April DeConick asks how Gal 2 may be reconciled with Acts 15, without resorting to either artificial harmonization or torching Luke. We’ve tackled this subject before on the biblioblogs (see here for instance) and it’s worth revisiting. Let’s take April’s points in turn.
1. The solution that Acts 15 never happened doesn’t make sense of the fact that Luke knows about a decision (letter?) from James that resorts to Noahide laws, nor that these laws appear to have been known and observed by Christians as late as the third century. These laws have to have been instituted or invoked by someone somewhere in the first century in order to deal with the Gentile problem.
I agree that the apostolic decree is historical and dates to the first century, though not as early as Luke would have us believe. It may belong at Acts 18:22 (as Mark Goodacre suggests) or perhaps even later.
2. Paul’s understanding of his meeting in Jerusalem recorded in Galatians 2 does not correspond to Acts 15, neither in terms of outcome or in terms of who was there and what was discussed. Trying to harmonize them results in apology, not history.
Yes. There’s nothing worse than artificial harmonization on these questions. While Acts 15:1-29 (not Acts 11:27-30) is reporting basically the same event as Paul recounts in Gal 2:1-10, Luke isn’t reporting everything as it really happened, nor even when it really happened.
3. If the decision of Acts 15 had been made prior to the Antiochean Affair, it doesn’t make sense that the apostles would then begin a counter-mission to Paul after the Affair and demand circumcision of the Gentiles in the churches Paul missionizes.
No. This is the most common mistake made with the Antioch incident, and it boggles my mind that so many scholars cannot bring themselves to accept the obvious: Paul had extracted an agreement out of James and Peter (against the necessity of Gentile circumcision), which they in turn broke. I’ve written about this before and would emphasize there is nothing shocking about the pillars’ treachery. It makes perfect sense in the agonistic milieu of the ancient Mediterranean; it’s what we would expect from them. There is evidently a need on the part of many exegetes to reconstruct more harmony and equanimity in the early church than warranted. Why? For apologetic reasons? To make Paul appear less offensive than he was?
So… how can the Jerusalem Council best be explained given the evidence we have?
I think it can be accounted for rather easily. Bearing in mind that Luke goes out of his way to claim the support of Peter and James by reversing their historical roles (historically they were a lot more like Matthew than as portrayed in Acts), we have as follows: Gal 2:1-10 should be identified with Acts 15:1-29 (rather than Acts 11:27-30), but on the understanding that Luke offers a revisionist account in two important ways. First he brings the apostolic decree forward, conflating the circumcision question with later Noahide concerns. Second he smooths things over in general, portraying things far less controversial as they were. But it wasn’t Christians with Pharisaical links who caused the trouble at Antioch (as he depicts in Acts 15:1,5), rather Peter and James (Gal 2:11-14) who broke their own agreement.