Acts 9 Commentary

Conversion of Saul (9:1-19a)

The name by which Christianity was known was ‘the Way’ (see 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22).

Possibly the name originated with the Christians themselves, who believed their movement was the way of the Lord, the way of salvation and the way of life. But to the Christians’ opponents the name represented a movement that had to be destroyed.

By this time the gospel had spread north at least as far as the Syrian city of Damascus, which had a large Jewish population. The Sanhedrin therefore sent fiery young Saul to arrest any Christians who still attended the synagogue and bring them to Jerusalem for trial (9:1-2). But before Saul reached Damascus he had an encounter with the risen Jesus that convinced him that Jesus was Lord and Christ, as the Christians claimed. The persecutor became a disciple of Jesus (3-9; cf. 2:36; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8).

Through one of the local Damascus Christians, God revealed that he had chosen Saul to go to distant countries, taking the gospel to rulers and common citizens alike, to Gentiles and Jews without distinction (10-15). This would be a difficult task (16), but God prepared him for it by filling him with the Holy Spirit. Saul demonstrated openly his break with the old life and his start of the new by being baptized (17- 19a).

Saul’s entire background and training had been used by God to help prepare him for the work ahead (Gal 1:15-16). He was a full-blooded Jew born in Tarsus, a town in Cilicia in south-west Asia Minor (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:5). He inherited Roman citizenship from birth (Acts 16:37; 22:26-28), had a Roman name, Paul (Acts 13:9), and grew up to speak both Greek and Hebrew (Acts 21:37,40). As a religiously zealous youth, Saul moved to Jerusalem where he studied Jewish law according to the strict Pharisee


traditions, his teacher being the well known Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; 23:6; 26:5). Like all Jewish young men he learnt a trade, which in his case was tent-making (Acts 18:3).

All the influences in Saul’s upbringing and education, whether Greek, Hebrew or Roman, had an effect on his life and ministry. The Greek influence taught him how to think clearly and analyse issues (Eph 3:1-6), the Hebrew influence helped him develop a character of moral uprightness (Phil 3:6), and the Roman influence gave him an international outlook that led to his great plan for the spread of Christianity (Rom 15:19-24).

In Damascus, Arabia, Jerusalem and Tarsus (9:19b-31)

People throughout Damascus soon knew of Saul’s conversion. He openly joined with the Christians and argued convincingly against the Jews (19b-22). Part of the next three years he spent in Arabia, after which he returned to Damascus (Gal 1:17-18). His activities there stirred up such violent opposition that he fled to save his life (23- 25; 2 Cor 11:32-33).

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, the Christians did not welcome him. They feared that he was only pretending to be a Christian, so that when he found out who the true Christians were he could imprison them. Barnabas apparently knew him better and introduced him to the two leading apostles who were in Jerusalem at the time, Peter and James the Lord’s brother (26-27; Gal 1:18-19).

Saul made good use of his two weeks in Jerusalem by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Not surprisingly, this made the Jews angry, as they were the ones who three years previously had sent him to crush Christianity. When they made plans to kill him, Saul escaped to his home town of Tarsus in Cilicia (28-30; Gal 1:21).

At that time the rest of the churches in Judea did not know Saul personally, but they certainly knew of his conversion, because without his fiery leadership the persecution had died down and the churches were left in peace (31; Gal 1:22-24).


Peter in Lydda and Joppa (9:32-43)

While God was preparing Paul for the Gentile mission ahead, he was also broadening the vision of Peter and other church leaders. Peter moved out from Jerusalem and visited some of the Christian groups that had sprung up in the semi-Gentile coastal plain area where Philip had preached earlier (cf. 8:40). At Lydda he healed a paralyzed man (32-35) and at nearby Joppa he raised a woman to life. In both places news of the miracles spread and many people believed (36-42). By staying with a person whose trade the Jews considered unclean, Peter demonstrated a more relaxed attitude towards former Jewish restrictions (43).

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