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Antioch is a city in Greece. It was in Antioch that the disciples of Jesus were first called "Christians" (Acts 11:26).


Antioch [of Syria] was an ancient city located on the eastern side of the Orontes River near the modern Antakya, Turkey. Its harbour, fifteen miles distant, was Seleucia (cf. Acts 13:4). The city was founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, King of Syria [1], one of Alexander the Great's generals. Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria in Egypt as the chief city of the nearer East. The most notable fact about Antioch, however, is that it was the home of the first Gentile Christians.

Antioch Saint Pierre Church Front

St. Peter's Church

Antioch became the capital and court-city of the western Seleucid Empire under Antiochus I, and its counterpart in the east was Seleucia-on-Tigris. After the battle of Ancyra (240 BC), the Seleucids resided at Antioch and treated it as their capital par excellence. As one historian notes, "Among its great Greek buildings, we hear of the theatre, of which substructures still remain on the flank of Silpius, and of the royal palace, probably situated on the island." Antioch is also noted for having enjoyed a great reputation for letters and the arts (Cicero pro Archia, 3). [2] History bears out that the Jews had been among the original settlers, and had therefore been granted by the founder, as in other cities built by him, equal rights, with the Macedonians and the Greeks (Jos. Ant., XII, iii, 1; Contra Ap., II, iv). History also notes that the influence of the Antiochene Jews, living, as in Alexandria, under a governor of their own, and forming a large percentage of the population, was very great (Josephus, Ant. Rom., XII, iii, 1; Bel. Jud., VII, iii, 3, VII, v, 2; Harnack, Mission u. Ausbreitung d. Christenthums, p. 5, note 2) [3].

Antioch, unsurprisingly, turned against its weak rulers. The people invited Tigranes of Armenia to occupy the city in 83, tried to unseat Antiochus XIII. in 65, and petitioned Rome against his restoration in the following year. Their wish prevailed, and it passed with Syria to the Roman Republic in 64 B.C., but remained a civitas libera. The Romans both despised the "hybrid" Antiochenes and expressed this contempt, but they favored the city over Alexandria, seeing it as a more suitable capital for the eastern part of the empire. They even tried to make Antioch an eastern Rome.

Caesar visited Antioch 47 B.C., and confirmed its freedom. A great temple to Jupiter Capitolinus rose on Silpius, probably at the instance of Octavian. In addition, a Roman-type forum was planned. Tiberius built two long colonnades on the south towards Silpius. Agrippa and Tiberius enlarged the theatre, and Trajan finished their work. [4] Such was the nature of Antioch when the Apostle Paul, Barnabas and other Christian missionaries came to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Antioch in the Original Apostles'Time[]

Around the time of the first Apostles of Jesus Christ, Antioch was severely lacking in morals and was very pagan, yet it rivaled the great city of Alexandria in Egypt in terms of prosperity. In the middle of the city was a great temple dedicated to Apollo as well as a cult-statue of the god, as Musagetes, by Bryaxis. The masses, by the way, were only superficially Hellenic, for Aramaic was the non-official language being used. The nicknames which they gave to their later kings were Aramaic, except for Apollo [5] and Daphne [6].

The inhabitants of Antioch were also rebellious and uncontrollable to the point of being violent. They were known to cause dissension in the Seleucid house. In one instance, they rebelled against Alexander Balas in 147 B.C., and later Demetrius II. in 129. According to one source, "the latter, enlisting a body of Jews, punished his capital with fire and sword" [7]. The Roman emperors despised the ethnically mixed Antiochenes; while, at first glance, they favored the city, finding it a more suitable capital for the eastern part of the empire than Alexandria [in isolated Egypt]. To a certain extent they tried to make it an eastern Rome. Caesar visited it in 47 B.C., and confirmed its freedom. "A great temple to Jupiter Capitolinus rose on Silpius, probably at the instance of Octavian, whose cause the city had espoused." A Roman-type forum was planned. Tiberius built two long colonnades on the south towards Silpius. Agrippa and Tiberius enlarged the theatre, and Trajan finished their work. [8] Such were the type of inhabitants that the Apostle Paul, Barnabas and others had to confront.


Antioch on the Orontes

Paul's First Missionary Journey to Antioch[]

"Having heard these things, they held their peace and glorified God, saying: God then hath also to the Gentiles given repentance, unto life" [Acts 11:18].

Antioch was where the Apostles Paul and Barnabas got started with their missionary work to the Gentiles, and it became their headquarters. The Apostle Paul [aka Saul] and Barnabas were both sent to preach to the Gentiles and Jews living there around 47 AD.

When the Church in Jerusalem learned of the very favorable response of the Antiochenes to God's Word, they sent Barnabas there to encourage them further. Then Barnabas [9] was sent to Tarsus to get Paul, who would become a great influence over the Church that had been started there. Both Barnabas and the Apostle Paul taught there an entire year. The Bible explains that together, they taught such a great multitude that the disciples in Antioch were "first named Christians" [See Acts 11:21-26]. [10]. At the time of the famine, whereby Jerusalem was much afflicted, the offerings of the disciples at Antioch were carried (about A.D. 45) to the mother-church by Barnabas and Saul [Paul] (Acts 11). When their mission ended, they returned to Antioch, bringing with them the cousin, or nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), John Mark, the future Evangelist (Acts 12:25).

Doctrinal Disputes[]

Biblical sources indicate that Paul and Barnabas' work in Antioch was very successful, but it also mentions that there were doctrinal disputes over circumcision of the Gentiles and correct doctrine as it pertained to appropriate Apostolic behavior in the presence of the Gentiles. (Acts 13:2 sq.; 14:25-27; 15:35 sq.; 18:22-23). [Also see Acts 15 and Galatians 2:1-10.) [11]

Barnabas and Paul had been "for no small time" at Antioch, when they were threatened with the undoing of their work and the stopping of its further progress. Preachers came from Jerusalem with the gospel that circumcision was necessary for salvation, even for the Gentiles. The Apostles of the Gentiles, perceiving at once that this doctrine would be fatal to their work, went up to Jerusalem to combat it; the older Apostles received them kindly and at what is called the Council of Jerusalem (dated variously from A.D. 47 to 51) granted a decision in their favor as well as a hearty commendation of their work (Acts 14:27-15:30). According to reliable sources, the Jews who had been converted were compelling the Gentile converts to be circumcised so that they might become Jews before becoming Christians. The Jerusalem Council sent the following message to Antioch through Paul and Barnabas accompanied by Judas, surnamed Barnabas, and Silas: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden that these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and for unchastity" (Acts 15: 28-29).[12]

On their return to Antioch, they resumed their preaching for a short time. The Apostle Peter came down and associated freely there with the Gentiles, eating with them. This displeased some disciples of James, who, in their opinion, viewed Peter's act as unlawful, or against the Mosaic Law. After hearing their disagreements, Peter yielded apparently through fear of displeasing them, and refused to eat any longer with the Gentiles. Barnabas followed his example. Paul considered that they "walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel" and upbraided them before the whole church (Galatians 2:11-15).[13]

Prior to Paul and Barnabas[]

It is important to know that, before Paul and Barnabas went to Antioch, the Apostle Peter had set up a church there in 37 AD and was Bishop.[1][2] . Later, unknown disciples from Jerusalem, along with Christian converts from Cyprus and Cyrene, who had been dispersed by the persecution during which Stephen was put to death, went to Antioch and began preaching the word of God to the Antiochenes. Acts 11:19 and 20 reads, "Now they who had been dispersed by the persecution that arose on occasion of Stephen went about as far as Phenice and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none, but to the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were entered into Antioch, spoke also to the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of he Lord was with them: and a great number believing, were converted to the Lord." Acts 6:5 mentions the place of origin of Nicholas, one of the seven deacons there. It states, "And they [The Lord's Apostles] chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip and Prochorus and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch."

In Antioch, "the Way" [the original name of the new Christian Faith] was preached to and accepted by the Greeks with such success that here was where Christianity received its name, perhaps originally intended as a nickname by the witty Antiochenes (Acts 11:26). This growing Christian community soon became acknowledged by the mother-church of Jerusalem (Acts 11:22 sq.) and showed its faith by its spontaneous act of generosity toward the brethren during the time of famine. Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30). [14]

This Antioch, by the way, is not to be confused with Antioch in Pisidia, to which the early missionaries later traveled. Part of this first missionary journey can be walked today in the Saint Paul Trail, a long-distance footpath in Turkey. [15]

The Antioch [Syriac Orthodox] Church through History[]

The Syriac Orthodox Church notes in its article entitled, "History of the Syriac Orthodox Church" the following:

"The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the most ancient Christian Churches tracing its roots to the Church of Antioch. The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts of the Apostles 11:26). Apostle Peter is believed to have established a church in Antioch in AD 37, the remnants of which are still in Antakya (the modern name of Antioch), Turkey. After the martyrdom of Apostle Peter, he was succeeded by St. Euodius and St. Ignatius Noorono as shepherds of the flock in Antioch and in the writings of St. Ignatius we find the evolution of the ecclesiastical order of bishops—ordained successors of the Apostles in whom continued the spiritual authorities vested by our Lord in the Apostles. The bishophric of Antioch was recognized in the ecumenical Synod of Nicea (AD 325) as one of the Patriarchates of Christendom (along with that of Alexandria and Rome). It produced a line of succession beginning with Apostle Peter which continues to this day in the Syriac Orthodox Church.
Antioch was at the time of Christ the capital of the Roman province of Syria and an important center of commerce. As a city imbued in the hellenistic culture, Greek was the common language. But the majority of the people in the region, especially outside the cities spoke Syriac, the Edessene dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by our Lord.
The disciples Addai, Mari, Aggai and Apostle Thomas, are believed to have spread the Gospel in the regions north east of Antioch, of Edessa (Urhoy) and Nisibis and further to upper northern Mesopotamian plains between Rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The Syriac Doctrine of Addai recounts how Christ send Addai, one of the Seventy Disciples, to King Abgar of Edessa. It is believed that Apostle Thomas went further east arriving in what is today India in AD 52. Many important and influential centers of Syriac speaking Christians emerged in the cities such as Edessa (Urhoy), Adiabene (Hadyab), and Nisibis (Nsibin). While Antioch was the seat of the bishophric, Edessa is often considered the cradle of Syriac Christianity.
The Church of Antioch played a significant role in the early history of Christianity. It played a prominent role in the first three Synods held at Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431), shaping the formulation and early interpretation of Christian doctrines. In AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon and its Christological position resulted in a schism that divided the faithful under the Apostolic See of Antioch into two—one today known as the `idto suryoyto treeysath shubho (Syrian or Syriac Orthodox Church) and the other the Eastern Orthodox (or Rum Orthodox) Church of Antioch. The latter had the support of the Byzantinian Emperor Justinian who convened the Council of Chalcedon. The years that followed resulted in a struggle over the Apostolic See, with bishops of both persuasions assuming the position of Patriarch of Antioch. In 518, Patriarch St. Severus was exiled from Antioch. The seat of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch moved to different monasteries including Qartmin, Qenneshrin (Chalkis, near Aleppo), Malatya, and Amid (Diyarbakir), and finally settled in 1293 in Dayro d-Mor Hananyo (also known as Kurkmo Dayro in Syriac and Deir Zafaran in Arabic) in Mardin. It remained at this monastery until 1933 when the political circumstances forced its migration to Homs, Syria, and later to Damascus in 1959.
Another center of the Syriac Orthodox emerged in former Persian territory, that of the so-called Easterners (Syr. Madnehoyo). The Syriac Orthodox community there was partly a result of the Persian abduction of the Syrian population during the wars with Byzantium and forced settlement on Persian territory and partly of Christians in Persia who reacted against political imposition of the doctrines of the Church of the East.
Amidst all the adversity, the Church produced several illustrious saints whose lives and works had such immense influence not only on the Syriac tradition but much of Christendom. The rich liturgical heritage of the Syriac Orthodox Church is but one of their legacies. Scholars of the Church such as Mor Ya`qub of Edessa, George, the Bishop of the Arabians, and Moses Bar Kepha played an important role in transmitting Greek knowledge to the Arab world. Numerous Syriac Orthodox authors have also recorded historiographical accounts. Among them are such works as the Ecclesiastical History of John of Ephesus, the Chronicle of Jacob of Edessa, the Chronicle of Zuqnin (erroneously attributed to Patriarch Dionysius of Tel-Mahre), the Chronicle of Patriarch Mikhayel Rabo, the Chronography and Ecclesiastical History of Maphryono Gregorius Bar `Ebroyo." [The writers note further that "many of the historical accounts recorded in English have been written by authors affiliated with the Catholic Church and Church of England."][ [16]

Notes and References:

  • Paul began and ended his second missionary journey in Antioch, accompanied by Silas (Acts 15:36-41; 18:22). He started his third missionary journey from the city as well." (Acts 18:22-23)]. [17]
  • Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 50 - 110) was the third bishop of Antioch, after Peter and Euodius, whom Ignatius succeeded around AD 68. Ignatius, who also called himself Theophorus, was most likely a disciple of both Apostles Peter and John. Several of his letters have survived to this day and he is generally considered to be one of the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest group of the Church Fathers), and a saint by both the Catholic, who celebrate his feast day on February 1, and the Orthodox churches, who celebrate his feast day on October 17. [18]
  • Following are links to recent historical accounts in English authored by Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch:
  1. The Syrian Orthodox Church at a Glance by Patriarch H.H. Ignatius Zakka I
  2. The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch by Patriarch Ignatius Ya`qub III (External Link) Brock, Sebastian and David G.K. Taylor (ed.s),
  3. The Hidden Pearl: The Syrian Orthodox Church and Its Aramaic Heritage. (Rome: Trans World Film Italia, 2001).
  4. Patriarch Ignatius Aphram I Barsoum, The History of Syriac Literature and Sciences. tr. Matti Mousa. (Pueblo, CO: Passeggiata Press, 2000).
  5. Mor Clemis E. Kaplan, The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch: A Brief Introduction. (Unpublished manuscript, 1996).
  6. Witowski, Witold, The Syriac Chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tel-Mahre. (Uppsala: Studia Semitica Upsaliensia, 1987).


  1. This is provided in Downey, A History of Antioch, pp. 583–586. This evidence is accepted by M. Lapidge, among others, see Bischoff and Lapidge, Biblical Commentaries from the Canterbury School (Cambridge, 1994) p. 16.
  2. See Finegan, The Archaeology of the New Testament, pp. 63–71