Paul’s Conversion

15 Mar

Paul never really speaks of being ‘converted,’ that is, he never applies the word to himself. However, he often speaks or writes of his transforming experience in meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. He wrote of it at least three times in his epistles. Luke records this event another three times in Acts. He first records it as an historical event chronologically following on the heels of a very great and cruel persecution throughout Judea (Acts 8:1; 9:1-19). His second and third mentions of it occur in two of Paul’s speeches. The first of these occurred on the steps of the Antonia where Jesus was judged by Pilate. There Paul spoke with an angry Jewish mob who wanted to slay him just as he had done to Christians when he was a young man (Acts 22:1-21); and the third was before King Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 26:1-20).

Paul’s conversion is mentioned more often than that of any other individual in the Scriptures. Truly, this is a significant event. On the one hand it appears so ironic that God would choose Paul over one of the important Apostles to preach the Gospel of the risen Christ beyond confines of Judaism to the gentile nations in Asia Minor and Europe. On the other hand, what greater choice could there have been to show the unfathomable grace of God, who is so rich in mercy to those who have rebelled against him?

Paul’s conversion was completely unexpected! He had no interest in changing his behavior. He already presumed he was serving God, thinking his zealousness for the traditions of the fathers (Galatians 1:14) was enough to gain God’s favor. After all, his zeal profited him in Judaism over many other religious Jews his own age, so why wouldn’t it also gain him the favor of God? Yet, beyond the road to Damascus, as he lay waiting and praying for a word from his new Master, Paul pondered the futility of his standard of comparing himself with others (2Corinthians 10:12). He had been invaded by the Spirit of Jesus, contrasting his own counterfeit cleanliness with the inexpressibly Clean One; Paul’s good works were a distortion of the One who alone is Good.

Before his conversion Paul had been painstakingly devoted to the Jewish religious rites, yet he showed himself both mentally and spiritually hostile toward God. With his mouth Paul honored God, but at the end of the day his works alienated him from the One whom he presumed he served. As Jesus said, Paul’s worship was in vain, because his doctrine was to serve the commands by men not God (Matthew 15:8-9).

What a surprise this must have been for Paul, as he pondered his experience with Jesus in the three days he waited for Ananias to arrive with a new word from the Lord. As he considered all he had thought was profitable to him, he now realized it was all for naught and counted it loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7). As he sat in the guestroom in Damascus fasting and praying, he hungered not for what satisfied the body, but for what satisfied his soul. He reached out for the precious knowledge of Christ (Philippians 3:8), no longer seeking his own righteousness which came by serving the Law (Philippians 3:9). Rather, he reached out to apprehend the One who had apprehended him on the road to Damascus (Philippians 3:12), to know him in his power of the resurrection (Philippians 3:10), to know his righteousness which comes through faith (Philippians 3:9). Oh yes, this was all new to Paul now. For three days he was in darkness, tasting the death of the cross, but trusting in the resurrection that would bring him into the Light of Christ. The Spirit of the Lord moved over the dark depth of Paul’s spirit (Genesis 1:2) and brought forth the Lord’s newborn son (Colossians 1:13, 18).


Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Acts of the Apostles, Paul


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2 responses to “Paul’s Conversion

  1. Arthur

    June 24, 2015 at 16:40

    I am just beginning my study of Saul but I have a couple of questions that seem to fit this particular blog well.

    1.) You state, \\”Paul’s conversion was completely unexpected! He had no interest in changing his behavior.”\\ yet I have read a couple other sources that state in fact Saul was indeed in conflict. Especially as at least 2 of his kinsmen were already christians prior to the Damascus event. Wouldn’t this have caused some internal conflict?

    2.) I know Saul had traveling companions on his journey to Damascus. As to what they experienced I know are in dispute within Acts themselves; Whether they heard anything or fell down….

    Yes, they heard the voice: Acts 9:7 – And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

    No, they didn’t hear the voice: Acts.22:9 – And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

    Yes, they fell to the ground: Acts 26:14 – And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

    No, they remained standing: Acts 9:7 – And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

    Is there any documentation anywhere stating who these men were or other accounts describing these events other than in Acts? I know during Saul’s missionary trips they often comment as to who who companions were, Barnabas, Silas, Titus, Timothy… but I cannot find mention of who his companions were on the road to Damascus.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Eddie

      June 25, 2015 at 07:31

      Greetings Arthur, and thanks for reading and for your comments / questions. I am always delighted to discuss these things with those who are interested.

      Yes, I do believe Paul’s conversion was completely unexpected, but I never claimed he didn’t have conflicts in his conscience. In fact, he mentions something like this in Romans 7 where he speaks of his troubled conscience, as it pertained to coveting (Romans 7:7). What did Paul covet? Of course nothing is set in stone, but we can have fun imagining what that might have been, if we look at other things he mentions in his letters. For example, in Galatians 1:14 he claimed he was so zealous for the law that his reputation rose above all those his age. Moreover, we read in Philippians 3:6 that, as far as righteousness of the law was concerned, he was blameless. So, we have this rising ‘star’ (Galatians 1:14) who was exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the Jewish fathers, and was exceedingly righteous in the works of the Law (Philippians 3:6) who used to worship in Jerusalem in the very same synagogue where Stephen discussed the things of God (Acts 6:9 – note that Paul was from Cilicia and the Jews from there stayed in that synagogue while at Jerusalem).

      Imagine ‘righteous’ Paul, who was exceedingly zealous for the traditions of the fathers, and whose reputation in Jerusalem was above that of those his own age—imagine that this ‘rising star’ was out witted by Stephen in the scriptures (Acts 6:10). Could Paul have been jealous—coveting—the fact that Stephen couldn’t be matched in his understanding of God’s word? Paul’s ‘boasting accounts’ imply he didn’t like being out done by anyone. Might this be the reason this synagogue used stealth to undermine what Stephen preached (Acts 6:11)? Was Paul one of those behind such a thing? If so, did this fact—that he laid a trap for his brother—continue to bother him, while he zealously persecuted Messianic Jews in his effort to uphold the ‘traditions’ of the fathers? Perhaps, but nothing is set in stone. The shoe fits, but we still don’t know if it is, indeed, Paul’ shoe.

      The names of Paul’s traveling companions to Damascus are not known. I know of no commentary on the Bible or tradition in other literature that names them. It is implied they were unbelievers. One of the reasons Paul’s traveling companions on other journeys are mentioned is that they are believers and sometimes important to the story at hand.

      Concerning the apparent contradictions surrounding Paul’s conversion accounts in Acts, let me say that I am not deaf, but I am hard of hearing (I’m getting old and many things don’t work like they once did). I lead a Sunday school class and at times some people don’t speak loud enough for me to hear. I hear the sound of their voice, but I don’t understand the speech. I need clarification which often comes from my wife sitting beside me. This, I believe answers one of the ‘contradictions’ implied in the accounts. I go into this problem and others in another blog-post HERE. One other thing, Paul tells us that Jesus spoke in Hebrew (Acts 26:14), did Paul’s companions understand Hebrew? The text doesn’t say. If Paul’s companions stayed at the same synagogue as Paul, it would mean they were Hellenists who understood Greek, but many Hellenists couldn’t understand Hebrew. This, too, could have been a factor in Paul’s explanations in the accounts.

      Concerning the men who were ‘standing’, according to Paul the group was traveling on beasts. The fact that the men got up to their feet before Paul is not a contradiction unless it is forced upon the text.

      Hope this is helpful. Lord bless you as you study his word.


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