In Galatians 1:16b-19, 22 (ESV), Paul writes that after his conversion in Damascus,

...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. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.... And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

However, the author of Acts describes the events of Paul's conversion in 9:1-19, and in describing the events which occurred immediately after (9:19b-20, 23-28, ESV), he writes concerning Paul:

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." ... 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. And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.

According to the author of Acts, this is Paul's first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion in Damascus. The next trip Paul takes to Jerusalem according to his account in Galatians 2:1 (ESV) follows:

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.

The next mention of Paul's location in the book of Acts is in 11:25-26b, which records:

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.

This later trip to Jerusalem has already been dealt with in another question, I reference it only to make it clear that it is unlikely that there is another trip to Jerusalem that is being confused with this first post-conversion trip recorded in Galatians and Acts.

Obviously there are many differences in these accounts (did Paul go to Jerusalem to see Peter by his own choice or was he forced to flee there to escape persecution? Did he go to Arabia before Jerusalem or not? Did the other Christians take him away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus to protect him from the Hellenists, or did he return to the regions of Syria and Cilicia?). The primary difference I am interested in in this question is which apostles Paul saw in his first post-conversion trip to Jerusalem, but a good answer may need to address some or all of these other contradictory chronological statements in order to address this (if one makes the case that the chronology can be reconciled).

So in light of these texts and their presented chronology, which apostles did Paul visit in Jerusalem the first time he went there after his conversion? Was the author of Acts unaware of the letter to the Galatians? Did the author perhaps intentionally write a polemic to rebut/correct the Galatians account? How do esteemed Biblical scholars understand the differences between the accounts in these texts?

  • Are you asking if Luke got a little creative with his hero worship of Paul? If so it is a brave question. Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 16:32
  • That is one possible approach, among others.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 22:03
  • I'm not sure I understand the question - are you asking about the interpretation of a text, or about the historicity of the events being reported?
    – Niobius
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 15:25
  • @Niobius both in some ways. I'm looking for how scholars have understood these texts - both attempts at claiming I'm missing the picture and showing me how to reconcile the chronology and answers that explain why they differ/contradict and offering reasons why that may have happened. A good answer will probably end up presenting several interpretive options, but a strong case could also be made for a specific option in an answer as well.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:05
  • @Niobius sort of like what I did with this question, where my answer surveys popular explanations and explains each, citing scholarly sources and showing its work (showing why the scholars thought as they did, not just what they have said).
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


Luke knew Galatians

Logically, the first question to deal with is whether 'Luke' knew Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, because this will inform the answers to the other questions posed. David Ravens (Luke and the Restoration of Israel, pages 174-5) speaks of the epistles generally when he says there are three possible answers: (1) that Luke did not know the letters and this could not use them; (2) he knew the letters but would not use them; and (3) that he knew the letters and made as selective use of them while keeping quiet about certain points.

Ravens proposes that the third option is the most probable. In support of this, he says examination of incidents common to both writers shows some verbal similarities which suggest Luke knew Paul's own account in some cases. He says that disagreements between two accounts of a common incident are not necessarily evidence of Luke's ignorance, because there is not a priori reason to think that Luke would have treated Paul's letters any less creatively than he treated his other sources. He goes on to propose (ibid, page 179) that Luke knew Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians and Romans. Ravens says it is possible that Luke had other sources for his Pauline narrative, but agrees that it is only necessary to postulate a totally unknown tradition when the well known entities are insufficient.

Luke changed Paul's account for dramatic and theological reasons

Ravens believes that Luke felt free to make changes and additions to Paul's account, to suit his own dramatic and theological purposes. The question is whether these changes and additions represent a polemic and whether Luke intended to rebut/correct the Galatians account. Uta Ranke-Heinemann does not hold back, saying in Putting Away Childish Things, page 167, that the whole book of Acts is a work of propaganda. She cites Hans Joachim Schoeps (Das Judenchristentum, page 10), who says Acts follows a clear didactic line and for this reason energetically cultivates the creation of legends and reshapes persons and events according to its own standards. Raymond E. Brown* says in An Introduction to the New Testament*, page 316, while Luke used with reasonable fidelity written sources (Mark, Q) in his Gospel, some contend that the author was much more creative and therefore fictional in Acts. On these views, Luke is certainly changing the account put forward by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, but it can not be said that Luke was correcting Paul's account, simply because there is no evidence that he had a knowledge of any truth other than what he read in the epistle. In my view, Acts, in its entirety, was a subtle polemic that sought to portray Paul as a lesser apostle than Paul had portrayed himself in his epistles.

Paul saw Peter and James, but none other of the apostles

Acts differs from Galatians in ways that we can not reconcile without mental gymnastics. Instead of attempting to find a little bit of the truth from each version, we should either stick with Paul's first-hand account in Galatians or reject it as biased and base our assumptions on Acts alone. I propose that the appropriate course is to rely on Paul's account and therefore ignore Acts of the Apostles for this purpose. Paul very clearly says that immediately after his conversion he went to Arabia before going to Jerusalem, where he only saw Peter and James:

Galatians 1:18-19: Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.


This question is too good to have no answers, but I fear my answer will not do it justice. I hope others will take a shot at it as well - even if for no other reason than to prove me wrong.

1) Paul is converted on the way to Damascus (let's call this year 0)

Acts 9:8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

Gal 1:15-16a But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,

2) Paul arrives at Damascus (year 0) Acts 9:8b But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

Acts 9:19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

Gal 1:17 indicates that he first went to Damascus, as it says he later "returned again to Damascus".

3) Paul goes to Arabia (year 0-3?)

Gal 1:16b-17a I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia

4) Paul returns to Damascus (year 0-3?)

Gal 17:b and returned again to Damascus

5) Paul goes to Jerusalem and sees Peter and James

Acts 9:26 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. [But Barnabbas introduced him to the apostles - yet he only spent significant time with Peter and James (cf Gal 1).]

Gal 1:18-19 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter,[a] and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)

6) Paul is sent to Tarsus

Acts 9:30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

7) Barnabas moves Paul to Antioch

Acts 11:25-26 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Gal 1:21-22 Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.

8) Paul and Barnabas take relief to Jerusalem because of a prophecy (year 14)

Acts 11:27-30 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Gal 2:1-2a: Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. And I went up by revelation

9) Paul sees James, Peter, and John (and probably also the rest) and returns to Antioch

Gal 2:9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem [to Antioch] when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

10) Peter visits the church in Antioch (ca. year 15)

Gal 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch

11) Paul's first missionary journey

Acts 13-14

12) Paul writes Galatians

Gal 1-6

Note: To restrict the length of this post, I haven't gone to great lengths of wordiness to prove my assertions. Most of them are self-evident from comparison between Acts and Galatians. If nothing else, let the reader know that a reconciliation of the two is possible.

For others trying to prove this text: remember that the author of Acts spent a good deal of his time with Paul (cf. the "we"-passages), and that Galatians was written well before Acts. Thus it is difficult to argue that these passages contradict each other, as a) Luke did his research (Lk 1:1-4), b) Paul would known full well that had he lied to the Galatians about his activities, they could easily find out, and they would have no reason to trust him anymore. Note also that the purposes of the two accounts are very different, and that it is therefore not surprising that they give different (but reconcilable) accounts.

  • Thanks for the response. +1. Do you have any scholarly support for this reconciliation (fwiw, I still see some gaping holes in the chronology, although this is a valiant attempt - and I appreciate the response).
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 18, 2014 at 16:47
  • @Niobius Thank you for your chronological report.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 23, 2017 at 21:27

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