PAUL, THE PERSECUTOR
#NAME?Paul first appears in the narrative of the Acts, under the name of Saul, at the martyrdom of Stephen, where he takes charge of the clothes of the witnesses (Acts
From the Ascension of Christ to the martyrdom of
Stephen is an important period in the history of the infant church. On and after the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) the apostles and followers of the risen Lord assumed a very bold attitude. They did not hesitate to speak openly in the temple (Acts 3:12-16) of the crime of putting "The Prince of Life" to death and asserted that He was risen from the dead. The priests and Sadducees strongly
objected to this kind of preaching (Acts 4), laid hands upon the preachers, and put them in prison. When they were examined the next day before (Acts 4:5-13) the Jewish tribunal, the apostles spoke even more boldly of Jesus and his resurrection and refused to be silenced (Acts 4:13-20, 33). Again an attempt was made to stop the preaching of the apostles, but they refused to keep still (Acts 5:16-33). A remarkable prison deliverance by the "Angel of the Lord" (Acts 5:19, 20) gave them great courage in proclaiming "all the words of this life."
At this point Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-42) proposes in the Jewish council a new policy, which was to let the followers of Christ alone, arguing that then they would speedily give up their preaching. This policy was adopted (Acts 5:40). But with the election of Stephen as a deacon (Acts 6:1-8) the followers of Christ began to multiply with great rapidity and it was soon seen that "the
let-alone policy" was a mistake (Acts 6:9-15). Persecution again breaks out which results in the death of Stephen (Acts 7), the bringing out of Saul as the arch persecutor, and the scattering of the church (Acts 8:1-4).
#NAME?It was very soon plainly seen that Christianity could keep no truce, and proposed to keep no truce, which called in question or denied the supremacy of Christ.
+The Cruelty of the Persecutor.+ -- To a man of Paul's temperament and zeal there could be no half way measures in a case like this. He could not be content to bide his time. Either the claims of Christ were true or false. If false, then they were doinIn the first persecutions the Jews had been content to arrest and imprison those who publicly preached Christ, but now the policy was changed and Christianity was to be exterminated root and branch. All believers in Christ were to be hunted out.
The character of Saul, the arch persecutor, is shown in the characterization of him by Luke, when he
represented him as breathing out, "threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1).
+Cause.+ -- The book of the Acts, opened at one place, shows a fierce hater and persecutor of the Christians (8:3), opened at another place it shows this same persecutor as an ardent and enthusiastic preacher of the faith in Jesus Christ (13:16-39) We seek for the cause of this
remarkable change. Luke tells us that Saul was on his way to Damascus, seeking victims for his persecuting zeal, when Jesus suddenly appeared to him and Saul was changed from a persecutor to a believer in Christ (Acts 9:3-7). The account is very brief. For an event which has had such tremendous results, the narrator is very reticent; a light from heaven, a voice speaking, and a person
declaring that He is Jesus. Paul gives us two accounts of his conversion and how it took place (Acts 22:6-15;
26:12-18). The men who were with Paul saw a light
and heard a voice, but not what was said. It is
impossible to describe or exaggerate what took place in Paul's mind in those brief moments while Jesus talked to him; but his beliefs, and his whole life plan were radically changed. It had been well if no explanation of this conversion had been attempted and the great fact had been left to stand as it does in the Acts. Attempts, however, have been made to minimize the power of this conversion and the marvelous and sudden change it wrought in the character and life of Paul. Some critics seeking a natural, rather than a supernatural, cause have attributed to Paul certain compunctions of conscience and misgivings about his persecution of the Christians, together with a hot day and a certain temperament, which led him to have a
subjective experience, which he thought was real. But there is no recorded evidence forthcoming that Paul ever had any compunctions of conscience about persecuting the Christians. Paul was an honest man to the very core of his being; in the two accounts he gives us of this
conversion, and in incidental references to it, he never even hints at any such state of mind. The expression used by Jesus, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Acts 9-5), of which so much has been made, means no more than that Saul's opposition and hard work against the Christians (Acts 8:3; 9:1), would be of no avail. In doing what he did Paul thought he was doing God's
service. Again the language which Paul uses and the references which he makes to this appearance of Christ forbid us to think that it was only a mere vision of Christ which he saw. "He ranks it as the last of the appearances of the risen Savior to His disciples and places it on the same level as the appearances to Peter, to James, to the eleven, and to the five hundred" (1 Cor.15:1-8). In these appearances Jesus had eaten with his disciples and been touched by them (John 20:24-31; Luke 24:36-43),
appearing as a real being, according to the narrative.
"It was the appearance to Paul of the risen Lord,
which made him a Christian, gave him a gospel to preach, and sent him forth as the apostle of the Gentiles."
The time of Paul's conversion was about 36 A.D.
+Effects.+ -- There is no question as to the very marked results which followed the appearance of the risen Lord to Saul on the way to Damascus.
1. Physical. He was smitten with blindness (Acts
9:8), and was without food for three days (Acts 9:9). His sight was restored by Ananias at the command of the Lord (Acts 9:15-18).
2. Mental and spiritual. His whole outlook upon life and its significance was changed. He received baptism and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). From being a persecutor he became an enthusiastic witness for Christ (Acts 9:20-22).
3. Penalty. The consequences of his former course of action were visited upon him; for the Jews sought to kill him and the disciples of Christ were at first afraid of him (Acts 9:23-26). But Barnabas vouched for his
sincerity (Acts 9:27).
4. The relief to the Christians at Damascus, when
Saul was converted, was very great. They had looked forward to his coming with dread.
5. The triumph of Christ. In Paul Christianity won its most efficient missionary and, next to Christ, its greatest thinker, preacher, and teacher.
6. The estimates of the results of this conversion of Saul cannot be too large; they are world wide.
PERIOD OF WAITING
+Retirement of Paul.+ -- From the conversion of Paul
(Acts 9:3-7) to his call to the missionary work (Acts 13:2) is a period of about ten years. During this time we have only incidental notices of him and what he was doing. When we think of it there is nothing strange in this retirement. It is the divine method, as in the case of Moses, when a man is to do a very large work for God that he should be well prepared for it. The chief
scripture notices of this period of retirement are found in Acts 9:19-30; Gal.1:15-24; (Acts 11:25-30; 12:25). From these notices it is quite plain: (a) That Paul retired into Arabia. (b) That he preached in Damascus and
Jerusalem, but was compelled to flee from both cities on account of the persecutions of the Jews, who sought his life. (c) That he went to Tarsus and "into the regions of Syria and Cilicia." (d) That he came to Antioch, where there was a great revival (Acts 11:25-30), at the
solicitation of Barnabas. Luke in his account (Acts 9:19-30) does not mention the trip to Arabia spoken of by Paul in his epistle to the Galatians (1:15-24). It must be remembered however that each is writing from a
different point of view. Luke is a historian recording only the most salient facts and passing over the mention of many events. We see this in the compression in eight and a half short chapters of the events of the three missionary journeys. Paul writing to the Galatians is anxious to establish the fact that he received his commission, as an apostle, not from man, but from Christ himself (Gal.1:1); hence he enters more into details and we get from him the inside view. The accounts of Luke and Paul if read carefully, keeping in mind all the circumstances, are seen not to be in any way antagonistic, but to supplement each other.
+Reasons.+ -- Many reasons have been given for the
retirement of Paul to Arabia, and what seems to be the period of comparative inactivity that followed it.
1. Fierce opposition on the part of the Jews whenever Paul attempted to preach, as in the ci