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Did Paul Convert to Christianity?

A Bible and Beyond Discussion

Monday, January 22, 2024
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With guest scholar Dr. B. Brandon Scott and host Dr. Shirley Paulson
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What difference does it make whether Paul converted to Christianity or remained a Jew? How do we know whether he converted or not? What is the evidence? People who know anything about Paul from the Bible generally know the story of Paul’s conversion. He was struck off his horse, blinded by a light, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” But in recent years many have questioned this popular account. In precisely what way did Paul convert? How does he describe this experience in his own letters? These questions lead us to larger questions, such as whether Paul’s experience was more about a revelation or a prophetic calling. Was he an apostle or not? We wonder how Paul learned what he learned, whether from God or from what others said. We also wonder if his experience changed his belief in God. Did he believe in a new God? The same God? The right God? If he did convert, what exactly did he convert to?

And by the way, in the story you’ll read in the Acts of the Apostles there is no horse, even though you’ll see a horse in all the artistic depictions of this event.

Discussion Summary

Dr. Brandon Scott explained why it is not correct to say that Paul converted to Christianity. First, there was no Christianity to convert to during the lives of Jesus and his followers in the first century. But more importantly, Paul considered the event on the way to or already near Damascus a revelation, not a conversion. Dr. Scott insists that the author of Acts writes about the incident one hundred or more years later than the experience, and Paul’s own description differs considerably from the account in Acts. Paul considered himself a prophet or one who was sent, so he understood his mission to the gentiles as a call to understand Jesus as the Anointed One. Dr. Scott characterized Paul’s greatest contribution to Christianity to be the establishment of church houses or communities of people who experienced the meaning of Jesus the Anointed, sent by God.

Texts Used in the Discussion:

Philippians 3:2-7
Galatians 1:11-20
Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-21; 26:9-23