NOTE: Here is the video version of this blog, from Episode 139 of the TV show, Digging for Truth, by the Associates for Biblical Research.
The Apostle Paul was undoubtedly one of the most influential Christians in the first century, going on (at least) three missionary journeys, planting churches in various cities throughout the Roman Empire, and writing 13 books in the New Testament. While some critics have questioned his authorship of some of these (for which there are good rebuttals), no serious scholar questions the historicity of Paul. Moreover, the record of his journeys, as written by Luke in the book of Acts, has repeatedly proven to be accurate. Here then are the top ten discoveries related to the Apostle Paul.
10. Roman Roads
One of the underappreciated features of the New Testament world are the roads. The Roman Empire went to great lengths and expense to build a system of paved roads throughout the Empire. In fact, by the time of the Emperor Diocletian (ca. AD 300), it is estimated that they had constructed over 53,000 miles of roads.1 To the Romans, this was a way to move soldiers quickly to any place in the Empire. For the Apostle Paul, these roads provided a way for him to travel on his missionary journeys to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. New Testament archaeologist W.M. Ramsay summarized: “The Roman roads were probably at their best during the first century after Augustus had put an end to war and disorder.… Thus St. Paul traveled in the best and safest period.”2
The remains of some of the Roman roads that Paul would have traveled on still remain today. He walked the Via Sebeste (“Imperial Road”), while traveling between Iconium and Pisidian Antioch on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:51). He would have trod the Via Taurus, when he began his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 15:41-16:1; 18:23).3 The Via Ignatia (Ignatian Way) was Rome’s primary road to the east, and Paul would have walked this road on his second missionary journey as the traveled to Philippi from Neapolis (Acts 16:11-12). Finally, after Paul appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11), he traveled to Rome. During the final leg of that journey, he would have walked the Appian Way, the remains of which are still seen today near Rome.
9. Sergius Paulus Inscriptions
Paul and Barnabas met Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, during their first missionary journey. He is described as “a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:7). Sergius Paulus eventually put his faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:12) and, after leaving Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas immediately made their way to Pisidian Antioch2 (Acts 13:14).
Numerous inscriptions which mention a Roman official named Sergius Paulus have been discovered; these may refer to the man the Apostle Paul led to faith in Christ4. They include:
- a Greek inscription (IGR III, 930), discovered at Soloi, on the northern coast of Cyprus, that names a “proconsul Paulus”
- the Roman Tiber River inscription (CIL 6.41545), dating to the mid-40’s AD, which names commissioners of the Tiber River, one of which is Lucius Sergius Paullus
- a fragmentary inscription discovered near Pisidian Antioch, currently housed in the Yalvac Museum, on which the name L. Sergius Paulus is visible
- an inscription near Pisidian Antioch which was copied by Sir William Ramsay and J.G.C. Anderson in 1912 that refers to L. Sergius Paullus, the younger, son of Lucius
These inscriptions demonstrate that there was indeed an important Roman official named Sergius Paulus in the middle of the first century. His family owned an estate northwest of Pisidian Antioch5, which may explain why the Apostle Paul’s next stop after leading Sergius Paulus to faith in Christ was this city; the proconsul may have asked Paul to share the gospel with the rest of his family. New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington III concludes: “In sum, the inscriptional evidence clearly places Sergii Pauli on the island of Cyprus and the Latin inscription about Lucius of that family may point us to the man in question. Given what we know about the Roman career patterns of the time it is quite feasible that a curator of the Tiber might have before or after his curatorship served as proconsul on Cyprus.”6
8. Erastus Inscription
The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans while he was in Corinth. At the end of the epistle (Rom. 16:23) he sent greetings from Erastus, the “city treasure” (ESV) or “director of public works” (NIV). The Greek word that is used is oikonomos, which means “manager” or “steward.” It is a general term that Paul likely use to describe the role Erastus filled, rather than his official title.
In 1929, an inscription was discovered at Corinth on a large paving stone near the theater. It dates to the middle of the first century A.D. and reads, “Erastus, in return for his aedileship laid [the pavement] at his own expense.”7 The seven-inch high letters in the inscription would have been filled with bronze at one time, although they are hollow today. An aedile was an elected official who functioned as the city’s business manager, overseeing the city’s buildings, roads, marketplace, and public funds.8
There are several good reasons to believe that the Erastus inscription refers to the Erastus of Paul’s letter to the Romans. First, Erastus is a rare name; the inscription from Corinth is the only archaeological evidence we have of this name in the city. Second, the inscription dates precisely to the time Erastus was known to be an official in the city. And finally, inscriptional evidence from other cities, such as Philadelphia, Smyrna, and Hierapolis, have demonstrated that the term oikonomos could describe the position of an aedile.9 In short, the Erastus of Paul’s epistle was likely the high-ranking Corinthian official who laid the paving stone at his own expense.
7. Roman Officials – Asiarchs & Politarchs
Throughout the Roman empire of the first century there were a myriad of political titles and roles. The apostle Paul encountered various officials during his missionary journeys, and Luke, who traveled with him, accurately recorded these interactions. However, his uses of some terms, such as politarchs and asiarchs, were so rare outside of Scripture, that critics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries questioned Luke’s historical accuracy. Archaeology has since vindicated the good doctor, and we now have many examples of these terms.
In Thessalonica, Paul and Silas led numerous people to faith in Christ, including some devout Greeks and prominent women. The Jews in the city incited a riot and went to the home of Jason, where Paul and Silas were staying to seize them. In Acts 17:6 we read, “And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities [Gk. politarchs] shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” In 1876, an inscription was discovered on the second-century Roman arch over the Vardar Gate at Thessalonica. It begins, “Serving as politarchs…” and lists the names of those who were politarchs in the city.10
In Acts 19:31 we read that Paul had friends among some of the asiarchs of Ephesus. The terms is translated “officials of the province” (NIV) and “provincial authorities” (NET) in English versions of Scripture. Asiarch inscriptions have now been found in over 40 cities throughout Asia, including numerous ones in Ephesus that date to within 50 years of the Apostle Paul. So far 106 individual asiarchs, both men and women, have been identified in Ephesus.11
6. Temple Warning Inscriptions
Paul was seized in Jerusalem by Jews who mistakenly believed he had brought a Gentile into the inner courts of the Temple. Scripture records, “The Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.” (Acts 21:27-29).
Within the Temple complex, non-Jews and the ritually impure were allowed to go no further than the court of the Gentiles. Josephus describes warning signs leading into the inner precinct in both Greek and Latin that forbade foreigners from going beyond that point on pain of death.12
One of these limestone warning signs was discovered in 1871 by French archaeologist Charles Clermont-Ganneau. It reads: “No foreigner is to enter within the railing and enclosure around the temple. And whoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his subsequent death.”13 In 1935 a second fragmentary temple warning inscription was discovered outside of the Old City of Jerusalem near the Lion’s Gate.
The Temple Warning Inscriptions are vivid reminders of the outrage the Jews mistakenly had when they seized Paul in the Temple. They are also likely what Paul had in mind when he described the “dividing wall” that had been torn down between Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Eph. 2:14).
5. Athens: Marketplace & Mars’ Hill
Paul’s stop in Athens on his second missionary journey was brief, but eventful. He was disturbed to see the city full of idols and began to preach the gospel in the local synagogue and the marketplace. This led to him being taken to speak to the Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:16-34).
In Athens, an older Greek agora and newer Roman forum formed two sections of a single agora, separated by the Stoa of Attalos.14 The Roman forum was the marketplace in Paul’s day, and it is here he reasoned with people each day (Acts 17:17). By the mid-first century, the Greek agora had become a sort of museum, filled with altars, statues, and temples.15 Images and idols of numerous gods were to be seen all around the city, including the great statue of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, as well as other gods known to have been worshiped in the city (ie. Apollo, Aphrodite, Hera, Demeter, Artemis, etc.). There was even an altar to “to the unknown god” (Acts 17:23), numerous examples of which have been discovered throughout the ancient world.
The Areopagus (lit. Mars’ Hill) refers to both a council that had judicial authority in Athens16 and a prominent rock outcropping located 140 feet below the Acropolis. In Paul’s day, Mars Hill was the meeting place of the Areopagus, the main governing body of the city17, and it is here that he likely made his famous address (Acts 17:22-34). Visitors to Athens today can climb to the top of Mars Hill and see the remains of the city Paul visited.
4. Herod’s Praetorium at Caesarea Maritima
Paul spent two years imprisoned in Caesarea Maritima under the Roman governors Felix and Festus (Acts 24:27). Acts 23:35 records that he was guarded in “Herod’s praetorium” (ESV) or “Herod’s palace” (NIV).
Herod the Great constructed the city of Caesarea on the site of Strabo’s Tower, naming it thus to honor Caesar Augustus. The coastal city’s harbour was on the main route between Tyre and Egypt.18 Herod’s kingdom was eventually turned into a Roman province, and Caesarea Maritima became its main port and administrative capital. Herod’s palace became the official residence of the Roman governor, and it was there that Paul was held in custody.19
The remains of Herod’s seaside palace, called the Promontory Palace, with its central pool, can still be seen today at Caesarea Maritima.
3. Ephesus: Artemis and the Great Theater
Paul made Ephesus the center of his ministry for over two years. During this time, the gospel “continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20) so that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). This threatened the livelihood of those who made their living from the worship of the goddess Artemis (Acts 19:27-27). A riot ensued, incited by Demetris the silversmith, in which “the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater” where for two hours they shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:29, 34)
Many of the elements in this account have been affirmed by Archaeology. Numerous ancient voices affirm the importance of the worship of Artemis at Ephesus. The temple itself was discovered by J.T. Wood, after a six-year search. At one time it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, such that Antipater of Sidon declared that when he saw the Temple of Artemis, “those other marvels lost their brilliancy.”20 It had 127 columns and was, at one time, the largest religious building in the ancient world. Today, only the remains of the foundations and a single column stand at the site, although some of the sculptured columns from the temple are in the British Museum.
Three remarkable statues of the goddess Artemis were discovered in civic center of the upper city and are now in the Ephesus Museum.21
The Great Theater of Ephesus still dominates the landscape of Ephesus; it is built into the west side of Mt. Pion with a direct view of the harbor. It was constructed during the Hellenistic era in typical Greek style; renovations to it began in AD 40, and took seventy years to complete, so it was under construction when the Apostle Paul lived there.22 The theater could seat over 20,000 people with the topmost row of benches almost 100 feet in the air. Tourists today can explore the Great Theater, knowing it is the exact site of the events described in Acts 19.
2. The Bema of Corinth
When Paul was in Corinth during his second missionary journey, the Jews of the city brought charges against him before the proconsul, Gallio. Acts 18:12-16 records this event:
“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.’ But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.’ And he drove them from the tribunal.” (ESV)
The word, tribunal, is the Greek word bema, meaning judgment seat. This was a speaker’s platform where official proclamations were publicly read, and where citizens appeared before civic officials.23 The bema of Corinth was discovered in 1935, and was identified because of a Latin inscription, which read, “…he revetted the rostra [the Latin equivalent of a bema] and paid personally the expense of making all its marble.”24 The bema of Corinth is a large, stone speakers’ platform rising 2.3m (7.5 ft) above the pavement of the Market; it is here that the Apostle Paul was acquitted by Gallio. Paul, likely remembering this incident, warned the Corinthians that, “we must all appear before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
1. Gallio Inscription
Archaeological evidence for Gallio, the proconsul of Achia who tried Paul in Corinth, was discovered at Delphi, Greece in 1905. The Gallio Inscription (or Delphi Inscription) is a group of nine fragments which were likely once part of the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.25 It is a copy of a letter from the Emperor Claudius in which he speaks about guarding the cult of Apollo at Delphi and references “Junius Gallio, my friend and proconsul.”26
The inscription states that Claudius had been “acclaimed Imperator for the 26th time,” dating it to between January and August, AD 52. Biblical scholar, Dr. Andrew Steinmann from Concordia University Chicago, has noted that this firmly establishes the dates of Gallio’s proconsulship. Since proconsuls usually took office on May 1st and served for only one year, we know that Gallio served as Proconsul of Achaia from May 1, AD 51 to end of April AD 52.27
The Gallio Inscription acts as a chronological anchor by which we can date the Apostle Paul’s ministry in Corinth: he would have been brought before Gallio by the Jews sometime in the middle of AD 51. This then is a fixed marker by which we can work forwards and backwards dating most of Paul’s ministry and much of the history of the early church.
These discoveries demonstrate that the record of Paul’s life written in the book of Acts and in his epistles has been accurately recorded. Many of people, places, and events named have been affirmed through archaeology. If we can trust what is written about his life, I believe we can trust that the teachings of Paul have been accurately recorded as well. He wrote to the church in Rome that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:8-9). This truth drove the Apostle Paul to preach the gospel wherever he went, declaring the all “must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20:21). In the 2000 years since the Apostle Paul lived, Christians have been proclaiming the same message.
Cover Photo: This fresco of Paul dates to the 5th or 6th century and is to be seen in the Grotto of St. Paul in Ephesus. You can learn more about it here: https://www.bibleplaces.com/blog/2013/04/the-grotto-of-saint-paul-in-ephesus/ Photo: Todd Bolen, BiblePlaces.com
1 Edwin M. Yamauchi, “On the Road with Paul.” Christian History, Issue 47. https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/on-the-road-with-paul (Accessed April 27, 2021).
3 Gordon Franz, ““How Beautiful Are the Feet” of Talbot Students on Roman Roads in 2011.” https://www.lifeandland.org/2011/02/%E2%80%9Chow-beautiful-are-the-feet%E2%80%9D-of-talbot-students-on-roman-roads-in-2011/ (Accessed April 27, 2021).
4 Bryan Windle, “Sergius Paulus: An Archaeological Biography.” Bible Archaeology Report. https://biblearchaeologyreport.com/2019/11/15/sergius-paulus-an-archaeological-biography/ (Accessed April 28, 2021).
5 Mark Wilson, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. (İstanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2020), 107.
6 Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 400.
7 John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991), 331.
8 Ibid, 332.
9 Randall Price and H. Wayne House, Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 309.
10 Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 367.
11 John McRay. “Archaeology and the Book of Acts” Criswell Theological Review, 5.1, 1990, Pg. 77.
12 Josephus, Antiquities, 15.5.1.
13 Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 328.
14 John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991), 302.
15 Ibid, 304.
16 Ibid, 308.
17 Todd Bolen, “Athens.” https://www.bibleplaces.com/athens/ (Accessed May 3, 2021).
18 Ferrell Jenkins, “Acts 24 — Photo Illustrations — Caesarea.” https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2012/11/27/acts-24-photo-illustrations-caesarea/ (Accessed May 4, 2021).
19 Barbara Burrell, Kathryn L. Gleason, and Ehud Netzer, “Uncovering Herod’s Seaside Palace.” Biblical Archaeology Review 19:3, May/June 1993, p. 56.
20 Antipater, Greek Anthology IX. 58
21 Mark Wilson, Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. (İstanbul: Ege Yayinlari, 2020), 222.
22 Ibid, 214.
23 Alfred Hoerth and John McRay, Bible Archaeology: An Exploration of the History and Culture of Early Civilizations, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 257.
24 “The Judgement Seat” in NIV Archaeological Study Bible (ed. Walter C. Kaiser Jr and Duane Garrett; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 1891.
25 Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 336.
26 Ibid, 337.
27 Andrew E. Steinmann, From Abraham To Paul: A Biblical Chronology. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), 305.