You don’t get far into studying Galatians before you meet the infamous problem of how to reconcile Paul’s own descriptions of his visits to Jerusalem with those given by Luke in Acts. The thorniest aspect of that problem is Galatians 2:1-10, whether it should be connected to the Jerusalem relief visit in Acts 11:30/12:25 or with the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. (For the record I presently hold to the former.) I thought I had read every bit of evidence on this issue until today when I came across Robert Stein’s 1974 article entitled "Relationship of Galatians 2:1-10 and Acts 15:1-35: Two Neglected Arguments.” Here he makes two arguments to connect Galatians 2:1-10 to Acts 15 that are quite weighty.
The first concerns who was in charge in the Acts descriptions, either Paul or Barnabas, based on the order of the names. Here’s the relevant data:
- Acts 11:25-26: Barnabas brought Paul from Tarsus to Antioch. Leader is Barnabas.
- Acts 11:30/12:25: Barnabas and Saul visit Jerusalem for famine relief. Leader is Barnabas; Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem.
- Acts 13: Paul has leadership role in first missionary journey.
- Acts 15: Paul has leadership role in Jerusalem Council. Paul’s third visit to Jerusalem.
- Gal 2:1-10: Paul clearly sees himself as having a leadership role.
Stein’s essential point is that if Acts 11:30/12:25 = Gal 2:1-10, then there is a conflict between presentation in each book. This conflict goes away if Acts 15 = Gal 2:11-10.
The second argument strikes me as more weight and worthy of consideration. Put simply, if Gal 2:1-10 = Acts 11:30/12:25 there is no basis for the Jerusalem leaders’ recognition of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. At that time he had not been on any missionary journeys and apparently had no notable or permanent success in Tarsus before Barnabas brought him to Antioch.
After reading Stein I’m not swayed enough to change my view for two reasons: First, I’m not convinced that the order of names always indicates social status. This is often assumed in scholarship, but I’ve yet to see a definitive study on it to persuade me that it is always the case that the first named person takes leadership or prominence over the first. (Maybe I’m wrong, so I’m willing to entertain evidence in support of this view.) Second, based on my reading of Galatians 2:1-10, it may be entirely possible that the Jerusalem leaders accepted Paul’s ministry solely on the account of his conversion and not on any evidence of ministry effectiveness. Even so, for those who wrestle with this issue, Stein presents some evidence that needs to be considered.