PAUL’S CALL RATHER THAN CONVERSION

PAUL’S CALL RATHER THAN CONVERSION

BEECHY

Introduction

The story of Pau’s experience on the road to Damascus has long been of interest in any study of conversion. This has been so, first of all, because it is a highly dramatic one and, secondly, because the portraits of the earlier and later Paul seem to present themselves as the ideal model of the life reborn. Christians are frequently inclined to measure their own conversion against this model and to feel either reassured by the comparison. In nowadays most of Christians assumed on the road to Damascus as conversion, but that is, actually his calling for missionary. Therefore, the following facts are will help to understand call rather than conversion on the Damascus.

 The meaning of the experience

Studies of the relevant texts have led to the question whether the event is really meant to be a conversion story at all. “Conversion is not the best way to describe Paul’s experience”, writes Ladd, for “he was not converted from disbelief to faith, from sinfulness to righteousness, nor even from one religion to another, since he considered Christianity to be the true Judaism.

Krister Stendahl concurs with this assessment of continuity and contends that the texts emphasize his call rather than conversion. J.E, Toews has sounded a similar note, attention is called to the accent on the assignment in all three of the accounts in Acts as well as in Paul’s own perception (Gal. 1:16). It is further observed that the language of Acts distinctly recalls the Old Testament model of the prophet. Similar allusions are seen in Paul’s claim that he was set apart before he was born and called through grace, not by “flesh and blood” (Gal. 1:15-16), for a mission to the Gentiles (cf. 6-7). This case gains furthers support from Paul’s description of the risen Lord ( I Cor. 15: 8-10) whereby he, although understanding, was made an apostle by the grace of God. Moreover, from the standpoint of literary structure, the context of each account in Acts argues for call rather than conversion. In both chapters 22 and 26 Paul tells the story to defend his apostolic activity rather than his faith. The narrative in Chapter 9 functions not so much to show how Paul becomes a Christian as to explain how it is that he comes to be part of that apostolic advance which is the subject of the book. It is made plain that this enemy of the church was called by the Lord himself and that his apostleship is, therefore, legitimate.

On the other hand, agreement that call rather than conversion is the real center of the story does not necessarily require the rejection of conversion as a description of Paul’s experience. Two of the accounts include elements that distinctly suggest conversion: 1) He is baptized (Acts 9:18) 2) His baptism is connected with the washing a way of his sins (Acts 22: 16), 3) Ananias announces he was sent so that Saul could be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9: 17).

Much rest too on one’s definition of conversion, Ladd’s reservations is stated more emphatically by Towers, who distinguished sharply between the “specific experience” of Paul and “our experience in which the encounter with Christ concerns the conviction of sin and the birth of faith”. Paul “already believed in God”. A distinction is in order but it is conversion here not rather nasally defined? Could one not say the same of Nicodemus? Or of those “devout Jews” who were instructed to “repent” and “be baptized to the forgiveness of (their) sins” (Acts 2:5-28)?

Our understanding of conversion is richly informed by its illustration in NT salvation stories, and these reflect an amazing diversity. Emphasis may be a moral reform (Zacchacus), on worldly abandonment to follow Jesus (the rich young rules, on inner birth (Nicodemus) or on receptivity to the truth (camellias). It is exegetically and theologically risky to specify too carefully what, other than the opening of one’s self to God at the point of confrontations by his spirit, constitutes a conversion.

In a narrower sense, melanoma (repentance or conversion) retests to an about turn at comprehensive and fundamental characters and describes a set of effects as much as it does an experience. Both its meaning and its use in such context as Acts 2 suggest its proper supplication to Paul’s experience to the extent, at least that such a change actually originated there.

The Nature of Paul’s Conversion; Continuity in Paul’s Life

It must be admitted that Paul remained in many respects the same. As he had been zealous in his perceived calling before (Gal 1:14), nor did he turn from sinfulness to right living in the usual sense. His conscience “seems robust”(Icor,4:1-5), and his sense of sinfulness is related chiefly to his past record as a persecutor of  sinfulness is related chiefly to his past record as a persecutor of the church. Moreover, Paul remained Jewish in brat and soul.  His theology, his anthropology “writes Fitzmyer,” reveals him to be still a Jew in his basic outlook.

New Directions in Paul’s life

F.F.Bruce remains upon the prominence of the light in all three accounts, a light in which the risen Christ appeared to him. Tasker densities it as the “same direct vision … that Stephen had seen in his last moments.” Munck sees recollections of Deuteronomy 28:28-29 in the light and Paul’s blindness. In any case, it is the appearance of Jesus that becomes” the new tractor that entered into his ken.

Paul’s encounter was a humbling one that brought home to him the meaning of grace. He never forgot it and he came to see it as a liberation of cosmic dimensions (Gal. 1: 15f), one which remained at the heart of his own self-conception and his theology. His encounter with Christ was a “Transforming revelation” through which he: saw clearly the true meaning of the facts with which he had been long acquainted. This revelation of the suffering Messiah, God’s Son, “says Cole, “is itself the gospel.” It is like God’s creation of light (2 Cor. 4:6) and it forms the basis of a new theology, for it is not alone a new task but a new insight that he attributes to divine revelation (Gal. 1: 11-12, Eph. 3:3).

The integration of Christ as the key factor into a larger theology required for Paul the re-examination of his deepest beliefs. This was necessary for an understanding of his mission, but it was also a deeply personal reformation. The effect on his view of the law was devastating. It meant that the righteousness by which he was justified came” apart from the law, through faith in Jesus Christ” (Rom. 3:21-22). This, believes Tasker, was the great truth which became clear to Paul at his conversion.

Paul at his conversion J.H. Schoeps considers Paul’s loss of confidence in the law to be based on a misunderstanding of it. His Hellenistic Judaism and his use of the Septuagint had caused him to see covenant (Heb. Berith) largely as one-sided divine arrangement (as suggested by the Greek word, diatheke, or “ testament” ), as a result of which “ he tears asunder covenant and law, and then represents Christ as the end of the law”. Paul’s view of the law is indeed somewhat different from that developed in the Old Testament although we should beware of reading into Paul a harsher view of the law than he himself held. What he did insist was that Christ and not the law was the means of salvation.

Paul’s understanding of the universality of the gospel is entirely consistent with his new soteriology. If faith rather than the righteousness of the law is the issue in salvation, then Jew and Greek stand on the same footing. A new people of God are being established in which race, sex and status do not matter. They are “alone in Christ Jesus” and therefore “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3: 28-29), anew Israel “by adoption” (Gal. 4:1-7). Paul’s mission to the Gentiles is thus fortified by an understanding of the church that welcomes all without reserve into full participation. Eschatological hopes of Israel are, in his view, being fulfilled in the church, which is now the carrier of God’s purpose.

His ecclesiology, finally, retains the mark of his first introduction to Jesus. The close identification of Christ and his church in the question “why are you persecuting me? was in mistakable. The church was the body of Christ. Only that shattering realization can account for his transfer of covenantal identification from Israel as a nation to that spiritual Israel he saw in the Church. Paul’s call brings him to a new understanding of his mission a new understanding of the law which s otherwise an obstacle to the Gentiles. While the accounts in Acts especially in chapters 9 and 22, to some extent take the position that Paul had to have his experience interpreted to him, both Galatians and Acts nevertheless a call to mission rather than a conversion. And this call is the greater since it is the persecutor who becomes the apostle. And actually, the change of name in Acts is quite instructive in the context of discussing call rather than conversion.

The center of gravity in Paul’s theological work is related to the fact that he knew himself to be called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, an Apostle of the one God who is Creator of both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Rom. 3:30). All this follows from that rather sophisticated distinction between a “call and a “conversion”, a distinction related to one of the classical problems of Pauline studies.

Evaluation and Conclusion

Aside from his call, then, Paul’s encounter with Christ had important personal effects. It caught him up short in the realization that what he had regarded as service was really resistance to God’s program, prompted him to acknowledge as Lord the one he had attempted to crush, and it forced the reorganization into a new theological framework of all former ideas concerning Israel, the Gentiles, and the righteousness of the law, salvation and eschatology.

It was a conversion from a flowed conception of God’s activity in the world to a new understanding of it, from a false confidence in the efficacy of the worker of the law to a dependence on the grace of God, from opposition to Christ to wiling bond service, from a narrow view of the scope of God’s program to a vision of universal proportions. It was a conversion tailored to Paul’s need. Already a firm believer in God, already zealous to serve him and already a practitioner of righteousness, he remained in the dark and so he was given the light of revelation to which he responded and which transformed his life.

The story of Paul’s conversion does not, however, implies that others need a dramatic experience or a particular quantity of theological insight. Nothing in it requires imitation or qualities the conversion of others: in fact the reverse is true, for it is what is already known about conversion that enables us to recognize his. Paul’s conversion is, therefore, more of an example than a model and functions better as illustration than as prescription. It stands in the company of countless other such “stories” of lives turned around by the miracle of grace, all of which illuminate and are illuminated by the experience of others. If Paul’s conversion is special, it is because of its biblical visibility and its association with that mission to which we are all indebted. Firstly Paul was the great persecutor but finally he became the greatest apostle (missionary) in Christian missionary because of his calling. Paul’s conversion on the road is actually calling for His missionary, therefore we can say that call rather than conversion.

 Bibliography     

Blair,Joe. Introducing the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994.

Bornkamm,Guenther The New Testament: A Guide to Its Writing. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973.

Bruce,F.F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Co., 1977.

Cole,Adam, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Company, 1965.

Davies,W.D. Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. Landon: SPCK, 1955.

Dodd,C.H. The meaning of Paul for Today. Cleveland, New York: World Publication Co., 1957.

Fitzmyer,J.A. Pauline Theology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Ladd,G.E. A theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Company, 1974.

Munck,Johannes. Acts of the Apostles. Granden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1967.

Ridderbos,Herman. Paul and Jesus. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1958.

Schoeps,H.J. Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959.

Stendahl,Krister. Paul Among Jews and Gentiles. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.

Tasker,R.V.G. The Old Testament in the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Co., 1954.

Toews, John E. “Paul: Converted or called, Christian Leader, 15 Feb. 1977.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Joe Blair, Introducing the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 113.

[2] At Rome, he was treated with respect, being allowed to dwell “for two whole years in his own hired house”. Whether he ever left the city or not can’t be positively demonstrated, but it is believed by many critics, from a variety of considerations, not he did obtain his liberty about A.D. 64, and that he made journeys both to the East and to the West, revisiting Asia Minor, and carrying out is long-cherished wish of preaching the gospel in Spain, then though to be the Western limit of the world Meanwhile, the great and mysterious burning of Rome occurred, generally attributed to Nero. The latter threw the blame on the Christians who were, in consequence, subjected to a severe persecution. Among the victims was having been Paul who, according to traditions, suffered death in A.D. 67.

[3] G.E.Ladd, A theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Company, 1974), 366-8.

[4] Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 7.

[5] John E. Toews, “Paul: Converted or called, Christian Leader, 15 Feb. 1977, 17.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Stendahl, 15.

[9] Herman Ridderbos, Paul and Jesus (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1958), 91.

[10] J.A.Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1967), 9.

[11] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Co., 1977), 113.

[12]  R.V. G. Tasker, The Old Testament in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Co., 1954),   72.

[13] Johannes Munck, Acts of the Apostles (Granden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1967), 217.

[14]  W.D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (Landon: SPCK, 1955), 324.

[15] Guenther Bornkamm, The New Testament: A Guide to Its Writing (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973), 84.

[16]  Adam Cole, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publication Company, 1965), 47.

[17]  C.H.Dodd, The meaning of Paul for Today (Cleveland, New York: World Publication Co., 1957), 46.

[18] Tasker, 81.

[19] H.J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History (Philadelphia:    Westminster Press, 1959), 218.

[20] Krister Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, 9.

[21] Ibid., 11.

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