Are Galatians 1:18-19 and Acts 9:26-28 contradictions?


by Shawn Brasseaux

“Are Galatians 1:18-19 and Acts 9:26-28 referring to the same event? If so do they contradict each other (in Galatians, Paul saw only Peter and James; in Acts, Barnabas introduced Paul to all the apostles)?”

Thank you, friend, for submitting that question. We should always give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. Whenever we find verses or passages that appear to be mistakes, that should motivate us to study God’s Word to learn special insight about the verses or passages in question. Let me show you what I mean.

First, Galatians 1:18-19: “[18] Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. [19] But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.”

Now, Acts 9:26-28: “[26] And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. [27] But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. [28] And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.”

Are these really contradictions?

  • Paul went to Jerusalem, saw Peter and stayed with him for 15 days, Paul seeing none of the other apostles but James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:18-19).
  • Paul went to Jerusalem, and Barnabas brought Paul to the apostles (Acts 9:26-28).

Note that Luke does not provide the names of these “apostles” in Acts 9:26-29. He simply uses the plural noun. There is no explicit indication that Saul/Paul met all 12 apostles at first, either, when he came to Jerusalem. Verse 27’s “apostles” means at least two but not necessarily all 12. Galatians 1:18-19 says Saul saw Peter and James. These equal two apostles, the least number needed to meet the qualification “apostles” in Acts 9:27. Maybe Galatians 1:18-19 and Acts 9:27 are talking about the same two apostles. We cannot be certain.

Acts 9:27-29 indicates Saul spent some time preaching in Jerusalem. That may have been the 15 days with Peter referenced in Galatians 1:18. Paul may have met the rest of the 12 apostles here. I think the point in Galatians was that he simply did not meet all 12 apostles at once. He only met Peter and James at first, and then maybe—though not clear here—he met the rest of the apostles at some later time during that same visit to Jerusalem.

Here is what we know for sure:

  1. Acts 9:25 matches Galatians 1:17.
  2. Acts 9:30 matches Galatians 1:21.
  3. So, Acts 9:26-29 would fit during Saul’s visit to Jerusalem in Galatians 1:18-19. Saul evidently only visited Jerusalem once in this context. It was one visit to Jerusalem, but Paul provides only some details while Luke provides other details.*
  4. Saul spent 15 days in Jerusalem with Peter (Galatians 1:18).
  5. Sometime during that one visit to Jerusalem, Saul also met James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:18).

If we give the Bible the benefit of the doubt that there is no contradiction, we can combine the testimonies of Acts 9:26-29 and Galatians 1:17-19 to see this timeline:

  1. Saul leaves Damascus and comes to Jerusalem three years later (Galatians 1:17-18; cf. Acts 9:22-26).
  2. He attempts to join some of the Kingdom disciples but they are afraid of him (Acts 9:26). Galatians omits this.
  3. Barnabas finds Saul and brings him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). Meeting the “apostles” here may be the meeting with Peter and James (Galatians 1:18). Acts does not give names or numbers here so we have to use Galatians that provides names and numbers. Somewhere during this time, Saul stays with Peter 15 days (Galatians 1:18).

Remember, Paul’s intention in Galatians chapter 1 is not to give a detailed explanation of everything in Acts chapter 9. His main argument in Galatians is to prove that he had no contact with Israel’s 12 apostles for the first few years of his Christian life. In other words, the 12 did not teach Paul doctrine. Jesus Christ Himself taught him directly (Galatians 1:11-12). Paul had been saved at least three years (Galatians 1:18) prior to meeting with Peter and the other 11 apostles of Israel. Again, Saul may have met all 12 apostles in Acts 9:27, we cannot be sure. If he did meet all 12, then according to Galatians chapter 1, his coming to Jerusalem involved meeting Peter and James first before meeting the others.

* Luke and Paul do not have 100 percent identical accounts because they are from different points-of-view. Furthermore, they have different reasons for writing in their respective books. The testimonies of independent witnesses will always have slight differences, even when describing the same event. That actually strengthens their claim for authenticity. There is no word-for-word account provided by both Luke and Paul, so the Bible critic cannot cry out, “Fabrication!” (Just a little food for thought, friend!)

Also see:
» Were there five crosses on Calvary?
» Why does the Bible give two accounts of Judas’s death?
» Do Acts 9:7 and Acts 22:9 contradict each other?