"Brothers and esteemed fathers," Paul said, "listen to me as I offer my defense."
When they heard him speaking in their own language, a the silence was even greater.
"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. At his feet I learned to follow our Jewish laws and customs very carefully. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just as all of you are today.
And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, binding and delivering both men and women to prison.
The high priest and the whole council of leaders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the Christians from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished.
"As I was on the road, nearing Damascus, about noon a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'8
"'Who are you, sir?' I asked. And he replied, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, the one you are persecuting.' 9
The people with me saw the light but didn't hear the voice.
"I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord told me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that you are to do.'11
"I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led into Damascus by my companions.
A man named Ananias lived there. He was a godly man in his devotion to the law, and he was well thought of by all the Jews of Damascus.
He came to me and stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And that very hour I could see him!
"Then he told me, 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and hear him speak.
You are to take his message everywhere, telling the whole world what you have seen and heard.
And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on the name of the Lord.'
"One day after I returned to Jerusalem, I was praying in the Temple, and I fell into a trance.
I saw a vision of Jesus saying to me, 'Hurry! Leave Jerusalem, for the people here won't believe you when you give them your testimony about me.'19
"'But Lord,' I argued, 'they certainly know that I imprisoned and beat those in every synagogue who believed on you.
And when your witness Stephen was killed, I was standing there agreeing. I kept the coats they laid aside as they stoned him.'
"But the Lord said to me, 'Leave Jerusalem, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!'"
The crowd listened until Paul came to that word; then with one voice they shouted, "Away with such a fellow! Kill him! He isn't fit to live!"
They yelled, threw off their coats, and tossed handfuls of dust into the air.
The commander brought Paul inside and ordered him lashed with whips to make him confess his crime. He wanted to find out why the crowd had become so furious.
As they tied Paul down to lash him, Paul said to the officer standing there, "Is it legal for you to whip a Roman citizen who hasn't even been tried?"
The officer went to the commander and asked, "What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!"
So the commander went over and asked Paul, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" "Yes, I certainly am," Paul replied.
"I am, too," the commander muttered, "and it cost me plenty!" "But I am a citizen by birth!"
The soldiers who were about to interrogate Paul quickly withdrew when they heard he was a Roman citizen, and the commander was frightened because he had ordered him bound and whipped.
The next day the commander freed Paul from his chains and ordered the leading priests into session with the Jewish high council. b He had Paul brought in before them to try to find out what the trouble was all about.
Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved. (New Living Translation - The Bible Online)