Psalm 14:1 "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God"

All articles are written in the NKJV, unless otherwise noted! All articles are written by David Hicks, unless specified otherwise.

The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus


Of the many different types of studies which might be included under the heading of Christian Evidences, one is the evidence found in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Here we see a man who at first is one of the strongest enemies of Christianity, but later becomes one of the greatest Christians. To fully appreciate the importance of his conversion, we must know the man as he was before his conversion and the man he was afterwards.

Saul was the Hebrew name by which Luke would refer to the Apostle to the Gentiles, until his clash with Bar-Jesus at Paphos. It is at this junction that Luke would record: Acts 13:9 Then Saul , who also is called Paul , filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him” And from this point forward he would be called Paul exclusively. In his own epistles, he would refer to himself only as Paul. As a Roman citizen he doubtless bore both names from youth, and this was a common practice used among the Jews of the dispersion.

Paul was born in the Graeco-Roman city of Tarsus , located at the N.E. corner of the Mediterranean Sea . Tarsus was a noted trading center and it was here that Paul would learn the trade of tent making ( Acts 18:3 ). Paul was born a Roman citizen; however it is unknown how his father acquired such a precious prize.

Paul was born a Hebrew of Hebrews; the son of a Pharisee, Paul was swallowed up in Orthodox Judaism. He would be sent to Jerusalem to study under the famous Gamaliel, and excelled in the studies of the Old Testament and the Rabbinical traditions of his fathers ( Acts 22:3 ; 23:6 ; 26:4-5 ; Philippians 3:5 ; Galatians 1:14 ).

He is first introduced to the reader of the New Testament, as holding the garments of those who stoned Stephen (A first century martyr for Christianity), as well as consenting to his death. It is here that we find the young Paul as an enemy to the church as well as a leader among the Jews, note:

Acts 7:58 “and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”

Acts 8:1 “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem ; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria , except the apostles.”

Acts 8:3 “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”

Acts 9:1-2 “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

However, a short time later, this same man who aggressively persecuted the cause of Christ, would himself become an Apostle (one sent) of Christ. As a preacher of the Gospel of Christ; a teacher of the Gospel's way of life, and a follower of Christ in his own life, Paul had no equal. He once said: Acts 21:13“Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

This is just one example of the many passages which might be offered to show his zeal and faith in Christ.

But what brought about such a drastic change? What caused this man to change his attitude toward Christ and his own religion? This is best explained by the record of his conversion, found three times in the book of Acts ( Acts 9:1-19 ; 22:1-21 ; 26:1-29 ). When we read the story, we must admit that if it is true, it is a logical and full explanation of this man's conversion. But how do we know that this is a true story? How do we know that Paul actually saw a great light and heard the voice of Christ? There are only four possible explanations of this story:

 I. Either Paul was an imposter who knew that he was telling a lie to deceive the people.

 II. Or, he was an enthusiast who was overcome by a great imagination, hence was mistaken in what he supposed happened.

 III. Or, he was deceived by the fraud of others who were trying to mislead him.

 IV. Or, what he declared to be the cause of his conversion did all really happen and therefore the Christian religion is a Divine revelation.

Our study is to examine each of these four possible explanations of Paul's conversion, to see which of them is most logical and most correct.

•  Was Paul a Fraud?

We can grant that Paul might have made up this story and was an imposter; provided we can find some purpose or motive behind the action. What would have prompted Paul to act in this fashion?

1.  Not Wealth.

There was no money gained by becoming a Christian. In fact, Paul would actually lose his chance to make money and become wealthy. As a Christian, Paul lived a life of poverty, he wrote: 1 Corinthians 4:11-12

“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;” No, Paul did not become a Christian for wealth.

2.  Not Reputation.

Paul did not become a Christian to help his reputation. He lived in the days when a man had a better reputation if he were not a Christian. The Christians were then hated and a rejected people. Yet, Paul united himself with them and suffered with them.

3.  Not Power.

Paul was not a Christian to gain power. This is best seen in his writings to the church at Corinth . There were some in this church who were wearing his name and trying to follow him. Instead of encouraging them, Paul rebuked them, note:

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

4.  Not for Fleshly Lusts.

Paul was not a Christian in order to have liberties of the flesh. Instead, he taught that men must deny themselves such liberties for the cause of Christ. He also wrote concerning his own example of this, note:

1 Thessalonians 2:10 “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;”

2 Corinthians 7:10 “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

5.  He was Not a Pious Fraud.

Paul did not pretend to receive a divine revelation in order to give him prestige in advancing the teachings of Christianity. There was no prestige in advancing the teaching of Christianity. There was no prestige in becoming a Christian. He wrote: Philippians 3:7 “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.”

Since no motive for deception can be found in the life of Paul, we conclude that he was not an imposter. He must have been sincere in his Christian life.

•  Was Paul an Enthusiast with an Imagination?

In answering this question, we shall look to see whether or not Paul had the natural elements of an enthusiast. If he did not have the natural things that usually are characteristic of a person easily enthused, we may conclude that he was not such a person. There are four chief marks of an enthusiast, which are as follows:

1. Great Temper.

Usually a person easily enthused is subject to great temper. But there are no indications of such temper in the life of Paul. While he had a burning zeal for truth, he was not overcome to the extent that he was soon angry or acted foolishly.

2. Melancholy or Discouragement.

A person who is easily enthused is just as easily discouraged. But we find no indication of such feelings in Paul, he wrote: Philippians 4:11 “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:”

3. Ignorance.

Surely! Paul was not an ignorant person, for he was well educated in the religion and laws of the Jews. Superstition grows with ignorance and is erased by education.

4. Gullible.

An enthusiastic person is usually easily led to believe most anything. However, Paul was a hard person to convince. He surly heard the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ prior to his conversion, yet did not believe what he heard then. In fact, it seemed to incite him to act against it.

Aside from a crazy notion that Paul was influenced by a moment of imagination, let us consider that it would be hard for a man to believe that which he had been persecuting and fighting was true! With as much zeal as Paul had for the Jewish religion, it would take much more than a moment of imagination to change his mind. But after his conversion Paul was so completely convinced that Christianity was true that he never for a moment expressed a doubt. His change was complete and lasted till his death. Therefore, we must conclude that Paul was not an enthusiast and was not converted to Christ through imagination (you might say it would have taken a miracle to convert Paul!).

•  Was Paul Deceived into Believing Christianity?

If Paul was deceived into believing that he saw a light and heard the voice of Christ, who deceived him ?

It was not beyond the Disciples of Christ to have conceived such a fraud, especially at the height of his persecutions against them. However, even the strongest critic would have to agree to understand that the disciples had to be convinced of Paul's conversion and that it was not a trick so that he could hurt them, note: Acts 9:26 -27 “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.”

One of the most prominent Christians in Damascus, had no idea of any plot and likewise had to be convinced that this Paul had been converted and was now a vessel of the Lord, note: Acts 9:13-16

“Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem . 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel . 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."

Not only did they not have any knowledge of such a plot, it was physically impossible for them to do it. Could they produce a light brighter than the midday sun? Could they cause him to hear a voice speaking out of the light? Could they make him blind for three days and then return his sight at a word? The fact is that there were not any Christians around when his conversion took place. In addition, no fraud could have produced the miracles (done in the open for all to see) which Paul himself worked after his conversion.

Therefore, Paul could not have been deceived into believing in Christ!

It should be easy to see now that Paul was neither an imposter, enthusiast, or had a great imagination. We also have to conclude that Paul could not have been deceived into believing in Christ. Therefore, we have but one other conclusion to reach, and that is that he actually saw the risen Christ on the road to Damascus , thus making his conversion genuine. This therefore, combines the supernatural and the Christian religion, verifying it to be a revelation from God.

•  Special Note.

It is interesting to note the origin of this argument in favor of Christianity.

George Lyttelton was born in England in 1709. In his early years (and much like Paul himself) he was a skeptic and did not believe in Christianity. Together with his friend and fellow skeptic, Gilbert West, he tried to prove that the Christian religion was un-true. These two men decided to write a book to disprove two of the greatest incidents of the New testament.

Lyttelton was to write on the conversion of Saul, and West was to discuss the resurrection of Christ. Both men started their tests with determination and resolve to prove them un-true. However, the results were much different than either had anticipated. They both were led to believe, rather than not believe based on their research. The outline of this lesson is a brief sketch of the conclusion made by Lyttelton.


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