnabas referred to when he is first introduced in the book of Acts (Acts 13:1)?

    While in Salamis, where did Paul and Barnabas preach?

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