by Guest Contributor Pastor Timothy Arndt
Explanatory Note from the Editor: This post is part of a larger paper was written and presented by Pastor Timothy Arndt in the Discovered Ministries Paper Exchange. This ministry is a regional ministry hosted by Discovered Ministries to encourage Christian discipleship of the mind, growth in the knowledge of God, and godly interaction with God’s word and the truths He communicates to us. It is a community of believers engaging each other in a manner that challenges them and grows them. This was the first quarterly meeting that was presented and defended.
The first part of this article is available here, the rest can be downloaded at the end of the article.
When Was Saul Converted? Evaluating the Conversion of Saul in the Book of Acts
A Paper By Pastor Timothy Arndt
After Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost, the most significant event in the New Testament is the conversion of Saul. Saul’s conversion is mentioned in multiple New Testament books including Galatians, Philippians, and 2 Corinthians. However his conversion is most significantly emphasized in the book of Acts which contains three detailed accounts in chapters 9, 22, and 26. It is probably unique in that no other event in the Bible is described in detail, three times, and
within the same book. It is safe to assume that Luke and the Holy Spirit thought Saul’s conversion was a significant event and that we as readers should take notice. The main question this paper seeks to answer is “When was Saul converted?” We will first defend that Saul did experience a legitimate conversion. After defining conversion, I will be proposing a more nuanced view of Saul’s conversion that I believe to be presented in scripture.
EVALUATING THE CONVERSION OF SAUL
In the last fifty years it has become increasingly common for scholars to say Saul’s “conversion” was not a conversion at all. Tom Wright popularly argues that “conversion” is not a fitting description for Saul’s experience. Wright explains his position saying:
If I say someone was converted today, the normal assumption would be this person has been an atheist or an agnostic or whatever and has “come to faith” (had a spiritual experience). Paul was a deeply spiritual man, deeply prayerful man, who worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the Creator God, the God of Israel. Paul never stopped worshipping the creator God, the God of Israel, throughout his life. What happened was that he came to realize that this God who he’d always worshipped had acted in and as Jesus and then he quickly came to realize was active in and through his Spirit. So we have to be very careful in case we give the impression that Paul leaves something called “Judaism” and embraces something called “Christianity”
It seems that Wright is opposed to the term “conversion” because that can be confused with our modern experience of someone switching from one completely different worldview to another. He argues this is not the case with Saul because he worshipped the same God throughout his life, although it had to be revealed to him that Jesus was, in fact, that very same God.
So if Saul’s experience in Damascus was not a conversion experience, what was it? K. Stendahl, the main scholar responsible for this view, suggests that this experience is best described as an apostolic “calling” rather than a “conversion”.3 In the larger scope of Acts, the conversion of Saul is significant because of his work as an Apostle and missionary to the Gentiles. So it is certainly true that these “conversion” accounts are also accounts of “calling”.
Where this view goes wrong is that it sets up a false dichotomy of “calling” versus “conversion”. There is no reason the Damascus experience cannot be both. Conversion does not prohibit calling and calling doesn’t negate conversion. Both can happen easily in the same event. Saul was called to apostolic ministry in Damascus and I would argue he was also converted.