Was Paul Unknown to the Jerusalem Church?

After Paul’s first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem, he remarks that he was “still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea.” (Gal. 1:22). But in Acts, Paul is said to have persecuted the church in Jerusalem prior to his conversion. (Acts 8:1ff). Even so, it first has to be remembered that Paul himself claims to have wrecked great havoc on the Church prior to his conversion (Gal. 1:13). Given how early this must have occurred in the growth of the church, it seems unlikely that this did not occur in Jerusalem. Moreover, if not being known by sight is to be taken to mean by the Christians in Jerusalem, Paul would be contradicting his own statement about spending 15 days with Peter and meeting James (Gal. 3:18-19).

So, there are good reasons to believe Paul meant something other than to say that no Christian in Jerusalem had seen Paul. As James Dunn explains, “[s]ince Paul must have been ‘seen’ by at least a few of the (non-leading) Jerusalem believers, ‘the churches in Judea’ presumably were not intended to include Jerusalem with which he had already dealt.” James D.G. Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, page 81. Dunn also provides several helpful examples of generalized references to Judea as distinct from Jerusalem: Matt. 3:5; 4:25; John 3:22; Acts 10:39. Even Josephus makes such a distinction in Antiquities 10:184. Thus, there appears to be no discrepancy here.

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