"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them prisoners to Jerusalem." (Acts 9:1, NIV)
Good morning. Today we begin a particular study that I have been looking forward to since we began our Journey Through The Bible together. We will begin an in-depth (and I do mean in-depth) look at the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Of course, Paul is introduced to us as Saul. We first met Saul at the stoning of Stephen. Saul comes across as nothing more, and nothing less than a terrorist. You may recall another Saul in the Bible, and that being King Saul. Do you remember him? He was everything the people wanted in a king. Guess what? The name Saul means "Desirable." Keep this in mind as we proceed forward. The name Saul is Hebrew.
Apparently Saul had authority to make arrests and therefore, had the power of life and death. He has seemingly become the leader of the charge against the believers. Was he already the leader when Stephen was killed? We aren't for sure, but I would suggest that he most likely was. There is also evidence that Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin Court. Paul later acknowledges (according to Luke) "And this is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (Acts 26:10) If Paul was in fact a member of the Sanhedrin it is very interesting in that there were certain qualifications before becoming a member. One of those requirements: You had to be married. Keep that in mind for future reference.
O.K. Time out. Before I go further I want to share a little bit about our future work on Paul as a whole. The majority of the book of Acts that remains is dedicated to Paul. However, as you most likely are aware, the majority of the New Testament is made up of letters and epistles that are attributed to Paul himself. In other words, He wrote them himself. The Book of Acts was written by Luke. So, The Book of Acts is a secondary source when it comes to the life of Paul. The writings of Paul are considered primary sources. If someone wrote a book about me it would be a secondary source. Someone wrote about me through their lens. If I wrote my own story it would not only be an autobiography, it would be a primary source.
I want to mention a couple of other things before we really begin digging into our work. One, once we really get into Paul's writings and look back on the Book of Acts we will notice some disagreements between the two. Let me just say, That's o.k. We will compare them when we get to them. Also, in order to understand everything before us and to get a better picture, we can not go verse to verse. When leading a Bible study I never go verse to verse. Sometimes you have to begin at the end and then backtrack. Sometimes you have to go to the middle of the story. Sometimes you have to go all over. Understanding the letters of Paul will be like trying to solve a mystery. You have to put the pieces together, piece by piece. This will be fun work. So, let's get back to work.
"As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' 'Who are you Lord?' Saul asked. 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:3-6)
The first part of the dialogue between Jesus and Saul is an exchange of identity. The statement "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" is a matter of fact statement. Jesus insinuates that Saul knows exactly who Jesus is. The NIV does not include the entire statement that is found in the KJV. The KJV gives an interesting statement by Jesus. There he says: "I am Jesus whom thou persecutes: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." (Acts 9:5) Yes, Jesus said a dirty word. Or at least it used to be a dirty word. What did Jesus mean by "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks?" The Greek word for "pricks" is kentron. This word has various meanings. One, it means "sting," as in the sting of a bee. I don't think that is what Jesus is meaning. The second meaning is "an iron goad." Think about an iron anvil. Now this makes sense. Jesus is saying that "You persecuting me is like kicking an iron goad (anvil). You are wasting your time and your resistance is in vain." Jesus is saying, "Saul, Saul, your resistance is in vain." Saul answers, in the KJV, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6a, KJV) Saul stops resisting.
Tomorrow we will return to this story and actually look in more detail at what was happening with Saul. We will ask the question: Why was Saul really persecuting the church? You will not want to miss it. Have a great day.