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How many mission journeys did Paul take?

Posted by on Sep 5, 2012 in missional, spiritual gifts | 9 comments

How many mission journeys did Paul take?

Usually, when someone asks the question that I’ve asked in the title of this post, the answer revolves around whether or not someone believe Paul actually traveled to Spain. The answer is usually given as three journeys if the person does not believe that Paul went to Spain, or four journeys if the person does believe that Paul went to Spain.

But, that’s not what this post is about. Scripture does not tell us whether or not Paul traveled to Spain, but in the Book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, we can tell that Paul went on many more than four journeys.

Now, the standard three journeys taken by Paul are taken from Acts 13-14 (Cyprus and southern Asia Minor), Acts 16-18 (southern Asia Minor and Macedonia, primarily Corinth), and Acts 19-20 (Asia Minor and Macedonia again, primarily Ephesus).

But, according to Paul, once he left Macedonia in Acts 20, he was on another journey assigned to him by the Holy Spirit to go to Rome via Jerusalem (Acts 20:16,22). Since Paul sees himself as being sent by the Spirit to Rome, this is another missionary journey (remember, “missionary” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek term meaning “sent”).

But, believe it or not, these are not all of Paul’s missionary journeys. For some reason, people tend to begin viewing Paul as an apostle beginning in Acts 13. While Acts 13:1-4 is an amazing passage of the Spirit and the church in Antioch sending Barnabas and Paul, that particular journey ended in Acts 14. Luke specifically states in Acts 14:25-26 that when Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch, they have completed the task they had been sent to do in Acts 13.

Paul’s journeys began very early after his conversion near Damascus. After being visited by Agabus, Paul immediately began proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in the synagogues in Damascus (Acts 9:20). When he was run out of town, Paul went to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). After staying in Jerusalem for a while, he then went to Caeserea in order to sail to Tarsus, his home town (Acts 9:30).

This still is not the end of Paul’s journeys. He was still in Tarsus when God began to save Gentiles around Antioch. When Barnabas went to Antioch to help the young church there, he went to Tarsus to ask Paul for his help. Once again, Paul found himself traveling, this time going from Tarsus to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).

(By the way, according to Paul in Galatians 1:17, he also traveled to Arabia for three years at some point during his other journeys.)

In other words, Paul’s life from the time of his conversion was one of almost constant travels punctuated with a few periods of staying in one location for a time. This is exactly what I would expect from someone gifted by God as an apostle. Remember that the term “apostle” is from the Greek term that means “one who is sent.” Paul lived as one who was sent by God from place to place.

Finally, there is even indication in Scripture that Paul’s traveling nature was built into him by God. (Perhaps Paul has this in mind partially in Galatians 1:15.) We know that Paul was originally from Tarsus. But, we first meet him in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58). And, we later see Paul traveling on behalf of the Jewish leaders (Acts 9:1-2).

So, how many mission journeys did Paul take? It’s almost impossible to count them all, but it’s definitely more than four, even if he never made it to Spain.

(I want to thank my good friend Art from churchtaskforce.org and waginglove.com for helping me think through itinerant [traveling] service in Scripture.)


9 Comments

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  1. 9-5-2012

    Love the content and insights you shared here and how succinctly you can say things! An apostle travels to serve. A lot. As simple a description as I’ve seen.

  2. 9-5-2012

    The challenge today is to affirm what is legitimate regarding itinerant ministry as we see it in the New Testament via Paul (and others) as an example – while rejecting much of the illegitimate itinerant stuff being touted today.

    That stuff includes the extra-Biblical and very dangerous teaching on the absolute need for an itinerant “apostle” to plant and help new churches; itinerant dependance; itinerants who (unlike Paul) are detached and have no Antioch and thus home church accountability; and the dangerous trend toward itinerants seeking to make their own measure of Christ, gifts and motivations normative for all – rather than lay a proper foundation on the fulness of Christ.

    Interestingly, the early 1st century church also confronted these issues and developed very specific shared limits on itinerant “apostles”, “prophets” and “teachers” in the Didache – which is the earliest Christian document we have apart from the books of the New Testament. Although not authoritative for us today, we would do well to heed the lessons of history.

  3. 9-5-2012

    Pretty awesome!

    Everywhere we go is a mission field, even inside the church is a mission field and we are all sent to spread the good news!

  4. 9-5-2012

    Art,

    I seriously appreciate learning from you about this topic. You’ve helped me work through many of these issues.

    Jim,

    I love the Didache, and it definitely shows that early believers struggled with traveling servants. Of course, Paul and others may have been deemed a “false prophet” based on the rules in the Didache. :)

    tcavey,

    Yes, we are on God’s mission regardless of whether we travel or not. Some people (like Paul) are specially gifted by the Spirit to travel from place to place, and that is demonstrated in his entire life.

    -Alan

  5. 9-5-2012

    Alan,
    One of the overlooked aspects of Paul’s salvation is that Jesus said He would show Paul how much He must suffer for Him. I believe this is in direct response and petition to Stephen who said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” as he was being stoned to death with Saul of Tarsus giving approval.

    Just a thought, not a Bible lesson.

  6. 9-5-2012

    You know, perhaps a better question that has present-day application would be: Just how many,licks did it take Paul to get to the center of that Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, anyways?

  7. 9-6-2012

    Donald,

    I think these questions are important because they can help people today who are gifted as apostles, but aren’t really sure what that means? Or people who have a built-in desire to travel from place-to-place, and don’t really understand it.

    -Alan

  8. 9-6-2012

    Alan,

    Indeed, and I apologize if my attempt at humor was misconstrued as critique.

    Paul was an apostle and simply did as He was told. He had no formal training inn”apostleship” that we know of. Why cannot those equipped to be apostles today in 2012 do likewise?

    I flow as a prophet, and I do look at the prophets who have come before me, obviously. (How can I not?) But I am not them, and they were not me. Jesus, however, is still the same.

    For me it is a matter of simply listening to our Father’s voice, as a son, and seeking first His Kingdom and in being a true Father-pleaser, as Jesus was and is. Maybe I am over-simplifying it. ;)

  9. 9-7-2012

    Donald,

    No need to apologize. I understood your comment as humor. I was just explaining further and used your statement about “better question” as a jumping off point.

    By the way, I think there are many who are gifted in different ways (perhaps even as apostles or prophets) but who do not know how to serve in those ways for various reasons, such as having no models or examples or for being taught that their gift is not needed today. Hopefully, posts like this will help them get a glimpse of some examples of how God can use them.

    -Alan