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The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
Summary —Saul's Journey to Damascus. The Lord Meets Him on the Way. Called to Be a Witness to the Gentiles. Baptized by Ananias. Preaches Christ to the Jews in Damascus. They Seek His Death. His Escape to Jerusalem and Meeting with the Apostles. Departure to Tarsus. Peter Heals Æneas at Lydda. Raises Dorcas at Joppa.
1. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter. See Acts 8:3, from which the narrative is now resumed. As the great change in the life of Saul is now recorded, it is proper to state what can be known of him before his conversion. Probably about a year before he appears in the history at the death of Stephen. He was of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5); his father, though a Jew, had been admitted to Roman citizenship, and Paul was therefore a “Roman” (Acts 22:28); he was born at Tarsus, a Grecian city, the capital of Cilicia; there he had become familiar with Grecian literature, as well as educated in the law; at what time we know not, but while still young he went to Jerusalem to study in the great Rabbinical schools, and had the celebrated Gamaliel for his teacher (Acts 22:3); he had, according to Jewish custom, learned a trade, being a tent-maker (Acts 18:3); he was a Pharisee after the strictest manner of the sect (Acts 23:6). How long he had been in Jerusalem when he appears in this history, whether he was there for the second time, or had not returned after his attendance at the school of Gamaliel, is uncertain, but when we first behold him he is a “young man,” prominent and influential, active in his opposition to the church, and a trusted leader of its enemies. Went unto the high priest. Probably Theophilus, the son of Annas, who was made high priest by the Romans in a.d. 37. He was a Sadducee. 453
2. Desired of him letters. A commission and letter addressed to the rulers of synagogues. The sway of the high priest was recognized in the synagogues of all the East. He was a sort of pope with the Sanhedrim for his cardinals. To Damascus. Situated about 140 miles northeast of Jerusalem, east of Mt. Hermon, in Syria, a beautiful city in a fertile spot redeemed from the desert by the mountain streams, Abana and Pharpar. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, existed in the time of Abraham, and now has about 150,000 inhabitants. Of this way. The way of Christ, a phrase often applied in the New Testament to Christianity. Paul's commission, while given in the name of the high priest, was from the Sanhedrim (Acts 26:10).
3. And as he journeyed. It would require six or seven days to make the journey. It was probably made on foot. There shined round about him a light. Brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). It was the splendor of the glorified Savior as seen at the Transfiguration, or by John at Patmos. In order to get the full history of this revelation of Christ and Paul's conversion, we must compare the accounts given by Paul himself in chapters 22 and 26 with Luke's account here.
4. Heard a voice. After he had fallen. Not a sound merely, but words that he could understand. Why persecutest thou me? Observe how Christ sympathizes with his persecuted followers. The blows that fall upon them, fall upon him. If Saul strikes the disciples in Damascus, Christ feels the blows in heaven.
5. Who art thou, Lord? Sure that it was a supernatural communication, though he might possibly suspect its source, he did not yet know that it came from Christ. Perhaps at times he had had misgivings that he might be wrong, but he was sincere. I am Jesus. It is not said, “the Christ,” but Jesus, the crucified one against whom Saul was raging. Had the answer been “the Christ,” or the Son of God, Saul might still have doubted whether this was Jesus. It is hard for thee to kick, etc. Omitted here by the Revision, but found in Acts 26:14. The idea is, that he is injuring himself, like the ox that kicks back on the goads used to urge him forward.
6. Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee, etc. The question, to which this seems to be the answer is omitted in the Revision and the oldest MSS. He must enter the church just as others. The Lord had appeared to him in order that he might be qualified for apostleship by having seen Christ, but he must learn the way of the gospel from one of its preachers. Christ never told a mortal how to be saved after he gave the Great Commission to the church.
7. And the men … hearing a voice, but seeing no man. They were dumb with amazement, but did not see Christ, who was only revealed to Saul. They heard the sound, but the words were for Saul and only understood by him. Compare with Acts 22:9. The two passages taken together mean that they heard a sound, but no words. 454
10. A certain disciple … named Ananias. He is named nowhere but in connection with the conversion of Saul. As in the case of Philip sent by the angel to the eunuch, so he is sent by revelation to Saul. A revelation was needful from the fact that Saul was a terror to the church and all would avoid him.
11, 12. Go into the street which is called Straight. This street ran in a direct line from gate to gate, east and west, and was anciently 100 feet wide and celebrated for its magnificence. It is now contracted and mean. Inquire in the house of Judas. Nothing more is known of this Judas. For Saul, of Tarsus. As the name was not uncommon, he is designated by his native city, “no mean city,” a place of 30,000 inhabitants, 20,000 at present, then celebrated for its schools. It was the Cilician capital. He prayeth. An assurance that Ananias would be favorably received. Besides, in his prayer, the vision came that Ananias would come.
15. He is a chosen vessel unto me. On this account the Lord appeared to him. See (Acts 26:16). The Lord appeared unto him, “for this purpose to make him a minister and a witness.” Unless a man is called like Saul to be an apostle he need not expect such a vision. To bear my name before the Gentiles. His mission as the apostle to the Gentiles is pointed out. And kings. He not only bore witness before the Roman rulers, but before King Agrippa and the emperor Nero.
17. Ananias … putting his hands on him. Not to convey a gift, but as a friendly act, 455significant of God's blessing.His sight returned immediately after. There is no proof whatever that any spiritual gifts were imparted, nor that any but apostles could confer these gifts, and Paul always asserted that he received his signs of apostleship, not of men, but of Christ. See Gal. 1:1, 11, 12. “The being filled with the Holy Spirit” took place after the baptism at the hands of Ananias.
18. He arose, and was baptized. The account is more fully given by Paul himself (Acts 22:13–16). Ananias said, “Receive thy sight, and in the same hour I looked upon him.” Then, after stating why the Lord had called him, he added: “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Note (1) that “tarrying” for weeks or months before baptism was then unknown; (2) that there would be no necessity of “arising,” if water was applied in baptism, but there would be if he had to go to a place suitable for immersion; (3) that the term wash (Greek, “bathe”) implies more than a sprinkling or pouring; (4) that neither Ananias nor Paul (22:16) understood that his sins were remitted before baptism. Compare Acts 2:38 and 22:16.
23. After that many days were fulfilled. A long period, probably at least three years. Luke's narrative is very condensed. He is not writing a history of Saul, but of the founding of the church. We learn from Paul (Gal. 1:16–18) that he spent at this time a long period in Arabia, and after this returned to Damascus. It was at his return that this persecution broke out. The Jews took counsel to kill him. See 2 Cor. 11:32, for additional information. At this time Damascus was in the temporary possession of Aretas, an Arabian potentate. Less scrupulous than the Roman rulers, he was willing to please Saul's Jewish enemies, who were numerous and influential, by putting him to death.
24. They watched the gates. “The governor, under Aretas the king, kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me” (2 Cor. 11:32). 456
25. Let him down by the wall. As the gates were guarded, there was no escape that way. Houses built against or on the wall, would afford an opportunity of letting him down on the outside. “And through a window, in a basket, was I let down by the wall and escaped his hands” (2 Cor. 11:33).
26. And when Saul was come to Jerusalem. Three years had passed since he left the city, a proud, talented young Pharisee, with brilliant worldly prospects, the honored agent of the Sanhedrim, commissioned to stamp out Christianity at Damascus. He now returns a disciple of him whom he sought to destroy, his bright worldly prospects all forfeited, an outcast from his own nation, persecuted and hated. Why this change? No explanation is possible, save that given in this history and by himself. They were afraid of him. Little was known in the church of the change. A great part of the three years were spent in Arabia, probably in study and preparation of his great work. They had known so much of his fury in the past that they feared him still. His appearance in the church would be much like that of Robert G. Ingersoll in a Christian convention.
27. Barnabas took him. See Acts 4:36. Barnabas was a Hellenist like Saul. When he vouched for him to the apostles, their distrust ended. Paul (Gal. 1:18) gives an account of this visit to the apostles.
29. He disputed against the Grecians. The Jews in Jerusalem who had been born in foreign countries and spoke the Greek language. See notes on Acts 6:1.
30. They brought him down to Cæsarea. The same class of Jews who had raised the persecution against Stephen now sought the death of Saul. By the aid of the brethren he was taken to the seaport of Cæsarea and sailed for his old home at Tarsus. Some think, however, from Gal. 1:21, that the journey was made by land through Syria. It is more likely that he sailed from Cæsarea to Seleucia in Syria, and from thence made his way to Tarsus. Four or five years pass before the next mention of Saul in Acts (12:25), an interval passed in preaching Christ (Gal. 1:23), and resulting in the planting of churches in Cilicia (Acts 15:23, 41).
31. Then had the churches rest. After the departure of Saul there was a cessation of persecution for several years. The reason is found in the history of the times. The Roman emperor, Caligula, had ordered his statue to be placed in the temple at Jerusalem for worship, a desecration of the temple, and the Jews were too much engaged in their efforts to prevent this to persecute the church. Edified. Built up. Were multiplied. The result, always, of “walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit.” 457
32–34. As Peter passed throughout all quarters. Visiting the churches of Judea. At Lydda. A town in the sea-coast plain, now called Ludd, not far from Joppa. Here he healed a cripple of eight years. Observe that he ascribes the power to Christ.
35. All that dwelt at Lydda and Saron. In the plain of Sharon, a term often applied to the sea-coast plain between Joppa and Cæsarea. See Song of Solomon 2:1. The passage means, not that every soul turned, but that there was a general turning as the result of the miracle.
36. There was at Joppa. The seaport of Jerusalem from the times of David to the present day, situated in a fertile plain now celebrated for its fine oranges, of which vast quantities are shipped from the port. Here named as the home of Tabitha, or Dorcas in the Greek (meaning “gazelle”), a saintly Christian noted for her deeds of love.
38, 39. They sent unto him two men. The fame of his miracles was so well known that they probably hoped that he might restore her to life. The widows stood by him weeping. They had been the objects of her benevolence.
40. Peter put them all forth. Compare 1 Kings 17:19–23; 2 Kings 4:32–36; Matt. 9:25. Perhaps that his whole soul might be fixed on the Lord in prayer. It was on his knees that he was made to feel that the Lord had given him power. In his prayer he called on the name of Christ, was answered, and only needed to say, “Tabitha, arise,” and “she opened her eyes.” It was the first miracle in which death was overcome at the hands of an apostle. 458
43. Tarried many days. Perhaps a year. Joppa was a large city and a favorable field of work. Here Peter was found, at “the house of Simon the tanner,” when called to Cæsarea by the messengers of Cornelius. It was by the seaside (10:32), and a house is still pointed out, close to the sea-shore, as that of Simon, which Dean Stanley believes to be on the original site. 415
In the main I have followed that of Dean Howson. The dates for the period after Paul's labors began are reasonably certain, and most critics are substantially agreed. Those of the period from the Ascension to the time when Paul began his labors at Antioch are somewhat uncertain. The Ascension and the founding of the Church on Pentecost must, I think he placed as early as a.d. 30, and this gives a longer interval for the events recorded in the first eleven chapters of Acts. As modified the following are the outlines:
a.d. 30. The Resurrection, the Ascension, the Gospel first Preached on Pentecost, Holy Spirit Sent, the Church Founded, and the
Events Embraced from Acts I. to Acts VI: 8.
a.d. 37. Conversion of Paul of Tarsus. Acts IX :1–19.
a.d. 38–40. Period of Paul's Retirement in Arabia.
a.d. 41–43. The Labors of Peter and the Conversion of the Gentiles Recorded in Chapter IX-XI.
a.d. 44. Martyrdom of James, and Death of Herod. Acts XII.
a.d. 45–47. Paul's First Missionary Journey. Acts XIII, XIV.
a.d. 49 or 50. Council at Jerusalem. Acts XV.
a.d. 51–53. Paul on His Second Missionary Journey. Acts XV-XVIII.
a.d. 54–56. Paul at Ephesus, nearly three Years. Acts XIX.
a.d. 57. Paul a Second Time at Corinth.
a.d. 58. Paul Goes to Jerusalem, is seized, Imprisoned. Acts XX-XXIII.
a.d. 59–60. Paul Imprisoned at Cæsarea. His Defence before Festus and Agrippa. Acts XXIII-XXVI.
a.d. 61. Paul sent to Rome. Shipwrecked. Acts XXVII-XXVIII.
a.d. 62. Imprisoned at Rome. The End of Acts.
To this I may add that there is reason to believe that Paul was acquitted and released in a.d. 63, preached in Spain, Greece and Asia, until a.d. 67 or 68, was again seized in Nicopolis in Epirus, taken to Rome a second time, and put to death in a.d. 68. 458
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