Paul’s Testimony (Acts 22:6-21)
As I was on the road
approaching Damascus about noon,
a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me.
I fell to the ground
and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
‘Who are you, lord?’
And the voice replied,
‘I am Jesus the Nazarene,
the one you are persecuting.’
The people with me saw the light
but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me.
‘What should I do, Lord?’
And the Lord told me,
‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told everything you are to do.’
I was blinded by the intense light
and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions.
A man named Ananias lived there.
He was a godly man,
deeply devoted to the law,
and well regarded by all the Jews of Damascus.
He came and stood beside me
‘Brother Saul, regain your sight.’
And that very moment I could see him
then he told me, ‘
The God of our ancestors has chosen you
to know his will
and to see the Righteous One
and hear him speak.
For you are to be his witness,
telling everyone what you have seen and heard.
What are you waiting for?
Get up and be baptized.
Have your sins washed away
by calling on the name of the Lord.’
After I returned to Jerusalem,
I was praying in the Temple
and fell into a trance.
I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me,
‘Hurry! Leave Jerusalem,
for the people here won’t accept your testimony about me.’
“‘But Lord, they certainly know
that in every synagogue
and beat those who believed in you.
And I was in complete agreement
when your witness Stephen was killed.
I stood by and kept the coats they took off
when they stoned him.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’
This is Paul’s personal testimony as to why Saul the zealot became Paul the disciple. This time as you read through it imagine hearing it for the first time as one of the crowd of Jews who are calling for him to be kill. Or step up a level and imagine yourself as one of the Pharisees, or members of the Jewish Council chosen to safeguard the Law and the Jewish cultural practices. Or better yet imagine yourself to be the High Priest in charge of Sanhedrin (Council). Imagine the impact on all of these groups as we move through looking at what Paul told them of his personal encounter with Christ, the Messiah.
I am convinced that Paul deliberately didn’t divulge the fact that he was a Roman citizen in order to get this chance to speak to the Jewish opposition: the rabble rousers in the crowd, ordinary Jews who had attended the Purification Ceremony and were caught up in this riot, Pharisees, members of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest. If he had played his Roman citizen card early he would not have had the opportunity to speak to his fellow Jews. He would have been tried as a Roman citizen and they would have found no evidence for any wrong doing and he would have been released. However, Paul was “a Jew who was circumcised when I was eight days old, a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one, a member of the Pharisees, and one who demanded the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.” (Phil 3:5) This Jewish man, educated under Gamaliel to the highest level of Judaism has told us in other places that he had unceasing anguish in his heart for his own Jewish people because they were separated from the love that they can’t be separated from. (Roman 11:1 ff) This ex-Pharisee has told us (followers of The Way who read his letters) that he will always preach the Gospel to the Jew first and then to the non-Jew. So here he is being true to his word. Let see what he says and what happens.
This is a very up-to-date, topical testimony, straight from the chief persecutor – Saul himself. All gathered before him can testify to the truth of what he was saying. He had told them by his own confession in the sentences before this opening to his testimony that he went to Damascus with letters from the Sanhedrin to round up the followers of the Way and bring them back to Jerusalem to punish them. He was bent on wiping out this heresy to Judaism. Now Paul begins his account of what happened to turn him from zealot to a follower of the very sect (The Way) that he was seeking to stamp out. This is his story of what happened. Let’s listen attentively.
While I was on the way to Damascus to carry out the instructions in the letter from the Sanhedrin I saw a VERY bright light in the middle of the day, at noon, the time of the day of the highest, brightest sun period in the day, when the sun is directly overhead. For those of you who have been comparing Paul’s testimony across the three different accounts in Luke’s books of Acts notice that Paul or Luke didn’t include this little fact in the account in chapter nine – the fact that this bright light appeared in the middle of the day. Why not? Is this suspect? This is the first difference we come across. I have realised this morning that I can’t do justice to analysing Paul’s speech thoroughly and looking at the comparison between the three accounts at different times. I need to be able to see where the insertions and deletions have been made to see the differences between Paul’s testimony as I analyse. I had thought I would analyse the speech and then look at the comparison of accounts when I had finished the speech. But I can’t do that because the little additions in testimony shed light on what Paul was doing in his speech.
I guess we could discuss together whether it was Paul making this change to his story or Luke. But stop and think about that too. Luke was a meticulous historian, a man who paid attention to detail. I suspect it is Paul himself who is spelling out clearly the timing of when the bright light shone around him.
The simple fact is that it happened at noon, in the middle of the day. Stop and ponder that fact. What sort of light must it have been to shine blindingly in the middle of the day in Israel. It must have been a VERY BRIGHT light to have caught his attention and caused him to fall to the ground in the middle of the day. Paul only experienced a very bright light and then afterwards the voice speaking to him. Note also that Paul has added another little element to his testimony. This is why we have to pay very careful attention to what he is telling us in the minutest detail. He adds another detail that he hadn’t told Luke in the account recorded in Acts 9 – the fact that the light came from heaven. Well what does that mean? Doesn’t all light come heaven? The fact is the source of light for us now and for them back then is the sun. The sun is in the heavens, so the light always come from heaven. So what’s different in this case? No, Paul is not focusing our attention on an astronomical fact but rather a theological fact. The ‘light from heaven’ is a Jewish circumlocution to explain that this light came from God. The source of this light was from God; it was God Himself grabbing Saul’s attention.
Do you see now why it is important for us to pick out the differences in the speeches (in this case, in the three accounts of Paul’s testimony in the book of Acts)? Oh it is not necessarily to test whether Paul is telling lies but rather to see what little elements he slips in to his testimony in each new situation where he is telling his story so we can see how Paul tailors his testimony for the crowd he is talking to. Doing that throws a lot of light on the significance of what he said in each situation.
I will stop now and give you the comparison of accounts highlighted to show the differences and subtle variations in the next Gems. I am sure you are relieved because if I hadn’t done that this Gems was heading toward becoming the longest on record.
Believe you can and you’re halfway there. Theodore Roosevelt
Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often. Mark Twain
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. Henry David Thoreau
How remiss of me to think I would analyse the speech according to propositions and then after that look at the comparison between Paul’s three accounts of his testimony. Ian