Acts 9:19-22 – Paul in Damascus

After Paul recovers from his blindness, we are told that he spends “some days” with the disciples in Damascus. Paul immediately begins his attempts at evangelism in the Diaspora synagogues, proclaiming that Jesus is the “Son of God” (verse 20). Notice that he immediately begins this preaching, there is no lengthy period of time after his experience before he announces to the synagogues that Jesus was in fact the Messiah. Luke describes the content of Paul’s preaching as “Jesus is the Son of God” and “Jesus is the Messiah.” That Jesus is the Son of God resonates with Psalm 2, a text which has already been used by Peter at Pentecost to show that Jesus is the Messiah.


A Damascus Wall, 1890-1900

This preaching “agitates” the synagogues. The verb here (συγχέω) has the sense of amazement and surprise, but can be used to describe confusion of a crowd about to riot (Acts 19:29, variant text, 21:27). What agitates the synagogues is that Paul is succeeding in proving Jesus is the Christ. Paul is able to teach from the scripture, through the Holy Spirit, in such a way that convinces people. This may not imply the believed, but it was impossible to argue against Paul’s evidence.

Where did Paul get this evidence? On the one hand, boldness in preaching is one of Luke’s evidences that an individual is yielded to the Holy Spirit. Like Peter before the Sanhedrin, Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly speaks the message of Jesus. A second source for his preaching is likely the preaching of Peter, or better, Stephen in the Synagogue.

Undoubtedly Paul has been arguing with Stephen and other Hellenists in the Synagogue for some time, Paul now accepts their arguments and begins to extend them to other scripture. A third source may be Paul’s own thinking about the Messiah and the Messianic age as a well-trained rabbi.

As observed in the last few posts, Paul does not go from totally ignorant of God to a faithful follower of Jesus. He was already aware of messianic texts and methods of argument in rabbinic discussions as well as how to present scripture in a synagogue context. Paul took what he already knew to be the truth and ran it through the filter of the resurrected Jesus and preached that Gospel in the synagogues in Damascus.

Once again, Luke presents powerful preaching and excellent scholarship working together to convince people of the truth of the Gospel. Paul is extremely confrontational – he goes right to the people who likely wanted the Jesus Community to be silent and announces that he is one of them! This is a boldness which is a direct result of the encounter with Jesus and the filling of the Holy Spirit.

There other elements of a “boldness” theme in Acts and clearly Luke is presenting the ministers of the Gospel as unusually bold in their confrontation with authority.  By way of application, should we use Paul’s boldness as a model for modern mission, and if so, what would that look like?  Does this sort of “boldness” work in a pluralistic society like modern America?

19 thoughts on “Acts 9:19-22 – Paul in Damascus

  1. Can I answer the question by asking a question? Why would this sort of boldness not work in a pluralistic society?

    • I think that it can, and does. I wonder, however, if people read Paul’s boldness and try to go to college campuses and preach (obnoxiously) against particular sins. That “style” of boldness is perhaps more of a problem than a help.

      Another angle at this – was the Jewish or Rome world really a “pluralistic society”?

  2. Sticking to the verses in hand. Paul spoke boldly in the synagogue not on the street. He was proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ not condemning certain sins. So to be like Paul does not mean to be a street preacher ranting about judgement. Being like Paul means finding natural access points for the gospel and boldly taking them. This works in any culture. Our challenge is to find places where the message will be heard. As a side note I don’t think this means inviting people to a church service or event. Paul went to where people were not invite them to where he was.

  3. There is a movement (thank you Shane Claiborne) that says that the communal church that we find in early acts is the correct way to do church. The “come are you are” attitude is great for this community based church, and yet at times there can be to much tolerance. In fact, the whole church is moving towards more tolerance, even when it is contradicting scripture. There is nothing wrong with accepting and loving people, but when we are forming churches for the openly homosexual and mixing religion as to not offend anyone, we have a problem. Paul’s boldness is truly a slap in the face to the pharisees. Here is a man, who had a very promising future as a pharisee, and yet here he is preaching against them. Paul knows that this has to feel like a massive betrayal to the Sanhedrin, and yet he goes and preaches to them anyway. Is Paul spitting in their faces? is he spite preaching in the synagogues? I don’t think that this was Paul’s intention here, but i feel like he was just trying to let his people know what he had experienced. He wanted his kin to find the truth as he did, and to preach it themselves. This is bold because he knows of the consequences of his message (look at Stephen), and he still preaches what God has entrusted him with. This boldness and courage could revolutionize missions, especially in the US. As a whole, the church is not taking a strong enough stand against sin and is failing to evangelize strongly. In taking a Pauline stand we would see preaching against sin such as homosexuality and open religion (mixing different religions) and more emphasis into bringing people into the church without fear of rejection. The church needs a renewed boldness to preach against sin, and to reach the world more effectively.

  4. Along with what Mike said, I think preaching boldly has a lot to do with setting. “Paul spoke boldly in the synagogue not on the street” (Mike). Paul knew where he could be most effective, so he went to the synagogue’s. This is a common pattern that is evident throughout his missionary journey’s as well. He typically shows up at the synagogue of the city first, “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues” (Acts 13:5). This is because this is what is most natural for him. There is no doubt that Paul and the apostles that Luke writes about set an example for us to follow concerning proclaiming the gospel boldly. If the Holy Spirit is attributed is the major element of his fearlessness and boldness, there is no reason it shouldn’t be the same for us. The same Holy Spirit lives within us. There is a time and place to be bold and preach the name of Jesus. As Pierpont said, relationships are crucial in today’s culture. Having said that, there needs to be more preaching of the gospel. God has given each believer gifts and talents to help glorify His name, mainly through spreading the good news. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, high among the ranks of Judaism. He knew what he was talking about with Jews in the synagogue. The same thing is true today. A Jew who has converted to Christianity would be much better at evangelizing to a Jew than I would. It’s about preaching boldly in settings that are most comfortable and natural that fit your passions and gifts. There also is an element of defending the name of Jesus when wronged. Or giving an answer if asked no matter what the setting (1 Peter 3:15).

  5. Paul spoke boldly when he was spreading the gospel. However, I believe that Paul knew and understood when and where to speak with this boldness. He knew that this boldness worked the best in the synagogues. Within his ministry, Paul typically went to the synagogues first to share the gospel. This is seen in Acts 13 when Paul went to Salamis. I believe that there is some application to Paul’s boldness for us in the modern day. I believe that as Christians we should not be timid when we are sharing the gospel and should not back down due to someone questioning us. However, this also does not mean getting in peoples faces and calling them out. We must seek to find a balance of boldness that does not push people away and shows them the love of God. I think that it requires that we know the time and place for boldness and knowing when to back off a little bit. This means knowing that they heard our message and if we continue in the same way for too long, we are only going to push them away.

  6. After Paul’s conversion, for lack of better words, he lived a radically different life. Instead of torturing people for proclaiming Jesus’ message, he was standing in the front lines proclaiming it loud and clear for all to hear. Directly after his transformation he stayed in Damascus for a little while preaching this Good News in the Synagogues. This agitated and astonished many of the people who were hearing his message (Acts 9:21). Perhaps this is because they knew who he previously was, but maybe it was for a different reason. It is very likely that they were agitated because he was “succeeding in proving Jesus is the Christ” (Long). He was speaking with so much passion and boldness that his message was penetrating into the people’s hearts. His boldness came from the empowering of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given to empower the witnesses with the message (Jipp 35). He was the source of Paul’s successful boldness. The Holy Spirit can also be a source of our boldness. Why should we not have the same passion and power that Paul had? Are we not also empowered by the Spirit? On the contrary, if we are believers in Jesus Christ, then we have been given the Spirit, and through Him we have the same boldness that Paul had. We are capable of facing big things and sharing an amazing message. We should not be radicals that inhibit and damage the message of Jesus, but we should be bold in our faith, sharing the Good News at every opportunity.

    • Haley, you really make a good point here. It is because receiving the Holy Spirit that we can go out and share the good news to others. The big thing though with being bold is that if we are to be this way towards others, no matter if it is youth or people more out age, we can’t be scared to be bold or even think twice of whether you should share the gospel or not. You just simply have to go for it!

  7. Should we use this boldness as a model for modern missions? I think, to answer this question, it depends on a few things, specifically our attitude and the situation. When reading this verse, some people may point at it as an excuse to do things like to go out and preach in the streets or go to a preacher of another denomination and argue. When I think of a person like this, I think of someone who is angry and looking to argue. I don’t think this is beneficial, but the opposite, in that it will turn people off to the gospel. I also don’t think this is the way Paul acted to these people in the synagogue. Though the verse doesn’t specify, I think that in his preaching, Paul was trying to rationally discuss and persuade these people. I don’t think he had a hart of anger, but instead a wanting for these people to believe. I don’t think his boldness was that he preached (or yelled at) everyone who would listen, but instead preached directly to the very ones that he knew would persecute him. I think this is the way we, as the modern church should act in missions. We shouldn’t necessarily preach from the street, but we should go to those deemed unsavory or dangerous. For example, I had a professor at my previous college who was at a beach for the purpose of evangelism. Though there were others he could have talked to, he sought out a group of people who looked intimidating or ‘rough’. To these people he preached and discussed the gospel. This is an example of boldness, that, instead of witnessing to people who are easy, witness to those who may persecute as well. There is definitely more to learn from the interpretation from this passage, specifically following the leading of the Spirit, but this is one area that may get misinterpreted or ignored from the passage.

  8. It is clear that after Paul’s conversion that his life took a drastic change for the better. You see that instead of belittling people for their belief and faith in Jesus, he actually starts to go to the “front lines” so to speak to proclaim Jesus’ message and pretty much speak over others and be the loudest out of everyone. What makes this so interesting though is the fact of where Paul would be doing this. He went to the synagogues in Damascus to share Jesus’ message. It makes sense that the people who were angered by this happening that they were mad to begin with. Paul was not afraid, or as how you described it as being bold, of what others thought or what they might have done reacting to what he did in sharing Jesus’ message. So, to answer your question as to should we show and have that same kind of boldness that Paul had after his conversion when he preached in the synagogue? By all means I would say that yes, we should show the same kind of boldness that Paul had as a model for modern mission. A big example of expressing this idea would be when working with youth, no matter if you’re just a volunteer or paid. You could experience this in a church, at a summer camp, or a lock-in event to name a few examples, but you might encounter a kid or two that might have no idea of who Jesus actually is and what He did for all of us. It says too in Matthew 28:19-20 NIV, also known as the Great Commission to, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It is obviously to all that we are called, better yet commanded to go out and make disciples and share the good news. We have to be bold and talk to kids in a way that they can understand everything so that they too will one day make the decision to accept Christ into their lives.

  9. I think that this boldness is indeed a good model of how we are supposed to be as Christians, especially when we are in the presence of people who believe other things. We need to be gracious about the way we say things though, we cannot be arrogant and condescending to people who have different beliefs than us. I think that Paul is a great example of standing up for what you believe in based on when he was for Christianity and also when he was against it. When he was against it, he was known for seeking out Christians to oppress them and even get rid of them. Then when his eyes were opened to the truth, he completely changed and was preaching for Jesus. This boldness though is something that all Christians should strive for. We are on this earth to honor and glorify God and spread his word and that is exactly what Paul did. He went straight to the people who were against Christianity like he used to be and he told them what he now believed to be true.

  10. Boldness throughout Acts can almost be an understatement. Since there are so many bold actions that are being done, it is hard to come up with a better word. After reading the accounts of Paul here in this article, I would definitely argue that this is needed in todays churches. Many of us preach and attend church because we feel like we are supposed to, but many of us don’t attend boldly or speak of God in a bold manner. We see that after Paul is healed from his blindness he immediately starts speaking boldly throughout the synagogues about God. I like to think of this as, we know God does good works throughout our lives, when he does good works in our lives, we do often praise him, but do we praise Him when things don’t work out? I like to think of Paul being that way, but he does immediately after being bound from his blindness to start preaching boldly, which indeed can be a model for modern day Christianity.

  11. Much like the other Gospels, Paul’s action may be good to mirror but I do not think the church today should mimic to the bone everything he does. Long mentions that Paul immediately began to evangelize in Damascus. I am trying to put myself in his shoes but in the opposite sense. How long would it take for me to completely change my ways and worldview and confess in the ways I was previously determined to destroy? There is some confusion in verse 9, after the few days of being with the disciples did Paul immediately began to preach, or was it during the few days he was in Damascus he went into the synagogues (this is when Greek tense of word would come in)? These difference’s could impact the timeline of the influence of the Holy Spirit on a recent converts life. Paul’s situation may not be as different from other Jews ‘converting’ to Christianity. All the early believers still followed a Jewish way of life and believed in the name of Jesus and after Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit. The above post references that Paul gained his boldness for evangelism through his experience with the resurrected Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I imagine that Paul was pretty bold when he approached the high priest for the letters to allow him to persecute the Jews belonging to the Way. I think the main difference was the purpose behind his boldness- from political to individual conviction

  12. It is quite interesting looking at the type of ways that individuals proclaimed the name of Jesus to others than we do today. Today, we don’t really get people storming in on an assembly proclaiming the name of Jesus. On the other hand, though we do have church assemblies who meet together weekly and we have a pastor who preaches the name of God, but in a planned sort of way unlike back then when Paul would preach without really any warning. It is interesting to think about Paul going into the Synagogues back then because scholars used to assume that the Pharisees were in charge of synagogues and if that was the case (which we don’t 100% know for sure) then clearly they would not have been thrilled with Paul letting himself and preaching the good news of Christ. The first question is, “by way of application, should we use Paul’s boldness as a model for modern mission, and if so, what would that look like?” I think it could be yes or no. I really think it depends on the environment, demographics, etc. This ties into the second question, “does this sort of “boldness” work in a pluralistic society like modern America?” And for this, I would say probably not. The American culture is the topmost individualistic culture and because of that we only want to hear what we want to hear, and unfortunately, where the state our country is in now, we are not even close to Bible-centered, so for someone to march in on an assembly preaching the good news, I do not think it would go over well.

  13. Paul was very bold when we would speak the gospel. Although the thing that made him different from Peter is that Paul chose a place to boldly speak the Gospel in places that he knew would be accepted such as the synagogues. Early in his ministry he would go to the synagogues because that is where his boldness would work best. Relating modern day ministry to Paul, I believe that we should all be as bold as Paul was. We are going to encounter people that are going to disagree or question us when spreading the Gospel but that is exactly what they faced then too. If we are questioned, we must be humble and not respond violently. We as people who want to spread the gospel will need to develop an understanding of when to be bold but also be able to understand when to relax and move along. By being able to do this we will be able to show them and help them understand the love of God. As people that want to spread the gospel with the boldness of Paul must make sure that we do not push them away from the gospel. We will be running a fine line but we are all capable of being bold and spreading the gospel in modern America.

  14. One thing that I think is interesting to note is that yes, Saul to be known as Paul, did speak up quite boldly very quickly after his calling from God, but he had also been well versed in the scripture beforehand. By accepting Jesus Saul was not automatically switching major religions, merely enhancing Judaism in the truest from through Jesus Christ. Paul still had all of his years of training in the law under his belt. He had listened and rebutted arguments for years, and was very well equipped in his knowledge and skill sets for sharing the gospel. Although yes, for certain all Christian need to be bold in their faith, especially in today’s world, making sure that you are trained to give an answer is very important. The Holy Spirit can work though anyone from the deepest theologian to the newest believer, but taking the time to train, study, and build skills prior to starting public ministry is very important. Paul also went directly to speak to the Jewish people, not necessarily beginning straight with his call to the gentiles. Polhill on page 2101 shared that “Jews did not mean all Jews of course, since many Jews believed in Jesus…Luke uses the phrase ‘the Jews’ as a shorthand expression to refer to people who rejected the gospel” (2101). This indicates that although Paul was preaching to unbelievers he still started with the people group he knew the best and would be most comfortable explaining the gospel with excellence.
    We can see similarity in Jesus’ public ministry as well. Jesus used in younger years a youth to gain the knowledge that he would use later. He did not begin his public ministry until an adult. I think that boldness is definitely something lacking in the church today, but there is also something to be said about acquiring the knowledge and tools to share the gospel effectively first.

  15. Your questions were the questions I was asking myself as I was reading! You say that Luke uses Paul’s boldness as a sign that he is filled with the Holy Spirit. . I think of Moses and his meekness and God used that and his confidence came from God. We can be confident in God’s word and what he called us to do. Yes this can be used today. Not to know if someone has the holy spirit but as leaders we can be confident that we are dilled with the Holy Spirit and it will show us which words to speak. I also wonder if Paul uses the scripture that he knows to proclaim things about Christ. like for the days he was in Damascus he was contemplating the word of God he studied for so long. he was seeing that Jesus did come. He really is the son of God.

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