Acts 9:3
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
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(3) And as he journeyed.—The route by which the persecutor and his companions travelled was probably that taken by the Roman road, which extended from Jerusalem to Neapolis (Sychar, or Shechem), thence to Scythopolis, and so by the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Cæsarea Philippi, and thence under the slopes of Hermon, to Damascus. On this supposition Saul would traverse the chief scenes of our Lord’s ministry, and be stirred to madness by the progress which the new sect had made in the cities of Samaria. It is, however, possible that he may have taken the road by the Jordan valley by which Galilean pilgrims sometimes travelled in order to avoid Samaria; but the former was beyond all question the most direct and best frequented road.

He came near Damascus.—The city has the interest of being one of the oldest in the world. It appears in the history of Abraham (Genesis 14:15; Genesis 15:2), and was, traditionally, the scene of the murder of Abel. David placed his garrisons there (2Samuel 8:6; 1Chronicles 18:6), and, under Rezon, it resisted the power of Solomon (1Kings 11:24). Its fair streams, Abana and Pharpar, were, in the eyes of the Syrian leper, better than all the waters of Israel (2Kings 5:12). It was the centre of the Syrian kingdom in its alliances and wars with those of Israel and Judah (2Kings 14:28; 2Kings 16:9-10; Amos 1:3; Amos 1:5). Its trade with Tyre in wares, and wine of Helbon, and white wool is noted by Ezekiel (Acts 27:16; Acts 27:18). It had been taken by Parmenion for Alexander the Great, and again by Pompeius. It was the birth-place of Nicolaos of Damascus, the historian and rhetorician who is conspicuous as the counsellor of Herod the Great (Jos. Ant. xii. 3, § 2; xvi. 2, § 2). At a later period it was the residence of the Ommiyad caliphs, and the centre of the world of Islam. The beauty of its site, the river which the Greeks knew as Chrysorrhoas, the “Golden Stream,” its abounding fertility, the gardens of roses, made it, as Lamartine has said, a “predestined capital.” Such was the scene which met the bodily eye of the fanatic persecutor. The historian does not care to dwell on its description, and hastens to that which met his inward gaze. Assuming the journey to have been continuous, the approach to Damascus would come on the seventh or eighth day after leaving Jerusalem.

There shined round about him a light from heaven.—As in Acts 26:13, “above the brightness of the sun.” Three accounts of the event that thus turned the current of the life of Saul of Tarsus meet us in the Acts. (1) This, which gives the writer’s report of what he could hardly have heard from any lips but St. Paul’s; (2) St. Paul’s narrative before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:6-11); (3) that which he gives before Agrippa (Acts 26:13-18). They present, as will be seen, considerable variations, such as were natural in the records of a manifestation which was partial to some, and complete to one only. Those that were with him heard a voice but did not distinguish words (Acts 22:9). They saw, as stated here (Acts 9:7), the light, but did not perceive the form of Him who spoke. The phenomena, in this respect, stand parallel to those of the voice from heaven, in which some heard the words, ascribing them to an angel, while others, hearing only the sound, said it thundered (see Note on John 12:29). It is not possible in such a history to draw a hard and fast line between the objective and the subjective. The man himself cannot say whether he is in the body or out of the body (2Corinthians 12:2-3). It is enough for him that he sees what others do not see, and hears what they do not hear, while they too hear and see enough to prove both to themselves and to him that something has occurred beyond the range of ordinary phenomena. Nothing in the narrative suggests the thought of a sudden thunderstorm, which has seemed to some writers a probable explanation of the facts. In that case, the gathering gloom, the dark rolling clouds, would have prepared the traveller for the lightning-flash. If this hypothesis be at all entertained—and as it does not necessarily exclude the supernatural element, and presents analogies to the divine manifestations on Sinai (Exodus 19:16) and Horeb (1Kings 19:11-12), it may be entertained legitimately—we must think of the storm, if we take such a view, as coming with an almost instantaneous quickness, the first flash and crash striking all with terror, while the full revelation of the Christ was made to the consciousness and conscience of the future Apostle.



Acts 9:1 - Acts 9:12
; Acts 9:17 - Acts 9:20.

This chapter begins with ‘but,’ which contrasts Saul’s persistent hatred, which led him to Gentile lands to persecute, with Philip’s expansive evangelistic work. Both men were in profound earnest, both went abroad to carry on their work, but the one sought to plant what the other was eager to destroy. If the ‘but’ in Acts 9:1 contrasts, the ‘yet’ connects the verse with Acts 8:3. Saul’s fury was no passing outburst, but enduring. Like other indulged passions, it grew with exercise, and had come to be as his very life-breath, and now planned, not only imprisonment, but death, for the heretics.

Not content with carrying his hateful inquisition into the homes of the Christians in Jerusalem, he will follow the fugitives to Damascus. The extension of the persectution was his own thought. He was not the tool of the Sanhedrin, but their mover. They would probably have been content to cleanse Jerusalem, but the young zealot would not rest till he had followed the dispersed poison into every corner where it might have trickled. The high priest would not discourage such useful zeal, however he might smile at its excess.

So Saul got the letters he asked, and some attendants, apparently, to help him in his hunt, and set off for Damascus. Painters have imagined him as riding thither, but more probably he and his people went on foot. It was a journey of some five or six days. The noon of the last day had come, and the groves of Damascus were, perhaps, in sight. No doubt, the young Pharisee’s head was busy settling what he was to begin with when he entered the city, and was exulting in the thought of how he would harry the meek Christians, when the sudden light shone.

At all events, the narrative does not warrant the view, often taken now, that there had been any preparatory process in Saul’s mind, which had begun to sap his confidence that Jesus was a blasphemer, and himself a warrior for God. That view is largely adopted in order to get rid of the supernatural, and to bolster up the assumption that there are no sudden conversions; but the narrative of Luke, and Paul’s own references, are dead against it. At one moment he is ‘yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,’ and in almost the next he is prone on his face, asking, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ It was not a case of a landslide suddenly sweeping down, but long prepared for by the gradual percolation of water to the slippery understrata, but the solid earth was shaken, and the mountain crashed down in sudden ruin.

The causes of Saul’s conversion are plain in the narrative, even though the shortened form is adopted, which is found in the Revised Version. The received text has probably been filled out by additions from Paul’s own account in Acts 26:1 - Acts 26:32 First came the blaze of light outshining the midday sun, even in that land where its beams are like swords. That blinding light ‘shone round about him,’ enveloping him in its glory. Acts 26:13 tells that his companions also were wrapped in the lustre, and that all fell to the earth, no doubt in terror.

Saul is not said, either in this or in his own accounts, to have seen Jesus, but 1 Corinthians 15:8 establishes that he did so, and Ananias {Acts 9:17} refers to Jesus as having ‘appeared.’ That appearance, whatever may have been the psychological account of it, was by Paul regarded as being equal in evidential value to the flesh-and-blood vision of the risen Lord which the other Apostles witnessed to, and as placing him in the same line as a witness.

It is to be noted also, that, while the attendants saw the light, they were not blinded, as Saul was; from which it may be inferred that he saw with his bodily eyes the glorified manhood of Jesus, as we are told that one day, when He returns as Judge, ‘every eye shall see Him.’ Be that as it may,-and we have not material for constructing a theory of the manner of Christ’s appearance to Saul,- the overwhelming conviction was flooded into his soul, that the Jesus whom he had thought of as a blasphemer, falsely alleged to have risen from the dead, lived in heavenly glory, amid celestial brightness too dazzling for human eyes.

The words of gentle remonstrance issuing from the flashing glory went still further to shake the foundations of the young Pharisee’s life; for they, as with one lightning gleam, laid hare the whole madness and sin of the crusade which he had thought acceptable to God. ‘Why persecutest thou Me?’ Then the odious heretics were knit by some mysterious bond to this glorious One, so that He bled in their wounds and felt their pains! Then Saul had been, as his old teacher dreaded they of the Sanhedrin might be, fighting against God! How the reasons for Saul’s persecution had crumbled away, till there were none left with which to answer Jesus’ question! Jesus lived, and was exalted to glory. He was identified with His servants. He had appeared to Saul, and deigned to plead with him.

No wonder that the man who had been planning fresh assaults on the disciples ten minutes before, was crushed and abject as he lay there on the road, and these tremendous new convictions rushed like a cataract over and into his soul! No wonder that the lessons burned in on him in that hour of destiny became the centre-point of all his future teaching! That vision revolutionised his thinking and his life. None can affirm that it was incompetent to do so.

Luke’s account here, like Paul’s in Acts 22:1 - Acts 22:30, represents further instructions from Jesus as postponed till Saul’s meeting with Ananias, while Paul’s other account in Acts 26:1 - Acts 26:32 omits mention of the latter, and gives the substance of what he said in Damascus as said on the road by Jesus. The one account is more detailed than the other, that is all. The gradual unfolding of the heavenly purpose which our narrative gives is in accord with the divine manner. For the moment enough had been done to convert the persecutor into the servant, to level with the ground his self-righteousness, to reveal to him the glorified Jesus, to bend his will and make it submissive. The rest would be told him in due time.

The attendants had fallen to the ground like him, but seem to have struggled to their feet again, while he lay prostrate. They saw the brightness, but not the Person: they heard the voice, but not the words. Saul staggered by their help to his feet, and then found that with open eyes he was blind. Imagination or hallucination does not play tricks of that sort with the organs of sense.

The supernatural is too closely intertwined with the story to be taken out of it without reducing it to tatters. The greatest of Christian teachers, who has probably exercised more influence than any man who ever lived, was made a Christian by a miracle. That fact is not to be got rid of. But we must remember that once when He speaks of it He points to God’s revelation of His Son ‘in Him’ as its essential character. The external appearance was the vehicle of the inward revelation. It is to be remembered, too, that the miracle did not take away Saul’s power of accepting or rejecting the Christ; for he tells Agrippa that he was ‘not disobedient to the heavenly vision.’

What a different entry he made into Damascus from what he expected, and what a different man it was that crawled up to the door of Judas, in the street that is called Straight, from the self-confident young fanatic who had left Jerusalem with the high priest’s letters in his bosom and fierce hate in his heart!

Ananias was probably not one of the fugitives, as his language about Saul implies that he knew of his doings only by hearsay. The report of Saul’s coming and authority to arrest disciples had reached Damascus before him, with the wonderful quickness with which news travels in the East, nobody knows how. Ananias’s fears being quieted, he went to the house where for three days Saul had been lying lonely in the dark, fasting, and revolving many things in his heart. No doubt his Lord had spoken many a word to him, though not by vision, but by whispering to his spirit. Silence and solitude root truth in a soul. After such a shock, absolute seclusion was best.

Ananias discharged his commission with lovely tenderness and power. How sweet and strange to speaker and hearer would that ‘Brother Saul’ sound! How strong and grateful a confirmation of his vision would Ananias’s reference to the appearance of the Lord bring! How humbly would the proud Pharisee bow to receive, laid on his head, the hands that he had thought to bind with chains! What new eyes would look out on a world in which all things had become new, when there fell from them as it had been scales, and as quickly as had come the blinding, so quickly came the restored vision!

Ananias was neither Apostle nor official, yet the laying on of his hands communicated ‘the Holy Ghost.’ Saul received that gift before baptism, not after or through the ordinance. It was important for his future relations to the Apostles that he should not have been introduced to the Church by them, or owed to them his first human Christian teaching. Therefore he could say that he was ‘an Apostle, not from men, neither through man.’ It was important for us that in that great instance that divine gift should have been bestowed without the conditions accompanying, which have too often been regarded as necessary for, its possession.

Acts 9:3-5. And as he journeyed — Full of wrath against the Lord’s disciples; and came near to Damascus, suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven — This, doubtless, was occasioned by the rays of glory which darted from our Lord’s body. Some have thought that Saul, being a learned Jew, would easily know this to be the Shekinah, or visible token of the divine presence; and that he therefore cried out, Who art thou, Lord? — Though he saw no human form. But the question certainly rather implies, that he did not know who or what he was who spoke to him: and it is plain, from Acts 22:14, and other texts, that he did see, amidst this glory, a human form, which yet he might not at first imagine to be that of Jesus, though Stephen had, probably in his hearing, declared that he saw a vision of this kind. See Acts 7:55-56. And he fell to the earth — As did also all those that journeyed with him, according to the relation which he himself gives, Acts 26:14. They all fell prostrate from fear or reverence, supposing the supernatural light which they saw to be an indication of the appearance of some divine person or angel. Thus Saul, when his rage is come to the highest, is taught not to breathe slaughter. And what was wanting in time to confirm him in his discipleship, is compensated by the inexpressible terror he sustained. By this also the suddenly-constituted apostle was guarded against the grand snare in which novices are apt to fall, namely, that of pride and high-mindedness. And — To his great astonishment; he heard a voice — Severe, yet full of grace; saying unto him — In the Hebrew language, (Acts 26:14,) Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? — The persecutions of Christ’s disciples are here represented as the persecutions of Christ himself; because of their union with him by the Holy Spirit, which renders them members of his body; and because of that sympathy which he has with them under all their sufferings. See Hebrews 4:15; Isaiah 63:9. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? — And what is it that I have done against thee? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest — Who can describe the amazement and terror which must have seized Saul on hearing these words? The name of Jesus was not unknown to him; his heart had risen at it in anger and resentment many a time; and gladly would he have buried it in oblivion. He knew it was the name that he persecuted; but little did he expect to hear it from heaven, or from the midst of such glory as now shone round about him. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks — Thou wilt find it hard for thee to accomplish thy malicious designs against me; nay, all thy fury can only wound thyself, without being able to do me or my cause any real injury. For, as Dr. Hammond rightly observes, this is a proverbial expression, signifying that impotent rage which hurts one’s self, and not the person or thing against which it is levelled.

9:1-9 So ill informed was Saul, that he thought he ought to do all he could against the name of Christ, and that he did God service thereby; he seemed to breathe in this as in his element. Let us not despair of renewing grace for the conversion of the greatest sinners, nor let such despair of the pardoning mercy of God for the greatest sin. It is a signal token of Divine favour, if God, by the inward working of his grace, or the outward events of his providence, stops us from prosecuting or executing sinful purposes. Saul saw that Just One, ch. 22:14; 26:13. How near to us is the unseen world! It is but for God to draw aside the veil, and objects are presented to the view, compared with which, whatever is most admired on earth is mean and contemptible. Saul submitted without reserve, desirous to know what the Lord Jesus would have him to do. Christ's discoveries of himself to poor souls are humbling; they lay them very low, in mean thoughts of themselves. For three days Saul took no food, and it pleased God to leave him for that time without relief. His sins were now set in order before him; he was in the dark concerning his own spiritual state, and wounded in spirit for sin. When a sinner is brought to a proper sense of his own state and conduct, he will cast himself wholly on the mercy of the Saviour, asking what he would have him to do. God will direct the humbled sinner, and though he does not often bring transgressors to joy and peace in believing, without sorrows and distress of conscience, under which the soul is deeply engaged as to eternal things, yet happy are those who sow in tears, for they shall reap in joy.And as he journeyed - On his way, or while he was traveling. The place where this occurred is not known. Irby and Mangles say it is "outside the eastern gate." In the Boat and Caravan it is described as about a mile from the town, and near the Christian burying-ground which belongs to the Armenians. All that we know of it is that it was near to Damascus.

And suddenly - Like a flash of lightning.

There shined round about him ... - The language which is expressed here would be used in describing a flash of lightning. Many critics have supposed that God made use of a sudden flash to arrest Paul, and that he was thus alarmed and brought to reflection. That God might make use of such means cannot be denied. But to this supposition in this case there are some unanswerable objections:

(1) It was declared to be the appearance of the Lord Jesus: Acts 9:27, "Barnabas declared unto them how that he had 'seen the Lord in the way;'" 1 Corinthians 15:8, "And last of all he was seen of me also"; 1 Corinthians 9:1, "Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?"

(2) those who were with Saul saw the light, but did not hear the voice, Acts 22:9. This is incredible on the supposition that it was a flash of lightning near them.

(3) it was manifestly regarded as a message to Saul. The light appeared, and the voice spake to him. The others did not even hear the address. Besides,

(4) It was as easy for Jesus to appear in a supernatural manner as to appear amidst thunder and lightning. That the Lord Jesus appeared is distinctly affirmed, and we shall see that it is probable that he would appear in a supernatural manner.

In order to understand this, it may be necessary to make the following remarks:

(1) God was accustomed to appear to the Jews in a cloud; in a pillar of smoke, or of fire; in that special splendor which they denominated the Shechinah. In this way he went before them into the land of Canaan, Exodus 13:21-22; compare Isaiah 4:5-6. This appearance or visible manifestation they called the "glory of" Yahweh, is. Isa 6:1-4; Exodus 16:7, "in the morning ye shall see the glory of the Lord"; Acts 9:10; Leviticus 9:23; Numbers 14:10; Numbers 16:19, Numbers 16:42; Numbers 24:16; 1 Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 10:4. See the notes on Luke 2:9, "The glory of the Lord shone round about them."

(2) the Lord Jesus, in his transfiguration on the mount, had been encompassed with that glory. See the notes on Matthew 17:1-5.

(3) he had spoken of similar glory as pertain that with which he had been invested before his incarnation, and to which he would return; John 17:5, "And now, Father, glorify thou me with the glory which I had with thee before the world was"; Matthew 25:31, "The Son of Man shall come in his glory." Compare Matthew 16:27; Matthew 19:28. To this glory he had returned when he left the earth.

(4) it is a sentiment which cannot be shown to be incorrect, that the various appearances of "the angel of Yahweh," and of Yahweh, mentioned in the Old Testament, were appearances of the Messiah the God who would be incarnate - the special protector of his people. See Isaiah 6:1-13; compare with John 12:41.

(5) if the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul, it would be in his appropriate glory and honor as the ascended Messiah. That he did appear is expressly affirmed.

(6) this was an occasion when, if ever, such an appearance was proper. The design was to convert an infuriated persecutor, and to make him an apostle. To do this, it was necessary that he should see the Lord Jesus, 1 Corinthians 9:1-2. The design was further to make him an eminent instrument in carrying the gospel to the Gentiles. A signal miracle; a demonstration that he was invested with his appropriate glory John 17:5; a calling up a new witness to the fact of his resurrection, and of his solemn investment with glory in the heavens, seemed to be required in thus calling a violent persecutor to be an apostle and friend.


3. he came near Damascus—so Ac 22:6. Tradition points to a bridge near the city as the spot referred to. Events which are the turning points in one's history so imprint themselves upon the memory that circumstances the most trifling in themselves acquire by connection with them something of their importance, and are recalled with inexpressible interest.

suddenly—At what time of day, it is not said; for artless simplicity reigns here. But he himself emphatically states, in one of his narratives, that it was "about noon" (Ac 22:6), and in the other, "at midday" (Ac 26:13), when there could be no deception.

there shined round about him a light from heaven—"a great light (he himself says) above the brightness of the sun," then shining in its full strength.

He was near to Damascus before this wonderful vision, that, being struck blind, he might be the sooner led thither; as also, that the miracle might be more easily and publicly known, Damascus being the chief city of Syria; and, though about six days’ journey from Jerusalem, inhabited by many Jews. This was done at noon day, the rather, that the light which Paul saw might appear to be beyond that which the sun gives; and this light was a symbol of that inward light, wherewith his mind was now to be enlightened; as also of the purity of the doctrine he was to preach, and holiness of his life which he was to lead; and most probably it was caused by the glorified body of Christ, which appeared unto him.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus,.... Some say it was a mile from Damascus: though, no mention is made of his obtaining letters from the high priest, only of his desiring them; yet there is no doubt but they were granted him; the design of the historian, under a divine direction, being to give an account of the temper and disposition of Saul; and he having got them, set out on his journey in high spirits, and proceeded on with the same wicked intentions, till he came near the city; where he designed to open and show his commission, and execute his wrathful purposes; but he is not suffered to go into the city with such a Spirit:

and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven; which exceeded the light and brightness of the sun, for it was at midday, Acts 26:13 and so the Ethiopic version here inserts this clause, "and it was noon time"; which circumstance shows that the light was very extraordinary; and it was an emblem of that inward and spiritual light which was now quickly communicated to him, light being the first thing in the new, as in the old creation; and of that Gospel light he was hereafter to spread in the world.

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
Acts 9:3-9. The conversion of Saul does not appear, on an accurate consideration of the three narratives (9, 22, 26) which agree in the main points, to have had the way psychologically prepared for it by scruples of conscience as to his persecuting proceedings. On the contrary, Luke represents it in the history at our passage, and Paul himself in his speeches (22 and 26; comp. also Galatians 1:14-15; Php 3:12), as in direct and immediate contrast to his vehement persecuting zeal, amidst which he was all of a sudden internally arrested by the miraculous fact from without. Comp. Beyschlag in the Stud. u. Krit. 1864, p. 251 f. Moreover, previous scruples and inward struggles are à priori, in the case of a character so pure (at this time only erring), firm, and ardently decided as he also afterwards continued to be, extremely improbable: he saw in the destruction of the Christian church only a fulfilment of duty and a meritorious service for the glory of Jehovah (Acts 22:3; comp. Galatians 1:14; Php 3:6). For the transformation of his firm conviction into the opposite, of his ardent interest against the gospel into an ardent zeal for it, there was needed—with the pure resoluteness of his will, which even in his unwearied persecutions was just striving after a righteousness of his own (Php 3:6)—a heavenly power directly seizing on his inmost conscience; and this he experienced, in the midst of his zealot enterprise, on the way to Damascus, when that perverted striving after righteousness and merit was annihilated. The light which from heaven suddenly shone around him brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13), was no flash of lightning. The similarity of the expression in all the three narratives militates against this assumption so frequently made (and occurring still in Schrader); and Paul himself certainly knew how to distinguish in his recollection a natural phenomenon, however alarming, from a φῶς ἀπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ associated with a heavenly revelation.[235] This φῶς was rather the heavenly radiance, with which the exalted Christ appearing in His δόξα is surrounded. In order to a scripturally true conception of the occurrence, moreover, we may not think merely in general of an internal vision produced by God (Weiss, Schweizer, Schenkel, and others); nor is it enough specially to assume a self-manifestation of Christ made merely to the inner sense of Saul,—although externally accompanied by the miraculous appearance of light,—according to which by an operation of Christ, who is in heaven, He presented Himself to the inner man of Saul, and made Himself audible in definite words (see my first edition; comp. Bengel, üb d. Bekehr. Pauli, aus d. Lat. übers, v. Niethammer, Tüb. 1826). On the contrary, according to 1 Corinthians 15:8 (comp. Acts 9:1), Christ must really have appeared to him in His glorified body (comp. Acts 9:17; Acts 9:27). For only the objective (this also against Ewald) and real corporeal appearance corresponds to the category of appearances, in which this is placed at 1 Corinthians 15:8, as also to the requirement of apostleship, which is expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:1 most definitely, and that in view of Peter and the other original apostles, by τὸν κύριον ἡμῶν ἑώρακα. Comp. Paul in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. 1863, p. 182 ff. The Risen One Himself was in the light which appeared, and converted Saul (and hence Galatians 1:1 : τοῦ ἐγείραντος αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν), with which also Galatians 1:16 (see in loc.) fully agrees; comp. Php 3:12. This view is rightly adopted, after the old interpreters, by Lyttleton (on the conversion, etc., translated by Hahn, Hannov. 1751), Hess, Michaelis, Haselaar (Lugd. Bat. 1806), and by most modern interpreters except the Tübingen School; as well as by Olshausen and Neander, both of whom, however, without any warrant in the texts, assume a psychological preparation by the principles of Gamaliel, by the speech of Stephen, and by the sight of his death. For the correct view comp. Baumgarten; Diestelmaier, Jugendleben des Saulus, 1866, p. 37 ff.; Oertel, Paulus in d. Apostelgesch. p. 112 ff., who also enlarges on the connection of the doctrine of the apostle with his conversion.[236] On the other hand, de Wette does not go beyond an admission of the enigmatical character of the matter; Lange (Apost. Zeitalt. II. p. 116 f.) connects the objective fact with a visionary perception of it; and Holsten (in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. 1861, p. 223 ff.), after the example of Baur, attempts to make good the vision, which he assumes, as a real one, indeed, but yet as an immanent psychological act of Saul’s own mind,—a view which is refuted by the necessary resemblance of the fact to the other Christophanies in 1 Corinthians 15.[237] All the attempts of Baur and his school to treat the event as a visionary product from the laboratory of Saul’s own thoughts are exegetical impossibilities, in presence of which Baur himself at last stood still acknowledging a mystery. See his Christenth. d. drei ersten Jahrh. p. 45, ed. 2. It is no argument against the actual bodily appearance, that the text speaks only of the light, and not of a human form rendered visible. For, while in general the glorified body may have been of itself inaccessible to the human eye, so, in particular, was it here as enclosed in the heavenly radiance; and the texts relate only what was externally seen and apparent also to the others,—namely, the radiance of light, out of which the Christ surrounded by it made Himself visible only to Saul, as He also granted only to him to hear His words, which the rest did not hear.[238] Whoever, taking offence at the diversities of the accounts in particular points as at their miraculous tenor, sets down what is so reported as unhistorical, or refers it, with Zeller, to the psychological domain of nascent faith, is opposed, as regards the nature of the fact recorded, by the testimony of the apostle himself in 1 Corinthians 15:8; 1 Corinthians 9:1 with a power sustained by his whole working, which is not to be broken, and which leads ultimately to the desperate shift of supposing in Paul, at precisely the most decisive and momentous point of his life, a self-deception as the effect of the faith existing in him; in which case the narrative of the Book of Acts is traced to a design of legitimating the apostleship of Paul, which in the sequel is further confirmed by the authority of Peter.

Hardly deserving now of historical notice is the uncritical rationalism of the method that preceded the critical school of Baur, by which (after Vitringa, Obss. p. 370, and particularly Eichhorn, Ammon, Boehme, Heinrichs, Kuinoel, and others) the whole occurrence was converted into a fancy-picture, in which the persecutor’s struggles of conscience furnished the psychological ground and a sudden thunderstorm the accessories,—a view with which some (Emmerling and Bretschneider) associate the exegetical blunder of identifying the fact with 2 Corinthians 12:1 ff.; while Brennecke (after Bahrdt and Venturini) makes Jesus, who was only apparently dead, appear to Saul to check his persecuting zeal. These earlier attempts to assign the conversion of the apostle to the natural sphere are essentially distinguished, in respect of their basis, from those of the critical school of Baur and Holsten, by the circumstance that the latter proceed from the postulates of pantheistic, and the former from those of theistic, rationalism. But both agree in starting from the negation of a miracle, by which Saul could have come to be among the prophets, as they consign the resurrection of the Lord Himself from the dead to the same negative domain. In consequence of this, indeed, they cannot present the conversion of Paul otherwise than under the notion of an immanent process of his individual mental life.

ἀπὸ τ. οὐρανοῦ] belongs to ΠΕΡΙΉΣΤΡ. Comp. Acts 22:6, Acts 26:13; Xen. Cyr. iv. 2. 15 : φῶς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ προφανές. On ΠΕΡΙΑΣΤΡΆΠΤΕΙΝ, comp. Juvenc. in Stob. cxvii. 9; 4Ma 4:10.

[235] This applies in the main, also, against Ewald, p. 375, who assumes a dazzling celestial phenomenon of an unexpected and terrible nature, possibly a thunderstorm, or rather a deadly sirocco in the middle of a sultry day, etc.

[236] See also Hofstede de Groot, Pauli conversio praecipuus theologiae Paul. fons, Groning. 1855, who, however, in setting forth this connection mixes up too much that is arbitrary.

[237] See, in opposition to Holsten, Beyschlag in the Stud. u. Krit. 1864, pp. 197 ff., 231 ff.; Oertel, l.c. In opposition to Beyschlag, again, see Holsten, zum Evang. des Paulus u. Petr. p. 2 ff.; as also Hilgenfeld in his Zeitschr. 1864, p. 155 ff., who likewise starts from à priori presuppositions, which do not agree with the exegetical results. These à priori presuppositions, marking the criticism of the Baur School, agree generally in the negation of miracle, as well as in the position that Christianity has arisen in the way of an immanent development of the human mind,—whereby the credibility of the Book of Acts is abandoned. With Holsten, Lang, relig. Charaktere, Paulus, p. 15 ff., essentially agrees; as does also, with poetical embellishment, Hirzel in the Zeitstimmen, 1864.—Hausrath, der Apostel Paulus, 1865, p. 23 f., contents himself with doubts, founded on Galatians 1:15, which leave the measure of the historical character in suspenso. Holtzmann, Judenth. u. Christenth. p. 540 ff., finds “the—in the details—contradictory and legendary narrative” of the Book of Acts confirmed in the main by the hints of the apostle himself in his letters; nevertheless, for the explanation of what actually occurred, he does not go beyond suggesting various possibilities, and finds it advisable “to ascribe to the same causes, from which it becomes impossible absolutely to discover the origin of the belief of the resurrection, such a range that they include also the event before Damascus.”

[238] See Acts 22:9. The statement, Acts 9:7 : ἀκούοντες μὲν τῆς φωνῆς, is evidently a trait of tradition already disfiguring the history, to which the apostle‘s own narrative, as it is preserved at Acts 22:9, must without hesitation be preferred. In the case of a miraculous event so entirely unique and extraordinary, such traditional variations in the certainly very often repeated narrative are so naturally conceivable, that it would, in fact, be surprising and suspicious if we should find in the various narratives no variation. To Luke himself such variations, amidst the unity of essentials, gave so little offence that he has adopted and included them unreconciled from his different sources. Baur transfers them to the laboratory of literary design, in which case they are urged for the purpose of resolving the historical fact into myth. See his Paulus, I. p. 71 ff., ed. 2.

Acts 9:3. ἐν δὲ τῷ πορεύεσθαι, ἐγένετο: on the frequency of the infinitive as here, and of ἐγένετο in St. Luke, see Friedrich, Das Lucasevangelium, p. 13, but whilst St. Luke, even more than the other Evangelists, connects his narratives by more or less Hebraistic formulae, so he often tones down the Hebraism by changes of order or other modifications, cf. Luke 1:8-9; Luke 5:17; Luke 6:1, Acts 4:5; Acts 9:3, etc., see especially Simcox, Writers of the N. T., p. 19, cf. also Blass, Gram., pp. 232, 234.—ἐγγίζειν τῇ Δ.: for a recent description of the three roads which lead from Jerusalem to Damascus, see Luckock, Footprints of the Apostles as traced by St. Luke, i., pp. 223, 224. We may well believe that Saul in his haste and passion would choose the quickest and best frequented route which ran straight to Shechem, and after inclining to the east, by the shores of the lake of Galilee, leads straight to Damascus, with an entrance on the south; possibly he may have been stirred to “exceeding madness” by seeing in the Samaritan villages indications of the spread of the faith which it was his purpose to destroy (Plumptre, Expositor, p. 28 (1878)). Ramsay, Expositor, p. 199, note (1898), follows the old tradition as to the locality (following Sir C. Wilson). But, as he points out, this locality fixed at Kaukab (so Luckock, also u. s.), some ten or twelve miles from Damascus, was changed in modern times for a site nearer the city (so the Romanist commentator Felten, p. 185, laying stress on ἐγγίζειν); but the spot so chosen seems an impossible one from the fact that it is on the east side of the city, not on the south; see also “Damascus” Hastings’ B.D., i., 548. Moreover the tradition for this site (one out of four selected at different times) does not appear to have existed for more than some two hundred years, and although we can well understand the action of the Christians in Damascus. who. on St. Paul’s Day, walk in procession to this traditional site, and read the narrative of the Apostle’s wonderful conversion, it seems that there is no adequate evidence in support of the spot selected. “It was a true instinct that led the Church to take the Conversion as the day of St. Paul. For other saints and martyrs their day of celebration was their dies natalis, the day on which they entered their real life, their day of martyrdom. But the dies natalis of St. Paul, the day on which his true life began, was the day of his Conversion,” Ramsay, Expositor, p. 28 (1898).—ἐξαίφνης: the word is used by St. Luke twice in his Gospel and twice in the Acts—only once elsewhere, Mark 13:36. Hobart and Zahn claim it as a medical term, and it was no doubt frequent amongst medical writers, as in Hippocrates and Galen (Hobart, Medical Language of St. Luke, pp. 19, 20), but the word is also used in LXX several times in same sense as here.—περιήστραψεν: only twice in N.T.—not found at all in classical Greek, but see 4Ma 4:10. The simple verb occurs in Luke 17:24; Luke 24:4. The word is used in St. Paul’s own account of the event (Acts 22:6), (and περιλάμψαν in his second account Acts 26:13); noun in classical Greek of flashing like lightning. In Acts 22:6 the time is fixed “about noon,” and in Acts 26:13 it is said that the light was “above the brightness of the sun,” and shone round about those who journeyed with Paul. But St. Luke states the general fact, and St. Paul, as was natural, is more explicit in his own account. But St. Paul’s mention of the time of day, when an Eastern sun was at its brightest, and of the exceeding glory of the light, evidently indicates that no natural phenomenon was implied.

3. And as he journeyed] There were two roads by which Saul could make his journey, one the caravan road which led from Egypt to Damascus, and kept near the coast line of the Holy Land till it struck eastward to cross the Jordan at the north of the Lake of Tiberias. To join this road Saul must have at first turned westward to the sea. The other way led through Neapolis and crossed the Jordan south of the Sea of Tiberias, and passing through Gadara went north-eastward to Damascus. We have no means whereby to decide by which road Saul and his companions took their way. The caravan road was a distance of one hundred and thirty-six miles, and occupied six days for the journey.

he came near Damascus] The original is more full. Read, “it came to pass that he drew nigh unto Damascus.” The party must have reached the near neighbourhood of the city, for his companions (Acts 9:8) “led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus” after the vision.

and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven] In Acts 22:6 we are told that the time of the day was “about noon” when the vision was seen, and in Acts 26:13, Paul says that “at mid-day” the light was “above the brightness of the sun.” The mid-day glare of an Eastern sun is of itself exceedingly bright, and the hour was chosen, we cannot doubt, in order that “the glory” of this heavensent light should not be confounded with any natural phenomenon. It was in the midst of this glory that Christ was seen by Saul (1 Corinthians 15:8), so that he can enumerate himself among those who had beheld the Lord after His resurrection.

Acts 9:3. Ἐν δὲ τῷ πορεύεσθαι, as he journeyed) Ordinarily they who are performing a journey are not readily susceptible of apparitions, by reason of the motion and the noise.—ἐξαίφνης, on a sudden) When GOD suddenly and vehemently attacks (accosts) a sinner, it is the highest benefit and unbounded faithfulness on His part. It is thus that Saul is taught to cease breathing out slaughter at the time that his fury has come to its height; and what was wanting in the duration of his discipline, is made up for by the terror which penetrated all the inmost depths of his soul: by which very means being thus suddenly converted into an apostle, he is also fortified against the danger to which novices are liable.—αὐτὸν, him) A most evident apparition: Acts 9:7-8. Not unlike was the vision of Constantine, wherein he saw a cross; which vision is at least as worthy of credit as the dream of Alexander the Great as to the High priest of the Hebrews. The history is given in Joseph us, and is well worthy of being read.

Verse 3. - It came to pass that he drew nigh unto for he came near, A.V.; shone for shined, A.V.; out of for from, A.V. and T.R. Acts 9:3There shined round about (περιήστραψεν)

Only here and Acts 22:6. Flashed. See on Luke 11:36; Luke 24:4.

A light

Compare Acts 22:6; Acts 26:13.

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