Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 9:26-31] Paul In Jerusalem

Paul In Jerusalem

Acts 9:26-32

26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

Observations and Reflections

The Acts’ story version of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, and his time spent while being there, does not have a lot of overlap with Paul’s account in Galatians.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James,the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (Galatians 1:18-20)

In the letter to the Galatians Paul is defending his status as an apostle. It is Paul’s belief that he does not require the blessing of the apostles to be a disciple, however, he did meet with them anyways in order to ease his own nerves and the minds of many of his followers. Paul’s account of visiting with the apostles (in Galatians) adds some detail to Luke’s story in Acts 9. The two stories don’t have a lot of overlapping information but they make sense when they are merged.

According to Luke, when Paul went up to Jerusalem (the first time) he was introduced to the believers (disciples) there but did not immediately visit with the disciples. On this first trip, as described in Galatians 1:18-20, Paul traveled to Jerusalem alone. However, in Luke’s recounting, Barnabas was with him who seems to have already been introduced to the apostles. It’s here that we find the first issue with the harmony on these two stories. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 2:1 that it was his 2nd trip to Jerusalem that Barnabas joined him on.

Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. (Galatians 2:1 NIV)

There are many who would say that Barnabas was with Paul on the first trip, but why would Paul use the phrase “this time with Barnabas” unless Barnabas was absent previously?

The answer to this query is that not all English translations agree on this passage. The NASB renders the passage in Galatians 2:1 as such:

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. (Galatians 2:1 NASB)

The NIV has opted to translate from a variant of the Greek text which seems to only be present in the writings of the church patriarchs such as Tertullian and some Coptic manuscripts. All of the manuscripts of an early date and even most manuscripts into the Medieval period read as follows:

Ἔπειτα διὰ δεκατεσσάρων ἐτῶν πάλιν ἀνέβην εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα μετὰ Βαρναβᾶ συμπαραλαβὼν καὶ Τίτον (Galatians 2:1 UBS)

The key to the passage is the presence of the adverb “πάλιν” which we translate to “again”.  It has a few other uses but is contextually linked to the idea of repetition or returning. The second thing to note is “μετὰ Βαρναβᾶ” which means “with Barnabas”. Paul returned to Jerusalem again with Barnabas. Why the NIV chose to not follow suit with 99% of other translations is unknown to myself at this time.

I am familiar with the 2011 NIV translation committee and I know them to be devout scholars. Nevertheless, I believe the most reasonable conclusion is that this passage should be rendered to show Paul AND Barnabas going together on the first and second trip to Jerusalem.

Translation issues aside, it is interesting how generic Luke is in his story telling. According to Luke, Barnabas brought him to the apostles. Paul give a much more specific account, stating that he only met with Cephas (Peter) and James, the brother of Jesus. (Note that even Paul knew that Jesus had a maternal brother.) Luke’s writings cover such a large span of time that he has no choice than to be generic on many occasions. However, Paul’s account seems to harmonize with Luke’s just fine. According to Paul’s telling it appears that he might not have been a major priority for the disciples. This makes sense because Paul’s ministry was very new. But it did not stop Paul from preaching mightily in Jerusalem, the home of the Apostles. 

One thing we learn from Paul’s conversion is that just because one finds the Lord, it does not mean that we will be immediately accepted and trusted. While we are a new creation in Christ, we must also deal with the memories and relationships that we made before conversion. But we must work twice as hard, as Paul did, to leave no doubt that our old selves have died and been buried with Christ, and a new self has emerged alive in Christ.

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