Online Bible Commentary
The Churches of Galatia
Acts 14:21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. 27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 45-46. Paul is traveling in Asia Minor, present day Turkey, on his first missionary journey. He is accompanied by Barnabas and other apostles.
The apostles were run out of first Antioch, of Psidia, and then Iconium by crowds of Jews and some Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas have now traveled to Lystra to avoid the death threats.
But the Jews from Antioch and Iconium catch up with Paul and Barnabas as they are preaching in Lystra. Paul is stoned to the point of death and is dragged out of the city. The disciples gather around Paul and he miraculously rises up and is taken back to the city. The next day Paul and Barnabas depart for Derbe, where we pick up this passage.
In Derbe, Paul and Barnabas again “preached the gospel…and made many disciples” (v. 21). They then “returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch” (v. 22). Lystra was Timothy’s hometown and he may have become a Christian at this time, as he was a disciple by the next time Paul visited.
Paul’s ministry objectives took on a pattern on this, his first, missionary journey. He would introduce the gospel to each city and a band of believers would arise. Then, on his return trip, he would spend more time “strengthening the souls of the disciples” through more detailed teaching (v. 22a). All the time he would encourage them, “exhorting them to continue in the faith” (v. 22b). He would also prepare them for the “many tribulations” they would face before they would eventually “enter the kingdom of God" in Heaven (v. 23c).
By the time Paul would return to each city natural leaders would have arisen, through the Holy Spirit, out of these bands of believers, these new churches. These leaders would be appointed as elders (v. 23a). Of course they would be Godly men who met the qualifications for elders determined by Paul. After prayer and fasting these men would be commended to the Lord as elders (v. 23b).
From Antioch (Psidia), Paul and Barnabas then traveled southward though the region of Psidia to the region of Pamphylia, where they returned to, and “preached the word”, in the city of Perga (vv. 24-25a).
From there they traveled to the port city of Attalia where they set sail for Antioch, Syria (vv. 25b-26a). Paul and Barnabas were returning to their home church in Antioch, Syria that was the sending church for this, and all three, of Paul’s missionary journeys (v. 26b).
Upon their arrival in Antioch they “gathered the church together… (and) reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (v. 27). Paul and Barnabas then “stayed there a long time”, possibly as long as two years. If indeed they stayed there two years this would mean that they had returned from their missionary journey in 47, since the next we read of them is their journey to Jerusalem for the Council of Jerusalem which met in 49.
Sometime prior to 50, the Roman regions where the churches in Antioch (Psidia), Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe resided had all been joined to the region of Galatia to the north. They were known as southern Galatia. It is thought that these churches were the churches to whom Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, and that he wrote it in Antioch, Syria during the two years prior to attending the Council of Jerusalem.