Soon after the sweeping conquests of Alexander the Great, the empire he established split into sectors under the control of his Greek generals. One of these sectors was centred on Syria, and in 300 BC the new rulers built the city of Antioch on the Orontes River as the administrative capital of the sector. They also built the town of Seleucia nearby, as a Mediterranean port for Antioch (Acts 13:1,4). With the conquest of the region by Rome in 64 BC, Antioch became the capital of the Roman province of Syria. Christianity came to Antioch through the efforts of Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who had been driven from Jerusalem by violent Jewish persecution.

The two people whose teaching most helped the church in its early stages were Paul and Barnabas. It was there in Antioch, during the stay of Paul and Barnabas, that people first gave the name ‘Christian’ to the followers of Jesus Christ (Acts 11:19-26; for the significance of the name see CHRISTIAN). Upon hearing of the needs of poor Christians in Jerusalem, the Antioch church saw its responsibility to send gifts to help other Christians (Acts 11:27-30). Next it saw its responsibility to spread the gospel into more distant places where people had never heard it. The church therefore sent off Paul and Barnabas as its first missionaries (Acts 13:1-4). Antioch became the centre from which Christianity spread west into Asia Minor and Europe. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch when they had completed their first missionary journey (Acts 14:26-28). Soon, however, they met trouble. Jews from the church in Jerusalem came to Antioch and tried to force the Gentile Christians to keep the Jewish law (Acts 15:1,5; Gal 2:11-13).

As a result of the trouble that these Jewish teachers caused, the leaders of the Antioch church went to Jerusalem to discuss the matter with the leaders there. The Antioch leaders asserted that Christians were not bound by the Jewish law, and returned to Antioch with the reassuring knowledge that the Jerusalem leaders supported them (Acts 15:6-35). Paul’s second missionary journey also started and finished in Antioch (Acts 15:30-41; 18:22). He left from Antioch on his third journey (Acts 18:23), but finished the journey in jail in Caesarea (Acts 23:3135). There is no record of any further visits Paul made to Antioch.

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