Of all the writers and scribes of the New Testament, none is quoted or preached on in churches more than Paul. We are told of his many works, his courage, his deeds and the multitudes that he helped to bring into the faith. It’s important to understand the significance of the Lord choosing him to be this vessel in order to understand how the Word has spread throughout history. This will help us know how we must proceed in the last days.
Paul, also called Saul, is first mentioned in the Bible in Acts 8 just as Stephen had been stoned. From there, everything moves very quickly in the story and within a chapter Saul was Paul and emerged as a great leader in the church and champion for Yeshua. Let’s take a closer look at how this all occurred so we may understand how this transition applies to us today.
Stephen in the face of death
To understand Paul, we must first look to Stephen starting in Acts 6. The Grecians were accusing the Hebrews of neglecting their widows. The 12 apostles and the multitude of disciples were growing the early church quickly in those days and felt that they could not leave the Word of God to “serve tables,” so they selected seven men to tend to the ministration of the widows. Stephen, “a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” was one of the seven selected.
Stephen went about his duty and performed great wonders and miracles among the people. Many from the synagogue confronted Stephen and engaged him in debates, but his wisdom as inspired by the Holy Ghost was too much for them. In the midst of the people Stephen was winning these debates, so they bribed men to say Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God in order to bring him in front of the council.
This is where it gets interesting. False witnesses told the council that Stephen claimed Yeshua would come and destroy the holy place and would change the customs of Moses. When the council asked Stephen if these things were true in the beginning of Chapter 7, he did not proceed to defend himself against the lies but instead told the story of the history of the Hebrews starting with Abraham. He stated the promise that God made to Abraham about the land where they now stood, declaring that Abraham would not be there himself but that his seed would dwell there. At the time, Abraham had no seed nor any hope of having sons with his barren wife, but through the glory of God it was made so.
Then, Stephen retold the story of Joseph and how he brought Jacob into Egypt. It’s a very quick retelling; several chapters of the end of Genesis are retold in a few short verses. It brought him then to Moses and another quick retelling of his life from birth unto the time when God brought the children out of Egypt and into the wilderness for 40 years.
At this point, one can imagine the reaction of the council hearing a retelling of the story that they likely knew very well. In the next verse, Stephen comes to one of the points that he was trying to make.
This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.
He continues through the transgressions of the Hebrews with Aaron when Moses was on the mountain, then jumps forward to David and Solomon. Then, he comes to his next point in speaking against the council.
51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
Through over 50 verses, Stephen does not use his time to speak as an opportunity to defend himself but uses it to condemn the actions and hearts of the council. His words were a certain death sentence, but he had no fear because the Holy Ghost was upon him. Through his death, he saw the heavens opened, the glory of God, and Yeshua at His right hand.
Saul, a vessel from the beginning
Most scholars look at Saul as misguided until the road to Damascus, but a case can be made that he was unwittingly doing the Lord’s work even before he knew Yeshua. It is only briefly mentioned in the beginning of Chapter 8, but he led a great persecution that went out unto the church in Jerusalem. He went to the homes of believers and had them put into prison. He probably did much worse than that. As a result, many disciples were forced to flee to other lands. As terrible of an action as this sounds, there was a clear benefit as mentioned in two verses:
3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
The importance or length of time of events are not always relative to the length of discussion as mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 6:1-4 is a quick burst of four verses that have profound significance that has spread across all of time, but it is barely a mention. Fallen angels were making children with human women. This brought about the need for the great flood and has been a challenge for humanity for a few thousand years, yet it is only discussed in four verses.
The same can be true for Acts 8:3-4. Saul wreaked havoc on the church and as a result it was spread abroad outside of Jerusalem. At the time, there was a centralization of the church around the apostles in Jerusalem, but Saul’s actions forced many disciples to flee across the land. Had this not happened, had Saul and others not gone after the church so fervently, it would not have spread as it has today to the far reaches of the planet. These two verses represent the beginning of the spreading of Christianity around the world.
Henceforth he was Paul
It is often thought that Saul changed his name to Paul or that God changed his name as he did with Jacob to Israel. Scripture does not back up either of these concepts. The most likely reality is that Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Roman name.
Here is when the “change” happened:
Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him.
Prior to this verse, he is only known as Saul. After this verse, he is called Paul. Every word, utterance, and even character within the Bible has significance. It was at the time that his name is switched that he is bringing his first soul into belief. I won’t speculate further on this since it’s not of much relevance to this article, but it’s good to note that his transition that led to him becoming such a profound aspect of the church took a turn for the better at this point. Thus, we normally refer to him as Paul.
Up until this point, there were believers and non-believers. The fact that Paul was chosen by God to be a vessel of the Gospel holds extreme significance. He was not a simple fisherman or one who could be viewed by Hebrew or Greek scholars as an easy convert to follow Yeshua. He was an exceptionally well-educated man who fought with everything he had against belief in Yeshua. This gave his conversion the highest level of significance by taking someone so opposed to the Gospel and turning him into its greatest champion.
Our Lord chooses the right people to do His works on the earth. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul – all of them were perfectly equipped to do the Lord’s Will. Before his conversion, Saul would have been considered one of the least likely people on earth to believe in Yeshua as the Messiah. Disciples feared him. Synagogues empowered him to persecute the followers of Christ. This fact gave his conversion significance and put weight behind this teachings that could only be achieved through someone who was so opposed to the idea from the start.
We cannot currently know for sure what significance the change from being called Saul to Paul holds, but we do know for sure that God chose him to bring the teachings of our Messiah to the whole world.
Applying the concept today
The lines are being drawn and are advancing every day. There’s a war over faith that is fueling battles across the planet as well as in America.
One of the biggest challenges that American Christians face is that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to spread the Word. Today, most of us are not faced with death or imprisonment over our faith, but those days may not be too far from us. Though the battle here is more subtle, it is important nonetheless.
The influence of the adversary grows constantly. That does not mean that we are to give up on those who seem furthest from the faith. Saul was as far from being a believer in Yeshua as any other man on earth in his time, yet God chose him “to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel”.
We are often called upon to bring the Word to those who seem furthest from the faith. In many cases, we shy away from this act because our nature makes us fearful. From a secular mindset, it is wrong to “talk religion” at work, school, to strangers, and often even with our own family. This fear holds us back. What would have happened if Ananias had followed his fears instead of the order by God to heal Saul? What if the apostles had followed their earthly fears of Saul and cast him out when he came to join them?
It is not for us to know who or how we are to influence others. By following what the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts and going boldly forth with our faith as our guide, we can bring the Word of God to those who need it the most as Paul did in his days.