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Paul details a meeting with Peter, James and John in Galatians 2:1-10 (ESV):

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Luke also details a meeting of Paul, Barnabas and others from Antioch with the church, apostles and elders in Jerusalem in Acts 15:1-5 (ESV):

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

The account in Acts continues in much greater detail including the text of a letter that was produced and circulated to the Gentile churches. While there are many parallels between the two accounts, there are at least two problems with linking them:

  1. Paul says the meeting was private and with only a few influential people (potentially just James, Cephas, and John) whereas Luke makes clear the meeting was public.

  2. The letter to the Galatians makes no mention of the letter from the Jerusalem Council, which would seem to win Paul's case definitively.

If we are to identify the Galatians account with the Jerusalem Council, how are we to address these (and other) objections?

If we say these meetings are separate, which came first and why was the second meeting necessary given the near perfect overlap of the agenda?

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And of course in the second half of Galatians 2, it's made clear that Paul had to hash out these issues yet again with Peter and Barnabas. Good (and difficult) question! –  Soldarnal Oct 8 '11 at 5:08
    
This came up in the course, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it has already been addressed here :) –  Daи Jan 13 at 2:51
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This is an interesting question that seems to divide people. The two major opinions are that it either is ("almost certainly") the same event or that it is ("absolutely") not the same event.

The people who believe it is not the same event seem to be the most vocal since (1) they have textual discrepancies on their side and (2) they are going against the tradition. Those who believe it is the same event tend not to argue so strongly since there are discrepancies, but there are many things in common with the two trips (and they have tradition on their side).

Commonalities between the Acts and Galatians accounts

  • Paul and Barnabas attend the counsel together (Acts 15:2; Galatians 2:1)

  • They travel from Syria (Acts 14:26-28; Galatians 1:21)

  • They travel to Jerusalem (Acts 15:2-4; Galatians 2:1)

  • They are accompanied by others (Acts 15:2; Galatians 2:1)

  • Prior to the meeting, Paul faces opposition from Jewish Christians (Acts 15:5; Galatians 2:3-5)

  • The apostles meet (Acts 15:6-29; Galatians 2:6-10) and Peter and James play key roles (Acts 15:7-21; Galatians 2:7-9)

  • Paul reports and supports his mission to the gentiles (Acts 15:4, 12; Galatians 2:2.)

  • There "much discussion" at both meetings (Acts 15:6-7; Galatians 2:6-7) and they work out a compromise (Acts 15:13-29 ; Galatians 2:7-10)

  • Paul and Barnabas aren't given any special directions, but are sent to the Gentiles (Acts 15:22 - 29; Galatians 2:7-9)

  • Certain requirements are imposed on the gentiles (Acts 15:28; Galatians 2:10)

  • Soon, he and Barnabas have a falling out and part ways (Acts 15:39; Galatians 2 vs 13)

Differences between Acts and Galatians accounts

  • Acts says he's going for a disagreement in the church (Acts 15:2). Galatians says he's going on revelation (Galatians 2:2).

  • Acts seems to be a public affair (Acts 15:4), while Galatians states clearly that it was in private (Galatians 2:2.

  • Acts says that the contenders were believers (Acts 15:5), Galatians claims that these were "false believers" that came to spy them out (Galatians 2:3)

  • In Acts shows James supporting the gentiles (Acts 15:19) whereas Galatians shows that it was Paul (Galatians 2:5)

  • In Acts, Paul was asked to go and spread the gospel (Acts 15:20-21) whereas in Galatians, it seems that the result of the counsel is that he was only meant to remember the poor (Galatians 2:9)

  • Acts shows that they sent a short letter (Acts 15:23-29) whereas Galatians does not mention a letter

Reconciliation

So, how do we reconcile these differences?

One stance is that they are irreconcilable. This thought leads to the idea that these were two separate meetings.

I believe that these are reconcilable differences that can be seen from the realization that they are different authors of the two books. Every difference I saw could very easily be perceived as a difference in perspective from the different authors.

For example, Paul may have very well been lead to Jerusalem from revelation at the same time that he was called. Or, by comparison, maybe the revelation that called him to Jerusalem was the "revealing" that there was differences.

For another example, the differences in "public" versus "private" meetings we all seem to agree are based on the number of attendees. However, at what point does a "private" (small, intimate) meeting become "public" (large crowd)? (This makes me think back to Matthew 18:15-16 where Jesus recommends going first alone, then with "one or two others". Clearly, Barnabas was there, so we're already over 2 people.)

Regarding the difference in the letter, it might be seen that Galatians doesn't mention the letter because Paul himself took the letter. Why write a letter about a letter? It seems that Paul is using this letter to the Galatians as an opportunity to support his position (with words like "false believers", "we did not give in for a moment", "they recognized that I had been entrusted", "the very thing I had been eager to do all along", etc.). It seems to me that the reason he included this was to show that he was right and that he won the battle at the meeting in Jerusalem. It could be understandable that he didn't mention that they asked him to carry a letter (as that might show that his authority had been undermined).

I will say that that previous paragraph is interpretation and possibly contentious. Don't take that as a "scholarly" position, necessarily, nor even as an informed one! That's simply my understanding of things.

One final note is that Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem together and then split up. I believe it's not possible for these to be two accounts because they can only split up once!

Summary

It is possible to reconcile the two accounts, if not simple. Ultimately, that reconciliation comes down to recognizing the different perspectives and purposes of the different authors of the two books.

However, some people see these differences as irreconcilable and therefore see these as two separate, distinct events.


sources: 1 2 and 3

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Excellent survey! I have long leaned in the direction you suggest, but I have never had everything organized this well. Thank you. –  Jon Ericson Oct 9 '11 at 5:38
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