JOURNEY TO PISIDIA – Sermons and Biblical Studies


Raymond L. Cox

[Raymond L. Cox, a frequent contributor to BIBLE AND SPADE, is pastor of the Salem, Oregon Foursquare Church. He has traveled extensively in Bible lands and has written over 1650 articles on biblical and archaeological subjects. In addition, he is the author of four books.]

Paul and Barnabas probably encountered “perils of waters, perils of robbers, perils in the wilderness,” besides “weariness and painfulness,” “hunger and thirst,” and probably even excessive “cold” (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26, 27) as they hiked from the malarial coastlands of Pamphylia to the highlands of Pisidia, but I have nothing but fond memories of my journey to Pisidia.

“I drive today where apostles walked,” the thought struck me as I steered my Hertz Volkswagen along the last 50 miles of roads and tracks which led to the ruins of Antioch. The highways Paul plodded likely were better than some of those I encountered in following his steps in modern Turkey, for he used Roman roads which were excellently engineered, well paved, and kept in good repair. But the difference between 40 miles an hour which I managed to drive and four miles an hour — the rate at which the apostles walked — more than made up for the dust and bumps of inferior tracks.

“Throughout ancient history,” wrote W.M. Calder, “we find the Pisidian mountains described as the home of a turbulent and warlike people, given to robbery and pillage” (p. 2400, vol. iv, International Standard Bible Encylcopedia). The Romans enlisted Galatian king Amyntas to subject the region, and when Amyntas died in 25 B.C. they annexed Pisidia, along with the king’s other possessions, into their own province of Galatia. Pisidian Antioch was the westernmost of the churches planted by Paul that the apostle addressed in his epistle to the Galatians.

Here was territory with a real “wild west” atmosphere. Throughout most of the region of Pisidia Roman occupation was strictly military. Numerous inscriptions attest to the presence of armed policemen and soldiers charged with keeping the peace in

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the area, and several mention attacks by highwaymen or rescues from drowning in rivers. Secular authorities confirm conditions to which Paul alluded, as both Conybeare and Howson and Sir William Ramsay point out.

How times have changed. There are few places in the world now where a foreigner would be safer travelling alone than here. The Turks, because of their warlike past, have a bad image which those I met, at least, do not deserve. I found them peaceable, hospitable, meek, and helpful.

After skirting the southern shore of beautiful Lake Egridir for a short distance I reached the town named after the lake. A kiosk along the main street sported a sign, “Turizm Danisma” meaning “tourist information.” The friendly attendant who spoke a little English answered my questions concerning the route to Pisidian Antioch where Paul preached first in Asia Minor and where he and Barnabas were driven out of town. The Turk drew me a map detailing directions from Yalvac, the nearest village to the ancient site.

Because Seleucus I Nicator named 16 cities for his father Antiochus, the several towns needed additional designations. Queen of them all, indeed queen city of the entire East, was Antioch of Syria from which Paul and Barnabas departed at the outset of the missionary journey which brought them to Pisidia. Farther west

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The Ruins of Antioch of Pisidia, where Paul preached a stirring message in the Jewish Synagogue (Acts 13).

sprawled an Antioch-on-the-Meander. Augustus tried to change the name of Pisidian Antioch to Caesarea, but the old name stuck. Nevertheless, this town proved a loyal bastion of Rome, a very civilized center in the midst of an uncivilized or not too civilized region.

After sampling the local color at Yalvac, a town whose crude masonry includes much stone and marble quarried from the ruins of ancient Antioch, I followed the directions on my map, and about a mile north of Yalvac found the site of the Pisidian metropolis on the lower slopes of a mountain rising on the right bank of the River Anthius which continues southward to spill into Lake Egridir.

Most of the few visitors who venture to the site content themselves with inspecting the stones askew around a weather-beaten sign reading “Antiochia in Pisidiae”“ where the track from Yalvac forks. But there is considerably more to see here.

I took the track leading to the right at the road junction and a short distance later spied a sign pointing across a pasture to the heart of the ancient city. The ground appeared firm and I didn’t relish a long walk, so I steered the car along a barely discernible

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track across the rolling terrain and parked it right in the middle of what had been the Square of Tiberius, center of the ancient city’s political, social, and religious life.

When Paul and Barnabas came to Antioch, they were welcomed to the Jewish Synagogue on the first sabbath they were in town. According to the custom, Paul addressed the congregation as a visiting rabbi. Acts 13 gives the substance of his stirring sermon. Apparently he sensed that his initial reception there was a calm before the storm, because he fervently warned the audience not to resist the message. After tracing Israel’s history from their Egyptian ghetto at Goshen to the reign of King David, the apostle related Jesus Christ to His royal ancestry, then emphasized the Savior’s death and resurrection with a view to effecting the forgiveness of sins. “By Him all that believe are justified from all things which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39), the apostle announced as he neared the end of the first of his sermons to be reported in detail in the New Testament. Perhaps he detected a reaction to his announcement of justification beyond the scope of

The Square of Tiberias in Antioch of Pisidia. Was it here that “the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13:50)?

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Moses’ law. Jews were especially jealous of keeping Moses high on a pedestal. Did they revolt at the idea of according greater homage to Jesus? Something prompted Paul to append the warning, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you” (Acts 13:40–41).

Excavators from the University of Michigan, who worked here in the 1920’s, did not find the ruins of the synagogue where Paul preached. They did not, of course, unearth the whole city. Moreover, the site had been a quarry long before they arrived with their spades. Leicester B. Holland, in the “Preliminary Report on the Excavations at Pisidian Antioch,” complained that even while his archaeological expedition was working there “a half mile of macadam road was built of stones from the ancient site” (p. 437, American Journal of Archaeology, October to December 1924). The pirating of ruins has continued. Much more was visible in 1923 than I saw in 1973.

But I did see the Square of Tiberius and on a higher level above it

The Square of Augustus in Antioch in Pisidia. This was one of the main public gathering places and it is possible that Paul and Barnabas shared their faith here.

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The ruins of this Byzantine church give silent testimony to the effectiveness of Paul and Barnabas’ ministry in Antioch in Pisidia.

the Square of Augustus. Surely Paul and Barnabas witnessed in these centers between their two sabbaths at Antioch. But they may have kept their distance from the semi-circular esplanade on the east end of the higher square. The apostles would have abominated the temple complexes there dedicated to the deified emperor Augustus and the area’s ancient deity, the moon god Men.

Antioch survived as a city into the eighth century when an Arab invasion destroyed it. Though the apostles were only there about a week, they planted a Christian church which survived for centuries, although its greatest growth had to await the conversion of Constantine and the legalization of Christianity throughout the Empire, Paganism held out in Pisidia more tenaciously than elsewhere. But it eventually capitulated to the gospel. My most satisfying moments at Antioch were spent prowling the precincts of a Byzantine church a little to the west of the Square of Tiberius. The archaeologists also unearthed another church northwest of the Square of Augustus, discovering a mosaic pavement and an inscription mentioning the name of Optimus, the bishop of Antioch from 375 to 381 A.D.

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Paul’s preaching on the first sabbath made a greater impact on the Gentiles of the audience than on the Jews. Apparently these interested heathen rounded up their acquaintances by the droves, because Luke reports, “And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:45). A confrontation ensued. “When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you, but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:45–46). The city’s Gentiles welcomed the message and many believed. As a result “the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region” of Pisidia (Acts 13:49). But Paul and Barnabas couldn’t publish it personally. Jews instigated persecution against the apostles and the political leaders of the city “expelled them out of their coasts” (Acts 13:50).

But the apostles came back in a few weeks or months to confirm the disciples in Antioch. And Paul with Timothy and Silas came again to Pisidia at the beginning of his second missionary journey. Moreover, he kept in touch somewhat by correspondence, with the Epistle to the Galatians.

It was a thrill to walk in the very areas visited by Paul and Barnabas centuries before. But what a contrast! Today there is absolutely no one at the site of Antioch to resist or accept the message of Christ. The city has dissolved into a ghost of history. But the truths the apostles proclaimed there live on and continue to command devotion throughout the whole world.

For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself. Colossians 1:19, 20