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A traditional site of Lydia's baptism by the river below Philippi.

The traditional site of Lydia’s baptism by the river below Philippi.

Welcome, real friends and virtual travelers, to a study tour of Greece with a brief side trip to Ephesus, in Turkey. Twenty-five adventurous souls traveling with Campbell University Divinity School and Nurturing Faith Experiences embarked on Sunday, May 15, arriving in Thessaloniki (the modern spelling of Thessalonica) late Monday evening.

Study group members entering Philippi.

Study group members entering Philippi.

Very little of ancient Thessaloniki has been uncovered: the site was never abandoned, remaining an important city through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods. As a result, it has been constantly revised and rebuilt: the modern city of 1.5 million people sits atop the ancient site on the northern edge of the Aegean, where it continues to be an important harbor city. A Roman arch, a few Byzantine churches, and several Ottoman era buildings survive, but there’s no place that screams “Paul was here.”

The theater at Philippi.

The theater at Philippi.

We spent Tuesday on a day trip to Philippi, where Paul famously met Lydia and group of other God-fearing women who were praying by a river beneath the city. She and her entire family were converted, along with others, and Lydia hosted the early believers in her home. Paul and company later got into trouble for healing a fortune-telling slave girl, and were treated harshly as they were put in prison. Though freed by a miracle, Paul refused to leave immediately, converting the jailer and his household in the process (Acts 16).

The "Ignition Way," as it is sometimes called, passed through Philippi.

The “Ignation Way,” as it is sometimes called, passed through Philippi.

Excavated ruins of Philippi are quite extensive. They include the remains of a relatively small theater that goes back to the Greek period, and a large rectangular forum that was built by the Greeks and expanded by the Romans. The Via Egnatia, a paved road the Romans built to transport their troops through northern Greece, passes along the edge of the city.

Two columns from an old basilica: note the inscribed cross on the one at left.

Two columns from an old basilica: note the inscribed cross on the one at left.

Inside, the remains of three basilicas can be found, indicating that Philippi became a strongly Christian city during the first few centuries of the church.

Once a cistern for storing water, this is the unlikely traditional site of Paul's jail cell.

Once a cistern for storing water, this is the unlikely traditional site of Paul’s jail cell.

When Paul left Philippi, he traveled west through Amphipolis and Apollonia before reaching Thessaloniki. When he arrived, however, he and Timothy had set sail from Troas, stopping at Samothrace before docking at the harbor town of Neapolis, now known as Kevala.

Poppies grow among the remains of an early basilica.

Poppies grow among the remains of an early basilica.

While I enjoyed Philippi, I found myself wishing for something tangible from the first century in Thessaloniki, which had to have been one of Paul’s favorite churches.

The harbor of Kevala, known in the first century as Neapolis, and where Paul landed on his first visit to Philippi.

The harbor of Kevala, known in the first century as Neapolis, and where Paul landed on his first visit to Philippi.

When he wrote to them some years later, he was so impressed with the church and their witness that he thanked God for their “work of faith,” their “labor of love,” and their “steadfastness of hope,” remarking that they had become an example to everyone in the region, and beyond (1 Thes. 1:3, 7-8).

That’s quite a resume for any church.

 

Tony Cartledge

About Tony Cartledge

Tony W. Cartledge is contributing editor of Baptists Today, in addition to teaching Old Testament studies and various ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School. He formerly served as editor of the Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and as a pastor for 26 years. Tony is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Southeastern Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a Ph.D. He is the author of several books including the Smyth & Helwys commentary on First and Second Samuel and Telling Stories: Tall Tales and Deep Truths and several Bible study books for Nurturing Faith.