Saul’s Conversion, 9:1-19a

Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest

Murderous threats – ‘When the NIV renders “threats and murder” as murderous threats, something is lost of the reference to the two-part Jewish judicial process (Longenecker 1981:368) and the highlighting of Saul’s violence (Lake and Cadbury 1979:99). Saul does not just make threats; (compare Acts 4:17,29) he helps bring about actual executions.’ (Acts 8:1; 26:10) (IVP)

Acts 9:2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Acts 9:3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.

Acts 9:4 he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Why do you persecute me?” – These words identify the speaker as Jesus (cf. v5)—the very one whom Stephen had seen at the right hand of God when Paul witnessed Stephen’s stoning.

This was evidently not the first time that the Lord Jesus had revealed himself to Paul.  ‘According to Paul’s own later narrative, Jesus said to him: ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (26:14). By this proverb (which seems to have been fairly common in both Greek and Latin literature) Jesus likened Saul to a lively and recalcitrant young bullock, and himself to a farmer using goads to break him in. The implication is that Jesus was pursuing Saul, prodding and pricking him, which it was ‘hard’ (painful, even futile) for him to resist.’ (Stott)

Acts 9:5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Acts 9:6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Stendahl has argued that what happened to Paul on the Damascus road was a call rather than a conversion, since it involved no change of religion. To regard it as a dramatic conversion is to view it through the eyes of the ‘introspective conscience of the West’, and in the light of the experiences of Augustine and Luther. However, Paul himself describes his own experience in terms much more radical than could be applied to his simply having received a new assignment. See 1 Cor 15:8; Php 3:4-8,12; Gal 1:13, all of which suggest a radical break with his Judaic past. (See Reymond, Paul: Missionary Theologian 60f)

Acts 9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.

Acts 9:8 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.

Acts 9:9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered.

Acts 9:11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9:12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

Acts 9:13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

‘”Not him, Lord, that’s impossible. He could never become a Christian!” This was the essence of Ananias’s response when God told him of Paul’s conversion. After all, Paul had pursued believers to their death. Despite these understandable feelings, Ananias obeyed God and ministered to Paul. We must not limit God. He can do anything. We must obey, following God’s leading even to difficult people and places.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)

Acts 9:14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.

Acts 9:16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Acts 9:17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 9:18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized,

Acts 9:19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem, 19b-31

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Acts 9:20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Acts 9:21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”

Acts 9:22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

Acts 9:23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him,

Acts 9:24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.

Acts 9:25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

Acts 9:28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

Acts 9:29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.

Acts 9:30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

Encouraged by the Holy Spirit – Or, ‘in the comfort of the Holy Spirit [Ghost]’ – so AV, NASB, NRSV

Looking back over this account of Saul’s conversion, Stott remarks that a person’s conversion ‘is only the beginning. The same grace which brings a person to new birth is able to transform him or her into Christ’s image. Every new convert becomes a changed person, and has new titles to prove it, namely a ‘disciple’ (26) or ‘saint’ (13), newly related to God, a ‘brother’ (17) or sister, newly related to the church, and a ‘witness’ (22:15; 26:16), newly related to the world. If these three relationships—to God, the church and the world—are not seen in professed converts, we have good reason to question the reality of their conversion. But whenever they are visibly present, we have good reason to magnify the grace of God.’

Aeneas and Dorcas, 32-43

Acts 9:32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda.

At this point in the narrative Peter is re-introduced, in preparation for the momentous recorded in the next two chapters.  In travelling from Lydda to Joppa he is moving further and further into Gentile territory.  As he does so he experiences God’s blessing on his ministry of preaching and healing.

The saints are Jewish Christians, as in v13.  Peter would not be ready to minister among the Gentiles until after the events recorded in chapters 10 and 11.

‘The Christians are called saints, not only some particular eminent ones, as saint Peter and saint Paul, but every sincere professor of the faith of Christ.’ (MHC)

Lydda was situated to the north-east of Jerusalem, twelve miles south-east of Joppa.  The modern name is Lod, and it is the site of the Tel Aviv airport.  Peter’s purpose was not only to preach the gospel but also to teach and encourage the saints (cf Lk 22:32).

Acts 9:33 There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years.

Acts 9:34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.

The healing is immediate and complete: “Jesus Christ heals you” (not, for instance, “Jesus Christ will help you to feel better”)

‘As you read the Book of Acts, you will see parallels between the ministries of Peter and Paul. Both healed cripples. Both were arrested and put into jail and were miraculously delivered. Both were treated like gods (Acts 10:25–26; 14:8–18), and both gave a bold witness before the authorities. Both had to confront false prophets (Acts 8:9–24; 13:6–12). No one reading the Book of Acts could end up saying, “I am for Paul!” or “I am for Peter!” (1 Cor. 1:12) “But it is the same God which worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:6).’ (Wiersbe)

“Get up and take care of your mat”– ‘This was really power! Some of us for years have been saying, “Arise and make your bed,” to our teenagers with no result!’ (Charles Swindoll)

‘Interestingly, these successes were essentially duplicates of miracles Jesus had performed. The healing of Aeneas’ paralysis was similar to that of the paralytic at Bethesda to whom the Savior said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8). Regarding Dorcas’ healing, Peter may have learned the procedure from Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter as recorded in Mark 5 because when Peter arrived the people were making a commotion, just as others had done in Jairus’ home. The apostle shut them all out of the room, just as Christ had done, and then said, “Talitha kumi” (“Tabitha, get up”), which if you change one letter is the duplicate of Christ’s words, “Talitha kumi“—”Little girl, get up” (Mark 5:41).’ (R. Kent Hughes)

Acts 9:35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

All – The expression is obviously being used hyperbolically.

Sharon – the coastal plain extending from Lydda up towards Mount Carmel.

Acts 9:36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas ), who was always doing good and helping the poor.

Joppa is modern Jaffa, and the nearest sea-port to Jerusalem (thirty-five miles northwest).

‘The city is important in Bible history as the place from which the Prophet Jonah embarked when he tried to flee from God (Jonah 1:1–3). Jonah went to Joppa to avoid going to the Gentiles, but Peter in Joppa received his call to go to the Gentiles! Because Jonah disobeyed God, the Lord sent a storm that caused the Gentile sailors to fear. Because Peter obeyed the Lord, God sent the “wind of the Spirit” to the Gentiles and they experienced great joy and peace. What a contrast!’ (Wiersbe)

Tabitha…Dorcas – meaning ‘gazelle’ in Aramaic and Greek respectively.

Our author is in the habit of telling us something about those who experience healing.  In the case of this woman, her kindness included making clothes for widows (v39).

‘Once again, generosity surfaces in the narrative of Acts as a sign of the Spirit’s work in those who turn to Christ (cf. Acts 2:44–45; 4:32–37).’ (Peterson)

She was always doing good and helping the poor – Good in every age, but particularly so in an age when there was no state welfare system to fall back on.  ‘Many are full of good words, who are empty and barren in good works; but Tabitha was a great doer, no great talker.’ (MHC)

Acts 9:37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room.

Acts 9:38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

Lydda was near Joppa – about ten miles away.

“Please come at once!”– The urgency is due in part to the fact that burial would take place before sunset on the day of death.  The round trip of 20 miles (for the messengers to reach Peter, and for Peter to get to Joppa) would have taken 8 hours or so.

What did they expect him to do?  Conduct the funeral service?  No: ‘Bodies normally were anointed prior to burial. Luke mentions only that the body of Dorcas was washed, and therefore he seems to imply that the Christians had a hidden motive. Having heard that Peter performed the miracle of healing a paralytic in nearby Lydda, they wanted to ask him to raise Dorcas from the dead.’ (Kistemaker)

‘Luke does not say what they expected from him or asked him to do. But since (1) Tabitha’s body was washed but not anointed for burial and (2) her good deeds were told to Peter when he arrived, they apparently wanted him to restore her to life. Having heard of Aeneas’s healing, they seem to have thought it merely a slight extension of divine power to raise the dead.’ (EBC)

Acts 9:39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

Acts 9:40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.

We cannot be sure why Peter sent them all out of the room; but Jesus did the same when raising Jairus’ daughter, Mk 5:40.

‘Peter declined every thing that looked like vainglory and ostentation; they came to see, but he did not come to be seen. He put them all forth, that he might with the more freedom pour out his soul before God in prayer upon this occasion, and not be disturbed with their noisy and clamorous lamentations.’ (MHC)

“Tabitha, get up” – If Peter spoke these words in Aramaic, as is likely, then there is just one letter difference between what he said (“Tabitha koum!” – “Tabitha, get up!”) and what Jesus said when he raised Jairus’ daughter (“Talitha koum!” – “Little girl, get up” Mk 5:41).

Acts 9:41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.

Presented her to them alive – ‘as Elijah (1 Ki 17:23), and Elisha (2 Ki 4:36), and Christ (Lk 7:15), presented the dead sons alive to their mothers.’ (MHC)

Imagine their joy and wonder!

Acts 9:42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

Stott suggests that Luke has deliberately portrayed Peter as an authentic apostle, who performed ‘the signs of a true apostle’ (2 Cor 12:12).  For,

  1. Both miracles followed the example of Jesus.  Peter’s words to Aeneas in v34 echo those of Jesus to another paralytic, Mk 2:11.  The raising of Tabitha echoes that of Jairus’ daughter.
  2. Both miracles were performed by the power of Jesus.  Peter is clear that it is Jesus Christ who heals, and not himself, v34, and he prayed before he addressed Tabitha, v40.
  3. Both miracles were signs of the salvation of Jesus.  In both cases, Peter use the same word (anastēthi, ‘Get up!’, v34, 40) that is used of God raising Jesus from the dead.
  4. Both miracles redounded to the glory of God.  When Aeneas was healed, large number of people turned to the Lord, v35.  So too with the healing of Tabitha, v42.  ‘In accordance with the purpose of the signs, which was to authenticate and illustrate the salvation message of the apostle, people heard the word, saw the signs, and believed.’

Acts 9:43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

A tanner named Simon – Since tanners worked with the skins of dead animals, they were regarded as ceremonially unclean. Peter’s willingness to stay with this man perhaps indicates his openness to the events which will now be recorded in ch. 10.  ‘Peter was apparently not troubled by such concerns, but he would soon have difficulty taking the more radical step of visiting a Gentile household (cf. 10:6 note). He would need a series of revelations from God to move him in that direction.’ (Peterson)

Peter’s heart was softening; he was becoming more mellow; he was being prepared for a still greater change.