Syrian Antioch (Antakya)

(Acts 6:5; 11:19-30; 12:25; 13:1-4; 14:26; 15:25-41; 18:22-23 ) 

After the death of Alexander the Great, Seleucus I Nicator in about 300 BCE founded this city. Choosing a site fifteen miles inland on the Orontes River, Seleucus named the site after a family name, passed from his father to his son. The site was designed to be serviced by a nearby port at the river’s mouth, and is located where the Taurus and Lebanon mountains converge. The historian Strabo (contemporary of Paul) mentions that the city was about the same size as Alexandria, or slightly smaller. Diodorus of Sicily states that number to be near 300,000 freedmen. This important crossroad city had grown in both size and importance, and was the capitol of the Roman province of Syria by time of Paul.  

Josephus says that Antioch was considered the third most important city of the Empire, after Rome and Alexandria (Wars 3:2.4). He also comments on a large Jewish community that lived there and converted many Greeks to proselytes of Judaism (War 7:3.3). The combination of Sea trade and desert trade on a constant east west flow, along with the political power seat placed there made the city’s growth unrestrained. To the east, the Euphrates basin lead to the Parthian Empire with its coveted spice trades. To the south, the Via Maris passed through Judea to Egypt. The luxury of the city gave rise to its reputation as morally lax, and it was later chastised by the Roman satirical poet Juvenal (C2 CE) thus: “Obscene Orontes, diving underground conveys the his wealth to Tiber’s hungry shores and fattens Italy with foreign whores!”  

Two significant earthquakes preceded the years leading up to the visit by Paul, and some speculate this may have made people more receptive to the message of Paul. During the reign of Caligula (37-41 CE) and then Claudius (41-54 CE) the disastrous destruction caused the city to be rebuilt, and perhaps to be more open to spiritual warnings.  

In the New Testament, Antioch was one of the most prominent cities in the movement of early followers of Jesus. Some were no doubt converted at Pentecost, like Nicolas of Antioch (Acts 6:5) who was appointed to aid the church in Jerusalem. Many, however were likely first acquainted with the faith through those who fled persecution after the stoning of Stephen (Acts 11:19). Upon hearing of the growing community of faith in Antioch, Barnabas was dispatched from Jerusalem to check out the new community forming there (Acts 11:23ff). This mission was the catalyst for Barnabas to search out Saul of Tarsus, and enlist his aid in accompanying him on this mission. Paul followed Barnabas and stayed on at Antioch to preach the Gospel for the next year.  

The first group of believers called by their Greek term “Christians” was at Antioch (Acts 11:26). This was the sending church for Paul and Barnabas’s Mission Journeys to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 13:2; 14:26; 15:25). This church felt the brunt of the dispute over Gentile born converts to Christianity that was resolved in the Jerusalem Council (Gal. 2:11-21; Acts 15).