It is here that we are met by inconsistency once again, only this time it is caused by the discrepancies in 'biblical history'. Paul's letters and the book of Acts disagree in important aspects, and it is Luke's narrative that comes into question.
Even in our own studies, Paul creates controversy. Scholars are forced to choose which writing is legitimate, and in this case they must choose Galatians. The Interpreter's Bible puts it as eloquently as is possible in a situation like this. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9: Page 126)
It is unfortunate that one writing must be set against another, especially so when one is authored by the writer of a synoptic gospel, Luke. If his facts were 'disoriented' when involving a personal friend whom he accompanied on many journeys, how far afield from the truth must his third hand essay of Jesus be? More so when Paul's honesty is to come under close scrutiny later in this thesis. This is no trivial matter.
The beginning of Paul's activities, according to Acts, begins almost simultaneously with his conversion, but Paul's own account of events as written in Galatians, disagrees completely with Luke's.
As we read of Paul's activities in, Acts 9:20-29; 11:29-30; 15:1-29 or in Gal. 1:15-2:10, two very different pictures are presented, for Luke's writing refuses to accept the element of time and its passage. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9: Page 10)
We are told repeatedly, by both Paul and his later interpreter's, that he did not go up to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion. And in fact, Paul's public ministry did not begin after that short visit, but at least fourteen years later. In the end, seventeen to twenty years pass into obscurity before we hear from Saul of Tarsus again.
But allow us to digress for the moment to fully explore this area of the New Testament. When discussing the events following Saul's conversion, Acts must be examined against Paul's own written word.
"For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus..." (Acts 9:19-20; RSV)
"...I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were (A)apostles before me, but I went into Arabia..." (Galatians 1:16-17; RSV)
The contradictions are obvious, and are best stated by, The Interpreter's Bible. Paul says that after his conversion he, "...went away into Arabia" (Gal. 1:17). Acts indicates that he began preaching at once. If nothing else, Luke's account is historically incorrect. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9: Page 125)
The noted gospel writer comes under fire by his 'presumed' close friend's written word. Luke seems to complicate matters by having the Jews of Damascus try to kill Paul in that city. Then, as though to compress time, he has Paul arrive in Jerusalem to join the disciples. But Paul is turned away. (Acts 9:23-26; KJV; RSV)
Paul states that it was three years before he went to Jerusalem. Luke has cut this to a matter of days. Luke indicates that Paul was turned away by the disciples in Jerusalem because they feared him. According to Paul, this is not true.
Paul swears that he was only in Jerusalem for fifteen days, and that the only Apostle he saw were Peter and James the Lord's brother. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9: Page 125)
"Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other Apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing you, before God, I do not lie!)" (Galatians 1:18-20)
The fact that Paul is so adamant about what he has said, in fact swearing an oath that he is telling the truth, would force us to consider that he may well have been defending himself against someone else's statement concerning the event. By swearing an oath in the matter we must also question why Paul would be so determined in denying a simple meeting with the disciples. If it is the first time we see this in evidence, it will not be the last.
Luke also tells us that Paul, "...preached boldly in the name of the Lord." But this is contradicted by Galatians." (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 9; Page 125)
Though Paul went into Arabia, there is no suggestion as to how long he was permitted to stay in that country. Being forced to leave, he went to Damascus, and then after three years, went to Jerusalem. But why was Paul compelled to escape over the city wall? If theologians indicate that his preaching in the synagogues in Damascus was highly unlikely, it would have been even more improbable that he did so in King Aretas' presence.
In fact, it was King Aretas, King of the Arabias, and not the Jews who tried to have Paul killed. The reason is unknown to this day, but Luke would have us believe that it was due to Paul's preaching. So what is the truth of this matter?
Paul was always getting into trouble with authority figures, including the Disciples, and his stay in Arabia was probably very short. King Aretas IV, king of the Nabataens, reigned from 9 BC to 40 AD. For some reason, Paul angered Aretas and was forced to return to Damascus. It is doubtful, considering the time element and the circumstances, that it had anything to do with preaching the Gospel. (The Interpreter's Bible; Volume 10: Page459-460)
"At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped his hands." (II Corinthians 11:32-33; RSV)
Paul does not tell us why he was pursued, and only pure conjecture would dare to assume that it was due to his preaching. It has been indicated by experts that it was highly unlikely at such an early period in Paul's life. Beside the information given to us by theologians, we must also remember that it would be another fourteen years before Paul's public ministry began.
Wherever he lingered, it was at this point that Paul retreated to Jerusalem. Looking at this matter with the advantage of having a fairly complete picture of Paul's 'problems', he may well have had nowhere else to go but to the Apostles. It would seem that he had few if any choices.
At this point other opinions must be brought into the discussion, but it seems that major translators and theologians find our argument of some value.
It is doubtful that Paul was aware of any gentile mission at this time, and professional theologians agree with this conclusion. The next thirteen or fourteen years after the event on the Damascus road is a matter for conjecture. At that point he went to Arabia (the Nabataen kingdom). We cannot begin to suggest that he began his 'ministry' at this point in time. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 874: 764a)
There is also agreement that it was three years after his conversion that he went to Jerusalem. The visit was certainly not by invitation because the Jewish Christians were still terrified of Paul. Years later it would take the sponsorship of Barnabas to bring him to that city and the Jerusalem Church. The first visit, by all accounts including Paul's, was short and involved a private meeting between Peter, James, and himself. (Galatians 1:18; RSV)
At this point, Paul sinks into oblivion. He is gone into regions which might have included his home of Tarsus in Turkey, and there it is possible that he stayed in the territories of Cilicia and Syria.
"Then I went into the regions of Syria and Celicia... Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas..." (Galatians 1:21-2:1; RSV)
By Paul's own admission he was still unknown, "...by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea." This statement is made in Galatians 1:22, indicating that he was still not actively preaching 'in the world'.
But events were taking place, and as was usual, Paul's ego was acting in direct opposition to good sense. This method of operation, as already noted, left Paul in a constant 'escape' mode. More unfortunately, it left those who were innocent bystanders to suffer the punishment better deserved by Paul himself. On more than one occasion, Paul escaped problems he had started, and left his so-called congregations to face the anger of civil and religious authorities.
"...And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus." (Acts 9:29-30; RSV)
Ac. 9:26-29 also argues against any Gentile mission before this time. (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 874: 764a)
Peake's Commentary on the Bible, makes a telling statement about this lengthy period in Paul's life. It would appear to agree with the conclusions drawn by this student and the very word of Acts 9:30; Galatians 1:21, 2:1. The statement this volume makes is definite.
"Of these years we know nothing." (Peake's Commentary on the Bible; Page 874: 764b)