Thursday, November 13, 2008
Paul's Conversion Story Grows
This first version is presumably based on a story Paul told Luke.
Acts 9:3-7 “As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.' The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.”
The men with him hear a voice, but see no light and remain standing.
The second version is probably Luke's eyewitness account of what Paul said while in the temple.
Acts 22:6-9 “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.' And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.”
The men with him hear a voice and see the light. It is implied that they are not knocked to the ground.
The third version is probably Luke's eyewitness account of Paul's testimony before King Agrippa.
Acts 26:13-14 “At midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'”
This time, the men with him are knocked to the ground. It is implied that his friends see the light and hear the voice.
If someone is in a group when they see/hear something noteworthy or miraculous, a really important first question to ask the witnesses is what everyone else saw/heard. It might be the case that it was real yet only one person saw it, but this is a pretty crucial detail. Whether intentional or not, this shows that Paul sometimes stretches the facts when trying to convince someone Christianity is real. This is worth keeping in mind when reading his list of Jesus-sightings in I Corinthians 15, or reading about the “third heaven” in II Corinthians 12.
What did the Voice say?
In the first version, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? ... I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”
The second version is essentially the same, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' ... I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting. ... Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.”
But in the third version, the voice says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. ... I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
Due to paraphrasing, maybe Paul just left these details out at first. But based on the information available to me, it looks like Paul was told far, far less on the road to Damascus than he reported the voice as saying while before Felix.
Story 0, aka, Guessing at the Truth
How big of a story would it have taken for Paul to come up with the Acts 9 account? Maybe he looked at the sun, had a heat-stroke, and a nightmare about Jesus that he took a little too seriously. Of course, this is just a guess.
However, what must be recognized is that our only source of what actually happened to Paul is in Acts 9 and presumably based on the testimony of Paul. And in two instances appearing in Acts, Paul exaggerates the story. This should profoundly influence the degree to which his first story is believed.