[NB: This is based on an excerpt from my upcoming book on Galatians.]
In Galatians 2 Paul reports a meeting in Jerusalem with “the Pillars.” In this meeting he brings along Titus as a test case for Gentile salvation.
With respect to the book of Acts, when does this meeting take place? There are three possibilities. First, “after fourteen years” in 2:1 may refer to the time since Paul’s conversion. Galatians 2:1-10 would therefore refer to the “famine visit” (Acts 11:29-30). Luke tells us that Barnabas and Paul deliver a gift from Antioch to the poor believers in Jerusalem in response to a prophecy from Agabus. Paul says in Galatians he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation (2:1) and he was told to continue to remember the poor (Gal 2:10). “Remembering the poor” in Jerusalem is exactly what the famine relief visit intended to do. A serious problem for this position is Acts 11:29-30 does not mention a meeting with any of the leaders in the Jerusalem church, whether public or private.
A second possibility is the event takes place “after fourteen years” from the last time reference in Galatians, Paul’s three years in Arabia. This would mean the visit took place seventeen years after his conversion. Galatians 2:1-10 would therefore be Paul’s report of the meeting in Acts 15. This meeting, usually called the “Jerusalem conference,” discussed the relationship of Gentiles and the Law. There are several problems with this view.
In Acts 15, Paul does not go to Jerusalem in response to a revelation. He is responding to some teachers in Antioch who are arguing Gentiles must submit to circumcision. Second, there is no reference to Titus in Acts 15, in fact, Titus is not mentioned at all in Acts. Third, the meeting in Acts 15 seems public: “the apostles and elders gathered.” In Gal 2: 2 Paul specifically states he met privately with those who were “influential.” Fourth, while the issue in both Acts 15 and Gal 2:1-10 is circumcision of Gentile believers, Paul does not refer to the decision of the conference or the letter drafted by James in his letter to the Galatians. The only hint is that Paul was told to continue to remember the poor, but he has already been doing that for some time by Acts 15.
A third possibility is Paul went to Jerusalem on another occasion and met with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. This would mean Gal 2:1-10 does not refer to either Acts 11:29-30 or Acts 15. If it is the case, Paul does not mention the famine visit in the letter. It is possible he did not need to since he did not meet with any leaders at that time. Potentially this could be a problem if his opponents pointed out that Paul had more contact with Jerusalem than he admitted on in his letter.
All things considered, I think the third option is best for understanding this meeting in Gal 2:1-10. At some time prior to Acts 15, perhaps even before his first missionary journey, Paul met with Peter and James in order to establish a precedence for Gentiles who accept Jesus as savior. Paul’s success among the Gentiles created a class of believer who was neither ethnically Jewish nor a convert (or near-convert) to Judaism. At the time of this meeting, Peter and James agree these Gentiles are not converting to a form of Judaism and are therefore not required to keep the Old Covenant.
I realize this is something of a controversial issue – Longenecker and Still simply state the problem and point the reader to more technical discussions in the commentaries (Thinking Through Paul, 92). How does an early date (before the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15) change the way one reads Galatians? Or, alternatively, if the letter was written after Acts 15, how does Paul’s description of the event in Galatians differ from Acts?