June 2, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

St. Paul: An unexpected visit to Galatia

After spending some time back in Antioch, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they revisit the cities where they had preached on their first missionary journey.

They had an argument, though, because Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, and Paul didn’t want him because Mark had returned to Antioch while traveling with them on their first journey. So Paul took Silas along with him.

While visiting the churches he and Barnabas had founded earlier, Paul met and recruited Timothy, who was to become his closest companion and helper.

Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father a Greek. Paul had him circumcised so he could be more effective among the Jews. Unfortunately, Timothy didn’t do well years later when given authority as the head of the Church in Ephesus. He was a far better number-two man.

After visiting for a while, they moved west. But, the Acts of the Apostles tells us, they were prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching in the province of Asia. So, Acts says, “They traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory.”

Then Luke, the author of Acts, leaves out what happened next. Fortunately, we learn what happened from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians years later.

Paul got sick, seriously ill. Later, he referred to it as “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7), but he also reminded the Galatians “that it was because of a physical illness that I originally preached the gospel to you” (Gal 4:13). Apparently Timothy and Silas took Paul to Pessinus in Galatia when he had a sudden attack of some kind.

Galatia was Celtic country. The Celts were unlike anything Paul had experienced before—tall, red-haired, fair-complexioned, strong and with a reputation for being ferocious. But they took Paul and his companions in and nurtured Paul back to health. In turn, Paul told them about Jesus and impressed them enough that he won converts.

He probably arrived in Galatia toward the end of the summer of 46. By the time he recuperated from his illness, he would have had to remain there that winter because severe weather would have prevented travel. Perhaps because of his success in establishing a Christian community that winter, he remained during the year 47, and it wasn’t until the beginning of the summer of 48 that he was ready to move on.

They walked about 400 miles to the coastal city of Troas. There, Paul had a vision in which a man from Macedonia, in northern Greece, invited him to go there.

This undoubtedly pleased Paul considerably. Macedonia was part of another continent and Paul probably thought that he would be the first to establish Christianity in Europe. He wouldn’t have known that missionaries from Jerusalem had already been all the way to Rome.

The sea voyage to Neapolis took only two days, and they spent the night in Samothrace. Much later, when Paul made the trip back, it took five days.

Paul arrived in Greece and walked the 10 miles from Neapolis to Philippi. †


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