Dating the Second Visit of St. Paul to
A survey of biographies of St. Paul shows a wide variety of datings, especially of his conversion. While most scholars have dated his conversion in 37 A.D., others have dated this crucial event in 36, 35, 34 or even as early as 31, the year after that of the Ascension itself! The source of all the trouble is Galatians 2:1: ‘It was not until after fourteen years had passed that I went up to Jerusalem again.’ No commentator has ever been able satisfactorily to locate this ‘fourteen years’ between St. Paul’s first and his second visits to Jerusalem after his conversion. Modern commentators have assumed that St. Luke and St. Paul have here contradicted themselves or each other. To give one example: ‘But it is notorious that some of the statements in Acts, e.g. about Paul’s visits to Jerusalem, are inconsistent with what he himself tells us in his letters. Ingenious scholars have gone to great lengths to iron out the differences, but in my opinion these earnest endeavours are unnecessary. We should accept Paul’s own testimony and admit that Acts can be in error.’ (A. Vidler, p. 153) No such admission can be made. That either St. Luke or St. Paul recorded factual error is of course unacceptable to a Christian. Nevertheless no commentator has ever been able to fit this ‘fourteen years’ into any chronology of St. Paul’s life without violating or ignoring solidly based scriptural or archaeological evidence. Such a long time! What an uncharacteristically slow response to his divine call! Clearly there is something wrong with this ‘after fourteen years.’ 2
Three solutions to this problem can be suggested: Since ‘after four years’ would fit perfectly, it may be suggested that St. Paul’s scribe may have committed a very common scribal error called a dittography - where a writer, forgetting that he has already written a word, writes it again. When St. Paul said ‘dia tessaron’ (‘after four’) the scribe wrote (in shorthand) ‘dia dia tessaron.’ When he came to write up the final longhand copy he saw the abbreviated ‘dia dia tessaron’ and wrote it as ‘dia dekatessaron’ (‘after fourteen.’) 3
Alternatively, it may be observed that the Greek shorthand for ‘4’ and ‘14’ are highly similar: LΔ and IΔ. In the Greek-speaking world in St. Paul’s time, numbers were represented by Greek letters. Thus, for example, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 were represented by the first letters of the Greek alphabet: A, B, Γ, Δ, E (pronounced alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon). As an extra precaution, that a letter was being used for a number was shown by placing an ‘L’ in front of it: thus 1 to 5 were LA, LB, LΓ, LΔ, LE. (Note how IB represents ‘12’ on the coin of Augustus, and how LB represents ‘2’ on the coin of King Herod Agrippa I.) Similarly 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 were represented by IA, IB, I Γ, IΔ, IE. Perhaps St. Paul’s scribe’s ‘LΔ’ was mistakenly copied as ‘IΔ,’ and remained
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...