Paul’s Testimony told by Luke
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” “Who are You, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.Acts 9:3-9
Paul addressing the crowd on the steps of the Temple in Jerusalem
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.Acts 22:3-11
Paul addressing Agrippa in Caesarea
“So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”Acts 26:9-20
A number of you noticed the difference in the accounts between the 3rd person and the 1st person. Yes we have Luke’s report of the encounter and then we have Luke’s record of Paul’s testimony of what happened. One arising from Luke’s research into the historical record and the other two come from Luke’s close relationship with Paul on their travels together. The balance and contrast between the two makes for interesting reading and fruitful comparisons. It made me smile to see one response from a reader to the effect, “I was shocked to realise that there were other men with Paul when he encountered Christ on the way to Damascus. I always thought that happened to him alone. I have read Acts many times but never taken in the fact that others were with him.” Yes it is surprising to realise there are many elements of the text of the Bible which pass us by despite repeated readings. We are surprised when we finally see a word or a phrase which changes our appreciation for a verse when we notice something we have never noticed before. It happens to all of us.
Other responses and questions include:
- I am interested to see what you have to say about the light that shone from heaven Ian. That has always intrigued me.
- Shouldn’t Lord in verse 5 be capitalised? Why doesn’t the version you used have a capital for the word Lord. What version did you use?
- Ian, reading this account both amazes me and puzzles me at the same time. I am surprised that I had that reaction when I really looked at the text as you encourage us to do, Ian.
- A number of you asked about the “kicking against the goads” reference.
- One asked what happened to the reference to “the goads”? Why doesn’t it appear in verse 5? What does it mean anyway?
- You have made me pay careful attention to the difference between versions Ian. I have never realised until now that there is so much variation.
- Two of you want me to comment on the reference to “followers of The Way” in verse 2.
- Was Paul riding or walking?
- When did Saul persecute Jesus?
- Why does Jesus speak Saul’s name twice? “Saul, Saul”
- Who were the men travelling with Saul?
- Isn’t there a contradiction between 9:7 and 22:9? Did the men with Saul hear the voice or not?
- Paul addressing Agrippa and 26:14 with the reference to ‘goads’ had me looking at different translations and a little confused at what was being said especially given the English translations of the word ‘goad’. What does the word goad mean? Is it a goad or a prick?
Reading through this account of Saul’s encounter with Jesus left me in awe as what happened. After all the prologue to these event, we expect a bitter battle between Saul and the believers but suddenly their chief enemy is removed and made one of them. How like God! It’s like we were all left wondering what is going to happen now? Paul was breathing fire on the followers of Jesus and threatening to wipe them off the face of the earth, then suddenly we have this anticlimax and the threat is removed. I remember when I first read this account as a new Christian I thought indeed that it was an anticlimax. Here I was expecting to read some juicy accounts of the initial persecution of Christians in those early years and lo and behold I find the main antagonist is removed. Well I didn’t see that coming. It sure felt like an anticlimax. As I read the account this time around I was left in awe and wonder as to how and why Jesus should appear to Saul and speak to him personally. Was there a better way to do it? I don’t think so. This was a masterful move. Jesus himself appears to Saul and transforms him into Paul. Saul has a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus Christ the Messiah long after rising from the dead. I am sure the moment wasn’t lost on Paul.
There are eleven different post resurrection encounters mentioned in Scripture:
Mary Magadelene; the other women – the other Mary, Salome. Joanna and the others; Peter; Cleopas and his mate on the road to Emmaus; the ten disciples with Thomas absent; the ten disciples with Thomas present; to the disciples on the shores of Galilee at the breakfast BBQ; to the eleven and to more than 500 at one time in Galilee; to the disciples immediately before the Ascension; to James alone; and lastly to Paul on the road to Damascus. It is also possible that Acts 1:3 infers there were other appearances to the disciples which were not recorded. But as I thought about all these appearances I was struck by the fact that the disciples who went on to do marvellous things in the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth had numerous experiences with the resurrected Christ. But Paul seemingly had one telling experience which dramatically changed his life. Read what he wrote in his own words, which came to mind as I was pondering on these things.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw Him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out His special favour on me—and not without results.1 Cor 15:3-10
That is remarkable. It must have been one incredible experience to turn Saul into Paul. Oh believe me it was. We will ponder it over the next few Gems and I will attempt to address your questions as well. Both the asked and the unasked questions. If you suddenly think of some more questions along the way let me know and I will address them without mentioning your name.
The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.J. B. Priestley
If you’re tired of being the same, If you’re tired of things not changing, It’s time for you to get out the way.T D Jakes
If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big, they are too small.Pat Morley
You can do without anything, but you cannot do without God.Anon
In order to communicate the Good News well you need a personal encounter with the risen Christ.Ian Vail