However, Paul also understood that independence can be taken to extremes. Isolationism is not the Christian way! We live and serve in the body of Christ, so we must avoid an isolationist mentality in ministry. Missions is also a corporate calling so, after three years, Paul made his way to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James, the leaders of the mother church (Gal. 1:18-19).
Paul time stamps his narrative with the adverb "then" or "next" (ἔπειτα) as he retells his testimony (Gal. 1:18). The same timestamp frames his testimony in 1:21 and 2:1 as Paul lays out the sequence of his conversion and early ministry (Bruce, Galatians, 97). He portrays the visit to Peter in Jerusalem as primarily a personal visit when he says that he stayed with Peter for 15 days. The prepositional phrase "with him" (πρὸς αὐτὸν) implies the relational connection. The singular pronoun, as opposed to a plural pronoun or place name, indicates the personal nature of the visit (Burton, Galatians, 59).
THE BACK STORYThe church in Jerusalem hardly welcomed Paul. They were highly suspicious of him, so Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). The impression we get from Galatians is that Paul spent his time visiting, but Luke gives us more insight (Acts 9:28-31). Paul was doing much more than having quiet tea times with the apostles. He was preaching Christ and arguing with Hellenists throughout the city so much so that some were attempting to put him to death! If the Christians thought that life would be peaceful since the persecutor was now a Christian, they were in for a rude awakening. Controversy followed him wherever he went! Relationships can be messy. Isolationism can seem appealing, and the church found peace after Paul was gone! (Acts 9:31, Bruce, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 83-94)
Luke tells us that Paul met the apostles, but Paul tells us that he met only Peter and James among the apostles. The two statements are not contradictory since two is plural, but the combination helps us interpret the connective "except" (εἰ μὴ). Some, uncomfortable with viewing James, the Lord's brother, as an apostle, argue that the exception refers to others and not the apostles. In this view, Paul did not see anybody else other than the apostles except James. This seems unlikely. We know from Acts that Paul met many other people in Jerusalem, even stirring up trouble! The stronger contextual argument is that Paul included James among the apostles (Burton, Galatians, 60) using the word "apostle" in a broader sense than the apostolate (the 12). So, Paul did not see any other apostles except James.
INTERVIEWS OR NOT?The verb translated "become acquainted" (ἱστορῆσαι) often carries the force of an interview in classical Greek. Certainly, Paul interviewed Peter in at least an informal sense, but the word can also mean to get acquainted with someone (Bruce, Galatians, 98). Paul did not need to take a crash course in Christian theology from Peter, but Peter would provide many historical details about Jesus that Paul would find fascinating. One detail that we only learn from Paul, but had to come from Peter, is that Christ appeared to Peter by himself after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5). The story of Peter's betrayal and Christ's personal revelation to Peter must have resonated with Paul in his own experience. Both men experienced incredible grace from the Lord after committing horrible sins against the Lord.
The same can be said of James, the Lord's brother. The story of his transformation from a good Jew who refused to follow Jesus (John 7:5) to a leader in the church of Christ (Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5) is also a compelling story of grace which Paul understood. How could this happen? Paul alone tells us that Jesus appeared to James before he appeared to all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7), adding that Jesus appeared to Paul "last of all, as one untimely born" (Cor. 15:8). Only James could have given Paul this nugget of information. Christ's personal revelation to James and Paul explains the transforming power of grace in their lives.
Our relationships in the Body of Christ are vital to the health of the church. People often cite James and Paul as if they are in opposition to each other. Peter and Paul have their differences (Gal. 2:11ff). Yet, it is Peter and James who influence the church at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) to support Paul's ministry to the Gentiles. The personal bonds forged at their initial meeting in Jerusalem foster unity at a critical moment in the history of the early church.
Christian relationships may be messy, but isolationism must be avoided.