Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Harmonizing Luke and Paul (Part 1 of 2)

     The activities of Paul after his conversion at Damascus are briefly detailed in Galatians 1:15-24. The problem is, Paul’s version of events is different from the historical information provided by Luke, and the two accounts are difficult to harmonize. Apparent discrepancies include the following:
First, Luke gives the impression that Paul went to Jerusalem shortly after his conversion (Acts 9:26), but Paul says there was at least a three-year interval (Gal. 1:18).
Second, Luke reports that Paul “was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out” (Acts 9:28)1 and preached “in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea” (Acts 26:20), whereas Paul claims that he “was unknown by face to the churches of Judea ...” (Gal. 1:22).
Third, Luke mentions that Paul met “the apostles,” implying that he met all of them (Acts 9:27), yet Paul affirms that he saw only Peter and James (Gal. 1:18-19).
Finally, Paul seems to include James “the Lord’s brother” among the apostles (Gal. 1:19), while Luke does not (Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13).
     The first two difficulties are reasonably simple to resolve. Luke’s purpose in writing the book of Acts was not to give an intricately detailed description of the early church’s activities. In fact, he covers approximately 32 years of history in only 28 chapters. His brief historical overview is easily filled in with information recorded elsewhere in the New Testament. The statement, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem …” (Acts 9:26), does not indicate whether this was immediately after his initial stay in Damascus or after a few years. No time period is specified, therefore no discrepancy exists between the respective accounts of Luke and Paul.
     Next, how could Paul have preached “in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea” (Acts 26:20) and yet be “unknown by face to the churches of Judea” (Gal. 1:22)? First of all, Jerusalem is often distinguished from the rest of Judea (Luke 5:17; 6:17; Acts 1:8; 2:14; 8:1; 26:20). Secondly, Paul was preaching to non-Christians in Judea, not to the churches (Acts 9:29; 22:18; 26:17-23). Again, Luke’s version of events is easily harmonized with Paul’s.
     A more challenging dilemma is Luke’s intimation that Paul met all the apostles (Acts 9:27), while Paul claims that he saw only Peter and James (Gal. 1:18-19). The word translated “to see” (NKJV) in verse 18 is historeô, which actually means to visit for the purpose of getting to know someone (BAGD 383). The NASB renders this word, “to become acquainted with.” Paul did more than just casually observe Peter. He spent time with and got to know him.
     When Paul writes that he did not “see” the other apostles (Gal. 1:19), the word he uses here is eidon. Like historeô, the term eidon has a broader range of meanings than simply to view with one’s eyes. It can also carry the idea of experiencing something or visiting with someone (cf. Luke 8:20; 17:22; 1 Thess. 2:17; 3:10). For Paul, “seeing” (eidon) the brethren in Corinth meant spending time with them (1 Cor. 16:3-7). It is also used in the sense of getting to know someone (cf. Luke 9:9; 23:8; John 12:21; Acts 28:20). Paul wanted to “see” (eidon) the saints in Rome, which involved much more than just looking at them (Rom. 1:10-15). Paul seems to be saying in Gal. 1:18-19, considering that eidon is so closely connected with historeô, that he simply did not get acquainted with the other apostles. Apparently he was briefly introduced to them (Acts 9:27), but he only spent considerable time with and got to know Peter and James.  Thus, the accounts of Paul and Luke are not inconsistent.
     The final and more difficult challenge is determining which James is referred to in this passage and whether or not he was actually included among the apostles. There is more than one person identified as “James” in the New Testament. One is John’s brother, the son of Zebedee and Salome (Matt. 4:21; 27:56; cf. Mark 15:40), killed by Herod Agrippa I in the year 44 (Acts 12:2). But it is highly unlikely that he is the one considered by Paul in Galatians 1:19. Another of the twelve apostles was also called James, namely the son of Alphaeus and Mary (Matt. 27:56; 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). He is probably the one also known as “James the Less” (Mark 15:40). Could this have been the James identified by Paul in Galatians 1:19 as the Lord’s brother?
     Jesus was not an only child, and he did have a brother named James. Joseph had no sexual relations with Mary until she had given birth to Jesus, her firstborn son (Matt. 1:25; Luke 2:7). If Jesus had been her only child, he would have been described as her huion monogenê (“only son”) rather than her huion prôtotokon (“firstborn son”). There is a strong implication here that Mary had other children after Jesus was born. Moreover, the Gospels reveal that Jesus had at least four half-brothers and at least two or more half-sisters, and the brothers were named James, Jose[s/ph], Simon, and Judas (Matt. 13:55-56; Mark 6:3).
     It is interesting that among the apostles were those who also wore the names James, Simon, and Judas (Luke 6:15-16), and attempts have been made to identify them as the Lord’s brothers. One argument against this conclusion is the distinction made between the apostles and the brothers of Jesus (Acts 1:13-14). But this objection is not conclusive since the same apparent distinction is also made regarding the apostle Peter (1 Cor. 9:5; cf. Mark 16:7). However, that the half-brothers of Jesus were not counted among the original apostles is evident from the fact that even after the twelve had been chosen (John 6:67), the Lord’s brothers did not believe in him as the Christ (John 7:5).2 The next article will consider this further.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.
     2 Neither is there sufficient data to support the hypothesis that Joseph and Alphaeus were brothers and James was the product of a Levirate marriage between Joseph and Alphaeus' widow. 

Related Posts: Harmonizing Luke & Paul Part 2James and the Law of MosesThe Epistle of JacobWhat did Paul do in Arabia?

Image credit: Rembrandt’s “Two Old Men Disputing,” <>.

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