By W. M. Ramsay
Limits and Purpose of the Autobiography
This autobiographical sketch — from Gal 1:12 to near the end of Gal 2:21 — entirely depends on Gal 2:11 : “I make known1 to you,” i.e., I proceed to show you, “as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man”. Then follows the statement of the facts showing that the Gospel which Paul preached came to him from God originally, and, so far from having ever been suggested to him by the Apostles, had on the contrary been stated by him to them in Jerusalem, and approved by them without any reservation or addition or suggestion, except that he should remember the poor (which, as a matter of fact, it was his object then to do).
This autobiographical statement of facts falls into three parts. First, the character of his life before his conversion is briefly described, in order to bring out what an epoch it was, what a complete reversal of his previous career.
Secondly, he gives an outline of his movements, intended to bring out how rare and short had been his opportunities of learning from the older Apostles. When his visit to Jerusalem was very short he counts even the days. Then he contrasts these days with the years that elapsed between the first and the second visit.
The effect of the contrast between fifteen days in Jerusalem and fourteen years in Syria-Cilicia is great; and it must have been greater to the Galatians, because they had been listening to descriptions of Paul’s indebtedness to the older Apostles, his frequent consultation of them, and so on. But the North Galatians insist that this telling fact — fourteen days spent in Jerusalem during the first seventeen years of his Christian life — is got by leaving out one visit to Jerusalem: in fact, that it is obtained by suppression of truth.
The outline of his movements stops, naturally and necessarily, at the point where he delivered his Gospel to the Galatians: his purpose is only to show that up to that time he had not got any message from the Apostles. He must, of course, assume that the Galatians will believe his statements of fact: he assures them with the most solemn oath that he speaks the truth. Surely, in such a case, he would not expose himself to the charge, which the Judaistic emissaries would at once bring against him, of omitting a vital fact, viz., concealing a visit and thus incorrectly making a long interval between the two which he mentions.
Now, on the North Galatian theory that limiting point is on the second journey: Paul must show that he had never received any message from the Apostles to the Gentiles up to that time. According to Luke he had visited Jerusalem three times before that time. Therefore, if Luke is trustworthy, Paul has omitted a visit. It is not wonderful that the inference should be drawn by many scholars that Paul must be trusted and Luke must have made some blunder. The discrepancy is explained away by the orthodox theologians through a very elaborate process of delicate reconciliation; but the very elaborateness of the process is a proof that they have not reached the ultimate truth. Truth is simple. A scholar and a historian should recognise that universal principle: until he has attained perfect simplicity, he has not attained truth, and should struggle on towards it. As the conclusion of that elaborate reconciliation, many theological scholars deny that there is any discrepancy; but the plain fact that very many other theologians — admittedly reasonable, learned, and bent on seeking truth — see the discrepancy, is a proof that there is one. The last proof of reason or unreason is that competent human beings agree in their estimate. If a large number of competent witnesses agree that there is a discrepancy, it is vain to assert that there is none.
With his usual fairness and caution. Dr. Sanday admits that in this question the difficulties “are no doubt great,” but in the same breath refuses to “include them among the serious difficulties”.2 If we define the word “serious” as meaning “insuperable,” I am quite ready to accept the distinction.
The result is that on the North Galatian theory there are great difficulties in reconciling Acts with Paul; but on the South Galatian theory these difficulties have no existence. As in the Epistle, so in Acts, when Paul delivered his Gospel to the Galatians he had only visited Jerusalem twice since his conversion.3
Thirdly, in this autobiographical sketch Paul relates a notable incident, in which the leading older Apostle, when in the Gentile sphere, accepted the correction and rebuke of Paul on the question of the relations between Jews and Gentiles. Not merely did the older Apostles fully recognise that the Gentile mission belonged to Paul and Barnabas, but also they submitted to learn from Paul in that sphere.
This part of the autobiography constitutes a new section, and is pointedly distinguished from the outline of Paul’s movements, and we shall therefore treat it under a special heading.
 This formula (confined to the group Rom., Cor., Gal.) “introduces some statement on which the Apostle lays special emphasis” (Lightfoot).
 Bampton Lectures, p. 329.
 (n the theory mentioned on p. 286 there had been three visits before Paul’s first missionary journey, but Paul mentions here the first and second visits, and his numbers are therefore on that theory right, though he interrupts his recital before reaching the visit described in Acts 11, 12.