In Search of Paul

The Rev. Dr. Don Carlson, Host
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This trip is open to anyone over the age of 18 who is serious about studying scripture and growing their understanding of the first century Christian movement. Preparation is required.

Contemporary scholars often describe four “Pauls”:

  • The Paul of the autograph letters: Philemon, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans.
  • The “Paul” of the pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.
  • The “Paul” of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.
  • The “traditional Paul” of Acts.
    Churches of the Reformation may also have a “fifth Paul”: the “Paul” of the 16th century.

How does the “Reformation Paul” equate to the “genuine Paul”? What did Paul mean by: justice, righteousness, salvation, faith, law, and gospel as he wrote to diverse urban people living in the classed slave society of the Roman Empire? What does a 1st century gospel mean for a 21st century context? These are some of the questions we will explore as we travel through the world of the early church focusing on Paul’s autograph letters.

Tuesday – Fly out of Houston or other Turkish Airlines hub; direct flight to Istanbul. Tutku Tours can arrange departures by other carriers. This may nominally effect trip cost.

Wednesday – Arrive in Istanbul, meet our guide for Turkey, Cenk Eronat, and travel to our hotel. Dinner together in the hotel dining room overlooking the “old city” of Istanbul.

Thursday – We start at Istanbul where we glimpse the “imperial church” of the early 4th century under Constantine. We visit the hippodrome, archeological museums, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Irene, and the Topkapi Palace.

Friday – Orthodox Good Friday – We depart early for the Greek border, meet our guide for Greece, Voula Kalapoda, and then travel to Philippi. We visit the traditional river site where Paul met Lydia and see the magnificent baptistery built there. At the river we discuss Paul’s letter to Philemon and its patronage subtext. 1st century city life then emerges in the ruins of ancient Philippi. Overnight in Kavala, modern Neapolis; experiencing the Orthodox Epitaphos before turning in.

Saturday – We get another glimpse of the Via Egnatia that Paul walked from Neapolis to Philippi, then on to Thessloniki where we see the Roman forum, the arch and mausoleum of Galerius, and the archeological museum. We stop at the tomb of Phillip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, to appreciate the roots of imperial theology. Overnight at Kalambaka/Meteora; at midnight, the church square will fill with people, candles, and pealing bells as the resurrection is announced.

Sunday – Orthodox Easter – Visit Varlaam Monastery, built 1541, high atop the rocks of Meteora; reflecting upon the medieval theological worldview of its art. After the Varlaam Monastery visit, we have a traditional Easter meal and discuss Philippians in the afternoon.

Monday – We stop at a studio where icons are hand painted and can be purchased, then go Delphi to explore the cult of Apollo. After visiting the archeological museum, we overnight in Delphi; taking a look at 1 Thessalonians and Paul’s understanding of Christ’s return.

Tuesday – In Athens, we visit the Areopagus where Paul delivered his sermon about “an unknown God” and then climb the acropolis to see the temples of Athena, Nike, Poseidon, and Augustus. There will then be free time to visit the new archeological museum or to have a leisurely meal “al fresco”.

Wednesday – We visit the site of ancient Corinth with its excellent ruins and museum. While on the grounds, seated in view of the Temple of Apollo and the ancient meat market (1 Cor. 8), we discuss 1st Corinthians. After lunch we head for the port of Athens, say “Goodbye” to Voula Kalapoda, and board our 7:00 PM ferry to Patmos. Good dining aboard and cabins with clean linens and bath. Arrive in Patmos about 3:00 AM, walk a short distance to our hotel, and go back to bed!

Thursday – Still in Greece, we will visit the traditional “Cave of St. John”, reflect upon the imperial context of Revelation, and then visit the Monastery of St. John. Lunch is by the seaport and then we take a 4-hour boat ride to the Turkish port of Kusadasi – discussing Romans on the way. At Kusadasi we meet up again with Cenk Eronat and go to our hotel.

Friday – The ancient city of Ephesus gives the most impressive glimpse of 1st century urban life. The Library of Celsus, Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world), Temple of Hadrian, Temple of Domitian, and the “terrace houses” are but a few of the restorations. After a “1st century lunch” we will visit a local “cottage industry” store to see how Turkish carpets are made and have an opportunity to purchase carpets!

Saturday – Leaving Kusadasi, we will see the magnificent Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Asian counterpart to Delphi – complete with oracle. Then on to Aphrodisias with the Temple of Aphrodite, the Sebasteion (the best example of Roman imperial theology), monumental gateway, stadium, and museum—where “the god fearers” are mentioned. Overnight at a relaxing thermal spa hotel at Pamukkale.

Sunday – At Hierapolis we see the tomb of Philip the Apostle and the thermal springs, then journey to Laodicea with its many newly excavated and restored ruins; including a magnificent 4th century church. After a brief stop at Sardis and its restored gymnasium and synagogue, we will arrive at Izmir (ancient Smyrna) and dine on the waterfront.

Monday – We head for the acropolis of Pergamum with its great theater and temples to Athena, Zeus, and Trajan; then visit the Asclepion, a center of healing where the great physician Galen practiced. Overnight at the picturesque seaport of Assos.

Tuesday – We climb the acropolis of Assos, Turkish coffee available on the climb, that has a temple to Athena dating from 530 BCE, we head north to Alexander-Troas (Acts 20). Then on to Troy; founded 3000-2600 BCE. We overnight in Canakkale and discuss Galatians before turning in.

Wednesday – We cross the Dardanelles by car ferry and drive through the area where the Battle of Gallipoli was fought in WWI. We arrive back in Istanbul, visit the Spice Market and go to the hotel to enjoy our farewell dinner.

Thursday – After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we leave for the airport for our flights; chasing the sun back to our home destinations. Welcome home!


While many sites are visited, this is not primarily a “sight-seeing” tour. It is a continuing education immersion in which participants, through reflection and conversation, seek to grow in their understanding of Paul, his theology, and the context of the 1st century “church”; proactive involvement is assumed.

The many archeological sites visited may have uneven footing, ramps, stairs, changes in elevation, and are certainly not ADA compliant. Some days may require 5,000-10,000 footsteps. Almost 100 people of diverse ages (see pictures) have participated, but please inquire if you have concerns, questions, or mobility issues.

We will travel over 1,500 scenic miles by bus, ferry, and water taxi.

Minor changes to the itinerary may occur due to unforeseen circumstances.

In Search of Paul

Constantine the Great made Byzantium (Constantinople/Istanbul) the eastern capital of the Roman Empire in 330 CE. This is where we begin to appreciate the genesis of the imperial church as we tour Hippodrome Square, archeological museums, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the gardens of the Topkapi Palace.

Paul Arrives in Europe

In 42 BCE, on the Plain of Philippi, Octavian (Augustus) and Marc Anthony defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius thus ending the Republic and beginning the Empire. Paul landed at Neapolis (Kavala) and made his way to Philippi (Acts 16:11ff), walking along the Via Egnatia. At the traditional river site where Paul met Lydia, we discuss Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Then, amid the ruins of ancient Philippi, we begin to understand 1st century urban life. Temple ruins of the Egyptian deities of Isis and Serapis demonstrate the inclusivity of Roman religion.

Capital of Macedonia

In Thessaloniki, the capital of Macedonia during Paul’s life, we view the forum of the ancient city and visit the arch and mausoleum of Galerius–a predecessor of Constantine–who issued the Edict of Toleration in 311 CE. Then while at the archeological museum, we discuss 1 Thessalonians. Next we visit a Monastery in Meteora and the world of Greco-Roman culture and religion in Delphi as we move to our next destination.

Dynamic Christian Communities

Corinth was the capital of Achaia. Athens’ population was about 30,000 in Paul’s time, but Corinth’s was over 100,000 – with a Christian community of perhaps 50-60. Paul first visited the city in 51-52 CE when Gallio was proconsul. Priscilla and Aquila moved there when the Jews were expelled from Rome under Claudius. While on the grounds, and seated in view of the Temple of Apollo and the ancient meat market (1 Cor. 8), we discuss 1st Corinthians. After visits at the temples of Athens and the “Cave of St. John” in Patmos before moving to our next destination!

Temple of the goddess Artemis

After discussing Romans on our boat trip from Patmos, Ephesus – the Roman capital of the province of Asia – gives the most impressive glimpse of 1st century urban life. The Library of Celsus, Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world; Artemis was the twin sibling of Apollo), Temple of Hadrian, Temple of Domitian, and the terrace houses are but a few of the restorations. (Acts 19). Next stops are in Didyma, Miletus, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Sardis!

A Natural Fortress Tower

Another of the 7 churches, Pergamum had a population of about 200,000 in the 1st century. There were temples to Athena, Zeus, and Trajan – along with the great theater for 10,000 people. Below the acropolis we visit the Asclepion, a center of healing where the great physicians Hippocrates and Galen practiced.