- In the three accounts of Paul’s conversion, there are some differences in what those who were with him saw and heard. Do these differences discredit Paul’s testimony?
When giving testimony, the one who is testifying needs to have credibility. Credibility leads authority to the testimony to persuade or confirm facts that are under consideration. In Paul’s case, there are two examples of his giving testimony to his conversion and one instance of the writer Luke describing the initial event. All three occurrences are for different reasons and under different circumstances. Luke give his initial description in chapter 9 of Acts as a part of his narrative moving out from Jerusalem (and the martyrdom of Stephen) and into the world. Luke further recounts Paul’s testimony of his conversion in Acts 22 as he addressed a mob in Jerusalem looking to kill him. Lastly, chapter 26 of Acts has Paul giving an abbreviated testimony before King Agrippa in a trial setting. Looking at the chart below, here are the differences in what those who were with Paul saw and heard:
|Passage||What they saw||What they heard|
|Acts 9:7||Saw no one||Heard sound|
|Acts 22:9||Saw light||Did not hear voice|
|Acts 26:13||No mention||No mention|
The discrepancies are with Luke’s account in Acts 9, and Luke’s recounting Paul’s testimony before the Jerusalem mob in Acts 22. These apparent differences have been used by modern-day critics to delegitimize Paul’s testimony of his conversion. However, a closer look will show that although different, the accounts do not contradict. First, what they saw was light but not a person. They did not see Jesus as Paul saw Jesus, but they did see the light. What is more difficult is what they heard. There heard a sound, but they did not hear a voice. Adding to the confusion are translations that use the word “voice” instead of sound in Acts 9:7 (KJV, NKJV, ESV, ASB, NASB, NLT). However, according to Archer, the Greek allows for “hearing a sound as a noise” and “hearing a sound as a voice.” Furthermore:
“There is an inclusive parallel here between the inability to hear a voice as an articulated message and their (those accompanying Paul) and their inability to see the glory of the risen Lord as anything but a blaze of light.”
So those who were with Paul were kept from seeing and clearly hearing the risen Jesus, but they did see the light and they did here an unintelligible sound like a voice.
- Why does Jesus state the Paul is persecuting Him and not the church?
When Paul had his vision of the risen Jesus, Jesus asks him “”Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”” (9:4b). Further, Jesus identifies himself as the one who is persecuted by Paul (9:15; 22:8; 26:15). If Jesus has been resurrected and has ascended, how can Paul persecute him? Wasn’t Paul just persecuting individual believers and not Jesus? The answer is a resounding, no. When someone persecutes the church, he or she is persecuting Jesus. This concept was developed early on in Jesus’ teaching about the community that followed him. First, Jesus had a very inclusive definition of who his family was and is. In Luke 8:19-21, Jesus identifies everyone who “hear God’s word and put it into practice” as his close immediate family. He also charged the disciples that they would “‘receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you (the disciples), and you will be my (Jesus’) witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 1:8) The disciples were family – close and intimate – as well as designated representatives. Any act upon the family and representatives of Jesus was an act on Jesus himself.
I love to read spiritual biographies. Two of my favorites are Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery both by Eric Metaxas. In these books, I am inspired by heroic men of faith who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, had a significant impact on their culture. Their testimony of Jesus drove them to do extraordinary things in His name. My own testimony is essential. It is the story God has given me to tell others in order to testify as to who God is and how Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has transformed my life.
Testimony was also crucial to the Jews. Many times, through the Old and New Testaments, the story of the Exodus is retold. It is a solid reminder of how God worked, and the way He loves his people. Our testimonies are similar. We hold these stories close so that we can be reminded in times of struggle, the reality of how God is working in our lives. Personally, when I feel like I am struggling, I go back to when God carried me through cancer treatments many years ago. Stories of God’s faithfulness in the past, allows me to trust in His faithfulness in my present struggles.
Paul’s testimony was a significant part of his ministry. Luke recounts Paul’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 9 and then includes that testimony as a part of his defense in chapters 22 and 26. Paul used his testimony as a launching pad to his authority as an apostle. Our testimonies act in the same way. Far from the subjective “burning of the breast” from our Mormon friends, a Christian’s testimony must always point to the reality of Jesus – crucified and resurrected. Paul’s use of testimony allowed him to speak with an authority of one who had seen and heard from Jesus. He didn’t just talk about an ecstatic experience, but about the risen Savior.
 Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible difficulties (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, ©1982), 382.