Paul’s Fourth Missionary Journey.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts and some of the epistles inform of the Apostle Paul’s story and his three exceptional missionary journeys. But the story ends suddenly and is incomplete. There is some proof that Paul had a fourth missionary journey and most probably did reach Spain and Portugal. Some texts even say he reached Britain, (see The Lost Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles also known as the Sonnini Manuscript), however, there is little proof of this idea. These episodes are not properly documented, however, there is much evidence of this in the New Testament and in different historic writings (Eusebius of Caesarea, who mentions Paul forty-eight times in his writings, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, one of the apocryphal writings,  Clement (AD 95), Peter (AD 60), Ignatius, Polycarp, Pamphilius, and many other late first, second, and third century writers); plus of course the writings of the Septuagint, (the seventy-book model of the Bible).

According to the book of Acts, Paul embarked on three missionary journeys, which are well documented in the New Testament. Following these journeys, he was under house arrest in Caesarea for a couple of years. First Paul was held by Felix, who probably kept him captive in the hope that he might receive money from him. (Acts 24:26 NIV …at the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him). When Paul introduced his case to Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa declared, “This man could have been set free if had he not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32).

From there Paul was to be transported under the care of Julius, a Roman Centurion, using several ships to get to Rome. He was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. Eventually, he made it to Rome where he spent another couple of years under house arrest in Rome awaiting an audience or trial with Emperor Nero. After Paul arrived in Rome, he observed that Jewish leaders there had not been made aware of his case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one had yet come from Jerusalem to present the accusations towards Paul. If the case was therefore no longer to be prosecuted, then possibilities are it would have been dismissed. That is the place the book of Acts ends; however, it is not the end of Paul or the end of the story. It is not revealed why Paul’s friend and fellow apostle Luke, the most credible source of the book of Acts, selected to stop where he did and failed to reveal the outcomes of the trial. Although Luke was a fellow prisoner with Paul, we know his writings did not end abruptly because he died in jail. According to ancient sources, Luke was martyred at age 84 in the Greek city of Thebes, so obviously lived on for many years after leaving Paul in Rome. We additionally do not possess a sequel to the book. However, there is robustly biblical and historic proof that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had at least one other significant missionary journey, if not two, before his final martyrdom in Rome.

There are many biblical and historic indicators floating around that allow us to reconstruct some of what came about afterwards with a little contrived storyline. The reconstruction of his route told here may be fictional, however, it is based on plenty of facts, a lot of historical writings and references, plus a sprinkling of half-truths. Whereas all the biblical and historic activities listed are in all probability true, we have little real knowledge of the timeline or order in which these events take place. We will, however, arrange the timings in what is viewed as the most reasonable order and the most probable timeline.

Something we are certain about is the beginning, which takes place after the conclusion of the book of Acts. Firstly, Paul was presented to Emperor Nero at some time during his period of arrest in Rome. God had after all promised Paul in a vision following his shipwreck off the coast of Malta that he would show up before Caesar. (Acts 27 verses 23 and 24 – Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar, and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’

 Following his hearing, at which, no doubt Paul preached the Gospel to Nero and anyone else who was there, Paul was set free.

Several strains of reasoning help the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First, those who accused Paul, as described in Acts, lacked evidence and meaning, the little evidence they did have was often contradictory and confused. When Paul was tried earlier before the procurator Felix in Caesarea, three accusations had been made (Acts 24:5-6):

  1. Paul had been the reason for riots all over the (known) world.
  2. Paul was the leader of an heretic Jewish sect.
  3. Paul had brought Gentiles and Greeks into the Temple of God in Jerusalem contrary to Jewish law, therefore, in their eyes, desecrating the Temple.

(Acts 21:28 “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.”)

Roman courts tended to exhibit little interest in religious matters as in the second charge, believing that the Jews could and should sort out their religious affairs and that such a charge is outside of the jurisdiction or interest of Rome.

In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had already found that similar accusations towards Paul were unfounded and unproven (see Acts 18:12-16).

The last charge against Paul had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, but they did not show up to testify before Pro-Consul Felix (Acts 24:19). Additionally, there had been no witnesses present at his initial trial in Caesarea to testify against him.

You see Paul looking forward to his release in Philemon 22, and in Philippians 1:19–26. The early church historian Eusebius, writing about AD 325 supported this with his declaration that Paul’s martyrdom was not at the time described in the book of Acts. (Eusebius of Caesarea circa. 260(ish) – 30 May 339), also known as Eusebius Pamphili. He was at once a Greek historian of Christianity and a Christian essayist. In about AD 314 he became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. Together with Pamphilus, he was once a pupil of the biblical canon and is considered one of the most influential Christian writers in the course of late antiquity).

Paul had decided to go to Philemon (Philemon 22). But in view that Colossae is to the east of Rome and Spain to the west, and given that we have evidence to believe that Paul travelled to Spain after Rome, it might be that Paul determined to forgo the trip Philemon until after he had visited Spain.

Maybe Paul did travel to Spain. Such a missionary journey was in his mind when he wrote his letter to the Romans five or six years earlier (Romans 15:22–29). Clement, writing around 95 AD in Rome, tells us that after Paul “had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West” (see 1 Clement 5.5–7). The “farthest limits of the West” in a Roman’s mind might be Britain or Gaul (France), but usually, a first-century Roman would be thinking of Spain. Would a renowned church historian in Rome, writing just 30 years after Paul’s death in Rome have made a historic mistake about Paul’s trip to Spain? It is more probable from the standpoint of historiography to expect that Paul did journey to Spain and minister there. (See also the Acts of Peter and the Muratorian Fragment, both written late in the second century, where they tell of Paul’s journey to Spain). We cannot of course be certain, but it was in Paul’s plan to visit there (Romans 15:23-29 NIV. But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, [24] I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey thereafter I have enjoyed your company for a while. [25] Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. [26] For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. [27] They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. [28] So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. [29] I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.) In the first century, Spain is only four, but possibly as many as ten days by ship from Rome, Paul most likely stayed some time in Spain preaching and teaching.

Perhaps on his return from Spain, Paul sailed to Crete the place he engaged in ministry alongside Titus. When Paul departed Crete, he left Titus to appoint elders in the cities that held believing communities, some of which have been probably planted via Paul and Titus (Titus 1:5). The order of activities after this becomes increasingly difficult. It is thought by many that after Crete, Paul travelled to Ephesus the place Timothy was once serving. During Paul’s time in Ephesus, the following incidents occurred:

1) Paul encountered opposition from Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14)

2) He confronted a large-scale falling out with believers in Asia, which includes Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15) and ‘The Acts of Paul and Thecla’.

3) he obtained assistance and encouragement from Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:18),

4) he entreated Timothy to stay in Ephesus to right false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3).

It may additionally be that Paul also had the intention to go to Philemon in Colossae (Philemon 22). At this point, there is no way to know. After this, we assume the whole thing happened in pretty fast succession except for any lengthy stays in any of the places he visited. Paul left Ephesus with the intention of journeying to Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3). But before Paul travelled to Macedonia, he wanted to go to Miletus for some reason, so he (walked? took a ship?) south with Trophimus to the close by port of Miletus. His companion and fellow traveller, Trophimus, unfortunately, grew to become too ill to journey anymore (2 Timothy 4:20 NIV Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus)  

Paul for that reason left Trophimus back in Miletus when he booked passage (I’m assuming Paul travelled by sea) on a ship heading north towards Macedonia. The ship would have stopped at Troas, so Paul left some belongings there with Carpus, such as his cloak and books (2 Timothy 4:13 NIVWhen you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.).

Since Paul left his cloak, we may also infer that it used to be summer or nearing summer. We know nearly nothing about his time in Macedonia, but, as with his visit there during his third missionary journey, he probably worked his way via Macedonia, ministering and journeying with believers in locations such as Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, and finally made his way down to Corinth.

Somewhere, alongside the experiences he had both in Macedonia and Achaia, he began planning for the winter months in the warmer area of Nicopolis on the west coast of Achaia (Titus 3:12 NIV As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there). Paul wrote a letter to Titus, and possibly his first letter to Timothy whilst making plans to winter in Nicopolis. Corinth would have been the perfect region to ship a letter to Crete (Titus) and a letter to Ephesus (1 Timothy), so I bet these letters have been despatched from Corinth. Paul despatched Artemas or Tychicus to relieve Titus on Crete, it has been suggested that Paul was once hoping for Titus to be with him throughout the colder months in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12).

Paul left Erastus in Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20 Erastus stayed in Corinth…); Erastus used to be from Corinth, (see Romans 16:23) and Paul then headed north and west towards Nicopolis, where he hoped Titus would meet him.

Now, we don’t have any real evidence that this is where Paul was arrested. If the order of things after Crete are moved around on the timeline above (and even the placement of Crete on the timeline is no longer certain), Paul might have been arrested in any of the following: Ephesus, Troas, one of the cities of Macedonia, or Nicopolis. A good guestimate is Nicopolis in view that it comes at a time when many different facts are pulled together. If he was arrested quickly after he arrived at Nicopolis, just as the winter weather was moving in, this would explain how Paul found himself in jail in winter in Rome (2 Timothy 4:13 NIVWhen you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments; – and 2 Timothy 4:21 NIV Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters).

Thus ends Paul’s fourth missionary journey. Included in the trip is a mission to Spain, ministry on the island of Crete, ministry in Ephesus, stops at Miletus, Troas, and quite many cities in Macedonia, Corinth, and probably Nicopolis.

What about after Paul’s remaining arrest? After Paul’s arrest, he was once taken to Rome and imprisoned, now not in a residence as at some stage in his former internment, but probably in the infamous, dark, and cold Mamertine Prison around the time that Nero commenced to unleash a horrific wave of persecution in opposition to Christians in the Roman Empire. During his time in prison, Paul was visited by Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-17 NIV May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. [17] On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.) deserted by several other Christians as he faced trial (2 Timothy 4:16 NIV At my first defence, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.), and completely abandoned by Demas, Cresens and even Titus, (2 Timothy 4:10 NIV …for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Cresens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.), nevertheless, by hook or by crook, Paul found a way to write the 2nd letter to Timothy (2 Timothy). Paul was aided by Doctor Luke, who sought to attend to his needs (2 Timothy 4:11 NIV Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry).

Paul is believed to have been beheaded instead of being thrown to the wild beasts or killed in some different inhumane way because he was a Roman citizen by birth.


The Fourth Missionary Journey: What Happened to Paul after Acts? By Kenneth Berding.

Eusebius of Caesarea 

The Acts of Paul and Thecla

Scriptures are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™

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