You open your Bible, intrigued by the question. As an Evangelical or Charismatic Christian, you know the Bible contains timeless truths and guidance that are relevant even for modern-day countries that did not exist when the books of the Bible were written. You wonder, what does the Bible say about Turkey?
Turkey as we know it today did not exist as a nation when the books of the Bible were written. The land we now call Turkey was part of the Roman Empire in New Testament times. Several important biblical events took place in what is now Turkey, making it a land rich with scriptural history.
While the Bible does not specifically mention Turkey by name, there are several key takeaways we can gather about how God views this region and its people:
- God cares deeply for the souls of the Turkish people and desires for them to know Jesus Christ as Savior. Several important churches were established in biblical Turkey, showing God’s heart for the region.
- Biblical Turkey was the site of many spiritually significant events, like Paul’s missionary journeys and the writing of parts of the New Testament. God was clearly at work in Turkey even thousands of years ago.
- God calls Christians to make disciples of all nations – and modern-day Turkey is no exception. Biblical principles around evangelism, missions, and disciple-making apply to reaching the lost in Turkey.
Though the Bible does not directly discuss modern-day Turkey, we can still gain insight and direction for this nation by understanding scriptural truths about evangelism, discipleship, and God’s heart for all peoples. As we explore biblical connections to Turkey, we must seek God’s guidance in applying His word to this contemporary context.
Paul’s Missionary Journeys in Turkey
One of the most significant biblical connections to Turkey is that it was the site of several of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. Many of the cities Paul visited on his three journeys are in modern-day Turkey. By looking at Paul’s travels, preaching, and church planting in these Turkish cities, we gain insight into how the gospel first spread throughout this region.
On his first missionary journey, Paul visited the Turkish cities of Antioch, Seleucia, Salamis, and Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:1-14:28). The Bible records that Paul powerfully preached the gospel in these cities, despite facing opposition from some Jewish leaders. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas spoke at the synagogue on the Sabbath:
“So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: ‘Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen…let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.'” (Acts 13:16, 38-39 NKJV)
Many people believed and became followers of Jesus in these cities. This marked the beginning of the gospel’s spread throughout Asia Minor, which makes up much of modern Turkey.
On his second journey, Paul visited Turkish cities like Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, Antioch in Pisidia, Troas, Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, and Berea (Acts 15:36-17:15). Despite intense persecution, Paul persevered in preaching the Good News and planting churches. In Lystra, Paul healed a lame man, leading many to believe that Paul was the Greek god Hermes (Acts 14:8-18). But soon after, Jews from Antioch and Iconium won over the crowds, who then stoned Paul and left him for dead. Yet the next day, Paul got up and went to Derbe to preach the gospel there (Acts 14:19-20). Paul’s courage and commitment to mission in the face of life-threatening persecution is so inspiring.
On his third journey, Paul again visited churches he helped plant in Turkish cities like Ephesus, Macedonia, Philippi, and Troas (Acts 18:23-21:17). An extraordinary spiritual breakthrough occurred in Ephesus, where all the residents of Asia (part of modern Turkey) heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10). Paul also wrote several New Testament letters to Turkish churches like Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, and the seven churches of Revelation (Rev 1-3). The incredible growth of the gospel across Turkey was spearheaded by Paul’s Spirit-empowered missionary journeys.
The Epistles to Turkish Churches & Believers
In addition to Paul’s journeys, his New Testament letters to churches and believers in Turkey give us insight into how the gospel first spread through this region. Several books of the Bible consist of letters written by Paul and others to Turkish cities like Galatia, Ephesus, Colossae, and the seven churches of Revelation. These epistles reveal the struggles and triumphs of the early Turkish churches. Let’s explore some key themes from these letters:
Galatians – One of Paul’s earliest letters, Galatians corrected false teaching spreading in the Turkish churches that Gentile believers needed to follow the Jewish law and be circumcised to be saved. Paul emphatically declared that salvation was by grace alone through faith, not works. This letter was foundational for understanding Christian freedom from the law.
Ephesians – Written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, Ephesians is a circular letter intended for several churches in Asia Minor. The book highlights incredible spiritual blessings believers have in Christ, emphasizing unity in the church across cultural and ethnic lines. Ephesians also teaches about spiritual warfare against dark forces, proclaiming the power of God’s armor to protect believers.
Colossians – Paul wrote this letter to correct doctrinal problems in the church at Colossae, a city in western Turkey. He stressed that Christ is fully God and fully man, countering heretical teaching that diminished Christ. The letter is grounded in deep, worshipful theology about the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ.
1 & 2 Timothy – Paul wrote these pastoral letters to his protégé Timothy, who was leading the church at Ephesus. Paul instructed Timothy on principles of godly leadership, combating false teaching, proper doctrine and conduct, and standing firm in the face of persecution.
Revelation 1-3 – Jesus dictated seven letters to seven historical churches located in western Turkey. Each letter commended and corrected the church, calling them to repent of sin and remain faithful to Christ in the face of persecution. Revelation highlights Turkey as a key center of spiritual influence in early Christianity.
Implications for Reaching Modern Turkey
While Scripture does not directly discuss modern-day Turkey, exploring Paul’s missionary travels there and letters to its churches can help us consider how to reach the Turkish people for Christ today. Here are some key implications:
First, Paul’s boldness in repeatedly returning to Turkish cities, even when persecuted, challenges us to persevere in reaching the lost in Turkey despite hardships we may face. Just as Paul persisted in preaching Christ when stoned, opposed, or imprisoned, we must be committed to making disciples in Turkey in the face of resistance.
Second, Paul’s letters to the Turkish churches deal with core issues like grace vs. works, false teaching, unity across ethnic lines, and standing firm in persecution. These topics are very relevant for new Turkish believers and churches today. Grounding Turkish Christians in sound doctrine is vital.
Third, the spread of the gospel across Asia Minor in the early church should encourage us. God clearly desires the Turkish people to know Him, as shown through the Spirit’s rapid work across the region. When we share the Good News in Turkey, we join in God’s heart and plan for the nation since biblical times.
Fourth, churches in Turkey should heed Christ’s calls to repent, resist false teaching, and return to their first love for Him in Revelation 1-3. The spiritual decay warned against in these letters could easily infect Turkish churches today as well. We must learn from the struggles of the first seven churches.
In summary, looking at Paul’s missionary travels in Turkey and the New Testament letters to its churches gives helpful models for evangelizing and discipling Turks today. We can take courage that God has had His hand on Turkey for thousands of years.
Biblical Sites in Turkey
In addition to Paul’s journeys, Turkey is home to many other locations that were key biblical sites thousands of years ago. Exploring where different scriptural events occurred throughout Turkey helps us reflect on how God has moved in this land since biblical times. Let’s look at some noteworthy biblical places in Turkey:
Antioch (Antakya) – This ancient city near Turkey’s border with Syria was an influential early center of Christianity. The followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” at Antioch (Acts 11:26). It was the base for Paul’s three missionary journeys. Antioch was one of the most important early Gentile churches.
Tarsus – This south-central Turkish city was the birthplace of the Apostle Paul (Acts 21:39). Paul testified that he was brought up in Judaism in Tarsus and received his education there in his youth (Acts 22:3). As a Roman citizen from an influential city, Paul’s background uniquely equipped him to spread the gospel across the Roman Empire.
Izmir – Located on Turkey’s western coast, Izmir was the probable site of the church at Smyrna, one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation. Christ commended the church’s faithfulness amidst poverty and slander from Jews (Rev 2:8-11). Izmir continues to be a central hub for Christianity in Turkey.
Istanbul – In the first century AD, Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) was the site of the church at Pergamum, another of the seven churches (Rev 2:12-17). Praised for not renouncing the faith during Roman persecution, the church was rebuked for doctrinal compromise with pagan idolatry and sexual immorality.
Cappadocia – Located in central Turkey, Cappadocia’s ancient cave networks may have provided refuge for early Christians amidst Roman persecution. The Apostle Peter possibly wrote his first epistle from Cappadocia. This region saw some of the earliest monastic communities formed by persecuted believers. Even today, Cappadocia has many significant Christian heritage sites.
Visiting biblical locations in Turkey brings the stories of Scripture to life. Modern believers can be inspired by the courageous faith of saints who lived in these same places thousands of years ago. The history of Turkey is interwoven with God’s work throughout biblical history.
Applying Biblical Principles to Modern Turkey
Though Scripture does not specifically discuss modern-day Turkey, we can still gain timeless biblical guidance that applies to reaching this nation today. What biblical principles should inform evangelism, discipleship, and ministry to Turks? Here are a few key applications:
Pray for Turkey – We are commanded to pray for all peoples and nations to know Christ (1 Tim 2:1-4). We must fervently intercede for the salvation of Turks and the revival of the Turkish church. Prayer moves God’s heart and hand, opening doors for the gospel.
Make Disciples – Jesus calls all believers to go and make disciples of every nation, including Turkey (Matt 28:18-20). We must be faithful in evangelizing unbelieving Turks and nurturing young believers in their walks with Jesus. Disciple-making should be the priority of every missionary in Turkey.
Contend for the Faith – As the early churches battled false teaching, we must stand firm for sound doctrine when ministering to Turks today (Jude 3). Syncretism with Islam or other beliefs threatens the Turkish church. Loving Turkish Christians well means grounding them in God’s unwavering truth.
Walk in Grace – Paul exhorted the Galatian church not to turn back to a works-based righteousness. We must continually offer Turks the free gift of salvation by grace, not works (Gal 3:1-3). Legalism crushes believers’ freedom and joy in Christ.
Make No Distinction – The Jerusalem Council decided that Gentile believers did not need to follow Jewish customs (Acts 15). We should follow their example, preaching grace alone and making no distinction between Turks and other ethnic groups in the body of Christ.
There are so many other powerful biblical truths we can apply in sharing the gospel in Turkey and equipping Turkish Christians today. As we minister in this nation, we must continually seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding and communicating God’s word.
In summary, while the Bible does not directly mention modern-day Turkey, this land was the site of pivotal biblical events and home to several of the earliest churches. Paul spread the gospel across Turkey on his missionary journeys. He wrote New Testament letters to Turkish churches dealing with foundational doctrinal issues. Revelation’s letters call the seven Turkish churches to remain faithful to Christ amidst persecution. Biblical sites across Turkey connect this ancient land to God’s activity throughout history. Though Scripture does not discuss Turkey specifically, when we understand the biblical history of this region we gain helpful perspective for sharing the Good News with modern Turks. As believers, we are called to reach the 89 million souls in Turkey who still need to hear the message of salvation in Jesus. May this overview of the deep biblical roots in Turkey inspire the global church toward greater intercession and outreach to the Turkish people, until Turkey is reached with the gospel.