1. Acts 15 presents what is sometimes called the Jerusalem Council. The issue is whether non-Jewish believers have to get circumcised in order to escape God's wrath and be "saved."
Acts 15 presents a very orderly and peaceful series of events. There is a disagreement at Antioch over the issue. Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas to HQ for advice. The Jerusalem church welcomes them.
Then some believers who are Pharisees argue that the Gentile believers must fully convert. The apostles and elders consider the issue. Then Peter shares about his experience with Cornelius, and Paul and Barnabas share their missionary experiences.
James, the brother of Jesus, seems to render the final verdict. He quotes Scripture. He wants to make it easy for Gentiles to get in (After all, they already have Moses and aren't going to flock in with the same requirements as before). He gives four requirements: 1) stay away from meat sacrificed to idols, 2) stay away from sexual immorality, 3) stay away from meat from an animal killed by strangling, and 4) don't ingest blood.
A letter is composed to this effect and sent in the hands of two men to Antioch, a man named Judas and a man named Silas. The church at Antioch receives it with joy.
2. Galatians 2 presents a somewhat similar event but from Paul's perspective. There were some telling the Gentiles at Antioch that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved from God's coming wrath. Paul and Barnabas (and an uncircumcised young man named Titus) go down privately to Jerusalem to ask the pillars of James, Peter, and John. These leaders recognize that God has called Paul to go to the Gentiles (just as Peter is called to Jews) and receive them in peace.
Then there is a second event. Peter comes up to Antioch and fellowships freely with Gentile converts. Then some people come from HQ, from James, and convince him he shouldn't eat with them to stay ceremonially clean. Barnabas even joins Peter.
Paul will have none of that. He openly calls Peter a hypocrite. Peter is no scrupulous law-keeper. He's pushing a standard on the Gentiles that he himself doesn't keep.
3. What are we to do with these two accounts? There have been some brilliant attempts at harmonization. F. F. Bruce suggested the following scenario: 1) the Galatians 2 visit was during the "gift trip" of Acts 11, before the first missionary journey, 2) then the incident with Peter happened at Antioch after the first missionary journey, 3) then the issue erupted in Galatia, causing Paul to write Galatians, the first of his letters that he wrote, 4) then the Jerusalem Council settled the whole issue.
As brilliant as this scenario by Bruce is, we have to wonder whether it tries too hard. Harmonization of this sort usually creates an alternative scenario that twists all the existing accounts in deference to an ideal the text itself may or may not care about.
a) The timing of the private meeting does not coincide well with the gift trip of Acts 11. To argue for it, Bruce reinterprets what "after 14 years" means in Galatians 2:1. He takes it to mean 14 years from Paul's conversion, when its most natural sense is 14 years from the last time he visited Jerusalem. Also, the revelation that leads Paul to Jerusalem in Galatians 2 is not revelation about a famine, as in Acts 11, but revelation that he should go and consult with HQ.
b) Galatians may fit better a little later in Paul's missionary journeys than at the very beginning. Theologically and rhetorically, it reads well as a slightly earlier version of Romans, an argument that Paul has been developing for sometime, perhaps while meeting at the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus. Paul uses a word in 4:13 to refer to his first visit to Galatia that would normally imply it was the first of more than one--but Paul would have only been there once if he wrote Galatians when Bruce suggested.
c) Acts is not just giving a videotape of what happened. As was fully acceptable at the time, Luke seems at least to have edited the sermons (because in Acts 2, it seems to have Peter quoting the Greek version of the OT in Jerusalem, as well as the fact that the sermons mostly follow the same outline). Acts arguably shifts blame to Paul's Jewish opponents and omits perhaps some key opponents, such as when we know secular authorities were after him at Damascus and it shifts the blame entirely to Jewish opponents. Peter's visit to Cornelius is highlighted in a way it may not have been at the time. Luke 24 similarly compresses 40 days between the resurrection and ascension into what seems like a single day.
These tendencies lead us to ask whether Acts 15 is an efficient, orderly, and ideal way of presenting what historically was a little messier and perhaps took a little more time. Again, it was perfectly acceptable to do such things in history telling at the time (i.e., it would not be an error). For example, the four prohibitions sound more like a response to how Jewish and Gentile Christians might eat together than a complete list of what Gentiles need to be saved. Presuming that Paul knew of such a letter, he never mentions it when the issue of meat sacrificed to idols came up at Corinth, suggesting that he didn't agree with it.
A possible analysis of the event tomorrow...