Galatians 1:18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles-- only James, the Lord's brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.
“After 3 years” I would think this was 3 years from the time of his conversion. Paul then went to Jerusalem to “get acquainted” with Peter. He only spent about two weeks there. I wonder what the initial meeting between Paul and Peter was like? Well, if you read carefully, and cross reference with the description of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem in Acts 9, it appears that Paul never actually met Peter, or at least did not spend much time with him. The description of Paul’s experiences in Acts 9 indicated he was not well received at all. His first meeting with Peter, if it took place in conjunction with the Acts 9 visit, was probably less than cordial.
Verse 19: The only “other” apostle he met with at this time was James, the brother of the Jesus. This probably indicates that whether or not this 15 day stay corresponded to the Acts 9 visit, there was some “quality” time spent between Paul and James, or Paul and both Peter with James.
Verse 20: He interjects that he is not lying – sort of a “swear to God” sort of thing. Why? Why would he think that the Galatians would find this hard to believe? Is it because of Paul’s bad experiences early on, such as Acts 9? Or is he being sarcastic? The emphasis throughout this section is that he did NOT rely on the Jerusalem/Jewish Christian leadership.
Verse 21: He goes on to Syria and Cilicia —in other words, he went back to his hometown! Paul can’t seem to emphasize enough in this section that his foundation in Christ was shaped by two forces – a well established, strong personal relationship with Jesus where God revealed the essence of the Gospel and his mission directly to him, and a solid relationship with non-Jewish Christians, or, at least, church organizations based in Gentile territory, whether populated by Jews or not (my guess is, more Gentiles than Jews). He had not originally met with Peter and James, the two “big guns” of the early church at Jerusalem. But he later spent a mere 2 weeks with them, and really had very little contact with the Jerusalem church and the hierarchy of the early church for the next 14 years. The point of sharing the story of the beginning of his ministry is not to prove Paul is some kind of “lone wolf,” who doesn’t need the apostolic covering, but to de-emphasize the concept that hanging onto his own Jewish ethnicity has any importance.