WHAT WAS THE BURR UNDER SAUL'S SADDLE?
The last time we were together we looked at the "conversion" of Saul. I put the word conversion in parenthesis for a reason. We will discover why much later on in our look at Saul/Paul. If you recall, Saul had an encounter with the Lord while on the Damascus Road. "'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 9:5-6, NIV) Saul did exactly as instructed without hesitation.
I want to ask the question: Why was Saul so hostile against the Church? Regardless of the typical answers that we can get from most commentaries and even sermons, I want to present a few other logical reasons. In fact, I am convinced that one of these, or a combination of them, are why Saul was terrorizing the early believers.
Let's examine a few of these possibilities beginning with the fact that Saul was a Pharisee. We know that the Pharisees presented Jesus with all sorts of problems. Was this why Saul was such a problem? It would be a logical reason, but...I would argue that this is not the reason. In Matthew, where we read a lot about Pharisees, the Pharisees do not appear aggressive. However, the Sadducees were. According to Jewish historian Josephus when the Sadducees conspired to execute James and others, it was the Pharisees who protested. They may have been a pain in the...….But they were not violent. Therefore, something else drove Saul to violence.
In his book, "From Politics to Piety: Traditions about Pharisees before 70AD" Jacob Neusner argues that Phariseism was actually a revival movement within first century Judaism. It's goal? To renew the Jewish spirit through the "Intensification of the Norms of Jewish Life." (The Law) So, Phariseism was a vigorous renewal movement. Saul was committed to this vigorous movement.
But, why violence in the name of God? I call your attention to the Letter that Paul, himself, wrote to the Galatians. (Remember, Paul and Saul are the same person) These are Paul/Saul's own words: "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Gal. 1:14) Paul understood persecution as being an expression of his commitment to Judaism. His mission? To stop the Jesus revolution.
The Greek word from which we get the word "revolution" is interesting. It is "neo-terismos." What do you think that means? Neo means new. Terismos means terrorism. Yes, Saul and others looked at the new faith movement as being a new form of terrorism. Saul would argue; "Hey, I'm not the terrorist here!" Saul was defending his way of life and his faith.
Well, that's a logical answer to why Saul was so violent against the early believers. But, I don't think that is all there was to it. Nope! I think there is another reason. Yes, Saul hid beneath the first one, because it would be more acceptable to his cronies. What else could there have been to cause Saul to do what he did? I would argue that Saul had anger issues. Yes, we hear about it all the time: So and So has anger issues! I would argue that Saul did too. Why? Well, I can't prove this, but I still think it is logical. As a Pharisee Saul believed that God had a hand in all that happened in history and life. We know that based on what Paul would later write he was not married. But, that does not mean that he never was married. There is evidence in scripture that could be used to prove that Paul was, at least at one time, married. In fact, in First Corinthians 9:5 we discover a "snippy" Apostle: "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles...Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?" Oh, that is so interesting in so many ways, including the fact that Paul is hinting at what? The other apostles were supported by their wives. Oh, I love the study of scripture. You just never know what you may discover.
I would present to you, and there are outside sources that I could quote, that Paul was perhaps once married, or engaged. One source argues that Paul even had a son. But, his wife and son were tragically killed. Saul, being a good Pharisee, could not blame God. That was forbidden. So, if he could not take his anger out on God, who could he take it out on? Yes, the believers.
Well, there are two logical reasons as to why Saul persecuted the church. But, as they say in the commercials, there is more. Yes, I believe there is one more logical reason and I believe it is the main reason. But, since I've been long winded today, I'll wait until tomorrow. Have a great day.