Chronological Review of Paul’s Ministry

  • Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-7): c. 30 a.d.
  • Paul in Damascus (Acts 9:8-25), Arabia (Gal 1:17), Jerusalem (Gal 1:18-19, Acts 9:26-29): c. 30-33 a.d., and Tarsus (Acts 9:30, Gal 1:21): c. 33-43 a.d.
  • Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 11:19-24): c. 41 a.d.
  • Paul to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26): c. 43 a.d.
  • Agabus from Jerusalem to Antioch predicts famine (Acts 11:27-28): c. 44 a.d.
  • False brethren spy out liberty of Gentile believers in Antioch; Gentile controversy brews (Gal 2:4): c. 44-47 a.d.
  • Paul to Jerusalem for relief of saints where he confers with Peter, James and John about the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:29-30, Gal 2:1-10): c. 47 a.d.
  • First missionary journey (Acts 13-14): c. 48-49 a.d.
  • Peter to Antioch (Gal 2:11-16), letter to Galatians, Jerusalem Council (Acts 15): c. 49 a.d.
  • Second missionary journey (Acts 15:35-18:22), letters to Thessalonians written: c. 50-52 a.d.
  • Third missionary journey (Acts 18:23-21:16), Gospel of Luke written and distributed, letters to Corinthians and Romans written: c. 53-57 a.d.
  • Paul’ arrest in Jerusalem and Caesarean imprisonment (Acts 21:27-24:27): c. 57-59 a.d.
  • Paul’s voyage to Rome and shipwreck: c. winter of 59-60 a.d.
  • Paul’s Roman imprisonment (Acts 25-28), letters to Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians written, Acts written: c. 60-62 a.d.
  • Paul’s release from first Roman imprisonment, ministry in Crete (Titus 1:5), Ephesus and Macedonia (1 Tim 1:3), and possibly Spain; 1 Timothy and Titus written: c. 62-66? a.d.
  • Paul’s second Roman imprisonment, 2 Timothy written, death: c. 64-68? a.d.

Recall Paul’s 3 missionary journeys: while ministering in Antioch around 48 a.d. Paul and Barnabas were set apart by the Holy Spirit and sent out as missionaries, to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles.  On his first journey Paul traveled to Cyprus, and then to the region of Galatia where he established churches from among the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 13-14).  Over a year later they returned to Antioch with news of their fruitful ministry among the Gentiles, which news was greeted with dismay by some who believed the Gentiles had first to become Jews before they could become Christians.  The influence of these Judaizers extended all the way to the Galatian churches Paul had just established so that they were misled to believe that they had also to keep the works of the Law in order to be saved.  Thus Paul was forced to write a letter of correction to them which we know as the book of Galatians.  Shortly thereafter (c. late 49 a.d.) Paul traveled to Jerusalem for the first Church council called to address the brewing controversy of the acceptance of Gentiles into the church, where it was officially agreed upon that like themselves, God had accepted the Gentiles on the basis of their faith, not because of their adherence to the Law (Acts 15).

After returning to Antioch Paul and Silas, who had been sent along by the brethren in Judea to deliver the results of the Jerusalem council, set out on Paul’s second missionary journey c. 50 a.d.  After revisiting the Galatian churches from his first journey where he also added Timothy to his missionary band, Paul continued on to Troas where he was directed by the Spirit to bring the gospel to Macedonia (Acts 16).  Crossing into Europe Paul established churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea before traveling south into Greece and establishing the church in Corinth (Acts 17-18) where he ministered for over a year.  It was from Corinth on this second missionary journey that he wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians (approx 51 a.d.).  Sailing from Corinth c. 52 a.d. Paul visited Jerusalem before returning to Antioch (Acts 18:22).

The next year (c. spring 53 a.d.) Paul set out on his third missionary journey revisiting the Galatian churches before coming to Ephesus where he ministered for three years (Acts 19).  Towards the end of this stay he heard of the problems plaguing the Corinthian church and wrote 1 Corinthians before departing for Corinth by way of Macedonia.  In Macedonia he met Titus who had come from Corinth with good news about their response to his first letter and from there he wrote 2 Corinthians both in response to the comfort he had received from Titus and in hopes that some who were still opposing the apostle might yet repent before he arrived.  Shortly thereafter Paul left Macedonia and traveled to Corinth where he spent the winter of c. 56-57 a.d. (Acts 20:1-3, 1 Cor 16:6).  Having now established the gospel in the eastern regions of the empire Paul began looking westward and from Corinth wrote the letter to the Romans in hopes that the church there might become a home base for a western gospel campaign by the apostle.  Because that important church in the capital of the empire had no apostolic witness, it also provided him the opportunity to articulate for them (and us!) his understanding of the gospel and its relationship to the law that had been honed by his years of ministry in the east and opposition from the Jews.

Returning from his third missionary journey in the spring of probably 57 a.d. Paul traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost and deliver the collection for the Jewish saints he had taken up from among the Gentile churches.  His hope was to make these Gentile believers more acceptable both to the believing and unbelieving Jews with a tangible demonstration of their sincere faith.  However, because of Jewish hostility instigated against him by the Jews from Asia (where, recall, he had ministered for 3 years; see Acts 24:18) he was taken into custody by the Romans and tried both before the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman governor Felix (Acts 21-24).  For two years he was held in Caesarea before being tried again before the new governor Festus, who as a favor to his new Jewish subjects wanted him to return to Jerusalem to stand trial yet again against their charges.  However, fearing an ambush (see Acts 25:2-3) and not wishing to become the victim of the new governor’s expedience, Paul appealed to Caesar c. 59 a.d., which after yet another defense before King Agrippa and a harrowing sea voyage he came to Rome, where he arrived early in c. 60 a.d. (Acts 25-28).

Luke records that Paul spent “two full years in his own rented quarters” in Rome (Acts 28:30), and it was during this time that he wrote the four prison epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians.  The first three were all written about the same time (60 or 61 a.d.) and delivered by Tychicus who was accompanied by Onesimus, a runaway slave who had come to know the Lord from Paul’s ministry in Rome and was returning to his master Philemon in Asia (see Eph 6:21-22, Col 4:7-9, Philem 1:10).  Philippians was written towards the end of his imprisonment when he was anticipating his release (c. 62 a.d., see Phil 1:19,25, 2:24).  Luke’s Acts of the Apostles would also have been written about this time, as it ends before Paul was released from prison.  (The gospel of Luke would, of course, have been completed prior to this time, probably prior to 56 a.d. when 2 Corinthians was written; see 2 Cor 8:18, recall this was written from Macedonia, and confer the “we” sections of Acts 16:9-17 which end in Acts 16:40 and resume in Acts 20:5-6; it is likely Luke stayed in Philippi making and distributing copies of his Gospel during this time between Paul’s 2nd and 3rd journeys so that his fame in the gospel spread through all the churches.)

With the close of the Acts record, we are left to piece together from other sources the remainder of Paul’s life.  Paul anticipated his release from custody in Philippians 1:19,25, 2:24, and Philemon 1:22 and it is almost certain that he was (cf. King Agrippa’s statement to the governor Festus, “This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar”, Acts 26:32).  Because the events described in the pastoral epistles do not fit into the Acts chronology and appear to take place toward the end of the apostle’s life, it is most reasonable to assume that they refer to a time following Paul’s release from prison (c. 62 a.d.).

In anticipating his release from this first Roman imprisonment Paul had requested Philemon (who lived in Colossae, east of Ephesus in Asia) to “prepare me a lodging” (Phm 1:22) and mentioned his hope that he would “be coming shortly” to the Philippians (in Macedonia, Phil 2:24).  It is therefore likely that following his release he traveled to both Asia and Macedonia.  At some point while in Asia he asked Timothy to “remain on at Ephesus” where he had ministered for 3 years on his third missionary journey while he traveled to Macedonia (1 Tim 1:3).  The “savage wolves” he had warned the Ephesian elders about in Acts 20:29 were beginning to arise and Timothy was to “instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines” (1 Tim 1:3).  Paul hoped to come to him before long, but in case he was delayed he wrote so that Timothy might “know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God” (1 Tim 3:14-15).  Although not certain, it is most likely that he wrote from Philippi, c. 63 a.d.

From Titus 1:5 it is also clear that at some time following his release Paul ministered on the island of Crete with Titus, who had served with the apostle since before his first missionary journey (Gal 2:1).  He left him there to “set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city”, while he himself moved on, eventually arriving at Nicopolis (on the northwestern shore of Greece) where he expected Titus to catch up to him.  It is uncertain if Paul was in Nicopolis at the time of writing, or just headed there, perhaps in Corinth, or perhaps even in Asia.  Because of similarities with 1 Timothy, it was most likely composed in the same time frame, c. 63 a.d.

Based upon his stated desire to do so (cf. Rom 15:23-28) and the testimony of Clement only 30 years after Paul’s death, it is also likely that following his first Roman imprisonment Paul engaged himself on a fourth missionary journey to Spain, probably after the writing of 1 Timothy and Titus.  In 64 a.d., a large portion of Rome was destroyed by fire, and many believed the emperor Nero to be responsible because of his grandiose designs for a more beautiful Rome.  To divert attention from himself he instigated the first government sponsored persecution of Christians as scapegoats for the conflagration.  Prior to this time Christians were viewed as a sect of the Jewish religion, which had religio licita status within the empire.  At that time Christianity became a religio illicita and its leaders were sought out for arrest.  Assuming Paul did go to Spain, he must have returned to the west coast of Asia where he left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20) and his cloak and important books and parchments at Troas (2 Tim 4:13).  Perhaps it was in Troas where he was arrested and sent to Rome for his second Roman imprisonment.  However, this time he was no longer under house arrest in his own rented quarters, but rather in a cold cell of the Mamertine prison.  From there he wrote what we know as 2 Timothy to encourage Timothy, who was timid in nature, in regard to the growing hardships of following Christ: persecution from without, and false teaching from within.  He was also anxious to have Timothy join him in Rome and bring the cloak and parchments he had left in Troas.  2 Timothy was Paul’s last epistle, written as late as 67 a.d.

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