Start of the Third Missionary Journey


Summary of the Third Missionary Journey
(Acts 18:23b-21:16
 c. 53-57 AD)

After resting several months in Antioch in Syria, Paul traveled to the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, again encouraging and strengthening the churches there. Eventually he arrived in Ephesus and remained 2 years and 3 months (or possibly 3 years). He then journeyed to Macedonia and Achaia (Greece today) and spent the winter months in Corinth. Paul went back through Achaia and Macedonia to Troas, Assos and Miletus, where he met with the elders of the Ephesian church. He continued on to Rhodes, Patara and Caesarea, before concluding the journey in Jerusalem.

The Journey Begins: From Antioch, through Galatia, to Ephesus

From Antioch in Syria Paul took the road northwestward through Tarsus and the Cilician Gates for a third visit to the churches in Galatia — Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch — on the high Anatolian Plateau of Asia Minor, an indication of how important they were to Paul. Years earlier, during his second missionary journey, he followed the same itinerary, then veered northwest  from Pisidian Antioch to the Dardanelles. This time he headed west toward the province of Asia and a second, longer visit to the great city of Ephesus, fulfilling an earlier promise to return.

From Pisidian Antioch he had the choice of two routes. Acts 19:1 states that he "took the road through the interior,"  indicating that he did not follow the lower and more direct route west through the Lycus and Meander river valleys, passing near Colossae, Laodicea and the spa city of Hierapolis (all of which received letters from him*). Instead, he took the upper route through Phrygia, approaching Ephesus from the north through Magnesia (modern Manisa).

*These three cities were evangelized by Epaphras from Colossae. Paul himself may never have visited them. When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, Epaphras came to him with a favorable account of the church at Colossae and remained with Paul in Rome. He was, in a sense, his "fellow prisoner" (Philemon 23).

Below, Opening segments of Paul's Third Missionary Journey, from Antioch to Ephesus; lighter yellow line indicates the route he likely followed.

Map of the beginning of the Third Missionary Journey

Ephesus today

The partially restored remains of Ephesus (Roman form of the name), Ephesos (pre-Greek), or Efes (modern Turkish) are located on the outskirts of the modern Turkish town of Selçuk, about 5 miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Below, satellite view of the Ephesus archeological site.

Satellite view of the Ephesus excavations

Below, The ruins of one of the great cities of the Roman Empire are spread over the slopes of two hills — Mount Pion (Penayir Dagi) and Mount Koressos (Bülbul Dagi) — and the valley between them. In the center of the photo, a lone white column marks the former site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ephesus site from Ayasuluk Hill from the north


Historical setting Ephesus before Paul

Ephesus was about 47 miles south of Smyrna (modern Izmir) and about 3 miles inland from the Aegean Sea in the Roman province of Asia (today western Turkey).

The earliest inhabitants assigned to Ephesus by Greek writers are the Amazons, a race of woman warriors who lived in Anatolia (the ancient name for Turkey) and fought with the Trojans against the Achaeans in the Trojan War.

Ephesus bee coinSome authorities have suggested that city’s history goes back to Hittite period (c. 1400 BC) and Hittites called it Apasas possibly meaning “bee,” a symbol found on Ephesus coins later corrupted to “Ephesus” (“Ephesos” in Greek). The earliest settlement was built at the mouth of the Cayster River, inland from the Aegean Sea. The inhabitants worshiped Kybele, the native goddess of Anatolia.

About 1000 BC the city was re-founded by Ionian Greeks settlers under the leadership of Androclus, son of Codrus, the legenday king of Athens.The new inhabitants assimilated the native Anatolian worship of Kybele, which they associated with their goddess Artemis (Roman Diana). But this Artemis bore no resemblance to the beautiful virgin huntress of the Greek pantheon. She was a stiff-looking fertility goddess endowed with a hundred "breasts" who always remained the virgin-mother of all life and especially wild life, and an embodiment of the fertility and productive power of the earth.

In the 8th century BC a small shrine consisting of little more than a small platform with a sacred tree and an altar, and perhaps later a wooden image of the goddess, the whole enclosed in a temenos*. About the close of the century it was replaced by a temple of regular Greek form. It was destroyed by a flood in the 7th century BC.

^ A sacred enclosure, sanctuary, or sacred precinct at an established cult center, sometimes incorporating many buildings. In Roman times it came to mean the enclosed area in which a temple stood: a temple precinct.

In the mid-6th century BC King Croesus of Lydia conquered Ephesus and forced the inhabitants to build a new city farther inland, closer to the location of modern Selçuk. A magnificent temple was constructed in honor of Artemis on the original shrine of Kybele. It was built of white, red, blue and yellow marble of the finest quality. Gold was reputedly used between the joints of the marble blocks instead of mortar. Multitudes of priests and priestesses (temple prostitutes) were connected with it.

In 546 BC Ephesus, along with the rest of Anatolia was invaded by the Persians. The city maintained friendly relations with Persia for about 50 years. In 478 BC the Persian king, Xerxes, returning from his failure in Greece, paid homage to the goddess Artemis. Although he had sacked other Greek shrines, he left the Artemsion, as the great temple was called, alone, and even left his children for safety in Ephesus.

After 454 BC Ephesus appears as a regular tributary of Athens. Ephesus participated in a general revolt of 412 BC against Athens, siding with Sparta in the Second Peloponnesian War. It remained an effective ally of Sparta down to the end of the war. Threatened by Persia, Ephesus served in 396 BC as the headquarters of King Agesilaus of Sparta. In 394 BC the Ephesians deserted to the anti-Spartan maritime league, but by 387 BC the city was again in Spartan hands and was handed by Antalcidas to Persia.

In 356 BC, disaster struck when the Artemision was destroyed by a fire started by a man named Herostratus who hoped the action would make him famous. His action backfired.The arsonist was executed, and anyone who spoke his name was sentenced to death.Still, his name is remembered to this day.

In 334 BC Aexander the Great, who was said to have been born the same day as the fire, took over the area. According to legend, Artemis, a protector of women in childbirth, had left for Macedonia on the day of the fire to help deliver Alexander. Twenty-two years later, a new Artemision was still under construction and Alexander offered to finance its completion if the city would credit him as the builder. In a famous refusal recorded by Strabo, the Ephesians said, "It is not fitting that one god should build a temple for another god."

Below, scale model of the Temple of Artemis at Miniaturk Park in Istanbul, Turkey.

Artems temple model

The rebuilt temple, completed in 250 BC on the site of the first temple, was a forest of marble. It ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient Worldfour times larger than the Parthenon at Athens425 feet long. 220 feet wide, with 127 columns, each 60 feet high, in double rows. (In comparison, the Parthenon, was 230 feet long, 100 feet wide and had 58 columns.) The building is thought to have been the first temple completely constructed with marble (except for the roof).

The sanctuary was said to house the very image of Artemis "which fell from heaven," possibly a meteorite, or an image so old that only a heavenly origin could be attributed for it (see Acts 19:35). The temple was a source of great civic pride. One month of each year was devoted to the worship of  Artemis. Missionaries spread her cult throughout Asia Minor. There were Artemision festivals, not only in Ephesus, but in other cities  (i.e., Perga and Sardis). The Artemis temple was big business. One of the city's chief industries was the sale of idols to pilgrim worshipers from all parts of the world, bringing enormous profit. They were supposed to charm away evil spirits and protect the devotee from danger. Another major source of income was the sale of scrolls on mystical arts, magic, charms and incantations. Known as "Ephesian Letters," they were said to cure illness and infertility, and ensure success in any undertaking.

Upon the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, one of his generals, Lysimachus, took control of Ephesus. But the gradual silting up of the harbor necessitated his moving the city to a new location and, in 286 BC, he began construction of a new fortified city in honor of his wife, Arsinoeia, in the valley between Mounts Pion and Koressos (the site of today's ruins). Apart from the walls he only completed a theater, stadium, agora (marketplace) and harbor. On his death the construction was abandoned and the city came under rule of the king of Pergamum.

Though situated three miles from the sea, the channel of the Cayster River, on which the city stood, was navigable as far up as the city, although attention was required to keep it free from silt. As early as the 2nd century BC, king Attalus Philadelphus of Pergamum built a breakwater to keep the harbor from filling in. Unfortunately it had the opposite effect and made the harbor shallower.

In 133 BC Ephesus was handed over to the Romans and it became part the Roman Province of Asia. Under the Romans, Ephesus thrived, reaching the pinnacle of its greatness and the Artemision continued to attract pilgrims from all over the Graeco-Roman world. The Romans constructed many public buildings, and gates, baths and temples were donated by the rich. The canny city leaders were able to curry the favor of the emperors by dedicating temples and other monuments to them. In 29 BC, a temple was erected to the goddess Roma and the deified Julius Caesar. From then on the cult of emperor worship was promoted there. In return the emperors honored and beautified the city. Under them, Ephesus became the governmental center of the province of Asia, replacing Pergamum. By imperial edict it was made the gateway to the province of Asia. Stamped on coins found in the ruins of Ephesus are the titles, "First of all the greatest," and "The first and greatest metropolis of Asia." The city's beautiful location, together with the fertile soil and excellent climate, made it a very desirable place to live. Several important Roman highways met at Ephesus. Because of its location on the most direct sea and land route to the eastern provinces, Ephesus had few equals anywhere in the world. However, despite the efforts of no fewer than two of the emperors, the harbor continued to silt up. Unexpectedly, Nero's plan almost worked; the masterful Hadrian's scheme was doomed from the start.

Through the efforts of Paul, Timothy, Apollos, Aquila, Priscilla and many others whose names we'll never know, the Christian church began to win converts in Ephesus, destined to become one of the most important centers of Christianity. However, the transformation was not as immediate as implied in Acts. The bizarre cult of Artemis flourished for another two and a half centuries.


In the footsteps of Paul — Ephesus

At the time of Paul, Ephesus ranked with Rome in Italy, Corinth in Greece, Antioch in Syria and Alexandria in Egypt as one of the foremost cities of the Roman Empire.


Walking through the Ephesus site

We enter the main archaeological site from the east. Near the parking area are the scant remains of the Magnesian Gate (below), where the roads connecting Ephesus with  Magnesia (Manisa today ) and Laodicea entered the city. Originally built in the 3rd century BC, together with the city walls, emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) changed its name to "The Gate of Honor" and added two entrances. Undoubtedly Paul entered the city through this gate upon his arrival to establish his mission there.

Remains of Magnesian Gate

North of the gate are the remains of the East Gymnasium, a huge complex probably constructed around 200 AD by Flavius Damianus. Here the city's youth were educated in sports, music, astronomy and social skills. It included  baths, paleistra (sports area), courtyard, lecture hall and emperor's hall.

Eastern Gymnasium remains

From the Magnesia Gate we follow the city's main east-west thoroughfare, below, on a gradual downhill course, leading to the commercial agora near the harbor area. Archaeologists called the road Curetes Street for the Curetes (pronounced "crates"), an order of priests who dealt with religious and state affairs. It is also known as the Sacred Way from the procession that passed along it on the annual feast-day of Artemis.

Curetes Street heading west

Below, on the left (south) side to the street is the State Agora, a large open area surrounded by temples, a basilica, small theater (Odeon), fountains and other structures. The remains indicate it was the administrative center of Ephesus at least from the time of Augustus. The agora was paved in 66 BC by Timon, an Agoranomos (elected official who controlled the order of the marketplace or agora, hence the name, translated as "market overseer").


Some of the structures, now in ruins, around the State Agora:

Below, remains of the Varius Baths constructed in the 2nd century AD and restored on numerous occasions. With its frigidarium (cold-water bath), tepidarium (warm water bath) and caldarium (hot water bath), and other adjacent sections, the baths cover a fairly large area. To the south is a large public toilet.

Varius Baths remains

Odeon - A 1,500 seat theater, below, built in the 2nd century AD by wealthy Ephesians P. Vedius Antonius and his wife Flavia Papiana. This was the scene of concerts; also the meeting place of the city council. The lack of drainage indicates it was once covered by a wooden roof.

Odeon, small theater

Prytaneion or Town Hall, below - Begun 1st century BC, it was the center for managing the city's religious and ceremonial functions. Architecturally, it was built like a private home, with an assembly hall, administrative rooms, state archives and dining hall in which officials and foreign visitors were welcomed. In front of the assembly hall was a courtyard surrounded on three sides by rows of Doric columns. A perpetual flame, representing the well-being of the city, was kept burning at a shrine to Hestia Boulaea (Vesta), the sister of Zeus and Hera, who was honored in both temples and homes, as she was goddess of the hearth. The city's elite families were responsible for maintaining the flame. They also performed daily sacrifices to the different gods and goddesses and covered all the expenses. Two statues of the Artemis were discovered in the Prytaneion and are now displayed in the Ephesus Museum. The larger statue, dating from the 1st century AD, was in the hall. The other, dating from about 50 years later, had been carefully buried in a small room, apparently to protect it from Christians bent on destroying pagan idols.

epesus city hall

Below, Sebastoi Temple (called Temple of Domitian at site) - During the Roman period, the Ephesians erected many buildings and temples, and dedicated them to emperors in order to secure good relations and the support of Rome. The Sebastoi/Domitian Temple was one of them. The two pillars seen here were  part of a three-story platform that supported a small temple dedicated to the worship of the ‘Flavian Sebastoi’ or ‘Divine Flavians,’ the dynasty of emperors that ruled the Roman Empire from 69 to 96 AD: Vespasian (69-79 AD) and his successors (and sons) Titus (79-81 AD) and Domitian (81-96 AD).

Sebastoi Temple/Temple of Domitian

Ephesus was designated "the protector of the Roman emperor's temple," a great honor for the city. A special category of priests, the "Arkhierus," cared for the temple. They belonged to a rich and influential class of the city and they were expected to finance all maintenance costs. In return, they retained positions of influence in the city's commercial dealings.

Originally the temple had 13 columns on each side and 8 on the front and back. The second level featured sculptures of gods and goddesses, symbolizing the deities of the empire supporting and protecting the emperors who were worshiped in the temple above. Parts of a huge 25-foot-high statue, below, were discovered in the substructure of the building. Sculpted of wood and stone, only the stone parts, the head and arm, have survived; they are now in the Ephesus Museum.

head and arm of Titus statue

Originally it was thought to represent Domitian (believed to be the emperor when Revelation was written) and it is the reason archaeologists named the building for him. But more recent research indicates that the statue is actually that of the emperor Titus (Titus Flavius Vespasianus), Domitian's brother and predecessor. During his reign, Titus spent great sums on games and monuments, including the Roman Coliseum, and he dispensed generous aid to the victims of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and a plague and fire in Rome in 80 AD.



Go to Ephesus - Part 2