New Testament History

Just as ancient Anatolia plays a role in the Old Testament, it figures more in the New Testament.  This region is sigificant for both Judaism and Christianity and is an important location regarding historical events.

Even the ancient language Aramaic, which Jesus spoke and is rooted in Old Testament times, is spoken in Turkey today.

Ancient regions that bleed over into New Testament times and found in Turkey are: Cilicia, Lycaonia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pisidia, Galatia, Pamphylia, Phrygia, Bithynia, Lydia, Lycia, Mysia, and Thrace.

The Apostle Paul traveled zealously through these regions. He was a native of Anatolia in Tarsus and frequently visited Antioch,  Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Perge, Alexandria Troas, Ephesus, Miletus, Antioch of Pisidia, Attalia, and Assos. And these are only the major centers mentioned.

Tradition says that the Apostle John and Mary both lived in Ephesus and that John’s tomb is situated there now among the old church ruins. Although this cannot be proven, John’s address to the seven church congregations of Revelation (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea) indicates he had first hand knowledge of this area.

Tradition also has it that many of Jesus’ early followers were dispersed throughout the Anatolia region. Barnabas was from Cyprus but operated out of the commercial center of Antioch and traveled into the interior of Anatolia.

John Mark went to the southern coast to Perge and possibly is referred to in the epistle of Colossians, which means he was a resident in Anatolia.  Luke stayed close to Paul and visited Alexandria Troas and Miletus. This coincides with the tradition that Luke painted a picture hanging in a monastery located on the Black Sea.

Peter did come to Antioch and seems to have had personal contact with believers in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

As tradition goes, Matthew, Phillip and Andrew all spent time in what is now Turkey, but there is no biblical support for this.  Some scholars say Matthew avoided persecution and wrote his Gospel while in Antioch.

Early church historians claim Philip lived in Laodicea and had daughters in Ephesus. This may be true since his supposed tomb was found in the Laodecia area (Hieropolis).  Andrew is thought to have traveled to Byzantium (Constantinople, Istanbul) on his way north. Tradition says he is buried in present day Istanbul under an old cathedral.

Thomas and Thaddeus are said to have traveled to Ur where Thaddeus is now buried. Timothy is of course a home grown lad from Anatolia near Iconium.  Lydia is probably from Thyatira near to Smyrna.  Aquila was a native tentmaker of Pontus and worked with Paul in Ephesus.

Philemon and Onesimus are from Colossae. It is said that Onesimus, a former slave, became an early church leader.  Apollos was for some time in Ephesus.  Many, many other believers are mentioned briefly and lived in cities throughout ancient Anatolia.

Without a doubt Anatolia had great historical significance for Christianity in the New Testament era.

Dr. David V. Cathey is a Christian Professor and the Director of the Ephesus Learning Center, Selcuk (Ephesus), Turkey.