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The Missionary Journeys and Epistles of the Apostle Paul

An understanding of the chronological order of events in St. Paul’s ministry can be very valuable as a tool for the study of the book of Acts and St. Paul’s epistles. The book of Acts and the epistles of St. Paul sometimes tell us the length of time between one event and another. However, determining the year in which an event took place can require some research. It is most helpful to know the year of the beginning or end of the reigns of political rulers that are mentioned in the text. Some of the more helpful dates in studying the events in St. Paul’s ministry are the death of King Aretas of Syria in 40 AD (AD means after the death of Christ), the beginning of the reign of Claudius Caesar as Emperor of Rome in 41 AD, the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD, the succession of Felix’s reign as Procurator in Judea by Porcius Festus in 60 AD.

Here is a summary of the years of St. Paul’s journeys and his epistles. The detailed chronology follows.

  • At Damascus 37-40 AD
  • First Journey 45-47 AD
  • Second Journey 51-53 AD
  • Third Journey 54-58 AD
  • Imprisonment in Judea 58-60 AD
  • Voyage to Rome 60-61 AD
  • Imprisonment in Rome 61-63 AD
  • Post-Imprisonment Journeys 63-67 AD
  • First Thessalonians 52 AD
  • Second Thessalonians 52 AD
  • First Corinthians 57 AD
  • Second Corinthians 57 AD
  • Galatians 55-57 AD
  • Romans 57-58 AD
  • Ephesians 62 AD
  • Philippians 62 AD
  • Colossians 62 AD
  • Philemon 63 AD
  • Hebrews 64-65 AD
  • Titus 64-65 AD
  • First Timothy 64-65 AD
  • Second Timothy 66-67 AD

The Chronology

The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ occurred in the spring of 32 AD. The the day of Pentecost occured (Acts 2), then the stoning of Stephen, which Saul (St. Paul) participated in before his conversion (Acts 7:59). In about 37 AD, Jesus Christ speaks to Saul (St. Paul) on the road to Damascus. St. Paul is led blind to Damascus (Acts 9:8). After the visit by Ananias, St. Paul then goes to Arabia and returns to Damascus where he spends 3 years (Galatians 1:17-18 and Acts 9:22-23). In 37 AD King Aretas took control of Damascus when Emperor Tiberius Caesar died. St. Paul departed from Damascus at night, being let down from the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:25 and 2 Corinthians 11:32). This could not have been after 40 AD, the year that King Aretas died.

St. Paul met with Barnabus, Peter, and James in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26 and Galatians 1:18-19). St. Paul then goes to Caesarea and Tarsus (Acts 9:30) and St. Peter goes to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). Barnabus gets St. Paul and they stay in Antioch (Syria) for one year (Acts 11:26). This must be between 41 AD (beginning of Claudius Caesar’s reign) and 44 AD (Acts 11:28). The Disciples are called Christians for the first time at Antioch (Acts 11:26). James, brother of John, is killed by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:2). Herod Agrippa I dies in 44 AD (Acts 12:23).

The first journey of St. Paul begins when St. Paul, Barnabus, and St. Mark set out from Antioch (Acts 13:4). This journey started after 44 AD and ended a “long time” (Acts 14:28) before 50 AD. They left Antioch for Seleucia and sailed to Cyprus, large island 100 miles off Syrian coast. There they went to Salamis and Paphos where St. Paul met Bar-Jesus the sorcerer (Acts 13:4-6). Then they sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, which is now southern Turkey. From here, St. Mark returns to Jerusalem. At Antioch in Pisidia (not to be confused with the one in Syria), St. Paul and Barnabas turn to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Then it was on to Iconium, where they abode a “long time” (Acts 14:3), Lystra, where St. Paul is stoned, but lives (Acts 14:19), and Derbe. Then they retraced their steps back through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (in Pisidia) (Acts 14:21). St. Paul and Barnabas went throughout Pisidia, Pamphylia, then to Perga, Attalia, and sailed back to Antioch in Syria (Acts 14:24-26) The first journey ends in Antioch, Syria, where St. Paul and Barnabus stay there a long time (Acts 14:28).

The dates for the events from 50-60 AD are found by counting backwards from the succession of Felix’s reign as Procurator in Judea by Porcius Festus in 60 AD. Should one want to check these dates for accuracy, one should start at 60 AD and work backwards. In about 50 AD, St. Paul and Barnabus go to the council in Jerusalem 14 years after St. Paul’s conversion (Galatians 2:1-9 and Acts 15:2). Judas and Silas return to Antioch (Syria) with Barnabus and St. Paul where they continued some days (Acts 15:35-36), possibly in the winter of 50-51 AD. The second journey begins, possibly in the spring of 51 AD. St. Paul takes Silas through Syria and Cilicia (now southeastern Turkey). They came to Derbe and Lystra, where they find Timothy, who goes with St. Paul and Silas throughout Phrygia and Galatia. But they are forbidden by the Spirit to go into Asia or Bithynia. They passed through Mysia to Troas, the island of Samothracia, and then to Neapolis in Macedonia (now northern Greece). At Philippi, God opens the heart of Lydia and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:14-34). Passing through Amphipolis and Appolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where St. Paul taught for 3 weeks. After teaching some in Berea, St. Paul departed ahead of Silas and Timothy, southward into Achaia (now southern Greece), to Athens, possibly for the winter of 51-52 AD (Acts 17:14- 15). St. Paul then makes his first visit to Corinth where he stays a year and a half (Acts 18:5). This may have been from the spring of 52 AD to the fall of 53 AD. Here, St. Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who had just come from Rome, from which Claudius Caesar had banished all Jews. Silas and Timothy rejoin St. Paul. First Thessalonians was written from here in about 52 AD (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2, 6). We know that it was written from Corinth, and not from Athens, because Silas and Timothy had already rejoined St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 1:1 and Acts 18:5). Second Thessalonians was also written from Corinth. We know that it was soon after the first letter, because like the first letter, Silas was with St. Paul when second Thessalonians was written. After St. Paul leaves Corinth, there is no further mention of Silas traveling with St. Paul. St. Paul left by boat with Aquila and Priscilla to Cenchrea and then across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla stay there where they would later meet Apollos (Acts 18:19 and 26). St. Paul sails on to Caesarea and then goes up to Antioch in Syria, where the second journey ends. St. Paul stayed a while (Acts 18:23). This may have been the winter of 53-54 AD.

The third journey begins with Galatia (central region of Turkey) possibly in the spring of 54 AD and then Phrygia (Acts 18:23). Then St. Paul arrives at Ephesus where he stayed for 3 years (Acts 20:31) probably from the fall of 54 AD to the fall of 57 AD. St. Paul meets disciples of John the Baptist. He preached in the synagogue for 3 months (Acts 19:8). He disputed daily in the school of Tyrannus for 2 years (Acts 19:9-10), so that all that dwelt in Asia heard the word. St. Paul sent Timothy and Erastus ahead into Macedonia, but St. Paul stayed in Asia for a season (Acts 19:22). St. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians near the end of this stay in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8,19), probably in 57 AD. It was not written with Timothy, who St. Paul had sent ahead into Macedonia (Acts 19:22). St. Paul foresaw his route of travel for the next four or so years in Acts 19:21-22. This agrees with his plans in 1 Corinthians 16:1, 3, 5, 8-10. Note how the “great door” opened to St. Paul and “many adversaries” in verse 9 compares with the events in the Ephesian amphitheater in Acts 19:23-41. In 1 Corinthians 3:6 St. Paul says “Apollos watered”. This refers to Apollos teaching in Corinth when St. Paul was at Ephesus, (Acts 19:1).

St. Paul had rejoined Timothy when Second Corinthians was written (2 Corinthians 1:1). St. Paul had come to Troas and continued to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13 and 7:5), which seems to correspond to Acts 20:1. St. Paul also talks of a third visit to Corinth in 2 Corinthians 13:1 and 12:14. So Second Corinthians was most likely written in the fall of 57 AD from somewhere in Macedonia (northern Greece), possibly Philippi. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, St. Paul says 14 years ago I ascended into heaven. From 57, going back 14 years to 43 AD, this puts us back before St. Paul’s first journey, probably when he was at Antioch in Syria. After going through Macedonia (northern Greece), St. Paul came to Achaia (southern Greece) where he stayed 3 months (Acts 20:2-3), making third visit to Corinth. This is where he spent the winter of 57-58 AD (1 Corinthians 16:5-8). Romans was written at this time (Romans 15:23-26 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-3). Going back to Macedonia (Acts 20:1), they were at Philippi (northeastern Greece) in the spring of 58 AD in the “days of unleavened bread” (Acts 20:6).

Then they sailed to Troas, where a young man fell out of a window, and St. Paul raises him from the dead (Acts 20:7-12). Then St. Paul went to Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogylium, and Miletus (now in southwestern Turkey). From here, St. Paul addresses Ephesian elders whom he had called to meet him (Acts 20:17-38) in the spring of 58 AD (Acts 20:16). Sailing to Coos, Rhodes, Patara, and passing on the south side of Cyprus, they came to Tyre (which is now in Lebanon) where they stayed one week. Then they went south to Ptolemais and to Caesarea where they stayed many days (Acts 21:10). Then St. Paul goes to Jerusalem, where the third journey ends.

Here let us pause to look at the question: When was Galatians written? Galatians was written when St. Paul was not in prison and when neither Silas or Timothy were with him (Galatians 1:1). It was written after the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-32 and Galatians 2:1-10) and after St. Paul’s second visit to the region on his second journey in about 51 AD (Acts 16:1-6). Since they were “so soon removed” from grace (Galatians 1:6), it must have been before the prison years of 58-63 AD. So it could have been written when St. Paul was alone in Athens in the winter of 51-52 AD, which would make it St. Paul’s first letter. But this is unlikely, since St. Paul was only in Athens a short time (Acts 17:15). Or it could have been written from Antioch between St. Paul’s second and third journeys in the winter of 53-54 AD (Acts 18:22-23). But this is also unlikely because St. Paul would have probably mentioned that he would be coming to them soon on his third journey. It could have been written from Corinth in the winter of 57-58 where St. Paul wrote Romans. But most likely, it was written from Ephesus during St. Paul’s 3 years there from 54-57. St. Paul had recently passed through the region of Galatia “… strengthening all the disciples …” (Acts 18:23) and spent far more time in Ephesus where he could have gotten the unfavorable report about the churches in Galatia (Galatians 1:6) which was relatively nearby.

The third journey ends at Jerusalem in 58 AD. St. Paul is beaten by the Jews, preaches to them (Acts 22:1-21), and is brought before the Sanhedrin. Jesus Christ tells St. Paul that he will go to bear him witness in Rome. Many Jews vow to kill St. Paul (Acts 23:12). In 58 AD, St. Paul is taken to Governor Felix (reigned 53-60) at Caesarea, “many years” (Acts 24:10) after 53 AD and 2 years before the end of Felix’s reign. St. Paul then spends 2 years in prison in Caesarea in Judea. In 60 AD, Governor Portius Festus’s reign begins. St. Paul appeals to Caesar (Acts 25:11). Some days pass, then Herod Agrippa II hears St. Paul.

The voyage to Rome begins – St. Paul, still a prisoner, sails to Sidon with Luke and Aristarchus (Acts 27:1-2) on the way to Italy. They sailed to Myra (now southern Turkey) and on to Lasea, a large island of Crete, 50 miles southeast of Greece, where much time was spent (Acts 27:7-13). In the fall of 60 AD, they reached Melita, a small island south of Sicily. St. Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake but lived. St. Paul healed the father of Publius and others. St. Paul (still captive) spends the winter of 60-61 AD (Acts 28:11) on the island with his captors. In the spring, they sailed on to Syracuse (on the island of Sicily), then to Rhegium (on the southern tip of Italy), then to Puteoli (on the western coast of Italy). The voyage to Rome ends – St. Paul spends 2 years in his own hired house (Acts 28:30) as a prisoner in Rome from 61-63 AD. During this time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. In about 62 AD, St. Paul wrote Ephesians before Timothy came to him (Ephesians 1:1) while in prison in Rome (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1, and 6:20). Also in about 62 AD, St. Paul wrote Philippians from prison (Philippians 1:7) in Rome (4:23) with Timothy (1:1). St. Paul wrote Colossians from prison (Colossians 4:18) in Rome in about 62 AD with Timothy (1:1) and fellow prisoner, Aristarchus (4:10). St. Paul, with Timothy, wrote Philemon from prison in 63 AD (Philemon 1:1).

St. Paul after the imprisonment in Rome – We know that St. Paul had further journeys after he was released from the prison in Rome in 63 AD. After his release, he wrote the epistles of Hebrews, Titus, First Timothy, and Second Timothy, not necessarily in that order, although Second Timothy was apparently his last. This took place after the events recorded in the book of Acts, so all of our information comes from various statements that St. Paul makes in his letters. In them are clues that St. Paul may have traveled to some or all of the following places: Colosse, Spain, Corinth, Miletus, Troas, Crete, Nicopolis, Philippi, Italy, Judea, Ephesus, and Macedonia. This allows for the possibilities that St. Paul traveled to more about as many diverse places as in all of his previous journeys combined. There are probably several possible ways that one could reconstruct the sequence of these travels which would not disagree with scripture. Since we do not know which one would be correct, we will just list what we know about the journeys. Thus, the references below are not intended to be chronological, although they all occurred after St. Paul’s release from prison in 63 AD.

In Philemon 22, St. Paul foresaw his release and tells those in Colosse to prepare him lodging. We know that Philemon was written to the Colossians because of Archippus (Colossians 4:17 and Philemon 2), Onesimus (Colossians 4:9 and Philemon 9-10), and others (Colossians 4:10-14 and Philemon 23-25). Also, while in prison in Rome St. Paul wrote to those in Philippi that he may be coming to visit them (Philippians 1:26). In Romans 1:10, 15:24 and 28, and 16:1, 3, and 5 St. Paul speaks of aspirations of eventually going to Spain. Did he ever do this in his final years? The Bible does not say whether he did or not. We do however have the account of the century author, St. Clement of Rome, regarding St. Paul: “After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects” (The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 5). The “extreme limit of the west” may be Spain. We do not know for sure.

At some time after being released from the prison in Rome, St. Paul went to Corinth and Miletus (2 Timothy 4:20). He also went to Troas (2 Timothy 4:13), Crete (Titus 1:5), and Nicopolis for the winter (Titus 3:12). St. Paul leaving Titus in Crete must have been during a period of liberty after St. Paul’s imprisonment in Rome ended in 63 AD. St. Paul did not go there during the first 3 journeys. There is no mention of Titus or of any preaching on Crete in Acts 27:7-13, on the voyage to Rome. St. Paul says he will send Artemas or Tychicus to Titus. He tells Titus to come to Nicopolis where St. Paul has determined to winter (Titus 3:12). The letter to Titus was probably written around 64-65 AD. There are three cities called Nicopolis: (1) in Achaia (southern Greece), most likely the one to which St. Paul was referring, (2) 15 miles west of Jerusalem, and (3) in the area that is now Romania. The book of Hebrews was apparently written from Italy (Hebrews 13:24). Timothy had been released from prison (Hebrews 13:23) and was coming to St. Paul. St. Paul was apparently at liberty as well, since they planned to then go to visit the Hebrews. This could have been in Judea, as St. Paul says, “… for you had compassion of me in my bonds …” (Hebrews 10:34). This must have been in reference to St. Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea from 58-60 AD. Hebrews was probably written around 64-65 AD.

St. Paul had told Timothy to stay and teach in Ephesus when St. Paul went to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3). During the third journey, St. Paul had done the opposite, staying in Ephesus himself, and sending Timothy with Erastus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22). So First Timothy was written around 64-65 AD during a period of liberty after St. Paul’s Roman imprisonment of 61-63 AD. St. Paul said he was hoping to come to Timothy in Ephesus shortly, but may have to tarry long (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Timothy was in Ephesus where he received both First Timothy and Second Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3, 2 Timothy 1:16-18, 4:14, 4:19, Acts 19:33, and 1 Timothy 1:20). Second Timothy may have been written from prison (2 Timothy 1:8) with St. Paul ready to die (2 Timothy 4:6-8), possibly about 66 AD. Yet he asks Timothy to come to him before winter (2 Timothy 4:9 and 21). St. Paul was probably martyred sometime around 67 AD.

May the blessings of this missionary Apostle be with us all.

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

August 17, 2012