Paul’s First Preaching Mission?

The first-century travels of Paul as outlined in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles help to shed light on the formation of some of the earliest Christian house churches in the world. Certainly Acts uses some fanciful imagery and supernatural events to combine tradition with evangelization but this need not stop us from gaining insight into one of the first organized outreach efforts of the young movement, those sponsored by Antioch and therefore appropriately deemed “Christian.” Acts’ chronology and organization of events may not be entirely trustworthy, however. Reasons exist, for example, for questioning its story of Paul and Barnabas’s join mission to Cyprus and Asia Minor, their first reported trip together.

For one thing, their first stop is said to be the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12). There is no reason to question the Antioch church’s efforts there; it seems to have sponsored several such missionary trips to Cyprus (e.g. Acts 15:39). However, at this point in the story of Acts, Barnabas is the leading apostle in Antioch (Acts 11:22, 13:1) yet Paul is depicted as performing all the important work on Cyprus. Paul, it must be remembered, is the author’s hero in Acts and we can be suspicious of his elevation in status at this point. Barnabas is said to have actually been born on Cyprus (Acts 4:36) and would have known the island and many of its inhabitants including a number of its synagogue members. His cousin, John Mark, is said to accompany the two (Acts 13:5); he may also hail from Cyprus. Paul would therefore be unlikely to have driven events there if he even went.

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