Was Paul “Predisposed to Conversion”?

Like most who write on the conversion of Paul, John Polhill asks if Paul was “predisposed” to conversion (Paul and His Letters, 55).  To what extent did was Paul “prepared” for his encounter on the road to Damascus?  Certainly Paul thought that God had prepared him to preach the grace of God (Gal 1:15), but this question usually is more interested in Paul’s psychological state of mind when he met Jesus.

The Wretched Man

Like the discussion of Paul’s conversion, the New Perspective on Paul has had quite a bit to say here.  In fact, I recently summarized the NPP’s thinking about Paul’s conversion in this post.  Traditionally, Paul is described as struggling to keep the Law perfectly and was in despair over his inability to do “the whole of the Law.”  Usually Romans 7 is the key text here.  Paul himself is the “wretched man” who must be delivered from his body of death (Rom 7:25).  He has been “kicking against the goads” for some time, according to Acts 26:14.  Paul knew that he was unable to live up to God’s righteous standards and lived in a state of perpetual wretchedness.  His encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus freed him from the weight of his sin and guilt and he became the apostle of the Grace of God.

But this reconstruction has been questioned by the New Perspective, especially by E. P. Sanders, following Krister Stendahl.  Sanders challenged what he saw as the Lutheran domination of Pauline studies on justification.  In the twentieth century (primarily Lutheran) scholars have made justification by faith the “center” Pauline theology. This leads to the unfortunate result of anti-Judaism – Jews become proto-Pelagians, Paul is Luther bashing the RCC’s.  Judaism is thought to be the antithesis of Paul’s Christianity and Paul’s theology develops out of a struggle against Judaism.  Sanders changed the debate by arguing that the questions posed by the protestant / RCC debate have nothing at all to do with Judaism of the Second Temple period.   For Sanders, this totally obscures what was actually happening in the first century and how Christianity developed out of Judaism.  In addition, Sanders points out that the protestant Paul was never recognized by Jewish scholars (Sandmel, for example), he was incoherent or inconsistent.

According to Sanders, Paul was not a guilt-ridden sinner trying to justify himself through the good works of the Law.  In fact, it was Luther who was a guilt-ridden sinner trying to justify himself, not Paul!  Paul was therefore not converted on the road to Damascus.  Obviously this has huge implications, since the theological edifice of the reformation is guilt on Luther’s understanding of Paul, and there have been some fairly strenuous arguments against Sanders and the other more recent New Perspective writers.

Is Polhill is correct in the end when he states that Paul’ encounter on the road to Damascus was a radical event for which he was totally unprepared (55)?

34 thoughts on “Was Paul “Predisposed to Conversion”?

  1. Of course God was working in Paul’s life before his conversion, i.e. prevenient grace. But this grace was wholly in his life since his birth, and as an elect vessel of grace. (Note, Gal. 1:15, etc.)

    As to Romans 7, this even goes back to Jerome, who saw Romans to refer to the struggle between the flesh and the spirit within the Christian. And of course later in Augustine’s later view. We should note here too Pelagius and Pelagianism, and again Augustine. Note too, Tertullian and Traducianism, which saw or held that the human soul is transmitted by parents to children, and thus laying the theological foundation of the doctrine of original sin.

    Of course Romans 7, and too 13-25 is an exegetical issue. Myself, I stand with the classic Reformers here!

  2. I would say that Paul was being prepared by God for his conversion and subsequent mission to the Gentiles. Psychologically speaking Paul was may have been depressed over his attempts at keeping the law or even the haunting memory of Stephen’s stoning (Polhill 55). These points are merely speculative and can not conclusively be stated as God’s preparation for Paul. However, it is obvious that Paul’s extensive knowledge of the Law combined with his Hellenistic influences made him the perfect candidate to go to the Gentiles, even though he preached to both the Jews and the Gentiles. I believe that this is what Paul was more likely referring to in his letter to the Galatians.

  3. Mitchell Connelly-
    Was Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus a true conversion? Many would argue that Paul wasn’t converted during this occasion, but that it was a calling from God. (Polhill 54) Paul’s encounter with God was most definitely a calling, and yet it still was his conversion as well. It is true that Paul still tried his best to follow the Law, and yet he cannot be still described as remaining faithful to Judaism. Whether Paul continues to follow the Law, believing it is a good guideline of how to live life, and yet he no longer holds the Law in the high regard that he did before his conversion. In Galatians 2:16 Paul says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law.” Paul writes frequently that we aren’t saved by following the Law, but by faith in Christ alone. This is heresy to a faithful Jew.

    So was this Damascus Road experience something Paul was completely unprepared for? In my opinion, definitely. Paul was on the hunt for Christian’s, believing that those who believed this Jesus was God himself needed to be punished, just as the Law demanded…by death. Paul wasn’t a blood thirsty Zealot who wanted to kill out of some sick pleasure. Paul was trying to follow the teachings of his religion, and do Yahweh’s will. But along with this came the pride that most of the religious leaders of his time had. Indeed if it wasn’t for the sudden encounter with Christ on that road to Damascus, I believe Paul would have kept finding Christians and punishing them. His encounter knocked him off his high horse. (Polhill 55) How do you deny Christ after having a blinding encounter with him as Paul did?

  4. A note before I continue. I must say that that picture of the Wretched Man could make a Dalek weep. If Paul had had that painting while he was writing Romans, then chapter 7 makes complete sense in the framework of guilt.

    My question, besides whether or not a Dalek could even weep, is to what point is the NPP reading their own image back into Paul? We all do it, even every scholar, to some extent, reads his or herself back into the texts (enter Derrida). It is easy as 21st century Americans to see the error in Luther’s reconstruction of Paul and how he viewed his own “conversion.” While it is easy to see the error in a theologian’s logic who is 5 centuries past, it can be harder to find how a contemporary is in error. So, in what ways are we reading our own reflection back into Paul?

  5. “While it is easy to see the error in a theologian’s logic who is 5 centuries past.” You are asking for a beating from an angry young Calvinist. It is entirely possible that Luther’s view Paul is correct, justification by faith is in fact a doctrine taught by Paul.

    The question raised by the NPP is whether it is the primary metaphor for salvation in Paul, or whether that is an imposition on the text by Luther,et. al. As I read Wright, for example, he is fine with Justification by faith, but thinks that imputation of righteousness is a creation by the reformers (or, post-reformers) which simply could not have been Paul’s intent in the first place.

    • It is not the actual doctrine I am questioning but the method that was originally used to reach it. Here I am not even questioning a doctrine, I am asking in what ways is the NPP reading itself back on Paul when they describe his “conversion.”

      I know better than to believe you an angry young Calvinist, so I am ok with saying that 16th century theologians were trapped in their own contexts (no matter how rich that may have been). I am more concerned with in what ways are we confined by our own when we also seek to understand Paul.

      If I were to deflect this “angry young Calvinist,” I would tell him I am accusing the NPP of doing the same thing as Luther except, perhaps, maybe under a more sophisticated pretense (perhaps unknowingly). We all do it, I, again, am asking how they do it? It bugs me to know that we do it without being able to identify how.

      • Yeah, well, I am not all that young any more, and I am pretty calm these days. But there is a resurgent Calvinism which takes anything short of the confessions as a heresy worthy of the flames. Wright angers these people because he questions imputation of righteousness as a non-biblical doctrine. That battle has to be fought in the exegesis of Romans 5:12-21, not by quoting the Westminster Confession. (Laugh, but I have heard this happen at an ETS meeting, sadly enough!)

  6. I would have to agree with Polhill (55) and others who believe that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was genuine and radical, an event that Paul was completely unprepared for. The argument that he was struggling to keep the laws of Judaism seems to contradict the picture that scripture paints of Paul. In Philippians 3:6 Paul actually states the opposite, even to the point of claiming that he could boast “faultlessness” in his pursuit of legalistic righteousness (55). I also find it hard to believe that most people, Paul included, would be willing to take the life of another individual to defend a belief system in which he or she genuinely struggled with. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to accept his new role. The new message he had been trying to silence was the one he would dedicate the rest of his life proclaiming. He had the blood of believers on his hands and now he was supposed to convince the world that all of that persecution was a mistake? The guilt and shame that Paul must have struggled with because of his extreme confidence and zeal in Judaism prove that his conversion was not something he had been prepared for.

    The reality that Paul was the least likely candidate to bring the gospel message to the gentiles is the only predisposition he possessed. God used Paul to show the world that world that the message of Jesus Christ was so powerful it could instantaneously transform a man who was willing to kill because of it into a man who was willing to, and eventually did, die for it.

  7. I believe that Paul’s conversion was genuine and true. Paul was such a hardcore persecutor of the Christian faith that something radical in his life would have to happen to change him. Jesus appearing to him on the road to Damascus was that event. Paul would have already known a lot about the Christian faith so his understanding of it would be there. He experienced a radical event when he saw Jesus. That would be life-changing. Polhill says, “Some would see Paul as having to exchange the center of his religion from Torah to Christ. Others would see Paul as having to revise his eschatology (55).” I believe that Paul would have known enough about the Christainity that all that would need to happen is he would have to have faith in it. After a life changing event like a face to face with Jesus, that would be life changing enough.

  8. In my opinion, I find it very hard not to believe that the incident on the road to Damascus wasn’t genuine and radical. Scott made a great point in that Paul was persecuting believers and then after the encounter with Jesus he was trying to convince people to embrace the very thing he was denouncing. Acts 9:1-2 says, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or woman, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” It is very obvious that Paul was against the spreading of what is to become Christianity.
    Another thing I believe that speaks for a conversion is how Paul describes himself in Philippians 3:4-6. For the first century Jew, Paul has the perfect resume! He was circumcised, from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, and a Pharisee. Polhill adds that Paul’s family “was proud of its heritage”(26). However all of those things are considered “rubbish” for Paul (Phil. 3:8).
    Also throughout Romans it speaks how Paul is justified by faith and nothing else matters. He strives to honor God with his life but the only thing that can save is faith and God’s grace.
    With this said, I would like to say that in a way Paul was prepared for this conversion, just not in the way most would see as prepared. I don’t think Paul was expecting it in any way but you can see that God’s providential hand was over Paul as he lived. He made Paul grow up in the right circumstances to reach the gentiles in the way that God wanted them to be reached. And when he was on his way to Damascus Jesus got his attention which blinded him for three days. If that’s not a radical conversion I don’t know what is!

  9. “It has been argued, for instance, that Paul suffered from A tortured conscience. The figure of the dying martyr Stephan haunted him. He could not get the picture of the persecuted Christians from his mind…” (Polhill 55) This quote from Polhill got me thinking about Paul’s heart while he was doing these things to the Christians. Did he feel right about what he was doing? When I first heard of the things he was doing, I felt that he had no heart, and was a cold blooded murder turned Christian out of no where. Act’s 9:1-3. I read this passage and still, I had the same feeling. Yet as I read on, it says that when Jesus spoke out to him, he asked “who are you Lord?” This got me thinking, did Saul/Paul have a heart for the Lord? Was he perhaps being transformed before we read it in scripture? Could this encounter with Christ be what he was looking for to switch sides in a sense.

  10. I beleive that Paul’s conversion was genuine. He was persecuting Christians and did not beleive in Christ’s saving grace. That being said early Chapter’s in Acts and when Paul is first imprisoned in Jerusalem at the end of Acts Luke talks about Paul being a Pharisee. Clearly Paul was trying to serve God and he is surprised when Jesus asks why Paul is persecuting him. Paul’s conversion was genuine, he is changed but he also was previously at least trying to serve God.

  11. JohnRachoy:
    I also believe Polhill to be correct that Paul’s conversion was genuine and radical. I will address the “radical” issues first. In Acts 8:1a,3 it says, “And Saul approved of his [Steven’s] execution… Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” The next passage in Acts that deals with Paul (Saul at the time) is about his conversion on the road to Damascus, and immediately following we read that “he was with the disciples at Damascus,” and “he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues” (Acts 9:19-20). We see him approve of Steven’s stoning, we hear of him “ravaging” the church, and the next thing you know he is boldly proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God! I also think the reactions of the people in Damascus show how radical it was. Acts 9:21 says, “And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon his name?”
    Regarding the genuineness of Paul’s conversion, I believe that he was totally unprepared for that day on the road to Damascus. However, I also believe that his life experiences totally prepared him for his ministry. Paul’s radical conversion was a display of God’s grace and salvation. I think this can be viewed as a bit of “divine foreshadowing.” God exercised grace on one of his most zealous enemies, who then immediately (and until the end of his life) proclaimed the same message of grace and salvation in his ministry. Paul’s ensuing ministry was a product of his genuine conversion. Poetic.

  12. “Nothing is random” in the great words of Matthew Loverin, and I do believe that as well. God was preparing Paul for his journey of preaching and for ministry, from the point in his childhood that he was sent to school to study the scripture. Paul was predestined for his conversion; he was being prepared through works and study of the word. I would like to argue a little bit of Mitch’s comment about how he does not think his conversion was an actual conversion. That was a very blatant show of God confronting one of his children when doing wrong. Paul was confronted and converted on the road to Damascus. God tells him in Acts 9 that he was converting him, and confronting him, he ask “why are you persecuting me (v.4)” and Saul reply’s recognizing his sovereignty and his might, by calling him Lord. He then tells him what to do, and through Saul/Paul’s obedience, he trusted and put his faith in Jesus and converted over to instead of persecuting believers, he believed himself.

  13. “Is Polhill is correct in the end when he states that Paul’ encounter on the road to Damascus was a radical event for which he was totally unprepared?” Unprepared? Perhaps unexpected, but i do not believe unprepared. His conversion seemed to be instant. He did not necessarily wrestle with it in a manner that would suggest this was all completely new and foreign to him. The conversion of Paul is a story that is often relate-able to many Christians. This is because they, like Paul, have hearts that are ready for a change. I could be wrong but it seems to me that Paul was prepared to change, and we see that in is persistence and perseverance he demonstrates in his ministry.

  14. I very much agree with Scott Miller here. I basically see Paul as the typical Pharisee times ten. He had it all. He was born both a free citizen and he was a hebrew of hebrews. He was a man completely devoted to the law (Gal. 1:14). As such he was blinded by pride when presented with the gospel of Jesus and did not believe. He even when so far as to persecute those who followed Christ. I have no doubt that at the time he thought he was doing the right thing but that is exactly what made him a hypocrite. It is easy for a man who does not want to believe to see a miracle happen to someone else or hear of a miracle happening to someone else and call it a hoax or a trick or whatever. When a miracle like Jesus’ appeareance happens to you however it is hard not to take seriously and still call yourself a man of God. Paul and been shown to be a liar and a false teacher and had seen the glory of God in Jesus. What else could he do but believe? And after seeing God like that in person how could you not live a radical faith? His conversion was most definately both genuine and radical.

  15. “Paul knew that he was unable to live up to God’s righteous standards and lived in a state of perpetual wretchedness. His encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus freed him from the weight of his sin and guilt and he became the apostle of the Grace of God.”
    This statement was eye-opening for me. For some unknown reason, I have always had the mindset of Saul = bad guy, Paul = good guy. Saul was evil and persecuted and murdered out of his hate for Christians, while Paul preached the Name of Jesus and lovingly chastised his fellow believers. Even though I know Saul and Paul are the same man, I have tended to think of them as completely separate persons, the shift in personality occurring on the Road to Damascus. When in reality, Saul was no more good or evil than the rest of humanity, for all his persecution. His motivation behind his actions was to defend the Jewish Law he knew so well from the new Jewish “Christians” who claimed this man Jesus had already fulfilled the Law! I guess I hadn’t realized before that Paul’s name-change shows more than just a shift in his character; it is also an illustration of the complete transformation Christ imparts on us when we turn to Him.

    To answer the question, I do believe that Pohill is correct in stating that Paul was caught completely by surprise when he encounters Jesus. However, honestly, I am really confused as to why E.P. Sanders does not think this… (“According to Sanders, Paul was not a guilt-ridden sinner trying to justify himself through the good works of the Law. In fact, it was Luther who was a guilt-ridden sinner trying to justify himself, not Paul! Paul was therefore not converted on the road to Damascus.”) Could someone explain this to me?

  16. I personally do not feel as though Paul was converted from one religion to another. We see in Scripture a very unique branch of Judaism spring up with the discples and others who wished to follow a radical Rabbi named, Jesus. The disciples did not abandon Judaism, but simply embraced the teachings of Jesus. This is what I think happened to Paul. I think that even if Paul’s worldview was radical shaken by the grace of God lifting the burden of his sins, he would still consider himself a “good Jew.”

    However, the event that took place on the road to Damascus must have no doubtedly left Paul a drastically changed man. Could any man have been ready for that change? When we look to the rest of the Scriptural accounts of Paul’s life we see a man who was changed in almost every way imageanable. Still, God was clearly guiding Paul, even from before birth. Obviously, God had things under control.

    Also, Paul was a Pharisee. He was one of the people consistently viewed as incredibly legalistic. Yet, I doubt that Paul was converted away from this love for the law. Nor do I think that Paul left his Jewish roots.

  17. In my mind, Paul was well on his way to conversion, and I do not know if ‘totally unprepared’ depicts the situation correctly. “It has been argued, for instance, that Paul suffered from a tortured conscience. The figure of the dying martyr Stephen haunted him. He could not get the picture of the persecuted Christians from his mind” (Polhill, 55). When trying to put the pieces together, it is tough to think about Paul having all these thoughts without thinking of change, and without being prepared to change from the self-satisfying and sinful life he once lived. I think that what Paul is talking about in Romans 7:15 and some of the surrounding passages can be looked at in this situation as well, since Paul says things like “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” and “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” In this, it is seen that Paul is well aware of his need of a change, and even though it is never stated specifically, he may not have been “totally unprepared” for the event at Damascus.

  18. I think that Paul did experience a radical conversion when Jesus appeared to him on the road. While saying that, I think that not being able to justify himself through keeping the law did get him thinking about his faith. I think that the law in a way prepares everyone because it shows them that it is impossible to justify themselves. It shows them that they are sinful and that there is no way to save themselves. If one did not believe that they needed to be saved, then why would they listen to the gospel in the first place. Romans 7 talks about the divided self and how sinful nature condemns us. Only through God’s grace can we be saved from that, and that is maybe what Paul finally realized on the road. He was traveling to Damascus in order to look for people in the Synagogues that belonged to the Way (Acts 9). Although he may have felt that he could never justify himself through the law, he was still very intent on trying until he had a radical conversion in which he was not prepared for (55). At that moment his life was radically changed and he did a complete 180.

  19. To the question was Paul prepared for the events on the road to Damascus I would say that he was but, not due to his own effort. Why would God pick such a man to carry the gospel to so many people? Paul life and inroads into people’s life made him an optimal missionary to so many different people. He didn’t choose who he was born to (people who allowed him to have roman citizenship), where he grew up (Tarsus), and that he was very passionate about what he did.
    Now let’s look at other times that the presence of God was felt by a biblical person. The first person that comes to mind is Moses when he encounters the burning bush. In this situation God gave him a very specific task to do when He said “I am sending you to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10).” Did Moses doubt himself? Another instance that can be read about is Jonah when he is told to “go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me (Jonah 1:1).” In both of these circumstances the person that God calls to do something either disobeys or doubts God’s power. What is different in when Jesus showed up on the road to Damascus? God left a short lasting reminder for Paul via blindness. There are so many times in the bible where people walk away from what God has told a person or a nation to do almost right after they are spoken to. Paul is different, he stuck to the command given to “carry my name before the gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel (Acts 9:15).” In the end I believe that God prepared Paul but, Paul did not prepare himself. God really left a lasting reminder on Paul’s life that was impossible to walk away from. God blessed Paul but, Paul still stayed humble because of the mysterious thorn in the flesh and probably some major sun burns.

  20. Perhaps I am simply unable to break away from the molds of my childhood and seeing little flannel-graph lessons on Paul’s conversion on the road to Demascus, but I cannot see it as anything less than a “radical event” for which his Jewish roots and studies very likely unwittingly prepared him for. That is to say that I do not think he was prepared for the event itself. (If he was, he probably would have walked and saved himself a bump on the head from falling off his horse when he was blinded.) But I believe that the depth of his theological, scriptural, and historical study gave him the mental preparedness to be able to rapidly make the slight, yet monumentally important intellectual adjustment that had to take place in light of the facts he was bombarded with in his theophany on the road to Demascus. He had all of the facts in the right order, he simply needed to view them a little differently, and had previously lacked the ability or the motivation (being preoccupied with killing Christians) to see them as they must be seen.
    Christ gave him that ability on the road to Demascus and in the following days as he awaited healing. As a child, I used to think what it must have been like for Paul to sit there blind for several days as he awaited healing. I imagined how annoying it would be to be blind, if only temporarily. Now, as I have a much greater respect for solitude and sensory deprivation as tools for intellectual organization, I feel these days must have seemed rather short to Paul. He had a great deal to reassess and re-understand in this time, and I now imagine that, while he was probably glad to be granted his sight, he probably didn’t miss it overmuch as he sorted through his stores of theological, historical, and scriptural understandings to review and relearn what he now knew for Truth…

  21. I really like what is being discussed here. There seems to be a lot of different opinions as to whether or not Paul was actually “converted” or if he was just following a calling. I believe with 100% certainty that Paul was converted on the road to Damascus when he came face to face with Jesus. Paul was heavy into persecuting the Christian faith. It was not like he did not know a whole lot about Christianity because he did. All it would take for Paul to be converted is for him to put his faith in it. Polhill writes “He saw it as a radical change in mind-set, a turning from persecutor to proclaimer of Christ. One can be converted to a radically new viewpoint within a larger community of faith.” To me it seems kind of foolish to say that Paul only went through a radical experience. Acts 9:18 says Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. Scripture even declares that Paul was baptized in the name of the Holy Spirit. He from then on converted into the Christian faith.

  22. Hmm, the way you word the question is a little tricky. You ask if Paul was totally unprepared. I would say that as far as he knew, he was unprepared. What I mean is that Paul had no clue it was coming. God, being God, knew that this conversion was on the way, so I have no doubt that God put certain things in Paul’s life to help with this conversion. After all, Jeremiah writes “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” So yes, I would say that it was rather on the radical side of life.
    Mr. Phillip Long says a few things that I’m not so sure about though. Please correct me if I am reading this wrong, but it seems like your saying Paul, before his conversion to Christianity, thought he was struggling with keeping up the law. While it is obvious he was struggling with to keep it (as all humans do) Paul was a Pharisee, so wouldn’t he think that he was doing a great job following the law?

  23. As was already pointed out in many posts on all of the blogs, Paul was a Jew who knew the Law inside and out. He thought in his mind he was doing things the right way. He knew all of the Law (OT) and thought he was interpreting it right. Being that he knows all of the OT, he knows all of the prophetic texts. When Jesus appears it’s the last piece to the puzzle. Saul has all of this knowledge of the Law, but has not seen what was right in front of him. Jesus makes it known to him, and everything clicks. He doesn’t have to question it, or do more research; he already knows. It also didn’t hurt that Christ blinded him. That’ll get your attention 10 times outta 10. God had Saul’s life all planned out. He was shaping him into the person he wanted him to be since day one.

  24. Do I think Paul was totally unprepared for the conversion at the time when it happened on the Road to Damascus? Yes I do. Here is why. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 1:14). I don’t think that he was prepared to be met by the Messiah on that road at that time because he was looking for someone else to be the Messiah.

    Now do I think that he was unprepared to share the story of Grace with the Jews and with the Gentiles? Not completely. Polhill states on page 56 “There is no doubt that Paul’s conversion profoundly influenced his theology”. Paul knew the law inside and knew the prophecies about the Messiah. But he did not learn them in a way that was pointing to the messiah, Jesus. The not completely part comes from the fact that he did indeed know the law and the prophets inside and out. He just had to rethink what he knew already. He knew it as one messiah and in fact it was talking about the actual Messiah Jesus.

    So do I think that Paul was completely unprepared for the conversion on the road to Damascus. Yes I do, it is a pretty dramatic conversion. Do I think that he was unprepared for teaching and spreading the Gospel. No I don’t he had all the knowledge it just had to be geared a little different after the conversion.

  25. According to dictionary.com predisposed means, “to give an inclination or tendency to beforehand; make susceptible”. With that definition staring back at me here, I have a hard time believing that Paul was fully predisposed to this experience. If you look back at his previous behavior I find it terribly hard to believe that he even let the thought of conversion pass over his educated mind. I agree with the many who have already said this, but God had obviously been working on Paul and his heart as He knew what would be expected of him, but I feel that the better word to use would be chosen. Acts 9:15 says, “But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” “. God had prepared him, but I don’t feel that Paul was predisposed.

  26. It seems to me that Paul was not a struggling, “wretched man” when he came on the road to Damascus. Rather, he was the proud Pharisee, quite sure of himself that he was following the will of God. So when he got the smack down by the blinding light, falling flat on his face, it came as quite a surprise to hear that this Jesus whom he had persecuted was in fact “Lord”: “And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'” (Acts 9:5). From the glory of the whole experience, he knew that whoever it was up in the light must have been God, but he was not at all expecting it to be Jesus. This experience radically changed his viewpoint. “There is no doubt that Paul’s conversion profoundly influenced his theology” (pg. 56). It shifted Paul’s view from Jesus being a false Messiah and his followers practically a cult to Jesus being his Savior and him now being a follower himself.

  27. In order to answer the question of Paul’s predisposition for conversion, I want to mash up a little “old school” with some “new school” or Old and New Testament. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plan’s I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” And Paul himself says later in Romans 8, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) I believe that Paul’s life had been a testament to the plan that God had for him, and what a testimony it gave him! A persecutor of Christians changed into a promoter for Jesus Christ in one road trip, his change of heart wouldn’t have had the power without the story behind it. Paul probably wasn’t told the whole story, complete with a thunder and lightning show, but he probably felt the same pull that many Christians feel today when we are led to follow the plan that God has for us. I don’t believe that God was necessarily whispering all the answers to Paul, but Paul was living such a life as to make a story worthy of ages to show the Grace and Power of God that many generations would use as an illustration of such things. And the events that Paul encountered prepared him for such a meeting with the resurrected Jesus Christ on a dusty road to Damascus that not only changed his life, but lives all around him in his day and age, and in ages beyond his comprehension.
    So in short, Paul was prepared the way that God needed him to in order to further the gospel message and to lead nations towards Him.

  28. “You are asking for a beating from an angry young Calvinist”. – Too funny!

    Well, looks as if Professor Long is still at it! Way to stir those young minds!

    Does anyone here REALLY understand who Paul was? I mean, is it possible he left a diary for us to find? “Dear Diary: You’re the only one who understands me”. But seriously people, I agree with the few of you who see Paul as the common “struggler with flesh”. He was indeed trying to live by the Law, but failing miserably – well, in his heart and mind, certainly – yet upon the Road he enocuntered a miracle, an explosion of Grace! He met the Lord, and with out knowledge of Paul’s blindness and basic wording of his recollection, are we to assume Paul DID NOT have a conversation with Jesus and only made a recorded attmept of summarizing all God’s words? (Me thinks I am rambling – again) Basically, I am with those of you who see PAUL as a man with guilt and shame, too afraid to admit it, living in self-disgrace; knowing the truth, Paul was shamed and miserable and possibly felt it best to carry out his “wrath” on the Christians to erase the evidence that all he bore to reason and believed was being demolished. Christ, knowing all-things, stepped in to claim Paul. We can chat for hours on all the possible reasons and details of the Conversion, but all-in-all it comes down to faith that indeed Christ visited upon Paul in a miraculous fashion and changed his life for the good, the best, and for our sakes – an emmissary of the Lord to a lost, forgotten people – the Gentiles.

    (pant! pant!)

    • Glad you stopped by Tyler. I miss having you around, you do not put up with shoddy thinking for very long.

      “I mean, is it possible he left a diary for us to find? “Dear Diary: You’re the only one who understands me”” — I guess this is what we have in the letters of Paul, and someplace in the last week or so I mentioned that Romans 7 might be taken as an autobiographical description of Paul’s pre-conversion state. He is the “wretched man” who struggled to to the good, or perhaps we could take the line in Acts that says Paul was “kicking against the goads,” implying that he was struggling to accept what he knew was true. I think there are a few other hints at Paul’s psyche in the letters, even if we do not have access to his inner thoughts.

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