Chapter 4: Paul Disbelieved Continued. First of His Four Visits to Jerusalem After His Conversion—Say Jerusalem Visit I. or Reconciliation Visit.—Barnabas Introducing Him From Antioch to the Apostles
Section 1: Paul's Proceedings Between His Conversion and This Visit.—Contradiction. Per Paul, It Was Not Till After Three Years Spent In Arabia; Per Acts, Immediately
Already on another occasion, and for a different purpose, have the two accounts, between which this self-contradiction manifests itself, been brought to view: viz. on the occasion of the accounts, given or supposed to be given, by Paul, of the cause and manner of his conversion:—accounts given in the first place, in writing, and consequently, with all requisite time for deliberation, in his Epistle to the Galatians:—given, or supposed to be given, in the next place, by a speech spoken, namely, that which, in the Acts is reported as spoken by him, on the occasion of his trial, to Festus and Agrippa:—Festus, the Roman Proconsul, Agrippa, the Jewish King.
In the whole account of this matter, as given by Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians, how much of truth there probably was, and how much of falsehood or misrepresentation,—has been seen already in some measure, Chapter 2. §1, and will be seen more fully as we advance.
As to his motive for this visit, he has endeavoured to keep it to himself: but, by the result, according to the account he himself gives of it, it is betrayed. It was—to effect the so much needed reconciliation:—his reconciliation with the Apostles:—the Apostles, in relation to whom his disregard is professed, the need he had of them, no otherwise than virtually, nor yet the less effectually confessed. Without an interval of considerable length between his conversion and this visit, all such reconciliation would have been plainly hopeless. From this circumstance, the length, as alleged by him, of his abode in Arabia, receives obvious and highly probative confirmation. The confirmation is, indeed, reciprocal. The nature of his situation, proves the need he had, of an interval of considerable length, before any hope of reconciliation could be fulfilled, or, naturally speaking, so much as conceived: by this circumstance, his abode in some other country is rendered probable to us: and this other country may, for aught we know, as well have been the country mentioned by him—to wit, Arabia, as any other: and, thus it is, that this assertion, of his having been three years in Arabia, between the time of his departure from Jerusalem to Damascus, and his return to Jerusalem to see Peter, is confirmed:—confirmed, by the natural length, of the interval, requisite to the affording any, the least chance, that Peter could be induced to meet upon terms of amity and intercourse a man, in whom he beheld the murderer of a countless multitude of human beings, linked to him by the closest bonds of self-regarding interest, as well as sympathy and brotherly love.
As to contradiction, contradiction cannot easily be much more pointed, than it will be seen to be, between the account in respect of time, as given in this instance by Paul, and the account given of it by his historiographer in the Acts. On a double ground, it is Paul's account that claims the precedence. Of his account, such as it is, the rank, in the scale of trustworthiness, is that of immediate evidence; that of his historiographer, no higher than that of unimmediate evidence:—evidence once removed; having, for its most probable and least untrustworthy source, that same immediate evidence. Paul's evidence is, at the same time, not only more circumstantiated, but supported by the reasons which he has combined with it. Not till three years after his alleged miraculous conversion, did he go near to any of the Apostles.—Why?—Because, though, at that time, for reasons which he has left us to guess, he had regarded himself as having considerable need of them,—till that time he did not regard himself as having any need of them. And, why was it, that, for so great a length of time, he did not regard himself as having any need of them?—The answer he himself gives us,
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.
Thus far Paul himself. Let us now see, what is said in regard to the time, by his subsequent attendant and historiographer.
With what the historiographer says in his own person, agrees, as to the particular point now in question, what, in the studied oration, he puts into Paul's mouth. In that account likewise, immediately after the mention of what Paul did at Damascus,—follows, the mention of what he did at Jerusalem: and, as to everything done by him among the Gentiles, not only does the mention of it come after the mention of what was done by him at Jerusalem, but, between the two, comes the mention, of whatever was done by him, in any of the coasts of Judea.
Here then, according to Paul's own account, after his visit to Damascus from Jerusalem, he visited Arabia, and moreover Damascus a second time, before he made his visit to Jerusalem to see Peter: before this visit did he make both those other visits; and, in making them, pass three years, with or without the addition, of the time, occupied by his first visit to Damascus,—and the time, occupied by his abode in Arabia. According to Paul's own account then, between his second departure from, and his arrival at, Jerusalem from thence, there was an interval either of three years, or of so much more than three years. On the contrary, according to both the accounts given of the matter by his historiographer in the Acts, there was not between the two events in question, any interval other than such as the journey from the one to the other—about 130 British miles as the crow flies, say about 160, allowance made for turnings and windings,—would require.
Now, as between Jews and Gentiles, alias heathens:—to which of these two descriptions of persons, were his preachings addressed in the first instance?
According to his Epistle to his Galatians, preaching to the heathen being his peculiar destination, this accordingly is the vocation upon which he proceeded in the first place: and we have seen how probable it is, not to say certain, that, in this particular, what he asserted was true. His appointment being to "the heathen," he conferred not with flesh and blood: i.e. with the Apostles, their immediate disciples, or other flesh and blood of the Christian persuasion: for, of any such conference—of any assistance or support from any such quarter, he has, in this same Epistle, been declaring and protesting—most vehemently protesting—that he had no need. Neither then for the purpose of conference with "those who were Apostles," as he says, "before him," nor for any other purpose, went he up to Jerusalem: no, not till either three years after his conversion, or three years, with the addition of another term of unmeasurable length.
Now then, how stands this matter according to the Acts—according to the speech put into Paul's mouth by the author of the Acts? Instead of the Gentiles being the description of persons, to whom, in the first instance, he applies his labours,—it is the Jews. What he shows is "shown," in the first place, to those "of Damascus;" then "at Jerusalem;" then "throughout all the coasts of Judea;" and, not till then—to the Gentiles: of his abode in Arabia—of any visit of his to Arabia—not any of the slightest mention, or so much as allusion to it. But, all this while, for anything that appears to the contrary, Arabia was completely open to him: whereas, after the offence he had committed against the authority of the ruling powers at Judea, it was not, morally speaking, in the nature of things that he could have continued in any place coming within that description—have continued, long enough to make any sensible impression: and, in Jerusalem in particular, in this same Epistle to the Galatians, from which the above particulars are taken,—it was, as he himself declares, only in secrecy, that, even fourteen years after this, he ventured to disseminate those doctrines, whatever they were, that were peculiar to himself.
Thus stands the contrariety:—the contrariety, between Paul's own account of his own proceedings, and the account, which, by the author of the Acts, he is represented as giving of them, on another occasion. Says Paul himself, in his own Epistle to his Galatians—After my conversion, it was to the Gentiles that I applied myself first: to the Jews, not till afterwards; nor then, to any considerable extent. Says the author of the Acts, in a speech, which he puts into the mouth of Paul—It was to the Jews that he applied himself first, and that to a great extent: to the Gentiles, not till afterwards.
Thus stands the contrariety, taken in itself. As to the cause, it will neither be far to seek, nor dubious. In the differences of situations, occasions, and purposes in view—in the differences, that had place in respect of all those particulars—it will be found.
On the occasion, on which Paul himself speaks, what was the persuasion which it was his endeavour to produce? It was—that, for a number of years, commencing from the moment of his conversion,—with no persons, who, to this purpose, could be called Jews, had he, to any such purpose as this, had any intercourse: for, this being admitted, it followed, of course, that, if, on the subject of the religion of Jesus, he had really received the information he declared himself to have received, it was not from the Apostles, that he had had it, or any part of it. He says,A1 "On them I am perfectly independent: to them I am even superior.(See Galatians 1:15-16. Paul believes he is so special because God called him out specifically. Seee also Galatians 2:6.) With Jesus they had no communication but in a natural way; with the same Jesus I have had communication in a supernatural way:—in the way of 'revelation.'(See Galatians 1:12.) My communication with him is, moreover, of a date posterior to theirs—to any that they can pretend to: in so far as there is any contrariety between that I teach and what they teach, it is for theirs, on both these accounts—it is for theirs, to yield to mine. From God is my doctrine:(See Galatians 1:11-12.) in opposition to it, if either they, or any other men presume to preserve, let the curse of God be on their heads.(See Galatians 1:8.) Accordingly, at the time of my first visit to Jerusalem after my conversion,(See Galatians 1:17.) no communication had I with them, for, no such communication, teaching as I did from revelation, could I stand in need of, I had already passed three years at least in Arabia, teaching to the Gentiles there my peculiar doctrine.(See Galatians 1:17-18.)A2This peculiar doctrine, as I made no scruple of teaching it to those Gentiles,(See Galatians 2:2a.) as little, on the occasion of that visit of mine to Jerusalem, did I make any scruple of teaching it to Jews as well as Gentiles. True it is, I did not then teach it publicly:—I did not teach my peculiar doctrine, so publicly as they did theirs.(See Galatians 2:2b.) But, as to this comparative secrecy, it had for its cause the advantage of being free from opposition; for, had the fact of my teaching this doctrine so different from theirs—been known to them,—they might have opposed it, and thus my labours might have been lost."(See Galatians 2:2c.)
Whether, in the representation here given of what he says to his Galatians, there be any misrepresentation, the reader may judge.
On the occasion, on which his historian represents him as speaking, what now, as to this same matter, was the persuasion, which the nature of his situation required him to endeavour to produce? It was, that Jews were the sort of persons, with whom, during the period in question, he had, to the purpose in question, been holding intercourse: Jews, even in preference to—not to say to the exclusion of—Gentiles: so far is he from being now represented, as stating himself to have held converse with Gentiles, to the exclusion of Jews; which is, that of which he himself has been seen taking so much pains to persuade his Galatian disciples. Yes: as far as competition could have place, Jews, on this occasion, in preference, at least, to Gentiles: for, on this occasion, what he was labouring at was—to recommend himself to the favour of his Jewish Judge, King Agrippa,Acts 26:8-21 by magnifying the services he had been rendering to the Jews, his very accusers not excepted: services, to the rendering of which, close and continued intercourse, during that same period, could not but have been necessary.
On this occasion, being accused of—his historian does not choose to say what,—his defence was—that, of the persecution he was suffering, his preaching the resurrection was the only real cause: that, having been born and bred a Pharisee,—in preaching that doctrine, so far from opposing, he had been supporting, with all his might, the principles maintained by the constituted authorities: adducing, in proof of the general proposition, the evidence furnished by a particular fact, the resurrection, that had place in the case of Jesus:(Acts 25:19.) that when, in his conversion vision, Jesus gave him his commission, the principal object of that commission was—the instruction of the Gentiles: to wit, by informing them—that, to such of them as would believe in the resurrection, and repent of their sins, and do works accordingly,—the benefit of it would be extended: that to this mandate, it was true, he did not ultimately fail to pay substantial obedience: yet, such was his affection for his brethren the Jews,—that it was not till, for a considerable time, he had been conferring on them the benefit of his labours, that he betook himself to the Gentiles.
The repugnancy (says somebody), the repugnancy, is—not between Paul and Paul—but between Paul and the author of the Acts; and, since the facts in question are occurrences in which Paul himself was either agent or patient, to the author of the Acts, and not to Paul, is the incorrectness, wherever it be, to be imputed. Be it so: for the purpose of the argument at least, be it so: but, if so it be, what are we to think of the author of the Acts? Take away the author of the Acts, what becomes of Paul? Take away the authority of the Acts in the character of an inspired writer—writing from supernatural inspiration, after an immediate and continued intercourse, in some unexplained and inexplicable manner, with the Almighty,—what remains, then, of the evidence, on the ground of which the mighty fabric of Paul and his doctrine has been erected?
A man, who is thus continually in contradiction—sometimes with himself, at other times with the most unimpeachable authorities—what credence can, with reason and propriety, be given to his evidence, in relation to any important matter of fact? at any rate, when any purpose, which he himself has at heart, is to be served by it? Of such a man, the testimony—the uncross-examined and uncross-examinable testimony—would it, of itself, be sufficient to warrant a verdict, on a question of the most inconsiderable pecuniary import? how much less then, on questions, in comparison of which those of the greatest importance which the affairs of this life admit of, shrink into insignificance? Even, suppose veracity, and every other branch of probity, unimpeached and unimpeachable,—if such confusion of mind, such want of memory, such negligence, in relation to incidents and particulars, of too immensely momentous a nature, to escape, at any interval of time, from the most ordinary mind;—if such want of attention, such deficiency, in respect of the most ordinary intellectual faculties and attainments, are discernible in his narrative,—what solid, what substantial ground of dependence can it furnish, or even leave in existence?
Of this sort are the questions for which already no inconsiderable warrant has, it is believed, been found; nor, if so, throughout the whole remaining course of this inquiry, should they ever be out of mind.
A1 This section is a bit confusing, so I felt compelled to add a note. Here, Bentham is rearranging Paul's writing in Galatians 1 to emphasize the incredulousness of Paul's ridiculous argument. I've added verse references and superscript explanations to some of what Bentham wrote so that future readers will not be confused and to help them understand why Bentham believes that Paul feels this way.
A2 At this point, Bentham then explains why, in some possible words out of Paul's mouth, Paul wouldn't share his doctrine with the apostles for three years, and why Paul didn't share his personal gospel with the apostles. (It's because the apostles wouldn't approve of it, as it's not from Jesus.)