Acts 9 – Why did Paul Persecute the Jewish Christians?

Ekhard Schnabel asks this question in Paul the Missionary (44, cf. Early Christian Mission, 2:927-928).  There are rally two questions here.  First, what was the theological motive for Paul’s persecution?  Second, what drove him to pursue Jesus’ followers to Damascus?

Some scholars have argued the Jewish Christians were admitting Gentiles without circumcision.  This seems unlikely, since there is no reference at all to Gentile mission by the Jerusalem Church until Acts 10.  God-fearers were accepted into the synagogue without circumcision, so it is unlikely this would be a problem for Paul, if it had occurred.  Similarly, some argue Gentile believers were not concerned with food traditions.  This too is unlikely for the same reasons as the first, there is no evidence of Gentile converts in the pre-Pauline period.  These two issue are a problem only when a significant number of Gentiles were saved, and especially Gentiles who were not God-Fearers before accepting Jesus as Savior.

A more likely motivation is the possible political / social problems caused by the preaching of a crucified messiah / savior.  How would this play before the Gentiles, especially the Romans?  Could this be an accusation against Rome, and a possible rally-point for anti-Roman activity?   The problem here once again is the lack of evidence for preaching anything to Gentile / Roman audiences.  The early apostolic mission was confined to the temple area and the city of Jerusalem in general.  Remember that the factors which will eventually result in the Jewish War are already in the air some thirty years earlier.  Paul may have been concerned for sparking a revolution by teaching that Jesus is a resurrected King who will return and establish a kingdom.

It is probably best to see Saul opposing the Apostolic teaching as heretical.  That Jesus was the Messiah was absurd, since he was crucified, “hung on a tree,” and therefore a curse, not salvation.  In addition, Schnabel points out that any theology which saw Jesus as Savior is not compatible with the view that salvation comes through faith expressed in obedience to Torah.  A simple example from the gospels will illustrate this point.  When the rich you man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, he understands this in terms of obedience to the foundation of the Law (ie., he keeps all the commandments).  This is not to say Judaism was a “works for salvation” religion, but that one was right with God because God has given Torah and individuals come to God through the perfection of the Torah.

These early followers of Jesus claim that there is no other name by which a person can be saved (Acts 4:12).  Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 concludes with a contrast between the Torah and Jesus. Saul’s motivation is to correct this false teaching within Judaism, using the synagogue punishment system itself.  He likely sees himself as a reformer, working for the high priest, with the goal of dealing sharply with the followers of a condemned Rabbi.

29 thoughts on “Acts 9 – Why did Paul Persecute the Jewish Christians?

  1. Do we have a clue as to what Jewish followers of Jesus, after his crucifixion, believed or did not believe about him? People keep throwing around the word “Savior” or “Messiah” as if it meant what Paul meant by the words. Someone please cite for me where it says just what they believed and precisely why Saul was persecuting them. Really, because maybe it’s there but I don’t know where it is. The “history” provided in Acts was not composed until more than fifty years after Jesus died. Whether it is truly history or not is debated. Aside from the question of circumcision, what, I wonder, did the Jerusalem Council mean if and when they referred to Jesus as “Lord” or “Messiah” or “Savior”? There was no Pauline Christology in the early days. I won’t even say “the early days of the church” because there was no church in the beginning, just some sort of Jesus movement, I guess. The word “Christian” hadn’t been coined. When Jews said “Savior,” they meant God. When they said “Messiah,” they didn’t mean “savior.” Messiah does not mean savior. If they had been able to capitalize the word messiah, would they have and, if they would have, would it have been just because it was a title or because they believed there was something divine about Jesus? Did they believe so early on that he was the Son of God? No one even suggested he was God until at least 57-60 years after he was crucified (John). This is all quite muddled for me and I’d like some help sorting it out, but not with a flurry of doctrine and cliches.

  2. I think a start at the answer is to read “Christ” as messiah, to read how Second Temple Judaism understood the idea of messiah. I think that Psalms of Solomon 17 provides one view (probably Pharisee), the Qumran material has a similar view, although there are differences. I am of the opinion that the fourth second of 1 Enoch does in fact date to the Second Temple period, but that cannot be proven since that is the one section not found at Qumran. While 2 Baruch and 4 Ezra post-date Paul by 40 years or so, I think they provide another flavor of messianism in the period. This is a daunting task, but there are some helpful summaries, I suggest John Collins, the Star and Scepter, recently re-printed by Eerdmans as a second edition.

    A second angle to explore is Pauline theology, as you suggest. There are reasonable arguments for Philippians as an authentic letter of Paul, written from Ephesus in the mid 50’s, 25 years after the events described by the later gospels. The Christ-Hymn in chapter 2 is widely accepted as a pre-exiting piece of tradition which has a very high Christology. Although we cannot know how early that tradition was, it does push a traditional high-Christology back into the first two decades at the very least. (I might also include Col 1 here, although that letter is often rejected because of the Christological hymn in chapter 1).

    Less certain would be the type of exegesis found in the speeches in Acts. If there is an authentic basis for the collation of texts by Peter in Acts 2-3 and Paul’s sermon in chapter 13, Psalm 2 seems to be a foundational text for proving that Jesus is the anointed one, God’s Messiah of Psalm 2. The language of Son of God clearly appears there, although it is not the same type of theological statement you find in the early Creeds.

    I like your statement: “no church in the beginning, just some sort of Jesus movement.” This is indeed the case, perhaps we could say, various struggles to figure out just exactly who / what Jesus claimed to be. He taught and did things which led at least some of his followers to think he was the Messiah, and more than that, that he was the God of Israel. But there were others who thought he was not even a messiah. Back to the topic of the original post, Paul persecuted Jews who thought Jesus was the Messiah, his “conversion” at least represents a reversal of that opinion.

    • Thanks a lot, Phillip, for your suggestions and for taking my questions seriously. When I’m conversing or corresponding with a Christian who is using the word Christ, I do not take him as meaning what Second Temple Jews meant. They usually mean at least what Paul meant and, at most, what John meant. They’re most often ignorant of what Second Temple Jews meant, for the most part, by “messiah.” So I just am always ready and poised to make the distinction depending on the context. I can’t pull together the sources (from the last fifty years) of how I came up with my understanding to date but my understanding is that it was the case that, while some Jews before Jesus’ time might have expressed a view of the messiah as at least partially divine, almost all Jews never believed the coming, hoped-for messiah would be divine but a David-like figure directed and supported by God. That some might have believed he would be divine, does not tell us whether any Jews before Paul thought Jesus in particular was divine in any sense. As far as I can see, Paul nowhere identifies Jesus as God, just as the Son of God. I’m aware of the various views of the messiah(s) in the Dead Sea Scrolls. You couldn’t be referring to a “high Christology” in the first two decades of the first century, could you? Not clear on what you’re saying.

      Does Paul say that he “persecuted Jews who thought Jesus was the Messiah”? Odd, because it was not blasphemous to consider oneself to be the messiah. A person’s claims either panned out or they didn’t. As far as I know, it was not the Pharisees or Sadducees but the Romans who persecuted and crucified Judas the Galilean whom his followers, at least, believed to be the messiah.

      What do you mean by “the fourth second of 1 Enoch”? Maybe I can get to Collins.

      • “What do you mean by “the fourth second of 1 Enoch”?”

        The book popularly known as 1 Enoch is a composite of at least 5 books, the fourth section is the most messianic, but alas that is the section not found at Qumran. That is not to say it was not there, it just did not survive. The fourth section has several clear references to a messianic figure called “the son of man,” obviously that would be gold if it could be shown to certainly predate Jesus.

        “it was not blasphemous to consider oneself to be the messiah. ”

        True, but remember that the Twelve were saying that the High Priest killed an innocent man, and that the innocent man was vindicated by God in resurrection. This messiah is going to return and rule over a reconstituted kingdom of Israel with a new twelve tribes and a new temple structure. Paul is reacting to that as much as Jesus being messiah. The issues which erupt in the the revolt in 66 are already brewing, to declare another king besides Caesar invites Roman reprisals, Paul may have sought to quell this revolutionary spirit before it drew the attention of the Romans.

        “You couldn’t be referring to a “high Christology” in the first two decades of the first century, could you? ”

        If you take Philippians as authentic and early, then yes. The very highest Christology possible within 20 odd years after the resurrection. If you take the speeches in acts seriously, then the use of Psalm two connects “son” language to Jesus early on, both in the preaching of Peter and Paul.

      • BTW, beautiful photography on your website.

  3. First, thanks for the complement on my landscape photos.
    You wrote that the fourth section 1 Enoch….has several clear references to a messianic figure called “the son of man,” obviously that would be gold if it could be shown to certainly predate Jesus.“
    Whether it would be gold of course depends on what one takes I Enoch and the New Testament writings to be. If the “son of man” references in I Enoch do predate the N.T. and some N.T. writers call Jesus “the son of man,” one would have to show that it meant anything more than this: the N.T. writers in question believed Jesus to be the son of man; it would not imply that he was. Also, it still is not totally clear what the phrase meant. It does not, however, mean “son of God” and even in Jesus’ use of it in the 3rd person, it is not always clear that he is referring to himself. I have Douglas R.A. Hare’s book The Son of Man Tradition but haven’t yet read it.
    In your response to my statement, “it was not blasphemous to consider oneself to be the messiah,” you wrote, “….remember that the Twelve were saying that the High Priest killed an innocent man [perhaps meaning he was not guilty of trying to start an insurrection], and that the innocent man was vindicated by God in resurrection. This messiah is going to return and rule over a reconstituted kingdom of Israel with a new twelve tribes and a new temple structure.”
    You and I differ in that you seem to take the above declarations that he was innocent or was resurrected as historical while I don’t think we can know. Also, I don’t think that II Temple Judaism generally or the Hebrew Scriptures predict the death of a messiah. I don’t believe Isaiah 53 is referring to a messiah much less to a suffering or killed one. I don’t think Jews believed any messiah would come a second time. (See Thomas Sheehan’s book The First Coming.) So, although you say that Paul is reacting to Jesus’ return, and his rule over a new 12 tribes and temple structure,” (I guess that’s what you meant), I’m not at all sure those were prevalent Jewish beliefs that he could have been reacting to.
    Whatever the 12 were saying before Saul’s conversion or in the decade after the crucifixion, is not anything we have any clues about until the Gospels and then Acts were written decades later. Does Paul say much or anything about what the 12 were saying?
    I asked, “You couldn’t be referring to a “high Christology” in the first two decades of the first century, could you? ” You answered, “If you take Philippians as authentic and early, then yes. The very highest Christology possible within 20 odd years after the resurrection. If you take the speeches in acts seriously, then the use of Psalm two connects “son” language to Jesus early on, both in the preaching of Peter and Paul.” The first two decades of the first century were pretty much over with by the time Jesus was crucified. “Within 20 years of the resurrection” means between approximately 30 and 49 CE when Paul began writing. That’s hardly the first two decades of the century; it’s the middle of the century. Some miscommunication?
    It is good that you refer to the “use of Psalm two” connecting its “son” language to Jesus early on. For, clearly, the Psalm doesn’t make the connection; rather, certain N.T. writers make use of it. Whether their doing so is just drawing lines between dots (as part of their reading into it) or whether there is any substance to the connection is not something I think we know. Same for Isaiah 53. Same for Revelation of John’s assertion that the serpent was Satan.

  4. I believe the thing that was so blasphemous for Jews to believe was that the disciples believed that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). I liked when the article said that to them, to think Jesus was the Messiah was absurd, since he was crucified, “hung on a tree,” and therefore a curse, not salvation. In addition, Schnabel points out that any theology which saw Jesus as Savior is not compatible with the view that salvation comes through faith expressed in obedience to Torah. To Saul, the disciples were displaying false prophecy and what they spoke was blasphemy. After reading Acts 9, personally what I feel is most remarkable is that when Jesus appears to Saul, he says “who are you Lord?” (Acts 9:5). The fact that Saul called Jesus Lord, shows how divine Jesus was as someone who didn’t believe and persecuted Christians called him “Lord”.

  5. Saul might have been persecuting the Christians and those who converted from Judaism to Christianity for what he might have thought was heresy. Saul was a Pharisee a keeper of the Jewish Law. So he knew what scriptures said. Scripture said that God would send his servant to them just as he promised he would. Of course that servant was Jesus, but he came with orders from God which were very different than what people expected him to come with. They thought that Jesus was going to come and over throw the captors who held Israel under their control, and establish his kingdom with them. But instead he came peacefully and was killed by the Romans in the most humiliating way in order to pay for the sins of us all. Saul might have been wondering why the Christians were worshipping him and preaching in his name, when Jesus of Nazareth was killed and buried. Except that Saul didn’t know what the disciples knew. Saul didn’t understand and he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ. Because of this he wanted to put a stop to what he called the “Way”. That is why he went to the High Priests and asked for written permission to throw any man or woman who proclaimed their faith in the name of Jesus, in prison. He thought that the disciples were teaching heresy and blasphemy, and so to him they needed to be stopped.

  6. The idea or the theology behind why Paul (Saul) did what he did was to eliminate what he understood as false teaching and heresy of the Jewish faith. Paul took matters into his own hands under the high chief teachers of the law in order to correct and defuse the situation of Jewish tradition and way of life from transforming into something else. I think that Paul did not want to have another group that could end up being like the Samaritans and Paul say that the law and the dismissal of Jewish dependence of the Old Testament were not needed as Christ was the answer to these rebels of Judaism. Saul or Paul sought after the Jewish Christians all the way to Damascus to keep the Jewish culture and beliefs pure and sound in the reliance of keeping, following and living out the law. Jewish Christians threaten this way and lifestyle of living. In removing the issue of these peoples belief the status quo would return to the structure and history that Israel desired to travel allow and not God’s. Thus, by any means necessary did Paul chase and persecuted those who proclaimed to be Jewish Christians that believed in the Messiah, Jesus Christ who came to save the world by dying on a cross, being buried and being raised to life three days later. Paul wanted to keep what he thought was truly pure, holy, and right by the means of persecution of others who opposed the Law.

  7. The gospel that the disciples preached angered the Pharisees for the same reason Jesus’ preaching did: their gospel undermined that of the Torah and Jewish traditions. However, now the disciples were additionally teaching that the Pharisee’s were responsible for the death of the Messiah! This not would have angered the Pharisee’s, including Saul, but would also have brought them great fear. If the followers of Jesus truly believed he was raised from the dead, they would have clear evidence to believe that he was the Messiah. And since the Pharisees had killed Jesus, this would mean they had killed someone believed by many to be the Messiah. Therefore, what would prevent the followers of the disciples from wanting the teachers of the Law overthrown and possibly killed as well? This is why the Pharisee’s take such strong actions at the beginning of the disciple’s ministry; so as to prevent any further preaching. While it is safe to assume that they believed the disciples themselves were not capable of any real harm, they were convinced that their teachings were. This all changes with Stephen’s speech. By closing his speech the way he does, Stephen confirms to the teachers of the Law that they do indeed believe they are to be held responsible for the death of the Messiah. This is why Paul begins persecuting the Church. In a way, the disciples are saying the Pharisee’s are deserving of death for their actions against Jesus. The Pharisee’s rebuttal is declaring holy war, of sorts, against those following the Way.

  8. I never thought about Paul being a persecutor because he believed Christians were spreading false teaching. I always thought it was because he was against Jesus and his followers and they were receiving the glory and honor rather than Saul himself. The idea that Saul may “see himself as a reformer” shows even the greatest intentions, despite the fact that he was wrong (Long). Since he was working for the high priest, it also makes sense that he tried to minimize the spread of the gospel because it creates a social uproar.
    Since Saul had not encountered the Savior who is alive, he had no evidence that this belief could be true. I wonder if that is why Jesus encountered him in such a radical way, because he had been so firmly denying His authority, so he needed a slap-in-the-face encounter by Jesus. Saul believed Jesus had been crucified, so Jesus appeared to him to make it known that He is the Savior and Lord (Long).
    This encounter is so easily relatable to many people of that day that were strong believers of the Law but did not believe in Jesus. Saul was one who could relate to anyone’s disbelief and prove the authenticity of the gospel through his own personal testimony. No matter how good of intentions we may have of our beliefs, we never know when we are actually believing the false narrative instead of one that is right before our eyes.

  9. Although Paul’s persecution of the “Jesus Movement” was objectively morally wrong and despicable, there should be an element of understanding when discussing his actions. After all, he was following the Torah (and subsequently honoring God) by persecuting all these new Jesus-worshippers who believed that they could throw away the Law and circumcision just because a false Messiah died and was supposedly raised from the grave. How silly of them – Paul surely thought – to worship Jesus as the Messiah when He could not even save Himself from death, let alone save all of Israel. Paul’s hard-heartedness required a significant miracle, which is exactly what he received on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Paul’s response to his conversion is also a wonderful model for how Christians should react to their past sins. He repents and immediately (following his sight being restored by Ananias), begins preaching Christ to the Jews (verse 20). He could have made excuses for himself and discussed how he had not yet received the full revelation from Christ yet and how he had been persecuting Christians out of the best intentions toward honoring Yahweh, but he did not do any of this. Instead, he talks in 1 Corinthians about how he is not fit to be an apostle at all due to his past sins (1 Corinthians 15:9). Despite the high view the Church holds of Paul, he remained humble and repentant about his past sins, not allowing history to repeat itself.

  10. Reading this blog post I was thinking about Saul and what must have been going on in his mind when he was making the choice to persecute the Jewish Christians. Why was he doing this? We often think of Saul as a horrible person, hard hearted and evil until he had this change of events on the road to Damascus. Until this point in time he obviously was missing something (the gospel message and Jesus as Messiah). There was some information he didn’t have, didn’t understand, or couldn’t grasp so rather than try to understand he took action. His actions, which we know are wrong, were made based on political and social factors of Judaism against Christianity; but, on the road to Damascus it was revealed to Saul that the change that was occurring (that he was trying to stop) was good change to spread the word and the gospel to more people. Immediately his heart was changed here in Acts 9 and he knew the importance of the changes to Judaism into the new church he was persecuting. His motivations change as he no longer wants the new church of Christians to change their ways back to the Torah, but to build upon the new church and do right to repay the wrongs that he did against God. He knew that fighting for the truth would not be easy, and we know this is true today (2 Tim 3:12, Acts 9:16); he knew that he would likely face persecution in the same ways that he persecuted others, but this suffering just confirms his faith and his love for Christ that started immediately when the truth was revealed to him (Tabb).


    Tabb, Brian J. “Persecution of the early Church,” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by J. Barry et al. (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2016)

  11. When looking at the background and upbringing of Saul and him being a Pharisee working for the high priest, the critical viewing of Saul can be better understood. Saul was persecuting Christians, but he believed that he was doing what was right in the eyes of God, according to the Torah, which he has known all of his life. His eyes are quickly opened to see the truth of salvation and how being saved is not about following the Torah perfectly, but rather acknowledging that it is impossible to follow the all of the Torah’s laws perfectly and you need the help of Jesus. Saul viewed his lifestyle of persecuting and killing Christians was rightful actions because after all he believed they were heretics, especially those like Stephen who were Jewish Christians and were allowing Gentiles to become believers without being circumcised. Saul was driven by the intent of not leading Jewish believers astray by the false teachings that were circling in Jerusalem, Damascus, and other nearby regions. When reading ahead in the book of Acts, Saul quickly changes his tune after the Lord open his eyes to the truth and in Acts 15 Saul (or Paul at this point) speaks on behalf of Gentile believers and how there is no need for them to be circumcised in order to be saved. He fully makes a change in beliefs and is rather “fighting” for the beliefs that he was once persecuting believers for having and preaching about. Paul learned that salvation does not come from following the law, which should be strived for to follow, but rather through faith and repentance.

  12. One must beg the question, why did Saul persecute the early Christians, leading him to travel to Damascus? Did Saul has a theological motive for his actions or was it oriented to more social and political pursuits? A few scholars have argued the persecution persisted on the basis of the teaching that gentile converts did not need to be circumcised. However, as Long notes, this would be an unlikely occurrence because no mission directed at Gentiles is identified until Acts chapter 10. Another possibility is that Saul was motivated by the notion that gentile converts were not following the food traditions, yet this theory suffers from the issue of the ladder.
    One likely motivation is the social and political issue created by teaching Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Messiah. Would this contention be used against Rome? Resulting in anti-roman activities? The issue with this view is the lack of evidence for evangelism towards any Roman audiences. Also, the apostle’s work took place within the confines of the Jerusalem temple area, not reaching the Roman empire. It could be argued that Saul was concerned about the political implications of teaching that Jesus is returning and establishing His kingdom.
    The most probable explanation for Saul’s persecution is that he viewed the apostle’s teachings as heretical. The idea that Jesus Christ could be the Messiah would be seen as absurd since He was crucified, which would have been seen as a curse. Furthermore, according to Schnabel, the view that salvation is given through faith through obedience to the Torah is incompatible with Jesus’s theology. This theology claimed that salvation was given only through Jesus Christ, not faith through obedience to the law. Saul’s motivation therefore would be his desire to correct and punish what he viewed as false teachings in Judaism.

  13. When I heard the story of Saul/Paul at Sunday school when I was younger, I never understood what made Paul this “horrible person” who decided to persecute Christians. I was just told the main point of the story, which was that he was lost in sin, and Jesus encountered him and made him blind, and after three days was able to see again and his life radically changed. He went from persecuting Christians to turning his life around to spread the good news about Christ. Reading through Acts 9 in this class has given me a new perspective on this story. It has been interesting to me to understand more about Paul’s background and why he behaved the way that he did towards Christians before his encounter with Christ. It makes sense why Saul acted the way that he did, because he was a Jew and accused Christians of blasphemy for preaching that Christ was the Messiah. As Long mentions, he saw that Jesus was crucified and “hung on the tree”, therefore seeing it as a curse, rather than providing salvation. Saul did not believe that Christ was resurrected, so how could he be the Messiah if he was dead? Having that mindset, it makes sense why Saul would accuse people of blasphemy for sharing false news about someone who is not actually the Messiah. However, the encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus is what radically changed Saul’s life. That is the moment when he realized that Christ is the Messiah and that he was resurrected. So, he decided to turn his life around to be a witness to the Gentiles as God had called him to do, which was an instrumental part of God’s plan to ultimately expand His kingdom.

  14. The first two theories mentioned as to why Saul seems to be more inclined to persecute the new Christians than other members of the Sanhedrin would make sense if the conversion of Paul happened later in Acts. There was anger even amongst new Jewish Christians over laws of circumcision and whether or not their new Gentile brothers and sisters needed to be circumcised (Acts 15). Both food laws and circumcision were contested later. The fight over breaking tradition could have been a very likely cause. The second theory is a bit more confusing because a more through history lesson would be needed to understand the tensions between the new followers of the Way, the Jews, and the Romans. Would Saul, being a devout Jew, be concerned with the anti-Roman message the believers would be spreading? Would Saul’s motivation for persecution be in the attempt to stay within the graces of the great Roman empire? Again, this seems unlikely due to the timing of the experience of Saul and him being not yet able to minister to the Gentiles himself yet. The third theory not only fits with what we know of Saul but also of what we know of the Pharisees from the Gospels and Peter’s encounters in earlier Acts. There was great anger over the seemingly heretical teachings of the new believers in the eyes of Saul. We see this anger matched just a few chapters later in Acts when nearly every time Paul speaks in public, there are many who seek to kill him because of what he is saying. It seems that the way of Judaism that he followed, was followed by many others as well.

  15. In this blog one of the main focuses is what was Paul’s theological motive for persecution. This is a question I guess I had while reading the story of Paul, in that it really did not tell in the telling’s of his stories. According to this post you are saying that a likely reasoning for the persecution was “the possible political/ social problems caused by the preaching of a crucified Messiah/ Savior. This seems like it could be a relevant reasoning as it has been seen as a problem before in the Bible.

  16. In my view, some of the many reasons why Paul persecuted the Christian was his extreme adherent to Jewish law and beliefs in Judaism; he was trained in the strictest way according to his forefather law under Gamaliel’s provision. He claims to be the Hebrew of Hebrews concerning the law, circumcised on the eight-day, a tribe of Benjamin, Pharisee, and was zealous toward God. It’s fair to say that although he was a Hellenistic Jews, he was racially, culturally, and religiously raised and taught in the extremely strict form of Hebrew since his birth. And all of these seem to be the motive behind his constant persecution of the Christian people. First, the Christian messages were totally the opposite of his beliefs; the Christian message was, Christ Jesus as the King of Kings, the Messiah, and Jesus as the exclusive truth or a path to salvation for mankind, but this Jesus was crucified and hung on the Roman cross (a sign of cursed), and from within Paul Judaism perspective, the gospel was totally a heretic! In addition, it was blasphemous to the God that he worships and defiles the tradition of his forefather. I don’t think Paul persecuted the Christian not because they were simply a Christian, but because of the message that they were proclaiming. The Greco-Roman world was a polytheism culture, everyone has the right to identify with any religious beliefs, but Christianity on the other side claim, Christian beliefs as the only exclusive belief system, and Christ as the only King who is worthy to be worship. When this was being proclaimed, not only that it enrages Judaism, like Paul, but the Romans as well. Ceasar was also considered a King, god, and lord of the empire, and when people heard the gospel, it minimized their religious beliefs and Ceasor himself. In fact, Christianity was rapidly increasing wherever it was proclaimed, and that worries people Like Paul because it undermines his traditional view and beliefs.

  17. Paul’s work for the high priest of persecuting Christians is all a part of God’s plan for Paul’s life and what led him to becoming a made-new Christian. The idea that one can work for their salvation is unbiblical, yet so many people think that their good works are going to secure them a spot in heaven. What is interesting about Paul is that he was a Christian with the same God and Bible before he met Jesus and built that personal relationship as the people in which he was persecuting. He went from the same God and Bible before and after his conversion yet had an incredible change when he went from persecuting the believers to joining them. What stands out most for the Gentiles is that their practices were different and stood out but the fear they had in God is what made them stick out as being saved. The social and political atmosphere in the time and place Paul lived in probably had the biggest influence on him and why he persecuted the Jewish Christians. They were viewed as different groups even though they practiced very similar concepts, their practices were just different. Paul was motivated to correct the false teachings that were expressed, especially in the reference for Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, but in the end, he became someone who feared God and followed Christ in the correct way by believing in Jesus as our savior and that he died on the cross for our sins.

  18. Paul’s history before his encounter with Jesus on the road of Damascus is truly amazing. It is almost unbelievable to think that someone who thought he was doing right in correcting “the false reaching within Judaism” (Long) by persecuting the church could ever turn to Christ. However, I think that Paul is a prime example of the love that God has for us. He took someone like Paul who had already hurt the church so much, and transformed him and his character to be someone who was immediately being baptized as a “public declaration of his faith in Jesus as the Messiah” (Polhill, 2099). It goes to show that the love of God is for everyone, no matter who we are, who we were, or our background. It is also telling of how God can use us or anyone to further his kingdom, as long as we have a willing heart, and how we should also be wise and careful to make sure that we are not “persecuting” others for our lack of knowledge or maturity in Christ. This is why it is so important that we have the best understanding and relationship we can have with the Lord, so that we are not hindering others’ growth and walk with the Lord.

  19. Often Paul is seen as a heartless and horrible persecutor before his conversion on the road to Damascus. It’s as if he was intentionally and consciously choosing to damage the church and Jesus-followers. To some degree, this is true. Paul was choosing to persecute Christians, but not because they were Christians. He was persecuting them, because, in his eyes, they were wrong. They were going against the Law and the beliefs that were ingrained into his everyday life. He, as a Pharisee, knew the Law well and what Jesus did went against all expectations and assumptions. Thus, it was logical for Paul to deny Jesus as the Messiah. He wasn’t persecuting Christians because he was full of hate, he was persecuting Christians because they were going against everything he was supporting and believing in. Acts 8:3 (ESV) says, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Polhill (2008) states that Paul was “instrumental” in the persecution.
    The only thing that could possibly turn around Paul’s perspective would have to be miraculous—and it was. Because of Paul’s skills and knowledge, God chose him to be the one to minister to the Gentiles. For Christians, it was unthinkable that Paul, their persecutor, would reject his Pharisaic standards and decide to believe in Jesus’s resurrection. But, that’s what makes Paul’s testimony all the more powerful. Because he encountered Jesus firsthand and entirely turned around his mission and perspective of Christians, he was better able to serve the church and bring Gentiles into the Christian faith.

  20. I appreciate your laying out the popular common reasons as to why Paul may have persecuted Jewish believers and your explanations as to how they are not necessarily founded in scriptural context. I think due to the fact that Paul was a devout Jew, it would make sense that he would persecute Jewish Christians on account of heresy, as there is overlap being that Christians didn’t claim to serve a different God, but that their Messiah is the same God the Jews serve. This was highly offensive to religious groups like the Pharisees, which Paul was. Jesus came walking the earth in humility, and he was crucified in humility, and it is revealed to us when Jesus speaks to Pharisees in scripture that they are generally not a humble category of people. They looked down on Jesus-not only was he a lowly Nazarene but he died in a “weak” image. How could he possibly be their Messiah? They expected their Messiah to come in physical majesty, reflecting the same outside appearance and status that they walked in. They did not expect him to come the way that Jesus came.

  21. I would likely agree with the view that one of the main reasons for Saul persecuting the Christians was more because of their stance on Jesus as the Messiah and the implications that has on the High Priest. The devout law keeping people have not had a prophet in a very long time, so they likely relied on the high priest for their spiritual authority. For the high priest to be wrong about the Messiah would not only be embarrassing, it would be as if the High Priest had committed blasphemy himself! One of the examples of zeal happening against a Christian is that of Stephen (ch. 7). Towards the end of his speech, he starts calling the people names and telling them straight to their faces that they were the ones responsible for murdering the Righteous One. We see other examples of the death of Jesus being blamed on the High Priest and the council. So, the idea that Jesus was the Messiah would threaten everything about the system they hung their livelihoods on. Just like if someone were to start saying things that were against what we believed as Christians today; it would go against what we stand for. I see valid reasons for getting enraged by this as someone like Saul at the time, as we see Saul even hinted at Stephen’s stoning. It makes sense that Paul got authority directly from the High Priest at the beginning of chapter 9, as Polhill notes, “Saul’s papers from the high priest may have been official extradited documents or letters of introduction to synagogues in Damascus” (2098).

  22. Reading this blog post was very interesting. I learned so much more than what I already knew. When reading this section of Acts I had a similar thought or question as to why Paul persecuted Jewish Christians. In Long’s blog he brings up circumcision. When reading Acts 9 to my knowledge like he stated above, God-Fearers were accepted without circumcision. When trying to answer this question we soon realize that some of the assumptions that were made seem false. The main issue that came about was the saved Gentiles. When trying to argue this topic it is pretty difficult because there is one main thing that we run into, and that is the fact that the evidence piece is lacking. One of my classmates made a good point when talking about how Paul was a devout Jew so it does make some sense as to why he would persecute Jewish Christians. Going off of another classmate’s post, I agree with them when they said that Paul was persecuting people because to him they were wrong. I don’t think he did it because they were Christians. We can all continue to come up with our own thoughts about what really took place or we can try to put some pieces of evidence together to find a reasonable conclusion. One thing that amazes me is the fact that the heartless Paul could go from being who he was to being saved and following Christ. We learn overall in this post that there are different beliefs and practices.

  23. I would have to agree as well that Paul didn’t persecute Jewish Christians because they weren’t circumcised because as P. Long mentioned, that didn’t seem as much of an issue and there weren’t records of Gentile converts yet. I’d have to agree that it goes a lot deeper than traditional food laws and circumcision, or political and social issues that could occur. It seems like there were a lot of issues working together that motivated Paul to persecute the Jewish Christians. He didn’t want to arousal of false truth to be spread and didn’t want a bad reputation. It’s a terrible situation for the Jews to hear from others that they crucified and killed their own Messiah, whom they were supposed to be ready for and accept Him. Paul’s actions toward the church were terrible but one must also realize that Paul believed that he was doing the right thing by following the Torah. He was zealous for God to the point where he thought it was good to kill those who opposed the law. God knew that Paul’s zealous heart could be used for good. During Paul’s conversion in Acts 9, Paul recognizes his sin, and devastation results in not eating or drinking for three days. That reveals his heart for the Lord and he turns away from his past directly and moves forward with God’s plan for him which is encouraging and inspirational.

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