Acts 9 – Paul’s Blindness

When Saul meets the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, he is struck blind (9:8). While this blindness might be explained as the result of the theophany (he looked into a bright light and was physically damaged as a result, Acts 22:11 more or less implied this). But it is likely the original readers of the book of Acts would have thought this blindness was a judgment.

Paul Road to DamascusBoth Greek and Jewish often associated “being struck blind” with offending the gods/God. Keener (2:1640-2) offers a wide range of examples of this sort of judicial blindness. For example, Tiresias’s blindness was cause by Saturnia, although he is given the gift of prophecy to compensate for his blindness (Ovid, Metanm.3.335). In the Hebrew Bible, the men of Sodom who attempt to attack the angels are struck with blindness (Gen 19:11).

Perhaps the blindness is the result of the revelation Saul received. At the very least he learned Jesus is the messiah and he really was raised from the dead. As a teacher trained in reading the Hebrew Bible, Saul would have interpreted the glorious light he saw as a theophany. This would immediately associate Jesus with God in some very real way. This revelation alone would have been shocking to Saul, but if more revelation than this was given, then Saul experiences an encounter on a par with Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3.

Luke may intentionally contrast two blind men in the middle of the book of Acts. In Acts 9, Paul was persecuting the church and he is temporarily struck blind. Over three days he comes to fully realize what God has done through Jesus and he is called to be the “light to the Gentiles.” When the three days are over he is free from his blindness, but in a sense he had been blind all along as he attacked those who were claiming Jesus was the messiah.

In chapter 13 Luke introduces another Jew who seeks to hinder the preaching of the Gospel, Elymas. I plan on returning to this story later, but notice how this man is blinded and has to be led away by the hand, very similar to Saul in Acts 9. The difference is Elymas does not recover, as far as we know, and become a believer. He remains in his blind state, unable to see the truth of the Gospel.

Spiritual blindness is a well-known theme from the Hebrew Bible. In fact, Isaiah 6:9-10 is the most important context for spiritual blindness since Isaiah describes the inability of Judah to respond properly to God in the eighth century B.C. While there is a remnant of believers, the nation as a whole will reject the preaching of Isaiah. Jesus applies this verse in a very similar way to Pharisees in Matthew 13 as an explanation for teaching in parables, and later Paul will quote the verse and apply it a third time to the Jewish rejection of the gospel (Acts 28:25-28).

Saul was spiritually blind when he “saw the light” on the road to Damascus. Being healed from his physical blindness highlights his spiritual awakening. For the first time, Saul sees Jesus for what he really is, and his spiritual blindness is healed.

14 thoughts on “Acts 9 – Paul’s Blindness

  1. I pretty much agree -.
    “it is likely the original readers of the book of Acts would have thought this blindness was a judgment.”

    So Paul was not “converted” on the Road to Damascus. It seems we should conclude that the point of Saul’s actual “rebirth” was later, probably when the scales fell off his eyes after Ananias prayed for him, or possibly later

    And of course, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis in Voyage of the Dawn Treader,-Chronicles of Narnia, rather than say he “became a new man” it would be more accurate to say he STARTED to become a new man. It’s a process of growth, “sometimes fast sometimes slow” as I recall Cheri Keaggy singing about in a song around 1996.

  2. When reading the story of Saul’s conversion, it is clear that Saul’s blindness is not an ordinary kind of blindness. Between it lasting only three days and the “scales” falling off of his eyes, it is clear that Jesus is trying to get a message across using Saul. Although it seems blatantly obvious, the idea that Saul’s physical blindness was used as a visual for his spiritual blindness can be missed sometimes. To give perspective to the bigness of the event, the author of the article compares Saul’s encounter to that which Moses had with the burning bush. This is such a fascinating parallel as the burning bush was also the first moment that God had appeared to Moses. It is noted that God’s appearance to Moses is the equivalent of Jesus’s appearance to Saul. This leads me to wonder if the burning bush and the glory of Christ are being called equal, why didn’t Moses get blinded too?
    In Exodus 33:20-22, Moses is again faced with the glory of God when God walks by him and Moses sees the back of God. As Moses descends the mountain, his face is glowing to the point where the Israelites can not look at him. If Moses is not blinded by God’s glory both times, does that make the theory of blindness as a judgment true within the scriptures? Moses never doubted that he was encountering God, and while Saul hadn’t either with his encounter, he had been actively fighting against Him while Moses had not. However, Polhill mentions that Saul’s blindness should not be seen as a punishment but to show the intensity of Christ’s power. He believes that in this time of blindness, it was meant for Saul to have a time of reflection (2099). Overall, whether Saul’s blindness was a judgment or meant for him to reflect, I think that the blindness of Saul as a metaphor for being spiritually blind makes sense. Unlike Moses, he had rejected upon first hearing, but his blindness was not permanent as the scales fell off.

  3. The blindness of Saul reads like a mixture of both judgment and metaphor. The actions of Saul were certainly deserving of punishment, but even he – who had caused many Christians to be thrown in prison – also was able to receive grace and forgiveness. Though he was blinded due to his sins, he was able to be healed by Ananias (through the power of the Holy Spirit of course) and continue on his journey, though now with the goal of preaching Jesus rather than persecuting Him. This temporary blindness was also certainly a metaphor, as he was spiritually blind prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus and – following the event – was finally able to spiritually see the truth (Long, 2015). Perhaps this is reading too much into the text, but Saul’s blindness could also be viewed as a representation of how Satan obscures the vision of those who are not dwelling in the Will of the Father. If something like “scales” fell from Saul’s eyes (verse 19), it could be (although this is more of a preach-able point and not a theological point) ascribed to the appearance of Satan as a snake in Eden. However, this (again) is not Biblically supported but rather an interesting point that could be used in a sermon, especially considering the NASB translation likens the scales to those of fish. Perhaps this event could also be compared to baptism, which symbolizes the decision of a Christian to do the Will of the Father and accept Jesus as the giver of Salvation. Saul’s restored vision could serve as an outward sign of his inward change, as the scales visually fell away from his eyes while he transitioned from a persecutor of the Church to one of its greatest cornerstones.

  4. When reading through the conversion of Saul and his experience with blindness, I think that it alludes to both a physical state that Saul was in, as well as a metaphorical message that those who know Christ and receive salvation have had their eyes opened to the “truth of the Gospel” (Long). From observing this story, I can see how Saul encountering Jesus in the same Holy light that many in the old testament encountered when in the presence of God, would be shocking. I like that Dr. Long brings up the story of Moses and the burning bush, as that was also the story that came to my mind while reading through Saul’s encounter with Jesus. The light that surrounded Jesus while talking to Saul definitely was representing the same light or holiness that God portrayed in the old testament, which would prove the truth of Jesus being the Messiah, fully man and fully God. When it comes to the matter of Saul’s blindness, I do not think it was a punishment for him as much as I think that it was physically representing the spiritual changes that Saul was going through for the sake of Christ’s work towards the Gentiles. Polhill (2016) states that “Saul’s blindness and his fasting should not be seen as punishment but as a result of the intensity of his encounter with Christ” (2099). Saul not only was physically taken about from the encounter with Jesus, but he was also reflecting on it and enduring the changes that Jesus had set in motion within him. Personally, I like how Saul’s blindness and regained sight strongly metaphorically represents the changes that a Christian must go through when choosing to follow Christ. People have a choice; to remain blind and reject Christ, or to walk into the light and be forever changed by Christ.

  5. It is so interesting to me to interpret and understand the blinding of Saul as a lesson for Christians, aside from the whole conversion of Saul, so this blog post really helped me to analyze this part in Scripture. Saul was adamant about persecuting Christians – he even requested letters from the high priest to grant him permission to arrest Christians on the way to Damascus. In this blog post, P. Long pointed out that the Greeks and Jews perceived being blinded as a consequence of offending the gods or God. I recognize the validity in this approach, and it makes sense. However, when I reread the story of Saul’s conversion, a few verses stuck out to me; “And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?…Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus” (Acts 9:4-8, ESVSB). As I read these verses, I read it simply from the perspective of a bystander. Saul lost his sight, but he heard the Lord. Even though the men traveling with him were not blinded, they were unable to see the Lord, but they heard Him. I think this gives evidence to a “theophany”, but it also goes to show that God intentionally blinded Saul. I think that God blinded Saul so that he would listen to God more, and obey Him. I believe that God was not punishing Saul, although he may have deserved to be punished, but that the Lord wanted to show Himself to Saul. These three days of blindness were life altering for Saul, and definitely in a good way as he was no longer spiritual blinded.

  6. Through out Scripture, and even in Acts, some sort of striking down often accompanies judgement. This occurs to both Ananias and Saphira after they lie about the money they had given. Herod is also struck down. The striking down, at least in those situations, seems to be more for the benefit of those watching than the person who is actually being struck because that individual always dies immediately as a result! In the case of Paul, is not struck down to his death but is struck blind.
    One observation is that the people traveling on the road with Paul don’t seem to have seen the bright light. Regardless, it was obvious that something unique had happened because they heard the voice and realized Paul had gone blind.
    Luke describes scales falling from his eyes; this is a very tangible physical description. On the other hand, both the voice and the light were super natural events. The blindness Paul experiences is not limited to a physical blindness.
    Another observation is the three days he spent in darkness. Jonah spent three days and nights in darkness in the belly of a fish. And of course, Jesus died and rose in three days.
    These stories all reflect death or sin and then a change that immerges from the darkness.

  7. Paul’s blindness is unique because he experienced it physically and spiritually. We see in verse 8 that he is physically blind and is assisted to get to Damascus from this point. Although, I wonder if this is the moment of seeing him. Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus and fully understood that Jesus had risen from the dead and was the messiah. So at this moment I believe that Paul’s spiritual eyes were opened but he was physically blinded to assist him in fully comprehending what this meant for him. Since Paul was a Jew he knew God but now had to come to an understanding on what Jesus being the messiah meant for his life.

    I also find it interesting that he spent 3 days blinded. My initial thought was about the resurrection of Jesus being in three days. Although, there is no clear connection that this is a representation it appears as if the three days of Paul represents a resurrection or a time of “rebirth” for Paul. In the ESV footnotes it does note that this time of blindness was a time of reflection. Paul’s physical blindness was a time for him to come to an understanding of God and to devote his life to spreading the gospel of the messiah, Jesus. Paul was given sight spiritually and physically in this instance. Paul’s life is transformed her at the road of Damascus where he loses physical sight but finally sees spiritually.

  8. The idea of “something like scales” falling from Saul’s eyes has always been kind of gross and somewhat fascinating. When Saul is blinded on the road to Damascus he is shone a great light, a light from heaven, and immediately blinded. The physical and spiritual representation for Saul’s blindness is rather interesting. We know that throughout the Old Testament that man is incapable of seeing God in his fullness without some sort of physical reaction. For example Moses in Exodus 33 must turn away his face from the Lord. The Lord says, “you cannot see my face for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). The glory of the Lord bears physical consequences, so it is no wonder that Saul was merely blinded at the light from heaven.
    Saul’s blindness in Acts 9 also represents that of a spiritual blindness. Polhill puts it this way, “Something like scales fell from his eyes. The physical event was also a symbol of Saul’s spiritual blindness had been overcome and he could not see and understand the truth” (2099). The spiritual aspect was something I had not considered before in great detail; I had mostly just assumed the physical aspect before. Saul’s eyes are now opened to the truth about Jesus Christ and His saving grace, thus giving Saul open eyes for the first time so to speak. I also found the fact that Ananias laid his hands upon Saul interesting. Polhill suggests that this is a physical and spiritual symbol of the Holy Spirit healing Saul’s eyes and dwelling in him (2099).

  9. Looking at this spiritual blindness of Saul, I think that this is referring to a physical state of blindness as well as a metaphorical state of blindness. This can be seen as a physical state of blindness because he actually goes blind for a while until Ananias goes to him after a vision from the Lord (Acts 9:10-17). This can also be seen as a metaphorical state of blindness in the sense that the Lord is opening the eyes of people to the truth of the word (Long).P. Long said in the article that it is likely that readers of the book of Acts could see this blindness as a judgement from the Lord (Long). As far as punishment, I do not think that this should be seen as one. I do not think that Jesus had the intent of making Saul blind because he was persecuting him, but had the intent of using the situation to create more believers. Saul took this situation and became a prophet to share what Jesus did and the miracle of allowing his sight to come back.

    I think this act of blindness shows that even if the physical things get in the way of your faith, if you just put a little trust in the Lord everything will work out. Worldly things get in the way all the time (physical health in this case). Saul showed what it is to have trust. He let people lead him without sight and he trusted that the Holy Spirit was present when he was healed.

  10. Paul’s blindness may have been a form of judgment in a sense or it could have just been the result of the brilliant light itself from when he encountered Christ. Paul is described by Christ in Acts 26 as “kicking against the goads” stating that he was struggling against Christ and like how blinders are used to keep a work animal in task Paul’s blindness may have been used to cause a similar sort of submission in Paul after his resistance. However, Paul himself states that he was blinded by the brightness of the light itself in Acts 22. No mention is given in any of the descriptions of his conversion that the blindness was an act of judgment. But here he attributes it to the light itself. I am no scholar in the workings of the human eye, but Paul’s affliction, to me, seems to be a purely physical one, with possible lingering damage beyond Acts 9. Such as his mentioning his large print in Galatians, and the fact that he needed someone to write for him despite his education and training. I feel there is an urge to spiritualize everything that we can when we read scripture, and sometimes that may be appropriate, but here I think Jesus just left his high beams on when he drove into Paul’s life.

  11. Agreeing with what most people have responded, I think the blindness is referring to both Paul’s physical and spiritual state. I believe that part of Paul’s blindness was because there was a great shining light. We know from experience, well I know from experience, that looking at the sun for too long can cause vision to temporarily be altered. It makes sense that Paul would have some effect on his eyes from this great light. In Paul’s account in Acts 22, he also says this blindness is from the light. “My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me” (Acts 22:11). I do think it is more than that though. Paul not being able to see for three days does seem like a form of judgment upon him for his actions. Long says in his post how blindness is “associated with offending gods/God” (Long 2015). It makes sense with Paul’s past that this was a way to give punishment. On the other hand, this blindness could be a result of his new revelation. Learning something so great and life-changing maybe could cause this effect. For the longest time, Paul was “spiritually blinded” from the truth of who Jesus was. Now, he can see clearly and understand who Jesus really is.

  12. I was thinking about this as I was reading acts 9. I wonder if Jesus caused Paul’s blindness so that way there was less distractions from the world. Like he wanted Paul to really ponder what happened to him on the Road and the fact that Jesus is the son of God. Or maybe it is to show Paul that his life is in Jesus’s hands. He cant take away your sight and restore it. and the third option i thought about was maybe it was the start of the suffering Jesus spoke to Ananias about for Paul. “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). You stated that it was a form of judgement, maybe. Paul could have valued his eyesight or his keen eye to sought after these new Christians. Jesus was showing him that his eyes are not what he need to see Christ and do his work,

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