Paul’s Conversion And Luke’s Portrayal Of Character In Acts 8–10 -- By: Philip H. Kern

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:2 (NA 2003)
Article: Paul’s Conversion And Luke’s Portrayal Of Character In Acts 8–10
Author: Philip H. Kern

Paul’s Conversion And Luke’s Portrayal Of Character In Acts 8–10

Philip H. Kern


Luke’s portrait of Saul shows him to lack a right relationship with God. This is accomplished in part by contrasting the pre-conversion Saul with Stephen, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Cornelius. After his experience on the Damascus road, Paul is portrayed in ways that resemble Stephen and Peter, while Bar Jesus and the Philippian gaoler, who clearly oppose God and Christianity, are portrayed in ways that recall the earlier portrait of Saul and inform how we are to understand him pre-conversion. Thus Luke connects opposition to the church with opposition to God, and shows that Saul, in opposing the former, was an enemy of the latter. By showing the change from an enemy to one who himself suffers for the gospel, Luke indicates that Paul has entered into a relationship with God. This suggests, furthermore, that Paul joined an already established movement.

I. Introduction

The debate that began in 1963 with Krister Stendahl’s suggestion that Paul was not converted, that the Damascus Road experience was a call to ministry, and that Paul’s conscience was sufficiently ‘robust’ to exclude the need for conversion to a new religion, continues unabated.1 Often those who deny that Paul was converted insist on the impossibility of moving from Judaism to Christianity since the latter did not yet exist.2

When Stendahl challenged the notion that Paul underwent conversion, data concerning Paul were thought best derived from his epistles, with Acts deemed less reliable. Estimations of Acts have changed, however, since the 1960s.3 Furthermore, developments in methodology demand greater attention to the narrative shape of a work. Given this changed environment, it seems appropriate to hear Luke’s voice with respect to the question of Paul’s conversion. This article will therefore examine Luke’s presentation of character and group affiliation in the hope that in so doing, and without attending to the question of Paul’s conscience, it can contribute something to the ongoing discussion.

II. Analogies With Paul’s Conversion

Stendahl challenges the appropriateness of conversion language because Paul has not changed religions, that is, he never turns from loyalties to the God with which he began. This invites us to ask who, then, is converted. While the answer might seem clear enough, working with Stendahl’s assumptions complicates the task; and furthermore, Luke nowhere explicitly defines conversi...

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