Saul Becomes Paul
Picture by Elijah Pierce (1892-1984)
Saul of Tarsus was an important man and a Jewish high priest, or Pharisee, in Jerusalem. He tracked down Christians and had them arrested, beaten, and sometimes even killed. Saul thought that people who believed in Jesus were wrong and only those who remained faithful to Judaism (the Jewish faith) were right. He wanted to destroy the new religion of Jesus and all the people who practiced it.
Saul was so mean and cruel to the Christians, that even people who were not Christians were scared of him. The Pharisees decided to send him to Damascus because there was a growing Christian community there and they wanted to stomp it out. Nobody was better at that than Saul!
Saul accepted his new assignment with great enthusiasm and set out on the road to Damascus. He was busy thinking of new ways to trick and trap the Christians so they could be put in prison - or put to death - when he was struck by a bolt of lightening. He fell to the ground, surrounded by bright white light.
A voice asked Saul why he was persecuting Him. When Saul asked who was talking, the voice replied that it was Jesus! Jesus told Saul to go into Damascus and wait to be told what he needed to do.
When the light disappeared, Saul was blind. The men who were traveling with him helped him into Damascus.
Jesus appeared to a Christian man in Damascus named Ananias and asked him to see Saul. Ananias wasn't very happy about being asked to visit the man known throughout the country as an enemy of Christians, but he did what Jesus asked. He put his hands on Saul, and Saul could see again!
Saul was overwhelmed by the experience and felt sad and guilty about what he had been doing to Christians. He accepted God's forgiveness for all the things he had done and was baptized. Saul, the greatest enemy of Christians, became Paul, Jesus' greatest missionary. Paul carried the message of salvation through Jesus from Israel to cities and towns in present-day Turkey, Greece, and Italy.
Jesus and his disciples were all Jews, and the earliest Christians were Jews. The first leaders of the Christian faith believed that in order to be a Christian, people had to follow all the Jewish rules, too.
Paul did not agree with that. He said that anyone could become a Christian simply by accepting the forgiveness of sins through Jesus and following Jesus' teachings.
The leaders in Jerusalem weren't very happy with Paul's ideas and they called Paul to a meeting to settle the issue. Paul won the argument. True Christians could practice their faith without learning and living by all the Jewish rules, too. This decision allowed the message of Jesus' salvation to spread from Israel to Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, Spain and over centuries, the whole world!
Map and Chronology of Paul's Missionary Journeys
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