In previous studies, we matched the events of Galatians 1–2 to the book of Acts and concluded the following: Paul’s conversion and subsequent missionary endeavors are recorded in Acts 9:1–25 and Gal 1:11–17 (cf. 2 Cor 11:32–33); Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion and departure to the Gentiles are recorded in Acts 9:26–30 and Gal 1:18–24 (cf. Acts 22:17–21); and Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem is recorded in Acts 11:27–30 and Gal 2:1–10.
After describing his first and second meetings with Peter and others (Gal 1:18–21; 2:1–10), Paul recounted one more episode involving Peter in order to demonstrate that Peter was not the source of his gospel. In Gal 2:11–14, Paul confronted Peter in Syrian Antioch because Peter’s “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” that he had previously affirmed (Gal 2:14; cf. 1:18–2:10).
If “then” (Gal 1:18, 21; 2:1) and “when” (Gal 2:11) lay out for us a chronological series of events, Gal 2:11–14 occurred after Gal 2:1–10, which means that Gal 2:11–14 occurred sometime after Acts 11:27–30. And, if Galatians was written before Acts 15, our window for confrontation is somewhere in Acts 12–14.
Peter was imprisoned in Acts 12, released, and “went to another place” (Acts 12:17; cf. 12:1–17). Paul was in Antioch in Acts 13:1–3 before his missionary journey in Acts 13:4–14:25 and returned to Antioch to report about his journey in Acts 14:25–28. Peter could have visited Paul in either Acts 13:1–3 or 14:24–28 or even sometime between Acts 14:24–28 and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
As to the last of these options, Luke records, “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1 ESV).
“Some men” in Acts 15:1 are not the “certain men” who “came from James” in Gal 2:12 because James held to the same gospel as Paul (cf. Gal 1:19; 2:9; 1 Cor 15:7, 11). If anything, based upon Peter’s agreement with Paul in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:7–11), we could conclude that Peter responded positively to Paul’s rebuke (cf. Gal 2:11–14) and headed back to Jerusalem. “Some men” then “came down from Judea” to respond with their false gospel in light of what they heard about the matter (Acts 15:1). Then, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2), and Paul sent his letter to the Galatians at this time, having heard that they were experiencing this same debate. Then Paul went with Barnabas “up to Jerusalem…about this question” to settle the matter once and for all (Acts 15:2 ESV).
While we obviously cannot be certain about this timeline, it gives a possible explanation for how to coordinate and match the timing and events between Galatians and Acts.
Wrapping up what seems to have turned into a mini-series on matching the events in Galatians 1–2 to the book of Acts, here is a snapshot of conclusions that were made with tentative dates:
AD 46–47: Acts 13:1–14:28 – Galatian churches planted
AD 47: Gal 2:11–14 – Paul confronts Paul in Syrian Antioch
AD 47: Acts 15:1–2a – Judeans arrive, debate follows, Galatians written
AD 48: Acts 15:2b – Paul and Barnabas head to the Jerusalem Council