How would you respond to the apparent contradiction between the epistle of Galatians, and Acts. Paul highlights his trip to Arabia and specifically states that he did not go up to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:17) , however Luke reports nothing about Arabia and states that Paul went to Jerusalem just a couple of days after Damascus (Acts 9). And Galatians 1:22, where Paul states that he was “unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea”. Critics allege that Paul in saying this must also be denying that he was ever in Jerusalem and persecuted the church there.


Acts 9 tells us that Saul/Paul was baptized in Damascus, that he stayed there “many days,” that he fled the city upon threat of death, and that at some future time after that, he visited the apostles in Jerusalem. Also (whether at that time or at a still much later date we are not sure) it says that he moved about Jerusalem freely, speaking in the name of Jesus. Still later, when persecution broke out, the brother took him to Caesarea (Maritima, presumably) and he was sent to Tarsus. Of course, later in Acts, we learn that Paul came from Tarsus to Antioch in Syria.

In Galatians Paul says that he was converted by direct revelation of Christ, that he did not go to Jerusalem at that time, but went instead to “Arabia.” After that, he returned to Damascus. Three years later he went to Jerusalem, where he met with the apostles. He tells us that fourteen years after that, he went with Barnabas and Titus. I assume that this was after the first missionary journey. On this particular visit, he met with the apostles privately.

It is true that Paul does not mention Arabia in his letter. Presumably, this is because his trip into the desert was not significant to the issue of his relationship with the apostles. I am sure that Paul did dozens of things which he does not mention in Galatians, including his trip to Arabia and probably a number of other trips as well which were not important to Luke or to Paul in his discussion in Galatians 2.

You say that Luke has Paul going to Jerusalem a couple of days after Damascus. I disagree. First, he says that Paul stayed in Damascus “many days.” He mentions that Paul went to Jerusalem later, but gives not a hint about how much time intervened. Paul says in Galatians 1:22 that he was “personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.” The first visit to Jerusalem was apparently private, which is why he was not known in general to the churches in Judea, although exactly what this would mean is not certain. It may mean that of the several churches in Judea, many or most of them had never even had a visit from Paul.

Critics can say what they like. They can create contradictions where there are none. That is their business. When Paul says he was not known by the churches in Judea, surely he means that they did not know him personally. It does not mean that they had never heard of him. The context determines the meaning. In the context he is talking about whether he had personally heard his gospel from someone else. The fact that he had lived in Jerusalem and persecuted the church before his conversion is not even conceivably a contradiction–never mind it being an “apparent contradiction.” If critics have to reach this far to find a contradiction, that tells me something. So, I see no contradiction between these accounts. In fact, if we simply think about the obvious meaning of the two, it is hard to even see an “apparent contradiction.”

John Oakes

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