The Calling of Saul/Paul

Introduction

In the beginning Saul’s life without Christ would, in distant view, portray a man after God’s own heart. His training and determination exceeds the normal expectancy of a Jewish man and this same determination will lead to the persecution and death of many Christians. Later, on that long Damascus road Saul’s heart is prepared for the conversion of an antagonist to a true warrior. After Saul’s trip to see a man named Ananias, his conversion was complete and then Saul, now named Paul, goes after God’s heart. As Paul becomes a missionary, his travels prove to be burdensome, but not without rewards. Paul’s final years in Rome puts an exclamation point on his life and his love for Jesus Christ.

Saul’s early life without Jesus Christ

            Saul grew up in a town named Tarsus. Tarsus was famous for its education system and its universities, such as Athens and Alexandria. There is nothing on Saul’s mother, but his father “His father was of the straightest sect of the Jews, a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, of pure and unmixed Jewish blood.”[1] Saul did not go to college right away to become a rabbi. “According to Jewish custom, however, he learned a trade before entering on the more direct preparation for the sacred profession. The trade he acquired was the making of tents from goats’ hair cloth, a trade which was one of the commonest in Tarsus.”[2] When Saul turned 13, he was sent to Jerusalem to study law and it is here that Saul became a student under Gamaliel. After he finished school he may have traveled back to Tarsus, but he would eventually come back to Jerusalem, where we can find him mentioned in Acts 7:58. Saul at this time was part of the Sanhedrin in which he partook in the persecution of Christians and tried to eliminate Christianity. After the death of Stephen, Saul can be found getting his marching orders to exterminate the church. “Not content to arrest church members as they appeared in public, Saul, assisted by the temple officers, went from house to house in search of his victims. He seized men suspected of being Christian and put them in jail. Nor did he spare Christian women, who suffered along with the men.”[3]

Luke’s version of Saul to Paul

            The authenticity of Saul’s conversion has been attacked by different people trying to determine if Saul, in fact, had the experience that is told in the Bible. Luke’s attempts to tell of Saul’s conversion in three different areas in Acts has led many to believe it was a legend or just a “tall tale.” (Acts 9; 22; 26) Was the biblical account factual and to be taken literally or was the biblical account to be taken metaphorically, nothing more than a legend. What may be seen as contradictions can be easily explained, as Timothy Ralston, instructor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary, states,

“Luke’s first account (Acts 9:1-30) is presented by the narrator as an “objective” historical record of the event. The second (22:1-21) is spoken by Paul as his apologetic in Hebrew before a hostile Jewish mob (21:27-40). The third (26:1-23) is part of Paul’s defense in his formal judicial hearing before Agrippa (25:23-27). Details are suppressed and elevated in each account in order to advance the theological theme and development of Luke-Acts 8. In the first account Paul’s Gentile commission is delivered to the reader in the oracle received by Ananias (Acts 9:15). In the second account it is implicit in the reference to “all men” (22:15) but now explicit in a temple vision (22:17-21). In the third account it is part of Paul’s original Damascus Road encounter (26:23)”[4]

Charles Hedrick gives a simpler answer to the perceived contradictions between the accounts that Luke documented. He states, “Acts 9 is a traditional miracle story of Paul’s conversion that has been adapted as a commissioning narrative by Luke. Acts 22, is Luke’s edited version of the traditional legend and Acts 26 is Luke’s own abbreviated composition.”[5] Therefore, what some has called contradictions is nothing more than Luke’s approach during a particular scenario and his writing style.

Paul’s version of Saul to Paul

Paul gives several mentions to his account of his conversion experience. (Philippians 3:3-11; Galatians 1:13-17; 1 Corinthians 15:8-10) These are not as descriptive as Luke’s accounts, but nevertheless, this shows proof that there was a change in a once overzealous Hebrew of Hebrews to a man humbled and ready to die for the cause of Christ. For example in Philippians 3:3-11,

“Before Paul’s conversion, the law was all consuming; now it is Jesus Christ who is his focus. In the space of a few short verses, His name punctuates the writing: “for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7); “greatness of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8); “gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8); “found in him” (Philippians 3:9); “faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:9); “know Christ and the power of his resurrection …” (Philippians 3:10). Jesus Christ was Paul’s goal, his impetus, his source, and his hope. Before, the focus was on principle; now, it is on a person.”[6]

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “Paul looks back to his life before his conversion and sees in his experiences the proof of his assertion regarding the divine origin and character of the message he was now proclaiming.”[7] In 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, Paul is stating that, “Paul’s career as a persecutor serves to bring out more clearly what is true of all Christians—his dependence on the goodness of God. ‘By God’s grace I am what I am’—that is, a Christian and an apostle.”[8]

Paul’s new life in Jesus Christ

In Wendel Meyer’s sermon, the conversion of St. Paul, he develops the point that many think that Paul’s conversion happened only on that long road to Damascus. Instead he states Paul’s conversion was what happened after the Damascus road event. These events afterwards consisted of obedience, revelations and encounters with and to Jesus Christ.[9] After Paul was able to see again, it is documented in Acts 9:21 the sincerity of his conversion and many may have wondered if this was a trap to capture and kill Christians. It was not shortly thereafter that the once persecutor became the one being persecuted and many believed Paul had been changed. As Jesus taught in John 12:26, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Paul’s missionary journey’s demonstrates Paul’s obedience to Jesus’ request.

Paul’s first missionary journey consisted of encountering Jewish opposition, conspiracies to murder him, being stoned, being mistaken as gods, and in the mist of those trials there were conversions. Paul’s second missionary journey consisted of false charges, imprisonments, and in the mist of those trials, churches were started, converts were made, and Paul receives help and encouragement in spreading the Gospel. Paul’s final missionary journey consisted of more of the same as the previous journey’s as many false accusations were made, persecutions, and imprisonments. Paul revisits some of the churches and even restores life to a young Eutychus. (Acts 9-28)

Conclusion

The transformation from Saul to Paul is extraordinary. Many could try and deny Paul changed or was converted but after reading Paul’s account, Luke’s account and the fact that hundreds if not thousands seen that change, there is no other logical conclusion other than Paul received a call from Jesus. Christians today can only hope to experience such a calling. It is not the past who defines who someone is, rather it is the future. Paul, once a Christian persecutor and killer, believed with all his heart he was glorifying God with his actions and he was “working” his way into heaven. Oh, how Paul must have been relieved to know it was his “faith” in the One he was persecuting that allow him to be justified before God, not his hate filled work. It is crazy to think that the proof is not only what happened on Damascus road, but through Paul’s pain and suffering. In Curtis Jones book, 1000 illustrations from teaching and preaching, he reported this,

“In the late 1800s James Chalmers, missionary to New Guinea, proclaimed with triumph his unalterable choice: “Recall the twenty-one years, give me back all its experiences, give me its shipwrecks, give me its standings in the face of death, give me back my surroundment of savages with spears and clubs, give me back again the spears flying about me with the club knocking me to the ground—give it all back to me, and I will still be Your missionary!”[10]

In the end, Paul’s life and his missionary work exuberated the love of Jesus Christ and if Paul was alive today, there is no doubt, he would not change anything and he would endure all of it over again!

Bibliography

Arichea, Daniel C, and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. New York: United Bible Societies, 1976.

Barrett, C. K. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. London: Continuum, 1968.

Easton, M.G. Eastons Bible Dictionary. New York, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1893.

Hedrick, Charles W. “Paul’s Conversion/Call: A Comparative Analysis of the Three Reports in Acts.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 100, no. 3 (September 1981): 415-32.

Jones, G. Curtis. 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching. Nashville , TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1986.

Myer, W W. “Sermon: The Conversion of St. Paul.” Anglican Theological Review 85, no. 1 (2003): 13-17.

Ralston, Timothy J. “The Theological significance of Paul’s conversion.” Bibliotheca Sacra (AtlaSerials, Religion Collection) 147, no. 586 (April 1990): 198-215.

Wade, John W. Acts: Unlocking the Criptures for You. Cincinnati, OH: Standard, 1987.

Weedman, Gary. Philippians-Thessalonians: Unlocking the Scriptures for You. Cincinnati, OH: Standard , 1988.


[1] M. G. Easton, Easton’s Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893).

[2] Ibid.

[3] John W. Wade, Acts: Unlocking the Scriptures for You, Standard Bible Studies (Cincinnati, OH: Standard, 1987), 80.

[4] Timothy J. Ralston. “The Theological significance of Paul’s conversion.” Bibliotheca Sacra (AtlaSerials, Religion Collection) 147, no. 586 (April 1990): 198-215.

[5] Charles W. Hedrick. “Paul’s Conversion/Call: A Comparative Analysis of the Three Reports in Acts.” Journal of Biblical Literature. 100, no. 3 (September 1981): 415-32

[6] Gary Weedman, Philippians–Thessalonians: Unlocking the Scriptures for You, Standard Bible Studies (Cincinnati, OH: Standard, 1988), 50–51.

[7] Daniel C. Arichea and Eugene Albert Nida, A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1976), 18.

[8] C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Continuum, 1968), 345.

[9] W.W. Myer. “Sermon: The Conversion of St. Paul.” Anglican Theological Review 85, no. 1 (2003): 13-17. http://search. proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/215266973

[10] G. Curtis Jones, 1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1986), 237.

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