Apostle Paul Life, Teaching & Theology

Apostle Paul to Philippi: Sowing the Seeds of Christianity

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. (The Acts 16: 11-12)

St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey was meant to be the uprising of the expansion of the Christian Faith across Europe, starting by the establishment of the first Christian Community in Macedonian Philippi. As one writer has commented, “Out of Macedonia, Alexander the Great once went to conquer the Eastern world but later from Macedonia the power of the gospel went to conquer the Western world of Paul’s day” (Swift 1984:250).

But, why, specifically, in Macedonia? The story begins with Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:7-10)

krinides baptistry philippi
The baptistery and portal adjacent to Basilica B church at Philippi, Greece

Apostle Paul arrived in Agios Nikolaos area and after following Via Egnatia he reached Philippi, 12 km from Neapoli. He was accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke the doctor, Evangelist and writer of "Acts of the Apostles”.

After the 3rd century B.C. and especially during the Roman era, a religious syncretism occurs in Philippi and various worships (Thracian-Greek-Anatolic) and doctrines are mingled. With little or no Jewish presence in the city, Philippi’s citizens were devoted primarily to the traditional Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. As supported, there were so few Jews in Philippi that there was no synagogue (ten married men were required to establish one).( On the other hand, recent excavations of the western necropolis of Philippi unearthed a Jewish burial inscription from the second century AD that mentioned a synagogue in Philippi. So who was to hear his revolutionary teaching?

As Paul’s custom was, he sought out the Jewish people whenever he went into a new city (Rom 1:16). His desire for the Jewish people was that they might come to faith in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah (Rom 9:1–5; 10:1–3). On the Sabbath, Paul and his companions “went outside the gate by the river, where [they] supposed there was a place of prayer.” The few Jews who were there met for prayer along the banks of the Gangites River as it was customary for such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water.” Paul after delivering his first sermon in Europe preached the gospel first to Lydia, a God-fearer from Thyatira and her household, then to the Philippian jailer and his family and eventually to the whole city.

philippi basilica b
Ruins of a Christian church dating from 550 AD, known as Basilica B, Philippi, Greece

Paul brings to Philippi the new faith in Christ and from now on refers to the city as being his beloved one. It is a local church that not only creates, but also always shows affection, attachment and love to its founder and enlighter.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” (The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians 1: 3-7)

His Epistle to the Philippians was written from prison in Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there at 60–62 AD. It is impressive that the whole Epistle is enhanced by “the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel” ( Phil 1:5–6), as if trying to get the Philippian Christians see themselves first and foremost as Christians and secondly as Romans. But why speaking, specifically, to them, in terms of partnership and citizenry of “another” world? Because a considerable amount of the Philippian citizens were Romans who enjoyed special privileges as colonists, Paul encountered there a community with a pronounced devotion to and pride in the Roman Empire. Consequently, the political and religious loyalties of the people appear to have been an issue for Paul. Only in Philippians does he use language that speaks of civil and political identity, when he tells his readers to live in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27) and when he reminds them that they are citizens of heaven (3:20).

Furthermore, as Philippi was the scene of a terrible battle in 42 B C, peace in the region was shattered. Later, Emperors Claudius and Nero seemed to have brought a measure of peace to the region but into the hearts of the people. The Apostle Paul writes about the “peace of God” to the church of Philippi which will surpass all understanding (Phil 4:7). This peace would come by meditating on the God of Peace and the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, a good report, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8–9).

krinides philippi basilica b
Ruins of a Christian church dating from 550 AD, known as Basilica B, Philippi, Greece

The city of Philippi became indissolubly bound to the expansion of Christianity in Europe.

Especially, the number of St. Paul revisits to Philippi, bears a straight relation to his apostolic concern and the strong bonds that tie him to his spiritual children, the Philippi Church Christians.

The autumn of 56 A.D. “after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and empraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia” (Acts 20,1). He meets Titus who carried good news from his visit to Corinthos and writes his second epistle to the Corinthians. He returns again by land, on Easter’s Eve, the 8th of April 57. After celebrating the “Azyma”, Paul and his companions leave from Neapolis on a ship and travel to Troas while heading to Jerusalem. In 62 A D he is released from two-years-jail in Rome while the narration in the Acts of the Apostles stop. We learn about the rest of his life by fragments in his Epistles. An indirect testimony by Paul himself reveals that after his imprisonment, he arrives at Ephessus, then to Troas and ends up to his beloved city of Philippi. His last visit was at 64 A.D. about two years before his martyr death.

The Apostolic Church of Philippi, after the recognition of Christianism as a free religion, gets organized, grows and glows as a centre of honor and worship to St. Paul. A wealth of imposing and elaborate churches ornament the centre of the city, which on the other hand is going through rough times being invaded, plundered and taken over, resulting in decline and devastation.


Koukouli-Chrysantaki, Chaido, 1998 Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. Pp. 5–35 in Philippi at the Time of Paul and after His Death. eds. Charalambos Bakirtzis and Helmut Koester. Harrisburg PA: Trinity.

Swift, Robert, 1984 The Theme and Structure of Philippians. Bibliotheca Sacra 141:234–54.

Freedman, David Noel, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck. 2000. Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans.

John H. Walton, 2005, Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Michigan