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Acts 9

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Verses 1-19

XVII

SAUL’S CONVERSION, HIS CALL TO THE APOSTLESHIP AND HIS COMMISSION

Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:5-16; Acts 26:12-20; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:7-10; Romans 7:7-25.


In commencing this chapter, I call attention to my address called, "The Greatest Man in History," which you will find in The Southwestern Theological Review, Vol. I, No. II. There are ten special scriptures which bear upon the conversion of Saul, and most of them upon his call to the apostleship. The accounts given are as follows: (1) By Luke, Acts 9:1-9, A.D. 36; (2) by Barnabas, Acts 9:26-28, A.D. 39; (3) by Paul at Corinth, Galatians 1:15-16, A.D. 57; (4) by Paul at Ephesus, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10, A.D. 57; (5) by Paul at Corinth, Romans 7:7-25, A.D. 58; (6) by Paul at Jerusalem, Acts 22:1-16, A.D. 59; (7) by Paul at Caesarea, Acts 26:1-19, A.D. 60; (8) by Paul at Rome, Philippians 3:4-14, A.D. 62; (9) by Paul in Macedonia, 1 Timothy 1:12-16, A.D. 67; (10) by Paul at Rome, 2 Timothy 1:9-12, A.D. 68. In order to understand the conversion of Saul of Tarsus we must be able to interpret these ten scriptures.


To prove that Paul was under conviction before his conversion I submit two scriptures: (1) The words that Jesus said to him when he met him, "It is hard for thee to kick against the goads." (2) What he says about his experience in Romans 7:7-25, that he was alive without the law until the commandment came, when sin revived and he died.


As to the time and place of Paul’s conversion, the argument is overwhelming that he was converted outside Damascus. In the first place, the humility with which he asked the question, "Who art thou, Lord?" Second, the spirit of obedience which instantly followed: "Whereupon, O King Agrippa, Is was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." Again he says, "When God called me by his grace, he revealed Christ in me." So we may count it a settled question that Paul was converted out there on the road, when the light above the brightness of the midday sun shone about him, and he fell to the ground.


The proof that his vision of Jesus was real, and not a mere mental state, is found in 1 Corinthians 9:1, and also 1 Corinthians 15:8, in which he expressly affirms that he had seen Jesus, and puts it in the same class with the appearances of Jesus to the other disciples, after his resurrection from the dead. It was not simply an ecstasy, nor a trance, nor a mere mental state, but he actually met Jesus, and saw him. Jesus appeared to him, not in the flesh, as on earth before his death, but in the glory of his risen body. He and Paul actually met. There was a necessity for his actually seeing the Lord. He could not otherwise have been an apostle, for one of the main functions of the apostolic office was to be an "eyewitness" that Jesus had risen from the dead. So Peter announces when Matthias was chosen to fill the place of Judas that he must be one who had continued with them from the time of the baptism of John until the Lord was taken up into the heavens, and that he must be one eyewitness of the resurrection of Christ. Other passages also bearing on his apostolic call, are, one particularly, 1 Corinthians 9:1-9, and then what he says in the beginning of his letters: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, not of man." I need not cite all of these beginnings. You can trace these out yourself. The second particular passage that I cite, to be put by the side of 1 Corinthians 9:1-9, is Galatians 1:15-16.


Let us distinguish clearly between his conversion and his apostolic call, and show what part of this point experience may not be expected in conversions today, and was not a part of his Christian experience, and what the elements of his Christian experience. When I was interested in the subject of my salvation, to me, a sinner and an outsider, the distinction between Saul’s conversion and his call to the apostleship was very clear. You must understand that the light above the brightness of the midday sun was the glory of the appearance of the risen Lord to Saul, in order that he might see him to become an apostle, and the shock which Paul experienced by thus seeing the risen Lord was the shock that knocked him down, but it was not a part of his Christian experience – it was a part of his call to the apostleship. You must not expect anything of that kind in order to your conversion, nor must you teach other people to expect it. But the elements of his Christian experience were these: (1) He was convicted that he was a sinner; (2) Christ was revealed to him; (3) he did believe on the Christ thus revealed as his Saviour; (4) he did then and there receive the remission of his sins, which remission was pictorially set forth in his baptism three days later.


Here it is well for us to define a Christian experience. I was once present when a man came to unite with the church, and the first question propounded to him was, "Please tell us in your own way why you think you are a Christian." "Well," he commenced in a sort of "sing-song" manner, "one day – ah, about five o’clock – ah, I just took a notion to walk around the work-fence – ah, and I thought maybe I’d better take my rifle along – ah, for I might see a squirrel – ah," and he went on just that way. I myself have heard, in a Negro protracted meeting on the Brazos, about eight miles below Waco, candidate after candidate tell their experiences. They commenced this way: "Well, about last Sunday night – ah," following the same "sing-song" manner, "something seemed to drop down on me like a falling star – ah, and I heard the angel Gabriel toot his horn – ah; I went down in the valley to pray – ah," and so on.


Therefore, I say that we ought to define accurately the Christian experience. This is a Christian experience: All those convictions, emotions, and determinations of the soul wrought by the Spirit of God in one’s passage from death unto life. That may sound like a strange definition of a Christian experience. It has in it a conviction and certain emotions, also certain determinations, or choices, and those convictions and emotions are not excited by seeing a squirrel, not in imagining that you heard Gabriel blow his horn, for it is not Gabriel that is going to blow the horn. Michael is the horn-blower. But this conviction, this emotion and the determinations of the will, are all Spirit-wrought. And a Christian experience covers every one of those in the passage from death unto life.


There are varied uses which the New Testament makes of Paul’s experience:


1. As soon as he was converted, and yet outside Damascus or at least as soon as he had entered Damascus, the Lord tells Paul’s Christian experience to Ananias in order to induce that disciple to go to him. That disciple says, "Lord, I know this man. Why, he is a holy terror! He just kills us wherever he finds us." But the Lord says, "I tell you he is a chosen vessel unto me, and you go to him." So the Lord made use of Paul’s experience to prepare Ananias to accept Paul, and to minister to him what ought to be ministered to him, just as God made use of the experience of Cornelius related by himself to Peter in order to prepare Peter to perceive that God was no respecter of persons.


2. The second use made is by Barnabas in Acts 9:26-28. Paul came to Jerusalem three years after his conversion, and essayed to join himself to the disciples, but they would not receive him: "You? Take you? Accept you? Why, this whole city is full of the memories of your persecutions." But Barnabas took up for him, and related how this Saul had met Jesus, and how he was a believer in this gospel, and a preacher. And the relating of Saul’s experience to the Jerusalem church removed all of their objections to him, and prepared them to receive him among them, so the record says, "he went in and out among them."


It is for such objects that the Christian experience should be related to the church. God requires it as the second ceremonial act – that the man shall publicly confess the change that has taken place in him before he can be received into the church, and I will be sorry whenever, if ever, the Baptists leave that out. A man must not only be converted inside, but in order to join the church there must be a confession of that conversion.


In this particular case it was exceedingly appropriate for Barnabas to relate it, as they would not be disposed to believe Paul. The general rule should be that each candidate tell his own experience. It is better to let the candidate just get up and tell the church why he thinks he is a Christian, in his own way. Some people object to it. They say it is too embarrassing to the women. I have never found it so, but Is have seen men so "shaky" when they went to get married that they answered so low I could hardly hear them. But women are always assertive. A woman knows she loves him. She knows what she is doing, and she doesn’t mind saying so.


I remember a Christian experience related to our old First Church at Waco. A Mrs. Warren gave it. I talked with her privately, saying, "When you come before the church, don’t let anybody suggest to you what you are to say, and don’t you say anything because somebody else has said it; you just simply say what has happened to you." When I put the question to her, she opened her Bible and put her finger on the passage from which she heard a sermon, and showed how that sermon took hold of her; told how it led her to pray; she then turned to another passage, showing that through faith she believed in Jesus Christ; and she thus turned from passage to passage. I considered her’s the most intelligent and the most impressive Christian experience I had ever heard. That kind of testimony does a world of good.


3. The third use of it Paul himself makes in his letter to the Galatians. He says, "God, who separated me even from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me." Thus he goes on to make use of his Christian experience. He says, "Therefore, now first I was converted, and then called as an independent apostle. That is why I do not go to Jerusalem to submit my experience to Peter or John, having derived this direct authority from God, from Christ, who alone can call an apostle. That is why I did not submit to the instruction of man."


4. The next use he makes of it is what is told in Romans 7, and he there tells his experience in order to show the use of the law in the conversion of a man – that the law does not convert the man; that it discovers sin to him: "I had not known sin except the law said, Thou shall and shalt not do this or that. I was not even conscious that I was a sinner until the law showed me I was a sinner. Apart from the law I felt all right, about as good as anybody, but when the law came, sin revived and I died." And then he goes on to show that this mere sight of sin through the law cannot put one at peace with God, neither can it deliver one; it does not enable one to follow the right that he sees in order to evade the wrong that he would not; that it leads one to cry out, "Wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" But when he says, "I thank God through Christ Jesus our Lord," he then shows how his conversion, through faith in Jesus Christ was led up to by the law: the law was a schoolmaster to lead him to Christ.


5. In the letter to the Corinthians he makes another use of it. He explains that he is so different from what he was, saying, "By the grace of God I am what I am." In other words, "You need not come to me and say, ‘Why, Paul, when did you commence to do better, to work out your own righteousness? You are so different from what you were when I first heard of you; you then were breathing out threatenings,’ for I say to you, By the grace of God I am what I am."


6. We see another when he stands on the stairway in Jerusalem, giving an explanation as to why he quit one crowd and then went to another crowd. They were howling against him for going over to the Christians after being so zealous as a Jew, and he asked the brethren to hear him. He admits all that they said as to what he had been, and to justify his occupying the position he now occupies, he says, "I will tell you my Christian experience," and he proceeds to do it. If a leader of wild young men, up to all sorts of mischief and devilment, should go off for a few days, and come back changed, and the boys say, "Come down to the saloon tonight, and let us have a good time," and he would then say, "No," they would wonder what had come to him and would ask, "What has come over you lately? Come and let us have a game of cards." But, "No," he says, "boys, I will tell you why I cannot do that." Then he explains why, and he leaves that crowd because he can’t stay with it any more. So Paul explained why he left the persecuting crowd, and could not go with them any more. He had had a Christian experience.


7. In Acts 26 there is another instance recorded in which he made use of it. He was at Caesarea, arraigned on trial for his life, before Festus and King Agrippa. He is asked to speak in his own defense. In defending himself against the accusations of his enemies he relates his Christian experience.


8. In the letter to the Philippians he relates his Christian experience in order to show the impossibility of any man’s becoming righteous through his own righteousness, and to show that Christ laid hold of him. He uses his own experience now to show that his righteousness can never save him, and that though regenerate, he cannot claim to be perfectly holy and sinless.


9. In 1 Timothy 1:12-16 he relates his Christian experience in order to explain two poles of those who are salvable: (a) "God forgave me because I did it through ignorance," and (b) to show that any man who has not committed the unpardonable sin, may be saved, since he, the chief of sinners, was saved.


10. Then, in the last letter to Timothy, and just before he died, he recites his Christian experience. He says, "I know him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to guard that which I have committed unto him against that day," i.e., "I committed my soul to him on that day when he came to me and met me; I knew him before I committed it to him, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep it." He made that use of his Christian experience because he was under the sentence of death, expecting in a few hours to be executed. This is his farewell to earth and to time, so he closes his letter with the statement that the time of his exodus is at hand; that he is ready to be poured out as a libation; that he has fought a good fight, has kept the faith, and that he feels sure that there is laid up for him a crown which God the righteous Judge will give to him at his appearing, i.e., the appearing of Jesus. The relating of that experience came from the lips of a dying man, showing that the ground of his assurance gives calmness – the calmness of God’s peace.


A startling fact confronts us in these many uses of his experience. We do not find many uses of Peter’s experience, or John’s, or Matthew’s, or Mark’s, or Luke’s. Paul is the only man in the New Testament whose experience is held up before us in ten distinct passages of scripture. To account for the fact, let us expound the two reasons for this particular man’s conversion (1 Timothy 1:13-16), in which he says, "Howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief . . . howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as the chief [of sinners] might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an ensample, . . ." the conclusion of which is this: All these uses are made of Paul’s experience because as Abraham had the model faith, which is the pattern for all generations, so Paul is a model in Christian experience – he is the pattern. If you preach on the faith of Abraham you have the model faith of the world; if you preach on the experience of Saul of Tarsus you have the model experience of the world.


The principal lesson to us is that as it was in the particular case of Paul, so it is in our case, that the most stupendous fact in our history is not when we were born according to the flesh, but when we were born according to the Spirit. That is our real birthday. It is the most significant and the most far-reaching fact of anybody’s lifetime and an abundant use may be made of it.


For instance, John Jasper, the Negro preacher, with his Christian experience could always reply to any atheist – even to President Eliot, of Harvard, about a new religion. He would say to President Eliot, "When you say there is no such thing as the religion that has been preached, you ought to say, ’Not as you knows of.’ I have it, and since I have got it and you haven’t, I am higher authority on that than you."


In Edward Eggleston’s Circuit Rider is the story of a fighting preacher, who was going to his appointment, and certain rough men stopped him on the way and told him that he must turn round and go home, and not fill that appointment. "No," he said, "I am going to fill it; I’m not going home." "Well, then, we will take you down from your horse and give you such a beating that you will not feel like preaching." "Well, you ought not to do that," he said. "You get down," they said. He got down and whipped both of them outrageously, but in the fight he got his jaw badly bruised and marred, and when he got to where he was to preach he could not preach. There was a big crowd, and no preacher who could preach. So he looked around and took a poor, thin, long-haired, black-eyed young fellow who had been very wild, but who had just been converted – just a boy. The preacher said, "Ralph, get up here and preach." "Why," he says, "I am no preacher; I have not been a Christian long; I have not been licensed, nor ordained." "But," said the preacher, "get up here and preach." "Why," said the boy, "I do not know any sermons." "Well, if you try to make a sermon and fail, then throw your sermon down, and tell your Christian experience before this crowd." So that boy got up and made a failure of trying to preach a sermon like preachers preach. Then, weeping, he said, "Brethren, I can tell you how God for Christ’s sake forgave my sins," and he became more eloquent in telling his experience than Demosthenes or Cicero, and that whole crowd was weeping under the power of the boy’s simple recounting of the salvation of his soul. He could not possibly have done any better than just what he did that day.


There is a myth that when Jupiter made a man he put a pair of saddlebags on his shoulders. In one of the saddlebags was the man’s own sins and in the other were the sins of his neighbors, and when the man threw the saddlebags on his shoulder the sins of his neighbors were in front of him and the other saddlebag with his own sins was behind him so that he could not see them, but his eyes were always on the sins of his neighbors. But when conversion comes God reverses the saddlebags, and putting the man’s own sins in front, he places the sins of his neighbors behind him, so that he never thinks about what a sinner A, B or C is, but, "Oh," he says, "what a sinner I am!" That is the way of it in the Christian experience. Some think that it was the thought underlying this myth which caused Paul to call himself the chief of sinners, i.e., that it was because he saw his own sins, but not the sins of other people. My belief is that all of us feel that way the first time we quit looking at our neighbors’ sins and begin looking at our own sins, but it is not the explanation of Paul’s statement, because that does not make a pattern of the case. He says, "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his long-suffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life." Note that his case was a pattern to them that should thereafter believe. That was the reason, and not simply that of looking at his own sins instead of his neighbors.


What particular act, or series of acts, or state of mind constituted him the chief of sinners, is e., was it because he was a persecutor, blasphemer, or injurious? No. I have showed in a previous chapter that Louis XIV and Alva in the lowlands persecuted worse than all. Others have gone before him in blaspheming, and there have been more injurious men than he. The answer is this: He was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees," that is, he was an extremist, going to the fine points of Pharisaism, the acme, the pinnacle, the apex of Pharisaism, which is self-righteousness, and Paul was the most self-righteous man in the world. What is the sin of self-righteousness? It says, "I am not depraved by nature; I do not need the new birth, the re-birth of the Holy Spirit; I need no atonement; I am the ’pink of perfection.’ " That is the greatest sin that man ever committed, because it rejects the Father’s love. It rejects the Saviour’s expiatory death, and his priesthood. It rejects the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and sanctification. Hence it is the culmination of sin. While other people are self-righteous, Paul was the outside man, which means that if all the sinners from Adam to the end of the world were put in a row and graded according to their heinousness, this one a sinner) this one more a sinner, that one even more, and to the outside man, the worst, the one next to hell, that man was Saul of Tarsus. That is what is meant by being the outside man as a pattern. He topped them all, to be held up before other sinners, so as to say, "If the outside man was saved, you need not despair." The value of this man’s conversion to the church and to the world is very great. It marked the turning point in the direction of the labors of the church in a worldwide way, and it established forever the foundations of the new covenant as against the old covenant.


His apostolic call and independent gospel knocks the foundation out from under the Romanist claim that Peter was the first Pope, because it shows that he did not derive from Peter his apostolic authority; that he did not even go to see Peter before he commenced exercising his call; that he did not get from Peter one syllable of his gospel; and whenever an issue came up between him and Peter the latter went down and not Paul. That one fact destroys the entire claim of the papacy that Peter was the first Pope.


There are some things in this connection that need explanation. First, the falling of the scales from his eyes. Literally, there was no falling of the scales from his eyes, but the glory of Christ blinded him. His physical eyes could not see. It was not his soul that was blinded, but his physical eyes; and "the scales" that fell from his eyes was this temporary suspension of sight caused by this glory of the Lord. If you hold your eye open a little and let me put a red hot iron, not against your eye, but close to it, it will make you as blind as a bat, but if you shut your eye it won’t do it, because the tears in your eyes will break the conduction of the heat. Paul’s case is just as when you are standing out of doors on a dark night and there comes an intense flash of lightning. When it is gone you cannot see for a moment. That is the scales.


Second, Paul was unable to eat and drink for three days. The experience that had come to him was turning the world upside down. He had meat to eat that the ordinary man knows not of. The disciples were astonished that Jesus, sitting at the well of Sychar, was not hungry. He says, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." Hundreds of times I have been in that condition, after a great illumination in God’s work, and some powerful demonstration in a meeting, that I could not eat anything. The things of heaven tasted so much better than the things of earth. No man eats for a while in the shock of such tremendous experience as that Paul passed through.


Third, the Lord said to Ananias, "Behold, he prayeth." The question arises, What was he praying for? What do you pray for? You are converted. The Lord said to Ananias, "Paul prayeth." It was used as a proof that he was converted, and, "therefore Ananias, you may go to him." Ananias was afraid to go. So the Lord said, "Why, you need not be afraid to go; he is not persecuting now, he is praying; there has a change come over him." I do more praying and quicker praying after an extraordinary visitation of God’s grace than at any other time.

QUESTIONS

1. What address commended for study in connection with this chapter, and have you read it?


2. What the scriptures bearing on the theme, and what the corresponding date of each?


3 Prove that Paul was under conviction before his conversion?


4. Through whose ministry was Paul convicted?


5. At what point in the story was he converted – when he met Jesus outside Damascus, at the end of three days in Damascus, or at his baptism?


6. What the proof that his vision of Jesus was real, and not a mere mental state?


7. What was the necessity for his actually seeing the Lord?


8. Cite other passages also bearing on his apostolic call.


9. Distinguish clearly between his conversion and his apostolic call, and show what part of this joint experience may not be expected in conversions today, and was not a part of his Christian experience.


10. Define a Christian experience.


11. What varied uses does the New Testament make of Paul’s experience?


12. What startling fact confronts us in these many uses of his experience?


13. To account for the fact expound the two reasons for this particular man’s conversion (1 Timothy 1:13-16) in which be says, "Howbeit Is obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; . . . howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as the chief of sinners] might Jesus Christ show forth all his long-suffering, for an ensample, etc."


14. What the lessons to us of the use to be made of our experience, and what illustration of it?


15. Cite the myth of Jupiter concerning the man and the saddlebags.


16. Was it the thought underlying this myth which caused Paul to call himself the chief of sinners, i.e., was it because he saw his own sins, but not the sins of other people? Explain fully.


17. What particular act, or series of acts, or state of mind constituted him the chief of sinners, i.e., was it because he was a persecutor, blasphemer, or injurious?


18. What is the value of this man’s conversion to the church and the world?


19. What is the bearing of his apostolic call and his independent gospel on the Romanist claim that Peter was the first Pope?


20. Explain the falling of the scales from his eyes.


21. Explain his not eating and drinking for three days.


22. The Lord said to Ananias, "Behold, he prayeth." What was he waiting for?

Verses 17-30

XVIII

SAUL – FROM HIS CONVERSION TO HIS ORDINATION

See list of references below.


The theme of this section is the history of Saul from his conversion and call to the apostleship, up to his ordination as an apostle to the Gentiles; that is, it extends from Acts 9 over certain parts of Acts up to chapter 13, but not all of the intervening chapters of Acts. The scriptures are Acts 9:17-30; Acts 11:25-30; Acts 22:17-21; Galatians 1:5-24; Acts 15:23-41; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Acts 26:20, which you have to study very carefully in order to understand this section. The time covered by this period is at least nine years, probably ten years, of which we have very scanty history. We have to get a great part of our history from indirect references, and therefore it takes a vast deal of study to make a connected history of this period.


Two scriptures must here be reconciled, Acts 9:19-26 and Galatians 1:15-18. The particular points conflicting are that Luke in Acts 9 seems to say that immediately, or straightway, after his conversion Saul commenced to preach at Damascus, and the Galatian passage says that straightway after his conversion he went into Arabia and remained there a long time before he returned to Damascus. The precise question involved in the account is, Did Paul commence to preach "straightway" after his conversion, as Luke seems to represent it, or did he wait nearly three years after his conversion before he began to preach? Luke’s account in Acts 9 seems on its face to be a continuous story from Damascus back to Jerusalem, without a note of time, except two expressions: "And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus," and then a little lower down he uses the expression, "when many days were fulfilled." Luke’s account says nothing about Saul’s leaving Damascus, his long absence and return there. In a very few words only he tells the story of three years. With his account only before us, we would naturally infer that Saul began to preach in Damascus "straightway" after his conversion, but we would also infer that this preaching was continuous there after he commenced, until he escaped for his life to go to Jerusalem. But the Galatian account shows that he left Damascus straightway after his conversion, went into Arabia, returned to Damascus, and then took up his ministry there, and, after three years, went to Jerusalem. This account places the whole of his Damascus ministry after his return there.


The issue, however, is not merely between Luke’s "straightway" and the Galatian "straightway," though this is sharp, but so to insert the Galatian account in the Acts account as not to mar either one of the accounts, and yet to intelligently combine the two into one harmonious story. In Hackett on Acts, "American Commentary," we find the argument and the arrangement supporting the view that Paul commenced to preach in Damascus before he went into Arabia, and in chapter II of Farrar’s Life of Paul we find the unanswerable argument showing that Paul did not commence to preach until after his return from Arabia, and that his whole ministry at Damascus was after that time, and then was continued until he escaped and went to Jerusalem.


The Hackett view, though the argument is strong and plausible in some directions, breaks down in adjustment of the accounts, marring both of them, and failing utterly in the combination to make one intelligent, harmonious story. The author, therefore, dissents strongly from the Hackett view and supports strongly that of Farrar. In other words, we put in several verses of the letter to the Galatians right after Acts 9:19.


Let us take Acts 9, commencing with Acts 9:17: "And Ananias departed, and entered into the house; and laying his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto thee in the way which thou earnest, hath sent me, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And straightway there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight; and he arose and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. And he was certain days with the disciples that were at Damascus." And Galatians 1:15 reading right along: "But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus." All of that must follow Acts 9:19. Then we go back and read, beginning at Acts 9:20: "And straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that he is the Son of God," that is, straightway after he returned from Arabia. Then read to Acts 9:25, and turn back to Galatians 1:18: "Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas." Then go with Acts 9:26: "And when he was come to Jerusalem, he essayed to join himself to the disciples." The following is a harmony of these scriptures:


It is intensely important that you have this harmony of all these scriptures. You divide all of this into four parts just like the Broadus method in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I have in four parallel columns made the harmony complete in the passages mentioned, showing how far to read, and then taking up the one that supplies, so that one can read the entire story without a break. In column 1 of this harmony read Acts 9:17-19; in column 2, Galatians 1:15-17; returning to column 1 read Acts 9:20-25 and 2 Corinthians 11:32-33; then in column 2, Galatians 1:18 (except the last clause); then back to column I and read Acts 9:26-27; in column 2, Galatians 1:18 (last clause) and Galatians 1:19-20; then back to column I, read Acts 9:28-29 (except last clause); then in column 3 read Acts 22:17-21; in column 1, Acts 9:29 (last clause) to Acts 9:31; in column 2, Galatians 1:21-24; in column 4, Acts 11:25-30; Acts 12:25. This is the harmonious story of Paul. Then read for purposes of investigation, Acts 15:23-41 in order to get the information about his Cilician work, also read 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 to find out what part of the sufferings there enumerated took place in Cicilia. Then read 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, as this pertains to Cilicia. Then read Acts 26:20 and ask the question, When did he do this preaching in Judea, and was it during his Cilician tour? This gives all the scriptures. Carefully read it over in the order in which the scriptures are given. It makes the most perfect story that I have ever read. It does not mar any one of the four separate cases. It does combine into one harmonious story and gives us an excellent harmony of these scriptures.


The value of this harmony is very evident. This arrangement mars no one of the several accounts of the story, but does combine them into one harmonious story, and provides an explanation for Luke’s "certain days," "many days," the Galatian "three years," Luke’s "straightway," and the Galatian "straightway."


With this harmony before us, we can see why Luke is so very brief on the account of Paul in Acts 9. His plan is to tell the story of the Jerusalem church up to the end of Acts 12. All matters apart from that are briefly noted, and only as they connect with Jerusalem, the center. But from Acts 13 he makes Antioch the center, and we are told of his arrest, and later on he shifts back to Jerusalem, and then back to Rome, and thus winds up the history. Remember the centers: First center, Jerusalem; second center, Antioch; third center, Jerusalem, and fourth center, Rome.


Saul did not commence preaching at Damascus immediately after his conversion because he had nothing to preach. He had not yet received the gospel. A man cannot by sudden wrench turn from propagating the Pharisee persecution to propagating the gospel of Jesus Christ. He must have the gospel first, and must receive it direct from the Lord. After you take up the New Testament passages showing how he received the gospel, you will see that he did not receive it while at Damascus. Indeed, we have the most positive proof that he did not receive it there.


But why did he go into Arabia, where in Arabia, and how long there? Being willing to accept Christ as his Saviour, he needs time for adjustment. He needs retirement. He needs, like every preacher needs after conversion, his preparation to preach and to know what to preach. He went into Arabia for this purpose, and, of course, Arabia here means the Sinaitic Peninsula, or Mount Sinai. Up to his conversion he had been preaching Moses and the law given on Mount Sinai. Now he goes into Arabia to Mount Sinai, the very place where God gave the law to Moses, to study the law and the gospel, and comes back to us, having received of the Lord the gospel as explained in Galatians.


There are some analogous cases. The other apostles had to have three years of preparation, and under the same teacher, Jesus. They would have done very poor preaching if they had started immediately after their conversion. Jesus kept them right there, and trained them for three years. Now Paul commences with the three years’ training, and he goes to Arabia and receives the three years’ preparation under the same teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. He not only knows the facts of the gospel as we know them from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but as one that was there right at the time, and he gets it firsthand from the Lord Jesus Christ himself telling him all the important facts bearing upon the remaining of the incarnation of Jesus, where he came from in coming to the earth, how much he stooped, what the coming signified, of his death, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension. We get the harmony of the gospel by studying the books, but he did not get it as we do, but by direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ. He introduces a statement concerning the revelation that he received, and he is careful to tell the Corinthian church how that Christ died, was buried, and rose again in three days. It took three years and a half in the analogous cases of other apostles.


Elijah went into Arabia and into this very mountain when he was perplexed; and there came an earthquake, and God was not in the earthquake; and there came a fire, and God was not in the fire, but there came a still, small voice showing Elijah what he must do. Take the case of Moses when the revelation was made to him that he was to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Egyptians. God told him the methods and the means and sent him into the same Sinaitic Peninsula. He stayed there forty years in study and preparation, and then delivered Israel.


John the Baptist remained in the wilderness thirty years in order to preach six months. Neither did Jesus open his mouth to preach a sermon until after his baptism, and was led into the wilderness and tempted of the devil, and then came back and immediately commenced to preach. More hurtful mistakes are made by unprepared people taking hold of the Scriptures than in any other way. A certain colonel, when asked by a zealous young preacher, "Well, colonel, what do you think of my sermon," answered, "Zealous, but weak."


We have only to read Galatians 4 to see the significance of Sinai and Jerusalem, which shows the revolutions which took place in his mind while he was in Arabia. If the apostle Paul had not gone into Arabia, but had been sent to Judea under the old covenant, which is Jerusalem, as Jerusalem now is, the Christian world would have been a Jewish sect. You have only to read to see how certain of the apostles clung to the forms and customs of the Jewish law and claimed that one could not be a Christian without becoming a Jew and being circumcised. What would have been the effect if God had not selected this great life and revealed to him the ministry of the gospel that had been rejected by the Jews and given to the Gentiles, so that foreigners and aliens might become citizens and saints? For a more elaborate discussion of this subject see the author’s sermon on the Arabian visit.


Just before the ministry at Damascus he went into Arabia and returned. He was in Arabia over two, perhaps three years. As he stayed about three years before he went back to Jerusalem, his ministry was not very long in Damascus. The record says, "straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus," etc. What kind of sermons did they have? The Jews over at Damascus that were still holding to the Mosaic law could not yet understand this revolutionary preaching, and right there at Damascus, he received one of the five Jewish scourgings that are mentioned in 2 Corinthians, which gives a list of the number of times he received the forty stripes save one, and the number of times beaten with the Roman rods, and the number of times scourged with the Jewish scourge. Finding the scourging was not sufficient, they laid a plot against him. They conspired and set a watch at every gate all around the city to kill him. The walls at Damascus have houses built on them, as you can see to this day. They put him in a basket and from a window in the upper story they letrbim down by the wall. Aretas was king of Damascus at this time) and he stationed soldiers at every gate to keep watch, and while they were watching the gates, Paul escaped from the window in an upper story, as given in the thrilling account of 2 Corinthians 11:32-33. Also Luke gives the account, saying that the brethren let him down in a basket by the wall. Now he being let down, started to Jerusalem. Three years have elapsed since he left there, a persecutor, and he returns now a preacher of the Lord Jesus Christ. That presents this connected account.


But why did he want to go to Jerusalem to see Peter? Commentaries say he wanted to get information from Peter; Catholics say that Peter was Pope. Whatever he wanted to get, I think he derived nothing from Peter. When he came there they expressed distrust of him. If he had commenced to preach at Damascus "straightway" after his conversion, in three years’ time some notice would have gotten to Jerusalem, and there would not have been this distrust when he got there. Only one had heard of this change and his beginning to preach, and that was Barnabas, of the Jewish church. When Barnabas related Paul’s experience, they received him and he went in and out among them. But he was there only two weeks.


He commenced immediately to preach to the Grecians, and it stirred up the people as it did at Damascus, and they were so intensely stirred that they laid a plan to kill him. So he left, and there are two reasons for his leaving. When the brethren saw the Jews were about to kill him, they sent him to Caesarea and over to Tarsus. That is one of the reasons for his leaving. Paul gives an entirely different reason. He says, "And it came to pass when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the Temple, I was in a trance, and Jesus came unto me saying, Make haste and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. Get thee far hence and preach to the Gentiles," and he, therefore, went.


Here was the Cilician ministry, its sufferings and its revelations. He was over there five years, and some of the sufferings enumerated in 1 Corinthians II are bound to have occurred in that period; some of the shipwrecks, some of the scourges, some of these stonings. In 2 Corinthians 12 he says, "I knew a man in Christ, fourteen years ago," so if you drop back fourteen years you find yourself there with Paul in Cilicia. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 we find the revelations that occurred there. One of the revelations there was that marvelous revelation that he received (2 Corinthians 12:4): "How that he was caught up into Paradise." Here the question arises, Was it in this tour that he preached on the coasts of Judea? In Acts he seems to say that he preached at Damascus first and then at Jerusalem, and in Cilicia, and on the coasts of Judea. We have no history of his preaching on the Judean coasts beyond his statement, and if he did not preach on the coasts of Judea at that time, when do we find a period in his life before that where he could have preached on the Judean coasts? On his way to the Jerusalem conference. Therefore, he says, "While I was in Cilicia, and the five years I was at Tarsus, and just a little way from Tarsus on the Judean coasts."


Let us consider the Antioch ministry. The record says Barnabas had gone to Tarsus in order to find Saul and bring him back with him, and that Barnabas and Saul preached a year at Antioch. A great many were brought into the church. It was the first time in the world where Jew and Gentile were in the same church together, socially, eating and drinking with each other. But Paul now makes his second visit to Jerusalem. The last of chapter II tells us that Agabus, one of the prophets, foretold a drought in Judea, and Paul and Barnabas took a collection over to them. Later, when Paul is making his last visit to Jerusalem, Agabus meets him and gives that remarkable prophecy which we find in Acts 21, about what would happen to Paul if he went to Jerusalem, he having received the revelation from the Holy Spirit. But the condition of Jerusalem when he arrived was awful. Herod, as we find in Acts 12, was persecuting the church, and had killed James and imprisoned Peter. Paul comes just at that time. On his return to Antioch he finds a new companion, Mark.


The Romanists place here Peter’s first visit to Rome. They take two passages of scripture, one Acts 2, where Peter visits all parts, and they say when he left Jerusalem this time he went to Rome, and got back to Jerusalem in time for that big council in Acts 15. So far as Bible history goes, there is not a bit of testimony that Peter ever saw Rome. I think he did, but we do not get it from the Bible.


Here arises another question, Did the shock of our Lord’s appearance to Saul on the way to Damascus, likely injure him physically in a permanent way, and permanently affect his sensibilities? My opinion is that it did. He was never a strong man after that. His eyes always gave him trouble. Though the scales fell from his eyes, and he was not entirely blind, his eyes were weak, and he had to grope his way in walking. There are two pictures of Paul which greatly contrast his physical appearance. Raphael gives us a famous cartoon of Paul at Athens, and one of the most famous pictures of the great apostle. We find a copy of it in most Bible illustrations, certainly in any Roman Catholic Bible. Another picture is by the artist, Albrecht Durer. It is called a medallion, a carved picture, and it presents a little, ugly, weak, bald-headed, blear-eyed Jew. Durer’s picture is the one that fits Paul’s account of himself, and not Raphael’s.


I here commend, in addition to Conybeare and Howson’s Life of Paul and Farrar’s History, Lightfoot on Galatians.

QUESTIONS

1. What is the theme of this section?


2. What is the scriptures?


3. What is the time covered by this period?


4. What two scriptures must here be reconciled?


5. What is the problem here?


6. What is the Hackett view of it?


7. What is the real solution of it?


8. Show how the scriptures are made to fit this scheme.


9. How may we show the harmony of these scriptures?


10. What is the value of this harmony?


11. Why did not Saul commence preaching at Damascus immediately after his conversion?


12.Why did he go into Arabia, where in Arabia, & how long there?


13. What are the analogous cases cited?


14.What was the added value of this preparation to Saul?


15.What sermon commended in this connection & have you read it?


16. Describe the ministry at Damascus.


17. Why did he want to go to Jerusalem to see Peter?


18. Explain the distrust there & its bearing on preceding question.


19. How long was he there?


20. What of his ministry while there?


21. What two reasons for his leaving?


22. How long was the Cilician ministry, and what its sufferings and its revelations?


23. Was it in this tour that be preached on the coasts of Judea?


24. Describe the Antioch ministry, and how long was it?


25. What carried Paul on his second visit to Jerusalem, and when does Agabus again appear in this history?


26. What was the condition of Jerusalem when he arrived?


27. Where do the Romanists place Peter’s first visit to Rome?


28. On Paul’s return to Antioch, what new companion had he?


29. Did the shock of our Lord’s appearance, to Saul on the way to Damascus likely injure him physically in a permanent way, and permanently affect his sensibilities?


30. What two pictures of Paul greatly contrast his physical appearance, and which is most likely true to nature?


31. What special authority on this period, in addition to Conybeare and Howson, and Farrar’s History, commended?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 9". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/acts-9.html.
 
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