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Saul’s Vocation Story

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This section is anyting but a simple story of how Saul was knocked off his horse and converted. Our popular religious imagination and art to the contrary notwithstanding, this section and its parallels in 22:1-6 and 26:9-18 nowhere say that he was riding a horse. Now do these texts speaks of Saul’s conversion as if he were the most wretched sinner antiquity sired. This section is a “vocation” story. We will mine the rich vein of this vocation story on three levels: (1) Saul as persecutor; (2) Saul’s vocation; (3) Luke’s intentions and the figure of Saul.

Saul as Persecutor

From what Luke says in Acts it is patent that Saul is not a private persecutor; he represents official Judaism. This factor is present in all three accounts of Sauls’call: 9:1-3, 22:4-5, 19; 26:9-11.

Saul’s Vocation

Saul would never have changed from awesome persecutor of the Lord’s disciples to tireless missionary to the gentiles unless the Lord had called him. In what have taken more time than the three accounts of Acts lead us to believe, Saul lets the Lord’s call to him sink into and under his persecutor skin.

The story of Saul persecutor edifies Luke’s community: God does preserve his church from persecution; encouragement is offered to those who suffer persecution like that directed by and enfleshed in Saul.

Luke’s Intentions and the Figure of Paul

A questio may help us peer into Luke’s threefold intention in this section:
Why does Luke have three accounts of Paul’s call? First, by devoting precious space to three accounts of Paul’s call, Luke spotlights the significance of Paul as key points in his story. In chapter 9 the call of the missionary to the gentiles par excellence—Paul—is introduced when the Spirit is on the brink of moving the misson to the gentiles (see 10:1-48). In chapters 22 and 26 the call of Paul is introduced to show that Paul and Christianity are not apostates from Judaism; both Jews and Romans should take careful note that Christianity fulfills the promises God gave to Judaism. Second, Luke highlights the fact that the mission to the gentiles was not due to human caprice; God willed it in fulfillment of his promises. This fulfillment is embodied in the very person of Paul. Finally, Luke’s intent is to supply ammunition for his communities, some of which have been founded by Paul and are under attack from Jews because of their faith. Luke tells them that through Paul, once an observant Pharisee and merciless persecutor of the church, they stand in continuity with Judaism. Like Paul they are not apostates from Judaism. Like Paul, they have their eyes opened by God to see that Judaism is fulfilled in Jesus.


Damascus hovered witin sight. It was about noontime, or at least the other accounts so inform us (22:6; 26:13). A “light from heaven suddenly shone round about him.” “More brilliant that the rays of the sun” is the description offered in 26:13. Even his companions were affected by it, for “all fell to the ground” (26:14). What kind of light was it? We know from the gospels how the intervention of heavenly powers is very frequently accompanied by a mysterious light.. this light is a symbol, a reflection of that light which in language of the Bible is like the inscrutable glory of God.

A voice addresses the man prone on the ground: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” These words are also found in the parallel passages; and in verse 26:14 it is noted expressly that the voice made use of the Hebrew tongue. We can draw this conclusion from the name of Saul, by which he was addressed. The self-revealing Lord spoke in his mother tongue, which was essentially more familiar to Paul thank Greek, although he was Hellenic in origin.

For it is Jesus who speaks in this way, Jesus the Risen and Transfigured One. And we take fro granted that Saul saw the person of Jesus.. it was consequently a face-to-face encounter which Saul experienced, one which was vouchsafe only to him and not to his companions. These companions saw no one, eventhough htey were surrounded by an inexplicable light (26:13).

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul retorts. In all three narratives of the conversion, a question followed by another question in answer to the first is the way in which the conversation is carried out. We do not know for certain whether earlier Paul had personally made the aquaintance of Jesus.

But we know that after this incident, Paul now belongs to his kyrios, his Lord, for whom he was called. He also had travelled to Damascus, armed with the warrants of the high priest, to bring back to Jerusalem the disciples of Jesus, is himself siezed by the superior power of God and proceeds, led by his companions, as a prisoner of Christ, to the city he had sought out in order to follow out the directions of the voice.


The mystery behind the action of grace is made visual and graphic. As it was the transfigured Christ himself who had initiated the wrok of conversion, so now he entrusts its completion to the church.

Ananias experriences shock at the news of the task which is b eing thrusts upon him. By his objection, the work of grace—which had to be perfected according to God;s decree—appears now in all its clarity for the first time. What appears unthinkable and impossible to human reason can be brought to pass by the freely granted love and the benign providence of God. The apostle is chosen without merit. Yet anyone who is caught up in the magnanimity of divine grace is called by and likewise enabled to preach the salvific will of God purely and convincingly—as we learn from Paul’s letters.

What is so peculiar about God’s choice?

Salu will be “a chosen instrument.” He was chosen no because of his talents, but because of the business of salvation. He must be an ambassador for the “Lord.” He must become a witness in the same way as the others were and bear testimony as they did. And he was being readied for this by being commissioned as were the twelve. His tasks as were as theirs was that of proclaiming the Risen One.

He will suffer for the sake of Christ. This is a unique law of discipleship in Christ so contrary to sheer human sensibility. Christ himself underwent sufferings of his passion.


There is all of Christianity in what the Risen christ said to Paul: “Go into the city, and you will be told what to do.” Up to this moment Paul had been doing what he liked, what he thought best, what his will dictated. From this time forward, he would be told what to so. Tha Christian is a man who has ceased to do what he wants to do and who has begun to do what Christ wants him to do.

Verse 14 is a summary not only of the life of Paul but also of the Christian life. there are three items in it. (1) to know the will of God. It is the first aim of the Christian to know God’s will and obey it. (2) To see the Just One. It is the aim of the Christian to walk daily in the presence of the risen Lord. (3) To hear God’s voice. It was said of a great preacher that in his preaching he paused ever and again as if listening for a voice. The Christian is ever listening for the voice of God above the voices of the world to tell him where to go and what to do.


Does the story of Saul’s call tell us anything about our call to be Christians?


Karris, Robert, J., Invitation to Acts: A Comentary on the Acts of the Apostles with Complete Text from the Jerusalem Bible. New York: Image Books, 1978.

Barcklay, William, The Acts of the Apostles Revised Edition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

Kurzinger, Josef, The Acts of the Apostles, volume 1. London: Burns and Oates, 1969.

Krodel, Gerhard, Proclamation Commentaries. Philadeplhia, Pensylvania: Fortress Press, 1981.

Paton, Jeff, The Conversion of Paul, Free Grace or Forced Grace?

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