A Response to Alleged Contradiction in Galatians 1:17
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©2005
|PROBLEM: In Galatians 1:17 Paul said, “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away at once to Arabia….” But Acts 9:26-27 declares that “When he [Paul] had come to Jerusalem…. Barnabas brought him to the apostles…. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”
Galatians 1:17—Did Paul go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles before he went to Arabia?
PROBLEM: In Galatians 1:17 Paul said, “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away at once to Arabia….” But Acts 9:26-27 declares that “When he [Paul] had come to Jerusalem…. Barnabas brought him to the apostles…. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”
RESPONSE: To use Galatians 1:17 to contradict with Acts 9:26-27 is the fallacy of “taking a text out of context.” For the context clearly says Paul did not go to Jerusalem to “confer” (Gal. 1:16) with the apostles or anyone else about the nature of the gospel he was preaching. He got it directly from God (Gal. 1:12), and there is only one true Gospel (Gal. 1:8). So, the context of this text is that he did not go to the apostles in this early visit (Gal. 1:17) to confer about the nature of the Gospel which he preached. This was a private visit set up by Barnabas, not an official visit initiated by Paul or the church. The purpose of this visit was for them to get acquainted with Paul and his ministry, not for to have an official conference with them to settle a dispute about the gospel which they did on a later occasion (Acts 15). Thus, there is no contradiction here since the visit in Galatians 1 was not an official visit to determine the validity of the Gospel that Paul preached.
The difference between the two visits can be contrasted as follows:
In support of this textual understanding, it should be noted that Paul and Luke (who wrote Acts) were closely associated (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11), and, hence, it is unreasonable to assume that they would blatantly contradict each other on this matter. Indeed, Luke who wrote later than Paul, was known to be an accurate historian without a demonstrable error (see Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History, Eisenbrauns, 1990), even in minute details. Thus, there is good reason to believe that he did not make an error in this matter either.
What is more, neither the early nor later Christian church noted any contradiction between these two accounts. So, they too must have believed the accounts were harmonious. Indeed, it is unlikely that both books would have been placed in the Christian canon of Scripture with a blatant contradiction between them.
In brief, the only way one can make these texts contradict is to fail to take into consideration their context. But a text out of its context is a pretext. Hence, it is pretext to assume these texts are in contradiction to each other. As indicated by the above chart, the two visits to Jerusalem were clearly different. Ignoring these difference contexts leads to the mistaken notion that they are contradictory. In context, when Paul said, “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away at once to Arabia…,” he clearly meant that he did not go to Jerusalem on this occasion to confirm the validity of the Gospel that he preached. That is, it was not an official visit whose purpose was to “confer” (Gk: prosanatithami) or “consult” (Gal. 1:16 ESV) with the apostles about the validity of his message. It was merely a private meeting for them to get acquainted with his testimony and ministry which was set up by Barnabas (Acts 9:27).