Paul the Pharisee

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13).

- Galatians 1:11–14

Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 marks a decisive turning point in the history of the early church. In a few short chapters, Paul will begin to dominate Luke’s record of the growth of Christianity. This is partly explained by the fact that Luke was Paul’s travel companion on at least two of his missionary journeys. But Luke is not merely promoting a friend. Paul’s work in spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles, his unrivaled intellect, and his total commitment to the cause of Christ made him the central figure in the expansion of Christianity. To learn more about this great man of God, we will spend the next three days examining his life and thought.

We know that Paul was born in Tarsus, a city in Asia Minor, sometime around a.d. 5 and that he held Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28). He was given an outstanding education; it has been said that by the time he was 21 that he had earned the equivalent of two advanced academic degrees. He was an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin and was raised a Pharisee. He studied in the Jerusalem school of Rabbi Gamaliel, one of the leading Jewish thinkers of his time.

The Pharisees were a sect that had arisen during the Intertestamental Period in response to growing secularization in Israel. They were most zealous for the law of God. Paul himself acknowledged that he was great among the Pharisees in his zeal for the group’s goals, so much so that he hated any departure from the Pharisaical code. When he became aware of the group called the Way, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, he unleashed his fury against them. Departing from the counsel of his mentor, Gamaliel (Acts 5:35–39), he went after the Christians with passion, going house to house to find them and jailing many men and women (Acts 8:3), voting for their executions, and compelling them to blaspheme (Acts 26:10–11). He was even prepared to pursue them beyond Jerusalem.

But while God was making use of Paul’s persecution of the saints in Jerusalem to impel the believers outward to the world, He would not permit Paul to pursue His people elsewhere. Besides, Paul had received gifts from God that were designed to be used for holy purposes. So it was that Paul took the road to Damascus and came face to face with Jesus.

Coram Deo

Paul’s conversion is as miraculous as any in Scripture or throughout Christian history. Yours may not have been nearly as dramatic, but it represented just as radical a change of direction for you. Take time to reflect on the direction of your life before and after your conversion. Be prepared to tell others what Christ did for you.

Passages for Further Study

1 Chron. 16:12
Eph. 4:17–24
Titus 3:3
1 Peter 3:15

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