Monday, August 07, 2006

Paul and Conversion

I came across this summary of Krister Stendahl's position on Paul and conversion, as outlined in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (which I haven't gotten out of boxes yet, so couldn't quote directly--I'm not even sure what box it's in!--though heaven knows I've wanted to.), that's germane to the discussions in the blogosphere on Paul and conversion, and largely summarizes my own take on it:

In fact, Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was not really a conversion at all, according to traditional definitions of conversion. Paul did not change religions nor did he suffer from an inner experience of guilt or despair. Stendahl suggests that Paul’s experience is better understood as a call to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Because of this call he begins to ask questions about what happens to the Law now that the Messiah (see Christ) has come and what the Messiah’s coming means for relationships between Jews and Gentiles. Paul arrives at a new view of the Law as he answers these questions, not as he struggles with the meaning of the Law in his own life. Paul’s Damascus Road experience is part of his unique apostolic call and is not meant to be an example of a Christian conversion.

Gerald F. Hawthorne et al., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 157.

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