St. Paul’s Conversion: Who do we believe?

One of the most interesting things about the New Testament book, Acts of the Apostles, is that it offers us the opportunity to compare its version of events surrounding Paul of Tarsus with the versions that appear in Paul’s letters. What do we find? That the Acts account is embellished in every case where an incident appears in both documents.

For example, Acts’ account of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus is far more dramatic than Paul’s own. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul stated that he had a revelation. ‘God…. was pleased to reveal his son to me,’ he wrote, ‘so that I might proclaim him among the gentiles.’[1] That’s all.

Acts, written more than thirty years later by the same author as ‘Luke’s’ Gospel, is much more dramatic:[2] The writer – presumably relying on hearsay and with more than a touch of artistic licence – tells us that Paul (previously known as Saul) saw a ‘blinding light’ and heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you?’ The voice replied, ‘I am Yeshua, who you are persecuting.’ Saul was struck blind, although in the story he later miraculously regained his sight on arriving in Damascus.

From then on, and this is almost certainly true, instead of arresting Yeshua’s followers Paul took it upon himself to become their leader. He referred to his revelation in several of his letters, but he never mentioned a blinding light, loss of sight or a heavenly voice.

Who do we believe, Paul or ‘Luke’? As always, you decide.

©David Lawrence Preston, 30.8.16

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[1] Galatians, 1:13-16

[2] Acts 9:1-20


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Balboa Press, 2015

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