Christian-Jewish Relations: The Conversion of St. Paul
(c. 48 CE)
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." Galatians 2:20-21
"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24
"And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" Acts 9:21
The person many today know as St. Paul was not always known as such. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. The following information briefly presents the person of St. Paul before, during, and after his conversion and attempts to decipher what or who could bring such a massive change in the life of one individual. The above verses only act as personal evidence from the mouth of Paul himself as well as those of his days to the life he lived and the change that came.
One first encounters him as Saul. Born to a wealthy Jewish family of the tribe of Benjamin in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia (presently Asia Minor), he was thus a citizen of the Roman Empire by birth. He later went to Jerusalem to study law under the Pharisees and became a zealous follower. Under their teachings and politics, Saul was a witness and support of the peoples' stoning the apostle Stephen. Stephen spoke out against the blindness of the Jewish people making specific reference to the Pharisees saying that they only followed the law superficially. Saul may have viewed this as a threat to his affinity for the Jewish custom, his pride concerning the law, and his adherence to it. For similar reasons, Saul fiercely disliked Stephen along with others who were followers of a man named Jesus Christ. His animosity toward the followers of "the Way" motivated him to set out on a campaign to oppress, imprison, and eradicate these "Christians". Already having established a fierce reputation around Jerusalem, his campaign (with the support of the high priest in Jerusalem) led him to Damascus. Some sixty miles north, the leaders of the Synagogues agreed to aid him in routing and imprisoning the Christians in that area. Who would have ever guessed what came next.....
Saul set off for Damascus with a group of travelers. When approaching the city, there was a flash and Saul was knocked to the earth. Christ appeared before him asking, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Baffled, Saul asked, "Who are you sir?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city and you will be told what to do." Though Saul's companions heard a voice speaking, they did not see anything. Now, Saul was blind. His companions took him to an inn where he ate nothing nor drank for three days.
A disciple living in Damascus, named Ananias, had a vision in which God told him to go to Saul, lay his hands on him, and heal his blindness. Fearing Saul's reputation, Ananias initially hesitated only finally going from the reassurance he received from God. Ananias found Saul and did as the Lord told him. Something like scales fell from his eyes and he sight was now restored. Saul was baptized "Paul" and then spent several days with the Christians of Damascus. He learned what he could while regaining his strength.
After spending time in Damascus preaching and spreading the Word, plots to assassinate Paul surfaced. With the help of new friends, Paul escaped back to Jerusalem. There he attempted to join with the Christian disciples. However, their fear of him and his reputation for formerly persecuting followers of the Way kept them from accepting him as one of them. With the aid of another man, Barnabas, he managed to convince them that his conversion was real. After he preached a bit in Jerusalem, more plots to kill him surfaced. So, this time his escape led him to Antioch. Briefly summarized, life for Paul after this included several missionary trips into Greece and Asia Minor with Barnabas as well as the establishment of Christian churches throughout Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, and even into Rome.
Sources: Edited by: Andrea J. Elving, [email protected] Researched by: Peter W. Marks, [email protected] Written by: Kelly E. Ogg, [email protected] November 21, 1997