Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
in the footsteps of paul
 Ephesus
detail map

5
35
40
45
50
55
60
70

-
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
 Home | History | Series
 Introduction
 Tarsus (Birth - 30CE)
 Jerusalem (30-34)
 Antioch (34-43)
 Spreading the Word (43-48)
 The Wider World (49-50)
 Corinth (50-52)
 Ephesus (52-56)
 Into the Fire (56-70)
The Third Missionary Journey
7
 Pages
123

For we want you to know, brothers, how oppressed we were in Asia, that we were weighed down beyond our abilities to endure, and despaired to live. And so we learned to rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the deadů
–2 Cor.1.8-9

Paul writing during Ephesus imprisonment
Paul writing during Ephesus imprisonment
(historical recreation)

Then one comes to Hieropolis, with its hot springs and Plutonium. The water of the springs so easily hardens into porous stone that people channel it through ditches to make fences. The Plutonium, beneath a small ridge of overhanging rock, has a narrow opening obscured by a thick, deadly mist. But the water is very good for dyeing wool, and water so abundant that the city is full of baths.
–Strabo Geography 13.4.14

Mineral deposits and pools at ancient Hieropolis, modern Pamukkale
Mineral deposits and pools at ancient Hieropolis, modern Pamukkale
(photo courtesy Ministry of Tourism, Ankara)

Greetings from the churches in Asia. Many greetings in the Lord from Aquila and Prisca and the church of their house. Greetings from all the brothers, greet each other with the kiss of peace. This greeting is in my own hand -- Paul.
–1 Cor 16. 19-21


p
aul left Antioch and headed inland once again to visit his earliest congregations in Galatia. He was headed back to Ephesus, and followed the Meander River valley down through the mountains to the coast. He could have passed the Roman spa town of Hieropolis, with mineral pools and hot springs. It also had a sanctuary of Pluto, the god of the underworld. This sanctuary was an opening in the ground that emitted a noxious gas. It was near a Temple to Apollo. Perhaps due to the geothermal activity, marble from Hieropolis was brilliantly colored, and wool was easily dyed. This western quarter of Turkey was called Asia Minor during the Roman period, and Ephesus was its largest city.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila greeted him, introduced him to the congregation that met at their house and briefed him on the status of the local movement. According to Acts, Ephesus had believers who had been baptized by disciples of John the Baptist and followed a teacher named Apollos. He had since left Ephesus for Corinth, with a letter of introduction from Aquila and Priscilla. The Ephesus community knew the teachings of Jesus, but had not heard Paul's message of the holy spirit. Similar variations, and sometimes rivalry, must have marked many early congregations, varying by teacher, local tradition, and communications with other cities. In his circuit of travels, Paul tried to establish some continuity. Paul would spend three years in Ephesus, and may have been imprisoned for some of that time. His letters indicate that he made visits to Corinth during his stay. And, as in Corinth, Paul earned his keep working as a tentmaker when he could, and depended on the support of his congregations when he could not. With this support he was able to spread his message even while under arrest.

Most of Paul's surviving letters were probably written during his time in Ephesus. The sequence and authenticity of the letters have been debated in recent generations, and it seems forged or misidentified letters were already a problem during Paul's lifetime. Since most of his letters were dictated, Paul made a point to personally sign his letters, and asked his readers to look for his distinctively large letters. It also seems that letters were shared between the nascent communities -- either copied or circulated and moving from city to city with the traveling teachers and companions. The letters themselves are testimony to the frequency of travel. While there was a military postal service, it was reserved for the official business of Empire. Letters like Paul's would have been carried by friends or acquaintances, and their distribution across the range of Paul's congregations suggests a steady stream of bearers. The letters served many social purposes and represent a range of concerns -- letters of introduction would smooth friends' travel, and build networks among the cities; letters in response to requests for advice on belief and practice -- sometimes exasperated letters reining in wandering souls -- would instruct the nascent communities, and shape the formation of churches for centuries; letters of gratitude for support during his imprisonments would encourage followers in the face of opposition; and there is one letter recommending its recipient free a free a man named Onesimus, who is thought to have been an escaped slave Paul met in Ephesus. He had probably come to seek refuge in the sanctuary of Artemis, and Paul sent him back to his owner -- a fellow believer -- with the letter encouraging his emancipation.

next chapter