Acts 9:1 by Robert Dean
Before we study Acts 9, a biographical sketch of Paul is essential. His road to Damascus experience is so important that the Holy Spirit has chosen to refer to it several times in Scripture. Here we see the miraculous nature of Saul’s conversion and the power of God in transforming a life. Get to know Saul through events surrounding him as he was growing up, his family, his education, his extreme persecution of Christians, his Jewishness and his leadership involvement as he spread the Christian message to the Gentiles. God’s role through intervention in history and His determination of ultimate reality are so counter to our cultural beliefs that reaction to these events has been extreme and dismissive. Learn about political correctness and its function in the suicide of Western Civilization.

Saul to Paul: Psychotic Break, Psychological Delusion, OR Divine Revelation of Grace? Acts 9:1


This section is biographical in many ways, and it is very important because there are three times in Acts that the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus are described by Luke. It is described as a third perso0n narrative here in Acts 9, it is described two more times in the first person perspective as the apostle Paul relates it first to the mob in Jerusalem in Acts 22 and then later in Acts 26 as he gives his testimony to Herod Agrippa.

For these events to be recorded three times in Acts and then again in Galatians and Philippians, and alluded to in a couple of places in 2 Corinthians, tells us how important the Holy Spirit views this episode. This isn't just a story. But it is foundation to understanding some critical elements of grace—grace versus legalism, and it is important for understanding the power of God in transforming the thinking and then the life of an individual as we see this radical transformation that takes place in the person of Saul of Tarsus. And it is important for us to understand that the supernatural and miraculous nature of his conversion and the revelation that God gives him which becomes the foundation for much of doctrinal teaching of the New Testament. And consequently what we see in anything that is important is that it becomes the target of major assaults and attacks from those who are opposed to Christianity. This comes from a number of different sources and ultimately what they try to do is give this a naturalistic interpretation.

We have to remember that from the unbelieving viewpoint there is no God. That is the basic assumption of theological liberalism not matter what they claim. At the bottom line they have a God who does not enter into and act in space-time history. He is either a disconnected God or He is an impotent God, and the view everything that way so that whatever happens in history is always from the vantage point of a naturalistic worldview that by definition excludes the kind of supernatural interference in history that the Bible presents. Therefore when the modern unbeliever reads this he discounts it immediately. Within that nanosecond of hearing the story and discussing it he immediately discounts it as this can't be true. By definition because he has never seen anything like this, God doesn't do anything like this in anybody's life today, therefore it is just a story, a myth, something that somebody dreamed up in order to just promote his own religious views and it has no foundation in objective reality or objective fact. So there is the attempt to completely reinterpret this in terms of some sort of psychological narrative.

This episode with Saul fits perfectly within the thesis, the purpose of the book of Acts. There is the expansion by the Holy Spirit, beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria and then to the uttermost part of the earth. And it is this episode in Acts chapter nine when the Saul of Tarsus is converted and becomes the apostle Paul is given a commission by the Lord Jesus Christ to take the gospel, not to the Jews—Peter is the apostle to the Jews—but to the Gentiles. It is Peter who takes the gospel to the first Gentile, Cornelius, but it is Paul who will exploit that in his three missionary journeys and then his fourth which is his journey to Rome.

A lot of times in "doctrinal churches" or teaching churches we don't spend a lot of time on biography, and yet if we look at the Bible the vast majority of the Bible is narrative, the story of people's lives and how God works in people's lives. We see doctrine put into shoe leather and we see it worked out in history. That is very important because the doctrine that we believe, the teaching we believe, isn't just some abstract theological system. It is not a philosophy; it is not just principles of life. It is the reality of God's creation and how this is to be part of our life. We are to live consistently with that because this is the warp and woof of reality. So we can't separate doctrine from history, from individual's lives and from specific events. If we do that and we cut the doctrine and separate it from the historical events in and through which the doctrine is revealed then it becomes nothing more than an academic exercise, a philosophical system, and it is no different from Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, or any other philosophical system. That is one thing that makes Judeo-Christianity, going back to the Old Testament, so different. God reveals Himself in and through history. So we can't divorce history from doctrine. We have to understand doctrine within the historical context. History has no meaning in Islam or in Greek philosophy, it is only the Bible that gives meaning to history, and so as our lives are history written small within the framework of large history if history is irrelevant our life is irrelevant. The Bible gives meaning and value to every individual's life, first because we were created in the image and likeness of God, and second because history is divinely guided and has a God-intended purpose.

Today is patriot day and we have this situation that occurs today related to Islam. Political correctness is basically the suicide weapon that western civilisation has chosen. Political correctness is destroying and will destroy (if it is not stopped, and it won't be) western civilisation, because it is a mask that we have chosen to put on in order to avoid looking at reality as it is. Political correctness has redefined many issues in life so that we can't do certain things or talk about certain things because of we do it is going to offend somebody. And one of the great social sins today is that we may do something that offends someone. Sorry, but anything we do is bound to offend somebody, and the Word of God and the cross of Christ is offensive to a large segment of people in this world.

This is the same kind of thing—pulling us back into Acts 9—that we see in the misinterpretations of Christianity, i.e. there is no such thing as a real absolute. That is one of the dividing points between a biblical worldview or divine viewpoint and human viewpoint. Human viewpoint says that man is the center of everything and that man determines ultimate reality. Divine viewpoint says that God determines ultimate reality and everything operates according to His manual of instruction, and His manual is based on the fact that He is the creator of all things. Anyone who is not worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us is an idolater to the greatest degree.

Understanding the life of Paul that is centered in this event is so very important, and sadly many Christians, many young people, are never exposed to the biography of Paul is Scripture. All of these doctrines that we see taught in the Scripture are grounded in what happens in the life of Paul as God revealed it to him.

We are introduced in Acts 9:1 to Saul NASB "Now Saul …" Luke has been talking about what happened in the expansion of the gospel and to the Ethiopian eunuch. There had been a persecution in Jerusalem and so the disciples were scattered. But in their scattering they were evangelising. This is caused by the persecution that is spearheaded in many ways by Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1-3). So 9:1 is just picking up where that narrative left off. "… still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest." He asks for letters from him to the synagogue at Damascus. This was his authorisation to go outside the province of Judea into what is now Syria in order to seek out and arrest anyone who was a Christian—those who are "of the way." They are not called Christians yet, that comes later. [2] "… [that] he might bring them bound to Jerusalem."

Acts 7:58, the occasion of the stoning of Stephen. NASB "When they had driven him out of the city, they {began} stoning {him;} and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul." Saul is called a young man here. That term "young man" would be applied up to the age of thirty, so we know that he is no older than thirty at this point and is probably not younger than twenty. Acts 8:1 NASB "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death…" He was in full approval. This gives insight into his character, his belief system. He is one of the strongest advocates for Pharisaical Judaism at this time. This is a picture of a man who is passionate about what he believes, a picture of a man who is so committed to what he believes that when there is a challenge to that belief system he is willing to take the initiative to physically persecute, assault, arrest and execute for blasphemy those who opposed him. As a result, 8:1 "And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… [3] But Saul {began} ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."

If the crucifixion of Christ occurred in AD 33 then this event took place probably no earlier than two years later. It would have taken place about AD 35 and all of these events described in Acts chapter nine would have been completed by AD 37. The reason  for saying that is because in 2 Corinthians 11:32, 33 we are told "In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and {so} escaped his hands." Aretas died in AD 40. So these events would have had to have taken place at least three years before Aretas died.

Rabbinic tradition meant that Paul would have under normal circumstances moved to Jerusalem to begin his rabbinic studies when he was probably thirteen or fourteen. If we assume the youngest age, that he was twenty when this takes place in AD 35, that would mean that he would have been born about 15 AD and moved to Jerusalem about 28 or so. That is fascinating because that means that at the very least Saul of Tarsus was living as a student of Gamaliel in Jerusalem between 28-35 AD. Think about that. Who keeps coming into Jerusalem during those years? Jesus. So he would not have been ignorant of Jesus of Nazareth. If we had met Saul of Tarsus any day up until the day that Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, even fifteen minutes earlier, we would have been convinced that he was a lost cause. He was a religious rabblerouser, operating on religious arrogance on steroids, and of anybody was hostile the Jesus and Christianity it was the Saul. So if we say if anybody is never going to respond to the gospel it is going to be Saul. And look what happened.

You and I never have any right to ever think that somebody we have been witnessing to is not ever going to be responsive to the gospel. Because we don't know how long it will take before the Holy Spirit makes it really clear to them and they finally "see the light" (metaphorically).

What we know about Paul was that he was born in Tarsus. How much he was exposed to Gentile teaching we don't know. It was a center for Stoic philosophy, there was a major university training center there for physicians. There is some speculation that it may be in Tarsus that he met Luke the physician. We don't know about that, it is just an interesting guess. Paul's education was strictly Jewish. They were devoted to the Pharisaical teachings, so they would have been separatists and not mingled very much with the Greek culture. But he did have a position of privilege because he was a Roman citizen.

In Philippians 3:5, 6 Paul tells us a little bit about his family background: "circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless." The Pharisees were the conservative, self-righteous legalists. They were not liberals like the Sadducees. The Pharisees believe that the Torah was from God. Paul believed that righteousness came through ritual observance and he was dedicated to that. What he discovered from Philippians 3:7ff was that righteousness from the Law was worthless, that it is only righteousness from God that has any meaning and the only way to get God's righteousness was by trusting in Jesus Christ.

Acts 22:3-5 NASB "And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, '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.'"

Paul was the poster child of second temple Judaism. If you wanted to be the greatest, most devoted Jew in that period the model Jew was Saul of Tarsus. But then something happened. He was confronted on the road to Damascus by Jesus Christ. We have to understand who he was before he was saved to realise that nobody makes this kind of 180-degree shift just out of some kind of psychotic break or dementia or just because they had some sort of guilt complex over all of the people that they had brought to death. This is a radical change that goes to the very core of his being and it could only happen because something truly did take place on the road to Damascus. He describes it this way in Galatians chapter one: "For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but {I received it} through a revelation of Jesus Christ.   For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart {even} from my mother's womb and called me through His grace…"