Great Turning Points: The Power of One
I. Paul's preconversion state.
At Stephen's martyrdom, "the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul."7:58) "Saul was there giving approval to his death."(8:1) "Saul began to destroy the church"(8:3) searching house to house to house for Christians, dragging men and women off to prison.
In 9:1, Dr. Luke resumes Saul's story by saying that he "Was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." He had not changed since Stephen's death; he was still in the same mental condition of hatred and hostility.
Worse than that, he had hoped to contain the Christian movement to just Jerusalem. But some had escaped to Damascus so he obtained what amounted to extradition papers from the high priest of the synagogue. This self appointed inquisitor then left Jerusalem, armed with the written authority to the Damascus synagogues so that "if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."
From our reading, we might miss picture of Saul's zealousness to persecute the fledgling church. 8:3 actually describes Saul as "a wild and ferocious beast." The lymainomai, the only use of the word in the NT, is translated here as destroying. But in Psalm 80:13 it is used to describe wild boars devastating a vineyard. Its primary definition is the ravaging of a body by a wild beast. A little later, in verse, 21 the Damascus Christians depicted him as having caused havoc in Jerusalem. The Greek verb used, portheo, is often translated mauled. One commentator suggests that when we read breathing out murderous threats, we should see an allusion to the panting or snorting of wild beasts. What a contrast this provides for us as we see a wild vicious wolf, or lion like creature bent on ravaging the church, mauling church is confronted with the grace and mercy of God and turned into mild sheep ...
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