(an' ti ahch) names two New Testament cities one of which was home to many Diaspora Jews (Jews living outside of Palestine and maintaining their religious faith among the Gentiles) and the place where believers, many of whom were Gentiles, were first called Christians.
1. The largest city of the Roman empire after Rome in Italy and Alexandria in Egypt. Because so many ancient cities were called by this name, it is often called Antioch on the Orontes (River) or Antioch of Syria. Antioch was founded around 300 B.C. by Seleucus Nicator. From the beginning it was a bustling maritime city with its own seaport. It lay about 20 miles inland from the Mediterranean in ancient Syria on the Orontes River nearly three hundred miles north of Jerusalem. Many Jews of the Diaspora lived in Antioch and engaged in commerce, enjoying the rights of citizenship in a free city. Many of Antioch's Gentiles were attracted to Judaism. As was the case with many of the Roman cities of the east, Antioch's patron deity was the pagan goddess Tyche or “Fortune.”
In the New Testament only Jerusalem is more closely related to the spread of early Christianity. Luke mentioned Nicholas of Antioch in Acts 6:5 among the Greek-speaking leaders of the church in Jerusalem. The persecution that arose over Stephen resulted in Jewish believers scattering to Cyprus, Cyrene, and Antioch (Acts 11:19). In Antioch the believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), and it was to Antioch that Barnabas fetched Saul (Paul) from Tarsus so that they could teach this mixed congregation of Jewish and Gentile followers of the Lord. At Antioch the Christian prophet Agabus foretold the famine that would shortly overtake the Roman world (Acts 11:28). The disciples responded with the work of famine relief for the church in Jerusalem, directed and carried out from Antioch. The church at Antioch felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to set aside Barnabas and Saul for what was the first organized mission work (Acts 13:1-3). Barnabas and Saul left for Seleucia (also known as Pieria, Antioch's Mediterranean seaport) to begin their preaching. The church at Antioch heard the reports of Paul and Barnabas on return from their first missionary journey (Acts 14:27) and likely their second missionary journey (Acts 18:22). This was a missionary effort to both Jews and Gentiles, about which Paul says in
Galatians 2:11 that he had to oppose Peter to his face at Antioch.
Archaeological excavations at Antioch have been very fruitful, revealing a magnificent, walled Roman city of theatres, forums, a circus, and other public buildings. The language of the city was Greek, as inscriptions and public records show, but the language of the peasantry around this mighty city was Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.
2. A city in Pisidia, Asia Minor, west of Iconium. Like the Syrian Antioch, this Antioch was founded by Seleucus Nicator. Under Roman rule, this city was called Caesarea. Paul preached in a synagogue there on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:14) and was warmly received (Acts 13:42-44). Jewish jealously led to a separate ministry to Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Finally, Jews drove Paul and Barnabas from the city. These Jews from Antioch followed Paul to Lystra and stirred up trouble there (Acts 14:19). Despite this, Paul returned to Antioch to strengthen the church (Acts 14:21). Paul used the experience to teach Timothy (2 Timothy 3:11).
James F. Strange