A Supposed Conflict in Paul’s Acts 9 Trip.
If you have not read Stories Versus Truth, you may want to read that before reading this.
Don’t forget where you are going. You get past the questions/attacks so you can proclaim the Gospel. It is the proclamation of the Gospel, not argumentation, that transforms minds. See Give Them the Gospel.
You may hear a question about the Synoptic Gospels like the following: “Concerning the trip of Paul, according to Acts 9 Paul immediately went to Jerusalem right after his conversion. However in Galatians Paul himself said that he went Jerusalem after some time, maybe after 3 years. What is the explanation?”
How to Handle This Question
(The parts in quotes are just examples of what you might say or ask.)
Don’t let Satan turn any discussion into a contest. Contests have winners and losers and no one likes to be a loser. Discuss without turning the other person into a loser or turning yourself into the winner.
It is best to ask them a few questions first and to listen to their answers. Be careful of your tone that you are not shutting down the conversation. This is not a cross examination. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
- “What makes you think that this is a contradiction?”
- “Tell me about this contradiction. How convinced are you that this is truly a contradiction?”
- “What is your understanding of what a contradiction is?”
- “Have you ever thought about the reason that we know that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is without error?”
Let them know you understand. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
- “I can understand how you might ask this.”
- “I actually can relate to how you feel.”
- “I’m hearing what you are saying, and I think I understand.”
Relate to them. “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” Proverbs 18:19 “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” Proverbs 11:12
- “When I first heard this question, it seemed to challenge what I know to be true.
- “I used to feel the same way.”
- “At first glance, this gives the appearance of being a problem.”
- “This is a valid question, and one that I have gone to God about.”
- “Would you like to hear why I believe that the perceived contradictions in the Bible are not really contradictions but rather paradoxes?”
Tell them what God has shown to you
- “The questions implies a contradiction that are not in the text. I would say that an ungodly person is trying to deceive you. There is no contradiction between these two accounts. Concerning when things happened and how many trips Paul took to Jerusalem and other details that are not available to us, an honest person would say, “We have no way of knowing.” There may be details missing in one account that are not in the other, but this does not constitute a contradiction. Remember not to add or take away from the Word. This adding and taking away is usually done unconsciously through world-views, paradigms, assumptions, and rationalizations.
Acts 9: (NKJV)
19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
This happened in Damascus.
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”
Where did this happen? Is there a way to know? There is a reference in verses 20-21 to something that Paul previously did in Jerusalem, but these verses do not say that Paul was in Jerusalem. From the following, it looks like Paul immediately preached in Damascus, which is far to the North of Jerusalem. However, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul adds another bit of detail that he went to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. So, Paul started in Damascus, went to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus. Not too mysterious or hard to understand. The fact that a detail is mentioned in one account and not in another is not a contradiction. If fact, it is normal for anyone to speak of the same event on several occasions and mention different details each time when recounting the event. Everyone does this. They do not do this to deceive or because they are crazy. They do it because there is no contradiction.
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.
24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.
25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.
The above all happened in Damascus. So far Paul has not visited Jerusalem. The “disciples” mentioned here are not the 12, but the disciples in Damascus.
26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.
When was this? We don’t know from this verse. From Galatians, it looks like this was three years later, although it could have been an earlier trip than the one mentioned in Galatians or the same trip as the one in Galatians.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.
29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.
30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.
1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
1:16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
This confirms Acts 20.
1:17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
This confirms Acts 20 and mentions one other detail: the trip to Arabia. The extra detail here does not constitute an contradiction.
1:18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.
1:19 But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
There is no contradiction between these two accounts.“
- “The reason that we believe that the Bible is the Word of God and that it is without error or contradiction is based in personal revelation. God shows us. Everyone recognizes the limits of raw human reasoning (the reasoning of the human mind without the Intelligence of the Creator flowing through the human mind) and observation, yet we place way too much emphasis on these weaknesses. For every person, God is speaking to us perpetually. 1 Peter 1:23 tells us that we have been born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the utterance of God, which lives and abides to the eon. It is this utterance on which faith is based. Our faith is NOT based on nothing at all. Taking Roman 10:17 as it is written in the original language, it says: So then supernatural belief comes by hearing, and hearing by the utterance of God. Jesus told Satan that man shall not live by bread alone but by every utterance that proceeds from the mouth of the Father. How silly if we rationalize a solution that goes contrary to what God Himself is telling us. And if we want to do God’s will, we will be able to know the difference between that which comes from God and that which comes from Satan. There are, in the final analysis, only two ultimate sources of ideas, thoughts, and actions.”
It is then good to ask an open followup question (not a “yes” or “no” question) to allow them to process what you have said.
- “How do you see this as applying to your life?”
- “What are your thoughts?”
- “Where do you see this as different from your point/question?”