After Paul recovers from his blindness, we are told that he spends “some days” with the disciples in Damascus. Paul immediately begins his attempts at evangelism in the Diaspora synagogues, proclaiming that Jesus is the “Son of God” (verse 20). Notice that he immediately begins this preaching, there is no lengthy period of time after his experience before he announces to the synagogues that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. Luke describes the content of Paul’s preaching as “Jesus is the Son of God” and “Jesus is the Messiah.” That Jesus is the Son of God resonates with Psalm 2, a text which has already been used by Peter at Pentecost to show that Jesus is the Messiah.
This preaching “agitates” the synagogues. The verb here (συγχέω) has the sense of amazement and surprise, but can be used to describe confusion of a crowd about to riot (Acts 19:29, variant text, 21:27). What agitates the synagogues is that Paul is succeeding in proving Jesus is the Christ. Paul is able to teach from the scripture, through the Holy Spirit, in such a way that convinces people. This may not imply the believed, but it was impossible to argue against Paul’s evidence.
Where did Paul get this evidence? On the one hand, boldness in preaching is one of Luke’s evidences that an individual is yielded to the Holy Spirit. Like Peter before the Sanhedrin, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly speaks the message of Jesus. A second source for his preaching is likely the preaching of Peter, or better, Stephen in the Synagogue. Undoubtedly Paul has been arguing with Stephen and other Hellenists in the Synagogue for some time, Paul now accepts their arguments and begins to extend them to other scripture. A third source may be Paul’s own thinking about the Messiah and the Messianic age as a well-trained rabbi. As observed in the last few posts, Paul does not go from totally ignorant of God to a faithful follower of Jesus. He was already aware of messianic texts and methods of argument in rabbinic discussions as well as how to present scripture in a synagogue context. Paul took what he already knew to be the truth and ran it through the filter of the resurrected Jesus and preached that Gospel in the synagogues in Damascus.
Once again, Luke presents powerful preaching and excellent scholarship working together to convince people of the truth of the Gospel. Paul is extremely confrontational – he goes right to the people who likely wanted the Jesus Community to be silent and announces that he is one of them! This is a boldness which is a direct result of the encounter with Jesus and the filling of the Holy Spirit.
14 thoughts on “Acts 9:19-22 – Paul in Damascus”
One of the things that amazed me the most about this passage, is that Paul, “at once began to preach in the synagogues” (v. 20). I understand that he has the Holy Spirit guiding him, but I just think if I were in that position, I feel like I wouldn’t know what to do or say! It is true that he has heard others preaching and teaching, and as you said P. Long, “Paul does not go from totally ignorant of God to a faithful follower of Jesus.” He may have been more knowledgeable about the subject than most of the Christians at the time. Just like the problems we run into today–Christians have become lazy in their knowledge and desire for God, that often those who are of other faiths know more about the Bible than we do. I think this could have been an example of Paul before his conversion. In order to know how to find the weaknesses of your enemies, you have to know everything about them. Once he became saved, he simply transferred that knowledge over to carrying out God’s plan–just as he did with his zealousness.
Arnold on pg. 79 talks about the very Jews that Paul was preaching to about Jesus where probably the Jews that new of the Sanhedrin sending Paul to put an end to this Jesus movement. I do like the fact that Jessica pointed that Paul started preaching right away. Scripture states the Paul gets stronger with the message, the Gospel (vrs 22) and then Arnold states is as Paul is growing stronger in the appreciation and understanding of the old testament prophecies coming true. The question stated above, where did Paul get his evidence, I would say that a lot of that has to do with his learning of the old testament and then the addition of his conversion.
I agree with your conclusion, Paul was pre-disposed to believe in the Messiah, and I think he started with the texts he was already familiar with and applied them to Jesus.
In this post it was mentioned that Paul immediately started preaching and that there wasn’t any significant amount of time before Paul started preaching. Well in Acts chapter 9 when Jesus tells Ananias to go to the house of Judas and find Paul, Ananias had heard about him but Jesus told him that Paul was his instrument so it wouldn’t make sense for Paul to take time before started preaching. So obviously it was God’s plan for him to start preaching right away instead of waiting.
Luke 12.12 “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Matthew 10.19-20 reiterates this)
Like Jessica mentioned, this is nearly an absurd idea in our day as so few people can receive the Gospel the way Paul did. I will continue to say that I believe that the power behind Paul’s “conversion” and his ministry hinge so much on the level of humility that he learned and the emptiness that he brought into the situation which allowed for God’s power to be that much more perfect for His glory.
And a question- is it possible that Paul’s immediate call to ministry in Arabia had just as much to do with God’s agenda among the God-fearing Gentiles in Nabatea as with God’s allowing Paul extended time to accept His grace before standing before the Jews to recant his previous claims? Just a thought.
Good point, Tammy. At one point my thinking on this was that he was simply in a “desert retreat” contemplating the Scripture and formulating a strategy on how to do Gentile ministry. He says, though, he was obedient to that call and immediately went about evangelizing Gentiles. Probably there was a little of both, as you have said.
Another question – was Paul particularly successful early on? Possibly, but not very successful. There is no reference to churches founded or even people saved, and more striking, Paul never returns to the region as he did in Galatia (after Acts 13-14). He may have had success in Tarsus, since he returns there, but I suspect there were few if any churches founded in that first three years.
And another detail that I learned tonight: “Paul” means “little.” Interesting.
I am somewhat curious to how many days Paul actually spends with the disciples. I assume that he was observing, listening, and learning from them, to get an idea on how to tell others about the gospel. I’m going to take a guess; say that he was learning from them for no less than four days and no more than seven days. After Paul is done learning from the other disciples, he does not waist anytime preaching the gospel. From what I have learned about Paul being a passionate person, he was a “go getter.”
Yeah, I am not surprised at all that when Paul started preaching in the synagogue, that the people there were surprised in a way that they were in shock of what he was proclaiming. When Paul is teaching from the scriptures; the Holy Spirit helps him speak in a way that people actually believe what he is saying. That just lets us know just how powerful the Holy Spirit is. For me personally, I loved Paul’s style of preaching the gospel. He does not fool around at all. He goes right to the people who do not want him to talk about Jesus. This is an example that Paul has set before us. I think that is how we need to be in our faith.
I wonder about the crowd and how they were “agitated”. I understand how the crowd could have been agitated that Paul was successful in his persuasion of the Gospel message, but I also wonder if the crowd was agitated also because he was a Jew preaching against what most in the synagogue believed. They may have been thinking “Why is Paul, one of our best, proclaiming this Jesus guy is the Messiah?” And as they noticed his passion more and more they may have gotten pretty upset. I would be too. If I taught a student about a certain topic for years and then found out one day he left all that I taught them and turned to teaching about the opposite of what I taught them I would be agitated, if not mad, myself.
I can also see the crowd being in shock as well, like Carey said. I’m sure shock and awe were probably the first emotions that came across this crowd. It’s almost like Paul received this advanced knowledge about the Way in a matter of hours and he is coming across as a professional.
How did he get so smart so quickly? It all goes back to the Holy Spirit, in my opinion. Paul may have been knowledgeable about the Jewish writings and traditions, but I don’t see any other explanation for his great knowledge so fast when it came to preaching Jesus.
So now, after thinking about how amazing the Holy Spirit worked on Paul’s behalf, I can understand why the crowd was in great amazement and agitation. The Holy Spirit will do that to those who don’t have it. 🙂
If I was in the crowd, I would be agitated because we “lost” another good one. It would be annoying to see Paul preaching Christ as Messiah. Here is one of our leaders and now he is one of their leaders. I would like to think though after that agitation died down I would be questioning what I believe. I don’t think he had to get smart so quick just through the Holy Spirit. I think the Spirit helped him to connect the dots of his past studies and Jesus as Messiah. His preaching was not that much different, it just ended differently, with Jesus.
The first time I read this passage, I wanted so badly to know how Paul proved the Gospel to these people. Lucky me there is a post I can respond to here! I think that this proof that he gets is given to him from the Holy Spirit. I don’t see how he would be able to effectively communicate the Gospel that he had just found out. The Holy Spirit must have played a huge part in his speaking and presenting the message as well as the Spirit convicting the hearts and minds of the people he spoke to…
This story is possibly one of my favorite because i feel that it shows how truly great the Lords power is. It is so hard to now a days flip the way someone thinks and get them on the same page as you in an argument. But almost like a little hand puppet he flips Paul into a soldier for Jesus the Messiah. There is just a lot of power that goes through this story like the flipping of Saul to Paul, the Resurrection of Tabitha, and ananias returning Pauls vision. I am definantly on the same page as Andrew as far as wanting to know how he talked about the Gospel to the people.
I love the fact that Paul immediately starts spending time in Damascus right away with the disciples. It shows it was an immediate change not just a “oh how about i get my sight back and go back to everyday life”. it was like he was on a spiritual high that never ended. I think that part of the story is very crucial, and the fact that it was mentioned and very rarely referred to at all is quite sad. I think we could use that as Christian’s when we share our faith or are helping new believers.
For myself, the story of the Apostle Paul is an amazing story to tell if one wants to show the greatness of God’s sovereignty and plan. I’m not saying that God must have been powerful to have changed Paul so much, but what I am saying is that God must have been completely sovereign to keep Paul so much the same. I think that God did not necessarily change Paul into who he needed to be at or after his ‘conversion,’ but that God made Paul who he needed to be from birth and guided him all throughout his life to gradually become what God needed. We see this when we look at Paul’s ministry. Paul did not reject the law or Scriptures, but used the passion and love that he already had for those and preached a pro-Christ message. Paul did not have to quite his job, sell all his possessions, and start seminary. God already gave him tools to be great Christ-proclaimer. Paul grew up studying the scriptures and knew how to preach and teach. Paul knew how to use the texts available to him in a way that benefited Christ. Paul could evangelize to the Jews, Romans, Gentiles, pagans, poor, rich, and stubborn. He was so good at all this because started forming his workmanship long before conversion.