It has long been a question whether or not Paul’s trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas mentioned in Galatians 2 refers to the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 or his previous visit mentioned in Acts 11:30 and 12:25. After careful study I believe Scripture clearly supports the latter, as the following demonstrates:
So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord;for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. (Barnabas went and got Saul because he knew from his previous encounter with him that the Lord had called him and set him apart to bear His name before the Gentiles, Acts 9:15). And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church (preaching to the Gentiles), and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (because being Gentile converts to Christ but not converts to Judaism they could not properly be called Jews as most all the other believers to that point were). Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit (i.e., by a revelation, cf. Gal 2:2) that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
Thus Paul came to Antioch to preach to the Gentiles. During this time word had reached the Jewish believers back in Jerusalem that the gospel being preached in Antioch did not require the new Gentile converts to submit to the law of Moses, and some from their number went to Antioch under false pretenses “to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage” (Gal 2:4). They may even have been in the company of Agabus and the other prophets Luke records as having come down from Jerusalem. For it was at this same time that Agabus made his revelation by the Spirit about the famine that would happen all over the world, in response to which these Gentile disciples determined to send a contribution to the relief of their Jewish Christian brethren in Judea. Thus Paul and Barnabas were sent off with this offering in order to promote peace between the new Gentile converts and the Jewish believers, as well as to touch base with the other apostles in Jerusalem in regard to the brewing controversy over the Gentiles. On this journey Paul took along Titus (Gal 2:1) as proof to the Jewish believers of the real faith of the Gentile believers. Thus Paul’s visit to Jerusalem with Barnabas described in Galatians 2 was not for the Jerusalem council, but before that to deliver a contribution to the poor saints there and to submit “to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain” (Gal 2:2). At this meeting Paul writes that “those who were of high reputation” and apostles before him contributed nothing to him (i.e., he did not receive his gospel from them nor was he in any way inferior to them), but rather, “seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised…and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do (and that he was in fact doing at that time).” (Gal 2:6,7,9-10).
Thus returning from Jerusalem with John Mark (Acts 12:25), and having received the blessing of the “pillars” in Jerusalem to go to the Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas soon departed on their first missionary journey, during which they established the churches in Galatia (Acts 13-14). Upon their return, they “gathered the church together [and] began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:27-28). It was during this time that Peter came to Antioch (Gal 2:11), no doubt having heard of the success of this missionary journey to the Gentiles and likely sensing the greater conflict it would brew with the Judaizers. Upon arriving Peter had no problem eating and associating with the Gentile believers. However, “certain men from James” (Gal 2:12) soon arrived who likely brought news about the persecutions being inflicted against the Jewish believers in Judea by the Jewish unbelievers who had heard that those who believed in Jesus as their Messiah were now fraternizing with the Gentiles. These may have been those Luke describes in Acts 15:1 who in order to compromise and win the favor of the unbelieving Jews “came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” At any rate, in response to their coming Peter began to “hold himself aloof” from the Gentiles “fearing the party of the circumcision” (Gal 2:12). Such a turn of events and concern for the brethren in Judea caused the rest of the Jews to join Peter in his hypocrisy, “with the result that even Barnabas was carried away” (Gal 2:13).
The rest of Galatians 2 gives Paul’s reproof of Peter “in the presence of all”. However, the controversy was at its peak and was not immediately or easily resolved. For some of the Judaizers, to whom the apostles and elders in Jerusalem had not given any instruction (Acts 15:24), and who had heard of Paul’s success among the Gentiles, had by this time found their way to the Galatians and told them that Paul, being inferior to the apostles in Jerusalem, had acted outside of his authority and that they needed to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. They seem to have been completely taken in by this persuasion (Gal 5:8), and upon learning of their defection, Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians describing how he had even had to oppose Peter while he was in Antioch. Shortly after this, due to the dissension over the issue (see Acts 15:2) the Jerusalem council was convened and the issue resolved, due in part to Peter echoing Paul’s reproof made in Galatians 2:14-21 (see Acts 15:6-11). Paul and Barnabas then returned from this council with the outcome in hand along with Judas and Silas who were sent along with them by the council in order to relate the result “by word of mouth”. Significantly, Silas accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey at the beginning of which he visited Galatian churches (Acts 15:36,40-41, 16:1-2).