(8) The Conversion of Saul
The church in Jerusalem entered a time of trial after Stephen’s death, but what do you think was happening elsewhere? Were there believers outside Jerusalem? Were there believers outside Israel? Were there believers outside Judaism even?
Today we’re going to look at one rather strident unbeliever, and a miracle that, at least in some people’s eyes, surpassed all the healings performed by apostles to date. Before reading on, what do we remember of Saul’s story? Where does his conversion take place—nearer Jerusalem? Nearer Damascus? And where is Damascus anyway?
1. Jerusalem: What do we know about Saul, prior to his conversion?
a. Read Acts 7:58. Is it significant that Saul does not take part in the stoning of Stephen?
b. Read Acts 8:3. How is Saul’s behavior different from stoning someone? What does this tell us about Saul?
c. Read Acts 9:1-2. By this point, Peter and John have traveled through Samaria and returned. In spite of all Saul’s efforts, the faith is spreading. Why does Saul need a letter? And what does he plan to do to any Christians he finds?
2. Damascus Road: I’d always imagined Saul still had a long way to travel to get to Damascus. Did you remember that Saul’s conversion took place just outside the city?
a. Read Acts 9:3-9 Where does Jesus appear to Saul?
b. How does Jesus appear to Saul?
c. Where does Saul go after seeing the Lord?
d. What do you suppose he did for three days? Read verse 19
e. Have you ever gone from a mountain-top experience to a period of waiting? What might we learn from waiting on the Lord like this? And how should we spend our times of waiting?
3. Damascus: What do you suppose Ananias was doing before God spoke to him?
a. Read Acts 9:10-16 Did Ananias know trouble was brewing? What might the Christians of Damascus have been thinking at this time?
b. Ananias is told beforehand that he’s going to be an answer to prayer. Have you had experiences where someone is clearly an answer to prayer? What about where you have been greeted as an answer to prayer? How does that make you feel?
c. Read Acts 9:17-19 How does Ananias address Saul? How easily do we view fellow Christians (perhaps ones with different views to our own) as brothers and sisters?
d. What does Saul do after he regains his sight? The next verse starts with immediately, but most traditions assume there was a gap between these events.
4. Damascus Road again: What effect does Saul have on the Christians in Damascus?
a. Read Acts 9:20-22 In what sense could Saul “prove” anything about Jesus? He’s going to become a great logical, well-learned preacher, but what does his witness begin with?
b. How long do you think Saul stayed in Damascus?
c. Read Acts 9:23-25 Have you ever wondered about that basket? (Joshua 2:15 and 1 Samuel 19:12 might involve similar baskets)
d. Isn’t running away a form of cowardice? (Read Matthew 10:23)
5. Jerusalem again: Was Saul accepted, rejected, or both when he returned to Jerusalem?
a. Read Acts 9:26-30 Is it easier to believe in a miracle of healing or a miracle of conversion? And do leopards change their spots?
b. Who is Barnabas? (Read Acts 4:36, 14:14)
c. What dispute might Saul have had with the Hellenists? Why might they want to kill him?
d. Where are Caesarea and Tarsus? And why would Saul go there?
Why do we think Saul came from Tarsus, and what do we know about his family?
1. Acts 22:3 Born in Tarsus, educated in Jerusalem
2. Philippians 3:5 tribe of Benjamin, circumcised, Pharisee
3. Acts 23:16, has a sister and a nephew in Jerusalem
4. Romans 16:13 mother and brother, Rufus, in Rome
5. Romans 16:7 Andronicus and Junia may be relatives in Rome – they were converted before Saul was
6. Acts 18:2-3 tentmaker
How does Saul describe his conversion in later accounts?
1. Galatians 1:13-20 suggests he traveled to Arabia (maybe to Mount Sinai) before preaching in Damascus and escaping to Jerusalem three years later. What is emphasized in this account?
2. 1 Corinthians 15:6-8 What’s emphasized here?
3. Acts 22:6-21 describes his conversion in a speech to people of Jerusalem. What emphasis does Paul give this time? (Acts 22:9 is often translated as not hearing, rather than not understanding. And Acts 9:7 might be sound or voice.)
4. Acts 26:12-18 is a speech given to King Agrippa, a Roman ruler, with a different emphasis again.