Paul’s Jerusalem Visits

This list assumes that Gal. 2 is referring to the Jerusalem Council visit.

  1. Gal. 1:18-20; Acts 9:26-29 (Post-conversion visit)
  2. Acts 11:30 (famine relief visit)
  3. Gal. 2; Acts 15 (Jerusalem Council)
  4. Acts 21:15  (Paul’s arrest and imprisonment)

This list assumes that Gal. 2 is referring to the famine relief visit.

  1. Gal. 1:18-20; Acts 9:26-29 (Post-conversion visit)
  2. Gal. 2; Acts 11:30 (famine relief visit)
  3. Acts 15 (Jerusalem Council)
  4. Acts 21:15  (Paul’s arrest and imprisonment)



THE parallel accounts of the intercourse of St. Paul with the Church at Jerusalem, given in this Epistle and in the Acts of the Apostles, have been a double source of difficulty. To writers who have accepted the general truthfulness of both narratives, they have seemed hard to harmonize and arrange in due chronological sequence; and, on the other hand, to those who were already prepared to cast a doubt upon the veracity of the historical work, the autobiographical notices in the Epistle have furnished a means of attack of which they have very unsparingly availed themselves.

The critic who wishes to look at things as they really are, without prejudice and without captiousness, will certainly confess that all is not perfectly smooth or plain, and that the two narratives do not fit into each other at once with exact precision; but he will none the less vehemently repudiate the exaggerated conclusions which have been drawn from the differences which exist—conclusions which, while professing to be based upon the application to the Bible of the same principles that would be made use of in judging any other book, are such as in fact are totally inapplicable both to books and to real life. It is not too much to say that, if the principles carried out, e.g., by F. C. Baur in his famous criticism of these narratives were applied with equal thoroughness elsewhere, history would not exist, or would simply become a field for the exercise of the imagination, and common affairs would be reduced to a dead-lock of universal skepticism. The standard by which these writers have judged of what is historical and what is not, is a standard which exists only in the pedantry of the study or the lecture-room, and which is least of all applicable here, where our ignorance of all the surrounding circumstances is so large, and the whole body of direct evidence so very small.

We shall proceed to place the two narratives side by side, pointing out as well as we can what are the real and what are only apparent differences between them. At the same time it must be fully acknowledged that, however sincere the motives with which any particular statement of the case is made, there will still be a certain room for honest diversity of opinion. One mind will lean to a greater and another to a less amount of stringency, though it is hard to believe that any properly-trained and soundly-balanced judgment will fall into the extravagances to which the criticism of this unfortunate chapter of history has been subject.

In estimating the apparent divergences of the two writers, the position and object of each should be borne in mind. St. Paul is writing with the most intimate acquaintance with the inner course of events, but at the same time with a definite and limited object in view—to vindicate his own independence. He is writing under the pressure of controversy which served sharply to accentuate the points of difference between himself and all who were in any way mixed up with the Judaizing party. On the other hand, St. Luke was writing at a greater distance of time, from information which in this part of his narrative he was obliged to take at second-hand, and that from persons who were themselves only acquainted with so much of the events as had passed in public. He may have had a wish not to give too much relief to the oppositions which still threatened the peace of the Church, but there is nothing to show that this went so far as to distort his representation of the facts.

We shall assume the view which is current amongst a large majority of the best and most trustworthy critics as to the order of the visits, and we shall confine ourselves to considering the relation between the two narratives.

Visit #1:

The first visit, then, with which we have to deal will be that recorded in Acts 9:26-30 and Galatians 1:18-24, which we place in parallel columns:

Act. 9:26-30. Gal. 1:18-24.
When Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and be­lieved not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought hint to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians [Hellenists, or Greek speaking Jews]: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter [Cephas], and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and was unknown by face unto the churches of Judæa which were in Christ: but they had heard only, That he which per­secuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me.

The narratives here do not really clash, though they are presented from different sides. St. Paul says nothing about his introduction to the Church at Jerusalem by Barnabas, because that had no bearing upon his argument; neither does he speak of his public preaching at Jerusalem, for that, too, was not to the point. There would be ample time for this preaching during the fifteen days that he was residing in the house of St. Peter; and as he would be seen coming in and going out of this house—sometimes, no doubt, in company with St. Peter, and once or twice, perhaps, also in company with St. James—it would be very natural that St. Luke’s informants and St. Luke, wishing to show how entirely the former persecutor was now reconciled to the Church, should speak of him as “coming in and going out” with the Apostles. St. Paul himself hints at the impression which this great change made upon the churches of Judea collectively, though he was brought directly in contact only with the Church at Jerusalem. There is nothing to surprise us in the fact that St. Paul saw only two of the Apostles: the rest may have been absent upon some mission, or there may have been other causes, about which it would be vain to speculate. It would, perhaps, be possible to derive from St. Luke’s narrative an exaggerated idea of the extent to which the Apostle preached in public; but there, too, it is to be noticed that the preaching is described as confined to a particular, not very large, section of the Jewish community; and St. Luke relates nothing that would carry him beyond the walls of Jerusalem. The question whether St. Paul went direct from Caesarea to Tarsus, or landed upon the coast of Syria on the way, will be found discussed in the Notes to Galatians 1:21.

Visit #2:

The second visit to Jerusalem is mentioned only in the Acts. After recounting the success of the Apostle’s preaching at Antioch, and the great famine of the reign of Claudius, the historian proceeds to give an account of the collection that was made for the suffering churches of Judea.

Acts 11:29-30; 12:25.

The only question that occurs to us here is, Why is this visit omitted by St. Paul [in Galatians 2]? Nor is the answer far to seek. If St. Paul had been giving a professed list of his visits to Jerusalem, it might have seemed strange. But he is not giving such a list. His object is to explain the extent of his communications with the elder Apostles. But on this occasion there is every reason to think that he had no such communication. From the order of the narrative in the Acts we should infer that St. Paul arrived at Jerusalem during the confusion which was caused by Herod’s persecution. St. Peter was in prison; the Elder James had just been slain; James, the Lord’s brother was in hiding (Act. 12:17). No sooner was St. Peter delivered than he too went into hiding again (Act. 12:17-19). In the Church assembled at the house of Mary, none of the prominent members seem to have been present. And that Paul and Barnabas came to this house, we have an incidental proof in the fact that they took back with them John Mark, the son of the lady to whom it belonged. We should gather from the Acts that all they did was simply to fulfil their commission, by depositing the sums of which they were the bearers, in trustworthy hands, and return. But if so, there was no reason why St. Paul should allude to this visit in his argument with the Galatians. It had taken place nearly fourteen years before the date at which he was writing; and though it is not necessary to suppose that he had exactly forgotten it, still there was nothing to recall it to him, and it was not present to his mind. This is quite sufficient to explain the expression with which he introduces his account of his next, really his third, visit. He does not use a precise expression, “I went up a second time,” but simply, “I went up again.”

Visit #3:

This third visit is the most important. That both accounts relate to the same visit cannot be doubted, though there is, at the first blush, a considerable difference between them.

Acts 15:1-31. Galatians 2:1-11
And certain men which came down from Judæa taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question . . . And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe . . . Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; . . . Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. [To the same effect the letter is written, and sent by the hands of Judas Barsabas, and Silas, who returned to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, as a delegation from the Church of Jerusalem.] Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: and that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (for he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do. But when Peter [Cephas] was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed, &c

In one respect the narrative of St. Paul is strikingly supplemented by that of St. Luke. It tells us who were the “false brethren unawares brought in.” They were “certain of the sect of Pharisees which believed,” i.e., Pharisees who called themselves Christians, though without forsaking their peculiar tenets, and wishing to impose them upon the Church. The true opposition to St. Paul came from these. Both in the Epistle and in the work of the historian it is they who are put forward prominently. And it is a gross exaggeration, nay, a distortion of the facts, to represent the opposition as proceeding from the Judean Apostles. These appear rather as mediators, standing by birth and antecedents upon the one side, but yielding to the reasonableness of the case so far as to make large concessions upon the other.

It is noticeable, too, as another minute coincidence between the two accounts, that in both stress is laid upon the success of the Gentile Apostle’s preaching as a proof that he enjoyed the divine favor. In the Acts Paul and Barnabas defend themselves by “declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them;” and in the Galatians the Judean Apostles are described as giving to St. Paul and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship because they “perceived the grace given to him,” and because they saw that the same Power who enabled Peter to preach to the Jews “was mighty in him toward the Gentiles.”

These two quite “undesigned” coincidences are a strong confirmation of the narratives in which they are found. But the differences must also be noticed.

  1. In the Epistle St. Paul speaks of himself as going up “by revelation”—i.e., in accordance with some private intimation of the divine will. In the Acts it is determined for him that he should go as the deputy of the Church at Antioch. But the two things do not exclude each other: they rather represent the different aspects of the same event as it would appear when looked at from without and when looked at from within. A precisely similar difference may be observed in Act. 9:29-30, compared with Act. 22:17 et seq. In the one passage the disciples are said to have “brought down” St. Paul to Caesarea, for fear the Jews should slay him. In the other passage St. Paul himself, relating the same incident, says that, while praying in the Temple, he “fell into a trance,” and heard a voice bidding him “make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem,” because his testimony would not be received. In like manner a double cause—the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the act of the Church at Antioch—is assigned to the same event in Act. 13:2-4. Discrepancies like these in two independent narratives are common and natural enough.
  2. Nothing is said about the incident of Titus in the Acts. But Titus is included amongst the “others” of Act. 15:2 (“Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them”); and the incident is sufficiently pointed to in 2Co. 13:5, where the Pharisaic converts insist on the circumcision of the Gentile converts. Nor if it had been entirely omitted need this cause any surprise. St. Luke knew only so much of what happened at the Council as his informants themselves knew or were able to tell him.
  3. In the Acts we have described to us a great public meeting: the Epistle seems to speak rather of private conferences. But a public meeting on a matter of this kind, so far from excluding would naturally pre-suppose private conferences. We have recently had a conspicuous instance of this in the conduct so discreetly pursued at the Congress which resulted in the Treaty of Berlin. And a public meeting is both indicated by the Greek of the phrase “communicated unto them” (Gal. 2:2; see the Commentary ad loc.), and falls in naturally with the account of the dismissal of the two Apostles in 2Co. 13:9. So far the differences are of no importance, and are perfectly compatible with the complete truth of both accounts; but the one that remains is rather more substantial.
  4. St. Paul makes no mention of the so-called “apostolic decree.” The exhortation to “remember the poor” is all that he retains of the letter enjoining the Gentile Christians to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from things strangled, and from fornication.” Nor is the decree appealed to—as it might have been here to the Galatians—as a proof that circumcision was not held to be obligatory even by the mother Church; while some of these provisions—e.g., the abstinence from meat offered to idols—are left entirely unnoticed in the discussion of the subject in the Epistles to the Corinthians and Romans. A partial answer to the questions raised by this remarkable silence may be found in the fact that the letter was addressed, in the first instance, to the churches of a particular district—Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia—which was in comparatively close communion with Judea. It would not follow that the decree would be binding on other Gentile churches. A partial answer, again, is supplied by the Apostle’s natural independence of character. The argument from authority is the last that he would use; and if he had been more inclined to use it, the authority of the Church of Jerusalem was too often set in opposition to his own for it to be safe for him to have recourse to it as if to a higher court of appeal. These considerations may go some way, and yet we feel that the answer is still incomplete. If we knew the whole circumstances, there would probably be something more to be said. We do not know them, and therefore we must be content to remain in ignorance. But to take this ignorance as a ground for discrediting the history of the Acts is wanton in the extreme, and wholly unwarranted by anything that we see in the events that pass under our eyes or in the general relation of testimony to fact. Discrepancies greater than any that appear here may be observed in the accounts of events separated from their record by but a small interval of time, and attested by numerous witnesses: how much more, then, are they to be expected where two writers are looking back, one at a distance of seven or eight, the other, perhaps, of thirty years; where the one is writing a continuous history, and the other an apology for himself against a special and definite charge; and where they, and they two alone, supply all the information we possess as to the event itself, while all around it is little more than darkness visible!

So shallow and so slight is the foundation on which has been built that house of cards which forms one of the most imposing structures of modern negative criticism! To say that it has collapsed already would not be true, as men of learning and ability are still found to support it; but to say that it is doomed to collapse would be a prophecy based upon all the laws which distinguish between what is solid and permanent and what is fictitious and unreal.

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