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Acts 22 Commentaries

Study Guide for Acts 22 - Paul's Jerusalem Sermon

A. The sermon to the mob in Jerusalem.

1. At the end of the previous chapter, Paul's audience for this sermon had just tried to kill him, thinking that he had profaned the temple by sneaking a Gentile in past the Court of the Gentiles.

  1. However, once the crowd knew that Paul was in Roman protection, and once Paul began to address them in Hebrew (Aramaic), they became quiet and ready to listen (Acts 21:40).

2. (Acts 22:1-5) Paul tells of his Jewish upbringing and background.

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.

  1. Brethren and fathers, hear: Paul began his great defense before the Jews the same way Stephen did: Men and brethren and fathers, listen. (Acts 7:2)

  2. I am indeed a Jew: Paul is speaking as a Jew unto Jews; he is careful to lay the common ground between them.

  3. Born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel: Paul notes that though he was born outside of the Promised Land, he was brought up in Jerusalem, and at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the most prestigious rabbis of the day (Acts 5:34).

    1. Paul still served the God of his fathers; he had not rejected Judaism; Judaism had rejected God in Jesus Christ.

  4. Zealous toward God as you all are today: Paul also reminds the crowd of his credentials as a persecutor of this Way (an early manner of referring to Christianity), energetic enough to carry on his campaign of persecution beyond Judea, into Syria and the city of Damascus.

    1. The message is clear: "I understand why you have attacked me. I was once an attacker also. I understand where you are coming from." Paul had been a Christian for more than twenty years, but could still relate to those who were not Christians.

3. (Acts 22:6-11) Paul describes his supernatural experience on the way to Damascus.

"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.

  1. Suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me: Paul was a determined persecutor of Christians and Jesus until this heavenly light shone on him. It is as if Paul is saying: "I was just like you all, until I had an encounter with Jesus. Jesus met me and my life was dramatically changed."

  2. I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting: Paul also came to understand he was persecuting Jesus Himself, the shining Lord of glory, brighter than the noonday sun.

  3. And since I could not see for the glory of that light: The brightness of that light made Paul blind. In persecuting Jesus he was spiritually blind, now he is also physically blind - and must humbly be led by the hand into the city of Damascus.

4. (Acts 22:12-16) Paul describes his response to the supernatural experience in 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.'

  1. Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews: Paul notes that it was Ananias, a man with credentials as a good Jew who received him into the Christian family.

  2. The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will: In Paul's speech, we see that both he and Ananias are both simply acting like good Jews. They are not resisting God nor denying their heritage.

  3. Acts 22:14 is a wonderful capsule of the duty of every one before God: To know His will, to see the Just One (Jesus), and to hear the voice of His mouth (His word).

5. (Acts 22:17-21) Paul describes his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion.

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.'"

  1. I was in a trance and saw Him saying to me: Paul had an impressive vision of Jesus while in the temple; yet he never referred to this vision in his letters, and seems to only mention it now out of necessity. Paul's Christian life was founded on God's truth, not spiritual experiences, and he didn't even like to talk a lot about his spiritual experiences.

  2. Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles: When Paul was touched by God in Damascus, he was told then of his call to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), so the words from Jesus to him in the temple at Jerusalem were not new. However, we can see that in his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion, it would have been easy for Paul to care so much for the conversion of Israel that he would want to concentrate on that - that's why Jesus gave him the reminder in the temple.

    1. Paul made it clear that it wasn't his idea to preach to the Gentiles; this was God's plan, not his.

6. (Acts 22:22-23) The crowd riots in response to Paul's message.

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live." 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air,

  1. And they listened to him until this word: The mob that had tried to kill Paul, and had then listened intently to his whole sermon, erupted into rage over the utterance of one word. That one word was "Gentiles." The Jewish mob was incensed that God's salvation could be given freely to believing Gentiles.

    1. Think of it: "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!" over one word: Gentiles.

  2. Paul had his audience all up until this point. In their minds, they didn't mind all this talk about Jesus, but they could not stand the idea that God might save Jews and Gentiles alike and in the same way.

  3. These Jews of that day did not have a problem with Gentiles becoming Jews. But they were incredibly offended at the thought of Gentiles becoming Christians just as Jews became Christians, because it implied that Jews and Gentiles were equal, having to come to God on the same terms.

  4. Likewise, many people today are offended that "good people" must be saved the same way "sinners" are; they want a gospel that will keep them separate from the "riffraff" of society.

    1. In Acts 22, the Jewish mob expressed their hatred of others through violent rage; do we express our disdain of the perishing through indifference? We may not riot like the mob in this chapter did, but we may say by our inaction: "I won't give you the gospel; I don't really care if you perish in hell!"


Our text relates Paul's testimony to the angry mob of Jews in Jerusalem who were in the process of beating him to death, until he was rescued by the Roman soldiers. It is the second of three times that the story of Paul's conversion is told in Acts. Perhaps second only to the resurrection of Jesus, Paul's conversion stands as an impressive testimony to the truth of the gospel. How else can you explain the sudden turnaround of this man who vehemently persecuted the church into the apostle who relentlessly preached what he had once despised, except for his meeting the risen Savior? The Spirit of God saw fit to include this testimony three times in Acts so that we could learn from it. Here,

Paul's testimony teaches us how God works mightily to save sinners.

If I had just gotten beaten up by an angry mob that was trying to kill me, but I got rescued, I don't think that the first thought on my mind would be to preach the gospel to them! I would have been thinking, "I'm safe! Get me out of here so I can recover from this traumatic experience!" But Paul had the presence of mind to ask permission from the Roman commander to address the mob that had just attacked him. Granted that permission, he addressed the crowd in their native Aramaic and identified himself with them as a Jew. His address falls into three parts: His life before his conversion (22:1-5); the experience of his conversion (22:6-14); and, his commission to preach the gospel to all men, including the Gentiles (22:15-21). But when he uttered that despised word, "Gentiles," the mob that had been listening went ballistic, calling for his death. He was not able to finish his message. Paul's testimony teaches us five things:

1. Paul's testimony teaches us that being zealously religious does not reconcile us to God.

From his youth, Paul had been zealous for God (22:3). He had a Jewish pedigree that few could rival. Although he was born in Tarsus, in southern Asia Minor, he grew up in Jerusalem where he was tutored by the famous and highly respected rabbi, Gamaliel. As a Pharisee, Paul was trained according to the strictest law of the Jewish fathers. His zeal to preserve the ancient traditions led him to persecute to the death this new sect, known as the Way, going so far as to imprison not only men, but also women. He was heartless, even if it meant taking mothers away from their children. He did not restrict his zeal to those in Jerusalem, but was on his way to Damascus to round up the Christians there, when God struck him down with a blinding light from heaven.

Paul attributes the mob's beating him to their zeal for God (22:3). They thought that they were defending the Jewish temple against defilement from the Gentiles, and defending the Jewish people and their sacred laws from this renegade who taught the Jews to set aside their heritage (21:28). But all of this religious zeal on the part of Paul and his audience had not reconciled either of them to the God of Israel. In fact, it was this very zeal that had led the nation to kill her Messiah! Here, religious zeal was motivating these same Jews to attempt to kill the messenger that Messiah had sent to tell them the way of salvation.

Down through the centuries to the present day, religious zeal is behind much of the violence in the world. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Muslim wars to conquer North Africa and their incursions into Europe, modern Islamic terrorism, and the terrorism in Northern Ireland, all stem from religious zeal. But Paul's testimony makes it plain that you can be zealous for God and yet be horribly mistaken. You can be zealous for God and actually be fighting against Him! All of the religious zeal in the world will not reconcile a soul to God. Usually, as in the case of Paul and these Jews, our religious zeal is just a cover-up for our pride and prejudice, which are sin. No amount of religious zeal can atone for sin!

2. Paul's testimony teaches us that salvation is by God's grace and power, not by our merit or will power.

Paul was not considering the claims of Christ as he marched toward Damascus that day. He had not been re-reading his Bible in light of the life, death, and claimed resurrection of Jesus, to see if the ancient prophecies pointed to Jesus as Israel's Messiah. He was not unhappy with his life in Judaism, searching for another way. Rather, he was militantly defending the Jewish faith, seeking to rid it of the blight of these heretics who claimed that Jesus was the Christ. It was as he pursued this course of action with a vengeance that God literally stopped Paul in his tracks. His power knocked Paul to the ground and blinded him. Then God gave very specific orders about what Paul had to do next.

Everything about Paul's conversion came from God. Nothing about his conversion stemmed from Paul. God didn't look down and see some merit in Paul that qualified him to come to salvation. Quite to the contrary, he confesses that he was "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor" (1 Tim. 1:13). Twice Jesus emphasizes that by persecuting the church, Paul was persecuting Jesus Himself (Acts 22:7, 8). For this, he deserved God's judgment, but he was shown God's mercy. God didn't say, "Oh Paul, I'd really like you to be My apostle, but I'm not going to force your will. You have to exercise your free will to choose Me!"

There are many who say that the reason that God chose Paul, or that He chooses anyone, is that He foresees that the person will one day choose to follow Him. But to say this is to base God's sovereign election on the fallen will of man, ignoring the plain biblical truth that unless God first does a work of grace in our hearts, no one would ever choose Him. No one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). No one is able to come to Jesus unless it has been granted him from the Father (John 6:65). No one knows who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him (Luke 10:22).

In several places, Paul attributes the first cause of our salvation to God's choice of us, not to our choice of Him. In Galatians 1:15, he says that God set him apart from his mother's womb and called him through His grace. In Ephesians 1:4-6, he says, "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world .... In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." In 2 Timothy 1:9, he says that God "has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." There are many more such verses.

If we deny God's sovereign election, we rob Him of glory and attribute at least part of the cause of our salvation to something in us. If God's choice of us depends on what He foresaw that we would do, then we have grounds for boasting, either in our will, in our brilliant minds that caused us to see the truth, or in our faith, which God saw that we would exercise. But if our salvation rests not on our will or our effort, but only on God who shows mercy (Rom. 9:16), then He gets all the praise and glory!

If God's grace and power are mighty to save a sinner such as Paul, then He is able to save any sinner, and to do it instantly and totally. His light can blind and knock down the most insolent, proud, powerful persecutor of the church. You may have some terrible sins in your past. You may even be militantly opposed to Christianity, convinced by all of your arguments that it is just a myth. But the risen Lord Jesus is mighty to save even you. He can open your eyes to get a glimpse of His glory and grace, and you will never be the same.

Paul's testimony teaches us that being zealously religious does not reconcile us to God. Rather, salvation is totally by God's grace and power, not by anything in us.

3. Paul's testimony teaches us that God often must humble us before He extends His mercy toward us.

Moments before this happened, Paul was picturing himself striding confidently into Damascus, his henchmen around him, waving to his admirers, while Christians fled in terror. Instead, he is blindly led into Damascus by the hand, completely submissive to God's command. As a Pharisee, Paul was proud of his spiritual sight. God had to blind him so that he could begin to see rightly (see John 9:39-41). Before the Damascus Road, Paul would have said, "I see! I know the truth!" But now, blind and led by the hand, he had to admit that what he thought he saw before he no longer saw. And what he had never seen before, the glory of the risen Lord Jesus, now he saw.

God does not always humble us to the degree that He humbled Paul before we are converted. But if at some time we have not been humbled before God's majesty, it shows that we barely know Him. Of the hundreds of books that I have read besides the Bible, by far the most profound is John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion [Westminster Press]. The reason that that book is so profound is that Calvin exalts God and humbles us all before Him. Consider his words in the second section of the opening chapter:

Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God's face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself. For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy-this pride is innate in all of us-unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity. Moreover, we are not thus convinced if we look merely to ourselves and not also to the Lord, who is the sole standard by which this judgment must be measured [1.1.2].

He goes on to point out how Scripture often shows men as stricken and overcome when they felt God's presence. Even though these men were normally stable, let them get just a glimpse of God's glory and they are laid low and almost annihilated. Then he says, "As a consequence, we must infer that man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God's majesty" [1/1/3].

When much later Calvin develops the doctrine that he is most famous for, predestination, he emphasizes that the ignorance of it detracts from God's glory and takes away from true humility. Those who oppose the doctrine of election, he says, "tear humility up by the very roots." He states, "For neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God" [3.21.1]. Throughout his treatment of predestination, Calvin keeps coming back to this practical application, "that, humbled and cast down, we may learn to tremble at his judgment and esteem his mercy" [3.23.12].

Such humble submission to God is a mark of true conversion. Paul's two questions that he asks God here are good ones to ask every time you approach Him through His Word: "Who are You, Lord?" and, "What shall I do, Lord?" To say, as some do, "I believe in Jesus as my Savior, but I haven't yielded to Him as Lord," is nonsense! If He gives you even a brief glimpse of His power and glory, you will be laying prostrate with Paul, asking, "Lord, what do You want me to do?"

4. Paul's testimony teaches us that baptism is an important confession of our faith in Christ.

No sooner did Paul receive his sight through Ananias' ministry than he exhorted him, "And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (22:16). Some interpret this verse to mean that water baptism washes away our sins. But if it is teaching that, then the dozens of other verses that state that our sins are forgiven by grace through faith in Christ alone must be lacking something essential. In other words, it is far easier and makes more sense to harmonize this verse with the predominant teaching of Scripture, that salvation is through faith in Christ alone, than vice versa.

1 Peter 3:21 states that baptism saves you, but then Peter clarifies what he means: "not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience-through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Quite often Scripture does what Peter does there: it closely associates the act of baptism with what that act symbolizes. Baptism in water pictures what God has already done in a person's heart through faith, that He has washed away our sins. In Acts 22:16, Paul had already called upon the name of the Lord, at which point God washed away his sins. The act of baptism, in obedience to the Lord's command, would be a graphic picture and source of assurance to Paul of the cleansing that had come to him the moment he trusted in Christ.

But don't miss the application: if God has cleansed your sins by faith, then why delay confessing that truth by being baptized? The idea of an unbaptized believer would have been foreign to the apostles. It should be foreign to us as well. We will have a baptism on April 28th. Make sure that you're included if you have never confessed your faith through baptism.

Thus Paul's testimony teaches us that being zealously religious does not reconcile us to God, but that salvation is by God's grace and power, not by our merit or will power. It teaches us that God often humbles us before He extends mercy to us. It teaches us that baptism is an important confession of our faith in Christ. Finally,

5. Paul's testimony teaches us that God saves us for His purpose, not for our agendas.

This lesson is repeated twice so that we won't miss it. First, the Lord tells Paul that in Damascus he would be told "all that has been appointed for you to do" (22:10). Then, Ananias tells Paul, "The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will, and to see the Righteous One [a Messianic term], and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard" (22:14-15). The first word translated "appointed" is a military word meaning, "to give orders or a command." The second word that Ananias uses means "to take into one's hand," and thus to determine or choose. Neither word leaves a lot of "free will" to Paul concerning his future! God had determined how Paul would serve Him. He had an agenda for Paul, and that agenda did not coincide with what Paul initially wanted to do!

Paul wanted to stay in Jerusalem and be a witness to his fellow Jews. But when he returned to Jerusalem after his three years in Arabia, he was in the temple praying when he saw a vision of Jesus telling him to get out of Jerusalem quickly, because the Jews would not accept his testimony about Christ. Paul protested that his background would make him an excellent witness to the Jews, but the Lord overruled and sent him to the Gentiles. When Paul mentions this, his Jewish audience went into a frenzy.

Note two things: First, Paul's audience reacted emotionally to his message. They were not thinking rationally at this point. Any time people react emotionally to the gospel, they should calm down and ask themselves why. Paul didn't get a chance here to get them to do this. But if you're witnessing to someone who reacts emotionally, don't get drawn into his response by getting emotional yourself. Rather, try to get him calmed down enough to examine his reaction. In this case, it was pride and prejudice that blinded these people from calmly thinking through what Paul was saying.

Second, God's will for us does not always coincide with our will for ourselves. He wants the message of His salvation to go to all the nations on earth. While we aren't all called to be missionaries, as Paul was, neither are we called to live selfishly for ourselves while the nations perish in darkness. If, like the Jews of Paul's day, we begin to grow comfortable about being God's chosen people and ignore His purpose of reaching the lost, then we're missing God's purpose for our lives. Every Christian should ask himself, "How does God want me to fit into His purpose of being glorified among the nations?"


Some years ago in a church in England, the pastor noticed that a former burglar was kneeling at the communion rail beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England, the very judge who, years before, had sentenced the burglar to seven years in prison. After his release the burglar had been converted to Christ and had become a Christian worker.

After the service, as the judge and the pastor walked home together, the judge asked, "Did you see who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail?" "Yes," replied the pastor, "but I didn't know that you noticed." The two men walked on in silence for a few moments, and then the judge said, "What a miracle of grace!" The pastor nodded in agreement, "Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace!"

Then the judge said, "But to whom do you refer?" The pastor replied, "Why to the conversion of that convict." The judge said, "But I was not referring to him. I was thinking of myself." "What do you mean?" the pastor asked.

The judge replied, "That burglar knew how much he needed Christ to save him from his sins. But look at me. I was taught from childhood to live as a gentleman, to keep my word, to say my prayers, to go to church. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-righteousness, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict whom I had sent to prison."

Do you have a testimony of how God's mighty power has saved you? Share it!

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the idea that God elected us because He foresaw that we would choose Him opposed to Scripture?
  2. What are some practical applications of the doctrine of election? Are there any dangers in believing this doctrine?
  3. Some churches teach that baptism is essential for salvation. Is this a denial of the gospel? Why/why not?
  4. God's purpose involves His being glorified among the nations. How can a Christian determine how he fits into this purpose?

Exploring the Book of Acts Chapter 22

"Brothers and fathers, listen..." (Acts 22:1)

Luke was concerned with Paul as a credible witness for the gospel both before Jews and Gentile political figures. The speeches afford us an opportunity to learn something of Paul's background and how he spoke to different audiences. The present speech from the steps of the Antonia fortress dealt with the personal charge against him, that he had acted like a Jewish apostate (21:28). As he spoke, Paul would locate his missionary work in a Jewish context, and would stress that his teaching is based on a revelation from God.

Paul opened his defense by saying in Aramaic, "Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense" (22:1). By speaking Aramaic, Paul was putting himself on the side of the crowd. When he referred to his listeners in a personal way, Paul was trying to make himself one with the group. Stephen had done the same thing in his speech before the Sanhedrin (7:2).

Born, brought up, trained (Acts 22:3)

Paul began his speech by recalling his birth, upbringing and training. He would do the same thing in his speech before King Agrippa (26:4-11). Paul also gave similar autobiographical material in some of his epistles (2 Corinthians 11:22-29; Galatians 1:13-16, Philippians 3:4-6, and 1 Timothy 1:12-16). As a result, we know a good deal about the apostle Paul's background. This helps us understand the New Testament writings more completely. (The passages in Paul's letters should be read in conjunction with this section of Acts for a fuller picture of Paul's education in Judaism.)

Paul said he was a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, but was "brought up in this city" (22:3). Then, he said, "I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors." We do not know how old Paul was when he came to Jerusalem. His excellent Greek, his use of the Greek Old Testament, and other marks of a Hellenist culture point to an education outside of Judea. Tarsus, as a university city and international port of call, would have been a good city in which to receive a Hellenistic education.

However, Paul was not specific enough about where he spent his early years for us to do more than conjecture about his youth. What we do know is that Paul's sister and her family (or at least his nephew) lived in Jerusalem (23:16). It's possible Paul could have travelled back and forth between Tarsus and Jerusalem in his early years. He may have lived with his sister's family in the Jerusalem area, perhaps even in his pre-teen years.

"I am a Jew" (Acts 22:3-5)

Not only was Paul "brought up" in Jerusalem, he studied under Gamaliel, a leader of the Pharisees and a highly respected teacher of the law. (Luke introduced us to Gamaliel in 5:34.) Paul could have begun studying Torah under Gamaliel during his teen-age years. Paul was such a good student that he advanced beyond many of those studying with him (Galatians 1:14). In his willingness to use violence against heretics, he was more zealous than his mentor.

As a Pharisee, Paul was "thoroughly trained in the law" (22:3), which consisted of both the written and oral traditions. Later, he would tell Agrippa, "I conformed to the strictest sect of our religion, living as a Pharisee" (26:5). Of course, what Paul was trying to do was to emphasize that he was a Jew of Jews, not a renegade.

Paul also told his listeners: "I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today" (22:3). In a similar vein, he told the Galatians he had been extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers (1:14). He acknowledged that the Jews were zealous for God as well (Romans 10:2). Paul was telling his listeners that he appreciated their enthusiasm for God, but that he could match and surpass their fervor. Again, Paul was saying he was no outsider, no renegade, no apostate-he was one of them.

But after his conversion, Paul did not put any value on this righteousness of the self, which was not based on true knowledge or faith. Paul counted his former religious accomplishments as rubbish (Philippians 3:8). Knowing Christ, having the righteousness that comes from God by faith-this was what was important to him. He no longer put confidence in his observance of the traditional rites of his community. (However, Paul did practice many of the traditions, since they were part of his cultural heritage-but he was able to put them aside, as needed, if that would serve the needs of the gospel.)

Here in Jerusalem, before this angry Jewish crowd, Paul wanted to emphasize that his former life demonstrated his zeal for God. His Jewishness could not be disputed by any of his hearers, and so they continued to listen to him. Paul continued setting out his "credentials" by saying, "I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison" (22:4). Paul could cite his earlier persecution as overwhelming evidence for his zeal toward God and Judaism. He made the same claim in several of his epistles (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6).

If anyone didn't remember Paul the persecutor from something of a quarter of a century ago, they could ask the high priest and the Sanhedrin! He told the crowd: "I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished" (22:5). Paul was taking every opportunity-through race, language, training, religion and zeal for God-to establish a link with his audience. But now he needed to explain why he had experienced such a complete change of mind.

The heavenly vision (Acts 22:6-11)

Paul used the example of his getting letters of recommendation from the Council as a transition point into the second part of the speech. This is where he began to describe the details of his conversion. Paul spoke of being on the road near Damascus with some traveling companions about noontime on that fateful day. A bright light flashed around him, and he fell to the ground. Then a voice spoke to Paul, saying, "Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?" (22:6).

Paul asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The voice answered, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting" (22:8). Paul then asked further, "What shall I do, Lord?" (22:10). Thereupon, Paul was told to go into Damascus, where he would be told of his future work. Paul's companions then led him by the hand into Damascus because he had been blinded by the light.

This is the second account of Paul's conversion. The first was in 9:1-19, where further details can be found in the commentary. A third account will be found in Paul's speech to Agrippa (26:12-18). Each telling of the story was adapted to the particular audience being addressed. Each of the accounts also differ somewhat in the details they present or omit. These differences are minor and reflect the fact Paul didn't tell the story in the exact same way each time. (Of course, none of us use the same wording and detail in retelling our experiences.)

For example, when Luke told the story of Paul's conversion in Acts 9, he said his companions heard a sound but didn't see anyone (9:7). A "light from heaven flashed around" Paul but it was not stated whether his companions saw that light (9:3). Paul heard a voice speaking to him (9:4), which was identified as Jesus appearing to him (9:17). In Paul's retelling of the story before Agrippa, he said he saw about noontime "a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions" (26:13). He also heard the voice speaking to him in Aramaic (26:14), again identified as Jesus (26:15). Paul didn't say whether his companions heard or saw anything. However, since they "all fell to the ground," they must have experienced one or both in some way (26:14).

In the present account, Paul wrote of a bright light from heaven flashing around him at noon (22:6). He heard a voice speaking to him, also identified as Jesus (22:7). Paul said "my companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me" (22:9).

The three accounts of Paul's conversion are not contradictory. If Luke had seen them as contradictions, he would have "fixed" the problem. The differences in detail are easily explained by the fact that we tell the same story in different ways. The three stories are actually complementary. Each adds details to create a more complete picture of what happened on the Damascus road, and Luke intends for readers to be able to compare and combine the accounts.

The fact that Paul's conversion experience is told three times shows the importance Luke attached to it. That each was different from the other two tells us that the story was being told at three times, under varying circumstances. It was not a canned story that Luke "plugged" in for verbal color. The important thing that comes out in each account is that God worked a reversal in Paul's life on the Damascus road. Paul's conversion was the result of a dramatic confrontation with Jesus. He hadn't casually adopted a new religion, he hadn't sought out a new spiritual experience, and his new beliefs had not been imposed on him by any peer group.

Devout Ananias (Acts 22:12-15)

We learned earlier that Paul was visited in Damascus by a disciple named Ananias. Here he was called "a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there" (22:12). Ananias stood next to Paul and said, "Brother Saul, receive your sight!" (22:13. At that moment, Paul could see again. Then, Ananias gave Paul his divine commission: "The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous one and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard" (26:14-15).

The Jewish orientation of the story is seen in the expression "God of our ancestors," which was the way Jews referred to the God of Israel (Genesis 43:23; Exodus 3:13; Deuteronomy 1:11). "The Righteous One" was a typically Jewish messianic title, one that Stephen also had used (7:52). Paul, speaking to a Jewish audience, stressed that his divine commission had been recognized by a devout Jew-a person like one of those standing before him. The audience should respect Ananias, and that means they should respect Paul's commission.

F.F. Bruce writes, "As Paul has emphasized his orthodox upbringing and his devotion to the law and the ancestral traditions, so now he emphasizes the part played in his conversion experience by Ananias of Damascus, portrayed as a devout and law-abiding Jew, enjoying the respect of all his fellow-Jews in the city" (The Book of Acts, revised edition, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, page 417). This illustrates another difference between the accounts of Paul's conversion. Here, Paul wanted to stress that his commission was given through the lips of a pious and highly respected Jew, Ananias. (Note that Paul cleverly did not mention that Ananias was also a Christian at the time he went to Paul.) When Paul later told the story before King Agrippa, there was no need to emphasize the role of Ananias. He simply recounted his commission as coming directly from the Lord.

Another difference between the accounts is that here we don't read of Ananias' personal struggle in going to Paul, who was then feared as the persecutor of Christians. Because the story was told from a third-person point of view in Acts 9, that aspect of Paul's conversion experience was included there.

Praying in the temple (Acts 22:16-18)

Paul explained how Ananias urged him to: "Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name" (22:16). Like any other convert, Paul had to be counseled to repent and put his faith in Jesus Christ, which he did. Paul then recounted how, after being baptized, he returned to Jerusalem, and was praying in the temple. This fact was not mentioned in the earlier account of Paul's conversion. Paul included it here to show that the temple remained a holy place of prayer and worship for him, even after his conversion.

He was asking the Jewish audience to consider the idea that a man who prays in the temple is not likely to desecrate it. Paul was also pointing out that his traditional values had not changed in a quarter of a century. After all, he had been worshipping in the temple just a while ago when the Jews grabbed him. While praying in the temple after his conversion, Paul said he fell into a trance and saw a vision of the Lord speaking to him (22:17). Now Paul was equating himself with the great prophets of Israel who had a vision of the Lord and received a commission (Isaiah 6:1-10; Jeremiah 14-19).

"Leave Jerusalem" (Acts 22:18)

But the commission Paul received was not to Israel or the Jews. Paul recounted that the Lord told him, "Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me" (22:21). In Acts 9, Luke didn't tell us anything about any vision instructing him to flee the city. However, Luke did say that when Paul began to preach in Jerusalem, the Hellenistic Jews tried to kill him (9:29). It was then that the converts took him to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. Now we learn that Paul left the area, not simply because the disciples insisted on taking him to safety, but that he had a divine warning to leave Jerusalem. Probably, Paul's departure was due to a combination of the vision and the advice of the Jerusalem Christians. Here divine direction and human action worked together.

Some commentators see a contradiction between the two accounts of his departure from Jerusalem. But they are not irreconcilable at all, and merely reflect different aspects of a complex situation. David Williams writes:

In the earlier account, Luke was describing the circumstance as they would have appeared to an objective observer-a Jewish plot against Paul (which he was hardly likely to have mentioned now) that had led the disciples to take the action they did. Paul, on the other hand, speaks here of his own inner experience as he wrestled in prayer with the knowledge of that plot, wondering what he should do. In the end it had seemed that the Lord was endorsing the action proposed by the disciples, bidding him to leave Jerusalem immediately. (Acts, New International Biblical Commentary, page 377)

"Lord...these people know" (Acts 22:19-23)

Paul protested to the Lord about leaving Jerusalem. He repeated what he said on that occasion: "These people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you" (22:19). Paul explained that everyone knew that he was part of the mob who killed Stephen, and that he had endorsed his murder. Surely, Paul was saying, the Jews should accept his new faith because they knew how sincere he was in his old beliefs. Paul was inviting his hearers to accept his former zealous persecution of Christians as evidence that his new faith was real. William Neil writes:

In view of Paul's past record of persecuting the Christians and assisting in Stephen's execution, the Jews should have recognized that only some divine intervention could have brought about so dramatic a change in his behavior. They might therefore have been expected to listen to his "testimony." (The Acts of the Apostles, The New Century Bible Commentary, page 225)

However, the Jews' reaction was the opposite. Paul's former record of zealous belief in Judaism made his new Christian faith more puzzling and unbelievable. Paul must have suspected that his audience at the Antonia fortress wouldn't believe it, either. His speech was more of a witness against them.

Then, Paul spoke the line that set off the crowd once more. He told his Jewish audience that the Lord had said to him, "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (22:21). Paul was emphasizing his calling as a "light for the Gentiles" (13:47). He was a human instrument-extending the work that had been prophesied of his Savior, Jesus (Luke 2:35).

As long as Paul spoke of his work in a Jewish context, the crowd listened, even if impatiently. But when Paul uttered the statement about going to the Gentiles, the crowd went into a fit of rage. "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!' they shouted (22:22). Richard Longenecker writes, "In effect, Paul was saying that Gentiles can be approached directly with God's message of salvation without first being related to the nation and its institutions. This was tantamount to placing Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing before God and for Judaism was the height of apostasy indeed!" (page 526).