Today is the Conversion of St. Paul. There are at least three versions of this event in the New Testament. The most famous is Acts 9:1-22. From there we have all of the juicy details–Paul’s persecution of the early Christian community, the road to Damascus, his ensuing blindness. Luke gives us another version of the same event in Acts 22:3-16. Paul describes the same event in rather different terms in Galatians 1. Paul’s account describes a different sequence of events following his “conversion,” but more importantly, he doesn’t use language of conversion at all. Instead, Paul writes of being called:
But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16)
The notion that Paul’s conversion was a dramatic break from the past is firmly fixed in Christian thought and devotion and there is some legitimacy to it. Paul himself describes a radical break from his past of persecuting Christans. However, in another way, it wasn’t a conversion. He does not see himself “converting” from one religion to another, from Judaism to Christianity.
Still, conversion holds a powerful grip on Christian reflection, and indeed that grip has strengthened over the centuries, especially since the 18th century Evangelical Revival (led by the Wesleys and George Whitefield).
Whatever one thinks of the historicity of Luke’s account, and the utility of viewing the Christian life in terms of conversion, perhaps the most powerful depiction of Luke’s version is that of Caravaggio: