Saul arrives at Jerusalem a true outsider. His old compatriots, non-Christian Jews, are now his adversaries. His old enemies, the Christians, are not yet his "brothers." He may be staying with his sister while he tries to make contact and associate with the disciples. The church is afraid. So notorious are this persecutor's past deeds that even after several years they continue to place a cloud over the reports of his conversion.
What a contrast this fearful band of disciples is to that fearless group that only a few years earlier boldly defied its persecutors (4:19-20, 31; 5:12-14, 29)! Opposition can take its toll. Still, one of them, Barnabas, has courage (4:36). Being a "bridge person" (11:22, 25; 15:22, 25, 35), Barnabas takes Saul to the apostles (literally as NIV, not figuratively—"take an interest in"—as Kistemaker 1990:355) and tells them of Saul's conversion, call and subsequent ministry (grammatically it could be Saul who does the telling [Marshall 1980:175], but context indicates it is Barnabas, as in NIV; Haenchen 1971:332).
Increasingly in Acts the apostles fulfill the role of guarantors of the church's message and mission (8:14-15; 11:1-17; 15:1-29). Here they receive Saul and validate his call to preach the gospel of grace to the Gentiles. Barnabas summarizes the marks of Saul's call, which are congruent with the marks of the apostleship of the Twelve: Saul has seen the risen Lord, although he did not accompany him during his earthly ministry (22:14; 1 Cor 9:1; Gal 1:12; compare Acts 1:21-22). Saul has received a commission (the Lord had spoken to him), although it was not during preascension resurrection appearances (Lk 24:46-47; Acts 1:8). Like the apostles, Saul has been filled with the Spirit and has preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus (4:8, 13, 31, 33).
In a day when we often elevate individualistic, personal, subjective experience over communal, ecclesial, corporate judgments, Saul's example shines. His call is "for real" because it stands up to the test of the apostles, those charged with guaranteeing the message and mission of Christ's church. Any contemporary claims to God's call must similarly be tested by the deposit of the apostles and prophets: the Scriptures.
Saul moves about freely, . . . speaking boldly in the name of the Lord (v. 28; compare v. 27; see comment at 4:29). In Luke's understanding and Paul's, bold speaking is both characteristic of Christian witness and the result of a supernatural filling with the Spirit (4:8, 13, 31; 9:17, 27-28; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; Eph 6:19-20; Phil 1:20; 1 Thess 2:2).
Saul's preaching again involves apologetic to Jews. A Hellenistic Jew himself, Paul picks up where Stephen left off, disputing in the Hellenistic synagogues (Acts 6:9). The church's mission has come full circle: its chief opponent has become its chief protagonist!
As with Stephen, the Grecian Jews try to do away with Paul. "Suffering . . . is the badge of true discipleship," said twentieth-century martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1963:100). The church gets wind of the plot and spirits Saul out of Jerusalem, to the seaport Caesarea and off by ship to Tarsus in Cilicia, East Asia Minor (22:3). In a vision God lets Saul know that his departure is according to divine plan (22:17-21). The church is not personally rebuffing Saul, nor self-interestedly removing him as a flash point for potential persecution (22:17-20).
The persecution and divine preservation are further evidences of the genuineness of Saul's call. Through his experience we also learn that avoidance of known trouble is not necessarily a sign of cowardice (Krodel 1986:181). If undergoing a known danger, especially a life-threatening one, will prevent a Christian missionary from fulfilling the known plan of God, then he or she should avoid it by every legitimate means possible.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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