The Role of Saul’s Conversion in Acts

Acts 9: 1 – 19

The events of Acts 9:1–19 mark a major turning point in the narrative of Acts. Here Luke takes a piece of historical storytelling and describes an event of crucial importance for the Christian mission. The story of Paul’s dramatic conversion/call is placed just before the story of Cornelius and introduces the beginning of the mission to the Gentiles. At the beginning of Acts 9 Paul is presented as the persecutor of the church, who completely opposes the disciples of the Lord. But as he pursues the disciples to Damascus, his journey is interrupted. Jesus appears to Paul in a vision. The blinding light, the double vocative (“Saul, Saul”), Saul’s falling to the ground and the questions he asks clearly mark this extraordinary event as a theophany, similar to the theophanies of prophetic calls.

Paul emerges from this experience a different person, but he has not yet received his call. That call comes through a disciple at Damascus, one of the people Paul had been persecuting. The fact that the call comes in a separate vision gives it greater emphasis, but it is still part of the same event. The new description of Saul given through Ananias, indicates that Saul is a “chosen vessel” and has been picked for a particular role. The very name he has persecuted he will now bear before the Gentiles, kings and the people of Israel and will suffer for its sake. This call is far more than a call which belongs to any believer; it is an apostolic commissioning. Although the Acts 9:1–19 account certainly presents Paul as a person who has experienced a dramatic reversal in his life, it emphasizes his call to be an apostle to the Gentiles more than the change in his life.

Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. (Eds.). (1993). In Dictionary of Paul and his letters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.