Paul’s Experience on the Damascus Road
“I enjoy getting your articles very much. I agree with the fact that we hear from God through his word, but I do not believe that is the only way he speaks to us.If God only speaks to us through his written word, how do you explain the account of Paul’s experience [on the road to Damascus]?”
When we discuss the fact that we “hear God,” we are considering that which God communicates fundamentally about the plan of salvation, and how we can obey it.
Of course, God does “speak” through his creation (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:20). But this general revelation of God does not specify how we can be saved from our sins. It is by specific revelation that God communicates to us his redemptive purpose.
Let’s consider the question above by making several biblical observations.
- How does a person learn about Paul’s experience on the Damascus road? We all learn about it from Acts, chapters 9,22,26.Isn’t it interesting that one would appeal to the Scriptures to demonstrate that we “hear from God” without the Scriptures?
- Paul’s encounter with the Lord qualified him to be an apostle (Acts 1:22; 1 Cor. 15:8). The testimony of the apostles is in the New Testament, and when we read what inspired apostles wrote, we can understand the gospel of Christ (Eph. 1:1; 3:4).
- Paul saw the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. The resurrection is conclusive proof that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. Consider this singular point about this event. Can we believe in the resurrection based upon the testimony of Scripture alone, or must the Lord appear to us personally to “prove” that he was raised from the dead? John 20:30-31 states that the reading of Christ’s miracles can produce faith.
Paul’s experience on the Damascus road was a unique demonstration of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul realized that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that he was raised from the dead. He was God’s “chosen vessel” to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, before kings, and to the children of Israel (Acts 9:15). His conversion is a testimony to the authenticity of Christianity.
- Even though Paul saw the risen Lord, the Lord did not directly communicate to Paul what he needed to do in order to be saved. Christ told him to go into the city, and it would be told to him what he must do (Acts 9:6). When Ananias came to Paul, he told him, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Although Paul saw Christ on the road to Damascus, he was still lost three days later, needing to have his sins washed away. The vision, therefore, was limited in purpose.
Paul’s experience does not prove that God speaks directly to you and me. In fact, his conversion proves the proposition that God speaks through human agency for the salvation of men and women — through the inspired scriptures and the preaching of their message. The Lord communicated the gospel requirements for Paul’s own salvation through Ananias.
- Paul taught that Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, that it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, so that we may be “complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ASV). The written word of God contains all that we need in order to be faithful servants of God.
God’s word is no ordinary book. It is powerful when spoken and read. It is the revelation that God gave, authenticated, and now providentially preserves, so that men and women can learn the need and means of salvation. It is powerful (Heb. 4:12)! When we read it (Eph. 3:4), we will understand better God’s great plan of salvation.
- Paul’s experience proves that he saw Jesus, the risen Savior. That is what it proves. It is interesting that Paul never appealed to his Damascus road vision to demonstrate that God speaks directly to people, apart from the Word. With consistency, the apostle refers to the word of Christ as the means by which faith is developed (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 6:17).
When the Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, he obviously had a special purpose. It was, indeed, a unique situation. Paul’s experience on the Damascus road does show us several things. It is one of the post-resurrection appearances, being the only reasonable explanation for the conversion of such a hostile persecutor of Christianity. Likewise, it was Paul’s qualification to be an apostle.
The conversion of Paul also demonstrates that the preaching of the word is God’s chosen method for the communication of the gospel of salvation (1 Cor. 1:21). If you are waiting for a “Damascus road experience,” open your New Testament and listen to the risen Lord. There it will be told to you what you need to do.
Scripture references: Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20; Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:8; Ephesians 1:1, 3:4; John 20:30-31; Acts 9:15; Acts 9:6; Acts 22:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 3:4; Romans 10:17; Ephesians 6:17; 1 Corinthians 1:21