The Jerusalem Council: Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 15:1-29

Mark Goodacre confirms my belief that Gal 2:1-10 should be identified with the event reported in Acts 15:1-29. Read his post — it’s classic Goodacre and drew a lot of comments, including one from Ben Witherington. Matthew Bates, who like Witherington thinks that Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 11:27-30, responded to Mark with the following seven points:

1. Paul’s going down to Jerusalem in response to a revelation could be correlated with the “revelation” given to Agabus concerning a world wide famine in Acts 11:28.

But Mark addressed this, pointing out that Paul uses “revelation” to refer to a direct communication between himself and God, not to the words of a prophet who had come from Jerusalem. “Paul does not use the term ‘revelation’ when he is talking about words that come through human agency, even prophetic ones.”

2. Paul reports in Galatians that the Apostles instructed he and Barnabas, “only to continue to remember the poor” — Gal 2:10. The most natural way to understand this instruction is in the context of a famine relief visit such as Acts 11:29-30: “The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” On the other hand, Acts 15 provides no immediate context for “continuing to remember the poor.”

The famine visit is a red herring, because the collection for “the poor” was really a franchise fee — for the Jerusalem apostles. Thus Donald Akenson:

“Paul says the collection is for the poor of Jerusalem and he must have used that explanation as he tirelessly begged from community to community, but that was a face-saving formula… Jerome Murphy-O’Connor puts it well in his summary of the Jerusalem Deal: ‘a financial contribution from Gentile believers seemed like a reasonable quid pro quo for Jerusalem’s concession on circumcision’… In promising to raise funds from his Gentile mission to turn over to the Jerusalem ‘saints’, Paul can be seen to have been paying what we would today call a ‘franchise fee’. Pay or you can’t play…” (Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, pp 164-165)

On top of this, there was always an abundance of poor in ancient Palestine, whether in times of famine or not. But that wasn’t the issue. If it was, Paul wouldn’t have taken so many years to raise the collection. (Assuming multiple collections, as Richard Fellows does, is cumbersome and unnecessary.)

3. Acts 15 seems to be a public meeting, while the meeting in Gal 2:1-10 is called, “… a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders.” This makes identification of the two events less likely.

The argument depends on assuming that Luke must agree with Paul on every detail. But aside from that, Mark further points out that advocates of Acts 11:27-30 = Gal 2:1-10 simply trade one “private vs. public” discrepancy for another: “Those who think that Acts 11.27-30 equates with Gal. 2.1-10 regularly say that Acts 15 cannot equate with Gal. 2 because the latter depicts a private event. But for the Acts 11.27-30 = Gal. 2.1-10 equation to work, one has to overcome exactly the same difficulty with respect to Acts 9.26-30 // Gal. 1.18-20, where one depicts a private and the other a public event.”

4. Peter’s inconsistent behavior regarding table fellowship in Antioch is best explained as occurring prior to the Acts 15 council, before such issues were made clear.

The Antioch incident is seriously misunderstood. Antioch was about circumcision (not food laws), and that issue had been made perfectly clear. James, in an act of treachery, revoked the decision made in Jerusalem, and Peter followed his lead. See my Treachery at Antioch for details.

5. Paul’s habit was to refer to regions by their political rather than ethnic label (e.g. Macedonia), contrary to Luke. Since the debate is over the identity of the group called “Galatians” by Paul, Paul’s usage must take priority over Luke’s when attempting to identify the recipients of his letter.

See (6.) below.

6. We have clear evidence that Paul evangelized Southern Galatia (in the “political” sense) on his first mission (Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, etc.) whereas we have no evidence that Paul ever evangelized Northern Galatia (in either the “ethnic” or the “political” sense). This first mission was prior to the Acts 15 council, allowing for the possibility that Galatians was written in the wake of the first mission prior to the Acts 15 council.

The North Galatian theory is preferable. Not only can a strong case be made for Galatians being written after I Corinthians (see Goodacre’s series: I, II, III), there are problems with confining Paul’s activity to the regions of Syria and Cilicia for a fourteen-year period followed by Herculean accomplishments across Greece and Asia Minor during the closing years. There’s a lot to be said for Peter Bercovitz’s timeline, on which I commented recently.

7. Finally, if Gal 2:1-10 corresponds to Acts 11:27-30, then the famous conflict between the number of times which Paul claims to have visited Jerusalem in Galatians and the record of Paul’s visits in Acts disappears.

This assumes that resolving such discrepancies is desirable in the first place. John gave Jesus two Jerusalem visits (against the synoptic writers, and putting the temple incident early); Luke could have done similarly for Paul. Goodacre, however, points out that there may not even be a discrepancy if the visits mentioned in Acts 9:26-30 and 11:27-30 are the same. (And despite Witherington’s objections, Luke does seem to favor a flash-forward technique, however anachronistic the term itself sounds.)

In sum, identifying Gal 2:1-10 with the event reported in Acts 15:1-29 is most natural and plausible. Luke has retrojected the Jerusalem conference back into an earlier stage of Paul’s ministry — before he evangelized Asia Minor and Greece — and reworked the facts with the apostolic decree, smoothing things over and portraying things less controversial than they really were.

UPDATE: Mark responds to his critics.


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