Saturday, October 29, 2011


Ratification of Conversion ( Acts 9:19b-25).

Ratification of Saul’s conversion and call was neither by man nor by a committee but rather by the power of God in acts of service after his conversion. His service and message ratified his call, conversion, and commission. He later noted that he was “not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal. 1:1). Luke shows the ratification of Saul’s new faith by showing the radical change it made in him.

There can be no doubt that Paul began his ministry in Damascus, outside the land of Israel. This reinforces his ministry beyond the borders of Israel, outside the land, and to the Gentiles. For a more comprehensive view of his early service, we must also rely on the book of Galatians which gives us information about this time that is not recorded by Luke in Acts. Most agree that the events of these early years are:

·         Saul’s Conversion (Acts 9:1-19a). Preaching in Damascus immediately (9:19b-22).

·         Prolonged visit to Arabia (Gal. 1:17).

·         Return to Damascus (Acts 9:23-25).

·         First visit to Jerusalem three years after conversion (Acts 9:26-29; Gal. 1:18-19).

·         Goes to Tarsus (Acts 9:30-31, Gal. 1:21-24).

  1. Evangelistic Preaching the Faith (9:19b-22).

Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus.” So begins his life as a believer. Little doubt that the several days refer to his days in the city before he went to Arabia. The narrative here suggests a very short time period (9:19-20). As soon as Paul was able, he began preaching and contending in the synagogues. He “proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 2:20). His message centered upon Jesus in a twofold manner: First, Jesus “is the Son of God.” This is the only occurrence of this full title in Acts. He will later use it in his epistles (Rom. 8:3; Gal. 4:4; Col. 1:15-20; 1 Thess. 1:10). This is a “complete reversal of his previous position.[1] It is a realization of the Sonship of Jesus, indicating both Jesus’ intimate relationship with God the Father, and His matchless unique status. Paul will indicate this status was from the beginning of creation (Rom. 8:3; Col. 1:13-20). In response, the people continue to be amazed. They could hardly believe what they were witnessing and heard. Was this not the one sent to bind them and bring them to the chief priest? (Acts 9:21). What a testimony to the Grace of God in this total transformation of Saul! Worthy are comments of Harrison:

God had done a marvelous thing. Not only had he demonstrated care for His own by halting the persecution on their very doorstep, but in the process He had gained for Himself a herald of the message of grace. Men would have counted it a great thing if the hand of God had rewarded the persecutor by striking him dead (cf. 12:1, 23). But to salvage the opponent and enlist him on behalf of the cause was a far greater victory.[2]

Second, he kept on preaching that “Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). Not only is Jesus the Son of God, but He is Israel’s Messiah. The word Christ is better understood and translated Messiah. He is contending that Jesus was the Messiah, which is his continual message in the synagogues (cf. 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8). The word proving has the idea of convincing, combining facts to show or convince of the truth.

Luke leaves out the Arabia experience of Paul, which Paul reports in Galatians. Luke’s purpose is not to give a compete accounting of Paul’s service during this time, but rather he compresses this period of time and limits it to Damascus. Omission and compression of historical accounts and chronology is a common method of editing by the Biblical writers. Luke seems to limit his comments to Damascus to contrast the purpose from persecuting believers to preaching to believers. Paul reveals he was in Arabia during this time, which would have occurred between Acts 9:22-23. Silence about the events by both Luke and Paul speaks loudly. Why he was there is not revealed. Many say it was a time of training and meditation on what was revealed to Him. However, it is hard to imagine that Paul would have been silent about Christ, and not preached during this time. In fact, 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 indicates that whatever Paul did in Arabia it displeased Aretas, who controlled the Nabathean kingdom, which was in Arabia. What set Aretas off? It is unlikely that Paul’s presence and meditation for some of spiritual retreat would have caused the reaction. It is more likely the message that he was preaching. Murphy-O’Connor correctly says, “The only explanation is that Paul was trying to made converts.[3] There is no doubt that what Paul is referring to are his days after his conversion which began in Damascus and ended in Damascus. In Acts, Luke limits his discussion to Damascus.

  1. Escaping the Plot (9:23-25).

When many days had elapsed…” (Acts 9:23). While the time reference is vague, there is no doubt that it refers to the end of his ministry in Damascus. It was in two stages, with the visit to Arabia sandwiched in between. The phrase is consistent with the gap between his conversion and his first journey to Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 1:17-18). Clearly the trouble was after he came back to Damascus from Arabia. There was a plot by the Jews to exterminate him (Acts 9:24). This was the first of many plots against him (cf. Acts 9:23-24; 20:3, 19; 23:20). This plot must be seen in conjunction with 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. It may have been a conspiracy instigated by the puppet of Aretas that riled up the Jews against Saul. It is not revealed how this happen and Luke nor Paul give us enough information to clarify the situation, except that he was in danger of his life. There is clear indication that both parties had the motive to kill him and enough similarity in both accounts to see them as one event. They were guarding the city gates, an ideal place to ambush someone.

 Learning of the plot, “his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket” (Acts 9:25). In this verse we learn that Paul’s ministry was extensive enough his own following, for it is no longer “the,” but “his” disciples. This indicates that his preaching had already resulted in converts to faith in Jesus. The word disciples in Acts denote that the members of the Christian community (e.g., 6:1-2, 7; 9:19; 11:26, 29; 13:52; 15:10). These disciples aid in his get away by a hamper basket. Such an escape was not uncommon (cf. spies of Jericho—Joshua 2:15; David—1 Samuel 19:12). The result is Paul now goes one to reach the Gentiles and spread the Gospel as God's ambassador to the Roman Empire.

There is a parallel between these events in Acts and the ministry of Jesus recorded by Luke in his gospel (Luke 4:16-30). There are four points of similarity:

·         Jesus and Paul begin their ministry in the synagogue preaching salvation.

·         The audiences react in amazement.

·         The audience in both cases cannot believe who is speaking.

·         Both escape a violent response to their message.[4]

 (End of Series)

[1]  Robertson, WORD PICTURES, 3:122.
[2]  Harrison, ACTS, 164.
[3]  Murphy-O’Connor, PAUL: A CRITICAL LIFE, 82. He also points out because of the political conflict between the Jews and the Nabatheans such activity would not be acceptable to Aretas. He also sees this as Paul’s first attempt to preach to pagans (Gentiles) in obedience to his commission. Also see Bruce, ACTS, 191-192; PAUL, 81, where he says, “The implication of his own narrative relates his Arabian visit rather closely to his call to preach Christ among the Gentiles.”
[4]  Witherington, ACTS, 320.

Monday, October 24, 2011


The rendezvous (Acts 9:10-19)

Saul is still blind and fasting. God now comes to the one with whom Saul is to rendezvous—one Ananias of Damascus. Barclay calls Ananias “one of the forgotten heroes of the Christian Church.”[1] He was a devout believing Jew (Acts 22:12). The Lord speaks to him in a vision. His name means Jehovah is gracious. There was no greater display of grace than the conversion of Saul. Ananias is the man who will be the fulfillment of verse 6. Ananias’ response was immediate, “Here I am, Lord” (9:10). These words denote availability (cf. 1 Sam. 3:4, 10; Isa. 6:8). Here is a man who is a learner (disciple) of God and one who is available for His service. It has often been said that God wants our availability instead of our ability.

This vision to Ananias had three direct functions:

·         To direct Ananias to Saul. “Get up and go to the street called Straight and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying” (9:1l). It is a vision of preparation and direction. It is very specific, giving who, where, and when to Ananias. For the first time it is revealed that Saul’s hometown was Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia (now a part of Turkey). It is referred to five times in Acts (cf. 9:30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3). There can be no doubt that Saul was a Jew of the Diaspora. The where he is staying in the city is the house of Judas on the street named Straight. To this day the street remains. We have no knowledge of Judas. His life is lost in the halls of history, but not to God. Ananias is even told that Saul is praying. Prayer plays an important role in Acts (1:14, 24; 2:42; 3:1; 6:4, 6; 8:15; 10:2, 4, 9, 32; 12:5; 13:2-3; 14:23; 16:13, 16, 25; 20:36; 21:5; 22:17-21; 27:35; 28:8). It demonstrates the vital role it plays in the life of a believer. Prayer and power go together. Saul is given a vision that this Ananias would come to him to give him sight (9:12).

·         To put his fear of Saul to rest. Ananias knew Saul by reputation (cf. 9:13-14). Notice the but of objection—“But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem’” (9:13). I am sure Ananias could not believe his ears. He had heard from the saints[2] of Saul’s purpose, and it was no secret to the believers in Damascus. Now God is asking him to go to this one who is the great enemy and who has the authority to arrest and drag them back to Jerusalem for torture or even death. His fear was natural. Harrison notes that this is “a testimony to the courage of Ananias that despite the threat of persecution he did not panic and resort to flight.”[3]

Notice, however, the but of objection is answered by the but of reason—“But the Lord said to him.” (9:15). The revealing of the reason, God is answering Ananias’ fear, as well as answering his objection. He tells Ananias to “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:15-16). To boost Ananias’ courage, God reveals His purpose in choosing Saul. He was a chosen vessel by God’s grace. The words chosen instrument (okeuov eklognv / ekeuos ekloges) is a genitive of quality, which is stronger than an adjective would be;[4] thus, an instrument that is selected. This places the emphasis on God’s election. The word instrument or vessel indicates one with a special purpose or task to carry out for God. Ananias need not fear going to Saul. The inquisitor is now an instrument. He has had a change in purpose and vocation. His role has reversed, now instead of being the inquisitor, Saul will be the object of inquisition. At this event Saul’s life made a complete turn, which was immediate. Becker captures this well:

Paul knew…that with his calling everything had changed for him from now on and for all time (1Cor. 9:16; Gal. 1:16). He himself had become someone else, and with him his entire experience of reality and his interpretation of world and history.[5]

His ministry was to be among all men. He was sent to the Gentiles, becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; Gal. 2:2, 7-8; Eph. 3:1-10). He would testify to both Jew and Gentile kings (Felix, Festus, Herod Agrippa, and the Emperor), and to Israel (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14:1, 26:17-20; Rom. 1:16). Suffering for His name sake will become common to this man (cf. 2 Cor. Chapters 10-12). By giving this revelation to Ananias, God is revealing the foretaste of what will be theologically and historically portrayed in the rest of Acts. The Lord apparently revealed this mission to Saul on the road approaching Damascus (cf. Acts 26:15-18). This was reaffirmed to Paul by Ananias (cf. Acts 22:14-17).

·         To be the instrument of Saul’s healing and filling with the Holy Spirit (9:17).  At first reluctant, Ananias came to Saul in obedience to the Word. The man of doubt becomes the man of duty. He greeted Saul as brother. He is the first to call Saul a Christian brother. It denotes he believed God that Saul was now one of His. Laying his hands on and declaring to Saul his purpose in coming to him. The Lord sent him so that Saul may have his sight regained and be filled with the Holy Spirit. His purpose was not to commission Saul, for that came directly from the Lord (Gal. 1:1), although Ananias reaffirmed it (Acts 22:14-16). This event makes clear that Saul was not dependent upon the Twelve; either in conversion or his commission (cf. Gal. 1:1). These events happened outside the land of Israel. It is an indication that Paul is the chosen one to take the message of grace to the Gentiles and preach outside the land of Israel. It “is a mirror of the worldwide focus of Saul’s ministry.”[6]

The results of the rendezvous are immediate (9:18-19). First, the effects of the Damascus experience are reversed. Saul’s sight is restored: “there fell from his eyes something like scales.” Based on recent medical reports of those who had similar conditions caused being struck by lightning, it has been suggested that this may have been scar tissue caused by being struck down by the great light on the road to Damascus.[7] While sight was restored, it may well be that this experience had lasting effects on Saul. From Gal. 4:15, 6:11, we see he reports poor eyesight, and it may have been his thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7). Second, he was baptized. Bachand holds that this is not water baptism, but spiritual baptism. He says the verse should be translated, “he arose baptized,” arguing that the subject is spiritual baptism. Paul received this baptism at the time of his standing.[8] This view does not seem to hold water. This baptism was done at the instruction of Ananias (cf. Acts 22:16). No matter how Bachand tries to explain away water baptism, even in Acts 22,[9] however, the act is identified with the water baptism of Acts 2:38—for the remission of sins. This connection indicates the same type and matter of baptism. Saul was saved under the prevailing message of being baptized for the remission of sins. As Baker notes:

Baptism under the Kingdom gospel was a washing or cleansing ceremony, the same as the many baptisms of the Old Testament (Heb. 9:10). But we never read of Paul telling his Gentile converts to be baptized in order to wash away their sins, even while he was practicing baptism during the Transition period. Baptism was not a part of his commission (1 Cor. 1:17). After the Transition, Paul recognized only one baptism, that done by the Spirit (Eph. 4:5; 1 Cor. 12:13).[10]

Third, it ends his fast. Now “he took food and was strengthened” (9:19).

The theological significance of this event cannot be overstated. Included are:

·         The exaltation of the earthly Jesus. The truth is dynamic and clear: The earthly Jesus is the exalted Christ. The crucified Jesus was the resurrected Christ. The resurrection is the cornerstone of the gospel. It cannot be denied. Paul experienced the Resurrected One, the vision revealed the uniqueness and deity of the One whom he doing everything to erase from human history. Now he is converted to established that person and name throughout the world.
·         The reality of divine grace apart from the Law. His conversion came not by the Law, which he was serving, but in spite of it. It was an act of divine grace upon one who deserved divine judgment. His testimony becomes that God called him through His grace alone, apart from the Law (cf. Gal. 1:15). Becker remarks: “The zealot for the law becomes an apostle who, more consistently than any other, champions the cause of law-free Gentile Christianity.”[11] It is because this experience had taught him in a living and vital way that the deeds of the Law could not bring salvation, only grace could be the channel of salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 2:11; 3:4-7).
·         The commission to the Gentiles. The call and commission of Paul as the Apostle of the Gentiles cannot be denied in this event. Even the picture of the conversion points to that fact. On this road, Saul the Jew was struck down and blinded, to rise and be given a new vision of God’s message of grace to the Gentiles. His commission is given personally by the person of Christ (Acts 26:16-18) and confirmed by Ananias (9:15-16; 22:15). Paul now becomes the transitional figure from the gospel of the circumcision, the message and apostleship of the Twelve, to the gospel and apostleship of the uncircumcision for the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). Paul would established this call on the basis of his distinctive “mystery” of inclusion of Jew and Gentile into one body of which Christ is the head (Eph. 2:11-3:12). This is his mission as an instrument of Christ, for it had been hid in God until revealed to him (Eph. 3:8-9). Ralston correctly observes: “The Damascus Road experience constituted the Apostle Paul’s theological center pin.[12]
·         The conversion of Saul marks the beginning of a radical change or transition in the administration of God. The nation of Israel will now be set aside temporarily, and a new administration of the mystery program will be revealed (Rom. 11:25 cf. Eph. 3:8-10). However, this change of doctrine, tradition, and practice would take time. This time is known as the transition period. It begins with Saul’s conversion and lasted until the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD when it is impossible to carry out the old traditions. It is not simply a conflict between Jews and Gentiles, but a conflict between two programs and practices. Aldrich observes that this transition was necessary because of the ever-present natural inertia and resistance to change. It was not an easy transition from the traditions and doctrines of Judaism to the new light and glory of grace.”[13]  DeWitt correctly observes that a dispensation covers “a distinctive era of salvation history created and sustained by a newly revealed phrase of the plan of God.”[14] The conversion of Paul and the revelation given to him marks a new phrase in the plan of God. It is a new dispensation based on new revelation of what Paul calls the mystery. In point of fact, Paul calls this new development a dispensation (Eph. 3:2-3). The program now changes from a “Jews only” message (Acts 11:19) to a message of “no difference” between Jew and Gentile message (Acts 15:9; Rom. 10:12). However, the gospel continued to be preached to the Jew “first” during this period. The call of repentance will continue to be to the Jews throughout this time, as it was when they preached to the Jews only (cf. Acts 3:19; 10:43; 11:18; 17:30; 26:18, 20). Even in Paul’s ministry this is evident by the fact that in every place visited the message was begun in the synagogues, to the Jew first, only when forced did he withdraw from the synagogue.

The message of grace as the message to all caused a conflict that arose instantly and is evidenced in the first epistle of Paul—Galatians. In this epistle we see it is a conflict between the circumcision and the believing uncircumcision—their message, traditions and practices (Gal. 2:1-21). It is a conflict between a law/ritual system based on the Old Testament and a free grace system based upon the new revelation given to Paul for us today. Freedom from the Mosaic Law system was at the heart of Paul’s mission from the inception of his work and ministry. This transition from one system to the other would continue in conflict through the rest of the book of Acts. The existence of a transition period is vital for a correct understanding of the book of Acts. The transitional period is marked by three turning points in the rest of Acts:
1.      The Conversion of Paul (Acts 9) marking its beginning.
2.      The outbreak against Paul (Acts 22:22) showing the Jews rejecting Paul’s message.
3.      The final outgoing to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28) indicating the coming final judgment upon the nation (not individual Jews).

[1]  Barclay, ACTS, 74.
[2]  This is the first time Luke uses the word saints for believers.
[3]  Harrison, ACTS, 162.
[4]  Wallace, BEYOND THE BASICS, 87.
[5]  Becker, Jurgen, PAUL: APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES, 72.
[6]  Bock, ACTS, 362.
[7]  Larkin, ACTS, 140.
[8]  Bechand, RESTORING THE KINGDOM, 176-177
[9]  Ibid, 177-178.
[10]  Baker, ACTS, 53.
[11]  Becker, 69.
[12]  Ralston, The Theological Significance of Paul’s Conversion,” BIB-SAC, 214.
[13]  Aldrich, Roy L., ”The Transition Problem in Acts,” BIB-SAC, July 1957, 236.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Paul's Conversion (3)

The Revelatory Vision (Acts 9:3-9).

Permission granted by the Sanhedrin and armed with letters of authority, Saul sets out for Damascus to seek out these apostates of Judaism and to arrest them. As he nears his destination he has a life changing experience.

  1. What he sees (9:3)
As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from haven flashed around him,” (9:3). One feature that is overlooked is the place where the revelation occurred. Luke makes a special point that it was while he was “approaching Damascus.” The question is what significance does this play? Surely this phrase could have been omitted and would not have changed the event at all. Why would Luke add this phrase if it was not worthy of mention? The phrase certainly indicates that this event happened near the city of Damascus, and may have been in sight when the event took place. The word eggizein / eggizein clearly means drawing near, to approach, and speaks on nearness to the object or place. The same word is used of Jesus before going into Jericho (Luke 18:35). These are the only two places that uses the word as an infinitive, both with the articale and the preposition. If this indicates Saul being near to Damascus when this event took place, then the significance of this event is that it took place in Gentile territory. Tradition places it as Kaukab, which is in Syria, some ten or twelve miles from Damascus.[1] This Jew was not saved in the land of Israel, but outside the camp. Could this prefigure or be connected with his ministry and mission?

Other passages tell us it was about noon, or midday (22:6, 26:13). The sun was at its brightest, but it was pale to this light. There is no question that the light suggests a glorious epiphany and a supernatural event. No natural phenomenon is taking place. It is nothing less than a revelation of the exalted resurrected Christ (9:17, 27, 22:14; 26:16, 1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8). The light is a manifestation of Christ’s glory. Brilliant light is a common feature of theophanies in the Bible (Ex. 19:16; 2 Sam. 22:13, 15; Psa. 77:18; 97:4; Ezek. 1:4, 13, 14).[2] Stam correctly calls it a “divine intervention” that “was immediate and direct.”[3] This event revealed to Paul the Son of God (Gal. 1:16; cf. 2 Cor. 12:1, 7; Gal. 1:12; 2:2), through a personal appearance (1 Cor. 15:8; 15:5-7; Luke 24:34; Acts 9:17; 13:31; 26:21), which was visible to him (1 Cor. 9:1; Acts 9:27).

2. What he hears (9:4-6)
As the spotlight of God’s glory shines around him, Saul “fell to the ground and heard a voice…” (9:4). The combination of light with a voice indicates that a divine revelation was taking place (Ex. 3:2, 4-5; Matt. 17:2, 5).[4] The first words that he hears are “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (9:4). Saul probably understood this as a rebuke, since in Rabbinic thought a voice from heaven was understood as either instruction or a rebuke.[5] Clearly the phrase is not an instruction. Rebuke is certainly in tune with the repeating of the name, which indicates confrontation. Saul was completely confused. The voice indicates a personal persecution against the speaker. Saul the zealot of Judaism thought of himself as doing God’s work, not persecuting God. In his mind he was defending God and the law. The question shows God’s solidarity with his people. To persecute them was to persecute Him.

In his confusion and bewilderment, Saul replies—“Who are You, Lord?” (9:5). Some debate has come by use of the term Lord. Some have taken it in the sense of sir, since the word kurie / kyrios can be used in the sense of respect, not worship. In this sense, it is used as an honorary title, equivalent to mister.[6] It is also used of God, indicating Lord in the sense of deity. Thus, some seem to take it in its full Christological sense. It is hard to determine which is meant here. The answer, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” indicates there was not a full recognition of whom Saul was dealing with in his mind. More enlightenment was needed and given. Thus, Lord could not be a full Christological confession. This is evident by the question—“Who are you?” But it seems in the light of its supernatural aspects to indicate more than an honorary title of respect. It certainly indicates he knew he was in the presence of a superior being.  

The KJV has the words “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” as part of the text (9:5). Also missing is part of verse 6 that is found in the KJV, “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (9:6). The words are not in the Greek text, except for the Textus Receptus. No doubt it was added when Erasmus, translating the Vulgate back into Greek, who added them to the Greek text of 1516.[7] They are not found in the Majority Text and Greek other texts. The words in verse 6 are not found in any manuscript except the Latin Vulgate. The phrases are omitted from most modern Bible versions. It is a clear case of scribal assimilation from other texts (Acts 26:14; 22:10) into this text to make the parallels uniform.[8]

While this text in Acts does not give a hint that the risen Jesus was actually seen, it is provided by addition information in Acts and the Epistles (Acts 9:17, 27; 1 Cor. 9:1l, 15:8; Gal. 1:16). It is interesting that the response of the Lord is to give only his earthly name—Jesus. This is done to link the vision with the historical Jesus, which emphasizes He is now alive and exalted. Along with the identification, Saul is told to rise and enter the city for additional instruction. The word must designates a divine necessity. He had a divine appointment, although he is not told immediately with whom.

The conversion of Saul is similar to the prophetic call of the prophets. His conversion exhibits “the marks of the prophetic inauguration.”[9] The Damascus Road encounter functions as Paul’s prophetic call as the apostle of the church, not just his salvation experience. Instantly he has a new vocation. Paul adopts prophetic language in Galatians 1:15-16 to describe his calling.[10] He, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, were called from their mother’s womb (Isa. 49:1; Jer. 1:5a). Acts 26:16-17 indicates rejection by their own people (Ezek. 3:1-9), and future revelations (Jer. 1:5-10; Ezek. 2:1-7). Paul’s very conversion experience echoes the experience of the prophets, being called by a visionary experience (Isa. 1:1, 6:1-13; Ezek 1:1, 8:4; Obad. 1; Hab. 2:2). Paul is a prophetic figure as well as an apostle.

3. What he does (9:7-9)

While Saul was having this vision, the men who were traveling with him were witnesses to the event. We are told they “stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one” (9:7). There is a seemingly conflict between this and Acts 22:9, which the KJV says they “heard not the voice.” The Greek word can mean both sound and voice. There is an ongoing debate about the syntax of the passage. Robertson says “it is perfectly proper to appeal to the distinction in the [Greek] cases in the apparent contradiction” saying the “accusative case accents to intellectual apprehension of the sound, while the genitive calls attention to the sound of the voice without accenting the sense.[11] However, Wallace shows a lot of exceptions to this, saying the “appeal to different cases probably ought not [to] form any part of the solution.[12] Regardless of the syntax debate, it seems that the solution it proposes that they heard the sound but not the voice is reasonable. We see in the case of Jesus and the voice from heaven in John 12:29 that the crowd could not distinguish an articulate voice. This seems to be the case here and many modern verses reflect this view by translating Acts 22:9—“did not understand the voice” (NASB, NIV). They heard the sound of the voice, but did not understand the words. In addition, they did not see the person of the vision, simply the light (glory of God). The words of the voice were understood by Paul, as the vision of the person of Jesus was seen by him (cf. 1 Cor. 15:8). This upholds that the call and commission was personal, not a group event.

Upon getting up, “though his eyes were open, he could see nothing” (Acts 9:8) and had to be led to the city. Some see this as being the source of Paul’s eye problems (cf. Gal. 4:13-15; 6:11).[13]He who had intended to enter Damascus like an avenging fury was led by the hand into that city, blind and helpless as a child,” observes Barclay.[14] This act of blindness has been seen in different ways: shock,[15] evidence of the prophetic call,[16] and judgment.[17] All three elements may be true in this experience. As Stam observes, “What mingled feelings of sorrow and joy, remorse and gratitude, shame and glory must have surged within Saul’s breast as he contemplated what he had just seen and heard!”[18] Believers in moments of crisis often are faced with these types of feelings, and in a sense may never completely get over them. There is evidence Paul experienced lingering shame and guilt and sense of unworthiness (cf. 1 Cor. 15:9). However, He was be able to put them behind him and look forward to a new goal of pressing toward the high calling of God. How? Only one way—by the empowering grace of God!

However, this blindness was temporary, for “he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (9:9). Some see significance of this as being Saul’s personal crucifixion with Christ, the darkness as his tomb experience, and on third day, he rises and is filled with the Holy Spirit.[19] There may be a parallel here, but the significance should not be overdone. There can be no question that during this time he did not eat or drink. Although the word fasting is not used in the text, certainly it was what happened. Fasting has two functions in the Old Testament: that of repentance (cf. Neh. 1:4; Jer. 14:12; Joel 1:14; Jonah 3:7-8) and/or a preparation for receiving revelation (cf. Ex. 34:28; Duet. 9:9, Dan. 9:1-3). Bruce’s suggestion that the lack of eating and drinking was the result of shock[20] seems unlikely for two main reasons: First, because this fasting is associated with prayer (cf. 9:11). Paul began as a man of prayer which continued throughout his ministry (cf. 16:25; 20:36; 22:17). Second, it is during this time, Saul received a vision concerning Ananias (cf. 9:12). Saul as a Pharisee would have been familiar with the fasting practice in the times of crisis, as well as a religious exercise in connection with prayer and revelation.

[1]  Knowling, ACTS, 231.
[2]  Peterson, ACTS, 303.
[3]  Stam, ACTS, 2:26.
[4]  Harrison, ACTS, 158.
[5]  Longenecker, ACTS, 370.
[6]  Zodhiates, COMPLETE WORD STUDY, 900.
[7]  Utley, ACTS, 122.
[8]  Peterson, fn. 23, 304., Bruce, ACTS, fn 9, 10, 11, 282,
[9]  Ralston, Timothy J., ‘The Theological Significance of Paul’s Conversion,” BIBLIOTHECA SACRA, April 1990, 201.
[10]  Evans, C.A., “Paul as Prophet,” DICTIONARY OF PAUL AND HIS LETTERS, 763.
[11]  Robertson, GRAMMAR, 506.
[12]  Wallace, GREEK: BEYOND THE BASICS, 133-134. Also see Peterson, fn 27, 305; Harrison, 161.
[13]  Utley, 122.
[14]  Barclay, ACTS, 73.
[15]  Bruce, ACTS, 185.
[16]  Bock, ACTS, 359
[17]  Peterson, 305.
[18]  Stam, ACTS, 2:35.
[19]  Harrison, ACTS, 161.
[20]  Bruce, 185.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Retribution by Saul—Acts 9:1-2

Luke continues with the theme of persecution introduced in 8:1-3 with Saul’s activity against believers. Murphy-O’Connor is correct that we can assume that at this point, Paul knew: “(1) that Jesus had been a teacher to whom wonders were ascribed; (2) that he had been crucified under Pontius Pilate as the result of Jewish charges; (3) that his followers thought of him as the Messiah.”[1] Luke returns to what he mentions in 8:3, the ravaging done by Saul. Saul’s aim was to destroy the church of God (Gal. 1:13 cf. Gal. 4:1). The link to chapter 8 is brought out by the word still (eti /eti): “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciple of the Lord…” (9:1). This is the only place that the word breathing (empnewn /empneon) is found in the NT. It means to breathe upon, to breathe of, animated with the spirit of, to be full of, ready to burst.[2] Threats and murder was the atmosphere in which Paul lived and breathed. Robertson says, “He exhaled what he inhaled.”[3] It speaks of his violent lifestyle. It is said that Benjamin “is a ravenous wolf” (Gen. 49:27). Paul had the characteristic of his forefather, being of the tribe of Benjamin. He later confesses that he was furiously enraged with these people who trusted in Jesus (Acts 26:11). He believed he was doing the godly thing by rooting out those who were apostates. He was a zealous Jew, who held fast to the Law and the traditions, and was a guardian of Jewish purity. (Gal. 1:14). He is a fulfillment of John 16:2, “an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”

It is no mistake that the word murder is used in the text. Lenski calls the word “significant.[4] It refers not to Stephen’s death, but his furious outrage against other disciples. Lenski articulates: “The fact that he had succeeded in having others put to death is certain, and the objection does not hold that Luke should have recorded these martyrdoms, for he recorded that of Stephen only because it marked the great turning point in the course of the history….”[5]

Saul took the initiative to pursue those who were believers in Jesus. He “went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus…” (Acts 9:1b-10a). Caiaphas would still have been High Priest, for he ruled until 36 AD. As high priest, he asserted power in the land and Jews world wide. This kind of power dates back 150 years, in which we have written evidence from a Roman ambassador to Ptolemy VII in Egypt to return fugitives from Israel to the High Priest for justice according to their law.[6] This also indicates that the High Priest had a degree of authority over synagogues in other lands, and was backed by the Roman Government. Those whom Saul was seeking were refugees from Jerusalem, not native Damascene disciples.  Damascus was a great commercial center and had a very large Jewish population. It was located only 150 miles northeast of Jerusalem. We know the Jewish population was so large that under Nero, 10,000 were put to death in Damascus.[7] It was natural that it attracted refugees from Jerusalem who was fleeing the persecution of Stephen. In order to wipe out this apostasy, Saul would follow believers wherever they would flee. Notice it was Saul who sought the letters indicating his being proactive in his work.

These letters or extradition papers gave Saul authority that “if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2b). The Way is the early common name for believers in Jesus (cf. Acts 19:9, 23; 24:14; 22). They are referred to as such only in Acts. The word way is a common word for a highway or road, an action or direction to a location, a journey. It most likely began to be used of believers because they referred to Jesus as the way. They spoke of Him as the “way of salvation,” the “way of the Lord,” and the “way of God” (Acts 16:27; 18:25, 26). And of course, Jesus referred to Himself as “the way” (John 14:6).  It speaks of Christ as the path of life and salvation. These followers of the Way, being Hellenists, would migrate toward the synagogue, and thus be a special group within, both because of them being refuges and believers.

Saul was on a search and destroy mission. Gender or age did not matter. All who believed in the Way were subject to be bound and brought back to Jerusalem to be tried, beaten, and jailed, if not killed. Conversion breaks the bonds of malice and hatred. It changes attitudes, emotions, and lives.

[1]    Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome, PAUL: A CRITICAL LIFE, 95.
[2]    Zodhiates, COMPLETE WORD DICTIONARY, 577.
[3]   Robertson, WORD PICTURES, 3:113.
[4]  Lenski, ACTS, 350.
[5]  Ibid, 350.
[6]  Bruce, ACTS, 180.
[7]  Knowling, ACTS, 230.