So I don't have any issue reconciling Acts 9 with Galatians one with regards to timelines or accuracy. The only thing I still struggle with that I'm hoping to get an answer on is the second part of Acts 9 19 "For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus" and the second part of Galatians 1 16 "I did not immediately consult with anyone." I suppose this time with the disciples was after his time in Arabia? Thanks for your responses!
Saul headed for Damascus:
Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my [Saul] previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.
Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus
On the way, Paul met the risen Christ.
Act 9:5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
Galatians 1:15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16a to reveal his Son in me
Paul arrived at Damascus and spent some days with some local disciples. Then he went to Arabia:
Acts 9:19b Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
You ask: I suppose this time with the disciples was after his time in Arabia?
These are Damascus disciples, not Jerusalem disciples which is 3 years later.
Galatians 1:17a I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia.
Then he returned to Damascus.
17b Later I returned to Damascus. 18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.
Three years after conversion, he met Peter in Jerusalem.
As best I can work out, based on the record we have in Acts 9-15 and Gal 1 & 2, the sequence of events following Paul's conversion goes something like this. (The record in Acts is not continuous).
- Saul receives his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Acts 9:1-19
- Immediately afterward Saul preached Jesus in the synagogues, Acts 9:20-22 How long he remained in Damascus preaching in the synagogues in unknown but it was probably a few months(??). He then went to Arabia for an unknown time, presumably to clarify his thinking. Gal 1:17
- Saul then returned to Damascus. Acts 1:17. It is not clear whether the events of Acts 9:23-25 (the plot to kill Saul) was before or after the trip Arabia. I am inclined to the latter because it was after "many days" (Acts 9:23). In any case, at this point, Paul has thus far confined himself to synagogues. It was at this point that he decided to leave for Jerusalem.
- Paul goes to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion (Gal 1:18, Acts 1:26-29) to meet Cephas/Peter and other leaders. Saul is still only dealing with Jews and not gentiles. Acts 9:29.
- Paul then travels to Syria and Cilicia via Tarsus. Gal 1:21-24, Acts 9:30.
- The Church enjoyed a time of peace. Acts 9:31. During this next period, Acts is silent about the activities of Saul.
- Peter miraculously heals Aeneas and resurrects Tabitha at Lydda. Acts 9:32-43 Peter is called to Cornelius and baptises the first gentile at Caesarea. Acts 10. Peter is called to Jerusalem to explain why he had entered a gentile's house and then baptised a gentile. After explaining about the action of the Holy Spirit, the leaders had no further objection. Acts 11:1-18. There is no further record of Peter ever preaching to gentiles after this incident.
- Attention then shifts to Antioch and the developing tension over the role, if any, gentiles should have in the Gospel message. Acts 11:19-26. It was during this time that Barnabas went to get Saul in Tarsus (v25) and brought him to Antioch. It was at this time that Saul and Barnabas began preaching to gentiles.
- Because of a famine, Saul and Barnabas are sent with gifts to Jerusalem. Acts 11:27-30. It is probable that this was trip to Jerusalem is that referred to in Gal 2:1, fourteen years after Paul's conversion. It was at this Jerusalem meeting that Paul agreed with Peter an amicable division of labour - Paul would preach to the gentiles while Peter would preach to the Jews, Gal 2:9.
- Saul returns from Jerusalem to Antioch. Acts 12:25
- Saul/Paul and Barnabas are sent off on their first missionary journey Acts 13:2 - 14:28, preaching to gentiles, returning to Antioch.
- The Jerusalem council is called to debate circumcision. Acts 15.