Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Acts 12 or 15?

No doubt, the single most pivotal question for establishing a Christian chronology of the 30s and 40s is whether Paul's second journey to Jerusalem reported in Gal. 2:1-10 refers to the journey narrated in Acts 11/12 (usually abbreviated simply to "Acts 12" in chronological discussions) or Acts 15. The majority of scholars hold that it refers to the journey narrated in Acts 15, whereas a minority of scholars hold to that of Acts 12. Other solutions--that it refers to the journey narrated Acts 18, for instance, or that there is no correspondence between Acts and Paul on this matter--are generally non-starters, for reasons that need not distract us in this post. When we take into account such matters as validity, scope, and parsimony, the hypothesis that Galatians 2:1-10 refers to either the journey narrated in Acts 12 or that in Acts 15 remains that which can best explain the data that we find in both the Lukan and Pauline material. But beyond that, should we prefer the Acts 12 hypothesis, or the Acts 15?

Let us begin with the Acts 15 hypothesis, as it is the majority report. The Acts 15 hypothesis depends upon supposed parallels between this text and Gal. 2:1-10. In Gal. 2:1-10 Paul describes a meeting between himself and "the pillars" in Jerusalem--James, John, and Peter--in which the latter affirm that the former had been entrusted with the gospel for the Gentiles. The Acts 15 hypothesis sees in this an impressive parallel with the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, which narrates a discussion about whether or not Gentile converts should be circumcised. Now, prima facie, the parallels are indeed strong. There are however at least two flies in this ointment. One, the Acts 15 hypothesis has a hard time accounting for Gal. 2:11-14. Gal. 2:11-14 describes a conflict in Antioch over the issue of whether Jewish and Gentile persons can eat together between Paul on the one side and "men from James" on the other, with Peter and Barnabas in the middle, while Acts 15:1-2 states that the conflict in Jerusalem began with a dispute over circumcision in Antioch. Probably most iterations of the Acts 15 hypothesis suppose that the events of Gal. 2:11-14 precede those of Gal. 2:1-10, with the former paralleling Acts 15:1-2. This is deeply problematic, as there is frankly no hint whatsoever in Galatians that Paul intends the reader to think that the events the he reports in 2:11-14 precede those of 2:1-10. Quite the opposite: the "But when" (ὃτε δὲ) with which Paul initiates 2:11 most naturally suggests a temporal progression. Ultimately, although probably the most popular solution, the hypothesis wherein Gal. 2:1-10 parallels Acts 15:3ff. and 2:11-14 parallels 15:1-2 seems to flounder on the data. That said, a variant iteration of the Acts 15 hypothesis is probably more viable on this matter. In this iteration, Acts 15:1-2 has no parallel in Galatians, Acts 15:3ff. parallels Gal. 2:1-10, and Gal. 2:11-14 narrates a conflict that emerged subsequent to the council. This second iteration does not require us to gratuitously suppose that Paul is narrating the course of events out of temporal order, but it also does not escape the second challenge faced by the Acts 15 hypothesis, namely the number of journeys to Jerusalem undertaken by Paul.

In Gal. 1-2, Paul is much concerned to show that he had little contact with the leadership in Jerusalem. He lists the times that he went, specifying with whom he met and how little they contributed to his understanding of the gospel. In 1:18, he mentions that he went to Jerusalem after three years and met with no apostles but Peter and James. This journey can be quite unobjectionably be identified with that narrated in Acts 9:26-30. In 2:1-10, he states that he went to Jerusalem after fourteen years, and met with Peter, James, and John. On the Acts 15 hypothesis, this second journey mentioned in Galatians is actually the third narrated by Acts. One either has to conclude that Paul has failed to mention that second journey, or that Luke has introduced a journey that never happened. The former hypothesis is often advanced, on the basis that Paul is only concerned to narrate instances in which he interacted with the leadership in Jerusalem. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, Acts 11:30 of course specifies that Barnabas and Paul were sent to meet with the elders on the second journey. Now, yes, elsewhere Luke will distinguish between apostles and elders, and Paul specifically in Gal. 1-2 refers to meetings with apostles. But if anything that weakens the Acts 15 argument, for if Paul is concerned to show how little interaction he had with the apostles in Jerusalem then surely it would serve his rhetorical purpose to mention a journey to the holy city in which he didn't even meet with them (if it is objected that this construal of Pauline intent is speculative, I would observe that it is no more so than the argument that Paul is only interested in narrating journeys to Jerusalem in which he met specifically with the apostles). And in any case, there is enough slippage between the elders and the apostles that we probably do not have adequate warrant to conclude that the elders of Acts 11:30 must exclude the apostles.

By contrast, the Acts 12 hypothesis not only reads Gal. 2:1-14 in sequential order, has a very straightforward explanation for why Paul only mentions two visits to Jerusalem: as of the time that we was writing Galatians, he'd only taken two visit. In this understanding, Gal. 1:18 refers to the visit of Acts 9, 2:1-10 to the visit of Acts 12, and 2:11-14 to the events of Acts 15:1 (although not of Acts 15:2; rather, we need to assume that Paul is writing as he prepares to travel to Jerusalem for the council). In short, it combines the best of both worlds. Indeed, there is virtually only one substantial challenge that can be raised against the Acts 12 hypothesis, and that is that Luke doesn't mention any sort of conflict or discussion that takes place during that visit. Such an argument however is limited in its strength, for at least two reasons: one, Luke is always highly selective in what he presents; two, as recognized since at least F.C. Baur, Luke tends to emphasize the irenic side of inter-apostolic relationships, and as such is not necessarily inclined to report every single conflict that took place. Indeed, given the first of these reasons, lacunae in Luke's accounts should generally not be taken as evidence of absence (this, incidentally, is quite the opposite situation of the problem with the number of journeys, wherein on the Acts 15 hypothesis it is Paul who has a lacuna precisely where we'd expect there not to be one).

For comparative purposes, I have devised a handy chart.


Acts 12
Acts 15/Gal. 2 sequential
Acts 15/Gal. 2 non-sequential
Gal. 2:1-14 in sequential order?
Yes
Yes
No
Both are Paul’s second journey?
Yes
No
No
Acts 15:1 has Galatian parallel?
Yes
No
Yes
Acts 15:2 has Galatian parallel?
No
No
Yes
Both mention a conflict?
No
Yes
Yes

Given that it is unlikely that Paul is narrating events out of sequence in Galatians 2:1-14 and the Lukan tendencies to elide details and present an irenic front, the sequential order and the number of journeys should probably be taken as the most definitive factors. And when this is recognized, Acts 12 presents as the strongest hypothesis.

And once again, that is how historians do.

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