Acts 9 – Conversion or Call?

As I stated in the previous post, many Pauline scholars prefer to call Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus a “call” rather than a conversion from one religion to another. This events similar to a prophetic call of an Old Testament prophet similar to Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. Paul experienced the glory of God and was called to a prophetic ministry.

Stendahl, for example, argued Paul never left Judaism. He remained a faithful Jew, fulfilling the role of being the “light to the Gentiles.” In this view, Paul received a new calling, but still served the same God. He was to remain a Jew who was called by God to be the witness to the gentiles as anticipated in the prophecies of Isaiah. Paul is therefore not “founding a new religion” but rather a new understanding of the Jewish Law. His gospel is a new interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism, he simply changed parties within Judaism.

The problem with this new view of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus is that it does not do justice to the radicalness of Paul’s Gospel! To reject circumcision even for Gentile converts is not a minor re-interpretation of the Jewish Law, it is a radical change that is unanticipated in the prophets.

The reaction of the Jews in Acts is key. Everywhere Paul announces that God has called the Gentiles to be saved without circumcision, they riot and attempt to kill Paul. Philippians 3:7-8 make it clear that Paul is not just moving to another party within Judaism, but rather that he is rejecting his Pharisaic roots completely. He is breaking with his past way of life and his past theology. While there are many points of comparison between Paul’s theology and Judaism, there are far more radical breaks with the Judaism of the first century.

However, I do think that it is problematic to think that Paul is converting from Judaism to Christianity. Paul seems rather clear in Galatians that he was called by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles in a way that is quite distinct from the apostles in Jerusalem that were called by Jesus. He stresses his independence clearly in Galatians. He never joins the Jerusalem church, nor does he receive his commission from them, but he seems to be called by God to do something quite different – to be the apostle to the Gentiles.

Despite the expansion of the apostolic witness to Hellenistic Jews and God-Fearers, the Twelve do not appear in Acts to do ministry outside of the house of Israel. Galatians 1-2 seems to be saying that there was a tacit agreement between Paul and Peter marking the “boundaries” of their ministerial territory. Paul will go to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews.

Using modern Christian categories like “conversion” and “call” to describe Paul’s experience is a mistake. Paul’s experience in Acts 9 is quite unique in salvation history. As we read the story in Acts, what is radical about Saul’s conversion at this point in the story? If you bracket out what we know Paul is going to say later in Galatians, to what extent is Acts 9 a calling or a conversion?

39 thoughts on “Acts 9 – Conversion or Call?

  1. When thinking about what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus it really is an eye-opening thing to be able to learn about. It is a good reminder of the power of God to take control of a life and bring it back to Him. God has a plan for every single individual in this life. I love how the encounter Saul has with God on his way to Damascus to do something that would be contrary to God’s will and to see how God completely blind sides him and changes the course of his life completely. Saul’s conversion is so very radical because he is the one who is opposing and persecuting God and then he is the one that is spreading God to the nations. I like how Saul describes what he was doing in Acts 26:14 where God askes him why he is persecuting him and kicking against the goads. In other words why is he going against His will? Saul is completely and radically changed by God in this moment where he now will go above and beyond to spread the Good News! Again, it simply leaves me speechless to think of what a wonderful powerful God who relentlessly pursues us no matter how far out of His will we are. No person is too far gone to be brought back, as we see in this so clearly in the account of Saul who became a man after God instead of opposing God. Paul after he is changed shows the people that God’s plan is not to follow all the laws, including circumcision instead it is about accepting the God through His Holy Spirit. I thank God when reading this account that He chose to change His plan and accept the dirty Gentiles, because that is the reason I am saved today!

  2. I think it is interesting that you mention how some argue that Paul converted to Christianity the moment when he accepted the Word of God, and how others argue that he simply changed his outlook and is still a Jew. I think Paul would be similar to the new believers in the chapters prior (specifically at Pentecost in Acts 2) where the Jewish people there believed, yet still practiced Jewish tradition. As you mention, it is clear that he rejected specific traditions of Judaism, such as circumcision, but I would think that he still would behave in the way that he culturally knew.

    As for how Saul’s conversion was radical, I would have to say every part of it was special and amazing. From what we know of Saul at this point was that he was one of the biggest threats to the early church. Acts 8:3 makes clear of this where Saul dedicated himself to eradicating the church. But, similar to Judas, God displayed his protection of the church and not only converted Saul, but also made him debatably one of the biggest assets the early church had.

    I think the event that took place in Acts 9 was more of a conversion than a change of direction or understanding for Saul. Though it is possible, I hesitate to think that Saul was an actual believer during his persecution of the church. One potential indication of this is found in Acts 9:18 where Saul was baptized. This baptism often was mentioned to be done after the person was saved. Though it could have been done out of Jewish tradition, it could have meant that Saul was saved and then baptized.

    Again, I think that this event was more of a conversion of Saul, rather than a change in direction. I do however think that his conversion was purposeful, and that he was chosen to be a vessel for God to use.

  3. Growing up, I always called it a conversion. He was a Jew, but on the Damascus road became a Christian. I still refer to it as a conversion, but I think calling is more appropriate. The God that Jews worship and the God we (Christians) worship are the same God. Jews are still waiting on their Messiah while Christians have received theirs. Looking at it through that lens, I would agree that what Saul/Paul went through was more of a calling. Don’t get me wrong, there was some serious heart change that had to go on to be able to go from killing followers of the way to preaching the good news in the Temple. I have no qualms with Paul still following Jewish traditions post “calling”. I don’t have issues with Christians today celebrating Jewish holidays or following Jewish traditions otherwise. The only time I would have any issues is if they hinged salvation on following Jewish practices. That being said, I think that Paul still following Jewish traditions further deepens the connection between the Jews and early Christians.

  4. Words like “calling” get thrown around a lot in modern Christianity. People say that something is their calling because it’s something they enjoy or might be somewhat good at. Now, there are lots of things that could be someone’s “calling” in life. I think that if someone is serving the Lord in the best way they can, then they are, to some extent, fulfilling their calling. That can be in any number of professions, from businessman to missionary. Very few people experience a calling like Saul did.
    When Jesus called out to Saul, it wasn’t something like a vision in his sleep. Saul was on his way to Damascus when a light from Heaven shone upon him and his men. Jesus called out to Saul, asking why he was persecuting Him. Not only could Saul hear Jesus, but so could them men traveling with him. (Acts 9:3-7). This was the turning point for Saul in what would become ministry to the Gentiles. People today don’t get audibly called with brilliant light from Heaven telling people what God wants them to do with their life. So, it is accurate that Saul was called by God into what he would eventually do, but it’s not to be mixed up with our modern definition of a calling. And like you said, it was very much a conversion as well. Saul’s beliefs were overhauled when he started to minister to the Gentiles. He wasn’t still holding on to his connections to Jewish Law, in fact a lot of what he preached was saying that we no longer need the Law. So, to say that he was still a rabbi after this point would defeat the purpose of his ministry.

  5. What is radical about Saul’s conversion at this point in the story?
    This is a story of hope and redemption. This shows that no matter where someone is at in life Jesus Christ can and will get to them. Saul was a man that despised the gospel and wanted nothing to do with it. This man was allowing the murder of Christians. This is a message for those that have committed sins that they feel there is no way they could be accepted to do something great for a God that is so loving. There is redemption from our past and God will use everyone and anyone to do great things for his kingdom.

    The call on Saul’s life was something that God had known from the beginning and in order to make it such an impactful story for others we were able to see his past. The past that was left so far behind that God gives him a new name and uses him to reach a nation that will impact the world and is still impacting it today. Saul’s conversion was just as important. We see God bringing people to his kingdom all the time and they weren’t people of high stand making wise choices. They were poor and weak, rich and greedy. God has the power to change everyone’s heart and that means there is hope for everyone.

    • I like how you referred to this story of Saul’s conversion as a story of hope and redemption. You are exactly right too with what you said after that in which I completely agree with you. It doesn’t matter to God about who we are and what we’ve done, no matter if it’s good or bad. He still loves us all just as equally and that is such a good thing to know!

  6. Saul to Paul has been a radical story that has been shared throughout the church and its history. The two views of Saul becoming Paul and the difference of it being a conversion or calling. I interpret it as both. I understand it as that God in His own way works and changes the mind, heart, and soul of Saul into Paul. Paul in this conversion is led and feels called to be a voice for the Gentiles of the hope and salvation brought by Christ Jesus. Paul still understands the law and practices of the Jewish traditions, his roots of Judaism to draw him close to God. These traditions are basically spiritual disciplines that are used to grow and connect with God. In addition over time, Paul is shown and acquires a new direction of the way faith in God is lived out. The movement has sparked the beginning of the modern church as not just Jewish converts but the Gentiles are now entering the picture of Christianity. Thus, Paul’s process of ministry took a conversion of God that transformed him into the working out the calling that God had designed for the task of restoration of his people beyond the Jews.

  7. Paul’s experience on the Road to Damascus is a very interesting story. Since he is converting from a Jew, to a Christian. The more interesting part of this article is that of the very end, where we get into the issue of calling this a “call” or a conversion” which I have always called it either of these two. The power of God is capable of anything. The interesting fact here is that this makes it easier for us to understand Paul. Since much of acts we read a lot of his speeches, his interactions he is key throughout the Bible. Since Saul to Paul is one of the more interesting changes. Since Saul has a bit of a hardened heart towards the disciples, I truly think of this a conversion. Saul went blind, he then saw a vision as to where he regains sight after. Then immediately starts proclaiming the name of the Lord. (Acts9:19) As modern Christian thinking as I can get this would definitely be something that we would consider a conversion. Saul was on the road to Damascus, the Lord made him blind, then giving him sight. He then began proclaiming God’s word. That’s just like saying some of us, had wicked ways before Christianity, then after our experiences before getting saved, we then start rejoicing in what God has done in our lives and live to live out our lives for Him. This is a powerful portion of scripture.

  8. What makes it so radical is that Saul was the most zealous persecutor of Christians and all a sudden he becomes zealous for Christ and joins The Way. This went against all odds and the apostles had a hard time believing it was true! Shortly after Paul’s conversion it is recorded,

    “When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer!” (Acts 9:29).

    So, this is a shocker to those who knew Saul was a heavy persecutor of Christians. However, this light that he encountered on the way to Damascus was something special. Polhill believes it to be a heavenly encounter in saying, “The light represents the heavenly epiphany, the divine glory that enveloped the little caravan ”( Polhill, Acts. p. 233). By saying “heavenly epiphany” it can infer that this light was the light of Jesus piercing through his own human senses and overwhelming them to the point where he knew he was in the presence of the Lord (Acts 9:5). Former Prophets have had similar occurrences in that the divine encounters them and they answer God’s call. If God has encountered, you in such a way it is reasonable to say it is God commissioning you to do something He has planned (Eph. 2:10).

    I am a little confused to your initial point and then your end point. Initially you say Paul has rather been given “a new understanding of the Jewish Law”. Continuing, “His gospel is a new interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism, he simply changed parties within Judaism.” And then in another place say,

    “Paul is not just moving to another party within Judaism, but rather that he is rejecting his Pharisaic roots completely. He is breaking with his past way of life and his past theology. While there are many points of comparison between Paul’s theology and Judaism, there are far more radical breaks with the Judaism of the first century.”

    I agreed with your first point in that Paul did not begin a new religion rather he had gained a deeper understanding of the Jewish Law which would have separated him from the other sects since they still had a finite understanding. Paul’s belief in the resurrection made it easier for him to accept Jesus’ Gospel. Polhill affirms this by stating, “The certainty of the resurrection turned Paul from Jesus’ most zealous persecutor to his most ardent witness.” (Polhill, Acts. p. 235)
    What Paul is a witness to is that which he already believed and seen come to life right before his very eyes and giving witness to this reality. The Messiah was not foreign to the Pharisees, so I am unsure if Paul ever forsakes his Pharasitical roots. In Acts 26, Paul argues that he was trained from an early age in Jewish customs and traditions under the Pharasitical sect and that those who persecute him think he has denied the law with his new belief (Acts 26:6-8). Festus knew there was not a valid charge against him and exclaimed “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (Acts 26:24).

    Paul has deeper revelation of how the Law and the Messiah fit together and I would argue that Paul does keep the Law like Jesus did in ways for Jesus did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). Paul in his letter to the Romans says, “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we fulfill the law (Rom. 3:31).

    Paul makes similar cases in other places (Rom. 14 especially 22-23, 13:10, Gal. 5:14 etc.)

    So, I agree to an extent that Paul’s devotion to the Pharisee sect and theology was considered rubbish in the sense of knowing Christ goes way deeper than what he knew. Paul takes a Romans 14 philosophy as well as 1 Cor. 9:19-23 as being things to all people and ministering under their convictions. Furthermore, 1 Cor. 9 distinguishes “not being without the law toward God, but under the Law of Christ” (v.21). What is the Law of God and the Law of Christ? Could this law of Christ be a deeper picture of what the Law of God is in such a way it is through the lens of the law of Christ?

    This appointing of Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles makes him a perfect candidate to reach those who grew up knowing the Law and those unaware of Yahweh.

  9. Honestly it would seem that in Acts 9 I would say my personal opinion leans on both sides. Like you stated it is a mistake to try and use modern christian words to explain Paul’s experience. I believe that it is a mixture of the two but even that is an underplaying of Paul’s experience. Yes he was still practicing some traditions of his Jewish heritage like going to the temple and taking part in the Nazarite vow. Yet, his belief in the resurrected Christ and even rejecting the important tradition of circumcision by explaining to the Gentiles that it is about a circumcised heart. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9 that works isn’t what saves a person. The law and the sacrifices that the Jewish people made is what was thought of their salvation. Paul didn’t convert to a new religion, he didn’t abandon his heritage either. He combined the two and changed his theology on certain topics. He was still worshipping the same God but understood the reason that Jesus came to earth.

  10. The debate whether Paul was converted or it was a calling is an interesting question. I see arguments on both sides. I think to understand what side you would argue for, we need to look at what the Bible says about both conversions and callings. When it comes to conversions, the Bible seems to be on the same base on what it looks like. In Acts we see “ “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). We see here that being converted looks like repenting, being baptized, and asking for forgiveness. We also see a similar story of the conversion of Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized…”(Acts 16:14b,15a). Again this is also very similar to the conversion of the jailer in the same chapter, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household… and he was baptized as once, he and his family” (Acts 16:30b,33b). We see here right in Acts two examples of conversions, what they look like, and how they went down. Including Peter’s message in Acts 2, we see repentance, belief in Jesus Christ, and baptism was needed for conversion in the early church at the time. Paul was also Baptized, he gained his sight that was taken from the Lord, and was filled with the Holy Spirit, (Acts 9:18). I believe Saul was converted, but I also believe that Paul was called as well. Usually when you say you have a calling that could mean that your destiny is fulfilled, or that your life’s purpose is found in your calling. I think for Paul both were true, we see that God called him for this ministry, “ But when he who had set me apart before I was born,[b] and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to[c] me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles”(Galatians 1:15,16b). Here see clearly that Paul was called, he was predestined to have this calling of preaching to the Gentiles. So I think Paul was converted that day, the day he met Jesus and the day he regained his sight and the Holy Spirit filled him. I also think Paul was Called by God, God’s plan was put in motion when Paul was converted and his calling was to spread God’s word to the Gentiles.

  11. It is interesting to think that it could either be a conversion or call because if we are looking at plain lifestyle he definitely converted from a way of being a murderer to a gospel sharing man, but it could be looked at as a “call” if we look at the conversion account when God was the one who physically talked to Saul and said, “now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” And then later on when the Lord calls Ananias to go to the house of Judas on Straight Street Ananias placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord- Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here- has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” I think it is a little bit of both, but I think it is important to remember what Professor Long says when he states, “Paul is not just moving to another party within Judaism, but rather that he is rejecting his Pharisaic roots completely.” It might not be the biggest conversion in the aspect of religions, but a big enough conversion considering it was a call from the Lord not the church to change his ways. I think what really matters, in this case, is that he did change ways whether we think of it as a call or a conversion.

  12. The uniqueness of Paul’s conversion/call is the fact that he was not converted/called by the Apostles, but rather directly by God. He had a different mission, just like P. Long stated above. I think the radicalness of Paul’s story is that he does a complete 360 degree turn from persecuting the early church, to sharing the gospel in synagogues and to the Gentiles. God took hold of Paul just like he spoke to the old prophets and gave him a mission to speak to the Gentile world.

    I agree with you P. Long in the fact that Paul broke away from his Pharisaic theology and did not keep the same laws of the Jews, like circumcision. He was called directly by God to be a witness to the Gentiles. The book of Galatians, written by Paul, speaks of a new covenant in which believers do not have to follow all the rules, but that they have been justified through faith alone and live in guidance with the Holy Spirit (Polhill, 2008, p. 2241). Knowing this, we can say that Paul had more of a conversion, because what he states is totally different than what the Mosaic Law requires. However, he remained a Jew so can we really call him a full convert? The word “call” is God’s sovereignty over Paul’s mission and the word conversion describes Paul’s new theology, however I think both the words still do not fit quite right with Paul’s story. Maybe a better word would be transformation. God used Paul’s knowledge of Pharisaic theology and his old life to understand each person he met with. God also transformed his thinking into the true gospel – through faith alone.

    Whatever word you may choose to use, we just have to remember that God is the one who transforms hearts and minds. He is the one in control and he uses sinners like Paul to expand the gospel throughout the world. We each have a testimony and if we use it right we will glorify God through it all.

  13. It’s interesting that you mentioned a lot of Pauline scholars refer to Paul’s encounter as a call rather than a conversion because it seems like every time I hear about this passage it’s referred to as a conversion. I don’t think the issue lies within a false definition of conversion, but it lies much deeper within the context of the change that Paul has. Paul never converted, he served the same God with the law, he just received a new understanding of the law. He was so moved by this new trust in Jesus that he did a lot of good work for Christ, even though good works were not required for salvation as he now realized (Ephesians 2:8-9). He became a leader for leaders, was bold and suffered the consequences, rebuked throughout his whole life because of the transformation of his heart and “guidance of the Holy Spirit” (Le Donne). I honestly wish that we as Christians could all do as Paul and be so moved by our faith in Christ that we make huge progress for the church through the Holy Spirit instead of being lukewarm Christians with little to no evidence of salvation through bearing good fruits.


    Le Donne, Anthony. “Paul the Apostle,” Lexham Bible Dictionary. Edited by J. Barry et al. (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2016)

  14. The story of the conversion of Saul to Paul is one that has been highlighted a lot within the Christian community, and I can remember hearing this story while growing up in the church. I have always been moved by the radical change that Jesus instilled into Saul and I have used it as a reminder that Jesus can change anyone’s heart. On the other hand, I like the points Long brings up and the question of whether Saul’s experience was a conversion or a call. Of course, I want to take the route that says that Saul’s experience was both a conversion and a call from God. Paul was converted from his old ways of trying to be in control and follow the Jewish faith how he thought would be best through persecuting those of “the Way” (Verse 2) to the calling of including Gentiles in the ways of Salvation (Polhill, 2098). From my observations, Saul was obsessed with following the Jewish laws in a way that he believed they should be, which was twisted and not at all what Jesus wanted. Hence, Jesus coming to him and changing his outlook completely. There is significance in what Saul was called to do because up until this time, Gentiles were not considered to be a part of the Salvation Jesus offered, many of the disciples and those of the faith were “Jew-focused” so the concept of Gentiles being grafted into the kingdom of God was new and probably very odd to many Jewish people. I think that whether Saul was converted or called, he still did the job that Jesus set out for him, and whatever it may have been, it changed his life, and the lives of many Gentiles forever.

  15. Stendahl makes an interesting claim in believing that Saul never truly left the Jewish faith. It could be the case that Saul was committed to the Torah and its rituals based off his upbringing and the Jewish traditions were all he knew and it may have been difficult to stray from the fundamentals of faith that he was taught from a young age. Although, it does not seem to make sense to think of Saul advocating for the Gentile believers and being a light to them, while also not truly believing those teachings in his heart. This is contradictor in the beliefs of salvation for both Judaism and Christianity, but rather Saul was able to understand the need for repentance and receiving grace and salvation through believing Jesus was the Messiah he was taught that the Jews were waiting for. Therefore, Saul could easily have been as advocate for preaching that salvation does not come from works, but rather believers should desire and strive to keep the commandments and laws that are shared throughout the Old Testament. Paul does indeed affirm in Galatians 1:23-24 that he knows some are critical of his teachings that are from the Lord because of his calling from persecuting Christians, to being persecuted with the Christians. Anyone who knows the New Testament and the life of Paul knows that he was overwhelmingly persecuted for his faith and that never stopped or slowed him down on his strong beliefs in the salvation that comes from the Lord. Paul understands why some of his audience members are critical of him, due to his past actions, opposed to critical of the words he is sharing.

  16. I agree that Paul’s conversion/call was definitely unique among the apostles, however, there are similarities. Paul and the apostles were both called by Jesus though in a different form, they were both called to “follow Me”, and they both received the Holy Spirit due to following and accepting Jesus.
    From what I’ve read, Paul doesn’t receive the Holy Spirit until Ananias removes his spiritual blindness. According to Polhill, “Ananias’s laying his hands on Saul was a physical symbol of the invisible power of the Holy Spirit coming to heal Saul from his blindness and dwell within him a new covenant fulness” (2099). We also see in Acts 10:44-45 that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate confirmation of one’s acceptance of Christ. “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised were amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles” (ESV). Polhill backs this when he says that the “Gentiles had come to genuine saving faith in Christ and received the new covenant power and fulness of the Holy Spirit which was a sign that they had been accepted by God as full and equal members of His people” (2104). Based on this, I believe that since Saul had not yet received the Holy Spirit. I don’t think that he was converted until Ananias prayed over him and that he was called on the road to Damascus but that he didn’t have his conversion there.

  17. Paul’s conversion or call as portrayed in Acts 9 is radical for a number of reasons. One being that it was such a fast turnaround. At the beginning of the chapter, Saul was still persecuting Christians. He was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there. After he encountered the Lord on his way to Damascus he was blinded and didn’t eat for three days. When Ananias went to Saul and said that God had sent him so that Saul’s sight would be restored and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit it says that something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and that he was baptized. That seems like a pretty quick turnaround. On the other hand, Saul had just experienced God. I know that if I didn’t know the Lord and was encountered by Him in the way that Saul was, I would be quick to follow Him with my life. I would definitely say that this experience in Acts 9 was more of a calling than a conversion. The same God that spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus also called the Israelites His people and gave them the old law. The fulfilling of the Holy Spirit is considered the start of the new law. The one that according to Jeremiah 31 is “written on the hearts.” Saul wasn’t converting to another religion or even a new “branch” of Judaism. “Using modern Christian categories like “conversion” and “call” to describe Paul’s experience is a mistake. Paul’s experience in Acts 9 is quite unique in salvation history” (Long). As far as the first two chapters of Galatians implying that Paul and Peter had an agreement that Paul would minister to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews it makes Paul’s experience sound more like a calling. God had called him to minister to the Gentiles and to be a light for God.

  18. The conversion of Saul to Paul is an important story in Christian history that I heard often at my church growing up. This story is a great example about how having an encounter with Jesus Christ radically changes our way of life and transforms our hearts to become the person that God intended us to be. In the Bible it says that He who began a good work in us will see it through to completion, and God works through every one of us to accomplish His plans, including through the apostle Paul. The Lord said to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name,” (Acts 9:15-16; English Standard Version). It is an interesting conversation to bring up whether the changing of Saul to Paul was a conversion or a prophetic calling. I believe that referring to it as a conversion can be problematic because Saul/Paul was a Jew before and after his encounter with Jesus. The difference is that Paul now believed that Jesus was Messiah and was raised from the dead, whereas he previously believed that Jesus was not the Messiah. Saul accused Christians of blasphemy by sharing that Jesus is the Messiah, and even persecuted them because of it. After Paul’s encounter with Jesus, his way of life completely changed, as God used him to be a witness and transform the lives of both Jews and Gentiles. Instead of it being a conversion, I believe that it could be more of a prophetic calling because he is fulfilling the plan that God has for his life to be a witness to the Gentiles.

  19. The conversion of Paul is an event that is significant in the realm of Christianity. It is an event that I was always taught in the church starting in Sunday school as a young child. It was not until this week that I started to question the term “conversion.” When I think about conversion, I think about changing from one thing to something quite different, regardless of the context. Examples that come to mind are with math when you do unit conversions, with anatomical conversions of food to energy, with religion conversions of one religion to another. The definition of conversion from Webster dictionary is “the process of changing or causing something to change from one form to another” and “the fact of changing one’s religion or beliefs or the action of persuading someone else to change theirs.” This makes me think that based on the definition of conversion that Paul changed his religion from something to another. But he did not really. Long mentions in his post using Stendahl’s argument that “Paul never left Judaism” and that “Paul received a new calling, but still served the same God. He was to remain a Jew who was called by God to be the witness to the gentiles” (Long, 2019). He did not change beliefs or religions entirely, more so just adapted his way of thinking and understanding of who Jesus was. Like mentioned in the blog post the “changing parties” view does not necessarily do this event with Paul justice. So what do we call it? Is there a better word to describe this event? Maybe conversion is the best term to still show the significance we as Christians want to bring to that moment.

  20. What happened to Paul in Acts 9 was unlike any other experience that was normal for converts; some may even say it was radical. God supernaturally blinded Paul and Jesus spoke with him about the wrongful persecution he was conducting. Up until this point, Paul had believed persecuting the followers of Jesus was the right thing to do, according to the law, since he did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. This belief changed entirely when Jesus himself, appeared to Paul and proved he had indeed risen from the grave. After being blinded, Ananias was sent to Paul by God and he gave sight back to Paul (Acts 9:17-18). Paul was baptized and immediately started proclaiming Jesus as the messiah in the synagogues. This conversion experience shifted Paul’s overall mindset and goals and it showed. I think it is correct in saying “it is problematic to think that Paul is converting from Judaism to Christianity” (Long, par. 5). Though it may seem as if Paul set aside his Jewish traditions and Law in exchange for believing and proclaiming the Gospel, he does not switch from one to another. Similar to Jesus’ ministry, I feel that Paul kept with the Law and Jewish customs, but his ultimate goal revolved around bringing others to Christ. The reason Jewish leaders wanted to kill Paul (Acts 9:23) is not that he was breaking the Law of God but because he was “rejecting Pharisaic roots” (Long, par. 4). Since Paul was not trading in one religion for another, I believe his experience on the road to Damascus would be better described as a call or spiritual transformation. Since Jesus directly spoke with him and called him to be a “light to the gentiles” (Acts 26:16-18), I believe Paul had been shown the truth, therefore transformed, and led a life reflecting that transformation.

  21. I have never heard this conversation on rather Paul’s encounter was a conversion or call. But from what I do know I believe either way it is a important part in history for believers. His story goes to show that no matter what type of life you live or what you believe in, When you have an interaction with the power of God it will change your life. And for Paul I don’t really think it makes a difference if he converted from one religion to the other because he accomplished what he was set out to do and did it all while glorifying God. So when you look at it that way it is a conversion of his spirit more than anything. Because after that the way he lived and the things he did were transformed by him having faith in God.

  22. The account in Acts 9 is quite radical not just because of Jesus’ glorious intervention after Saul had rejected the witness by early believers in Jerusalem, but also because Jesus gave Saul a specific mission. And his mission does not reaffirm what Jesus told the disciples to do back in Acts 1:8. Paul was set apart to be an apostle focused on Gentiles. Yes, to the Jews and to kings also, but further into Acts, Paul is simply done being rejected by Jewish leaders starts focusing solely on ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6). His later accounts of his experience of salvation also reinforce his apostleship to the Gentiles (Acts 22, 26).
    Even though “calling” seems to be more 21st Century Christian jargon, it seems to relate the same idea of Paul being purposed for a specific mission in the plans of God for delivering salvation to humanity. Certainly, it is less troublesome to call it a “calling” than a “conversion”, since “conversion” seems to presuppose having faith in other religions and then converting to faith in the one true God. As messed up as the Jews were, they still believed in God. So, in the beginning chapters of Acts, many Jews that believed in God and relied in the provisions of the law for their justification now had the opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and be saved once and for all! The elements of Paul’s experience of salvation, aside from Jesus’ direct intervention, were very similar to that of other Jews that believed in Jesus as Messiah. Paul believed, received the Holy Spirit through the laying of hands, and was baptized. I believe Paul and many others experienced salvation in contrast with conversion. The Gentiles are the ones that experience conversion.

  23. Unlike most other comments in this thread, I did not learn much about the experience Paul had on the road to Damascus. Of course, growing up in Sunday school you know that it happened, but it’s taught through the visual aids of felt boards and small theatrical silly plays. Through not only this class, but other biblical studies classes at Grace, I have found that we are taught growing up is quite dumbed down, even when we are to an age of better understanding. The experience of Paul on the road to Damascus is significant to even our stories as Christians today. Without a messenger to the Gentiles, then would we have ever felt “qualified” to receive the message of Jesus? Of course, he could have used someone else but that someone else’s story would have needed to be just as significant. The radicalness of Paul’s experience starts with the fact that he jailed and killed the very people that believed in the man Paul now believes in as well. Another radical change was how quickly he accepted what Jesus said to him. There was no fight, no doubt, he knew exactly what his choice was. To what we see in Acts 9, his experience seems to be best described as a conversion, because we do not know the rest of his story. We do not yet see the words he uses in Galatians 1:12 to describe the revelation he was given or in Ephesians 3 when he uses the same word. To that extent, the word “conversion” may be alright to use, but as soon as we see the fuller story of Paul then the word does not seem to fit.

  24. When considering the true nature of the supernatural act concerning Paul in Acts chapter 9, it’s very interesting to consider the implications of specifically the events that occur in this chapter. When examining Acts as a whole, it’s easy to look at the moment of Paul’s conversion as a launching pad for an incredible life of ministry, full of conversions and people brought to faith in Christ. But if only examine the events in Acts 9 and nothing following, a clear argument can be made for the events that happened to Paul was only means of conversion, not necessarily a call to ministry. But when I read verse 15 when Paul is referred to as “chosen” by God, I find it hard to believe that this event was just a mere conversion. It’s not out of the question that a conversion doesn’t need to involve a call to ministry, but in the case of Paul, I believe it’s impossible to ignore the great ministry events that occur in the following chapters- Paul does great ministry and it all begins with a simple divine moment when he accepts Christ, and then moments later receives the call to proclaim Christ in a life devoted to ministry. What’s radical to me is that Paul sees the face of Jesus, he acknowledges that Christ Himself is the one who appears to Him, and following this encounter He is saved and His healed of physical and spiritual blindness. Despite it not looking very radical on the surface, I truly believe Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 is radical in every sense of the word.

  25. For me, they have to come simultaneously, it is both a calling and conversion at the same time! He was called to convert people to Christianity through the gospel message. He said it clearly in Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile”. And according to Paul, he was set apart
    before he was born to reveal about the son (Jesus) to the Gentiles. In addition, Paul wish that he rather be cursed from the sake of his people (Jews) so that they belives in Jesus, he said that in Romans 9:1-3 “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh”. Here, Paul wish to convert the Jewish people from their beliefs so that they also will be saved. He said, to the Jews he became like a Jew so that he migh wins them over. In 1 Thessolonians 1:4-5 Paul include himself as a part of Christianity “for OUR gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” which mean he no longer abide to the Jewish way of teaching and belief, but indicate he is indeed fully convereted to Chrinsiaty after his calling in Damascus. The argument that Stendahl provide was not a plausible argument, of course, Paul was a faithful Jew in every manner, just Like Jesus was a faithful Jew, but that does not support that Paul was not converted to Chrisntity. Jesus himself was a Jew, a very devoted Jew, and the message that he was proclaiming was, of course, a repulsive message, for the Jews and when he was asked about the law, he said it clearly in Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. So, it is therefore clear that being a Christian made one be also a faithful Jew in Christ Jesus. Note, there is a distinction between Judaism and Christianity, a true faithful Jews were those who believe in Christ Jesus, the one whom the Moses and propphets propheciscsy. Paul understand this clearly after his calling, he began to realized his interpreation of the Hebrew Bible misguided him, and he wish he people (Jews) received a conversion throguh the light of gospel. Peter mission was to the Jew, to proclaim the gosepl of Jesus and Paul was to the gentiles.

  26. When reading Acts chapter nine and reading this blog post about how people think that Paul converted to Christianity during the event in Damascus. From first thought, it would be understandable to think that God called Paul to go and preach about God’s glory. It connected to other stories that are in the bible like when other prophets were called to do ministry as well. So, it would be reasonable to understand why people might think this is a calling at first glance. When looking deeper into this story, your eyes begin to shift. Because looking into what the term being called is different at least from reading this blog it comes off different. That the prophet had to go somewhere and leave and then go teach the bible. But Paul stayed, and this is how the term can be missed used. From the standpoint of Pual converting to Christianity, isn’t the right term to use because of Philippians 3:7-8. These verses explain that Pual was just teaching different parts of a religion, so technology Pual wasn’t changing religion he was just teaching different parts of the religion. I would have to agree in this blog that these terms are not right to describe what was happening with Pual in Acts nine.

  27. The conversion of Saul to Paul is one of the most powerful stories in the Bible in my opinion. Before Paul was a follower of Christ he was persecuting Christians. To have someone so broken and far from God to then have an awakening one could say and to turn from everything he once was doing is absolutely amazing. Some nonbelievers like to argue that they are too far from God, yet Paul’s story is a prime example of this. Someone who followed the sins of this world to the point of murder to someone who was spreading the good news. When God encounters Paul something powerful happens and he looses his sight for three days until Ananias is led by God to perform a miracle on Paul. This is a turning point for Paul and the power of God is revealed to Paul in a new way. One could argue that what happened to Paul is a calling because of the personal relationship that is built with Christ. Others could argue that it is a conversion because something went from one thing to a new. Paul going from killing Christians to becoming one is in facts a conversion because of the change in lifestyle. Paul went through something most cannot agree with, but what believers can stand in agreement with is that God can change the most broken people and make them used for His glory.

  28. I think Paul often gets a bad reputation with how he treated the Christians. Obviously, what he did was a sin but we all sin. Recently, I have learned more about Paul’s “conversion.” I have learned that he really did think he was doing the right thing by getting rid of the “fake” Christians. He believed in God and did not realize that what these people believed was true. Because of this knowledge and the blog post, I would say the word calling works better than conversion since he already believed in God. I do agree that the word call does not do this story justice. Paul was blinded and fasted in order to truly understand what it was God wanted him to do. I think this story truly shows that people can change their ways and actions. I believer Paul did have a good heart, he was just on the wrong path and became lost in the world. However, God pulled him back to the right path and used him to do great things for his kingdom.

  29. When I first started reading this blog post, I was struck with the interesting idea of what religious sect we would consider Paul to be in. When you start to divide it into terminology, like Long mentioned in the blog post above, it can get a bit confusing and had the possibility of being heretical if used in other categories. Instead of thinking either side: if he started a new religion or just changed his Jewish background a little bit, we can just focus on all the good Paul did with his life and how God used him for good. For example, I think it’s astonishing how God completely turned his life upside down, something we think can never happen for us especially as we grow older and realism starts to set in. This is often something that we need to remind ourselves of: being a vessel for the Lord. Even if God isn’t having you travel the world and be persecuted like Paul for the sake of His name, we are still being used as an important vessel for the Lord. At the end of reading Acts 9 as well as the blog post and Galatians, I believe that this event was more of a conversion, but like Long reminds us, it can be tricky putting people’s religions into separate categories.

  30. As I wrote in my paper, I believe that Paul experienced both a conversion and calling. At the beginning of this blog post it mentions how he was called to a prophetic ministry and he was, he went on to preach the Gospel because that was what God called him to do. The reason I believe it is also a story about Paul’s conversion is because as written in your other blog post about Paul being blinded, it talks about how he was already spiritually blind and was persecuting those who were Christians and after he experienced Jesus on the road to Damascus he was a changed man, therefore he went from something to something else but not physically. He was spiritually changed. The experience of Jesus opened his eyes and he changed his ways and broke the roots of his original Jewish beliefs. God used Paul who was a big opponent of Christianity and changed him and this was very powerful showing that Jesus can change anyone and shows the power of the Gospel.

  31. Wrestling with the question whether Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus was a conversion or a call is a tough one to grapple with. However, although some have compared Paul’s call with Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel’s, looking closer at these prophets’ calling will help shed light that Paul’s situation was unique and therefore had different outcomes. For example, when the Lord called Isaiah to be a prophet in Isaiah 6, he recognized his iniquities (v.5), encountered seraphim (v.6), and then was commissioned because of his willingness to be God’s mouthpiece (v.8). Some similarities include that Isaiah had a personal encounter with the Lord and saw His glory (v.5) and was also sent to speak before kings like Paul (7:10). With Jeremiah, his call came when the people of Israel were in exile (Jeremiah 1:3) and the Lord appeared to him commanding him to speak to nations (v.10). The difference between the apostle Paul’s call and Jeremiah’s was that Jeremiah was fearful of his call (v.6) and his call was to speak destruction. Again, with Ezekiel he was sent to specifically be a prophet (Ezekiel 2:5) and to speak words of destruction as well. The main difference between the Old Testament prophets calling and Paul’s call was that God never told Paul he was going to be a prophet or was sent to speak of the condemnation of the people of Israel. In fact, Paul was sent to the Gentiles which no other prophet was specifically told to do before. Therefore, as Paul calls himself an apostle and not a prophet, we must take his word on it and see the event of the Road of Damascus as both a calling and a conversion since his life was radically changed that day.

  32. Determining if Paul’s experience was a call or a conversion is something that until reading about it, I have not really battled with. Now that I have come to understand the reasoning for both, I do not think that it fits into a specific category of either one. One of the ways that Paul can be seen as conversion is that he seems to go through a spiritual conversion (Long, 2023, pg. 53). Claiming that Paul went from a Jewish follower to a Christian. Saying that he switches from one thing to another. The only problem with that is that it can be seem that Paul does not completely give up his Jewish ways. So, looking into the new way of thought, we see an idea that it was more of a prophetic calling. I thought it was interesting how they compared it to the Old Testament prophets. People have come to this conclusion because Paul is still worshipping the same God, so he could not have had a conversion (Long, pg. 53). This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We know that Christ is the same as the God of the Jews (John 1:1). So, this seems to make a lot of sense to call it a prophetic calling over a conversation. As we continue, it is hard to even call it that! I really appreciate your point about this in the blog. Mentioning how modern categories do not fully explain what is truly happening (Long, 2019).

  33. Considering the difference between a “conversion” and a “call” from our modern perspective of Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus seems trivial. Clearly, Paul went from strictly following the Law and upholding his position as a Pharisee to experiencing something radical and profound. There is no denying that Paul changed as a person. He encountered Jesus and experienced blindness for three days that gave him the opportunity to reflect on his past and reflect on the words that Jesus spoke to him. He was told that he would now begin a mission to convert Gentiles to Christianity—something I’m sure he never imagined he would do. He went through a conversion of his person and perspective, he experienced a call from God to minister to the Gentiles, and ultimately, Paul was never the same.
    These things are clearly displayed in the Pauline epistles as Paul writes to others and records his experience and what it is that drives him to continue. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV) Paul talks about Christ’s death and resurrection and how he himself was a recipient of this. Not only does Paul have personal experience in this area, but he also has history and other witnesses to point to. In v. 9-10, Paul states, “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” What Paul experienced on the road to Damascus may have been a conversion, or it may have been a call, but it was most definitely a gift from God. Polhill (2008) suggests that this gift from God didn’t prompt Paul to fall into a passive state of being, but rather put Paul in a position of hard work.

  34. I think it makes sense why Paul’s encounter with God was more of a “call” rather than a “conversion”. Personally, I think it could be similar to both, in a certain way. Stendahl’s argument that Dr. Long mentions in this blog post certainly makes sense, because Paul was a Jew and still was one faithfully, even after the events that occurred on the road to Damascus. But as Dr. Long said, Paul’s changes that he made in his life & the message that he shared with Gentiles after his encounter with God on the road to Damascus was so radical. It wouldn’t make any sense that it wasn’t some kind of conversion, since Paul had some kind of change in his life (understanding and knowing Christ.)
    In Acts 9:18-20, after Paul regained his vision when Ananias laid his hands on him and was baptized, Paul “immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues.” This was quite absurd for a Jew to do! Overall, I do think that because of the absurdity and radicalness of Paul’s salvation, I feel like it can’t be boxed into just the “call” or “conversion” terms. I think it’s a call, since Paul clearly was given a mission to share the Gospel with the Gentiles. But I also think that Paul was converted in some kind of way, not necessarily into a Christian lifestyle, but into the Way of Christ. This Way of Christ looked like him boldly proclaiming the Good News in the synagogues, going to persecuted churches and encouraging them, calling out believers who are stagnant in faith, etc. Paul’s experience of the glory of God is certainly one of the most crucial stories to discuss because of how radical and out of the ordinary it is.

  35. As we read the story in Acts, there are several things that are radical about Saul’s conversion. Saul was a persecutor of the early Christian church. Prior to his conversion, Saul was actively working to arrest and imprison followers of Jesus. His conversion is radical in that he goes from being an enemy of the church to being one of its most fervent proponents. The encounter with the risen Jesus is a powerful and transformative experience. In Acts 9, Saul is described as being struck blind by a bright light from heaven and hearing a voice that asks him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). This encounter is sudden, unexpected, and life-changing, and it leads to Saul’s immediate conversion and commitment to following Jesus. Saul’s conversion involves a complete reorientation of his beliefs and worldview. As a devout Jew, Saul had been raised to believe in the importance of keeping the law and the traditions of his fathers. However, his encounter with Jesus leads him to see that salvation comes not through works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 9:20-22). If we bracket out what Paul says later in Galatians, Acts 9 can be seen as both a calling and a conversion experience for Saul/Paul. Saul’s encounter with Jesus leads to a radical transformation of his beliefs and identity, which can be seen as a conversion experience. However, the encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus is clearly a calling, as Jesus directly calls Saul to become a follower and to preach the Gospel. For this reason, I believe Acts 9 is more of a calling than a conversion.

  36. There is no denying that in many ways Paul’s experience on the Road to Damascus is a conversion—Paul does not leave the same. He was radically changed. He goes from being one of the worst persecutors of the church to its biggest defender. Although, as Dr. Long notes, it would be foolish to say that Paul was “converting from Judaism to Christianity,” we can’t deny that his worldview has, in many ways, been radically changed. However, in many ways, Paul remains the same. Paul does not cease being Jewish. He “still [serves] the same God,” and was to “remain a Jew who was called by God to be the witness to the gentiles” (Long notes, p. 53).

    I had never before considered Paul being “prophetically called.” It was not as if Paul experienced a conversion in the way that we think of today, that he was told the gospel, pondered a bit, and ultimately determined that Jesus is the Messiah. No, there is arguably no choice involved. He is brutally confronted, blinded by a bright light as Jesus the Messiah appears to him. When he encounters Ananias, Ananias “informs him of his special calling” (Polhill, p. 2099). He is not asked; he is told what his new calling is. In many ways this does mimic the prophets of the Old Testament, those who were confronted by the Lord before being informed of their ministry. There is not a choice about whether or not Paul is to cooperate with the Lord—he has “received a call of God,” which can’t be argued with (no matter the lengths someone goes to, as we see with Jonah) (Long notes, p. 53).

    I don’t think it’s an either/or scenario. Paul experienced a conversion—maybe not a *complete* conversion, or a conversion in the way we might think, but a conversion, nonetheless. Paul also was called by the Lord for a specific purpose, which could only be fulfilled by him.

  37. Saul’s conversion on the road of Damascus is a good reminder and example of God’s grace and his ability to transform anyone. Saul was blind and stuck in his view of what Jesus was. Looking back, I never really classified it as a conversion or a calling, and it is hard to put it in one category. In some way, he experienced a spiritual conversion when he was radically changed in his viewpoint on the Gospel, and was healed from his spiritual blindness. He went from persecuting those who followed the Way to proclaiming it. He experienced a transformation of character, and suffered for God’s sake. In other words, he went from glorifying himself to glorifying God. Not only that, but he went so far as to reject his Pharisaic roots completely, signifying a break away from his previous way of life (Long, 2019, para. 4). Timewise, his conversion was radical because he was on his way to persecute men and women for the things he immediately started preaching after he was converted. As far as this being a calling, it is definite that God had a plan for him, in that he would be a leading figure in the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles and the ends of the earth as mentioned in Acts 13:47. Acts 9:15 says, “…the Lord said to him (Ananais), ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.’” God specifically called Saul and appointed him to serve Him and to carry out the Gospel throughout the area. Paul certainly was appointed and called by Jesus to serve, and within Judaism he experienced a radical change in viewpoint on who Jesus is.

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