Acts 13:4 – Why Cyprus?

Barnabas and Saul set out from Antioch to Seulcia, a port about 16 miles from Antioch. From there they sail to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean about 100 miles from Selucia.

Why Cyprus? As Keener says, is simply makes sense for Barnabas to begin a mission by going to Cyprus since that was where he was from (2:1998). On the other hand, Cyprus had a large Jewish community dating to the second century B.C. (1 Mac 15:23).  Both Josephus (Antiq. 18.31) and Philo (Legat 282) describe a large and wealthy Jewish population.  Herod the Great was given half the income of Cyprus copper mines by Augustus (Antiq. 16.127-129).  The Talmud indicates that Cypriot Jews regularly donated wine used for the incense offering on the Day of Atonement (y.Yoma 4:5; Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2:1078).

Acts 11:19-20 indicates there were early Jewish Christians from Cyprus who began to do ministry in Antioch. Barnabas himself was from Cyprus (4:36-37). All this implies a Jewish-Christian presence on Cyprus before Acts 11:19, and possibly as early as Pentecost. Barnabas and Saul were going to an area already prepared for the Gospel.

Cyprus is also central to travel to the Mediterranean world. The island was a prosperous and many good harbors (Strabo 14.2.10, 14.6.6, Keener 2:1999). Salamis was a major port city on Cyprus.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 15 B.C., and rebuilt by Augustus and renamed Sebaste Augusta. Paphos was about 93 miles (150 km) from Salamis and was the seat of the Roman government on the Island.  The old city was home to the most famous temple of Aphrodite in the ancient world, still attracting pilgrims even in the first century (ECM, 2:1082).

Luke tells us Barnabas and Saul visit synagogues in Salamis and Paphos, but they likely visited other locations as they traveled the length of the island. This is Paul’s regular missionary method, going to the synagogue first. While this may reflect Romans 1:16 (“to the Jew first, and then to the Greek,” it is also a practical strategy. By going to a synagogue first, Rabbi Saul will meet people who are already well-educated in the Scripture and (perhaps) anticipating the coming of the Messiah.

Paul will also find a few Gentile God-fearers in most of the synagogues. It is possible Paul targeted these Gentiles who want to worship the God of Israel without fully keeping the Law. His Gospel would have been very attractive to these Gentiles.

There is no report of success (or lack thereof), but we know that Barnabas and John Mark return to Cyprus later, perhaps indicating some churches had been established. A bishop from Cyprus attended the council of Nicea; by A.D. 400, Jerome reports that there are 15 bishops on Cyprus (ECM, 2:1080).

Are there any other motivations for this trip to Cyprus? What is Luke doing on a literary/theological level by describing a pair of missionaries going out from Antioch?


4 thoughts on “Acts 13:4 – Why Cyprus?

  1. I think there are a couple reasons for Barnabas and Saul going to Cyprus.
    First, I would agree in saying that the central travel location of Cyprus made it a prime spot to start Jesus communities. We see Paul doing the same thing in various cities; he wants to find places where the people in the town will be influenced by the Jesus movement, but also in places where those passing through would undoubtedly hear something about Jesus and then take that story with them wherever they were traveling.
    Second, on a more theological note, the primary story recorded of these two men in Cyprus was about a sorcerer. This story may have been included by Luke for the purpose of showing the supremacy of Jesus Christ over any sort of sorcery the pagan world could offer.


  2. Why Cyprus?

    I would agree that there is good reason to think they went to the island because it is the home of Barnabas. Naturally, if there was good news to share with people, one of the places most people would want to go is their home town. Furthermore, we see that there is a large Jewish population. Those Jew needed to be reach, and if not, they would have most likely received the gospel from a second hand version. Not that hear it from anyone but the apostles is bad, however, there would be a greater chance for people to confuse, change or relay the gospel poorly. Another reason for Cyprus to be important of the gospel message is that it is a major trading port. It makes sense that God would choose this land because of its strategic position and trading routes with the Roman world. Most people who would visit there would most likely hear about the new gospel, and from there, return with this message to their own home town. The city there was rich with history, and since it was a trading port, there is usually a good mix of various gods, and religious ideology. Cyprus is a great selection for God to direct the gospel to.


  3. It seems there are many very strong arguments for why Cyprus was chosen as the first stop of Barnabas and Saul’s first journey. Where the fact that it was Barnabas’ “hometown” appears proof enough to make it a first stop, I find the location and centrality of Cyprus made it a prime candidate as a beginning point to bring the message of the gospel. The fact that so many people from all over the Mediterranean would have stopped there on their way to other locations would naturally open so many doors for the message of salvation to be heard and consequently spread. This international aspect would also mean there would likely be many other religions and cults present. The temple of Aphrodite alone is evidence of the prevalence of the draw pilgrims from around the Mediterranean had to Cyprus. If the goal of Barnabas and Saul was to begin the spread of the gospel to ultimately the ends of the earth, then starting in a melting pot of ethnicities and religions would appear to be a natural starting off point. Polhill states, “places play a key role in Acts” (2077). With that in mind, it would appear that Luke intentionally describes these men going to Cyprus to remind the reader of the important role mission fields have on the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
    Polhill, John B. (Ed). Introduction to Acts. In ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008.


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