James Patrick’s Blog

August 11, 2009

Synopsis of Galatians 1–2 and Acts 9–15

Filed under: History — alabastertheology @ 3:12 pm
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Both Galatians and Acts give biographical information about the first twenty years or so of Paul’s life after conversion, the first being autobiographical, and the second record traditionally attributed to Luke.  Not only have people often had difficulty matching up the two accounts, but whatever synopsis one chooses to accept for these will affect how one dates the letter to the Galatians, with knock-on effects for the development of his theology and the history of the Early Church.  What follows is my own attempt to correlate the two accounts:

Gal 1:15-16 – God “was pleased to reveal His Son in me…”

Acts 9:1-19 – Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, blinding, prayer by Ananias, healing, receiving Holy Spirit, water baptism

Gal 1:16 – “… I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood…”

Acts 9:19-22 – Saul was with believers in Damascus for several days, but “immediately” began to preach in the synagogues about Jesus, confounding the Jews there.

Gal 1:17 – “… nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.”

Acts 9:23-25 – Saul’s disciples lowered him in a large basket from the wall of Damascus to escape his enemies.

[gap in record of Saul’s movements in Arabia]

Gal 1:18-19 – “Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.”

Acts 9:26-29 – [8:1 describes the significant dispersion that had happened from Jerusalem.]
“When [Saul] came to Jerusalem he was trying to associate with the disciples”, was introduced to “the apostles” by Barnabas, and then moved freely in the city speaking boldly about Jesus under threat of death.

Gal 1:21-22 – “Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.”

Acts 9:30 – “But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus [in Cilicia].”

Gal 2:1-2 – “Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.  According to revelation I went up…”

Acts 11:22-30 – Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to Antioch [in Syria] where he taught new believers, leaving to look for Saul in Tarsus.  They returned and spent “an entire year” teaching together, after which Agabus and other prophets came from Jerusalem, prophesying a great famine.  Barnabas and Saul were sent with ‘aid’ to the Jerusalem elders (cf. 12:25).

Gal 2:2-10 – “… and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but in private to those who were of reputation… Recognising the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John …gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship… only asking us to remember the poor – the very thing I was eager to do.”

Acts 12:[1-]25 – John’s brother James was executed by Herod; Peter was imprisoned and then freed by an angel.  When Peter came to the house of Mary mother of John Mark, he urged them to tell “James and the brethren”, and “Then he left and went to another place”.  “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.”

[Thus John, Peter and James are all mentioned in the context of Jerusalem while Barnabas and Saul were visiting in response to a revelation, serving the poor in Judea.  John is not an actor as such in 12:2, but as ‘James’ was a common name, identifying him as the ‘brother of John’  rather than the ‘son of Zebedee’ implies that John was also well-known to the Jerusalem church.]

Gal 2:11-14 – “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing those from the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not walking straightly about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘…’

[It follows from the culmination in Antioch that Paul is writing to the Galatian churches from Antioch, shortly after visiting them (cf. 1:6 – “so quickly”). He doesn’t mention any conclusion to his dispute with Cephas, nor a letter from the Jerusalem apostles and elders to support his case, suggesting he hadn’t yet left Antioch for Jerusalem when he hurriedly wrote to the Galatian churches.]

Acts 13:1–15:2 – Saul [Paul] and Barnabas were set apart by fellow teachers and prophets for the first Galatian mission [Cyprus, Perga, Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and back again]. “When they arrived [back in Antioch] and gathered the church together, they began to report …how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent not a little time with the disciples. Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.”

[Peter had apparently come to Antioch before the arrival of the teachers from Judea, during that “not a little time” mentioned above.]

[In the following two declarations by Paul and by Peter on Jewish / Gentile believers, notice the following points of contact:
(1)  no distinction between salvation of Jews and of Gentiles

(2)  justified / hearts cleansed by faith not law
(3)  Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit
(4)  we Jews have been found sinners under law
(5)  it amounts to rebuilding and compelling obedience to the law’s yoke which was destroyed through Christ’s crucifixion
(6)  Christ died, expressing the grace of God ]

Paul’s Declaration in Antioch

Gal 2:14-21 – “I said to Cephas in the presence of all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; since by the works of the law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and that which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died needlessly.’”

Peter’s Declaration in Jerusalem

Acts 15:7-11 – “Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that from days of old God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.’”

[It appears that Peter had been convinced by Paul’s arguments, and put them into his own words for the council in Jerusalem.]

This synopsis serves to confirm the early dating for Galatians to the late 40’s AD, written to the south Galatian churches Paul had just established on his first missionary journey (Acts 13-14).  That would make it the earliest of Paul’s letters we have (before 1 Thessalonians), written less than twenty years after Jesus’ resurrection, and evidence of Paul’s thought on the question of Gentile salvation prior to the Council of Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15.

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