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Answering The Atheist
December 23, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 51

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Did Paul go to Jerusalem from Damascus immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:26), or did he go some time later (Gal 1:16-17)? Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
Following Paul's conversion to Christ, we are told that "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues..." (those in Damascus). However, when some plotted to kill him, the Christians helped him to escape from the city. Where did he go then?

The questioner assumes that Paul then went immediately to Jerusalem. Luke does not say so. He simply states, "And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples..." (v 26) When was that? Was it a day after leaving Damascus? Maybe a month? A year? Three years? Luke does not say.

If all we had was the record of Acts, we would not know how much time passed between Paul's conversion in Damascus and his arrival in Jerusalem. One might assume that since Luke mentions Paul's arrival in Jerusalem right after his conversion that the two events were back to back, but there would be no way to know for certain. However, Paul provides information in his letter to the Galatians which Luke did not provide in Acts. Upon leaving Damascus, Paul went into Arabia, and then returned again to Damascus (Gal 1:17). "Then after three years..." he went to Jerusalem.

Why did Luke not mention this? I do not know. Maybe he was not aware. Is he obliged to mention every detail of Paul's life? Was it important to Luke's writing that the reader know how long it was before Paul arrived in Jerusalem? did the Spirit perhaps leave it for Paul to reveal his whereabouts for the three years following his conversion, rather than have Luke reveal this?

Whatever the reason for the span of time not being identified in Acts, but being revealed in Galatians, there is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible