Donald W. Burdick
[Dr. Donald W. Burdick is head of the New Testament Department of the Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver, Colorado. He served as translator and editorial committee member for the New International Bible, sponsored by the New York Bible Society, and is a contributor to the Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Dr. Burdick is also the author of Tongues: To Speak or Not to Speak and The Epistles of John and is editor of the Conservative Seminarian.]
An in-depth visit to the Pauline missionary sites is worth more to the student of the New Testament than a thousand books on the subject. This is the judgment with which one returns from tracing the steps of the great Apostle. While such a statement may be an exaggeration, it does illustrate the immeasurable value of walking where Paul walked and seeing what he saw. For two and one-half months in the spring of 1972, it was my privilege to enjoy such an experience. The purpose of this two-part series is to help you, through my eyes, view some of the places where Paul traveled with the gospel. We will “take a look” at several highlights from each of his journeys.
Paul’s First Missionary Journey
After traversing the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed the 180 miles of sea that separated Paphos and Perga in Pamphylia. Luke does not tell us whether or not they ministered in Perga on this first visit, but he does report that on their return trip they “preached the word” there (Acts 14:25).
I spent a Sunday morning wandering among the ruins of this ancient Pamphylian metropolis. The extent and preservation of the ruins enable us to picture something of the impressive beauty of Perga in Paul’s day.
Excavations at Perga were conducted on behalf of the Turkish Historical Society in 1946, and from 1953 to 1957, and again in 1967. The Greco-Roman city lay at the foot of an acropolis and was roughly rectangular in shape. It was surrounded on three sides by cut stone walls that stood 40 feet high. Even today some of the towers of the east wall are still over 35 feet in height.
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The city gate is flanked by two round towers that retain most of their original 40-foot height. From these two towers a curved wall fans out on either side, forming a horseshoe-shaped courtyard. The interior of these walls was once covered with a facade of white marble. Large niches in the walls contained statues of the founders of Perga and of such pagan deities as Hermes and Aphrodite.
Beyond this magnificant gateway the main street of the city extends through the center of town to the base of the acropolis. The paving stones, still in place, are marked with ruts worn by the wheels of carriages. A water channel, approximately four feet wide and two feet high, runs down the middle of the street. On either side of this once-beautiful avenue, colonnades ran the full length, with shops opening onto the covered sidewalks.
Colonnaded street with water channel in Perga where Paul “preached the word.” The main city gate can be seen at the end of the street.
Along a similar street bisecting the city from east to west stand the ruins of a 250-foot square palaestra, or physical training school, that may have been under construction when Paul visited Perga. Portions of the front walls still stand with windows looking out over the street. The building was dedicated to the Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54).
A short walk outside the city gate brings us to the Greco-Roman theater, constructed to accommodate 15,000 persons. The semi-circular
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structure was there in Paul’s day, although various features have been subsequently added.
Even today, after so many centuries, I was impressed with the evident grandeur of this first-century city where Paul walked and preached. To walk the same colonnaded avenue today is to appreciate more fully the life and ministry of the great Apostle.
Derbe and Kerti Hüyük
Leaving Perga, Paul and Barnabas pushed 100 miles north across the dangerous, robber-infested Taurus Mountains to Pisidian Antioch. Another 80 or 100 miles took them to Iconium and then to Lystra some 20 miles to the southwest. The last city to be visited on this first journey was Derbe.
Prior to 1956 it had been assumed that Derbe was located at Gudelisin, about 60 miles south of Konya (ancient Iconium). However, in 1956 a statue base was found on the slopes of a mound known as Kerti Hüyük about 15 miles northeast of the modern city of Karaman. This 2,000-pound block, which mentions the people of Derbe, today stands in the courtyard of the archaeological museum in Konya. Another inscription referring to Derbe came to light in 1958. Some debate has occurred concerning the site where it was discovered, but the residents of Sudaraya, a small Turkish village within sight of Kerti Hüyük, insist that it came from the latter site. Identification of Kerti Hüyük as the location of ancient Derbe is further confirmed by potsherds found on the surface of the mound, most of which come from the Greco-Roman period.
It thus seems reasonably certain that Kerti Hüyük is the site of ancient Derbe. So the discovery of New Testament sites continues. It now remains for archaeologists to uncover the ruins of the ancient city that are presumed to lie buried within the hüyük. (Note: Hüyük is a mound built up by successive destructions and reconstructions of an ancient city and finally covered over by blowing dust and sand.)
Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
Paul’s second journey would have taken him from Syrian Antioch north along the Mediterranean and then west to his hometown of Tarsus. From there he would travel north through the Cilician Gates (a narrow cut through the Taurus Mountains) and then in a
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northwesterly direction ending eventually at Troas in what is today northwestern Turkey (Acts 15:42 — 16:8). This trek, at the shortest, was some 850 miles in length. It has been estimated that, travelling on foot, Paul would have been able to cover about 20 miles a day in fairly level country.
After he had the vision of the man of Macedonia, the Apostle sailed from Troas for Neapolis, a voyage of some 130 miles across the Aegean Sea (Acts 16:11). Today Neapolis is known as Kavalla and is the fifth largest city in Greece. It is a delightful place, retaining some of the characteristics of the town of Paul’s day. The pretty harbor is still there. The light colored houses mounting the hill to the east from the water’s edge are not greatly different in appearance from those Paul surveyed as he sailed into the harbor.
Along the Egnatian Way
To the north lie the Symbolon Hills. A modern Greek highway climbs to the northwest out of Kavalla, generally following the route of the ancient Egnatian Way. Egnatia was built about 145 B.C., and stretched from Dyrrachium on the Adriatic Sea to Byzantium (modern Istanbul), a distance of 490 miles. It was this road that Paul
The Egnatian Way as it leaves Kavalla (ancient Neapolis). Paul undoubtedly travelled this road in going from Neapolis to Philippi (Acts 16:11, 12).
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would have followed as he set out for Philippi (Acts 16:12), some nine miles by the modern highway. At one point along the road a concrete pavillion has been constructed over a lovely Greek restaurant. As we looked over the railing we saw the stone pavement of the ancient way below us as it makes its way over the hills.
At Philippi the Egnatian Road runs along the northern edge of the agora (the market place). Here, as in the main street at Perga, the stone pavement contains the ruts that ancient carriages cut by constant use. At the western end of the agora archaeologists have located the foundations of an archway through which the Egnatian Way passed. A short distance from town the road approached the Gangites River. It is at the point where the road first reaches the river, that some locate the place of prayer where Lydia was converted (Acts 16:13–15). However, a short distance further west along the stream there is a section of ancient cut stones at the water’s edge which is known as the Baptisterium of Lydia. Nearby on the main road is a small town also called Lydia. Apparently this second spot has the testimony of tradition behind it, although the first spot is nearer to Philippi. While it is impossible to prove which site was the location of the place of prayer, it seems certain that it was one or the other.
On a number of occasions as Paul went to this place of worship he was hounded by a demon-possessed slave girl who kept shouting after him. When Paul cast the demon out of her, the owners dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates (Acts 16:16–21). The location of this official hearing was probably the judgment seat (Greek, bema; Latin, rostrum) which stood at the north edge of the agora just below the Egnatian Way.
Today, the steps that led up to the stone platform on either side can still be seen. It is true, however, that the agora was rebuilt in the second century A.D., and therefore the present remains may not go back to Paul’s time. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that the location of the judgment seat is the same as it was in the first century.
From Philippi the Egnatian Way ran westward through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia (Acts 17:1). In Apollonia I was shown around the town by a Greek named Kelles Evangelos. He identified the ancient road running through the town as “Egnatia.” Then he took me to a large rock standing some ten feet above the edge of a stream and told me that the Apostle Paul preached the word there, a
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tradition which is perpetuated in Apollonia.
The Egnatian Way appears again as the modern traveller enters Thessaloniki. Here Egnatia is one of the main streets running through this city of 400,000. At the northwest end of modern Egnatia Street, near the railroad station, there is a public square known as Axios Square. Until 1876 it was the site of a large archway called the Vardar Gate on which was located an inscription that served to confirm the accuracy of the Acts record. In Acts 17:6 Luke refers to “the rulers of the city” (Greek, politarchs). Since the word politarch had not been found outside Acts, some scholars accused Luke of fabricating the term. But the accuracy of Luke was demonstrated when the word was discovered on the Vardar Gate. After the arch was torn down in 1876 the politarch inscription was taken to the British Museum. At least sixteen other occurrences of the term politarch have since been found.
Athens, Temple-Center of Antiquity
Driven from Thessalonica by angry Jews, Paul proceeded to Berea and from there to Athens. Standing in the midst of the ancient Athenian ruins, one is impressed with the many pagan temples that the city contained. Acts 17:16 indicates that Paul was distressed “when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” Most outstanding of all would have been the temples that crowned the Acropolis overlooking the town. Still today the visitor to Athens sees the famed Parthenon, once dedicated to the city’s patron goddess Athena. Near it is the Erechtheum, where Athena Polias and Poseidon-Erechtheus were worshiped. At the entrance to the Acropolis stands the beautiful little temple of Athena Nike. Below the Acropolis to the southeast are the Corinthian columns of the temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the four largest temples in the Roman world. At the west edge of the Greek Agora, also clearly visible from the Acropolis, stands the temple of Hephaestus, one of the best preserved of Greek temples. Just below it in the Agora are the foundations of the temple of Apollo Patroos, the father of the Athenians. South of the Apollo temple are the remains of the Metroon, the sanctuary of the mother of the gods. In front of the temple of Apollo are the ruins of the fifth century B.C. temple of Ares, the god of war. Everywhere idolatry was in evidence. All of life — business, government, entertainment, athletics — was intimately entwined with the worship of the gods. It is no wonder that Paul’s “spirit was stirred in him” as he witnessed the Athenians’ total
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involvement in false worship.
Another striking feature in Paul’s day was the two-story Stoa (porch) of Attalus extending 385 feet down the east side of the Agora. Built about 150 B.C. this beautiful building housed 21 shops on each floor. A wide two-aisled promenade ran the full length of the Stoa in front of the shops. Enough of the walls and architectural features of the building survived the destruction of the centuries so that an unusually detailed and accurate restoration has been possible. Between 1953 and 1956 it was rebuilt with $1,500,000 of American money. It is most reasonable to assume that as Paul “disputed … in the market place daily” (Acts 17:17), he walked the promenade of the Stoa of Attalus.
Excavation is still being carried on at the northern edge of the Agora across the Athens-Piraeus railway. Here in 1970, 20 feet below the surface, archaeologists discovered a stoa or porch which has been identified as the Royal Stoa where Socrates was condemned to death. There may also be good reason to believe that it was in this building, rather than on the Areopagus (Mars Hill), that Paul spoke to the Areopagus Council (Acts 17:19–34).
The reconstructed Stoa of Attalus on the edge of the Agora in Athens. It was probably here that Paul “disputed … in the market place daily” (Acts 17:17).
Next issue: “Corinth to Miletus”
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