The Road to Paphos
Sergius Paulus in Paphos - Proconsul of Cyprus
The Apostle Paul and Barnabas journeyed west from Salamis along the Roman roads to the town of Tremithous on the Mesaoria Plain. Since horses were a luxury reserved for the wealthy, the military and imperial officials, it is likely that Barnabas and Paul would have traveled the island on foot, covering between fifteen and twenty miles per day. It is reasonable to believe that they were accompanied by Christian followers who would go ahead to prepare the way for them each night. As was repeatedly shown in the New Testament, many gathered to hear about Jesus and his message.
The road system in Roman times connected Tremithous directly with Salamis and Kition. They crossed the Mesaoria Plains and went south. Ancient Kition was the town where Lazarus had made his home following his forced retreat from Bethany. According to Cypriot religious tradition, he was ordained as the city’s first Bishop by Barnabas and Paul on their way across the island. Each night according to Acts they stopped at private church houses, owned by fellow Christians. There was a large group including deacons, like Timon, who had come to Cyprus to escape persecution after the stoning of Stephen at which Paul was present.
Paul and Barnabas headed west to Paphos, passed Amathus and then Kourion, both cities perched high on cliffs. Unlike Amathus, which was still at the height of its splendor, Kourion had already started its gradual decline, and was by then not much more than a large settlement adjacent to the Sanctuary of Apollo, a major cult center of the island. From here, the ancient road swept inland, crossing the west coast’s rock formations passed Aphrodite’s Rock, to cover the thirty six mile distance between Kourion and Nea Paphos, which was the seat of the Roman Proconsul.
When Barnabas and Saul arrived in Paphos, they would have gone to the local synagogue, as they had throughout the entire journey, to preach the Good News. Their message was often well received by more than a few members of the congregation. The conversions outraged the highly placed Elymas, who ordered Saul to be tied to a pillar at the synagogue and given the 39 lashes, perhaps the first of the five mentioned in Paul’s letters. As Saul began to relate the message of Christ to Sergius Paulus, Elymas renounced him, most likely once again accusing him of sinning against Jewish law, and maybe even accusing him of blasphemy in an attempt to draw a punitive response from the Proconsul. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, turned on Elymas and exclaimed: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.“ [Corinthians 2 11:24]
News of this particular event would have reached Sergius Paulus, the Roman Proconsul because he was informed of all that happened not only in Paphos but throughout the whole of Cyprus. More than a little intrigued, not only by these developments within his realm, but also by the revolutionary nature of the Christian message, the Proconsul sent for Barnabas and Saul, who arrived closely followed by the irate Elymas. Elymas being admitted to the chamber of the proconsul, shows that he could have held some civil office in the Roman government as many Jews did. In an instant, Elymas lost his sight and fumbled around before being led from the chamber by another attendant. “It is needless to say that the pagan Sergius Paulus was more than a little taken aback by this miracle performed before his very eyes. In fact, so taken aback was he by the Lord’s power, that he converted to the Faith.”
Mathew Henry continues with a major consideration regarding this particular occasion, when he says “Sergius Paulus himself gave him the name Paulus in token of his favour and respect to him, as Vespasian gave his name Flavius to Josephus the Jew.” On all previous occasions in the New Testament, he had been exclusively referred to as Saul or Saul of Tarsus, but from this miracle in Sergius Paulus’ audience chamber in Paphos onward he is exclusively referred to as Paul. That conflict spectacularly culminated in Paul’s first recorded miracle and the conversion to the Faith of a high Roman official. One can easily see that by the time they left Paphos for Perga, their journey across Cyprus, which incidentally was Barnabas’ original home, had readied them for the difficulties that lay ahead as they spread the Word across the lands that Christ is Messiah.