How Acts subverts Galatians

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by Neil Godfrey

There are two different stories, their differences well known, of the circumstances surrounding Paul’s conversion and the later Jerusalem Conference in the New Testament.

The Two Conversions

In the Book of Acts (9:1-30) we read that

  1. Paul was persecuting the church until —
  2. Paul was struck down by a divine call on his way to Damascus,
  3. that he was baptized in Damascus by a lowly disciple (Ananias),
  4. and after some time (“many days”) he fled to Jerusalem because of Jewish persecution,
  5. His contacts in Jerusalem were limited but only on first arriving
  6. until Barnabas acted as his Janus-like gateway by taking him to the apostles
  7. who, we learn elsewhere in Acts, were led by Peter and James
  8. Brethren took him away to Caesarea and then to Tarsus to protect him from the Hellenists

In the Epistle to the Galatians (1:13-24) we read a different story.

  1. Paul used to persecute the church until —
  2. Paul says Christ revealed himself by revelation “in him”,
  3. that he then went to Arabia.
  4. Only after he had been in Arabia did he return to Damascus.
  5. After three years in Damascus he went to Jerusalem because he wanted to see Peter
  6. His contacts in Jerusalem remained limited — the Judean churches did not see Paul
  7. He met Peter (staying with him 15 days) and James only.
  8. Paul then returned to the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

One can conclude that the author of Acts did not know of the Galatians letter. But I think it more likely that the author of Acts composed a narrative polemic against the letter. Each of the differences can be accounted for as a polemical response to some point in the Galatians account. . . .

Arabia versus Damascus

In Acts it is Damascus that is the geographic focus of Paul’s conversion experience; in Galatians the notable geographical association is Arabia. N.T. Wright makes a reasonable case in his 1996 JBL article (115, 683-692), Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17) that the author of the Galatians letter was casting himself as one who stood in the line of biblical prophets:

  • he was separated “from his mothers womb”, 1.15 (compare Jeremiah 1.5; and Isaiah 49.1)
  • he was known for his religious zeal — even killing those opposed to the law, 1.13-14 (compare Phineas and Elijah, Nu.25 and 1 Ki.18)
  • he went to Arabia in response to his call from God, and the same letter spoke of Arabia as being the place of Mount Sinai, 4.25 (compare Moses and Elijah, Ex.3 and 1 Ki.19)
  • he returned from Arabia to Damascus, 1.17 (compare Elijah, 1 Ki.19.15)

The author of Acts on the other hand had a different agenda, which was to cut Paul down to a subordinate position to the Jerusalem apostles. The various scholarly attempts to rationalize or harmonize the Paul of Acts with the Paul of the epistles, including Galatians, have struck me as strained to breaking point, but this is another discussion. It is easiest to read Acts treatment of Paul as an attempt to portray Paul in many ways echoing the accomplishments of Peter, but at the same time subordinate and conforming to the teachings sealed with the authority of Jerusalem. Acts rejects the Paul of the letter who sniffs at the status of Cephas, James and John, and who reminds readers he owes nothing of his conversion or gospel message to them.

The independent status and prophetic pretensions of the author of Galatians were all too clear to the author of Acts. The Acts narrative would erase anything that suggested an allusion to the callings of Moses and Elijah. The journey to Arabia had to be deleted because of its holy mountain associations, especially when referenced beside the prophetic allusion of being separated from his mother’s womb. Gentile Damascus, referenced as an aside to the Arabian journey in the letter, would be taken by the Acts narrator and made the central point of Paul’s conversion instead. And so would any reference to being destined for his role, like Jeremiah, from the time of his conception.

The revelation to (or in) Paul

The author of Galatians does not make it clear to modern readers exactly how the revelation of Christ came to Paul. The letter says God revealed Christ in Paul. Does that mean that from the moment of his conversion others could see Christ living in Paul, or does it mean that the revelation was an inner experience of Christ? Either way, the entire conversion experience is said to have been entirely without any human intermediary. The revelation came to him directly from Christ without any other human involvement (1.12). The significance of this was that Paul could therefore justify his claim to equality of authority with the other apostles.

The author of Acts has a problem with this. Paul was too easily identified as a focus of opposition to the doctrines of those Christians who rooted their authority in the Old Testament and in being the fulfillment of the Jewish religion. The narrative of Acts therefore makes Paul’s conversion the consequence of three visions — one to Paul of Jesus, another to Paul of Ananias, and another to Ananias, a lowly disciple in Damascus. The vision of Christ alone leaves Paul blind and doomed. Paul must be baptized and made whole again, and this can only be accomplished through another vision to Ananias. Paul’s conversion in Acts is not so independent of human agency as claimed in the letter to Galatians. The apostles were called by Christ directly, but Paul must become a disciple via the vision and baptism of Ananias.

The vision of Christ in Acts reads to a modern reader like a much more dramatic calling than anything experienced by the apostles. But it would be a mistake to see this as a sign that Paul’s calling was somehow setting him in a higher class than the apostles. It is the vision given to an enemy of Christ. Balaam experienced a similar vision when riding to curse the people of God — Num.22:22-35:

  • Balaam rode
  • with other attendants
  • to oppose God’s people
  • an angel stood before him
  • and stopped him
  • God opened his eyes to see the angel
  • Balaam fell down at the sight
  • and confessed that he had sinned
  • before being commanded to continue his journey, but in obedience to God
  • and he then blessed God’s people

Just as did another enemy of God, Heliodorus who had been sent to rob the temple (2 Macc. 3:14-40:

  • Heliodorus entered the temple treasury
  • with other attendants
  • to oppose God’s people
  • “the sovereign of spirits” stood before him on a horse
  • and stopped him
  • and the attendants of Heliodorus were astounded at the sight
  • and two angels stood each side of him
  • Heliodorus fell to the ground
  • and total darkness came over him
  • he was prostrate and speechless
  • his attendants carried him away
  • he was at the point of death
  • the attendants asked the priest to pray for him
  • the priest feared Heliodorus but still prayed for him
  • Heliodorus received another vision offering mercy because of the priest’s prayer
  • Heliodorus recovered
  • and reported to all the great power of God

The vision of Paul in the Acts narrative follows the same motifs as the above disciplinary or punitive visions God reserves for his pagan enemies:

  • Paul rode
  • with his attendants
  • to oppose God’s people
  • the heavenly Jesus stood before him in a shining light
  • Paul fell to the ground
  • his attendants stood speechless
  • Paul was made blind
  • his attendants led him away
  • he was unable to see and neither ate nor drank 3 days
  • God told Ananias to heal him
  • Ananias feared to heal Paul but still obeyed
  • Paul had received another vision of Ananias mercifully healing him
  • Paul recovered and was baptized
  • and preached Christ to all

The vision of Paul may be more flamboyant as a narrative piece than the conversions of the apostles. But the apostles saw the resurrected Jesus as friends and disciples every day for 40 days before they received the spirit with fire and loud wind and miraculous languages. Paul’s conversion was the punishing conversion of a gentile enemy of God. And he entered the fold through the hands of the disciple Ananias.

The author of the epistle spoke of his conversion in a way to assert his independence from and equality with the other apostles; the author of Acts has turned the conversion of Paul into the punitive conversion of an outcast.

Any vision of Christ claimed by the author of Galatians has been reduced to something indistinct and shadowy beside the dramatic power of the narrator of Acts. The polemic of apostolic independence in the epistle has been buried beneath the polemic dressed in the dramatic scenes of Acts.

Going to Jerusalem

According to the letter the reason Paul went to Jerusalem was to see Peter (Cephas). And he made this journey three years after his conversion. That smacks of both independence (the 3 year wait) and equality (seeking a personal meeting) between the two apostles.

The narrator has a different plan for Paul. He does not of his own volition decide to go and see Peter face to face. Rather, he is forced to flee Damascus because of persecution, and when he escapes to Jerusalem he does not seek out Peter or any of the apostles, but merely the other common disciples.

And the three years wait is reduced to a more modest “many days” before reaching Jerusalem, too.

So in Acts Paul does not seek out Peter, nor even go to Jerusalem, of his own volition. This, and the change from “three years” to “many days” serves to dilute the independence factor that is stressed so pointedly in Galatians. Acts further challenges the theme of independence found in Galatians by portraying Paul as seeing his place with the disciples, not the apostles.

Nevertheless, to explain knowledge of Paul’s meeting with Peter, the narrator brings in Barnabas to introduce him to the apostles. Peter is not singled out at all, although the reader is well aware that Peter would be included among those he met. But above all, it is not Paul who can, like an equal, walk up to Peter and introduce himself. He must be led to the apostles by the good graces of Barnabas. The author of Acts could not make Paul’s status vis a vis the apostles any clearer — nor more contrary to what Galatians implies.

Galatians also emphasizes the shortness of Paul’s stay in Jerusalem. It was, we are told, only fifteen days. There is no such time limitation intimated in Acts.

Not known to the disciples in Judea

Paul in Galatians emphasizes that he never mixed with the churches in Jerusalem and Judea but liaised exclusively with Peter and James. He presents himself as an equal of the apostles and in no way of a lesser rank, and also as one who has no calling to preach to the Jews. His remit is to the gentiles only. Peter’s and Paul’s commissions do not overlap.

How does Acts explain the failure of the Jewish churches to meet with Paul? By declaring they were afraid of his reputation as a persecutor. They refused to see him, not trusting his attempts to see them. But Acts wants to portray the church as a harmonious new Israel where all, Jew and gentile, are one in Christ. It attempts to gloss over the evidence of unresolved divisions. So after Paul is introduced to the apostles through Barnabas, the narrative is able to inform us that Paul was able to go freely in and out among all in Jerusalem. Paul preaches to Jews first, but also to gentiles.

Paul goes to Syria and Cilicia, but when and in what capacity?

Galatians says Paul went after his visit with Peter to Syria and Cilicia. The letter has also made it clear that Paul is the apostle to the gentiles while Peter’s responsibility is the Jews. The inevitable conclusion is that Syria and Cilicia are Paul’s territory, gentile churches, while Judea belongs to Peter.

Acts does describe a Paul leaving a conference with the Jerusalem apostles and going to Syria and Cilicia, but the narrator sets it years later than the time given for it in Galatians. The timing is critical in Acts, because in Acts Paul does not leave for these regions until after he has submitted to the ruling James in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). So when Paul does leave Jerusalem for Syria and Cilicia it is to “strengthen the churches”, but also to carry the message from the Jerusalem authorities (15.41).

Acts will have Jew and gentile united, and Peter sometimes addresses gentiles, and Paul sometimes addresses Jews, and Jew and gentile are to be one in Christ. So Paul is sent back to his hometown, Tarsus, to await the time for his mission to preach before “gentiles, kings and the children of Israel” (9.15).

Once again we see the authority of Paul (this time over the churches in Syria and Cilicia) that is expressed in Galatians countered by the Acts narrative.

And this Syria-Cilicia visit brings us to the next set of comparisons:

The Second Jerusalem Meeting and Its Aftermath in Antioch

In the book of Acts (15:1-16:3) we read that

  1. Brethren arrived in Antioch from Judea
  2. causing a dispute in the church.
  3. Paul and Barnabas
  4. were sent by the churches to Jerusalem
  5. to seek a resolution to the conflict.
  6. Peter spoke and James also spoke as the leader with the final decision
  7. and issued the decree to settle the matter harmoniously
  8. Back in Antioch Paul and Barnabas
  9. separated as a result of a disagreement (over John Mark)
  10. Paul circumcised half-Greek Timothy to please the Jews.

In the letter to the Galatians (2:1-21) we read that

  1. Paul was inspired by God to go to Jerusalem
  2. and he took Barnabas with him
  3. to discuss privately the gospel he preached with the Jerusalem leaders
  4. Paul did not circumcise the Greek Titus to please the “false brethren”.
  5. Paul addressed James, Peter (Cephas) and John
  6. There was harmonious agreement
  7. Peter and other arrived in Antioch from James in Jerusalem
  8. Causing a dispute (with Paul) in the church
  9. Paul disputed sharply with them, and with Peter in particular
  10. In this Antioch dispute Barnabas separated himself from Paul

The same polemical and theological differences that explained the variant conversion stories account for the divergences here, too.

The motivation to go to Jerusalem

The author of Galatians establishes Paul’s independent authority by declaring he went to Jerusalem as the result of a divine revelation.

Acts explains that Paul was sent up to Jerusalem by the churches. It was their bidding, not his, that led him to go. Paul is not the authoritative independent agent in Acts that he is in Galatians.

Dispute resolution technique

Galatians, apparently from the pen of Paul, informs its readers that James, Peter and John all agreed with Paul in Jerusalem. But afterwards back in Antioch, these men reneged — Peter and others were sent by James to preach observance to Jewish customs. Paul declares what he said to Peter about it, and then drops the subject leaving his own words the last for the reader to hear on the matter.

The author of Acts resolves this problem of disunity by moving the Antioch dispute to the beginning of the narrative. So instead of the story of the conference blowing up with a subsequent dispute in Antioch as it does in Galatians, Acts rearranges the story so that the Antioch dispute initiates the Jerusalem conference — where it is harmoniously resolved.

Pillars and presidents

In Galatians Paul admits James, Peter and John are reputed to be pillars in the church, but their reputations mean nothing to him. He is every bit their equal.

In Acts Paul and Barnabas are lost in the crowd. The elders and apostles began by opening the issues. Then Peter spoke, then he let Barnabas and Paul (in that order — Paul taking second place) speak to illustrate the point Peter had just made. Finally James rises to announce his binding decision. He is clearly the leader to which all others defer.

A purpose of Acts is clearly to subordinate Paul to the Jerusalem authorities and all that they represented theologically against what many took to be an independent Pauline line.

The circumcision conflict

In Galatians Paul vociferously declares he would not be intimidated by “false brethren” who wanted him to circumcise the Greek Titus. He is so opposed to circumcision that he declares in the same letter that anyone preaching this has no place in Christ.

In Acts, the author delineates a conciliatory Paul who can be all things to all races, and he does submit to the sensitivities of the Jews by having the half-Greek Timothy circumcised.

Obviously the uncircumcised Titus would not have served the theological interests of the author of Acts. And if, as some have suggested, the Pauline Pastorals are also from the hand of the final redactor of Acts, then we can see Paul having a final swipe at Titus by announcing that he was one of many who had abandoned him in his final days (2 Tim. 4.10).

The Paul-Barnabas split

Galatians explained that the split between Paul and Barnabas was over Jewish customs and law observance. Barnabas sided with Peter and James, the Jerusalem led church.

This was another problem for the author of Acts wanting to promote a history of catholic harmony. He solved this problem by instigating a different reason for the dispute. He chose to focus on the personalities and steer clear of the doctrinal issues. He turned a doctrinal split into a personality clash. Two well-meaning men were simply too strong-minded to get along together. They each needed to choose their own assistants whom they best felt comfortable with. An easy fix.

The textual evidence

Joseph Tyson in Marcion and Luke-Acts cites textual evidence from Walker that supports the hypothesis that the author of Acts did know the letter to the Galatians, and attempted to subvert the message of the letter by recontextualizing key phrases.

On pages 18 and 19:

Both refer to proclamation to Gentiles as gospel (Gal 2:7; Acts 15:7).

Both speak of a division of responsibility (Gal 2:7; Acts 15:7).

Both speak of divine selection of Paul and Peter (Gal 2:7-8; Acts 15:7).

Both speak of divine impartiality (Gal 2:6; Acts 15:9).

Both speak about the reception of the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:2-5; Acts 15:8).

Both refer to the law as yoke (Gal 5:1; Acts 15:10).

Both speak of the inability to observe Torah (Gal 2:14; Acts 15:10).

Both express the same view about the law and gospel (Gal 2:16; Acts 15:10-11).

Both assert the importance of faith (Gal 2:16; Acts 15:9).

Both assert the importance of grace (Gal 2:9; 1:6, 15; Acts 15:11).

Tyson notes that Walker concludes that “virtually every idea and much of the actual working of Peter’s speech in Acts 15:7-11 have parallels” in Galatians. “Indeed, the Acts passage is so remarkably similar to the material in Galatians as to suggest the author of Acts almost certainly knew this letter and . . . used it as a source . . .” (p.19)

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Neil Godfrey

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38 thoughts on “How Acts subverts Galatians”

  1. In another Vrider blog, I said that I believe I can prove that Acts was based on, and was a response to, the “genuine” epistles (Galations, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans), by a Christian community that was becoming concerned about the reverence in which Paul was being held. In context, this becomes a very compelling case for those epistles (and probably Philemon) to be genuine and to have been written well before Acts of the Apostles.

    So, some of your comments in this file are on the money. To me, the central issue is highlighted by your following statements:

    But I think it more likely that the author of Acts composed a narrative polemic against the letter. Each of the differences can be accounted for as a polemical response to some point in the Galatians account. . .

    It is easiest to read Acts treatment of Paul as an attempt to portray Paul in many ways echoing the accomplishments of Peter, but at the same time subordinate and conforming to the teachings sealed with the authority of Jerusalem.

    Similarly, I agree with you in seeing Luke changing Paul’s assistant, Barnabas, into something of a mentor, quite the opposite of Paul’s apparent description. My analysis of the gospels and Acts of the Apostles convinces me that the author we know as Luke was a brilliant religious propagandist. It is hard to think of an equal – as a propagandist, not as a prophet – in any major religion. Christianity, or at least ‘orthodox’ Christianity, was fortunate to have his services.

    However, Acts vs epistles is a vastly complex study, and I could not do justice to the arguments, as I see them, in a brief blog response, much as I appreciate the opportunity you have offerred. I will attempt to make a couple of points you may like to consider:

    To me, there is no evidence that Paul (ie the epistles) was referring to the same man, when he wrote of Cephas and Peter. I may disagree with you to some extent, because I see him as treating Cephas, James and John with some respect (although as equals), but seems to have had a low opinion of Peter and was even willing to humiliate him in public. It is only in the gospels and Acts that we eventually see Cephas and Peter as clearly one and the same person.

    I called Galatians, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Romans the ‘genuine’ epistles, plus probably Philemon. For the purpose of argument and brevity, I ask that that list be accepted, subject to 1 & 2 Corinthians likely being composites. During what appears to be a long career, in spite of his literary talents Paul only wrote these epistles, all within a short time span, plus a letter to Philemon. Look at these epistles closely. What they all have in common is that Paul agreed to take up a collection for the poor of Jerusalem. This collection was for a famine that occurred between 44 and 48 CE. Such was the importance of this project that Paul had to break his habit and write to the communities where he hoped to obtain contributions, whether of money or food.

    Luke (ie Acts) went to some lengths to quarantine the collection, which he placed at the start of Paul’s career, from the offerings he said Paul brought at the end. You will see that Luke’s attempts are strained, and they fail when you look at concurrent historical events. Nevertheless, by placing the epistles in the period 44-48 CE, I am placing them a decade earlier than most would.

    I previously referred to Paul as being revered, to the discomfort of Luke. Here, I will provide two or three good reasons. Early in the 2nd century, the time Acts was written, ‘orthodox’ Christians were of either Gentile or Jewish origin. Those of Gentile origin naturally saw Paul as the founder of their churches. Those of Jewish origin saw him as the benefactor who saved their forbears from death and suffering, as a result of the collection he was able to provide. Moreover, the Gentile Christians probably resisted many of the innovations introduced by the evangelists and Church Fathers, because they did not come from Paul. So, Paul had to be brought back to the field. And the collection, no doubt still remembered by the Jewish Christians, had to be attributed to others. References in the epistles to a collection had to be subtly dismissed as a quite distinct and much later collection for the gifts and offerings that Paul took to Jerusalem.

    I’m afraid I have only covered a small part of my research on the relationship between Acts and the epistles, even that in insufficient detail to allow proper criticism of my arguments. A full analysis of Luke’s narrative, and how he manipulated the facts, would probably take a small book.


  2. Hi Dick, Thanks for your thoughtful discussion.

    You might like to respond to some comments that come to mind as I read your post. They are not written as criticisms but as statements of my different perspective on some of your points.

    It seems odd to me that Paul would use 2 different names for the same person (Cephas, Peter) in his letters. I think I smell interpolation, and I’m sure you’ve seen various arguments for this possibility. And there’s always that Epistula Apostolorum hanging there in the background that insists they are 2 different people as late as the mid second century. I am yet to be persuaded that the gospels and Acts contain any real history at all.

    As for the references to a collection in Paul’s letters, I see the only grounds for dating these to 44-48 is the book of Acts. But if the author of Acts has taken this famine from Josephus (a possibility to be explained another time) and if he is repositioning Paul in the Church narrative for ideological reasons, we are left with no means of dating Paul’s letters to that period. We have no external leverage for dating Paul’s letters at all until the end of the first century or into the second century. (I’m going with Acts not being written till the second century.)

    And even their genuine biographical nature is an assumption very few have ever questioned or supported with more than a vacuous “they ring true” comment. Given the controversial status of Paul and the rival claims for him in the second century (from the time his letters are externally attested) I am not convinced this assumption is as safe as houses. The Pastorals are quickly judged to be forgeries, but only because of their clear differences from the other set of letters. This is not extreme scepticism as sometimes alleged but a necessary evaluation of the evidence at hand. Some complain such an evaluation leaves us without secure materials to sustain our models for early Christianity. So be it.

    Back to the collection, some scholars hold suspicions over the coincidence of the appearance of Paul’s letters (with their collection references) at the time of the Marcionite controversy, given that one of the most controversial incidents associated with Marcion was his generous financial gift to the Church at Rome.

    You spoke of gentiles looking to Paul as the founder of their churches. No doubt in some quarters this was the case. But the first letter to the Corinthians indicates that many of the gentiles apparently saw some foundational base to their faith in Peter or Apollos, leaving Paul, who baptized virtually none of them, to have to fight for his authority there. Once we step outside the canonical evidence then we find Paul is slow to make his appearance as a founder of gentile christianity. Justin Martyr, who addresses some of the same issues we find addressed in Paul’s letters, expressly says that the gentiles were converted by the 12 apostles.

    Any comments and further thoughts welcome.

  3. Hi Neil

    First: all criticism welcomed. Only, as I said in my previous posting, my comments have (of necessity) been much too brief and could be criticised on that score.


    Your reference to Marcion suggests you are interested in the theory that he could have been the author. This one falls over quite easily, on the evidence. The 2 scriptures that Marcion used were Luke’s Gospel and the Pauline epistles.

    As for the Gospel, we should agree that either Marcion (or an associate) wrote it, or it was already quite a few years old – old enough for him to regard it as a classic, possibly by a contemporary of Jesus or Paul – before he left the ‘orthodox’ church. If it was written only recently by an author independent of Marcion, it is hard to see him taking it seriously. Also, it would have been unlikely to have come to the attention of a bishop plying his trade in Rome, until it had gained wider circulation. Moreover, if the Gospel was already old, then Acts (clearly by the same author) was already old, otherwise Marcion wrote it as well.

    The version of Luke’s Gospel used by Marcion had all favourable reference to the Jews removed, clearly showing a strong anti-Jewish bias. But in the epistles, Paul described himself as a Jew, and there is no anti-Jewish bias. It is hard to imagine that a man whose biases were so strong that he had to remove all favourable references to Jews from his Gospel would then go ahead and make the hero of his other texts a Jew, and proud of his heritage.

    Marcion could not have written the epistles and Acts of the Apostles. They are too contradictory, and, as you have noted, Acts can objectively be seen as anti-Paul polemics. Therefore (see above), Acts long predated (in second century terms) Marcion. I place it early in the 2nd century. A careful analysis of Acts shows that it is a response to the epistles. Therefore, the epistles are older than Acts. Without going into it, the other way around does not work.

    2 different names for the same person (Cephas, Peter)

    Please note I did not say that Paul used 2 different names for the same person. I said that they seem to have been 2 different persons to Paul. Whenever he wrote of a pillar of the Jerusalem church, it was Cephas. Whenever he wrote of a lesser role, it was Peter. I agree that the Pauline epistles are full of interpolations and therefore almost any inconsistency could be explained as an interpolation, but what would an interpolator gain? On the other hand, the evangelists (canonical gospels) might have wanted to created an individual who combined the characteristics of 2 persons they found in the epistles or in oral tradition.

    Dating the collection to 44-48 CE

    I assure you that I consider Acts as entirely a work of fiction. Therefore, I look to other evidence for dating either the collection or the epistles.

    There was a very widespread famine in the period 44-48. The other Jewish sects, including the Sadducees and Pharisees might have helped their own poor, but would have seen no reason to assist a rebellious Christian sect in Judea. If the Jerusalem church was principally urban (ie few farmers) and poor (ie money to pay inflated prices for what food was available), they needed charity from abroad.

    If you accept my proposition that Paul expended considerable effort and political capital on the collection, then we would need to accept that this was for the historical famine, or we need to find another cause of sufficient importance to explain what we see in the epistles. To my mind there is nothing else in the records. It was certainly not a trivial project.

    Also, we know the Galatians were unable/unwilling to assist Paul. Of course, they could have severed ties with Paul, to follow another Christianity, but it could more simply have been famine related. The eastern Mediterranean (ie Judea and Galatia) could have been most severely hit by the famine, or only the wealthier communities of Greece and Rome had the wherewithall to help themselves and the Jerusalem church.

  4. Postscript

    I posted too quickly and probably should have mentioned:

    1. If the Galatians severed their ties with Paul (a possibility), we need to explain why Paul’s epistle (if genuine) was preserved and eventually circulated. If not genuine, why would the author create so many unresolved problems around Paul, including of course, their failure to contribute. The simplest explanation is famine-related.

    2. More regarding the reference to the collection, in Acts. Luke did not waste time on trivia – in his books, everything had a purpose. His style, including a supposedly miraculous prophecy of the pending famine, shows that he was putting beyond doubt and argument that the decision to take up a collection was made in Paul’s absence and before he began his independent ministry.


  5. Hi Dick, My views of Marcion, his sources and date, are strongly filtered through the arguments of Hoffmann and Tyson.

    The generally accepted date of Marcion’s “heresy” as the mid-second century is based on the ideological reconstruction of a genealogy of heresy by Irenaeus. This contradicts the evidence of Justin Martyr. Among the dozens of drafts and other files I have compiled over some years and that are now waiting for editing and posting are notes from Tyson and Hoffmann arguing for placing Marcion’s activity from around the turn of the century. There is also reason to doubt that Marcion was ever in Rome at all.

    As for the gospel he used, the most certain thing we can say is that it did not look like our Luke. Our sources for Marcion are late, and complicated by the fact that Marcionism itself underwent evolution in its doctrines in its first few centuries. Tertullian is the least reliable witness to the nature of his sources despite the appearance of his lengthy quotations from them. Again all this is in draft form — but taken largely from Tyson and Hoffmann.

    We can’t even be completely sure that Marcion did remove passages from the gospel he used, or how much he removed, and are reliant on his opponents for this information, and we do know that the canonical forms of our gospels and letters have been added to since the times of their original compositions.

    Tyson argues that whatever gospel Marcion used it was heavily redacted by the author who gave us our canonical Luke and Acts.

    I can understand but do not agree with those who say we should always seek to explain Paul’s writings as they are in their canonical form if at all possible. The important thing for an historian is to analyze the nature of his sources, and given the culture of interpolation in the times we are dealing with, I regard it as professional laziness (or theology posing as history) to base arguments about Paul on the canonical form of our collection.

    (I’m not comfortable with critics of the conventional arguments who play the game of “the theologians” and try to limit their critique to the canonical texts as if they were the originals.)

    I’m not saying you are doing any of this, but I think some of your argument is based on the works of those who do.

    You mention several possibilities and plausible scenarios for your reconstruction. I can’t argue with those. But they are only possibilities. For example, there are many assumptions in your suggestion that Jewish leaders would not have helped Christians in Judea because they were viewed as a “rebellious sect”. What evidence do we have that Christians were seen that way yet allowed to co-exist presumably, and also hated so much by the leaders that they would be left to starve? Furthermore, what evidence do we have for a sizeable Christian population in Judea before 70 c.e. to begin with, and what do we mean by “Christian” in this context?

    To me, the whole question of pre 70 c.e. Palestinian origins of Christianity is itself an ideological one that needs addressing by historians, and gets extra muddied unless we are clear about what we can say about “Christianity” as a religion or sect at that time.


  6. Hi Neil

    I don’t want to be the person who ends up monopolising your blog, but I think you would like a reply. I’d like to read more about your views and especially hear from your readers. So, I’ll try to be brief…

    You say you do not agree with those who say we should always seek to explain Paul’s writings as they are in their canonical form if at all possible. This is something with which I totally agree (Here, I think we are both talking in the context of the epistles. I already said that Acts is entirely a work of fiction). But, we should not ‘look’ for an interpolation if there is a better explanation that does not require an interpolation – unless there is evidence of an interpolation. My point regarding Cephas and Peter was that there is no apparent evidence of interpolations that placed 2 names in Paul’s mouth (pen) when he originally only used one. Moreover, an argument for interpolation requires an argument as to motive – usually to advance a theological position. Finally, there is a better explanation that requires fewer assumptions (but requires us to remove the much later gospels from our thinking) – this is that when Paul wrote of Cephas, he meant a person known to him as Cephas; when he wrote of Peter, he meant another person known to him as Peter. I also agree with your comment – which supports my case – that people do not flip-flop about in using names and nicknames for people. Those people who call me ‘Richard’ do so consistently, while those who call me ‘Dick’ do so consistently. There is no reason to regard Paul differently.

    I never suggested that any of the other Jewish sects of the 4th decade CE ‘hated’ the Christians in their midst. I was painting a picture of great hardship in the Judea of the time, when people would naturally help: first their family and relatives; then (if they could) their friends and close neighbours; then their co-religionists; finally strangers they could help if possible. That is normal human nature. Imagine a great famine in, say, Sydney, today. Without suggesting that any of the following is more to be admired over another: I expect that the Catholic Church would first try help Catholics, then other Christians, then non-Christians. I expect that the Anglican Church would first try help Anglicans, then other Christians, then non-Christians. I expect that the local mosque would first try to help its own members, then other Muslims, then non-Muslims. Similarly, the synogogue would help Jews and non-Jews in turn and to the extent possible. Good people, and there were many then as there are many now, don’t leave others to starve unless they themselves are struggling to fend off starvation.

    I used the term “Christian sect” for blog convenience. Of course, they were not yet called Christians. They were regarded as Jews, who happened to have a few strange beliefs. However, the differences in theology between the Jerusalem church and the Pharisees need not have been greater than the differences between Pharisee and Sadducee. They all co-existed, along with the Essenes and other sects of the time, not necessarily in perfect harmony.

    In respect to my comment on the differences between Pharisee and Sadducee, this may well not be new to you, but if so it would be an interesting area of research. A key word may be ‘Persian’.

    Kind regards

  7. Hi Dick,

    I have fast-tracked one of my dozens of drafts that I had in line to be posted here that discusses what I believe is an interpolation of the Peter name in Galatians. The motive is an anti-Marcionite agenda to equate the status and roles of Peter and Paul. The name Peter appears to me to have begun to replace the original Cephas from the time of the Gospel of Mark. Mark played on the meaning of the Aramaic name to mock it, as he “explained” in the rocky soil in the parable of the sower. Matthew stuck with the Greek form of the name used by Mark but rehabilitated its reputation by turning its meaning into a foundational rock.

    By the mid second century Cephas was relatively unknown. The author of the Epistula Apostolorum shows some thought of the 2 names referring to 2 individuals, both enlisted in the Twelve. That would explain why the interpolater used Peter in place of Cephas in Galatians 2.

    But originally James, Cephas and John were a trio that had nothing to do with the Twelve, and probably first existed before the notion of Twelve was born.

    I don’t mean to misrepresent your argument and sometimes appear to have unintentionally done that in places by attempting to write in too much haste. My reference to not knowing what Christianity itself was in the early days of the first century Palestine was intended to allow for our inability to know how Christians would be treated in comparison with others in case of a famine. To say something that sounds bizarre perhaps, given the evidence I would not want to bet too much that Christianity as we might be able to recognize it at all even existed before the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem seems to me to present a powerful explanation for radical changes and divisions among Jewish religious ideas. But that’s another other story.


  8. Hi Neil

    I know you are going to go with an interpolation, just as I am going to go with Paul speaking about 2 persons he had dealings with – a ‘pillar’ of the Jerusalem Church and a ‘middle manager’.

    In the end, this is not a major issue in terms of biblical analysis or other issues we have discussed. But, because we brought this to the fore, I thought I would try to check my facts. I have been assured that almost all the well-trusted manuscripts have “iachobos kai kaiphas” ie Cephas in verse 9 and “petros” ie Peter in verse 11. If you can read Greek Koine, you may be able to check this.

    This does not prove my theory better than yours. What I was first looking for was to ensure that the existence of 2 names was not a result of lazy translation into English. Secondly, any interpolation must have occurred earlier than our oldest extant copies. I do not yet know whether this means earlier than Marcion – you may know?

    As to your earlier query as to what I think the size of the Church might have been in Palestine – probably in the range of tens or hundreds. Perhaps a few thousand, but only if proto-Christianity was much older than normally assumed.

    I cannot go with the crucifixion being dated to 30 CE, if we make that the starting point.

    I confess the Epistula Apostolorum is news to me. I have downloaded a partial copy, but not yet read it.


  9. An interesting point on the origin of the gospels, although it probably does not belong here, under ‘Paul’…

    Be careful of an assumption that Mark would have “played on the meaning of the Aramaic name to mock it, …”. We know that Mark wrote in Greek for a Gentile, Greek-speaking audience.

    1. Do you think Mark even understood Aramaic? He certainly was the least educated of the evangelists on things like Palestinian geography and Jewish customs, etc.

    2. Why would Mark assume that his readers would have understood an Aramaic play on words or realised that he was mocking Peter? Without this awareness, there can surely have been no point in a play on words.


  10. The interpolation has the support of the meaning of the text, it’s ideological consistency with the needs of the mid to later second century, the clash with the intent of the remainder of the text, and the external attestation. There is no manuscript attestation as there is not for many other apparent interpolations (Bart Ehrman’s “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture”; plus Walker, Munro, and O’Neill on Paul’s letters specifically).

    I admit I am arguing here from a point that is not consistent with other positions I have taken in respect to the Pauline collection (i.e. that Paul’s letters were unknown until — were creations of — the second century). I don’t know if I will ever come to a conclusion or if conclusions are possible with the questions we put to the evidence we have. I simply don’t know how we can determine with any certainty when the letters of Paul were written with any precision between, say, 50 and 120 c.e.

    Mark used the Greek form of the Aramaic name for his readers. He was very subtle and more knowledgable of Jewish customs than we give him credit for. (Kermode in my book review list discusses this, as does another blogger of the recent past, Michael Turton, and other works by the likes of Fowler). His poor reputation in this respect has come about because of his reversal/ironic play with Jewish scriptures. People who take him at face value think he was ignorant. But he is deliberately turning the old scriptures on their head. And if we accept that he was writing as late as the second century then we have many other facets to bring in on this question re pre and post 70 c.e. rulings in relation to Mark’s theological intentions.

    Geography, yes, he was relying on texts and info that he was using for his metaphors of the kingdom of God vs the “kingdom of Israel” — and wrote a parable or metaphor, not a historical/geographic text. (MacDonald and Kelber, and in part Weeden for this.)

    Mark plays on words and meanings of names throughout his gospel, not just in relation to Peter. He was writing a polemical response to well-known name-authorities (the Twelve led by the famous 3).

    But you are right — “response boxes” are not the places to address the whole picture. Even posts can only contain bits and pieces at a time.

  11. I agree that Mark was an accomplished author in the Greek language and certainly used irony and language skills to advantage. A quite plausible view is that he deliberately wrote ‘low Greek’ as irony.

    My knowledge of ancient Jewish customs is 2nd-hand or even 3rd-hand, but I can read a map and he clearly would not have bluffed anyone familiar with Palestinian geography. I would be interested in any prior texts that could have convinced Mark of the risk of waves developing on the Sea of Galilee (an enclosed fresh-water lake about 3 times as large as Sydney Harbour), and to such an extent as to convince experienced fishermen that their lives were in danger.

    However, my point was, and is, that a play on words meaningful in Aramaic requires both that Mark was proficient in Aramaic and that he knew that his readers would understand. Perhaps he could have used the same play on words in Greek – after all Peter (Petros) in Greek means Cephas in Aramaic.

    As to when the genuine Pauline epistles were written: can you make that 44 to 120 CE? That will accommodate my thesis.

    Incidentally, I found your reference to Peter and Cephas in Epistula Apostolorum. This would be the list of apostles that includes both names. Remember that the canonical gospels, being hand-written, spread very slowly after they were written. Some 2nd century church leaders seem to have been unaware of one or more of them. On that basis, this author may not have known of evolving tradition. Does the Epistula Apostolorum (heavy-going!) anywhere show knowledge of any gospel?


  12. Dennis MacDonald argues that Mark turned the lake of Galilee into a “sea” and made it a central feature of Jesus’ travels with his disciples in emulation of Homer’s Odysseus traveling the Mediterranean.

    Re the date range of Paul’s letters I’m happy to go anywhere between 40 to 140 🙂

  13. I am aware of the theory put forward by Dennis MacDonald. He provides probably the best explanation for Mark by a long shot. But, to go back to Peter/Cephas, MacDonald sees Mark as a genius of the Greek language, not Aramaic. Even if you are convinced by him, and you could do worse, don’t think he has necessarily seen the whole picture. For example, from memory, he seems to think that Mark used mimesis for the entertainment of his peers. What about using mimesis for the purpose of gnosis?

    As to the Epistula Apostolorum, I am now happy that the author knew at least 3 of the canonical gospels, including John. This has a couple of consequences:

    Early Christian Writings (my download source) is moderately confident of a date between 140 and 150. John must have been somewhat before that (remember in those days they didn’t have the internet, even typewriters, and communications and evolution were slow); Luke must have been somewhat before John; Mark must have been somewhat before Luke. And the whole workflow before the date for the Epistula Apostolorum (140-150?). I suggest you keep this in mind if you are going for late dates.

    You know that John seems to get confused as to who the disciples were and did not even name them all. He *did* name Simon Peter then Simon whom Jesus renamed Cephus. Could this be where the Epistula Apostolorum got the idea of 2 persons from? (Not that I am disagreeing – but for different reasons)


  14. Mark also used aramaic phrases in his gospel (at the raising of jairus’ daughter and on the cross) so I don’t think there is a necessary either/or question over the language. But I see more questions in the materials we are working with than answers.

    The earlychristianwritings source as a rule seems to give the current conventional datings for the documents. I doubt they have all been finally determined for the rest of time 🙂

    As for what other documents an author knew, how do we decide if an author is recollecting another specific canonical text or is drawing on materials that also happened to be later or independently to be added to the canonical texts? Not forgetting of course the many rewrites that seem to have happened to them along the way.

    And as for time to copy and travel, if we knew more about the provenances of the texts we would have a clearer idea about this, too.

    I’m not as completely nihilistic as the above may sound. For some time I have been exploring along the lines of a model proposed by “the copenhagen school” for the creation of the Old Testament/Jewish identity/nation, wondering if similarities might offer simplest explanations for the evidence as it is. That is, that christianity was a philosophy that evolved into a religion across a “riotous diversity” of networks around the mid-east and mediterranean and was propelled into certain directions by events such as the jewish war. The foundation myths and legends followed.

  15. I read your 3rd paragraph as a question as to whether, for example, the author of the Epistula Apostolorum knew John’s Gospel.

    I saw a number of references to material found in John but not in the other canonical gospels. The clearest is the reference to Jesus turning water into wine.

    Was this a later interpolation? It is pure John. By turning water into wine, Jesus was equated with Dionysis. Shortly afterwards, John described Jesus as going to the local Asclepium – a temple to the Greek god Asclepius – and curing one man because he was unable to enter the water when the god came. This placed Jesus on an equal footing with Asclepius and should be considered a pair with the water into wine miracle. Any suggestion that one miracle was added by an unknown later interpolator must require that both miracles were (but would not remove the dependence of author of the Epistula Apostolorum on John).

    Was John quoting an oral tradition that grew up, perhaps after Luke but well before John, and was already known to author of the Epistula Apostolorum? As I said above, the 2 miracles are pure John; they are part of his craft. Also, such well defined miracles, that carefully and subtly negate pagan criticism of the limitations of Jesus’ power, are the product of a talented author, not the mob. John knew there had been an Asclepium outside the city of Jerusalem.

    Was author of the Epistula Apostolorum quoting another, now lost, source based on John? First of all, it would not matter because he would still be dependent on John. Secondly, the text is written as a summary of the gospels as he knew them.


  16. Thanks for the response. I was not specifically questioning the EA’s knowledge of John’s gospel but really attempting to raise a more general question that interests me in this case. What are the criteria for our making decisions about influence from one to another, and to what extent can we these criteria be tools or dictates?

    In the writings of Justin Martyr, for example, there are many indications that that author knew the gospels of Matthew and John and Paul’s writings. But sometimes one also finds a milliion questions jumping out of these “clear indications’. Sometimes one wonders if in some cases Justin is not citing any of these texts but addressing issues and concerns, and using the metaphors and concepts, that were part and parcel of the same world that produced those other writings.

  17. Hi Neil

    I’m probably not expert enough to answer the more general question as to the criteria we can (always) use to make decisions (or assumptions) about the influence from one ancient writer to another. And I am sure that you also have developed skills in the same area.

    I suppose that in answering about the specific case of EA and John, I was trying to give you an insight into how I would arrive at a conclusion such as this and givie you (and your readers) an opportunity to form an opinion as to the reliability of my conclusions.

    By the way, I realise my explanation as to why the author of EA must have known John’s Gospel was incomplete, since I should have answered it to the satisfaction of your readers, not just for our own dialogue. Allow me the space to complete that answer…

    Was the miracle of turning water into wine, and therefore also the miraculous cure at the Asclepium, true events in the life of Jesus, so that EA did not need to rely on John? No. If they had been, Mark would have known of them and, if he had known, he would have used them in his Gospel – after all, he reported the miracle in which Jesus walked on water, something previously only performed by Hermes. Also, Matthew and/or Luke would have reported them, since they were both keenly interested in the early years of Jesus.


  18. You seem to be treating the subject as though the Paul of Galatians is the genuine Paul and the Paul of Acts is a polemical reinterpretation. Based on your other articles, however, and Marcion’s role in first publishing the Pauline epistles, the stronger case could be made to go the other way around, that Acts gives us the genuine Paul and Galatians gives us the polemical reinterpretation of Marcion.

  19. We have no evidence that Marcion ever knew of Acts. There is no evidence that Acts was known to anyone until the latter part of the second century.

    Thanks for rasing the question, because I don’t mean to imply that any Paul was the real one. (We also have the Paul of the Pastorals, Paul of Acts of Paul and Thecla, Paul of the Valentinians . . . )

    The direction of the polemic is used to decide which one was earlier and which the later composition. Can you find any specifics in Galatians that can be interpreted as a polemic against the Paul in Acts, as can be seen in passages of Acts as they relate to the content in Galatians?

  20. I stumbled accross this blog tonight. I have been mulling over for some time in a very isolated state the contradictions of Acts and Galatians. I came to observations very similiar to your original post. And have come to view acts as contrived at best. The goal I see for Acts is to diminish Paul and all other individualism in following Christ, while developing a defense for central church government.
    I must confess my lack of historical education, but it is really not needed to conclude these two works cannot both be true. That both books have resided in the same cannon for centuries seems proof to me that few people actually think about what they believe.
    I will show my ignorance here but why must we believe that the Gospel of Luke and Acts had a common source? If I were to compile, edit, and spin the content into the book of Acts, Luke would be the most logical author to attach to it.
    If Acts follows Galatians it is clearly trying to subvert it. But Galatians is clearly a response. It is a defense. If Galatians preceded Acts, the positions stated in Acts were already being bantied about before Galatians was written.
    Acts is either a defense of Orthodox Christianity as it was being proactised, or the source from which Orthodox Christianity has drawn its practice. Galatians is neither, few people in any culture wish to make the difficult choices mandated therein. If Galatians was the foundation of orthodoxy rather than Acts contemplate how the the church would have developed.
    I am a Christian, I follow Christ, but I cannot live out what I find in Acts. Acts is not the same Gospel as Matthew, Galatians can be. (I guesse this shows my view on the synoptic problem, which is for another day)
    I have enjoyed reading your posts, I lack your knowledge, and appreciate your insight. I know God is real, Christ must be real, the Gospel must be true. And I hate to delve into questioning the cannon, but we must seek the truth. We all hunger for truth, anything which is not truth can only lead us away from Christ and that is a lonely place to be.

  21. While the points of contrast between Acts and G are very sharp indeed, I don’t see much theological value in many of them, such as Arabia vs. Damascus. The simple, yet devestating, explanation, i.e., “Luke” was not aware of Paul’s writings nor had a first-hand knowledge of Paul’s career, may be sufficient.
    After all, unawareness and sharp contrast are the norm in early Christianity, not the exception! “Luke” and “Matthew” were not aware of one another, “John” was not aware of the other three, all four were not aware of Paul’s Epistles, etc. As for contrast, there is no sharper contrast like the one between Matt. 5:17 (the Law is sacred forever!) and Gal. 3:10 (the Law is a curse!)

    1. Many statements presented as facts in bible textbooks, dictionaries, even scholarly papers, are only current assumptions or conclusions of arguments that can be and are challenged by others. I understand that there is a growing body of scholarly opinion that the author of John’s Gospel did indeed know of at least one of the synoptic gospels after all. The strongest evidence for this is the bracketing literary structure of the portrayal of Peter’s denial/Jesus’ confession. The debate over Luke’s knowledge/ignorance of Matthew is far from dead. As challenges to Q gain momentum Luke’s use of Matthew will be more widely argued.

      Differences by themselves may not tell us much about relationships among the texts. But if one text expresses its divergence from another within a context or style that suggests a polemic or explicit challenge to the contents found in other texts, then we can infer that the differences do indeed indicate a dialogue.

      When it comes to disagreements over Paul’s writings, it is worth keeping in mind that Paul was claimed by the likes of the Marcionites and Valentinians as “their” apostle. Polemic and forgery (“pseudepigraphy”) is an undisputed norm in early Christianity, not the exception.

      The reconstruction I accept relies on dating texts in large part on the evidence we have for when they were first known in the wider community. Other reconstructions (such as yours) are based on assumptions that the contents of their narratives are very largely historically true. But this is a naive assumption that is more acceptable in biblical studies than among other branches of history.

      A renowned British historian who produced a book on social banditry in South America was criticized for relying on the basic historicity of narratives he was told by “witnesses” without testing the historical value of those narratives against external independent evidence. He conceded that he had been naive and in methodological error. Suggest to NT historians that they follow the same method and you are likely to be told you are being “bloody weird”. Point out that even Albert Schweitzer endorsed this method, and you will be told Schweitzer was “not critical enough”!

      Historical documents of ancient times are assessed as historical on grounds of literary analysis and independent corroboration. Criteria are used to interpret facts, not create facts.

      In Historical Jesus/early Church history studies this is all turned upside down. “Independent” “corroboration” is arrived at by “discovering” “independent sources” within the narrative itself!!, and criteria are used to manufacture facts, because there are no otherwise known facts to interpret!!

      This is why I feel justified in calling biblical studies methods of historical inquiry a “sham”. It is apologetics in disguise. The fact that there are some atheists also practicing it does not change that assessment.

  22. Yes, the sharp contrast in the words of Christ and Paul are something I have not yet resolved completely. But what I do see is Christ’s focus, he reduces the law to love God with all your heart soul and mind, and love youre neighbor as yourself. Matthew 19 and the rich young ruler is a great explanation of what this means. Paul also continually enforces the need to give up everything for the the love of God and our fellow man, ie Phillipians.
    My explanation for the sharp contrast, if forced to give one at this time, is that in Matthew 5 Christ had not yet instituted the New Covenant which happened at the last supper, as such the old covenant still applied, Paul is however writing after the New Covenant is in place. Christ did not say sacred forever, rather he said untill it is accomplished, so could not his life, death and ressurection likely accomplish the law? But if I worry that this explanation might be mere semantics and rationalization so take it with a grain of salt. Ultimately Matthew and the Epistles of Paul stress individual relationship to God while loving your neighbor as yourself. I see a lot of compromise in Acts.
    I believe in God, I believe His word is to guide us. So I need to understand His Word, and be able to recognize his word as opposed to that of someone else. I have to say I feel theology is the art or science if you prefer of making the bible useless. Bible study is excellent, eveluating the truth and validy of a text is critical but developing theological positions is generally the domain of the clergy who get paid because the common man feels he cannot understand the Word of God without professional help. So this discussion of Acts vs Galations matters deeply to me, but if it is an intellectual execise it becomes useless. My prime example of this is Thoams Paines bible commentary, the man was a good writer at times, but if youre an aetheist can’t you find a better profession or hobby. So maybe he wasnt an aetheist, maybe he hated God, but pretended to not believe? And really who cares what an aethist wrote about the bible long aftet they died, has anyone else here looked at Thomas Paines commentary?
    On a related topic, Malachi. Have you thought about the implications on the New Testament? I am intrigued by a line of thinking I have been having lately concerning possible missteps in a grand way by Ezra and Nehemiah enshrining really bad precedents into Jewish culure. Could not Malachi be God’s prophet to say you blew your last chance. Malachi clearly sets the stage for Matthew, but I am thinking that we need to read it in relation to Ezra and Nehemiah to get to full impact and quit assuming everything these guys did was right. Response is welcome, I’ve got noone to mull this over with.

  23. Why the polemic against atheists? I am an atheist but I don’t “hate God” or “hate the Bible”. How can I — why would I — hate something I don’t think exists and that I never bother to think about?

    My “love” for the Bible is no different from another person’s “love” for the classics. I am fascinated by the historical question of Christian origins. Historical interest in a topic is entirely valid and normal without any need for the inquirer to identify personally with the characters or message he is studying.

    Most historians of Nazism or the Holocaust are not anti-semitic Nazis. Most historians of ancient times would not want to embrace with a barge pole the customs and some of the values of the people they so often study. Why should it be any different with anyone — of any creed — in the study of Christian origins?

    1. You’re most welcome! After Joe Tkach changed so many core HWA doctrines it hit me that I was part of an outfit run more like a Stalinist or Maoist State than a “kingdom of God”. It really is sad that there are still die-hards who cannot let any of it go. All the best with your efforts!

      (Does Vinson really claim to be sinless now? So he’s moved to something akin to ancient gnosticism?)

      1. Hello back Neil, thanks for your thoughts here. Yes, there are indeed “die-hards” who are hell bent on sticking with the their lifetime investment in the “word of God.” IWWB is one such group, with the leader (Mike Vinson) having worked for Herbert in the mail-room back in the day. I was never in the WWCoG but was drawn to the IWWB splinter group as a result of disenchantment with Pentecostal Christianity. I did not realise it at the time, but many of IWWB’s doctrines are simply re-packaged and window-dressed World-Wide doctrines, that Vinson likes to pass off as his own.

        Yes, Vinson does claim to have “overcome sin.” He wrote a Revelation commentary back in 2005 where he explicitly stated that he “no longer sins” but he got panned for it big time. He claimed to have repented of his pride but in 2010, and then again in 2012, he reworded it to say that he has been given dominion over sin, and that sin no longer has control of him. So in truth, he’s just playing semantics with the same doctrine.

        Cheers Neil. I read the site regularly, keep up the great work.

  24. Hi Neil,

    You say:

    “Galatians, apparently from the pen of Paul, informs its readers that James, Peter and John all agreed with Paul in Jerusalem. But afterwards back in Antioch, these men reneged — Peter and others were sent by James to preach observance to Jewish customs. Paul declares what he said to Peter about it, and then drops the subject leaving his own words the last for the reader to hear on the matter.
    The author of Acts resolves this problem of disunity by moving the Antioch dispute to the beginning of the narrative. So instead of the story of the conference blowing up with a subsequent dispute in Antioch as it does in Galatians, Acts rearranges the story so that the Antioch dispute initiates the Jerusalem conference — where it is harmoniously resolved.”

    The trouble I have with this is that Acts 15:1-35 seems to be a composite of two stories which are in fact the same story, one with Simon Peter and the other with Paul as the hero. Both stories follow the same structure and have the same events. Either the author of Acts invented both, invented one to mirror the other, or combined two existing stories to create a single narrative.

    To confirm this point, the two stories are:

    Paul Version

    Then certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church, and as they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, they reported the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the believers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.

    The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.

    Then, after they finished speaking, the apostles and the elders, with the consent of the whole church, decided to choose men from among their members and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers, with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the believers of Gentile origin in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

    So they were sent off and went down to Antioch. When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When its members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After they had been there for some time, they were sent off in peace by the believers to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, and there, with many others, they taught and proclaimed the word of the Lord.

    Peter Version

    But some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses.”

    The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “My brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that I should be the one through whom the Gentiles would hear the message of the good news and become believers. And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

    James replied, “My brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first looked favorably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written,
    ‘After this I will return,
    and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
    from its ruins I will rebuild it,
    and I will set it up,
    so that all other peoples may seek the Lord—
    even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
    Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago.’

    Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood. For in every city, for generations past, Moses has had those who proclaim him, for he has been read aloud every sabbath in the synagogues.”

    They both have exactly the same structure:
    1. A group objects to the uncircumcised
    2. The hero addresses the council of elders
    3. The council of elders formally decrees that gentiles are not required to follow the Law except for the four rules.

    If the author of Acts wrote it as a response to Galatians, he would have had to accidentally create the parallel between the two stories as a by-product of re-arranging the order because of a theological disagreement.

    Would it not seem more likely that the author of Galatians altered the order of events in Acts because the idea that Paul was sent up to Jerusalem by others was offensive to his theology and placed it instead with the proclamation that he went up in response to a revelation? And by disordering the parallel in structure between the two stories gave himself away?


    1. It’s an interesting idea. I’m glad you posted it here as an alternative to the post.

      To think this through, some questions I would want to investigate:

      — how would the idea hold up if Acts were dated to the mid-second century? (This is not just a question of chronology but of context and function — does Acts serve as an anti-Marcionite tract?)

      — how do other Acts-Epistles connections suggested in the literature fit in with this particular relationship?

      — how do we fit this interpretation of Galatians-Acts 15 with the larger theological agendas of Acts (and Paul’s letters)?

      1. Canonical Acts serve as an anti-Marcionite account, but also antiish diatribes.

        It has not been written in one go, but is profoundly stratified and repeatedly edited. It even contains gnostic and hermetic elements, upon which a Jewish context has been grafted.

  25. As far as Arabia and Damascus are concerned, Galatians can be read as seeing Damascus as part of Arabia. Galatians also tells us it was controlled by Aretas IV at this time, an Arabian King. In some context I believe Biblical Arabia is every between Israel and the Euphrates River, what God gave to Abraham but not specifically Jacob.

    “Many days” is an expression that does not rule out there being years.

    None of these alleged contradictions are that difficult to reconcile. But it’s logical for Paul’s first hand Account and Acts 3rd persona account to bring different perspectives on it.

  26. Well to my humble self am a new student of theology school. of which I was giving an assignment to differentiate the two conversation of Paul in the book of acts and in the Galatians, I was in search When I stumbled in this content, and I was so much happy thinking it will solve my problem.

    But am kind of confused here with a lot of argument and not yet Concluding, what to put down to my lectural, at this state of mine “confused.

    What should I put down for my lectural? Am from Nigeria

    1. Wreford, Mark (2021). Religious Experience and the Creation of Scripture: Examining Inspiration in Luke-Acts and Galatians. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-0-567-69666-3. This work is a revised version of my PhD thesis…

      [5.5.2] Like Peter in Acts, Paul asserts that his witness can be trusted because he is accredited as a ‘skilled knower’ — an apostle — by contact with trans-empirical reality (1:11-12, 15-16; 2:6—9) which he and the Galatians share (3:1—5; 4:6). This extends the story of God’s interaction with his people into the present, though now in light of the decisive intervention of the Christ-event in a similar manner to the way that Luke-Acts recounts a scriptural history of fulfilment. Paul’s letter was intended to offer an authoritative (1:20) retelling of recent salvation history in the shape of his and the Galatians’ initial encounters with Christ, and a normative account of its ongoing impact through the ethical empowerment of the Spirit (5:13-26). In this sense, it is intended to fulfil a scriptural function for its addressees.

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