Paul’s activity after his heavenly vision in Acts 9 seems to suggest an independence from the Apostles as far as authority is concerned. That is, he didn’t need their approval or authorization to preach the Gospel where and when he thought the Lord led. It was about three years after his transformation that he even attempted to see the Apostles (Acts 9:26-28), and even then his visit arose out of the circumstances at hand. That is, he was no longer able to stay in Damascus, so he was then ready to meet with the Twelve.
Due to the sudden need to leave Damascus, there is no reason to assume Paul had attempted to make any plans to visit with Peter or anyone else at Jerusalem. That is, he didn’t plan the journey, so he didn’t try to contact Peter to arrange a meeting with him. Circumstance dictated Paul’s efforts to meet with the Apostles. We know from Acts 23:16-22 that Paul had family in Jerusalem and probably stayed with them prior to meeting with Peter. It is believed by some scholars on the basis of Galatians 1:19 that Paul didn’t actually see any of the Twelve except for Peter. However, although this may true, the context of Galatians 1:18-19 has meeting for the purpose of discussion in view. Paul was attempting to show the Galatians that his Gospel was not dependent upon the authority of the Twelve, not necessarily that he never actually saw any of the Twelve with his own eyes except for Peter.
The context may also presume secrecy. We must not forget the tense situation that existed in Jerusalem. Paul had left Jerusalem three years earlier a persecutor and a zealot for the Law, but returned a Messianic Jew more dangerous to the established Jewish authority than Stephen proved to be. His trip to Jerusalem, therefore, was a dangerous one for himself, but his presence also placed the church at Jerusalem between a rock and a hard place. Remember, at this point, the Twelve had not been preaching to Gentiles or that they were equal to Jews in the sight of God. This was Paul’s Gospel and perhaps Stephen’s as well, but the Apostles were not so ready to accept this point of view at this time in the history of the Jesus Movement. Therefore, Paul’s meetings for the purpose of discussion, as implied in Galatians 1:18-19, were with Peter only, for he was the acknowledged leader of the Twelve. Paul also met with James, Jesus’ brother in the flesh, for a short time. However, I do not see that what Paul says in Galatians prevents Luke’s remark in Acts 9:28. Some have suggested that Luke is wrong, assuming Paul’s “coming in and going out (with them) at Jerusalem” means he was often seen with the Twelve. Nevertheless, I don’t believe it is overly harmonizing to say, first of all, Paul had discussion in view in his letter to the Galatians. Secondly, the phrase in question appears to be a Jewish idiom. Luke probably did not have seeing the Twelve in mind in Acts 9:28, and therefore, the whole aspect of actually seeing the Twelve would be moot as far as Luke’s writing is concerned. The phrase: “coming in and going out” is probably a Jewish idiom showing the Jerusalem church recognized Paul’s leadership (Number 27:16-17; 2Samuel 5:2; 1Kings 3:7); that is, they accepted his apostleship as being of the Lord.
The fact that Paul met specifically with two representatives of the Jerusalem church, Peter and James may suggest their different approach to the Gospel, just as Stephen’s was a different approach. James most likely represented a more conservative wing of the Jerusalem church, which may be the reason he seems to be the sole head of the church at Jerusalem by the time of the Acts 15 council. Peter certainly seems to be in authority at Jerusalem in Acts 9, but the Twelve probably had to flee Jerusalem due to the persecution begun by King Agrippa cir. 43 CE, leaving James as the leading or most significant authority at Jerusalem and the acknowledged leader of the conservative Messianic Jews there.
I believe the Twelve would have represented the moderate wing when considering Stephen and the Grecian Jews (Hellenists) represented the more liberal approach to the Gospel. It was the liberal wing that was first to be persecuted by the Sadducee priesthood. After the Acts 10 understanding, as it pertains to Cornelius and the Gentiles, James, the brother of John and one of the sons of thunder, may have been a little too outspoken for the comfort of Matthias, the high priest and son of Annas. James’ death may have come at the prompting or advice of the high priest, and the fact that it was a beheading shows James’ execution was that of a traitor, not a criminal. We have no record that the Twelve were in Jerusalem after James’ death except for the meeting in Acts 15. This understanding that James, the brother of the Lord, did not have to leave with the Twelve, coupled with the fact that Paul met with Peter and James in Acts 9 (cp. Galatians 1:18-19), suggests that James may represent the most conservative wing of the Messianic believers at Jerusalem.
Eventually, while at Jerusalem Paul sought out his old friends in the Grecian synagogues there. Perhaps he thought past relationships would give him leverage for the sake of the Gospel, but it ended in him having to flee for his life. Whether his discussions with Peter and James were over by the time this occurred or whether the danger brought an abrupt end to them, the text doesn’t say. In any event, it was no longer permissible for Paul to remain in Jerusalem for both his sake and the church’s that operated from there. The brethren took him at night and accompanied him as far as Caesarea. From there he returned to his home city of Tarsus where he continued to preach the Gospel, until Barnabas sought him out for the ministry at Antioch.