By W. M. Ramsay
The Visits to Jerusalem (Gal 1:18; Gal 2:1 ff)
“Then in the third year (after the epoch-making event) I went up to Jerusalem. . . . Then, when the fourteenth year (after the epoch) had come I went up again to Jerusalem.”
It would open up too wide a subject to enter on the relation between the narrative of Acts and the account given here of the two visits. It is well known that the reconciliation of this account with Acts presents great difficulties. Some suppose that Luke has omitted a visit which Paul describes, others that Paul has omitted a visit which Luke describes. The overwhelming majority of scholars are agreed that Paul here alludes to the visits described in Act 9:26 and Act 15:11 ff; but among them there reigns the keenest controversy. Many hold that Gal 2:1 ff is contradictory of Acts 15, and infer that the latter is not a trustworthy account, but strongly coloured and even distorted. Others, by an elaborate argumentation, prove that the one account is perfectly consistent with the other.
We need not here enter on this large subject. It will be more useful merely to try to construct from Paul’s own words the picture which he desired to place before his Galatian readers. He describes a certain historical event. He paints it from a certain point of view. His object is to rouse a certain idea of it in his Galatian correspondents. It is admitted by all that the author of Acts paints from a different point of view and with a different object. We need not discuss the question whether the two accounts can be harmonised. The Galatians had not before them the book of Acts, and therefore could not proceed to construct a picture by comparing that account with Paul’s. Some of them had certainly heard of the visits to Jerusalem before they received this letter; but Paul had been their authority at first; and now he repeats briefly to all what he had said before to some at different times.
Let us then try simply to determine what is the fair and natural interpretation of this sharp and emphatic account. For a historian it would be necessary to add details that Paul did not need for his purpose, but which Luke thought necessary for his history. Each had to omit much from his brief-account Our present purpose is not to write a history; but to study the relations between Paul and the Galatians. What did Paul find it advisable to put before them regarding these visits?
As to the elements common to the two accounts, the opening words — “I went up to Jerusalem,” “I went up again to Jerusalem” — naturally suggest that Paul is giving an account of his successive visits to Jerusalem.
Apart from the desire to harmonise Luke with Paul, no one would ever have inferred from these words that Paul’s intention was to give an account only of interviews with Apostles, and that he omits visits to Jerusalem on which he did not see Apostles. As we shall see immediately, false accounts of his visits to Jerusalem were current and were injuring his cause: it was declared that his object in going to Jerusalem was to get authority and commission from the original and only real Apostles. He therefore shows that on these visits he got no authority or commission from the Apostles, and that his object in going up was quite different. We should not naturally expect that he would pass in silence over one of the visits thus misrepresented, because the facts were very strongly in his favour in that case. He mentions exactly whom he saw on his first visit. He denies that he saw any other Apostle but two. If on a second visit he saw no Apostle, one would expect him to mention this.
Throughout the description of the visits, what is stated is greatly determined by the current misrepresentations. Paul is not giving a complete history of what occurred on his visits, but simply tells enough to correct false impressions or statements.
There is, however, no need to suppose that the Judaistic emissaries who had troubled and perverted the Galatians had deliberately falsified the narrative: the events of which they spoke had occurred long ago, and it is quite natural and probable that an incorrect account might have grown up among the strongly prejudiced adherents of the extreme Judaistic party in Jerusalem.
Especially, it is clear that they forgot how long an interval had elapsed between the conversion and the first visit. They spoke — and doubtlessly really thought — as if Paul had gone up to Jerusalem immediately after that epoch-making event. Hence Paul begins by denying this, Gal 1:16, “immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood, neither went I to Jerusalem to them which were Apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus”.