My last post in this series of articles on the life of Paul concerned his meeting with James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem and agreeing with their proposal that he participate publicly in a Nazarite vow to dispel rumors that he was teaching Jews to abandon the law of Moses. Unfortunately some Jews from Asia who saw him in the temple in connection with that vow thought that he had brought into the temple one of the Gentiles they had seen him with in the city and stirred up a crowd against him. Paul was rescued by Roman soldiers who took him to their barracks to question him. When they were about to enter the barracks, Paul asked for and received permission to speak to the crowd. He told them about his conversion and call.
The situation is described in Acts 21:27-40 and the speech is given in Acts 22:1-21. In this article I’ll comment on the situation and compare Paul’s account of his conversion and call with Luke’s account of them in Acts 9. Later Paul gave another account of his conversion and call, to King Agrippa in Acts 26, but I won’t refer to it here.
27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the tribune came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He inquired who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing, some another. And as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mob of the people followed, crying out, “Away with him!” (Acts 21:27-36, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)
When the seven days of Paul’s purifying himself to remove any ritual defilement incurred during his long stay in Gentile territory were almost over, some Jews from the Roman province of Asia who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost saw him in the temple and assumed that he had taken taken a Gentile whom they’d seen him with in the city, Trophimus of Ephesus, beyond the barrier that separated the outer court, the Court of Gentiles, from the inner court, the Court of Israel. This was forbidden according to notices at intervals along the barrier warning that Gentiles found within the Court of Israel could be killed, and the Jews of Asia cried out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (The latter was improbably because, knowing of the death penalty, Paul would hardly have brought a Gentile into the Court of Israel. Besides, if he had, surely the Jews of Asia would have attacked the Gentile rather than him.) The crowd which they stirred up seized Paul, dragged him out of the Court of Israel to the Court of Gentiles, and began beating him. Immediately the temple police shut the gates leading from the outer court into the inner courts to prevent further trouble within the sacred area.
News of the uproar reached the tribune commanding the Roman cohort (a cohort consisted of up to 1000 soldiers under several centurions, officers over 100 soldiers) stationed at the Fortress of Antonia, which was connected to the northern end of the temple area by two flights of stairs and overlooked the temple area. The commander took some centurions and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. Seeing the soldiers, crowd stopped beating Paul. The commander arrested Paul and ordered that his arms be bound by chains to soldiers, one on each side. He asked the crowd who Paul was and what he had done. Getting conflicting answers, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks (in the Fortress of Antonia) for questioning. However by the time that they reached the steps to the barracks, the crowd had become so violent that Paul had to be carried. The crowd kept shouting, “Away with him!” This was the same shout that an earlier crowd had made when Pilate told them that he intended to release Jesus (Luke 23:18; John 19:15).
Paul Speaks to the Crowd
37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying:
1 “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:
3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 21:37-22:5)
When the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he spoke to the tribune in Greek. Surprised by Paul’s speaking to him in Greek, the tribute surmised that he was the Egyptian Jew who had started a revolt a few years earlier. Claiming to be a prophet, the Egyptian had led 4000 terrorists into the wilderness and then to the Mount of Olives in preparation for an attack on Jerusalem. The Roman governor of Judea, Felix, had put down the rebellion, with hundreds of the Egyptian’s followers being killed, but the Egyptian himself had escaped. Apparently the tribute thought that Paul was the Egyptian returned to stir up another revolt. Paul identified himself as a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia, a “no obscure city,” and asked permission to speak to the people.
When the tribune gave him permission to do so, Paul spoke to the crowd in the “Hebrew language” (Biblical scholars disagree on whether this refers to Aramaic or to Hebrew) and tried to establish his faithfulness to his Jewish heritage. Addressing them as “brothers and fathers,” Paul told them that he was a Jew who had been born in Tarsus but brought up in Jerusalem, where he’d been trained in the law of Moses under Gamaliel, the most honored rabbi of that time. He went on to tell them that he had persecuted Christians and even been authorized by the high priest (Caiaphas) and Sanhedrin to go to Damascus to arrest Christians there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished. Then he gave an account of his conversion and call.
Paul’s Account of His Conversion and Call
6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.
12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” (Acts 22:6-21)
As I observed in introducing this article, I’ll now compare Paul’s account to the crowd of his conversion and call with the account of them given in Acts 9. In particular I’ll identify how Paul’s account differs from the account in Acts 9 and consider why his account differs from that account.
Paul adds that it was “about noon” that he neared Damascus.
Paul adds that he asked Jesus what he should do.
Paul omits that his blindness lasted three days and that he didn’t eat or drink anything in that time (Acts 9:9).
Paul adds a description of Ananias, ”a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all tho Jews living there,” but omits the conversation between the Lord and Ananias in which the Lord told Ananias to visit Paul to restore his sight and, in response to Ananias’ objecting, told him that he had chosen Paul to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles and to the people of Israel (Acts 9:10-16).
The two accounts give different details about the encounter between Ananias and Paul. Acts 9 describes Ananias’ placing his hands on Paul so that he could see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit and describes Paul’s being healed of his blindness, getting up and being baptized, and ending his fast (verses 17-19). Paul describes Ananias’ telling Paul to receive his sight, telling him that God had chosen him to be Jesus’ witness to all people, and telling him to get up and be baptized. Paul’s being able to see Ananias at the very moment that Ananias told him to receive his sight suggests that he got up and was baptized immediately after Ananias told him to do those things.
Paul omits an account of his ministry in Damascus, his life being threatened by the Jews, and his escape from Damascus (Acts 9:20-25).
The two accounts give different details about Paul’s return to Jerusalem. Acts 9 tells how the disciples were afraid of him until Barnabas mediated between them, how Paul witnessed in Jerusalem, how the Jews tried to kill him, and how the believers sent him to Tarsus for his safety (verses 26-30). Paul tells how he fell into a trance in the temple and the Lord appeared to him and told him to leave Jerusalem because the people wouldn’t accept his witness and told him that he would send him far away to the Gentiles.
Although there doesn’t seem to be any special reason for some of the additions and omissions in Paul’s account of his conversion and call compared to the account in Acts 9, undoubtedly he added some details because he thought that they would make his Jewish audience more sympathetic towards him. One would be his description of Ananias as “a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all tho Jews living there.” Another would be his attributing the communication of his commission to such a person. And another would be his sharing how that commission was reaffirmed in the temple.
In my next article in this series on the life of Paul, I’ll consider how the crowd reacted to Paul’s speech.