Taken from, “Paul the Interpreter of Christ.”
Written by, A. T. Robinson.
He was a tyro in Christian experience. He had only scraps of Christian theology. He could easily bungle what he did know. He was under suspicion. Ananias who had baptized him had to receive a special revelation before he was willing to baptize him or lend any endorsement to him as a disciple of Christ.
He was known as the chief foe of the disciples of Jesus and he had come to Damascus to arrest those who had fled thither to escape his clutches in Jerusalem. He had with him the official papers of the Sanhedrin for the arrest of the Christians. Paul was wholly on the defensive. The Jews would regard him as a renegade. He was without a friend save Ananias and Judas who were doubtful. He would not get a hearing from Jew or Christian. And yet Paul would not be silent. “Straightway in the synagogues he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
He must give his witness. It is a sure mark of the new convert that he must tell others of his new-found joy. Paul was a novice in Christ, but not in mental equipment. He was already a man of high culture, great genius, and much experience in public life though comparatively young. He was trained in public discourse, but his voice must have sounded strange to his own ears as he heard it deliver powerful reasons why Jesus is the Son of God. He was refuting all his old arguments as successfully as Stephen had done. “And all that heard him were amazed” (Act 9:21).
It was the voice of a lamb where they had usually heard the voice of the wolf. They were uneasy even now for fear that the wolf might crop out and make havoc as of old with all them that called on the name of Jesus. But Paul had found his voice and stuck to his message till it became familiar as well as sweet to him.
He did not have many aspects of Christ that he could describe, but he knew one from personal experience. He knew that Jesus was Messiah, the Son of God. He had seen Jesus Christ in His risen state. He grasped at once the two-fold nature of Christ, His humanity and His deity. Paul was wise enough to begin with what he knew by experience. He stuck to that and “increased the more in strength,and confounded the Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). Paul’s first interpretation of Jesus sounded the keynote of his entire ministry. He will never get beyond this truth whatever else he may learn hereafter.
Paul Adapts Himself to His New Environment.
“It was clear to Paul that he needed a season of retirement in order to take stock of his situation. The rebuffs at Damascus made it all the easier for him to follow his judgment to spend a few years in Arabia. He must make adjustment and take his bearings. The call had come to him from Christ through Ananias at Damascus to go far hence to the Gentiles.
Thus had ended the three days of darkness and doubt as to his future. But even so, Christ had not told him to go at once. The way was not now open nor were the Jews anxious to hear him. He had his call, but none to hear. Besides, there was needed a delimitation between his old Judaism and his new Christianity. The two systems must come to terms in his own mind. He had acted on the assumption that they were hostile to each other. Now that he had opened his heart to Christ, how much of his old theology could he carry on with him? He must think the whole matter through in order to see where he stood.
We do not know precisely what part of Arabia Paul visited, but at any rate it was the ancestral home of the Semitic race. He went back to the old haunts of his ancestors whether he actually journeyed as far as Mount Sinai or not. There was in his heart the conflict between law and grace. He was a master in rabbinic lore and Mosaic law, though as yet unskilled in the grace of Christ. But Christ had looked upon him and he would gaze steadfastly into that face till he could blend law and grace. Arabia was the melting pot for Paul’s theology. He was probably not wholly alone during this period, but meditations and reflections were predominant. He comes back to his work with a clear vision of the cardinal doctrines of grace. He has come to see how a new Israel is to supplant the old. The new is rooted in the old and is the true realization of the hopes of his people. Paul perceives that the Messianic longings of the Jews have come true in Jesus. It is his task to convince the Jews of this great fact and to help them see the wider outlook of the new Israel which is to include Gentiles as well as Jews.
His life in Tarsus had prepared him for this revolution. The experience of Peter on the housetop at Joppa proves how difficult it was for a Jew to conceive of a Gentile in the Kingdom of God except in terms of Jewish racial bonds. So far from the years in Arabia being wasted, they served to lay broad and firm the foundations of Paul’s theological system.