What Do We Know about Paul before His Conversion?

What Do We Know about Paul before His Conversion?

The Apostle Paul encountered Jesus on his way to Damascus in one of the most radical of ways, which led to his conversion and stepping into his call to follow Christ and preach the Gospel. This powerful conversion led Paul to give his life to the mission of building up the church and furthering the kingdom of God.

Parts of Paul’s life are documented in the New Testament. It has left readers over the centuries mesmerized and inspired by the man who gave his life to advance the Gospel and follow the great commission Jesus gave to his followers.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

The apostle Paul was from Tarsus and when we first encounter him in the New Testament, he goes by the name Saul. Before his conversion, Paul initially opposed the followers of Jesus and vehemently sought to end the spread of the Gospel.

Who Was Saul of Tarsus?

Saul was a young man who was well educated and on his way to becoming a rabbi. Saul was a zealous man of Jewish faith. He is first mentioned in the New Testament as being present at the stoning of Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr.

“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at Stephen, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. And Saul approved of their killing him” (Acts 7:57-8:1, emphasis added).

It is crystal clear that Saul had a hardened heart to the message and followers of Jesus. Saul positioned himself in extreme hostility to the growing believers in Jesus and the spread of the Gospel message, even if that meant putting the followers of Jesus to death.

What Do We Know about Paul’s Life before His Conversion?

Saul was born in Tarsus, which was an affluent and diverse community that valued education. Saul was also born a Roman citizen. At some point, Saul moved to Jerusalem and studied religion under Gamaliel, who was a Pharisee and an esteemed rabbi (See Acts 22:3). Paul also participated in a tent-making apprenticeship at some point in the years prior to his conversion (See Acts 18:3). In the book of Acts, Paul gave a brief account of his life prior to his conversion.

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today” (Acts 22:3).

We know that Saul had a deep faith and lived his life according to Judaism with great fervor and devotion. It was his deep beliefs in Yahweh that led him to believe that Jesus was an imposter and a liar.

What Did Saul Do to the Church?

Saul did not believe the Good News that Jesus had been the long-awaited Messiah, and therefore, viewed Christians as deceitful and a threat to Judaism. Saul’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah led him to believe that he needed to persecute the followers of Jesus to stop the spread of the Gospel. Saul devoted his days to terrorizing Jesus’ followers with the hope of prohibiting what he believed to be a false message.

“But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3).

Saul was present when Stephen, who was wrongly accused of blasphemous words against God and Moses (Acts 6:13), was stoned because he was a follower of Jesus. In the book of Acts, an account is given where Paul told how he treated and pursued the growing church.

“I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5).

Though Saul was determined to stop the growing church and the preaching of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God had other plans for Saul. It was on his way to imprison and persecute these Christians that Saul encountered Jesus in a way that forever changed his heart and his life.

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Why Did God Blind Saul?

On his way to Damascus, Paul had every intention of continuing his vicious plans to stop Christians. Instead, on his way to Damascus, Jesus intervened in Saul’s life in a powerful way that would forever change his life and his mission.

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything” (Acts 9:3-6, 8-9).

Saul may have rejected Jesus, but Jesus still loved Saul. He was given the chance to hear the truth that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. God blinded Saul, which demonstrated to Saul that he was wrong and was actually rejecting the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ.

This temporary blindness led Saul to the home of a believer, Ananias, who ended up healing him. God healed Saul through Ananias because it was a temporary blindness that God used to get Saul’s attention and turn his hardened heart soft to Jesus. For Saul, both a physical healing and spiritual renewal took place in this encounter when he was healed. The scales fell off Saul’s eyes and he immediately was baptized (see Acts 9:18).

What Happened to Saul/Paul?

Saul, also known as Paul, became one of the most influential apostles and believers in the history of Christianity. On the road to Damascus, Paul was converted and called to follow Jesus in a bold way. He went on to join the mission of the apostles to spread the Gospel of salvation in Jesus. He founded churches, wrote letters, and led a ministry in which many men and women were part of spreading the Gospel and building up the church.

Paul dedicated his life to the great commission, and he devoted his heart to loving the church and winning souls for the kingdom of God. He preached to prison guards while he was in prison, he praised the Lord in all circumstances, and continually worked toward keeping lies and heresies from corrupting the growing church. The final remarks about Paul in the Book of Acts place him in Rome.

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in Rome in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:30-31).

Though the details are unknown, eventually Paul was sentenced to death and was a martyr for Christ in Rome. Paul lived every day of his life teaching and preaching the message of Jesus Christ and certainly, up until the moment his life on earth ended, he lived to glorify God.

Paul’s Life before Conversion Gave Him an Incredible Testimony

Paul, who is first referred to as Saul, was a dedicated man of God. He began persecuting Christians, yet had a powerful encounter with Jesus that led to his conversion. He answered the call to spread the Gospel to all peoples and nations. From Paul’s writings and the book of Acts, readers learn about who he was before his conversion.

It is precisely who Paul was – a man who made it a goal to stop the church because he believed that Jesus was a liar – that made his testimony as a follower of Jesus so influential. Though Paul had spent time working against followers of Jesus, he spent the remaining years of his life dedicated to Jesus and the furthering of God’s kingdom. He was a good and faithful servant that believers can look to for inspiration and hope.

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Pamela Palmer 1200x1200Pamela Palmer is a writer, speaker, and the founder of upheldlife.com, the platform on which she produces devotionals and faith resources to inspire keeping faith at the center of life. She is in pastoral ministry and gets to share in the emotional and spiritual lives of others. She lives and thrives on Jesus, coffee, and music. She is the author of Living a Deeper Faith: Nurture Your Relationship with God and Live a Faith-Fueled Life. Pamela married the perfect man for her and they have two beautiful kiddos. She has been published on herviewfromhome.com, and you can follow her at upheldlife.com or on Facebook.com/upheldlife.