Where might these unknown churches of Paul be located? When did he preach the gospel in the area of these possible fellowships? This article will explore the Biblical text that hints at places the Apostle Paul's evangelistic efforts may have produced new Christians.
Evangelizing a Circuit
A classic example of where Apostle Paul preached the gospel yet the fruit of his labors are unknown is found in the book of Romans.
For I (Paul) will not presume to speak about anything that Christ has not worked out by me for the obedience of the Gentiles . . . so that in a circuit from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Dalmatia), I have fully preached the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:18 - 19, HBFV throughout).
Illyricum (Dalmatia) was a Roman province located northwest of Macedonia on the Adriatic Sea. Paul likely traveled to the province during his second missionary journey (49 to 52 A.D.) which came close to Illyricum.
Although Paul does not directly mention any churches formed through his efforts, his last letter mentions that Titus, whom he previously told to stay in Crete to organize its Christians (Titus 1:4 - 5), went to Dalmatia (2Timothy 4:10). The likelihood exists that the apostle may have directed Titus to visit the province in order to strengthen churches Paul started in the region.
"Paul does not mention the reason why Titus had gone there (Dalmatia): but it is not improbable that he had gone to preach the gospel, or to visit the churches which Paul had planted in that region." (Barnes' Notes on the New Testament).
More Galatian Churches?
Apostle Paul started churches in the Galatian cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe during his first missionary journey (44 to 46 A.D.). The Bible hints at, however, that he may have produced more fruit through his evangelism than groups within these four locations.
Paul's powerful preaching in Antioch (Acts 13:14 - 41), a city in the Pisidia area of Galatia that was close to the province of Asia, led to the formation of its church (verse 48). The message he preached, however, did not stay in the city. His efforts spread beyond Antioch to the surrounding region where it may have produced smaller churches in unknown locations.
And the Word of the Lord was carried throughout the entire country. (Acts 13:49).
Gospel Spreads in Asia
Apostle Paul, during his third missionary journey, traveled to Ephesus. The prosperous and large city was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The apostle's evangelism, coupled with unique miracles he performed, led to a church starting in the city (Acts 19:1 - 20).
Paul's effective message, however, was not constrained to Ephesus. It spread throughout the province where it almost certainly produced the fruit of new converts.
. . . so that all those who inhabited Asia heard the message of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:10, see also verse 26).
Time to Evangelize
The Apostle Paul, during the course of his 35 year ministry, spent an extended period of time in four key cities. These periods allowed him to extensively spread the gospel to towns and villages in the surrounding regions.
Paul, for example, spent four consecutive years (36 to 40 A.D.) in Tarsus after his confrontational preaching in Jerusalem got him sent home (Acts 9:26 - 30)! The Bible hints at the possibility his stay produced unknown churches in the surrounding province of Cilicia (Acts 15:23).
The apostle also stayed for a long time in Corinth (2+ years) during his second missionary journey and at Ephesus (3+ years) during his third journey. His stay in Corinth led to him evangelizing and forming a church in nearby Cenchrea (see Romans 16:1 - 2). Paul even lived in Syrian Antioch for close to 5 years, spread over four separate periods, that likely led to churches starting in Syria (Acts 15:41).
The Final Journey
Paul, after two years under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30), was acquitted of the charges against him. After he was set free in 63 A.D. he traveled to Crete, then Nicopolis, and then fulfilled his desire to preach in Spain (Tarraconensis) as part of his final missionary journey.
For this reason also, I have been hindered many times from coming to you (the church in Rome). But now, there being no place in these regions that has not heard the gospel, and having a great desire to come to you for many years whenever I may go to Spain . . .
Therefore, when I have finished this task, and have safely delivered into their hands the fruit that was collected, I will set off toward Spain and will come to you (Romans 15:22 - 24, 28).
The Apostle Paul preached the gospel in Spain and may have also done so in Britain (Britannia). It is, of course, unknown where new churches may have formed through his evangelism.
Biblical evidence shows Apostle Paul started nine churches and highly likely four others (Tarsus, Athens, Cenchrea and Troas). His zealous pursuit of reaching as many as possible with the gospel (Romans 11:14, 1Corinthians 9:16 - 22), however, means the mystery of his unknown churches will not be resolved until the resurrection.