11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas [Peter] 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.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me. [emphasis added]
So what is Paul revealing by sticking this mention of meeting Peter right in the middle of his very defensive comments about his authority as a gospel preacher? (Because that is what Paul is writing about here.)
- he was keen on what he calls 'Judaism' and on harming churches in Judea because of their attitude to Jewish traditions, which had something to do with Jesus. This was before Paul was a Christian.
- there were Christians who were 'apostles' - including Peter - before Paul was an apostle.
- he stopped persecuting them after his personal encounter with God.
- He mentions two interesting things about this encounter - and this is important for understanding more about what information Paul had. God called him (Gal 1:15). And Jesus gave him a ‘gospel’ to preach (Gal 1:11-12). Jesus did this by giving Paul a ‘revelation’.
- Paul doesn’t say that Jesus supernaturally told him anything else at all, apart from this ‘gospel’ message.
- Paul didn’t victimise the churches any more. In fact he went away into Arabia, and later to Damascus.
This information all comes in Paul’s defence of himself as a gospel preacher. Later, he positively preaching the faith that he used to victimise, which is crucial evidence (Gal 1:23). And fourteen years later, Paul goes back to Jerusalem, the heartbeat of Judea, to get his 'gospel' message vetted (Gal 2:2).
What Paul learned from Judean Christians in the 30s
By the time Paul was writing his letters in the 50s, we can see that he has quite a bit of information about Jesus, more information than I would call a ‘gospel’ message. Remember: Paul says that what he got supernaturally from Jesus was his 'gospel' message. He doesn't say that he got the rest of his information about Jesus this way. In fact we know he didn't, because he has already confessed to harming people who had something to do with Jesus before that: he couldn't have done that unless he had information about their beliefs. He got that from people he met, not from any 'revelation' that was still only in his future.
What Paul got from talking to Peter in the 30s
So did Paul learn any such information from Peter? What indirect evidence do we have that helps us to decide what Peter and Paul talked about for fifteen days in the 30s? As I mentioned, Paul's information and our common sense - and Paul's context - help us to work out things they must have talked about.
They must have talked about Paul's change of heart
This change of heart also meant Paul leaving a life of violent nationalism to become part of the church - in other words, the first Christians that he knew said that being a follower of Jesus meant not being a nationalistic zealot, in order to be inline with the view of Jesus.
If he wanted to be trusted, Paul would need Peter to see that he was genuinely sorry for having persecuted the Judean churches. So he had to say so. Paul would have been apologetic about it. That had to be part of the words that were spoken between them.
They must have talked about why Paul had come to see Peter
Paul, this former persecutor, to overcome suspicion about him, would also be expected to give a good reason why he had taken the time and trouble to come to Jerusalem to seek out Peter in particular. With Peter being a key member of the persecuted church community whose life had something to do with Jesus, wouldn’t it seem a bit suspicious for a former trouble-causer to come and seek him out? What was Paul up to really?
To sum up so far, Paul could have said that he had come to make a promise not to persecute the churches, to apologise for what he had done to them, and to give a convincing account that he had converted so that he could be trusted now. This has to be so – it’s inconceivable that they could have got through 15 days together without touching on this.
They must have shared stories
But Paul also gives the specific reason for his visit that he wanted to get ‘acquainted’ with Peter in those fifteen days. Getting ‘acquainted’ with someone involves sharing each other’s stories. That’s how relationships work. You can’t get acquainted and not share some stories that will mean something to each other. Notice that Paul mentions about meeting Peter after three years, to show that this only happened after Paul had got his ‘gospel’ message from Jesus. So we can infer that Paul had his own story up to that point to share with Peter. And if Paul needed to tell Peter that he had encountered God and a risen Jesus, then Peter in return had his own stories to tell, such as how he was a part of church life in Judea, and that the church had survived despite being persecuted by Paul. Peter could tell Paul about the churches of Judea that Paul calls ‘in Christ’ (Gal 1:22). Again this is an inference from the context of this tightly written section of Galatians 1.
They must have talked about why Paul had victimised the Judean Christians
Since Paul had been harming the church, then it is highly likely that he talked with Peter about why he had done such terrible things. Paul puts his severe attitude down to his being zealous for Jewish traditions (Gal 1:14) - implying that the attitude of some of the Jesus' followers was far from zealous enough for him in those days. So a matter for discussion was what their attitude had to do with, and this would bring Jesus into the discussion, if Paul's letters are anything to go by. The reformed Paul joined them in taking a more relaxed attitude to Jewish Law traditions, a big U-turn. He had caught the bug off the Jesus-followers and become more relaxed. But there was one time when Paul argued with Peter about the Jewish Law traditions (Gal 2), so we know this could be a bone of contention between those two men. It is pretty reasonable, all in all, to infer that Peter and Paul talked about why some followers of Jesus were more relaxed about the Law - the issue where Paul's change of heart was really obvious (it's all over his letters).
You can't keep Jesus out of it
So these are big things that would be of mutual interest to them to talk about – the persecution of the church, and an interest in Jesus and the church. This is as much as we can work out from the information which Paul gives us in Galatians 1. Whatever else may have been said, we have to say that those conversations had to have taken place. Otherwise, we are just not being real with ourselves about the circumstances these two men were in, as revealed by Paul's autobiographical confessions. And it would be pretty impossible for those two men to cover this ground without touching on the subject of Jesus in some way, especially given Paul’s strong interest in the subject of Jesus. It has to be right to infer that Jesus figured in their discussions to some degree. It figured in why Paul had persecuted people for their beliefs, and in Paul's story of his conversion.
Peter, James and Paul
But we have more than that. It is interesting that when Paul makes another autobiographical comment that he had harmed the church, he tags it on the end of his account of how Jesus had appeared to Peter, then to James and then to himself, and he sounds very apologetic for having been someone they would have seen as their persecutor (1 Cor 15:3-9). These, as it happens, are once again the exact three men mentioned by Paul in Gal 1:18-19, the ones who met in those fifteen days in Jerusalem. Their stories become one story, in the way Paul tells it. Three men whom Jesus appeared to. The way Paul tells it is a sign that they had shared their stories together, the three of them. For Paul, they were no longer separate stories but shared stories: “he appeared to Peter... Then he appeared to James ... and last of all he appeared to me also...” A small sign, but it adds weight to the indirect evidence in Galatians 1 that getting acquainted meant sharing their stories in those fifteen days – especially Paul telling Peter that the risen Jesus appeared to him and he became a convert, and came to believe the beliefs of the people he used to victimise (Gal 1:23).
Of course, apart from Paul’s letters, if Acts chapters 1-11 are taken into account, there is much to corroborate and fill out these episodes about Paul in Judea, especially Acts 8:3 (Paul persecuting the church) and Acts 9:26-28 (Paul meeting apostles in Jerusalem and preaching in the name of Jesus). But in this series of blogs, I’m not going to rely much on Acts, since it is something that historians have less agreement about. I’m really focussing instead on Paul’s first hand eyewitness evidence. There is so much to glean from them that people rarely give attention to. It turns out that eyewitness evidence fills out a lot about the 30s.
From Christians to Christ
Now we can turn to what they were saying about Jesus.
Did Jesus Exist? 2a. Did any writers mention Jesus at the time he was alive?
Did Jesus Exist? 2b. Were ancient authors silent about Jesus' existence?
Did Jesus Exist? 2c. Outside the Bible, does anyone else say Jesus existed?
Did Jesus Exist? 2d. What about these authors then, Josephus, Tacitus and Pliny?
Did Jesus Exist? 3a. What did St Paul know about the life story of Jesus?
Did Jesus Exist? 3b. Why didn’t St Paul say more about Jesus?
You are here - Did Jesus Exist? 3c. Did Peter and Paul talk about Jesus?
So when did St Paul persecute the church? (And when did Jesus die?)
Did Jesus Exist? 4a. So then: what about the people who were interested in Jesus before Paul was?
Did Jesus Exist? 4b. What did people know about the life story of Jesus before Paul came on the scene?
Did Jesus Exist? 5. Did Paul invent Jesus?