Monthly Archives: January 2013

Patmos and Ephesus

Our group has returned home safely from our trip to Turkey (and Greece – see Patmos). It was a fun trip, and I really enjoyed getting to know the students, my colleagues, and our tour guide along the way.

Towards the end of the trip, we had two highlights: Patmos and Ephesus.

Patmos, a Greek island that was a 4 hour boat trip from the coast of Turkey near Ephesus, was much larger than I imagined it:


The apostle John was exiled as a political prisoner on this Aegean island, most likely during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, in the mid-90’s A.D. From here John wrote Revelation to the seven churches of Asia and shared the contents of what God had revealed to him on this island. We saw a cave that is the traditional location for where John received this revelation. We could not take pictures inside the cave or the small church attached to it, but a mosaic above the door to the entrance of the church complex depicts the scene of John receiving the revelation and dictating it to his scribe (traditionally identified as Prochorus):

John receives Revelation

The next day we visited Ephesus. The memory of John is also very strong here, since the city is the supposed location for John’s burial. According to tradition John had returned to Ephesus after the new emperor Nerva released him from his exile. A church was built at the traditional location for the burial site of John in the city:

Basilica of St. John, Ephesus

Here is a 6th century baptismal pool found in that church, giving believers a striking picture of the forgiveness of sins that we enjoy through the death and resurrection of Christ:

baptistry in Ephesus


Most Christians associate Ephesus more with Paul than with John, but since Paul died elsewhere, there are fewer overt reminders of his presence. But this theater was the site where he and his friends were confronted by a hostile mob (Acts 19):

Theater, Ephesus

The angry crowds were upset that Paul’s gospel of Jesus Christ was negatively affecting the worship of Artemis and the economy that was centered around the Temple of Artemis and the sale of her shrines. Once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, today little remains of the Temple of Artemis:

Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

Worldly kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s kingdom endures forever. The gospel or good news of Jesus is that we who believe and are washed of our sins through the sacrificial work of the Savior-King will enjoy God’s kingdom forever.




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Paul’s and John’s Churches in Western Turkey

Though both Paul and John likely had ministries based in Ephesus, their mission extended to other cities in Asia Minor. In recent days on the trip we saw some of these cities:


Smyrna was the second city to receive a letter from John in Revelation. Here is the “basement” level of the agora in that city:

Smyrna agora 1


The fifth city whose church received a letter from John in Revelation, Sardis had a significant temple to Artemis (whose “headquarters” was in Ephesus):

Temple of Artemis in Sardis


Paul addressed this church in his letter to the Colossians (Col 2:1, 4:13-16), and John wrote to them as the seventh of the churches he included in Revelation. Here is a main street going through the city:

Main road at Laodicea


This town is nothing but an unexcavated mound today, but Paul wrote to Colossae’s church, which had been planted by his co-worker Epaphras. Philemon and his slave Onesimus were also from this city. Here are sheep grazing on the side of Colossae’s acropolis:

Sheep at Colossae


This is the third of three cities mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Just a generation later, the bishop Papias served in the city. Hierapolis has calcium deposits on its hillsides known as travertines. This gives the terrain a snowlike appearance:

Travertines Hierapolis

The whole area of Asia Minor is known for its belief in spiritual forces, and this is illustrated with the Plutonium at Hierapolis. This opening in the earth emitted noxious fumes that were deadly to creatures. The people associated these fumes with the god of the underworld – Pluto. The opening has now been covered, with just a small cutaway leading to the pit:


These are cities that were steeped in paganism, idolatry, and emperor veneration. But the seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ found fertile ground in these unlikely places.

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Floods, hailstorms, and archeological ruins in Turkey

It has been a crazy few days of seeing the sites in Turkey. We had a sunny day in Nicea, followed by rains and floods near Troas, and a hailstorm on the top of ancient Pergamum. Through the ups and downs, we saw ancient cities of historical and biblical interest. Here are a few snapshots from those days:

025 Nicean council location A

This all that is left of the site of the early church’s first ecumenical council meeting place in Nicea. This pier led to Constantine’s palace on an island, but the island and palace have now sunk into Iznik Lake. On the island several hundered early church bishops (including St. Nicholas, perhaps) clarified the early church’s belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, in A.D. 325.

Nearly 2000 years ago, Paul was prevented by the Spirit from entering regions of Turkey and stopped in Troas instead, on his way to Macedonia during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10). Our team was prevented from reaching Troas because heavy flooding made the streets impassable:

035 impassable road near Troas A

On Paul’s third missionary journey he walked from Troas to Assos, along the Aegean coast. Scholars are not sure why he walked while all of his companions traveled by sea (Acts 20:13). He may have needed time alone to prayerfully contemplate the prophecies Christians were sharing with him about future troubles in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24; 21:10-13). Here is the modern harbor at Assos:

008 Assos harbor A

At ancient Pergamum (recipients of a letter from the Apostle John in Revelation 2:12-17), we reached the top of the acropolis just in time to witness a hailstorm (thankfully, we had shelter). Within half an hour though, everything had cleared up, and we had wonderful views. This is the temple of Dionysus in Pergamum:

Temple of Dionysus, Pergamum

Pergamum was the first city in ancient Western Turkey to have an imperial cult temple (built in 29 B.C.). The temple, which is no longer standing, was dedicated to Augustus (this bust of Augustus was excavated from Pergamum, but I saw it in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum):

097 Augustus, Pergamum A

The imperial cult, with its expectations of ultimate allegiance given to Rome and its leaders, created pressures upon early believers. Because of this clash of competing loyalties, one believer from Pergamum, Antipas, had been martyred in Pergamum before John wrote to the believers in that city (Rev 2:12-13). This fits well with one emphasis from this class and trip: the kingdom of God will finally prevail over all rival kingdoms, but in the meantime believers may suffer for their devotion to Christ and his kingdom.

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Istanbul, Constantinople

As a famous Four Lads tune plays in your mind, try to imagine this one great city with two names (not to mention Byzantium).

Some highlights from the city:

The Hagia Sophia – the church (rebuilt and renovated by Emperor Justinian the Great in the 530’s) that became a mosque and then a museum. The name means “holy wisdom” in Greek, and the site is impressive inside and out:

057 Hagia Sophia 1

032 Hagia Sophia 1

Also built by Justinian the Great was the Basilica Cistern and other water collection systems underneath Constantinople:

080 underground cistern 1

When the Ottomans captured Constantinople and renamed it Istanbul, they built their own impressive structures, including this winter palace for the sultans of the empire. It is on the beautiful Bosphorus Strait:

127 Ottoman sultans' winter palace 1

Here’s a final shot of an icon I had been eager to see – of Christ pantokrator (all-powerful), in the Hagia Sophia. The letters on each side are abbreviated forms of “Jesus Christ” in Greek. The lines over the top of both words indicate the abbreviations, with just the first and last letters of both words remaining. This was a common early form, used in copies of the New Testament and in Christian art, known as nomina sacra:

063 Christ pantakrator Hagia Sophia1

It was another good day, with good weather and great things to see.

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Istanbul at night

Our group arrived in Turkey safely. Here is our first glimpse of Istanbul, from our hotel:istanbul 1


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Off to Turkey

Today I leave for Turkey today with 27 students, a colleague, and his wife.  I hope to post some photos and brief updates from time to time while we are there.

The trip is the second half of a modified Historic Christian Belief class that I taught for the past week and a half on campus. In the class we covered historic theology, with a focus on Western Turkey. A lot has happened in the land that is now know as Turkey:

1) A first wave of Christian ministry was led by the Apostle Paul (and friends – Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos, Timothy), with Ephesus as the hub city for ministry throughout what is known in the Bible as the region of “Asia” (as seen in Acts 16-20). Paul also wrote many letters to Asian churches (Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy) later in his ministry.

2) A second wave of ministry was spearheaded by the Apostle John. He probably relocated there in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. Ephesus was his base of operations as well, according to church tradition. He likely wrote 1,2, and 3 John from there, and maybe the Gospel of John too. Then, from the island of Patmos off of the coast of Asia, he wrote to seven churches in Asia (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea), as seen in Revelation 2-3.

3) In the second century, some notable bishops left their marks in Christian history and in Asia – Papias of Hierapolis, Polycarp of Smyrna (whose inspiring martyrdom is recounted in The Martyrdom of Polycarp), and Melito of Sardis. Also, bishop Ignatius of Antioch (Syria) wrote letters to several churches in Asia, on his way to martyrdom in Rome.

4) The first seven ecumenical councils (not including the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15) were held in Asia, in the cities of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. Trinitarian and Christological confessions from those councils are still held by churches around the world today (particularly the Nicene Creed, which was written in Nicaea in 325 and revised in Constantinople in 381).

5) In the early 4th century the newly professing Christian emperor Constantine relocated the capital of the empire to what became Constantinople. Christianity now enjoyed favored status in powerful places, which was in stark contrast to Christians’ experience in the first three centuries of the church. Bishop John Chrysostom (the “golden mouth”) warned Christians against becoming too comfortable with wealth, entertainment, and power, but also blessed his flock with sermons such as his famous “Paschal homily,” in which he proclaimed the wide riches of God’s grace to all believers, weak and strong in faith, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

6) As time went on, Constantinople became an impressive city, under Constantine, Justinian the Great, and other powerful emperors, who adorned the city with buildings such as the Hagia Sophia. The city was eventually overtaken by the Ottoman Turks in 1452. Today, Muslims make up as much as 99% of the population of Turkey.  Some of these Muslims are devout, while others are considered nominal Muslims.

Our group is excited about the trip. I hope to have some good photos to share in the coming days –

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