Harmonizing the accounts


I've been studying critics of the New Testament lately. Very weird. They seem to assume the following...

  1. In each passage, the writers meticulously include every smallest detail in the correct chronological sequence.
  2. The writers use modern computer-based word processors and can go back to correct mistakes or; later, when proofreading, they can add in things they left out.
  3. Each writer of the events will write it identically in every detail, word for word. If they don't, then one or more of the accounts are in error, or fiction, or mere myth.

I can imagine writing back then with poor quality ink on a quill and a limited number of expensive parchments, perhaps not in good shape. The writing was slow, probably dictated to a scribe. Your mind would be racing at a million miles an hour so that by the time one thought is written down, you have completely lost your train of thought. You might realize you skipped something or said it wrong and maybe you could figure out a way to tag it on in the next sentence without it being too confusing. Or maybe you would just shrug your shoulders and leave it out. Once an account was finished, if it seemed incomplete somehow, you might be tempted to retell the story again, this time leaving out what you just stated, and including the missing parts or confusing parts.

These critics of the New Testament seem to think the various accounts of Paul's travels and activities after his conversion cannot be reconciled with one another. I don't understand why.

The chronological sequence of events...

  1. Paul to Damascus.
  2. Vision which blinds him.
  3. Ananias lays hands on him.
  4. Paul stayed in Damascus for a number of days with other Christians, perhaps listening to their stories about Jesus.
  5. Paul goes to Arabia.
  6. Paul is caught up to the 3rd heaven.
  7. Paul returns to Damascus.
  8. Paul begins to preach in the synagogues in Damascus.
  9. After many days, the Jews in Damascus try to kill Paul, but he escapes.
  10. After 3 years (from his conversion, or from the time he returned to Damascus from Arabia), Paul goes to Jerusalem thinking to practice his preaching ministry there (this fails).
  11. He goes first to see Peter (and James) and stays with him 15 days.
  12. He tries to mingle with other Christians but they are afraid of him.
  13. He goes to the temple where he had a vision telling him to leave Jerusalem.
  14. Paul leaves Jerusalem and goes to Syria and Cilicia. Notice he left before those in the Churches in Judea got to know him (but some had heard of him).
  15. 14 years later (from his conversion, or from the time he left Jerusalem), Barnabas brings Paul to Jerusalem.
  16. Paul first meets with the leaders of the Churches in Jerusalem. Presumably they give the OK and the Christians at large accept Paul.
  17. Paul preaches freely in Jerusalem, including to the Hellenized Jews.
  18. They try to kill Paul.
  19. Some Christians rescue Paul and take him to Caesarea. Paul travels from there to Tarsus.
  20. Later, Barnabas goes to Tarsus to get Paul.
  21. Paul (and Barnabas?) in Antioch for a year.
  22. Paul and Barnabas deliver a contribution to Jerusalem.
  23. The leaders of the Church in Jerusalem decide Paul should preach to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews.
  24. Paul and Barnabas are sent off by James, Peter, and John to preach to the Gentiles.
  25. Then Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch.
  26. Perhaps Peter also came to Antioch to send off Paul and Barnabas and at this time Paul rebuked him.
  27. Paul and Barnabas are sent off on the 1st missionary journey by the Church at Antioch.