2

I would like to know where in respect to Acts 9 the events of Galatians 1:16-17 most likely occurred. Here are two possibilities:

…. And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened (Acts 9:18-19). I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus (Galatians 1:16-17).

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:19b-22).

When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket (Acts 9:23-25).

And when he had come to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26a), after three years (Galatians 1:18a) …

or

…. And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened (Acts 9:18-19).

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus (Acts 9:19b). I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus (Galatians 1:16-17). And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:20-22).

When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket (Acts 9:23-25).

And when he had come to Jerusalem (Acts 9:26a), after three years (Galatians 1:18a) …

  • A couple good scholarly articles you might be interested to read: Doug Campbell, "An Anchor for Pauline Chronology...", * Journal of Biblical Literature 121/2 (2002), 279-302; Rainer Riesner, "Pauline Chronology", from the Blackwell Companion to Paul, ed. Stephen Westerholm (2011). HTH. – Dɑvïd Jul 18 '15 at 11:53
  • @David Thank you for your contribution. I will definitely take a look at those articles. Always willing to read and learn. – E. Cardona Jul 18 '15 at 12:45
  • @curiousdannii Thank you for rearranging the post. It is much better, I just had to approve! – E. Cardona Jul 20 '15 at 13:35
4

The texts in question

In Act 9:20-28 we read:

Acts 9:20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. 24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket. 26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. (NKJ)

And in Gal 1:16-21 we read:

Galatians 1:16 ....... I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20 (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) 21 Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. (Gal 1:16 NKJ)

It is sometimes presented that these two accounts cannot be properly reconciled together, but are they really contradictory?

The traditional Chronology

Traditionally Paul's early travels have been broken down as follows1:

A. The period from the conversion of Paul until the first trip to Jerusalem.

  1. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16; 26:2-18)
  2. Paul entered Damascus and stayed there for an unknown amount of time (Acts 9:19)
  3. Paul went to Arabia for an unspecified period, and afterwards he returned to Damascus (Gal.1:17).
  4. The whole period from his conversion to his departure from Damascus is given as "three years"(Gal.1:18)
  5. Paul travels to Jerusalem where he meets Peter and James where he stays for 15 days before having to flee (Gal 1:18-19; Acts 9:26-29)
  6. Paul is taken to Caesarea from which he travels to Tarsus (Acts 9:30)

The problem with the word 'immediately'

There is, however, an apparent contradiction between the account in Acts and the account in Galatians. In Gal 1:16-17 we read "....I did not immediately (εὐθέως) confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus" (NKJ); and in Acts 9:20 we read, "Immediately (εὐθέως) he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God" N(KJ).

The construction of the Greek in Gal 1:16-17 is decidedly awkward and many modern English translations link the word 'immediately' in Gal 1:16 with Paul's visit to Arabia. For example, the NEB reads, “I went at once to Arabia.”2 If this view is taken there is a conflict with the two narratives of Paul's travels. How could Paul have “at once” both preached in Damascus and gone off to Arabia?

This potential contradiction is avoided, however, by following a more literal sequence of the Greek in Gal 1:16-17, which the NKJV and The NASB do. 3 By following this interpretation the adverb “immediately” is qualifying Paul’s statements concerning his post-conversion whereabouts. Clearly the point he was making was not that he went immediately to Arabia without doing anything at all in Damascus, but that immediately after his conversion he did not go to Jerusalem or consult with the apostles there.4

It would appear that Paul is countering the charge of his Galatians opponents that he preached a second-hand message that he received from those who were apostles before him. Paul is showing that not only was he called and commissioned by Christ Jesus without any human ordination but that he had engaged in the ministry of preaching prior to ever meeting the other apostles.

Machen contends that even if the word “immediately” is taken as describing Paul’s visit to Arabia as well as his denial of consort with others, this need not imply a contradiction with the narrative in Acts. “The real point of the sentence is to deny that there was a journey to Jerusalem during those early days; it is not to establish the exact moment of the journey to Arabia . . .. When Paul uses the word ‘immediately’ in connection with the journey to Arabia, he is thinking not in terms of days or of hours but of journeys. His journey at that time was not to Jerusalem but to Arabia.5

In regard to this apparent contradiction the NAC commentary notes:

Some modern critics have cast aspersion on the historical accuracy of Luke’s account because he nowhere mentioned Paul’s journey to Arabia. However, it is important to recognize that both Luke and Paul wrote their distinctive accounts with a clearly defined purpose in mind. Neither Acts nor Galatians was intended to be a day-by-day journal of Paul’s activities; each is a selective account of what Paul said and did, designed to show, in the case of Acts, his strategic role in the worldwide mission of the church and, in the case of Galatians, the divine derivation and independence of his apostolic mission. It is possible to affirm the total truthfulness and accuracy of the Bible in everything it describes without assuming that it purports to be totally exhaustive in every detail.6

Why Acts doesn't mention Paul's trip Arabia?

Another apparent contradiction that is sometimes mentioned is that Acts 9 doesn't mention the trip to Arabia, but an absence of detail is not the same as saying the detail never happened.

In Acts 19:23 we are told that the plot to kill Paul occurred after "many days were past." Paul could certainly have spent up to three years in both Damascus and Arabia in that described period of time. Hendriksen notes "The fact that Luke does not make mention of this trip is not strange. Neither Luke nor Paul is trying to give us a complete biography of Paul."7 The question which needs to be asked is, "How would this detail have furthered the purpose of the writer of Acts?"

Paul's trip to Arabia could not have been the first thing Paul did after his conversion, as the book of Acts says he began to preach immediately (upon his conversion) in Damascus (Acts 9:20). Nor are we given any information in regards to the purpose of the trip to Arabia. I personally favour the idea that it was a preaching trip (but that is mere conjecture on my part, though F. F. Bruce supports it).

Who did Paul see In Jerusalem?

In Acts 9:27 we read "But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus," (NKJ), yet Gal 1:18-19 tells us he met only Peter and James (the brother of Jesus).8

Again, this is only a contradiction if we read Acts 9:27 as referring to all the apostles rather than just some of them who acted as representatives for the whole group. As Kistemaker comments:

Who are those apostles in Jerusalem? Paul himself states that during his visit to Jerusalem, he saw only Peter and James, the Lord’s brother, but none of the other apostles (Gal. 1:18–19). James, of course, does not belong to the Twelve but to the broader circle of apostles. What does Paul mean when he says that he met only Peter and James? Paul means to say that Peter was in Jerusalem but all the others were engaged in giving leadership in “many Christian communities scattered throughout the country.”44 (Luke’s remark that Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles is a general statement that refers to at least two representatives, Peter and James.9

Concluding thoughts

In this writer's opinion there is no difficultly in harmonizing the record of those early years of Saul's (Paul's) post-conversion life in Acts 9 and Galatians 1. Problems occur only when one interprets the texts in a contradictory way. This writer believes the chronology proposed above is supported by the biblical record.

Addendum

In response to this comment:

@JonathanChell: Unless you can show evidence for this chronology, your speculation cannot be used to explain this problem. Are you saying that in spite of Acts 9:20-24 Paul casually went to Arabia and returned before the Jews decided to try to kill him? That does not make sense. – Dick Harfield

I must firstly point out that I never implied Paul's trip to Arabia was in any way 'casual.' Indeed, I offered the opinion (with scholarly support) that it was a preaching trip.

Regarding the chronology of the three years spent in Damascus we are not furnished with enough detail to outline properly the exact sequence of events. We do know, however, that:

  1. Upon Paul's conversion he immediately began to preach in the synogogues in Damascus (Acts 9:20)
  2. Many days later the Jews plotted to kill him (Acts 9:23)
  3. The daring escape ended Paul's time in Damascus (Acts 9:25)
  4. The period from Paul's conversion to the dramatic escape lasted three years (Gal 1:18)
  5. Within his time there, Paul visited Arabia (Gal 1:17)
  6. We must place this visit somewhere in the middle of the time in Damascus because we are told that Paul returned to Damascus after his visit to Arabia (Gal 1:17)

So, the trip to Arabia happens during Paul's period in Damascus. In fact this is hinted at in the Acts account. Notice that the plot to kill Paul does not begin straight away (immediately after Paul has confounded all the Jews, Act 9:22) but actually many days later (Acts 9:23). The trip to Arabia presents a logical explanation for that delay. The plots against Paul began upon his return to Damascus, following his time in Arabia.


Notes

1 Reymond, p67-68 & Bruce, p81-86

2 See also the GNB, NRSV and JB

3 for a longer discourse on this issue refer to Machen p68-74

4 "Having spent a number of days in Damascus, Paul, instead of going to Jerusalem in order to receive from the other apostles—whom he fully acknowledges as such!—instruction in the contents of the gospel, at once decided not to go there. The words, “I did not at once confer with flesh and blood” do not mean “not at once but later,” but rather “I immediately decided not to confer with flesh and blood”; that is, I decided not to consult mere man, man in all his weakness, over against God the Omnipotent (cf. Matt. 16:17; Heb. 2:14; and see N.T.C. on Eph. 6:12). So, Paul did not at that time go to Jerusalem. Literally he writes, “I did not at once put myself upon those who were apostles before me,” seeking their advice or approval. He knew very well that, having seen the Lord and having already received the gospel and the call to proclaim it from him, he was on fully equal terms with the other apostles. So, instead of going to Jerusalem, he had gone to Arabia!"[Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Galatians (Vol. 8, pp. 55–56). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.] See also Galatiansp 39–40.

5 Machen p70

6George, T. (1994). Galatians (Vol. 30, pp. 123–124). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

7 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Galatians (Vol. 8, p. 56). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

8 It should be noted that the term 'Apostle' is not limited in use to refer to the eleven apostles and Paul, see for example Acts 14:14 where Barnabas is called an Apostle.

9 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, p. 352). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

  • Thank you so much for that contribution. Can we say for certain that Paul preached in Damascus before he went to Arabia or went to Arabia first before he preached in Damascus? Didn't God have to prepare Paul first before he went out to preach (like Jesus' disciples)? Could there be a possibility that God prepared him in Arabia, although the text does not give specifics, before he preached in Damascus? – E. Cardona Jul 16 '15 at 20:21
  • @EmanuelCardona I have added some material in regard to your question as it pertains to the question, in regards to Saul needing training we have to remember that Paul was well taught already and he just needed to fit the pieces together in his new Christian paradigm. PS, if you like the answer please score it :D – Jonathan Chell Jul 17 '15 at 7:03
  • Whether the Jews sought to kill Paul (Acts) or the governor sought to arrest Paul (Paul), it is clear that his presence in Damascus was so dangerous he had to flee, making it unlikely that he would return. Yet Mr Reymond's synthesis has him return and presumably spend a long time there, after his trip to Arabia and back. How does Reymond explain Paul's confidence in his safety? – Dick Harfield Jul 18 '15 at 1:41
  • @DickHarfield this is not a valid objection, as the visit to Arabia took place during Paul's time in Damascus, which ended when he had to flea the city as the chronology demonstrates – Jonathan Chell Jul 18 '15 at 7:35
  • @JonathanChell Unless you can show evidence for this chronology, it is speculation and can not be used to explain this problem. Are you saying that, in spite of Acts 9:20-24, Paul casually went to Arabia and returned before the Jews decided to try to kill him? It doesn't make sense. – Dick Harfield Jul 18 '15 at 11:18
2

The Idea in Brief

When Paul was converted, he engaged the Jews in Damascus who rejected his testimony. Paul departed Damascus, and traveled to Arabia, which was the sanctuary of Elijah and Moses when they too were rejected by the Jewish people. After Paul had returned to Damascus, he faced not only more hostility, but death. He then escaped Damascus through a hole in the wall. At this point, he traveled to Jerusalem, which was now three years after his original conversion experience. That is, when he traveled to Jerusalem, he had met James and Peter for the very first time (Gal 1:18).

Discussion

The following verses provide an important clue:

Acts 9:22-25 (NASB)
22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. 23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.

Paul appears to have traveled to Arabia between verse 22 and verse 23. That is, he left Damascus and then returned to Damascus, which is when many days had elapsed.

In other words, when Paul went to Arabia, he would have had opportunity to meet with Peter and the other disciples, but instead he by-passed Jerusalem (Gal 1:17), which would have been en route to Arabia. The Arabia here is the same Arabia mentioned later in the epistle:

Gal 4:25 (NASB)
25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

Paul had by-passed Jerusalem to go into Arabia which is the place which Elijah went when he (Elijah) had faced the crisis of the rejection of the Jewish people. Moses also traversed Arabia (into Midian), when he faced the crisis of the rejection of the Jewish people. Paul therefore went into Arabaia when he faced the crisis of the rejection of the Jewish people. Like Moses and Elijah, he encountered God, and then returned to the point from where he had come - in this case, Damascus.

When Paul returned to Damascus, he confronted the same Jews. At this point, the confrontation became deadly.

2 Cor 11:32-33 (NASB)
32 In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, 32 and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.

It was at this time, that Paul traveled to Jerusalem, which is where he met Peter and James for the first time. The interval of time from his conversion to the point when he traveled to Jerusalem therefore was three years.

Conclusion

In summary, after his conversion and immediate interaction with the Jews in Damascus, Paul encountered immediate rejection from the Jews. At that point, Paul fled to Arabia, where, like Moses and Elijah, he had sought his spiritual bearings in exile. Paul therefore did not confer with "flesh and blood" (Gal 1:16), but God alone. Upon return to Damascus, he engaged the Jews again, but this time they wished to kill him. At this point, he escaped through the opening in the wall lowered by a basket. When he finally arrived in Jerusalem to meet Peter and James and others, three years had already elapsed since his original conversion experience (Gal 1:18).

  • Thank you Joseph for your contribution. I can see how this makes sense. Better than my two proposed chronological readings in my original post above. – E. Cardona Jul 18 '15 at 1:56
1

The question appears to attempt to harmonise Paul's Epistle to the Galatians with Acts of the Apostles by defining a sequence of events that minimises apparent contradictions. Scholars and theologians such as John Shelby Spong (Born of a Woman, page 109) point out that Galatians 1:16-17 and Acts 9:19-29 give very different accounts of Paul’s travels from Damascus. This being the case, it may not be realistic to define any sequence of events that properly combines the chronologies of Galatians and Acts. A summary of the initial itineraries in Galatians and Acts can be found at the end of this answer. Superficially, the first places Paul visits can by harmonised - except for Galatian's omission of the first visit to Damascus and Act's omission of the visit to Arabia - but we soon see that the itineraries begin to diverge and change in character.

In the question's first proposal, Paul is baptised but nevertheless does not spend any time with the disciples until his return. Maybe it explains in an Acts context why Paul takes the trouble to say he did not confer/consult with anyone but it seems a strange scenario in a small and presumably close-knit Christian community. Also, Acts 9:19 makes it clear that Paul spent the time with the disciples immediately after ("then") his baptism.

In the second proposal, with Paul more immediately spending some days with the disciples, it is particularly difficult to imagine Paul not "conferring" with them.

In discussing the possibility of Acts having been written by Luke, a companion of Paul, Raymond E. Brown (An Introduction to the New Testament, pages 267-8) points to the many historical and theological differences/discrepancies from the Pauline letters. He calls (page 298) the difference between Acts 9:19b-30 and Paul's own account in Gal l:15-22 "a famous discrepancy." Paul Barnett says, in The Birth of Christianity, page 23, we do not even know whether the fourteen years of Galatians 2:1 incorporates or is in addition to the three years of Galatians 1:18.

On this evidence and the analysis of biblical scholars, it is not a matter of interleaving passages from Acts with those from Galatians, but one of choosing the chronology in Acts or that in Galatians.


Chronology of Galatians 1:15-2:1

  1. Conversion, probably near Damascus: It pleased God to reveal his son in Paul, he conferred not with men (In 1:11-12, we are told he was not taught the gospel, because he received it by revelation.)
  2. Paul could have gone ("went not") to Jerusalem but instead went to Arabia (Petrea)
  3. Then he went to Damascus
  4. In 2 Cor. 11:32-33, Paul was let down the wall in a basket to escape the pagan governor of Damascus, who sought to arrest him, presumably for preaching to pagans
  5. After 3 years Paul went to Jerusalem where he saw Peter, who welcomed him (also saw James)
  6. Then went to Syria and Cilicia, where he was unknown to Christians except by reputation
  7. After (a further) 14 years and now well into his mission, Paul went to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus.
  8. It appears he then went to Antioch, where he confronted Peter (Gal 2:11-14)

I believe it likely the trip to Arabia was to get permission from King Aretas to preach to gentiles in Damascus, which he then does.


Chronology of Acts 9:3ff

  1. As Paul came near Damascus, he heard the voice of Jesus and was blinded by a light
  2. They led him to Damascus, where Paul spent time with Ananias, who restored his sight, and then with the disciples
  3. Paul preached to the Jews in Damascus for many days - but not "years"
  4. The Jews were trying to kill Paul, so the disciples let him down the wall in a basket
  5. Paul went to Jerusalem where all the disciples were at first afraid of him
  6. They took him to Caesaria (Palestine coast)
  7. They sent Paul to Tarsus (in Celicia, but where Acts says he would be well known by sight - 'Saul of Tarsus')
  8. (11:25-26) Barnabas took Paul from Tarsus to Antioch, where he spent one year
  9. (11:30) To Jerusalem
  10. Still early in his mission, Paul returned to Antioch and then began his First Missionary Journey (Paul's epistles make no mention of this Journey or, especially, of Cyprus)
  • Scholars like Robert L Raymond have no issue harmonizing the chronology. As is often the case the critical scholars are equating silence with contradiction. There is nothing between the accounts of Acts 9 and Gal 1 that actually preclude the details in the other from being true. – Jonathan Chell Jul 16 '15 at 7:42
  • @JonathanChell This comment does not seem to be intended to help me improve my answer. As you wish to discuss a different POV I have created a new chat room at chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/25906/…. where you can explain to me what Robert L Raymond has to say. Incidentally, Wikipedia has an article on Robert Lewis Reymond whom it describes as a theologian rather than as a scholar. Is this the person we are going to discuss? – Dick Harfield Jul 16 '15 at 8:26
  • @DickHarfield Are there any scholars who have attempted to harmonize the chronology? If so, what chronological reading has been proposed in spite of the difficulties in doing so? – E. Cardona Jul 16 '15 at 9:29
  • @EmanuelCardona Most scholars look at Paul's itinerary in totality, meaning they are well aware of significant differences in the two account - eg no reference by Paul to the events of the First Missionary Journey (who would not want to talk of the magic he performed in defeating Elymas and the important work in converting the Roman deputy for Cyprus?). They tend to try to explain the differences, usually by reference to theology, rather than attempting to harmonise small sections of the overall chronology.. – Dick Harfield Jul 17 '15 at 0:11
  • @DickHarfield I was having some difficulty myself trying to find a good explanation of harmonizing the small Bible sections in question. I thank you for your contribution. – E. Cardona Jul 17 '15 at 1:09
0

“If you torture the evidence long enough it will confess to anything.”

If you block the possibility of real error or a false letter then you really can’t make proper judgments. You assume it must fit, so you force it and make the plain meaning and resulting contradictions an impossibility. Galatians, for those who do not study, is a completely questionable letter. The Greek is completely different from all the other letters; it contradicts in his travels and support; it brags and attacks Peter when Acts makes Peter the champion for Gentile acceptance through a vision; it’s theology opposes his own words in other letters; wasn’t written by Paul but aggressively claims to be; no accounts or communities developed in Arabia because of Paul and Arabia is harsh, how was Paul surviving 3 years without any community in this area before hand?

Galatians, by all accounts, should have been axed at the beginning but because of hate for Torah and Jews, it was allowed and accepted. No real study can be done without the possibility of it being a false letter. It is just assumed and the timeline forced.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.