3. The Conversion of Paul



The Conversion of Paul.

The differences between the author’s own account and the portrayal that Paul himself gives of his conversion before the people and later before King Agrippa will never be of practical service to those who wish to use them *) to eliminate some gaudy features and to move the event from its external appearance to the interior of the apostle. For example, if Paul says in his speech before the people (22:9) that his companions did not hear the voice of the Lord who spoke to him before Damascus, while the author tells the opposite in his historical account (9:7), we should not admire the fidelity of the tradition that carried Paul’s entire speech unchanged, nor the conscientiousness of the author who transmitted this deviating feature in the Apostle’s speech unchanged, even though he had given a different picture of the event in his historical account. Such a tradition, possessing a memory so mechanical and a breath so long that it could recite the same material in various forms unchanged, has never existed **). Moreover, even that deviation would not be able to turn the miracle into an internal occurrence of the mind. In his speech before the people, Paul also announces that the appearance of the Lord was a wonderful and truly visible one, and cites the fact that his companions also saw the heavenly light that flashed around him in the middle of the day and were terrified by the enormity, to confirm the sensory reality. It is irrelevant whether the companions heard the voice without seeing the one who spoke with Paul, or whether they saw the miraculous light, the envelope, the sensory body of the appearance and did not hear the voice – in both cases they were witnesses of the appearance, and only the author’s changing interest would lead him to shift the features of the picture and to put them in the opposing position. In his own account, he only wanted to establish the reality of the voice that Paul heard beyond doubt – that is why the companions must also hear it. *) Later, when Paul justifies himself before the people, he wanted to ensure the divine legitimacy of his mission against even the slightest doubt – that is why it must now be shown that Paul was really and solely the purpose of the appearance. He now hears the voice alone.

*) as, for example, also Dr. Baur, the Apostle Paul p. 64.

**) as is proven in my critique of the Gospels.

*) and he still followed the original most faithfully, which he used for his depiction. For he has before his eyes the description of the Viston of Daniel (Dan. 10:7), which the Prophet also saw alone, while his companions, who did not see it, were seized with horror – (at the miraculous voice). Dan. 10:6. καὶ ἡ φωνὴ τῶν λόγων αὐτοῦ ὡς φωνὴ ὄχλου. V. 7 καὶ εἶδον ἐγὼ Δανιηλ μόνος τὴν ὀπτασίαν καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες οἱ μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ οὐκ εἶδον τὴν ὀπτασίαν ἀλλ᾿ ἢ ἔκστασις μεγάλη ἐπέπεσεν ἐπ᾿ αὐτούς


The author proceeded as freely as later in the apostle’s speech before King Agrippa, in which Jesus (26:17) immediately at his first appearance appoints the apostle to the Gentiles, while in the earlier historical account (C. 9, 15) Ananias is the only means by which Paul could learn his new destiny, since circumstances led him to the field of his activity.


On the basis of the report of the Acts of the Apostles, the previous theological dispute as to whether the vision of the Apostle was a sensory = external or an internal one, is unfruitful – the effort to burden the later tradition with the disturbing sensory experience and yet to form a kind of historical course out of all the individual features, is fruitless, for the report knows only one course of events, the sensually miraculous one, and if it is no longer regarded with all its individual features *) as a witness to the miraculous event, then it no longer exists at all and is even deprived of any basis for the dispute about the nature of the phenomenon.

*) The apostle’s blindness and his healing from it is and remains a part of the miracle, and Dr. Baur tries in vain to make the former a spiritual affliction, the latter a spiritual orientation, and to attribute to tradition the transformation of the spiritual blindness into a physical one.

Without the account of the Acts of the Apostles, we know nothing of the way in which the conversion of the apostle took place – but as the account stands, it excludes any natural mediation of this change, any preparation by an inner struggle of the soul. Either one believes the account as it stands and believes the various accounts of the Acts of the Apostles, or one admits that this account tells us nothing about the conversion of the Christian persecutor and cannot tell us anything.


According to the premise of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is so firmly established in Judaism, his conviction of the unconditional justification of the law is so certain, his will to uphold the law at all costs is so determined, that only heavenly power can win him over for the church and the conversion of the Gentiles.

His conviction, his will, his decision, his inclination do not and shall not come into consideration. He should not even fight within himself, should not waver, should not be inwardly broken or even inwardly involved with the world he is fighting against, but should be purely decided, a whole man, clear about himself and determined to assert the law and the Jewish privilege.

Although he is decided against the new teaching par excellence, he is nevertheless to be called – but since this calling happens against his will, the Lord Himself must intervene to make it possible, i.e. break his will and cast him down Himself.

Even at the moment when the Lord breaks him and throws him down, the new thing that hits him finds so little prepared place and point of contact within him that he lets the new thing pass him by and asks the Lord: “What do you want me to do?” and the Lord has to send him to the city so that he can learn from Ananias, who immediately receives the necessary revelation, what he has to do (9:6).

According to the Acts of the Apostles, this is the only course of events that Paul’s conversion had, and could only have, – the only necessary course of events, so that it would be beyond all doubt and certain that the Lord had called the man who was to bear His name before the nations, and the Lord had to draw His chosen witness to Himself with such striking force, so that the calling of the Gentiles and their justification would also be revealed as His work and His will.


It is only a continuation of this testimony when later the Holy Spirit, on a journey through Asia Minor, forbids the apostle to preach the word, and when finally in the vision at Troas the interpretation of this prohibition follows, when a man from Macedonia appears to him, who calls him to come over to Macedonia and help them; this call of the Lord (C. 16, 10) turns into an explicit command to stay in Corinth without fear, because there he has a many people. In Jerusalem the Lord appears to the apostle and tells him (C.23,11) that he has to go over to Macedonia and help them. ) that He will testify of Him in Rome as well as here in Jerusalem.

Visions and appearances reveal to the apostle his destiny – the author was therefore allowed to venture, in the lecture which Paul gives to the people, to change the opening which in the actual historical account of Paul’s conversion Ananias receives into one which the apostle himself received in the temple during his first sojourn in Jerusalem (22: 21) – and finally, after reporting all these visions, he was able to weave into the “Apostle’s” last account of his conversion the Lord’s reference to these following visions: – you shall be a witness of this, says the Lord already before Damascus (26:16), “what” you have seen, and of the visions in which I will yet manifest myself to you.

Like this reference to the later visions, like the transformation of the word to Ananias into a direct opening to Paul – like the visions that call the apostle to Europe, hold him in Corinth and point him to Rome, the vision that casts him down before Damascus and transforms him from the legal zealot into the apostle to the Gentiles is also created from the outset and is the free work of the writer of history.


Like the conversion of the Apostle to the Gentiles, the conversion of Cornelius by Peter is also created. The parallel goes so far that both miracles move through two interlocking visions.

The miracles that result in the conversion and baptism of the pagan Cornelius are also necessary, because without them none of the things that are brought about by them and only by them would have happened. The vision of the animals, all of which God has cleansed so that man no longer has the right to call some of them unclean and to shun them as such, is something entirely new for the apostle; it is connected neither to a previous development nor to an inner struggle of his spirit, it finds nothing related to it within himself; Peter does not even know how to interpret the vision and only a wonderful chain of circumstances into which he is drawn involuntarily unlocks his understanding of it.

As little as Cornelius, when the angel of the Lord commands him to fetch Peter, knows the intentions of heaven – (Peter must tell him what to do) (10:6) – so little does the apostle know, when he had followed the Lord’s call and is already in the house of Cornelius, what he should do with the pagan captain (V. 29). Only when he hears about Cornelius’ vision and realizes how it is connected with his own in a divinely intended context, he discovers that God does not show partiality (V. 34) and that all kinds of people who fear Him and do what is right are pleasing to Him, and therefore he wants to also take members of his community from the circle of the Gentiles – and even then it is still a wonder that, as a result of his preaching, the Spirit falls on the present Gentiles and they speak in tongues, which finally convinces him of what it is all about (v. 47) and that he cannot deny baptism to the called Gentiles.


What happened to Cornelius and his household is just as unprepared for in the history of the early Church up to that point, and just as unheard of and unexpected for the entire community of the apostle, so bewildering in fact, that the believers who accompanied Peter to Caesarea were horrified when they (10:45) experienced that even on the Gentiles the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out – in a phenomenon that contradicted all their notions and expectations; they could hardly come to terms with it, indeed, they were so reluctant to accept it that Peter had to calm them down expressly by remarking whether anyone could deny baptism to those who had received the Holy Spirit. Only reluctantly and subdued by a supernatural force, the believers of the circumcision bow to the unexpected event, admitting that they cannot prevent the water of baptism, which is flows over the barrier of Judaism to the nations. If it had depended on them alone, they would have denied the holy water to the Gentiles – if the Lord had not impelled Peter, the Gentile from Caesarea would have remained without the comfort of baptism – if the most extraordinary miracles had not intervened, the apostle himself would not have known what to do with the Gentile in the house of Cornelius.


That only a miracle, only the openly and unmistakably expressed will of heaven could bring about the admission of the Gentiles into the church, that therefore what happened in Caesarea had no basis and point of connection in the previous history of the church, was shown once again when Peter, on his return to Jerusalem, received the bitterest reproaches from the believers that he (11:2-3) had entered with uncircumcised men and had eaten with them.

Indeed, Peter also silences these dissatisfied ones (11:18) by explaining to them the miraculous course of the event that had troubled them – but if it was striking up to this point that an event which was decisive for the community had no preparatory elements within it, neither in the mind of its most important leader, and had to receive its possibility from heaven, it is now highly surprising that the great, decisive, and miraculously wrought and testified event was not actually decisive and did not have the consequences that it deserved.

The early church was not touched by the change that had taken place in Caesarea; as if heaven had not yet pronounced its judgement. Later, long after the Gentiles had really been won over, the believers in Judea demanded that those whom the Lord Himself had called should earn their blessedness through circumcision. All that had been done so far was therefore in vain, unsuccessful, forgotten, as good as unprecedented. Peter first has to remember (15:7) the deed that the Lord had done through him a long time ago – in the early days *) of the church, and James refers to Peter’s account of how the Lord first (v. 14) formed a people out of the Gentiles for His name, in order to enforce the freedom of the believing Gentiles from circumcision – – so only now does the event take effect? And Peter was the chosen means by which God won the firstfruits of the Gentiles?

*) ‘αφ ημερειν αρχαιων.


Peter was the first to bring the “Gentiles” to the church? And James says this at the same moment when Paul stood before the barriers of the Apostolic Convention “and awaited its pronouncement on the freedom of the Gentile Christians?

Only now does this event take effect? Is the original intention of heaven revealed?

Indeed! Only now can the author achieve his goals! That is why the event had to remain unsuccessful for so long, so that it could only now exert its true and original effect. Now Paul has already worked among the Gentiles and is waiting for the decision on his effectiveness before the Apostolic Convention – only now can it be shown that the deed God accomplished through Peter was done for his sake, so that his work among the Gentiles would be justified. Paul is justified through Peter.

The author already had this justification in mind when he reported and created the conversion of Cornelius. The purpose that Peter’s action serves also made this action possible.

The conquest of paganism is a deed that Peter accomplished. He alone deserves the honour, he alone has the merit of having broken through the obstacles of paganism. Paul is no longer a creator, he did not establish the freedom of the Gentile Christians, he did nothing special or unique when he brought the Gentiles to the Lord – Peter is the original, the creator, the pioneer.


This contradiction against the presupposition of the Pauline letters, according to which Peter is only the apostle of the circumcision, Paul the chosen and only apostle of the Gentiles, Schneckenburger tries in vain to eliminate by the remark that the appointment of Peter for the circumcision “does not exclude an exceptional activity of the kind represented by the conversion of Cornelius” *). The deed that Peter performed on Cornelius is “according to the account of the Acts of the Apostles not an exception and isolated, but a groundbreaking, forever decisive deed – one that sanctifies everything similar that follows it. This is how it is understood at the Apostles’ Convention by the Apostle James, and James advocates it as the author wants it to be understood.

*) op. cit. p 178.

Of course, after such a groundbreaking and sanctifying act, there should be no attacks on Paul’s way of acting on the part of the Jerusalem congregation – but Schneckenburger is also unable to resolve this contradiction, which the author of the Acts of the Apostles brings into his own premises, when he recalls **) “what a difference it is to succumb to the overwhelming impression of an evidently divine manifestation in a particular case and to now recognize the principle realized in his case in all cases, contrary to the entire previous way of thinking.”

**) op. cit., p. 179.


The revelation in the case of Cornelius was not a special case, but a sanctioning fact – an event of general significance, as the believers in Jerusalem, when Peter explained the events to them, expressly acknowledged that it was now *) clear that God had also given repentance to the Gentiles for life. If it was divine will that Cornelius received baptism – and that it was so was acknowledged by the initially reluctant Jewish Christians – then this will also had general, binding force for all times. Once the principle had been realised by God, even if only in one case – and that God had acted is expressly emphasised by James – no one was allowed to resist in the later cases in which the same principle was realised.

*) 11:18. ἄρα γε καί . . . .

So we are left with the absolutely correct explanation that James gives to the event of Caesarea: God Himself decided, for all times and cases, and decided through Peter as the chosen instrument, so that the same apostle, who in the Pauline epistles is preferably and only the apostle of the circumcision, is denied the title of conqueror of the Gentiles. Peter won the Gentiles of the church; Peter won the Gentiles their freedom.

Just as certainly, however, there remains the contradiction that the miracle of Caesarea remains unsuccessful, that the community of Jerusalem resists the freedom of the Gentiles despite the clear and for all times binding will of the Godhead itself – above all, there remains the contradiction, that the primitive apostles only remember this miracle when Paul had already begun to set the Gentile world in motion – finally, the contradiction that the whole interest of the Acts of the Apostles revolves around the recognition and appreciation of Paul’s effectiveness among the Gentiles.


Also in the Acts of the Apostles Paul is the only and real apostle to the Gentiles and yet Peter is his original, Peter deserves the glory and the merit of having founded the freedom of the Gentile Christians.

In other words: Peter wins over the Gentiles, convinces the Gentiles that the Gentiles are called – Peter legitimates and sanctions the effectiveness of Paul – Peter has the honour of the process – but since he is supposed to justify the real Apostle to the Gentiles, even through this legitimation the reproach against the latter resounds that he proceeded too boldly when he redeemed the Gentiles from the law, and too quickly when he gave up the privilege of the Jews over the Gentiles.

Even the tribute that the Acts of the Apostles pay to Peter is permeated by the memory of the earlier, real battle that Paul waged with Judaism and the latter against Paul, i.e. also by the memory of the old fact that Paul won over the nations.

The Acts of the Apostles bears witness to the victory that Judaism, i.e. Jewish interest in the church, won when it subjugated Paul and his life, deprived him of his originality and transferred his historical honour to Peter. The Christian Judaism of the Jews was far from overturning the undeniable and invincible fact that the Gospel also belonged to the nations; it also recognized Paul’s divine calling and his merit in the conversion of the Gentiles, but it only makes the effectiveness of the apostle to the Gentiles legitimate by sanctioning his action through the process of Peter. It even defends Paul against the accusation that he acted too quickly and hastily when he won the nations to the Gospel and at the same time freed them from the law – Peter’s deed is “his” protective and legal title – but this defence must, against its will, acknowledge that Paul was the creator and liberator.


The honour Peter wins is a late conquest of Judaism within the congregation – through the apologia, on the other hand, which Peter’s deed is supposed to serve, the memory of the earlier struggle against Paul and the deed as it appears in the Pauline epistles unmistakably resounds.

The honour that Peter wins is a late triumph over Judaism within the community – the apology, on the other hand, which Peter’s deed is supposed to serve, unmistakably echoes the memory of the earlier struggle against Paul and the facts as they appear in the Pauline epistles. The same relationship is repeated in another respect. If we consider how carefully the apostle of the epistles emphasises that he did not receive the gospel from men, but through direct revelation of the Lord (Gal. 1:12), and how he has to answer for the visions and revelations of the Lord against adversaries and enviers (2 Cor. 12:1), it is at least this much clear that the judgement of his apostolic reputation also depended on the judgement of his visions. Well then! The Acts of the Apostles recognise miraculous visions as a real source of divine revelation, but in such a way that they also confer the honour of this direct contact with the Lord on Peter and, through the revelations that the latter received, ensure the credibility of those that were given to Paul. Paul is not the only visionary — already Stephen, who initiated the break with the Jewish people, has a vision before the synod, in that the Son of Man appears to him sitting at the right hand of God, and Philip, one of the deacons of the early church, is directed by an angel (8:26) to the Ethiopian in need of salvation.


In the same way, as a result of the victory that Christian Judaism had claimed over him, after he had lost the glory of his own creative significance, Paul was surrounded by a multitude of witnesses, all of whom testified to his perfect conformity to the early church at Jerusalem and to his intimate connection with it.

Ananias, who is involved in the vision of Damascus and was supposed to open his calling on behalf of the Lord, is (22:12) a legally pious man who had a good reputation among the Jews who lived in Damascus. Barnabas, the deserving member of the early church, introduces him to the apostles in Jerusalem, stands up for him, since they shunned him at first and did not trust him, and tells (9:27) how the Lord Himself had called him. Since he was threatened with danger in Jerusalem, the brothers sent him to Tarsus (9:30) and from there Barnabas fetched him and led him to Antioch, where he had opened up a wide sphere of activity (11:25). With Barnabas he was then sent to the elders of the church of Jerusalem to hand over the proceeds of a collection that had been organised for the brethren in Judea at Antioch (11:30, 12:25). When he left Jerusalem again with Barnabas, he took John Mark with him, the same one in whose parental home Peter found the brothers gathered in prayer after his rescue from prison (12:12). Even now, when he left Antioch and started his first great missionary journey, he did not set out on his own initiative, he did not directly follow the voice of the Spirit, but the church received the revelation of the Spirit and the commission to “set apart Barnabas and Paul to the work to which they were called” and to send them into their ministry (13:2-3). Later on, it becomes clear that he is also closely associated with Philip, that deacon of the early church who baptized the Ethiopian eunuch. He stays with him in Caesarea, and the same prophet of the early church who, through his prophecy about the impending famine, had brought about the collection for Antioch, announces to him, as he binds his hands and feet, the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-11).


Where this pragmatism has brought about the most conspicuous linking of the facts, its intention and origin will also be betrayed.
Why does Paul, although the Lord had already designated him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), allow himself to be sent to Tarsus by the early church in Jerusalem when the Jews were plotting against him? Why does he remain here quietly until Barnabas fetches him to Antioch? Why is he resting while the Lord had sent him away from Jerusalem immediately among the Gentiles (Acts 22:18, 21)? How is it that the author completely suppresses the historical fact when he leaves the Gentile apostle idle in Tarsus, while later he cannot completely deny the impression of it?

But the question is not just about Paul. At the same moment when he sits idly in Tarsus, other threads are also left dangling that the author had previously thrown out, and other events continue to have necessary consequences without results, and only at the moment when Paul is called back to work, does the author pick up those threads again and allow the earlier events to lead to their consequences.


The whole church of Jerusalem was scattered after the execution of Stephen – only the apostles remained (8:1) – but why is nothing mentioned about the activity of the dispersed except what Philip did in Samaria and with the Ethiopian stranger? Why is the outward activity of the believers suddenly interrupted after it had begun so successfully? Why does Philip leave Caesarea after such a promising beginning (8:40)? Why is he forgotten, why are the dispersed not remembered – why does the whole work abroad stop?

Why do the dispersed, after being completely forgotten, reappear so late and so suddenly? Why is their effectiveness in the circle of the Greeks at Antioch – at least the effectiveness that some Cyprians and Cyreneans among them were found in the circle of those Greeks *) – introduced as a consequence of the preceding?

*) Namely only this second part of the whole sentence 11:19-20, that they spoke to the Greeks (ελαλουν προς τοις ελληνας) is introduced by the “therefore” in the beginning of the sentence (οι μεν ουν).

Why? Nothing could be clearer! The preceding, on which the conversion of the Antiochian Greeks depends, is Peter’s great deed to Cornelius – the miraculous event which (11:18) also brings the believers in Jerusalem to the conviction that God has given the Gentiles repentance for life. Those foreign Jews who addressed the Greeks in Antioch with their sermon are said not to have “heard” directly of Peter’s deed, not to have been directly dependent on the pioneer – but they did not break ground themselves either. It “turned out that now, when Peter had opened the way, they preached the gospel to the Greeks. Only now, when Peter had gone ahead, was it proper for others to come forward and address the Gentiles. It was only now that Paul was to leave – that is why the early church sent Barnabas to Antioch to see the work there, and Barnabas, having seen the grace of God in the Gentiles, brought Paul from Tarsus and introduced him into his congregation.


The whole thing is a pragmatic machine, made to give Peter the glory of having been the first to bring divine grace to the Gentiles. Just as a machine is mechanically brought to a standstill by a pressure, so the external work that had already begun suddenly comes to a standstill – Philip celebrates in Caesarea, the scattered members of the early church have all but disappeared, even Paul has to “idle away” in Tarsus – only after Peter’s action is the machinery set in motion again: the scattered preach the Gospel to the Gentiles and Paul is now allowed to enter into fine work.

Mechanically, as the machine is set in motion, it is also put together by the author. Not to mention that he wanted to precede Paul’s appearance with the general, great prelude, which continued in the suffering of the Apostle to the Gentiles, he also needed the dispersal of the church in Jerusalem for the purpose of initiating the conversion of the Gentiles in “Antioch”. But at the same time, the apostles in Jerusalsem were still important to him, so they must be spared from the general persecution and remain in the temple city. The opponents must spare the heads of the hated sect and exempt them from persecution. For the following story of Paul, he needs the whole original congregation in Jerusalem – that is why it is there immediately after the general dispersion and in spite of it. He needs a calm and solid foundation for the operation of his machine – therefore the persecution is suddenly forgotten and the church in all Judea, Galilee and Samaria has rest and peace (9:1).


He summons the storm and summons it up again as he pleases – after Paul has already begun his work, he even causes the storm (C. 12) to rumble again *), but the machine will never become real history and those who nevertheless want to erect a historical edifice on the work of this man and interpret the dispersion of the church in such a way **) that as a result of an inner conflict only the Hellenists had reason to fear the fury of the Jews, while the “Judaizers” on the other hand remained and could remain, are building on an untenable foundation. As long as one continues to speak of this church, which presupposes the Acts of the Apostles, to make assumptions about the relationship of the “party” which it assumes, to hold fast to these men whom it calls the leaders and heads of the party, so long will one not arrive at the real history. In order to get to the bottom of history, one must dig deeper and first remove the chimerical construction of the Acts of the Apostles.

*) The execution of James, brother of John, by Herod, an event whose historical character we have to examine only in the context of the examination of all the statements of James.

**) such as Dr. Baur, op. cit. p. 38, 39.


Like the machinery that suddenly stands still for Peter’s sake, only to be set in motion again by Peter, the report of the Apostles’ Convention will also fall to the ground.



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