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St. Michael the Archangel Parish

The Conversion of Paul the Apostle

January 25th

The conversion of Paul the Apostle, was, according to the New Testament, an event in the life of Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus. It is normally dated to AD 33–36. Since his birth is estimated at 5 A.D., he would have been somewhere around the age of 28-31 at his conversion. The phrases Pauline conversion, Damascene conversion and Damascus Christophany, and road to Damascus allude to this event.

Paul's conversion experience is discussed in both the Pauline epistles and in the Acts of the Apostles. According to both sources, Paul was not a follower of Jesus and did not know him before his crucifixion. Paul's conversion occurred after Jesus' crucifixion. The accounts of Paul's conversion experience describe it as miraculous, supernatural, or otherwise revelatory in nature.

Before his conversion, Paul, then known as Saul, was "a Pharisee of Pharisees", who "intensely persecuted" the followers of Jesus. Says Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians: "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Gals:1:1-14) Paul also discusses his pre-conversion life in his Epistle to the Philippians, and his participation in the stoning of Stephen is described in Acts 7:57-8:3.

In the Pauline epistles, the description of the conversion experience is brief. The First Epistle to the Corinthians describes Paul as having seen the risen Christ: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor. 15-3,8, NIV)

The Epistle to the Galatians also describes his conversion as a divine revelation, with Jesus appearing to Paul. “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. ...But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” (Galatians 1:11-16, NIV)

From Damascus, he traveled to Jerusalem, where his reputation as a persecutor of Christians preceded him and Christians there were unsure and confounded by his appearance. Here he met and spent time with St. Peter.

Often in trouble, Paul was confronted, jailed (though angels rescued him), physically abused and repeatedly endangered and harassed for preaching the message he previously attacked. Despite all the dangers he encountered, Paul never faltered or failed his God. In the end, he would be taken to Rome as a prisoner and be beheaded for his teachings.

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