George W. Murray
In 1971 my wife and I went to the largely unevangelized country of Italy as church planters with a mission agency that at that time had six church-planting couples in the country. Each couple was located in a separate city. Because so many Italian cities and towns were (and are) totally unevangelized, our mission leadership reasoned that its personnel should be spread out to cover more unreached territory. We, however, resisted this strategy, because we felt inadequate to do the work of evangelism and church planting by ourselves. After much discussion we persuaded our mission leadership to let us recruit a team of eight other missionaries to work with us in the unreached province of Pordenone, with a population of 300,000. We had a wonderful experience with that team, evangelizing together in a way that none of us was capable of doing alone, and planting a church in the capital city of the province.
During that time articles about teamwork in pioneer evangelism began appearing in missionary publications. Some articles questioned its validity,l while others strongly supported the concept.2 Reading other missionary literature, I discovered that Jonathan Goforth, at the turn of the century, was convinced of the importance of doing evangelism corporately. “Now we have proved it so often that we have the conviction that we could go into any unevangelized center in North China with an earnest band of male and female workers and within a month have the beginning of a church for Jesus Christ.”3
But most of all, my own experience in Italy convinced me of the importance of engaging in evangelism and church planting corporately. During that time, however, I kept asking myself if we had a strong biblical basis for how we were working. I was sure teamwork was good, because it worked! But does the Bible say anything about corporate evangelism? I decided to take a closer look.
Besides looking at data concerning corporate spiritual activity in the Old Testament and at Jesus’ practice of having disciples and sending them out two by two, I examined the practice and teaching of Paul, the prominent New Testament missionary apostle. I concentrated my biblical research on Paul’s practice of corporate evangelism in the Book of Acts and on his teaching about corporate witness in his Epistle to the Philippians. This article discusses the relevant data about Paul’s practice in the Book of Acts.
An examination of Acts reveals that Paul was certainly not a “loner,” but had extensive association with others during his life and ministry. There are a number of reasons why Paul lived, traveled, and worked together with other believers, one of which was to engage in the ministry of evangelism (Acts 9:28-30; 13:1-5, 13-16, 44-46; 14:1, 7, 20-21, 25; 17:1-15; 18:5-8). A close look at Acts reveals that other believers were often present when Paul engaged in evangelism, and in quite a few cases he and other believers actually evangelized corporately.
PAUL’S ASSOCIATION WITH OTHERS IN ACTS
Although the Bible never states that Paul had disciples, clearly he had many close friends and associates with whom he lived and worked. Ellis points out that in the Book of Acts and Paul’s epistles approximately one hundred individuals were associated with the apostle.4 “In summary, the picture that emerges is that of amissionary with a large number of associates. Indeed, Paul is scarcely ever found without companions.”5 In the concluding reflections of his overall treatment of Paul’s life, Bruce says, Paul has no place for the solitary life as an ideal; for all his apostolic energy he would have scouted the suggestion that “he travels the fastest who travels alone.” He emphasizes the fellowship, the togetherness, of Christians in worship and action; they are members one of another, and all together members of Christ.6
A chronological survey of the Book of Acts makes Paul’s emphasis on togetherness clear.
After conversion Paul spent several days with believers in Damascus (Acts 9:19).7 Later, when he went to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples (v. 26). There he stayed with some apostles (v. 28)-namely, Barnabas, Peter, and James (v. 27; Gal. 1:18-19)- until they were constrained to send him off to Tarsus for his own protection (Acts 9:29-30).8 He ministered together with Barnabas for a year among the believers in Antioch (11:25-26), went with Barnabas to Jerusalem with the famine relief (v. 30), and then went out on his first missionary journey with Barnabas and John Mark (13:2-5). Then he traveled with Barnabas and other believers to the Jerusalem Council (15:2).
On his second missionary journey Paul set out with Silas (15:40) and recruited Timothy in Lystra to join their team (16:3). In Troas, Paul and his companions were joined by Luke-attested by the abrupt change in the Lucan narrative from “they” (v. 8) to “we” (v. 10)-and all four of them went to Philippi together (16:12-18).9 From Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy went together to Thessalonica, leaving Luke in Philippi, as attested by the return to the use of “they” in the narrative (17:1-15). The three men ministered together in Thessalonica and Berea until the believers were compelled to send Paul to Athens in order to escape danger (vv. 13-15). Arriving in Athens, Paul instructed those who accompanied him, asking “for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible” (v. 15). Though Paul ministered alone in Athens, he did so while waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him (v. 16). Paul went on to Corinth, where he stayed with. Aquila and Priscilla, perhaps for reasons of ministry as well as material reasons (18:1-3).10 Silas and Timothy eventually joined Paul in Corinth (v. 5).11 From 1 Thessalonians 3:6 it seems that when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, they brought Paul a good report of the situation in Thessalonica, occasioning Paul’s first letter to the church there. Paul’s second letter to Thessalonica was probably also written from Corinth, not too long after the first letter.12 Both of these letters were sent by Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as seen from the opening verse of each letter, and from the fact that both letters were completely written in the plural (with the exception of 1 Thessalonians 2:18 and 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 3:17). In fact in all but two of his letters to churches (Romans and Ephesians), Paul included others with him in the opening salutations. Even in his letter to Philemon, Paul included Timothy in the salutation (Phile. 1). Aquila and Priscilla accompanied Paul to Ephesus, where he left them and went on to Antioch via Caesarea (Acts 18:18-22).
On Paul’s third missionary journey he went through Asia Minor to Ephesus (18:23; 19:1).13 Because of opposition in Ephesus he moved from the synagogue to the lecture hall of Tyrannus, taking the disciples with him (19:9). Timothy and Erastus were with Paul in Ephesus where they “ministered to him” (v. 22). Gaius and Aristarchus were also with Paul in Ephesus and were called his “traveling companions” (v. 29). When Paul went from Greece to Macedonia, he was accompanied by seven men (Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Timothy, Tychicus, and Trophimus; 20:4). Joining Paul again at Philippi (20:5-6), Luke stayed with Paul on his trip back to Jerusalem (21:15) and on to Rome (27:1; 28:16). In his farewell discourse to the Ephesian elders Paul referred to “my companions” (20:34, NIV), for whom he provided by working with his own hands.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul was received by the brethren, James, and the elders (21:17-18). Later in Caesarea, Felix told a guard to “permit [Paul’s] friends to take care of his needs” as a prisoner (24:23, NIV).14 Besides Luke, Aristarchus accompanied Paul on his trip to Rome (27:1-2).15 In Sidon the centurion guard allowed Paul to go ashore so that “his friends . . . might provide for his needs” (27:3, NIV). In Italy Paul was met and cared for by the brethren in Puteoli (28:14), and on his trip to Rome he was met by brethren who came down from the capital city to accompany him (v. 15). At the sight of these companions Paul thanked God and was encouraged (v. 15). Although the Acts narrative ends with Paul in Rome, Paul’s epistles reveal three other people who were closely associated with Paul in his first Roman imprisonment. They were Epaphras (Col. 1:7; Phile. 24), Onesimus (Phile. 10, 16), and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:18).16
(Reproduced from Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (April-June 1998) 189-200. Copyright © 1998 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.)