Paul Leaves the Hellenistic World

Photo by Gunnar Ridderström on Unsplash

Identity in Roman Spain was fluid, and inscriptions attest that in the countryside many locals retained Iberian/Celtic names. For the first time, Paul was reaching outside of the Hellenistic world to found a church. Although it would have been a difficult mission field for Paul, he would have heard Greek in the cities and could have made himself understood in the large villas of the first-century countryside.

ESV Archeology Study Bible, p. 1688

Paul was bilingual (at least) and bicultural. He grew up as a Jew in the Greek/Hellenistic world, speaking Greek and Aramaic fluently. In the synagogues and in the Greek-speaking cities of the eastern mediterranean, Paul would have been functioning mostly in languages he was fluent in and in cultures where he knew the rules. Likely the dialectical and cultural differences were still greater than we tend to think between cities like Jerusalem and Antioch, Corinth and Tarsus. The mayhem in Acts 14 caused in part by Paul and Barnabas healing a man but not understanding the local Lycaonian language shows he was functioning at times in missionary settings where he was crossing true culture and language divides. Still, most of Paul’s ministry happened in areas where it’s unclear if he fits the more conservative definition of a missionary, “one who crosses language and culture barriers to proclaim the gospel.” Yes, the eastern mediterranean was a diverse world, but Paul was native to that diversity. So I found this note above on Roman Spain interesting to chew on. Spain probably represented the most cross-cultural season of Paul’s apostolic ministry. Paul likely found a few Greek expats and even some Jewish residents, but the culture and language of Spain at that time, a fusion of Celtic and Latin, would have been largely foreign. “For the first time, Paul was reaching outside of the Hellenistic world.”

As a missionary practitioner in a foreign language and culture, I wish we had more information available on Paul’s work in Spain. Did Paul follow the same strategy he did elsewhere? Did his work proceed at the same remarkable pace? Did he pick up any Celtic?

The Acts of Paul in Spain. Once we’re in the New Jerusalem, I’m adding that book to the big stack of hidden histories I’m planning to check out of the library.

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