Calvin Theological Seminary students, professors, and others visited sites in Turkey and Greece this year as part of the seminary’s first off-campus January Term program.
The group crammed as many sites related to the apostle Paul and the Bible as possible in 12 days. In Turkey, those sites included Smyrna (modern day Izmir), Sardis, Philadelphia, Didyma, Ephesus, Troas, and Canakkale. In Greece, the group toured Philippi, Thessaloniki, Berea, Vergina, Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, Corinth, and Athens.
Ephesus was a highlight. Acts 19 describes a riot in the theater at Ephesus. Being able to read that text in the theater brought depth to an otherwise obscure Scripture passage.
The massive temples to Apollo in Didyma and to Artemis in Smyrna stood out. One could picture Paul denouncing the gods worshiped in those temples.
Travelers also met with evangelical pastors in Turkey and Greece. The Turkish pastor told of his conversion and arrest afterward. “You’re a Turk, a Muslim. Turks cannot be Christians,” said his interrogators.
They tried forcing him to renounce his faith in Jesus, but he suddenly found himself unable to speak. His church is growing slowly. Converts face being shunned and even killed by family members.
The Greek pastor said Orthodox faith and Greek ethnic identity are strongly linked. Almost all Greeks are Orthodox. Since most Protestant groups are not recognized by the government, the pastor was once arrested for proselytizing. Even so, his work is growing among immigrant groups in Athens.
Through the pastors, the group glimpsed what life was probably like for Paul, who faced many obstacles as he preached against the dominant religious structures.
New Testament professor Jeffrey Weima added to the experience by pointing out stone symbols or engravings, indicating the presence of a Jewish community. Some scholars dispute the historicity of Acts, claiming it overplays Jewish opposition where supposedly no Jews lived.
“Being in the places where biblical events described in Acts took place was profound,” said Kristi Buurma, one of the travelers. “Little things, too, like traveling to the place where Paul got his hair cut (Acts 18:18) made it very meaningful. The Bible seems way bigger, especially passages you might read right over.”