Paul the Great Trailblazer
Posted by foryourfaith on April 25, 2010
Like many other educated people of his day, the Apostle Paul traveled a great deal. A century before, the Roman general Pompey had cleared the Mediterranean of pirates, making sea voyages safe. Roman roads had made land travel less burdensome, and many towns had some sort of accommodations for travelers and their animals.
Although much of the travel was commercial, authors intrigued readers with their tales of exotic places. India, for example, was already the mysterious East. And professional guides plied their trade at some of the more popular tourist attractions – among them, the pyramids of Egypt, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the site of the ancient city of Troy.
Paul, however, did not travel for pleasure. Rather, he traveled to found communities devoted to the worship of Jesus Christ, Lord of the world. Paul’s letters do not reveal whether he appreciated the beauty of that world, or what he saw of the aesthetic achievements of artists and architects. Instead, he seems to have been single mindedly focused on carrying his gospel to as much of the Roman world as he could.
Paul was not a solitary traveler. Whether by land or sea, his missionary journeys were undertaken with others (some are named in his letters). They carried with them the necessary food, drink, and clothing, and, on trips through mountainous territories, they used pack animals.
These travels obviously involved both planning and expense. How did Paul finance these journeys? One theory is that Paul supported his missionary activity by his own labor. However, his letters reveal that he sometimes accepted church support for his endeavors. It is difficult to imagine that Paul’s earnings a could have paid for the extensive itinerary and the men and supplies involved. It is more likely that the new congregations provided financial support whenever it was necessary.
Paul reported that he traveled to many of the major cities and several provinces of the Roman Empire, including Damascus, Antioch, Troas, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth. And from his letters, it is clear that he anticipated a trip to Rome. Among the provinces he visited were Syria, Cilicia, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Illyricum. Thus, in his missionary work, Paul covered many cities in the northeastern part of the Roman Empire.
Paul may also have been preparing to travel to the West. In one letter he mentioned a possible trip to Spain. Whether he ever achieved that goal is questionable; he was arrested in Jerusalem and imprisoned in Rome. Though he was rumored to have been executed by Nero, there is no explicit historical evidence that this happened. Thus, it is possible that Paul completed more of his missionary plans than the record shows.
Paul’s mission was not simply to establish Christian communities. As a true minister, he was concerned that the churches be firmly rooted and settled in their faith. According to Acts, his founding visit often lasted months or years, and when possible, he paid return visits.
Part of Paul’s strategy of maintaining contact with the fledgling churches was his letters. To the Corinthian church he wrote, “I write this while I am away from you, in order that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority which the Lord has given me for builting up and not for tearing down.” The Corinthian letters suggest that Paul visited the church at Corinth at least three times and perhaps more.
In the Book of Acts, Paul’s missionary journeys are described as three large, circular tours that began and ended at some major city in the East, Antioch or Jerusalem. However, Acts was probably written a number of years after these trips occurred, and its author may not have known all of the details of Paul’s extensive itinerary. In his own writings, Paul mentioned or implied having visited a number of places which Acts does not discuss.
But the true meaning of Paul’s travels lies beyond the exact details of his itinerary. Clearly he covered an impressive amount of territory despite frequent setbacks. These included not just privation from scant supplies, the rigors of weather, raging rivers, and attacks by highwaymen, but such extraordinary hardships as being shipwrecked three times. He was hounded by both Jew and Gentile adversaries, captured, beaten, and cast into prison.
In one ingnominious occasion, Paul made a remarkable escape from his enemies. He wrote, “At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands” (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).
Paul’s story is one of human struggle, much of it painful and all of it challenging. The mystery and meaning lie in the courage and stubborn faith of the Apostle, who refused to quit despite obstacles that would have forced a lesser man to retreat.