Did Paul engage in “missionary journeys?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

You have surely seen them, friend. Christian literature, sermons, and Bible maps usually make reference to Paul’s “missionary journeys,” the four extensive ministry trips he undertook during the Book of Acts (#1—13:1–14:28; #2—15:39–18:22; #3—18:23–21:16; #4—27:1–28:16). Ninety-nine percent of the time, the adjective “missionary” is employed. Is this fair, or questionable?

Indeed, the English word “missionary” means “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.” But, the Bible never actually calls Paul a “missionary.” I know what people mean when they say it—to wit, that Paul was a “missionary” because he was sent out to the nations to preach the Gospel of Grace. For years, I used the phrase “Paul’s missionary journeys,” using that same definition. However, a judicious person long ago caused me to stop and think—“No, not missionary journeys, but apostolic journeys.” We need not water down what God Himself has exalted!

Indeed, the church at Antioch (Syria) sent out Saul/Paul and Barnabas, but this was not of their own idea or volition. Notice Acts 13:1-3: “[1] Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. [2] As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. [3] And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” It was the decision of the Holy Spirit, not men, to send Paul (and Barnabas) out to undertake those journeys. However, contrary to popular belief, Paul did not become an apostle here. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, back in chapter 9 of Acts, had ordained Paul as an apostle.

Paul was much more than a mere “missionary.” Again, he was first and foremost an “apostle,” literally, in Greek, “sent one.” The resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus had told Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus shortly after his conversion: “Delivering thee from the people [Israel], and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee…” (Acts 26:17). Therefore, the Holy Spirit led Paul to write, “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Romans 11:13). It was in cooperation with the words of Jesus Christ in Acts chapter 9 (although recorded in chapter 26) that the Holy Spirit caused the church at Antioch to send away Paul and Barnabas.

Furthermore, Paul began almost every epistle of his by declaring his apostleship:

  • Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God….”
  • 1 Corinthians 1:1: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God….”
  • 2 Corinthians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God….”
  • Galatians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father….”
  • Ephesians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God….”
  • Colossians 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God….”
  • 1 Timothy 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ….”
  • 2 Timothy 1:1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God….”
  • Titus 1:1: “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ….”

Therefore, it is more appropriate to call them Paul’s trips his “apostolic journeys.” He is an apostle, not to be confused with modern-day missionaries whom men command to service. No manmade organization or denomination sent out Paul. It was God’s will, yea God’s commandment, that Paul become an apostle. Jesus Christ Himself directly commissioned Paul as an apostle in Acts chapter 9. The leadership of the church at Antioch (Syria) recognized it years later in Acts chapter 13—they did not establish it though.

People who deny Paul as an apostle will call him a “missionary,” relegating him to a status of inferiority to the 12 Apostles. They also may say that Paul is an “extension” of the 12’s ministry. It is all far from the truth, though. Church tradition is very hard to break from, indeed, but let us get into the habit of saying “Paul’s apostolic journeys” rather than “Paul’s missionary journeys.” Remember, the Holy Spirit placed great value on that apostolic office of Paul, and we should too. No, we are not exalting Paul the man. We are honoring and exalting the Lord Jesus Christ who established that special office!

“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (Romans 11:13).

Also see:
» Does Acts 13:48 support Calvinism?
» Why was Saul’s name changed to Paul?
» Was the Apostle Paul a false prophet?