The Apostle Paul was a man who began his life as Saul of Tarsus. He was a very well educated and prominent man in society. In his letter to the Philippian church later in life, Paul described himself as a man who was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless (3:4-6, NIV).” Paul remains today one of the most fascinating personalities of early Christian history and the most well-known author found in the Bible. The story of his conversion still captivates so many people as intriguing and awe-inspiring. In Acts 9:1-19, the story of Paul’s dramatic conversion is found for the first time. We see a picture of a man traveling with a group of other individuals on their way to capture and arrest more Christians because of their preaching the Gospel. However, God had other plans for this trip. When they were on the road to Damascus, suddenly a light shone from Heaven and stopped the group dead in their tracks. Paul fell to the ground as a result of the blinding light. Then he heard a voice from heaven asking why Paul was persecuting him. Paul responded by questioning, “Who are you, Lord?” It was then revealed to Paul that the voice he was hearing was none other than Jesus, the leader of the very group Paul was trying to do away with. Paul states in this account that the men with him stood speechless while Jesus was talking to Paul, and although they heard the sound of the voice, they did not see anyone. It was then, after Jesus stopped speaking to Paul, that Paul got up from the ground, but couldn’t see anything. His friends then led him to Damascus. Following their arrival in Damascus, Paul encounters a man named Ananias who helped him receive his sight again after being blinded by the light earlier on. This is a story that was relayed many times throughout the ministry of Paul and was told to many different audiences. It seemed that Paul would tell the story to anyone who would listen.
There are, however, a few differences in the story when Paul repeats it on several occasions. But the differences are not really that drastic. In one of the instances, Paul states that the men that were with him stood speechless when the light knocked him to the ground. However, in another instance, Paul said that they were all knocked to the ground. This is something that is a fairly minute detail that really holds no bearing on the outcome of the whole situation. The thing is, Paul was blinded and could not see. So, how would he know if the men were also knocked down or if they stayed standing the whole time? Would they have had to tell him what happened to them during this instance? They could have easily told him wrong or the light and the whole situation could have been so traumatic to them that they weren’t really sure what happened. That is really the only contradictory statement made in these three instances when Paul recounted his conversion on the road to Damascus. The other differences occur when Paul goes a little more in detail in the last two instances. The most detailed recounting of his conversion experience is when Paul stands before King Agrippa. Paul goes into great detail to him about the mission that God had for Paul to reach the Gentiles and others with the Gospel of forgiveness and new life in Christ. I think that could have been extremely important in this particular instance because at the very end, it is revealed that Agrippa was well aware that he was not a Christian and was convicted because of Paul’s sharing the message of forgiveness with him (Acts 26:28). The details that Paul shared in this instance could very well have been the work of the Holy Spirit working through Paul to convict Agrippa of his sins so he would be saved.
Paul’s conversion story is quite dramatic. Sometimes, Christians look at his story and feel that their conversion story is lacking excitement or drama and think that they are inferior to Paul or others to whom similar things have happened. However, I think that it is a great encouragement to all Christians. Paul’s conversion shows the extreme lengths God’s grace reaches to redeem fallen mankind. Paul was a man who persecuted, jailed, and killed Christians, yet God not only forgave him, but also said that he was useful to him (Acts 9:15-16). Another thing that is very encouraging about Paul’s story is that everywhere he went, he told it. It didn’t matter if it was a lowly peasant, or kings and rulers of countries, he shared what God had done for him boldly. I think that gives us a great idea of what we should do with our testimony (whether it is as dramatic as Paul’s or not). Always be ready and willing to tell others what God has done in your life. You never know how the Holy Spirit will work through you to reach others with the Gospel.