The First Missionary Journey: Acts 13:1—14:28
This journey began around A.D. 46 after God told the church in Syrian Antioch to set aside Paul and Barnabas for special missionary work. Paul and Barnabas began their journey by sailing to the isle of Cyprus. Beginning in the eastern city of Salamis, they proclaimed the gospel from synagogue to synagogue as they moved to the western city of Paphos.
From Cyprus Paul and Barnabas sailed to Perga, and then moved inland to Antioch in the region of Pisidia, which at that time was a part of the Roman province of Galatia. After hearing Paul preach the gospel in the synagogue there, many of the Jews responded positively. But within a week, unbelieving Jews incited the city against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town.
From Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas moved further east in the province of Galatia, and stopped first in the city of Iconium. When they preached in the synagogue there, many Jews and Gentiles came to faith, but the church was not firmly established because Paul and Barnabas quickly left the city when unbelieving Jews plotted to murder them.
Their next stop was the city of Lystra, where Paul managed to start another church. In Lystra, Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth. But when the people of the city saw this miracle, they mistook Paul for the god Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. They tried to offer sacrifices to the missionaries, but Paul and Barnabas explained that they were mere men. Thereafter, some unbelieving Jews arrived from Iconium, and were able to turn the disillusioned citizens of Lystra against Paul and Barnabas, but God spared Paul’s life and he moved on once again. Paul and Barnabas traveled east in Galatia as far as Derbe where many people trusted Christ. In Derbe, Paul finally had time to organize the church by appointing elders.
But Paul was still deeply concerned for the Christians in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch. So, at risk of life and limb, Paul and Barnabas returned to each of these cities. They strengthened the fledgling churches and explained that the kinds of sufferings the believers had seen in Paul and Barnabas were the sort of tribulations all Christians should expect to endure as they further the Kingdom of God. From Pisidian Antioch, the missionaries made their way back to the coast, preaching in the cities of Perga and Attalia. And from Attalia, they sailed for Syrian Antioch.
Now, in the book of Galatians, Paul referred to his time in Galatia. So, we know that he wrote this epistle sometime after his first missionary journey. But it is important to note that the epistle to the Galatians doesn’t mention the well-known meeting of the apostles in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15, which took place later. The assembly in Jerusalem addressed some of the same issues as Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and Paul would have appealed to this assembly to support his views if the assembly had already taken place by the time Galatians was written. So, it seems likely that he wrote Galatians in A.D. 48, within a year or so of leaving Galatia but before the Jerusalem council was held.