Where is the real Antioch?

It is commonly assumed that the Antioch referred to in Acts and Galatians is Syrian Antioch.  However, Ignatius in the undisputed epistles from the early 2nd century always makes a point of emphasizing that he was from Syria.  The epistles where he mentions Antioch always include the modifer of "in Syria".  Eusebius does not offer a listing of Syrian Antioch bishops going back as far as he does for some other communities.  Now there is ample evidence suggesting that events that are recorded as occurring in Antioch closely parallel events occurring in portions of western Parthian Empire.  Now if the biblical "Antioch" could be linked to western Parthian Empire, it would imply that our church history is very misleading, and raise questions about the accuracy of our traditional theology in terms of the biblical message.  In fact, it would suggest a far different theology that is more in tune with what has been observed for at least 2500 years and conmfirmed by modern science in the person of Einstein among others.  Now the question becomes, is there any affirmative evidence that Syrian Antioch is the Antioch of the Bible or is this merely an unchallenged assumption.

Asked By: 
Biggest of 15 Antiochs

There were some 15 cites named "Antioch" in the Roman period.  But Antioch of Syria was the largest by far, and the closest to Jerusalem.  I think that there is no scholarly suggestion anywhere that the Antioch of Acts and Epistle to Galatians was any other than *the* Antioch.  Indeed, in the absence of any other qualifier, "Antioch" would by people in that time likely automatically be taken as Antioch of Syria.  For further discussion and bibliography, see now Thomas Robinson, _Ignatius of Antioch and the Parting of the Ways_ (Hendrickson, 2009), esp. pp. 6-39.

Want to learn more? Get started with Bible study here. Appreciate these answers? Help us continue by donating here

Author: Larry W. Hurtado
In Syria

The reason why Ignatius of Antioch referred to his important city as "Antioch in Syria"--just across the bay from Tarsus--was probably to distinguish it from the less important Antioch in Pisidia--in what is now central Turkey--visited by the Apostle Paul as described in Acts 13:14-14:28 and II Tim. 3:11.
    As for Parthia, in 141 B.C. the Parthian king Mithridates I took Mesopotamia--modern Iraq--from the Seleucids, thus placing the western border of the Parthian Empire very near Antioch, but not including it.  Consequently events in Antioch and in the western Parthian Empire might very well have paralleled and influenced each other.  By the time of Ignatius, of course, Antioch was the capital of the Roman coastal province of Syria, bounded on the east by the Parthian Empire.
    Finally, as for science, although most of the New Testament characters and authors probably knew little and cared less about what we call "science," I see no conflict between modern science and the heart of the Christian gospel.  In fact, for a good many decades now, there has been quite a fruitful dialogue between Christian theology and the various physical, social, and behavioral sciences, to the point where the only way for theology not to stagnate is for it to continue that dialogue as though its life depended on it.  For it does.

Bible supports Syrian Antioch

In Acts 13, Paul leaves "Antioch" and "goes down to Seleucia."  Seleucia is on Mediterranean coast and was the seaport of inland Antioch of Syria, about thirty miles inland. They sail from there to Cyprus, which is directly southwest; in fact it was said that on a very clear day Cyprus could be seen from a tower in Seleucia.  This makes perfect sense for Syrian Antioch, but not for the alternative Antiochs.  Syrian Antioch is the closest to Jerusalem, which explains better the interaction of Antioch with Jerusalem in Acts.  Here are a few examples: After the persecution following the stoning of Stephen, Christians fled to Cyprus, Phoenicia, and Antioch; Syrian Antioch is the most in the range of these other two places (11.19).  The Jerusalem church sends Barnabas there when it hears news of young Christians there (11.20-22).  Later prophets from Jerusalem come to Antioch (11.17). In traveling from Antioch to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas go through Phoenecia and Samaria (15.2-4, again making most sense with Syrian Antioch.  Other interchanges between the Antioch and Jerusalem churches appear in Acts 11.29-30; 14.26-15.1; and Gal. 2.11.  I don't see a reason to challenge the traditional identification.

Author: Stephen Charles Mott
A good reference

All the historical information available about two Antiochs (Antioch of Pisidia and Antioch of Syria), located roughly in the eastern Mediterranean coast and both cited in the Book of Acts, can be found in fairly extensive articles in /The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, /ed. David Noel Freedman, under "Antioch." I hope what is written there will be helpful to your research.





Massachusetts Bible Society Logo

Exploring the Bible Logo