Luke vs. Paul – Truth or Confusion

17 May

If the Bible can be proved to be in error, what would be our authority for truth about God? Unless we have certain truth about God, all we could have concerning an unseen God would be pure conjecture. Isn’t that so? It would be something like—your guess is as good as mine. Who could authoritatively tell us what God is really like, and who could prove that the false prophet is… well, false? I’ve been reading various websites that concern themselves with disproving the word of God by presuming contradictions in Paul’s conversion either within Luke’s three accounts of the event or between Acts 9 and Paul’s letters, especially Galatians. I thought it would be fun if we dwelt upon these things for a few blog-posts.

One such website sees a contradiction between Galatians 1:16 and Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9:3-20. According to the administrator of the site, Paul’s vision was clear and he didn’t confer or discuss it with anyone, because this is what Paul claims in Galatians 1:16.

The problem is, Paul makes no such statement in Galatians 1:16. The context of Paul’s letter is one of defense. Whoever had corrupted his Gospel to the Galatians did so by claiming Paul’s Gospel was subject to the Gospel of the Apostles in Jerusalem. He was accused of receiving it from them but apparently changed some things or left some important matters out. In his letter to the Galatians Paul was defending himself against THIS accusation (cp. Galatians 1:6-8; 3:1; 5:10), namely, that Paul received his Gospel from the Twelve and, therefore, could not add to it or take anything away from it. Paul’s defense was that, since he received his Gospel from the Lord and not the Twelve, it must be given an equal place with the the Gospel to the Jews. This was Paul’s argument in Galatians. Therefore, any discussion he may have had with Ananias (who was not one of the Twelve) would be another matter entirely and could not be a contradiction of Galatians 1:16.

Luke is accused of claiming Paul needed help understanding his vision of Jesus, but Luke makes no such claim nor does he even imply that Paul was confused. Consider, for example, that Luke mentions that, while Paul was in Damascus waiting, the Lord had continued to reveal himself to Paul and what should occur (Acts 9:12). The Lord even told Paul the name of the one who would heal him. Moreover, Ananias was told that the Lord would reveal (implying later visions) to Paul things he would suffer for his name sake (Acts 9:16). So, more and more would be revealed to Paul in other visions as time went on. Rather than Ananias telling Paul what Paul’s own vision was all about, I see the coming of Ananias as confirmation from the Lord of all that occurred to Paul. Although the Lord revealed everything to Paul, he had no way of knowing if he was dreaming or hallucinating, but the matter was established with two witnesses. Ananias’ healing Paul, while repeating some of the words the Lord had spoken to him, confirmed to Paul all that he had experienced.

Another problem some critics see is that Luke makes no mention of Paul’s three years in Arabia. However, why would this be considered a contradiction or a flaw in Luke’s account? Luke makes no mention of the collection of the saints throughout Galatia, Asia and Greece for the poor at Jerusalem either. Does this mean Luke knows nothing about it? I hardly think so. A scroll had limited space and an author had to stick with the theme that established the point he wished to make. Any tangent or repetition occurring in his work would be very important to the author. Paul mentions his labor in Arabia only once, and that only to establish the importance of his work elsewhere. If that trip wasn’t considered important to Paul, why should it be considered important to Luke? Luke gives the briefest account of Paul’s activity in order to show the rapid spread of the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. He cannot spend too much time and precious manuscript space on matters that do not support his overall theme.

Nevertheless, at least one website administrator not only believes that Luke contradicts Galatians 1:16 by recording Ananias’ meeting and subsequent discussion with Paul, but he also has Paul almost immediately leaving Damascus for Jerusalem to consult with the Apostles. However, as I said above, Paul’s discussion with Ananias does not contradict Paul’s statement in Galatians, and neither would Luke’s failure to mention Paul’s three year excursion into Arabia mean he didn’t know about it or contradicts what Paul says about himself in Galatians.

A meeting with the Apostles, especially Peter, was necessary for both Paul and Jerusalem. First of all, the Apostles needed to know what the Lord had revealed to Paul. It was always known that the gentiles would be converted, but it was never understood how that would occur. It was assumed that they had to become Jews—i.e. embrace the only faith begun by God, a natural understanding, but fundamentally wrong. Secondly, Paul needed to know the oral traditions – i.e. the history of Jesus’ ministry. Whether in hard copy or orally rehearsed before him, Paul needed to be informed of the details of Jesus public ministry, and that must come from the Apostles. This is why Paul, himself, admits that he spent 15 days with Peter (Galatians 1:18). Why would he spend two weeks with Peter, if a conference between them wasn’t necessary? We agree the meeting between the two wasn’t to learn what Paul should do concerning his vision, but a conference with Peter lasting 15 days did occur and this by Paul’s not Luke’s admission.

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Paul's conversion


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