Cilicia: The First Christian Churches In Anatolia -- By: Mark Wilson

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:1 (NA 2003)
Article: Cilicia: The First Christian Churches In Anatolia
Author: Mark Wilson

The First Christian Churches In Anatolia1

Mark Wilson


This article explores the origin of the Christian church in Anatolia. While individual believers undoubtedly entered Anatolia during the 30s after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:9–10), the book of Acts suggests that it was not until the following decade that the first church was organized. For it was at Antioch, the capital of the Roman province of Syria, that the first Christians appeared (Acts 11:20–26). Yet two obscure references in Acts point to the organization of churches in Cilicia at an earlier date. Among the addressees of the letter drafted by the Jerusalem council were the churches in Cilicia (Acts 15:23). Later Paul visited these same churches at the beginning of his second ministry journey (Acts 15:41). Paul’s relationship to these churches points to this apostle as their founder. Since his home was the Cilician city of Tarsus, to which he returned after his conversion (Gal. 1:21; Acts 9:30), Paul was apparently active in church planting during his so-called ‘silent years’. The core of these churches undoubtedly consisted of Diaspora Jews who, like Paul’s family, lived in the region. Jews from Cilicia were members of a Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem, to which Paul was associated during his time in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9). Antiochus IV (175–164 BC) hellenized and urbanized Cilicia during his reign; the Romans around 39 BC added Cilicia Pedias to the province of Syria. Four cities along with Tarsus, located along or near the Pilgrim Road that transects Anatolia, constitute the most likely sites for the Cilician churches. The evidence, though incomplete, points to Cilicia as the location of the first Christian churches in Anatolia.

1. Introduction

The book of Acts points to two Antiochs — Antioch on the Orontes and Pisidian Antioch — as important hubs for the growth of the church. Yet there are intimations in Acts and Galatians that Cilicia might be the true birthplace of the Anatolian church. Jews from Anatolia were among the Diaspora pilgrims in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out and the Christian church was born.2 Five Anatolian provinces and regions are mentioned in Acts 2:9–10: Cappadoc...

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