To fully comprehend Paul's ministry, we also need to look into the public amusements of the people, from whence he draws topics of warning or illustration, the operation of the Roman law, under which he was so frequently arraigned, the courts in which he was tried, and the magistrates by whose sentence he suffered, the legionary soldiers who acted as his guards, the roads by which he traveled, whether through the mountains of Lycaonia or the marshes of Latium. We additionally need to delve into the course of commerce by which Paul's journeys were so often regulated, and the character of that imperfect navigation by which his life was so many times endangered.
While thus trying to live in the life of a bygone age, during the first century A.D. when Paul's ministry was in full force, and to call up the figure of the past from its tomb, duly robed in all its former raiment, every help is welcome which enables us to fill up the dim outline. Especially we delight to look upon the only one of the manifold features of that past existence which still is living. We remember with pleasure that the earth, the sea, and the sky still combine for us in the same landscapes which passed before the eyes of the wayfaring Apostle.
We, like Paul, can imagine the plain of Cilicia, the snowy distances of Taurus (Paul's hometown), the cold and rapid stream of the Cydnus, and the broad Orontes under the shadow of its steep banks. We can imagine the hills which "stand about Jerusalem," the "arched fountains cold" in the ravines below, the capes and islands of the Grecian Sea and the craggy summit of Areopagus. All these remain to us, the imperishable handiwork of Nature.
We can still look upon the same trees and flowers which the apostle Paul saw clothing the mountains, giving color to the plains, or reflected in the rivers; we may think of him among the palms of Syria, the cedars of Lebanon, the olives of Attica, the green Isthmian pines of Corinth, whose leaves wove those "fading garlands" which he contrasts (1Corinthians 9:25) with the "incorruptible crown," the prize for which he fought. We can even still look upon some of the works of man which filled him with wonder, or moved him to indignation. The "temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24) which rose before him, the very apotheosis of idolatry, on the Acropolis, still stand in almost undiminished majesty and beauty as they did in Paul's day.
The mole on which Paul landed at Puteoli, during his ministry, still stretches its ruins into the blue waters of the bay. The remains of the Baian villas, whose marble porticoes he then beheld glittering in the sunset, his first specimen of Italian luxury, still are seen along the shore. We may still enter Rome as he did by the same Appian Road, through the same Capenian Gate, and wander among the ruins of Caesar’s palace (Philippians 1:13) on the Palatine, while our eye rests upon the same aqueducts radiating over the Campagna to the unchanging hills.
Those who have visited the above spots must often have felt a thrill of recollection as they trod in the footsteps of the Apostle. They must have been conscious how much the identity of the outward scene brought them into communion with him, while they tried to image to themselves the feelings with which he must have looked upon the objects before them. They who have experienced this will feel how imperfect a biography of Paul's life and ministry must be without faithful representations of the places which he visited.
And it is evident, that, for the purposes of such a biography, nothing but true and faithful representations of the real scenes will be valuable in order for us to gain a proper understanding of Paul's ministry. These are what is wanted, and not ideal representations, even though copied from the works of the greatest masters. It has been well said, "Nature and reality painted at the time, and on the spot, a nobler cartoon of Apostle Paul’s preaching at Athens than the immortal Rafaelle afterwards has done."