The Gentile Church at Antioch

Acts 11:19      After the stoning of Stephen in 35AD, some Greek-speaking Jewish believers travel to Antioch in Syria to spread the Good News to the Jews living there (see 1 on Map 20).

Acts 11:20-21 Other believers from Cyprus and Cyrene (in modern-day Libya) also arrive in Antioch and preach to the Greek-speaking Gentiles living there (see 2 on Map 20).

 

Map of The Genntile Church in Antioch

Map 20  Antioch - The Gentile Church

 

Acts 11:22-24 Barnabas (who is also from Cyprus – see Acts 4:36) is sent to investigate the new Gentile believers in Antioch (see 3 on Map 20). He is pleased to see evidence of God’s grace poured out on the Gentiles, and encourages them.

Acts 11:25-26 Barnabas goes to Tarsus in 43AD and brings Paul back to Antioch (see 3 & 4 on Map 20). They stay here teaching the new believers for a year.

Acts 11:26      The believers are called ‘Christians’ for the first time at Antioch. This may originally have been intended as a term of abuse for those who believed that Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah.

St Peter's Cave Church, Antioch in Syria

St Peter's Cave Church, Antioch in Syria (Antakya)  (Galatians 2:11)

 

Antioch in Syria

Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and Phoenicia. Known as Antioch on the Orontes or Syrian Antioch, it was an important port on the River Orontes, founded in c.300BC (see Map 20).  In Paul’s day it was the third largest city in the Roman empire (after Rome and Alexandria) and had a large colony of expatriate Jews living there among the predominantly ‘Greek’ (meaning non-Jewish or Gentile) population. Indeed, the Jewish historian Josephus records that there were more Jews living in Antioch at this time than in any other city of the world outside Judaea.

Antioch was a thriving city where Herod the Great had paved over two miles / 3 km of its streets with marble, and had erected a colonnade from end to end. It was the home of Nicholas, a Gentile convert to Judaism, who was one of the seven Spirit-filled men who were chosen by the disciples to distribute food to the poorer believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 6:5). Nicholas may well have returned to Antioch after the stoning of Stephen and the persecution of the believers in Jerusalem (see Acts 8:1). Antioch subsequently became one of the four great centres of the Christian faith before the Council of Nicea in 325AD (the other three being Rome, Alexandria and Jerusalem).

Like several other cities called Antioch (e.g. Antioch in Pisidia), the city was named after King Antiochus I, a Seleucid (Greek) king descended from Seleucus – one of Alexander the Great’s generals who divided up the Greek empire on Alexander’s death in 323BC.

Vistors to modern-day Antakya (Antioch) in Turkey will find little evidence of the thriving Christian community that developed here in Paul’s day. St Peter’s Cave Church is in a cave believed to be the meeting place where Peter taught the early Christian believers on one of his visits to Antioch (see Galatians 2:11). Re-built by the Crusaders after the city became the capital of the principality of Antioch in 1098AD, it was abandoned when the Crusaders left, but was repaired by Capuchin monks in the 19th century. Little else remains from Paul’s day, apart from an impressive collection of Roman mosaics and artefacts housed in the local Hatay (Antakya) Archaeological Museum.

 

Acts 11:27-30 During their year based in Antioch, Barnabas and Paul travel to Jerusalem (see 5 on Map 20), taking a gift from the believers in Antioch for the members of the Jerusalem church who are suffering because of a famine. King Herod Agrippa dies while they are in Jerusalem in 44AD (see Acts 12:19-23).

Acts 12:25      Barnabas and Paul return to Antioch with John Mark (see Acts 12:12 and 6 on Map 20).

Acts 13:1-4     Barnabas and Paul, accompanied by John Mark, are sent by the church in Antioch to Cyprus in 46AD (see 7 on Map 20). They are the first Christian missionaries to be sent overseas.

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