Galatians and Acts

The date for the writing of Galatians will depend on the decision made on the recipients and the relationship of the book to the Jerusalem Council.  Paul gives a great deal of biographical detail in the book, which ought to make determining a date a bit easier.  Alas, that is not the case!  In chapter 2 there are two incidents that may or may not be related to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Luke mentions three visits to Jerusalem:  the initial visit, the famine visit (11:27-30), and the 15 day visit.

In an article published in 1967, C. H. Talbert summarizes the issue into seven positions, five of which I summarize here:

1.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30; the famine visit is not mentioned by Paul in Galatians.  Why is it not mentioned?  Perhaps Paul did not meet with Apostles at that time, or perhaps it was simply to deliver the gift and no real “contact” was made.  To include it would bog down his argument in Galatians with another visit that is neither here nor there with respect to his apostolic authority.

2.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the famine visit of Acts 11:27–30, with the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30 taking place after Galatians was written.  A variation on this is that Gal 2:1-10 is the first visit, the famine visit is not mentioned for the same reasons as under A, and that the Council occurs after Galatians.

3.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30, which Luke has turned into two visits by misunderstanding the parallel nature of two reports he received about the council and so fabricating the visit of Acts 11:27–30.

4.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30, with Acts 11:27–30 being a misplaced report of the collection visit which was originally connected with the material of Acts 21:15–17 but which Luke has chosen to place earlier in order to support his schematic portrayal of the expansion of the church.

5.  That Gal 2:1–10 is the Jerusalem Council visit of Acts 15:1–30, with Acts 11:27–30 being an invention of Luke (for reasons given in either positions three or four above) and with the Jerusalem Council visit to be identified with the hasty visit of Acts 18:22.

The first and second options seem to be the only options that allow for Luke to be an accurate history.  Luke does not appear to be given to invention or serious error.  Why would Paul omit the trip to Jerusalem to deliver the famine relief gift?  It is really not a major problem, since the meeting to deliver the gift is not related to meeting the apostles.

Perhaps Paul went to Jerusalem many times between Acts 9 and 13 for any number of reasons.  If he had lived in Jerusalem he may have had friends and family there, possessions that needed to be collected and taken to Antioch, etc. None of these sorts of visits to the city would be important to the argument since he did not contact the Apostles and have meetings and “training sessions.”

The most difficult part of the first position above is that Paul never mentions the decision of the in the letter to the Galatians.  One would imagine that if the Judaizers claimed to be from James, Paul simply had to hold up the letter from the council and say, “Look here, the man you claim as your authority disagrees with you, go back to Jerusalem as get a bit more education on the issue of Gentiles!”  That he does not is powerful evidence the council has not yet occurred.

It seems best then to see the Jerusalem council as not appearing in Galatians, simply because it has not occurred yet. If one opts for a southern Galatian destination, then usually it is argued the book is written before the Jerusalem council, thus a date of A.D. 49.  Those that see the destination as northern Galatia typically date the book after 1 & 2 Corinthians, about the late 50’s.  The churches founded in the third missionary journey are not detailed in Acts, therefore it is difficult to know how early in the chronology of Acts to place the letter.

Bibliography:
C. H. Talbert, “Again: Paul’s Visits to Jerusalem” NovT 9 (1967) 26, n. 3.

Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC, Dallas, Word, 1990).  Longenecker discusses the five listed above, including the advocates of each position.

10 thoughts on “Galatians and Acts

  1. Some (not you) do indeed find it problematic that Gal does not mention the famine visit, but this is because they make prior assumptions about the nature of Paul’s argument in Gal 1-2. Debbie Hunn has recently illuminated Paul’s purposes in Gal 1-2 and shown that there is no reason to be surprised that he did not mention the famine visit. See my discussion here.

    Your surprise that Paul makes no mention of the decree is based on the assumption that Paul had opponents in Galatia who saw the Jerusalem apostles as their authority. This assumption is derived from a mirror reading of Galatians that hold the mirror at the wrong angle. See my post here and subsequent posts too.

    The identification of Gal 2:1-10 with the famine visit is problematic. For one, it strains the chronology.

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  2. I agree with Richard that the famine trip strains the chronology, and with both of you that Galatians doesn’t have to mention all the trips. Phillip, does Longenecker make the point that Paul may have taken unrecorded trips?

    But, Philip, to your argument on the letter: isn’t Paul’s point in Galatians 1 that *his* gospel was the one to be obeyed? Why then would he lean upon the authority of the ‘mother church’ (4:26), especially when the Judaizers had certainly been playing that same card.

    To quote a fat, fictitious governor of Mississippi – “We can’t get our own midget, we’ll look like a bunch’a Johnny come latelys!” 😉

    Back to being serious: how did the Antioch church know that “men from James” (2:2) were really from James? Wouldn’t you suppose they most likely brought letters of introduction? (Cf, also, 2.Cor.3:1) And these men, or men like them, were the Judiazers who went to Galatia. So – again – why would Paul attempt to trump such men by pulling the *same* trick they’d already used, which had served their usurpation so well?

    In all seriousness, wouldn’t Paul have looked like a ‘Johnny come lately’?

    But my own view – if I may – is here.

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  3. “Why then would he lean upon the authority of the ‘mother church’ (4:26)” This is a real problem since I wholeheartedly agree that the point of chapters 1-2 is Paul’s Gospel is Right, not because it is his, but it is the only gospel there is. The Judaizers do not preach the gospel at all, it is (at least in chapter 1, “not a gospel.”)

    Citing F.F. Bruce in his NIGTC volume, Paul had to walk a fine line between asserting independence and completely jettisoning the Jerusalem church. I think that he could have simply ignored Jerusalem, but if Romans 9 has any weight, his heart was for his own people, even though he was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles. If he completely rejected the “Apostles to the Jews” such as Peter and James, then he would have lost any chance of reaching his own people as well.

    As for the men from James….here’s the short answer, I’ll get to in more detail later. I think they were not sent under James’ authority, but James knew full well what they were saying and doing, perhaps a tacit approval. James was in the same difficult position as Paul, but with two or three parties within a Jerusalem church, each more increasingly conservative (priests, Pharisees, “men from James”, etc.)

    Anytime O Brother can be cited in a scholarly discussion is okay with me.

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  4. Richard – good to have you back. I can usually predict that any discussion of chronology will bring out a thought provoking comment form you. I agree with both you and Bill that the option “b” above is difficult, but no more difficult that a non-explicit mention of the Acts 15. To me, either Paul does not mention it because it has not happened yet, or Luke got it wrong, or deliberately mis-informed us of what happened in that conference.

    I read one commentary, and I cannot recall who at the moment, that explained it away by saying Paul did not deliver the Famine relief all the way to Jerusalem, but stopped outside the city, and met briefly with representatives of the Apostles, not the Apostles themselves. That way it did not “count” as a visit.

    As strained as that is, the bottom line is that the “famine visit” does not “count” in Galatians.

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  5. Phil and Bill, you seem to have missed my point. Paul does not mention the decree because the Galatians already knew that the Jerusalem apostles supported Gentile liberty. The background to the letter was that the Galatians were thinking that Paul had preached gentile liberty only to please the Jerusalem apostles. The Galatians were thinking that he actually believed in circumcision. Paul’s independence, not his authority, is under attack in Galatians. What I am proposing is a completely new understanding of the background of the letter, and it reverses many of the usual assumptions. You will need to actually read what I have written.

    I agree that the ‘men from James’ were not sent under James’s authority. Acts 15:24 mentions them and says as much.

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  6. Richard, you are definitely unique. And you know I’m pretty much bound to have sympathy for unique. 😉 But I’m completely sold on what’s generally the standard mirror reading of Galatians.

    Phillip, option b isn’t difficult. It’s impossible. You can get 14 years from Paul’s ‘conversion’ to the famine itself, but if Antioch delivered it’s relief $$ *during* the famine, how would Jeru have been able to buy any bread? And on the other hand, if the $$ came ahead of time, then you can’t squeeze in 14 years.

    You can still argue for an unrecorded occasion, of course, but my larger problem is that I really don’t understand your rationale for rejecting option 1.

    If the Jeru letter was indeed such a trump, why expect Paul to play that card right away? It could have seemed much better strategy to let the letter carrier (probably Titus – 2:1,3) keep Jeru’s letter in reserve. Or Paul himself could have carried it as a last resort.

    Personally, I think the main reason they held it in reserve was a soft contempt for it, to begin with. But that may be slightly off topic from the argument at hand.

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  7. I back on this topic since my reading in Galatians is in chapter 2 this week. You said “option b isn’t difficult. It’s impossible.” I am not sure of this. The famine relief might have been money, but the Greek is diakonia, the same word used in Acts 6:1 for the widows who were overlooked in the daily distribution of bread. While it is possible these widows were given cash and told to go buy their food, it is also possible this is a food-distribution as well. Rather than a chest of shekels, perhaps the Antioch church sent a couple of cartloads of flour and oil. (Maybe they had a food-drive?)

    Just because there is a famine does not mean there is no food, but that the little food that is available is more expensive. So a cash-grant could still be in view so that the Jerusalem church could purchase supplies for their widows, etc.

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  8. Thanks for revisiting, Phillip. I’ve long thought the timing and logistics of this relief visit are something that need a much harder shake. One question is whether we believe Agabus really predicted the famine very far in advance. If Antioch had years to prepare, they should not have waited until the food was already expensive. They should have brought money early enough for the Jerusalem church to begin storing up their own grain. (Btw, the city itself would keep large stocks for famines, of course, but with periods of persecution still common, Judean believers couldn’t count on getting a handful like acceptable people.)

    So, problem #1: If they brought money after the shortage struck, why’d they wait?

    Problem’s #2ff revolve around these hypothetical cartloads. I’ve never tried to make precise estimates, but I don’t think two cartloads of provisions would be enough to carry a large group through (at least) two years of famine. Although we don’t know how many mouths we’re talking about, estimates don’t have to get very high before “a couple of cartloads” would become insufficient.

    More troubling yet, how would two men drive two carts over 300 miles down from Antioch? Did they use oxen? What did the oxen eat? I’m guessing two oxen could easily go through a third cartload in 300 miles. But again, the point isn’t to make precise estimates. The point is that the travel involved was prohibitive.

    Besides simple logistics, how one earth would two men *protect* their cartloads and oxen over 300 miles of open land? And during a famine!? Just think of the danger. But at this point the question is not “Could they really have made it?” The question now becomes “Would they even attempt it?” The answer is no.

    Maybe Antioch did have a food drive, in Syria, but if they’d stored up such provisions, and considered the problems of overland delivery, they’d surely have sold it all in Antioch and brought the money to Jerusalem. They could have sold their (hypothetical) oxen and carts as well, to have more money to give.

    I pause, briefly, to note one possible “out” for your view, here. Famine prices are famine prices. Syria may have depended less on Egypt for grain, but it’s conceivable the Antioch saints tried to “time the market”, selling high and then buying low… except that prices probably ran the other way around… but the mission doesn’t have to have been successful.

    Maybe they did bring the money down during the famine, but if they did, they weren’t very capable stewards. And I’d like to think better.

    (Note: money during the famine isn’t impossible; it’s just impractical. But FOOD during the famine is impossible. Those ox carts would have been mobbed at the city gates, if not long before.)

    And again, one big question is Agabus. If he knew in advance, the *most prudent* option that Antioch had was to send money early. I think that would have been the most obvious and most likely choice.

    Wphew. 😉

    Think about it…

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  9. Bill – you are correct, moving grain by the cartload from Antioch to Jerusalem would use up food for the animals, although I suspect that oxen would be given cheaper oats and (my imaginary) carts are carrying milled flour or oil, perhaps other food products (cheese? dried fish?). As for being mobbed at the gates, I suppose that is also possible, if the famine were at an apocalyptic level and there was no rule of Law left. I am under the impression that “famine” means lack of food, not absence of food. I am thinking of inflated prices rather than gangs of roving barbarians ala Mad Max.

    I wondered if Josephus had anything that would clarify the famine, so I did a quick search and didn’t see what I was looking for. However, James Dunn, Beginning at Jerusalem, 276 note 242, provides a look into famine relief in Palestine in the first century. He cites Josephus, 20.51-53, and points out that the Loeb edition has important footnotes. Queen Helena traveled to Jerusalem with a “large sum of money” which was “very advantageous to the people of Jerusalem.” Why? “Many were perishing for want of money to purchase what they needed.” She also sent to Alexandria to buy large quantities grain, and Cyprus for dried figs. her son, King Izates (who converted to Judaism, see my post on 10/3) also sent a large sum of money, which was distributed to the poor.

    So there is both money and food-stuff of some kind provided, and the food was distributed by the civil government of Jerusalem.

    There is a bit more in the footnotes, espeically concerning the chronological problem you raise. But I think I will promote this discussion to a regular post early next week.

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  10. Mad Max made me smile. Fine, forget mobbed at the gates. There was some point along that 300+ miles of road which would not have been safe, even in good times. The point of the ox-diet is to raise a point that was true in general. Large food quantities didn’t go overland, generally. (Neither would Antioch have reduced their budget, whatever it was, to ship by sea.)

    Investigating comparisons with Queen Helena is an absolutely wonderful idea. I admit I’d not done so before now. Thanks immensely.

    Before I go look again, however, I’ll disclose my initial suspicion that the facts in that case more likely suggest a local (Palestinian) famine, not the one c.46-47 which Luke ascribes to the whole ‘oikoumene’ and which, if memory serves, was reported somewhere to have been exacerbated by Egyptian shortages in particular. Or Helena could have showed up in 44 or 45, before things got really bad. (If Tyre & Sidon weren’t regularly accustomed to getting all their food from the Judean-controlled territories, then Acts 12:20 is probably a reference to early regional shortages.)

    Okay, reading…

    The Dunn quote is on p.376 (not 276). Dunn also mentions Helena on p.936, fwiw. Interesting. Quick thoughts:

    * In the Loeb footnotes to Josephus, Agabus’ prescience is implicitly discounted, when it says (p.28) “The famine… was not worldwide, since the disciples in Antioch sent relief”. If Antioch had years advance notice, it could have stocked its own ‘pantry’ well in advance AND sent Jerusalem money, also in advance. But then, we’d have to accept the miraculous prophesy. Of course. 🙂

    * The same footnote also reduces Luke’s “oikoumene” to a mistake, and declares it more regional. Odd to see someone defending Luke by diminishing Luke, but okay.

    * It concludes with a reference to Ant.III, which I don’t have, and another footnote by Thackeray, supposedly about this “worldwide” famine. Do you have this?

    I’ll look more closely at all this if/when I have time. Looking forward to the new post. Will you update this thread with a link, when it does post? I’m way behind on my reader.

    Apologies for the general sloth. Today is Sunday, lovely sunday. But I’ve just begun a new position at work, and the week will begin soon!

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