Chronology in Galatians

One of the challenges of Galatians is coordinating Paul’s chronology with the history in Acts. Determinations on chronology also impact considerations of the time of writing.

Many have concluded that the meeting in Jerusalem consists of the following correspondence:

Galatians 2:1-10 = Acts 15:1-29

This seems to be the first and most obvious connection. Both accounts describe a meeting in Jerusalem between Paul, Barnabas, Peter and James over the role of the Law in the conversion of the Gentiles. This meeting was prompted by the contention of a conservative Jewish party who argued for the necessity of keeping the Law for Gentile converts. Both accounts describe an agreement that the Gentiles should receive the gospel without the confines of keeping the Law of Moses.

When closer scrutiny is paid to the respective accounts, there are several factors that would cause one to doubt that they are describing the same event.

  • Paul would have had to intentionally omit a visit to Jerusalem. Acts lists the Jerusalem Council as Paul’s third trip to Jerusalem (Acts 9:22-30; 11:30 and 12:25; 14:26-15:29) whereas Paul only lists two in Galatians (1:18-24 and 2:1-3, 6-10). Paul’s accounting of his visits to Jerusalem are a main part of his point, and it would have been easily disputed by those in Jerusalem if he had omitted one.
  • Paul’s meeting with the Jerusalem leaders in Galatians appears to have been a private meeting, while the meeting in Acts 15 is a public one.
  • Paul is a major player in the events in the Jerusalem meeting from Galatians, but he does not play as big a role in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
  • While Galatians 2 and Acts 15 deal with Jewish/Gentile issues, Galatians 2 seems to specifically deal with table fellowship while the premier issue in Acts 15 was circumcision.
  • The decision reached by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is not mentioned in Galatians. If a determination had been reached by the time of the writing of Galatians, surely Paul would have mentioned it to bolster his case.

For these reasons, the events in Galatians seem to align more closely with an earlier visit to Jerusalem in Acts, bearing the following correspondence:

Galatians 2:1-10 = Acts 11:30; 12:25

This option for the meeting is often overlooked due to the brevity of the account in Acts 11-12. However, it would be easy to assume that Acts skips over some details that would not move the narrative along. One final point that would bolster this connection is the topic of the concern for the poor. In Acts, Paul is relaying funds for those in need due to the famine. In Galatians, the Jerusalem leaders agree that Gentiles could receive the gospel, and they ask Paul to remember the poor.

While the equivalence between Galatians 2 and Acts 15 has been the majority position for quite some time, there are many scholars who have relatively recently argued for correspondence between Galatians 2 and Acts 11-12. The reasons that I provide here can be found in at least of the one of the following commentaries, which I consulted.

  • F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary.
  • Scot McKnight, Galatians, The NIV Application Commentary.
  • Ben Witherington, Grace in Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

So, after my studies, I would take the Southern Galatian view with a time of writing somewhere between 49 and 52 AD, and I would equate the events described in Galatians 2 with Acts 11-12.

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5 Responses to Chronology in Galatians

  1. Bryan says:

    Enjoyed perusing your posts. We are starting Galatians this Wed night. I picked it because it will provide an opportunity to help members see how pervasive the debate was and hopefully re-frame “justification by faith” in its 1st century context. And it is not a long book and people seem to like that too.

    • jnsweets says:

      Thanks for the comments, Bryan. You’ll have to let me know how your study goes? Half the battle is figuring out exactly what Paul is arguing about — it shapes interpretation to a large degree.

  2. Cuz says:

    While you’re on the subject of Acts-Galatians connection, have you come across discussion of whether Gal. 1:17-19 = Acts 9:26-30?
    Reasons for: Gal. 1:18 says Paul was there 15 days and Acts 9:26-30 could be a short trip because it was abruptly interrupted by the scheme of the Jews.
    Reasons against: Gal 1:19 says he saw only two apostles. Acts 9:27 says he was brought to the apostles, though it doesn’t specify whether that was all of them or just the ones that were there.
    I’m not sure if there’s enough information in both texts to know for sure. Have you come across more textual or chronological evidence?

    • Jeremy says:

      Hey Dave, Thanks for your comment! I know those who equate Gal. 2 with Acts 11, 12 would say that Acts 9 is the first visit. One of the key issues with Galatians is that Paul makes a big deal about how many times he’s been to Jerusalem to argue the fact that he received his revelation from God and not man. It seems inconsistent that he would leave out a trip since his argument hinges on the number of trips he’s taken to Jerusalem.

  3. Pingback: Top 11 Posts from 2011 | Theological Sweets

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