- Religion and Philosophy
Are we certain of the things that happened during the conversion of Saul (Paul)
The conversion of Saul
There is always need for a cogent examination of facts because of the necessity of passing such facts or knowledge from generation to generation. The church doctrines went unchallenged for many years. This was because the church had the power when the bible was compiled, as we know it today. Consequently, people did not question the teachings of the church because those that did were punished. It is because of this that some people called that period the “dark ages” in human history. It was when the church was separated from the state that a new era was born. Some people called the era “renaissance period” or “the rebirth of learning” which led to the age of enlightenment. That made it possible for men to prove that the earth is round and rotates around the sun, a claim that was long held but the dark ages did not let it stand as it opposed the teachings of the church.
It is known that there are some contradictions in the four gospels of the new testaments and people think it is questionable why such an important account of Jesus Christ should contradict. The defense of such contradictions is, mostly, the claim that the accounts were given by four different persons and so it is possible that they cannot say same thing exactly the same way.
Generally, man beliefs or thinks it is wrong to question religious teachings because they see it as questioning God or God’s words, laws, or commandments. Yet the only thing that remained constant is change. That is why after some people questioned their religious doctrines, they separated from their former religious belief to form their own as they belief it to be correct. Martin Luther King is a good example as he separated after he questioned the Catholic teachings. It is because men can now question the religious doctrines and even try to prove that it is wrong that different religious sects were born. Even the non-religious can also question the religious mysteries, claims, and doctrines with impunity.
Saul whose name was changed to Paul is an important figure in the New Testament. His epistles made up most of the New Testament. He was also the person that spread the gospel to the gentiles. Paul was known to persecute Christians until he was suddenly converted on his way to Damascus. Most people understand Paul’s conversion literally as it is written in the book of Acts of the Apostles while others understand it mystically and some of them claim that it was Paul’s attainment to spiritual enlightenment. The latter group are those that belief in the mystery of the light so they call it Paul’s illumination. Paul, truly, claimed to have been illuminated after which all things were made known and clear to him.
Let us not dwell more on the various understanding of Paul’s conversion. There are some simply questions that we need to ask and ponder over the incident that happened on Paul’s journey to Damascus. Paul was not alone on his way to Damascus so it means that some other people witnessed such a mysterious event yet only Paul was mentioned to have repented. What happened to the other people that accompanied Paul? The bible or Paul, himself, would not fail to mention it if anyone among those that witnessed the incident repented and turned to Christ.
Interestingly, it can be said that the same men led Paul to Damascus but it was not on record that they testified the incident to assist Paul in his claim or against it. Unlike the debate of the resurrection of Jesus where some people said his body was stolen and Jesus was not there to give a firsthand testimony, in Paul’s case people witnessed it yet they did not testify to support Paul and Paul, who lived, did not even call on them.
The point is that a lot of things could have changed if those men joined Paul and confirmed what they saw. Maybe many of the Jews, if not all, would have been astonished and would believed it and accept Christ if all the men that accompanied Paul repented. Yet, another difficult thing is Paul’s account of the incident.
The three accounts on Paul’s conversion in the bible read:
“And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:7).
“…A great light from heaven shone around me and I fell to the ground…And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of him who spoke to me… since I could not see for the glory of that light…” (Acts 22:6-11).
“At midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice…I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26: 13-19).
It is a fact that the accounts are not in order and it can be questioned as to what actually happened. The first account seems to suggest that the men heard the voice but they did not see anyone while they stood speechless and it was not mentioned if they saw the light.
The second account seems to suggest that the light shone around Paul and the men saw the light but they did not hear the voice.
The third account seems suggest that the light shone around Paul and the men and they all fell to the ground.
It becomes difficult to know who can give an accurate repeated account, if Paul cannot give such account. Maybe Paul was not in the position to know what exactly happened to the men but he could have said so. Yet, who else can tell the story if not Paul, himself.
The same light that made Paul blind did not affect the men that saw it. Is it not a mystery for such a thing to happen?
The three accounts contradicts so we may not actually know the mystery behind Paul’s conversion but it is clear that the accounts may not simply mean what was written because if it is, then there are many questions like pointed out which we need to ask.
Paul in his last account called his experience a heavenly vision so it may be something he personally experienced. Paul was a Pharisee and the Pharisee according to Act 23:8 beliefs in resurrection, and angels or spirits unlike the Sadducees that do not believe in both. Therefore, it is possible that Paul’s Jewish belief influenced him or made it possible for him encounter the vision.
The point still remains that many people are not so certain, as they claim, of what transpired that led to Paul’s conversion. Despite the contradicting accounts pointed out here.