May 21, 2015


Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe



Topic #IV: The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   


Subtopic D: The Third Missionary Journey (18:23-19:19)   




         Lesson: IV.D.1: Paul in Galatia and Phrygia (18:23)                                                                           



Acts 18:23 (KJV)


23 And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.






Paul’s third “missionary journey” was a journey only at the beginning and end.  For the most part it was an extensive three-year ministry in Ephesus.  Luke devoted only one chapter to that ministry, but we know from Paul’s letters that it was a time when many churches were established and many of his letters written.





23 And after he had spent some time there, he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.


“And after he had spent some time there, he departed.” The new territories which had been evangelized since he was last in Antioch were Macedonia and Achaia (practically the whole of modern Greece), and probably an area in ethnic Galatia; the approximate dates were a.d. 48-53.  We don’t know how long Paul remained in Antioch before leaving on his third missionary journey (not thinking, probably, that he would never again returned to Antioch) but perhaps it was as long as a year.  As in his second journey, he visited the churches and strengthened the believers—strengthened them by directing them to Christ, who is their strength.  The record of this journey extends from verse 23 through 21:16.  Luke does not describe this journey in detail because his main purpose is to get Paul to Ephesus.  He wants to share with his readers the marvelous ministry God gave to Paul in that strategic city so steeped in idolatry and the occult.  Paul’s three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31[1])—the longest he stayed in any city—were certainly exciting and fruitful.


Paul’s third missionary period lead him first from Syrian Antioch[2] to “the country of Galatia and Phrygia,” where he was “strengthening the disciples.” His route most likely lead through the Cilician gates to the cities where he had established churches on his first journey—Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch.  The reference to the Galatian region and Phrygia might indicate the area further north and be evidence that Paul established churches in the northern portion of the Roman province of Galatia on his second missionary journey.  In any event, Paul’s final destination was Ephesus (19:1[3]).  He had been prevented from working there on an earlier occasion (16:6[4]).  He had to cut his first visit there short (18:20) and was eager to begin his mission in the city—this whole section breeds an atmosphere of haste.  For, although Paul might have needed a change and a rest, he was not one to dilly-dally and waste time.  His heart was drawn like a magnet to Ephesus.  How were Aquila and Priscilla getting along?  Was the synagogue still friendly? He must get back.  So, off he went.  His heart was always on the mission field. Still, his desire for the new ministry did not lead him to neglect the old.  He returned to his former fields and further ministered to the churches there. 


A journey to Ephesus by sea would have been much easier.  The foot journey from Antioch to Ephesus was well in excess of 1000 miles.  As far as we know, he had no companion for the journey to Ephesus, but he probably hoped to rendezvous with Timothy, who is next heard of in that city (1 Corinthians 4:17[5]; 16:10).  Paul set a notable example of the importance of continued nurture of new converts.


“He departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples.” Paul’s brief furlough was over.  His restless spirit was under pressure.  Others could relax and regale one another with the gossip of the hour, but he had a burning message to preach.  Others might get wrapped up in sports, but he was too busy running the race; others might invest time and talent in making money, but he was determined to spend and be spent for Christ; others might take it easy and rest, but he could only see the outstretched arms, the empty hearts, the longing souls of millions upon millions of people dying in their sins, never having heard once the joyful sound: “Jesus saves!”


Neither the coldness of Jerusalem nor the congeniality of Antioch struck any real chord in his soul.  He must hurry back.  Ephesus beckoned—but he would go there via “Galatia and Phrygia.” In a few words Luke sums up many months of confirmatory labors in which Paul goes from place to place where churches have been founded in Phrygia and Galatia.  If Dr. Luke employs the ethnic terms for the areas visited, Phrygia would mean Galatian and Asian Phrygia and Galatia the ethnic Galatia in the north.


So off he went, following the now-familiar highway through the Cilician Gates, on to Galatian Lyconia, visiting, it would seem, the churches planted before in southern Galatia.  Then on westward toward Asia, this time unrestrained by the Holy Spirit.


Everywhere he had the same message: “Be strong!” He knew the fickle Galatians well.  We can fill in the substance of his Sermons in those cities by glancing at his epistle to the Galatians—all teachers must be tested (chapters 1-2); all truth must be tested (chapters 3-4); all testimony must be tested (chapters 5-6).


That strikes for us the keynote of Paul’s third missionary journey; exultation.  That is the third phase of pioneer missionary work.  The missionary, although not forsaking the role of the evangelist, assumes more and more the role of the Bible teacher.  Evangelism can be done by the nationals once they have the facts of the gospel.  What the infant churches on the mission field need is teaching.  The young believers need to be rooted and grounded in the truth.  So Paul the preacher becomes Paul the teacher, underlining in each place this or that aspect of divine truth as occasion arose and as the need became evident.



Special Notes and Scripture


[1] (Acts 20:31, AKJV) “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”

[2] The apostle stayed in Syrian Antioch for an indefinite period, perhaps until the following spring (a.d. 53?), after which he took to the road again on his “third missionary journey.”

[3] (Acts 19:1, AKJV) “And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples.”

[4] (Acts 16:6, AKJV) “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.”

[5] (1 Corinthians 4:17, AKJV) “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.”