Close Scrutiny of Galatians 1: 19

Author Note: This blog has been superseded by “Re-Appraisal of Galatians 1:19”. Click here for details.

Paul’s first meeting with Peter in Jerusalem c 36 CE, just a few years after the alleged resurrection of Jesus, is a very crucial meeting, because this is when & where Paul first learned of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem.

In Galatians 1:18 Paul states “Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.

In Galatians 1:19 he states “I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother”.

Galatians 1:19’s true significance is not really appreciated, even by most Christians, and its authenticity is never challenged, especially by the Orthodox Church. This blog first explains the significance of this verse, and then it challenges its authenticity.

The significance of Galatians 1:19

This short verse consists of two simple statements:

“I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother”

It may not look like much but this simple verse contains very critical information concerning this crucial first meeting, and that second simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother” is one of the most significant phrases in the New Testament. Without this second phrase, Paul’s first meeting with Peter reverts to a simple 1:1 meeting without witnesses. This would mean Paul’s entire knowledge of the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem was based on one man’s uncorroborated and unsubstantiated hearsay claims that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem. This uncomfortable fact, if true, would seriously undermine Christianity’s credentials, and further weaken an already weak orthodox model of Christianity. The true significance of this simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother” cannot, therefore, be overstated.

The authenticity of Galatians 1:19

Given the alleged circumstances surrounding this first meeting, Paul’s claim that he met only James during his 15 day stay with Peter does not ring true,. The meeting occurred in Jerusalem, only 5-6 years after the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and this supernatural event was allegedly witnessed by over 500 people, including by Peter, James and the other apostles. Most of these alleged witnesses were probably still living in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s visit. Many were also presumably now members of the early Jerusalem church led by Peter & by James. Under these circumstances, Paul’s claim that he saw no one other than Peter & James during his 15 day stay in Jerusalem seems incredible. However, as stated earlier, having James in the equation is crucial as far as orthodox Christianity is concerned.

[It’s worth noting at this stage, that the total absence of any other people at Paul & Peter’s first meeting in Jerusalem is exactly what one would predict if the alleged resurrection never actually happened].

So did Paul really did see James during his stay with Peter?

If you combine the enormous significance and enormous convenience of that second phrase with the ease with which it could have been inserted sometime later, and then you add in this surprising lack of visitors throughout Paul’s 15 day stay with Peter, then in my opinion, we have more than enough reason to start questioning the authenticity of this simple second phrase. Our earliest reasonably complete version of Galatians dates to c 200 CE, which leaves 150 years for someone to add a simple interpolation designed to obviate any suggestion that Peter & Paul’s first meeting was a simple 1:1 meeting with no witnesses.

There’s already been considerable debate concerning possible interpolations in Galatians 1:19, but so far, this debate has focused entirely on querying the identity of James, rather than questioning his presence at this first meeting. Orthodox Christianity obviously has no incentive to recognize this potential interpolation, and certainly no wish to acknowledge its existence. However, the surprising lack of visitors, the transforming nature of that second statement, its extreme convenience and the ease with which it could have been inserted into the text anytime during that 150 year time gap, all suggest this simple phrase “only James, the Lord’s brother” is indeed just a simple interpolation designed to rectify a potential major embarrassment.

Why James?

Having a single solitary witness to this first critical meeting in Jerusalem is obviously not ideal, but it was better than no witnesses, and it had to do, because restrictions imposed by Paul, left the originator of this interpolation with no other choice.

Paul had already dictated who witnessed this alleged resurrection in 1-Corinthians 15: 5-8, namely Peter, the Twelve, more than five hundred of the brothers, James, all the apostles, and last of all himself.

Paul had also already stated in Galatians 1:19 that he saw none of the other apostles.

Whoever engineered this critical interpolation was thus left with Hobson’s choice. It had to be a credible witness, and a simple process of elimination left James as the only potential candidate.

So who engineered this crucial interpolation?

Paul died c 65 CE and any early interest in his epistles would almost certainly have focused on the meaning & significance of Paul’s resurrection claims rather than the details of Paul’s movements. I also think first century interests in emerging Christianity would have focused more on the newly emerging gospels rather than on Paul himself. Therefore, I think any search for a potential interpolator is best confined to the second century, rather than the first century. It also goes without saying, that his suspected interpolation would have been far easier to engineer early on in the second century, simply because there would have been far fewer “unmodified examples” of Paul’s epistles in general circulation. There may actually have been none in circulation.

Enter Marcion. If anyone in the second century was going to “modify” Galatians 1: 19, it was almost certainly Marcion. Marcion joined the Roman church c 135-140 CE and declared Christianity was a distinct from in opposition to Judaism. Marcion believed Jesus was the savior sent by the newly established Christian God, and Paul the Apostle was Christ’s only true apostle. He rejected the Hebrew Bible and saw the wrathful God of Israel as a lower entity. Marcion’s canon [thought to be the earliest protype of the orthodox cannon] consisted of ten Pauline epistles and an edited version of Luke’s gospel [Marcion rejected the other gospels that eventually ended up in the orthodox canon]. Conflicts soon arose and Marcion was excommunicated in 144 CE. Marcionism was denounced as heresy and his writings are now lost, but we can deduce a large part of ancient Marcionism using what later critics, especially Tertullian, said about Marcion and his heretical ideas.

So Marcion was probably the first person to actually focus on Paul’s epistles, and the first person to  draw attention to their existence. We accept without question that Marcion drastically edited Luke’s gospel to better fit his radical new “Jew-free” ideology. Presumably he did this to remove all references to Judaism, but in doing so, he demonstrates his cavalier attitude to inconvenient facts. We also know he was very well versed in Paul’s epistles. Therefore, he was almost certainly the first one to recognize the existence of this problem in Galatians 1:19. He was also one of the few people knowledgeable enough to fix it. So, in my opinion, Marcion was definitely the right man, in the right place, at the right time, albeit with the wrong attitude and the wrong motives. If anybody can suggest a better potential candidate please leave a heads up in the comments section.

The all too obvious weakness.

We know that what Peter told Paul at this very crucial first meeting eventually ended up in the gospels. In other words, all four resurrection claims in the gospels are based entirely on what Peter told Paul at their first meeting. What we don’t know, even now, is whether Peter told the truth or just lied about the alleged resurrection in Jerusalem. We can neither validate Peter’s claims nor assess their veracity because, even today, there’s still no credible independent evidence to corroborate Peter’s resurrection claims. This total absence of corroborating evidence does, in my opinion, give us ample reason to suggest Peter just lied to Paul about this alleged resurrection. As the old adage says, extra ordinary claims need to be backed up with extra ordinary evidence. Orthodox Christianity just ignores all this of course, and simply assumes Peter told the truth. It has to because it has no choice, but in making this arbitrary decision, orthodox Christianity totally invalidates the claim that the actual existence of these gospels proves the resurrection actually happened. They are just going round in circles [see The Christianity Merry Go Round].

And finally, the all to obvious truth

Christians should note that the veracity of Peter’s resurrection claim does not influence the final outcome in any way. As long as Paul left Jerusalem 2000 years ago actually believing Peter’s claim that Jesus had been resurrected in Jerusalem [which he did], then the die was cast, and the final outcome was inevitable. We would end up with Christianity and a New Testament if Peter told the truth. We would also end up with the same Christianity and the same New Testament if Peter lied.

The veracity of Christianity’s central tenet that Jesus was resurrected in Jerusalem thus rests entirely on unverified & now unverifiable claims, made 2000 years ago, by an unsophisticated peasant fisherman from Galilee.

P.S. Anyone wanting to know why Peter probably lied to Paul about this alleges resurrection in Jerusalem and/or how Christianity really started, should read the revised updated transcript of my short book, now available free of charge at https://keebostick.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/godless-christianity/

4 thoughts on “Close Scrutiny of Galatians 1: 19

  1. If we are to take the “official” New Testament Canon as truthful, reliable, and God’s divine perfect Word for humanity as many Christians claim and Fundamental Christians always strongly allege, then Paul/Saul DID INDEED meet all the disciples:

    SAUL IN JERUSALEM

    When he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. — Acts 9:26-28, written c. 85-95 CE, NRSV Bible

    But wait! Paul says he did NOT meet them all, just Peter and James as you are pointing out here Ken:

    Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. — Galatians 1:18-19, written c. 48-60 CE, NRSV Bible

    So what exactly Paul/Saul did in Jerusalem and who he met with and did not meet we can never know exactly, just like what took place on the road to Damascus having some epileptic seizure and hallucination of some light in the sky (Jesus? Not Jesus?) that CANNOT be corroborated by anyone or any other record. Therefore, in all honestly, what does that tell us about the stories in the Canonical New Testament AND the reliability and/or integrity of the characters in the storytelling? The answer is quite obvious.

    Great stuff again Ken! Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Think we both agree that Acts is mickey mouse in many ways. Yes it does attempt to document Paul’s missionary journeys [good] and yes it tries to portray Paul & the other twelve Apostles as a single unified force [bad], but this is only to be expected. By the time Acts appeared on the world stage, these other twelve apostles had totally failed to achieve anything. But hell, what’s a little detail amongst friends?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Acts of the Apostles is likely one of the BIGGEST retro-fitted, retro-graded blunder and disempowering book the Early Church could’ve miserably composed some 45-years after Paul/Saul wrote his letter to the Pauline Followers in Galatia! I mean even when you KNOW you are changing the factual events and characters of the bogus story into your own sociopolitical agenda 45-years later, at least sort out all the lies to appear believable BEFORE you release the “official” God-breathed Words/Scripture to make it semi-believable, right? 😆 Bottom-line?

        There are many more reasons to conclude that the 4th-century CE Hellenic Canonical New Testament is much more propaganda than it is pseudo-truth and divinely inspired. In my opinion, it’s laughable, embarrassing and shameful to follow such a poorly told fairy-tale story.

        Liked by 2 people

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