Usually, when someone asks the question that I’ve asked in the title of this post, the answer revolves around whether or not someone believes Paul actually traveled to Spain. The answer is usually given as three journeys if the person does not believe that Paul went to Spain, or four journeys if the person does believe that Paul went to Spain.
But, that’s not what this post is about. Scripture does not tell us whether or not Paul traveled to Spain, but in the Book of Acts and in Paul’s letters, we can tell that Paul went on many more than four journeys.
Now, the standard three journeys taken by Paul are taken from Acts 13 (Cyprus and southern Asia Minor), Acts 16 (southern Asia Minor and Macedonia, primarily Corinth), and Acts 19 (Asia Minor and Macedonia again, primarily Ephesus).
But, according to Paul, once he left Macedonia in Acts 20, he was on another journey assigned to him by the Holy Spirit to go to Rome via Jerusalem (Acts 20:16, Acts 20:22). Since Paul sees himself as being sent by the Spirit to Rome, this is another missionary journey (remember, “missionary” comes from the Latin translation of the Greek term meaning “sent”).
But, believe it or not, these are not all of Paul’s missionary journeys. For some reason, people tend to begin viewing Paul as an apostle beginning in Acts 13. While Acts 13:1-4 is an amazing passage of the Spirit and the church in Antioch sending Barnabas and Paul, that particular journey ended in Acts 14. Luke specifically states in Acts 14:25-26 that when Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch, they have completed the task they had been sent to do in Acts 13.
Paul’s journeys began very early after his conversion near Damascus. After being visited by Agabus, Paul immediately began proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in the synagogues in Damascus (Acts 9:20). When he was run out of town, Paul went to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26). After staying in Jerusalem for a while, he then went to Caeserea in order to sail to Tarsus, his home town (Acts 9:30).
This still is not the end of Paul’s journeys. He was still in Tarsus when God began to save Gentiles around Antioch. When Barnabas went to Antioch to help the young church there, he went to Tarsus to ask Paul for his help. Once again, Paul found himself traveling, this time going from Tarsus to Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).
(By the way, according to Paul in Galatians 1:17, he also traveled to Arabia for three years at some point during his other journeys.)
In other words, Paul’s life from the time of his conversion was one of almost constant travels punctuated with a few periods of staying in one location for a time. This is exactly what I would expect from someone gifted by God as an apostle. Remember that the term apostle is from the Greek term that means “one who is sent.” Paul lived as one who was sent by God from place to place.
Finally, there is even indication in Scripture that Paul’s traveling nature was built into him by God. (Perhaps Paul has this in mind partially in Galatians 1:15.) We know that Paul was originally from Tarsus. But we first meet him in Jerusalem (Acts 7:58). And, we later see Paul traveling on behalf of the Jewish leaders (Acts 9:1-2).
So, how many mission journeys did Paul take? It’s almost impossible to count them all, but it’s definitely more than four, even if he never made it to Spain.
Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a web developer, and a blogger. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology, and his dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament.