New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation - Lesson 10

Acts - Paul's Conversion

Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

Robert Stein
New Testament Survey: Acts to Revelation
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Acts - Paul's Conversion


Part 2

II.  His Conversion

A.  How do you explain his conversion?

1.  Full of guilt?

2.  Struggle over the law?

3.  Troubled by his persecution of Christians?

4.  Suffered a sunstroke?

B.  He met the Lord on the road to Damascus.

Class Resources
  • Acts was written by the same person that wrote the Gospel of Luke and continues where Luke left off with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

  • Luke wrote as a historian and includes details related to geography, political leaders and navigational terms. He was also an eyewitness and acquainted with eyewitnesses of events recorded in Acts.

  • Luke's purpose in writing Acts was give an orderly historical account of events surrounding Christ's ascension, the first followers of Christ and the spread of the early Church.

  • Acts 1:8 is the theme verse for the whole book. The structure of the book of Acts shows how this theme was fulfilled by recording events relating the spread of the gospel geographically.

  • At first, the early Church was made up mostly of Jews who continued to live a Jewish lifestyle.

  • Two events in the early Church were the choosing of an apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • The elements of conversion in the New Testament are repentance, faith, confession, regeneration and baptism.

  • Many of the early Christians spoke Greek and Aramaic. Stephen was one of the first deacons and was martyred for his faith.

  • The apostle Paul's background as a Jew, training as a Pharisee, and Roman citizenship had a significant influence in his ministry and writings.

  • Paul had a dramatic conversion experience as he was traveling on the road to Damascus.

  • After Paul's conversion, on some areas of his theology his positions stayed the same, and on some areas his positions changed dramatically.

  • Many of the events related to Paul's life and ministry are recorded in the book of Acts.

  • The conversion of Cornelius and Peter's vision were important events in emphasizing the inclusion of Gentiles into the early Church.

  • The church at Antioch sent out Paul, Barnabas and John Mark to preach the gospel. This was Paul's first missionary journey.

  • The Jerusalem Council was a meeting of the early Church leaders to decide how to include Gentiles Christians into what had, up to this point, been a predominantly Jewish Christian group.

  • Barnabas and John Mark went to Cyprus and Paul and Silas went through Asia Minor, then to Macedonia and Greece.

  • Some of the letters from Paul in the New Testament are to an individual and some are to congregations. The letters are written in a form that includes the same general elements in the same order.

  • A main theme of 1 Thessalonians is the second coming of Christ.

  • Paul addresses some issues regarding the second coming of Christ, such as being responsible to work and support yourself in the meantime.

  • On his third missionary journey, Paul spent most of his time in Ephesus.

  • Paul defends his apostleship and explains that the foundation of our relationship with God is based on faith, not works.

  • Paul begins by defending his apostleship. He then explains justification by faith and gives some ethical exhortations. (The lecture does not cover points C. Ethical Exhortations (5:1-6:10) and D. Conclusion (6:11-18), but we included the outline points for your benefit.)

  • Most people agree that Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians. He answered questions from people in the Corinthian church and addressed problems that had arisen.

  • In 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes unity and diversity in the body of Christ, and responds to questions about marriage, spiritual gifts and the Lord's Supper.

  • Paul defends his actions and apostleship and encourages the people in the church in Corinth to contribute to his collection for the poor in Jerusalem.

  • The content of Paul's letter to the church in Rome was shaped by the ethnic background of the congregation and the challenges they were facing at that time.

  • The outline of Paul's letter to the Romans indicates his understanding of the fundamental concepts of the gospel.

  • Paul wrote Romans from the perspective of his calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

  • Paul begins Romans by stating the problem of sin and enumerating a few specific sins. His conclusion in chapter 3 is that both the Jews and the Gentiles are under the wrath of God.

  • The divine remedy to the problem of sin and separation from God is justification by a righteous God.

  • The results of God's righteousness include, peace, hope, freedom, living in the Spirit and assurance.

  • Paul was arrested in the Temple in Jerusalem, went on trial in Caesarea, and was transported to Rome and imprisoned awaiting trial before Caesar.

  • A major theme in the book of Philippians is joy in times of adversity.

  • In Colossians, Paul emphasizes the preeminence and supremacy of Christ.

  • Imperative is always based on the indicative.

  • Most scholars agree that Ephesians was written by the apostle Paul, partly because the content follows an outline that is similar to other letters attributed to him that are contained in the New Testament.

  • In Ephesians, Paul emphasizes who we are in Christ and the mystery of the gospel.

  • Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon should receive his runaway slave Onesimus, who has become a committed disciple of Christ under Paul's influence and is returning to him.

  • Luke does not record the details of Paul's death in the book of Acts.

  • The best argument is for Pauline authorship, possibly with the help of a secretary.

  • Two themes in 1 Timothy are the role and requirements for bishops and elders, and the role of women in ministry.

  • Paul gives instructions to Titus who is a pastor in Crete.

  • Paul gives instruction to Timothy, who is a young pastor.

  • It is unclear who wrote the book of Hebrews.

  • A major theme in Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ. There are also passages that emphasize that perseverance is essential.

  • According to James, true faith results in works.

  • The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians to be faithful during a time of suffering.

  • Themes in 1 Peter include the atonement, the new birth and the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some people question whether or not 2 Peter was written by the apostle Peter.

  • Themes in 2 Peter include false teachers and the return of the Lord.

  • 1 John is similar to the Gospel of John in style, vocabulary, theology and purpose.

  • John makes a distinction between acts of sin and continuing in sin.

  • Jesus came as God in the flesh and offers us the gift of eternal life.

  • Revelation is a book written in an apocalyptic genre by the apostle John.

  • The philosphy of interepretation you use when you study the book of Revelation determines what you think specific passages in the book are teaching.

  • Chapters 1-12 begins with the seven churches, and includes the seven seals and seven trumpets.

  • Revelation chapters 13-22 focus on the beast, Christ's final victory, final judgment and the millenium.

  • After Christ ascended and the church was spreading, it was helpful to have a written record of Christ's life and the apostles' teaching. All the books included in the New Testament were written before the end of the first century.

  • Each book included in the New Testament had to meet specific criteria. They are arranged with the Gospels first, then letters, then the book of Revelation.

In this second graduate-level class on New Testament Survey, Dr. Robert Stein walks you through the New Testament books Acts through Revelation. In his analysis of the books, you will learn not only the facts but also be challenged with their theological and spiritual significance.


Now with regard to the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, there have been lots of attempts to try to explain this. People who don’t believe in the supernatural, that are not evangelical in that sense, agree that something happened to the guy. What went on that caused him to have a religious conversion experience? And a couple of things that people talk about are that he was a very troubled young man, full of guilt, and was ripe for a major conversion experience. One of the things that he had going on in his life that caused him trouble was this great struggle with regard to the law. If you read the Book of Romans, he says [Romans 7:15-19], “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing,” and you have this tremendous attempt, like Martin Luther, “to be perfectly righteous by keeping the law,” and he can’t do it. So he has this tremendous problem in his innermost being that causes a breakdown on the road to Damascus.

Well, what does Paul himself say about his pre-conversion experience concerning the law? In Philippians 3 (the chapter we looked at where he’s talking about himself), after having said that he was [v.5], “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee....” In verse 6, he says, “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” That doesn’t sound like he had a tremendous guilt complex. You may say that there is nobody who can keep the law perfectly, but there are a lot of people out there who think they do. There are a lot of people out there who consider themselves good people – who feel pretty good about themselves. They don’t understand the law. Paul’s understanding of what the law really teaches comes after his conversion, and then he realizes that he’s the greatest of sinners, etc. But before, he seemed to say “I was great – no one was better than me with regard to the law.” And all you have to do is read the Talmud, and you’ll find at times people were very content with their keeping of the law. One Pharisee says that “If there were only two people who were righteous in the whole world, it would be my son and me.” But Paul has that mentality. As far as the law was concerned, he was very content. He was up there – he was righteous and blameless.

Another attempt to explain his conversion is that there was another thing that troubled him – he was very troubled over what he was doing. When you persecute people, that many times brings on a deep psychological problem, a guilt complex into your life. And Paul, no doubt, as he saw Stephen’s death, as he was bringing these innocent Christians to prison and so forth, was very troubled by this. Well, he doesn’t seem to say that about his early life, either. In Galatians 1, you read, “You have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” He doesn’t say that he had reservations about doing this. If you take seriously, like an evangelical would, what he says in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted, and insulted him, I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul looks back at his life and recognizes that God was merciful to him because he was ignorant of what he was doing. Therefore, he forgave him as a result. That’s very different from saying that the whole time he was uneasy about what was happening, and unsure. He was absolutely floored when a voice from heaven, and, instead of commending him and saying “Hey, you’re doing real well, I’m proud of you, Saul,” rebukes him. When the voice from heaven comes, we do not hear Paul saying “I’ve been worried about something like this happening for a long time.” He says , “Who are you, Lord?” And when he hears, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he’s aghast. So Paul’s conversion cannot be explained psychologically this way, I think you’d have to say the easiest way of explaining it is that God met him on the road to Damascus. Others say that he suffered a sunstroke. Well, if you suffer a sunstroke, you suffer a sunstroke. But you don’t get converted. So something happened there, and the evangelical understanding is that he met the Lord at that time.