Exploring the New Testament City of Antioch

Learn about the place where people were first called "Christians."

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Andrea Pistolesi / Getty Images

When it comes to prominent New Testament cities, I'm afraid Antioch gets the short end of the stick. I had never really heard of Antioch until I took a Masters-level class in church history. That's probably because none of the New Testament letters are addressed to the church in Antioch. We have Ephesians for the city of Ephesus, we have Colossians for the city of Colossae -- but there's no 1 and 2 Antioch to remind us of that particular place.

 

As you'll see below, that's really a shame. Because you can make a compelling argument that Antioch was the second most important city in the history of the church, behind only Jerusalem.

Antioch in History

The ancient city of Antioch was originally founded as part of the Greek Empire. The city was built by Seleucus I, who was a general of Alexander the Great.

Location: Located about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, Antioch was built next to the Orontes River in what is now modern-day Turkey. Antioch was built just 16 miles from a port on the Mediterranean Sea, which made it an important city for traders and merchants. The city was also located near a major road that linked the Roman Empire with India and Persia.

Importance: Because Antioch was part of major trade routes both by sea and by land, the city grew quickly in population and influence. By the time of the early church in the middle of the First Century A.D., Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire -- ranking behind only Rome and Alexandria.

Culture: The merchants of Antioch traded with people from all over the world, which is why Antioch was a multicultural city -- including a population of Romans, Greeks, Syrians, Jews, and more. Antioch was a wealthy city, as many of its inhabitants benefited from the high level of commerce and trade.

 

In terms of morality, Antioch was deeply corrupt. The famous pleasure grounds of Daphne were located on the outskirts of the city, including a temple dedicated to the Greek god Apollo. This was known worldwide as a place of artistic beauty and perpetual vice.

Antioch in the Bible

As I said earlier, Antioch is one of the two most important cities in the history of Christianity. In fact, if it weren't for Antioch, Christianity, as we know and understand it today, would be vastly different.

After the launch of the early church at Pentecost, the earliest disciples of Jesus remained in Jerusalem. The first real congregations of the church were located in Jerusalem. Indeed, what we know as Christianity today really began as a subcategory of Judaism.

Things changed after a few years, however. Mainly, they changed when Christians began to experience serious persecution at the hands of Roman authorities and the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. This persecution came to a head with the stoning of a young disciple named Stephen -- an event recorded in Acts 7:​54-60 .

Stephen's death as the first martyr for the cause of Christ opened the floodgates for greater and more violent persecution of the church throughout Jerusalem.

As a result, many Christians fled:

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Acts 8:1

As it happens, Antioch was one of the places the earliest Christians fled to in order to escape persecution in Jerusalem. As mentioned earlier, Antioch was a large and prosperous city, which made it an ideal place to settle down and blend in with the crowd.

In Antioch, as in other places, the exiled church began to thrive and grow. But something else happened in Antioch that literally changed the course of the world:

19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:19-21

The city of Antioch was perhaps the first place in which large numbers of Gentiles (non-Jewish people) joined the church. What is more, Acts 11:26 says "the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."  This was a happening place!

In terms of leadership, the apostle Barnabus was the first to grasp the large potential for the church in Antioch. He moved there from Jerusalem and led the church into continued health and growth, both numerically and spiritually.

After several years, Barnabus traveled to Tarsus in order to recruit Paul to join him in the work. The rest, as they say, is history. Paul gained confidence as a teacher and evangelist in Antioch. And it was from Antioch that Paul launched each of his missionary journeys -- evangelistic whirlwinds that helped the church explode throughout the ancient world.

In short, the city of Antioch played a major role in establishing Christianity as the primary religious force in the world today. And for that, it should be remembered.

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O'Neal, Sam. "Exploring the New Testament City of Antioch." ThoughtCo, Feb. 5, 2017, thoughtco.com/exploring-the-new-testament-city-of-antioch-363347. O'Neal, Sam. (2017, February 5). Exploring the New Testament City of Antioch. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/exploring-the-new-testament-city-of-antioch-363347 O'Neal, Sam. "Exploring the New Testament City of Antioch." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/exploring-the-new-testament-city-of-antioch-363347 (accessed January 22, 2018).