Many scholars believe a problem exists between Paul and Luke concerning when Paul’s 2nd visit to Jerusalem occurred. Luke and Paul both agree that he visited Jerusalem not long after Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road. Paul says this occurred three years later (Galatians 1:18), and Luke doesn’t offer any specific time. So they both agree here as long as one doesn’t turn Luke’s lack of detail into a disagreement with Paul. Later in his letter Paul says that he didn’t return to Jerusalem again until 14 years later—i.e. 14 years after his meeting with Jesus on the Damascus road (cf. Galatians 2:1). The problem that scholars point to is that Luke shows Paul going to Jerusalem with Barnabas to bring the famine relief offering from the gentile churches for the poor in Judea, which Luke seems to place before the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15 (see Acts 12:25). Are these scholars correct?
In a word, “No!” they are not correct, and I hope to offer a logical and clear reason why this is so. If Stephen was slain in the autumn of 34 AD, I cannot imagine Paul persecuting the believing community longer than 5-6 months. This would place his Damascus road trip just before or just after the Passover of 35 AD. Fourteen years later would be the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD. Most scholars would agree that this is about the time the council should have taken place. Therefore, assuming that the 35 AD date is correct for Saul’s conversion, then Paul’s first visit occurred about 38 AD, and Paul stayed with Peter for 15 days (Galatians 1:18), but the brethren sent him off to Tarsus when they learned his life was in danger.
About this time Caligula decided to place a statue of himself in the Temple at Jerusalem alarming the whole nation. I have theorized that about this time Luke presented Theophilus, the reigning high priest at Jerusalem, with a copy of his Gospel—Luke, and this is the reason for the peace that the churches experienced (Acts 9:31). Persecution of the Hellenist believers ceased. Luke is the only writer of the Synoptics who tells of armies surrounding Jerusalem, and that was a warning to the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem that God would judge the city and the Temple early, if they didn’t repent. They did, and the Roman governor, Petronius, wrote to Caesar, asking him to reconsider his intention, and his armies waited just north of Caesarea at Ptolemais for a reply.
Meanwhile, Peter had already received the God-fearer, Cornelius into the believing community without the need of circumcision (see Acts 10 and 11), and Barnabas was sent to Antioch to minister to the new gentile believers there. He went to Tarsus to get Paul, and together they taught the new gentile believers for at least a year, and during this time Agabus, the Jerusalem prophet, came to Antioch and prophesied of a coming famine in which the poor in Judea would be especially hit hard (Acts 11:28-29). It was also about this time that word came that Caligula was assassinated in January of 41 AD and Claudius reigned in Rome.
Claudius made Herod Agrippa king over all the lands of his grandfather, Herod the Great, and sent him to Jerusalem to calm the tension there, for Rome and Jerusalem were at the brink of war over the idol incident, which would have desecrated the Temple. Agrippa reigned in Jerusalem for 3 ½ years until the summer games of 44 AD, when he died suddenly, this, according to both Josephus and Luke (Acts 12:21-23). Immediately after recording Agrippa’s death, Luke shows that both Barnabas and Paul brought the gentiles’ famine-relief offering to Jerusalem for Judea’s poor (Acts 12:25). When did this occur? In between Herod’s death and the famine at Jerusalem Luke records his third progress report in Acts, saying “the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). To what multiplication does Luke refer, and how long did it take?
Luke gives us a total of six such progress reports (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:4-5; 19:20; 28:30-31). These seem to be Luke’s official entries into his on-going work. The first two cover the time of the beginning growth of the church to the persecution and then to the end of the persecution. The third and fourth entries cover the time of the problem of uncircumcised gentiles. It begins with Peter’s trip and ministry to the coast and eventual preaching to Cornelius. The problem wasn’t resolved, however, until the Jerusalem Council ruled upon the problem and James’ letters were distributed to the gentile churches affected by the so-called ‘men from James’ (cf. Galatians 2:12).
Many scholars try to place the coming of the men from James in Paul’s letter to the Galatians after the Jerusalem Council, but this is not so. It occurred after Peter’s escape from Agrippa. He had to flee outside of Agrippa’s kingdom to be safe. He fled to Antioch. When Paul and Barnabas returned from their missionary efforts in Galatia (chronologically, Luke’s 3rd progress report of Acts 12:24 goes here), they spent time together with Peter in Antioch, until the men from James arrived to alert the gentile churches of the poor’s need in Jerusalem. The problem occurred when they overstepped their authority, according to James (Acts 15:23-24). It was about this time also that Paul received word that the Galatian churches were affected as well (cf. Acts 15:36), if not by the men from James then under similar circumstances (Galatians 1:6-7; 4:9-15). Whereupon, Paul brought James’ letter to them as well (Acts 16:4), and this ends Luke’s fourth entry of the official progress reports (Acts 16:5).
Therefore, Luke’s progress report in Acts 12:24 must refer to Barnabas and Paul’s evangelistic mission to Galatia. This effort began while Herod was yet alive, and it was completed after Herod’s death. In other words, Acts 12:24 points to Acts 13 & 14. Luke’s work is largely built around the ‘Acts’ of two apostles—Peter and Paul. With Peter exiled from Jerusalem the ‘multiplying’ progress reports now turn to Paul. Luke expects us to understand that he is piecing together the first half of Acts, which concerns Peter’s work and the second half of Acts which concerns Paul’s work. The two halves don’t fit neatly together chronologically, but overlap for about 2-3 years.
Paul’s first missionary journey was underway and he and Barnabas were journeying to Pisidian Antioch at the time of James’ execution by Agrippa. Peter’s escape from his persecution occurred while Paul and Barnabas were preaching in Pisidian Antioch. Luke ended his third entry into his thesis by pointing to Barnabas and Paul’s visit to Jerusalem when they brought the famine relief predicted in Acts 11:28-29. What he doesn’t tell us is that this is also the time of the Jerusalem Council. Luke merely records Barnabas’ and Paul’s visit by saying: “when they had fulfilled their ministry…” (Acts 12:25), which, according to my point, includes both the famine-relief and the Jerusalem council.
Paul tells us in Galatians 2:2 that his 2nd trip to Jerusalem was done through revelation, meaning God had a direct hand in causing its occurrence. This would agree with Luke’s record of Agabus’ prophecy of the coming famine in Acts 11:28-29 and the Antioch church’s appointment of Barnabas and Paul to bring their offering when the prophesied event occurred (Acts 11:30).
In summary, Paul’s 2nd visit to Jerusalem by his own admission occurred 14 years after he met Jesus on the Damascus road, and this 2nd visit to Jerusalem was initiated by a revelation. Luke agrees, showing that Paul’s visit was precipitated by the prophecy of Agabus concerning a coming famine, which Luke’s editorial remark shows occurred during Claudius’ reign. The need of the famine-relief offering was announced by a visit to Antioch by some folks from Jerusalem. After all, Antioch was out of the territory of the Jews, and the gentiles had to be alerted when the need existed. This is where the men from James came in, but they not only announced Jerusalem’s need (the mission for which they were sent), but also overstepped their authority by claiming the gentiles needed to be circumcised. This precipitated a problem between Jews and gentiles that had to be settled at Jerusalem. So, the famine-relief offering and the journey to attend the Jerusalem Council occurred at the same time. They appear like two different events in Acts 12:25 and Acts 15, because this is the transition period of Luke’s going from his recording the Acts of Peter to the Acts of Paul. Some overlapping was necessary.
 A few days after this posting I ran across a quotation from Lucian of Samosata (cir. 120 AD to 180 AD): “For, though all parts must be independently perfected, when the first is complete the second will be brought into essential connection with it, and attached like one link of a chain to another; there must be no possibility of separating them; no mere bundle of parallel threads; the first is not simply to be next to the second, but part of it, their extremities intermingling.” [The Way to Write History 55; (emphasis mine)]. The complete work can be found HERE. The point is Luke was following a rule of ancient history by overlapping the accounts of Peter and Paul; so the events of Acts 12 are intermingled with the account of Paul’s ministry to Galatia in Acts 13 through 15 with Barnabas taking Mark with him back to Antioch (Acts 12:25) after the Jerusalem Council with the next chronological event being Acts 15:30. A chart of Paul’s life up to this time showing where he was from the time of his conversion to the Jerusalem Council can be found HERE.