25 January 2008

The Conversion of St Paul

Today (January 25th) is the date on which the church annually marks the Conversion of St Paul. Here is a quote from a book I have been reading recently, Conversion in the New Testament, by Richard Peace:

Whatever else one might say about Paul’s conversion, it must be conceded that it had a momentous impact on the church. “No single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul” [F.F. Bruce]. From that event sprang the ministry of St Paul. From the ministry of St Paul came the Gentile church. From these churches Western Christianity emerged as it is known today. “The importance of Paul’s conversion and of the consequences he drew from it can hardly be exaggerated. He made the free development of Gentile Christianity possible…” [H.G. Wood]. Furthermore many consider Paul’s conversion to be a central “proof” for the validity of Christianity. As F.F. Bruce writes: “For anyone who accepts Paul’s own explanation of his Damascus-road experience, it would be difficult to disagree with the observation of an eighteenth-century writer [G. Lyttleton] that ‘the conversion and apostleship of St Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine revelation.’”

Whatever the wider impact, Paul’s conversion was for him the most crucial event of his life. His vision of the risen Christ while on the Damascus road literally stopped him in his tracks, turned his whole life around, and launched him in a totally new direction. From a Pharisee of the Pharisees, bent on the destruction of the church, he became a tireless evangelist, planting churches around the Mediterranean, despite great personal hardship and suffering. In fact, this very change in Paul himself is a further demonstration of the resurrection of Jesus. It has been asserted that nothing less than an encounter with the living Jesus could have accounted for so radical a change in Paul that he became willing to head up the Gentile mission of the church.

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