1. “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now.”
Paul not only uses Aramaic in starting his address, but he also addresses the crowd as “brethren and fathers,” showing that he identifies himself with them. Again this should convince them that he is neither a Gentile nor a Greek, for a Greek would not address them this way even if he could speak Aramaic. They should now realize that he could not have in fact defiled the temple, since he too is a law-keeping Jew and has every right to have been there.
2. And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent.
Then he said:
When the crowd hears him speaking in Hebrew, they quiet down all the more. Since it seems unlikely that they could have been much more silent than what Acts 21:40 called a “great silence,” this probably means that they continued being silent, whereas before they were ready to break out into an outcry at the first provocation. Now that they hear Paul can speak their language, they are ready to hear him out, and to give him an opportunity to speak what he has to say.
3. “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.
Paul confirms what they are all thinking, probably many of them with some surprise: he is a Jew. By this he means more than just that he was a descendant of the man Israel, or a Jew by bloodline. He means that he is a law-keeping man, one who could rightfully enter the temple courts where he had entered and not be subject to death, as a Gentile or Greek would be. Therefore their attempt to execute him as a temple corruptor was misguided.
Paul reviews more of his history for them. He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia, he tells them. However, he did not live all his early life there, but rather was brought up in that very city of Jerusalem. Moreover, he was a disciple of Gamaliel, their respected teacher, for “at the feet” means under the teaching or tutelage. Gamaliel, whose name means “Reward of God,” was a Pharisee known and esteemed as a teacher of the law, and so Paul could say with no reservation that he was taught according to the strictness of the law God gave their fathers. No important part would have been left out, and certainly not the laws about the proper way to cleanse yourself before going into the temple, as well as who was allowed to go into the temple, and under what circumstances.
Moreover, the Lord testifies through Paul that he was zealous toward God, even as this mob is zealous today. That is, they were determined to honor God and remove any who dishonored Him, but they did not attempt to do so according to knowledge, for they thought Paul had dishonored God when in fact he had not. Paul did the same thing when he persecuted the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, thinking he was doing God service when in fact he was mistaken, and these people were not people the Lord wanted punished at all.
4. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,
Paul admits that he persecuted this Way even to the point of putting people to death. By “this Way” he is referring to the Lord’s statement in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The Lord calls Himself “the way,” and there can be little doubt but that by “this Way” Paul means that he persecuted the followers of the Lord Who is the Way. Remember too that the Lord told Paul, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” He was actually persecuting the Lord Himself by persecuting His people.
Paul in the extreme case was putting the Lord’s followers to death, but far more often he would bind them and deliver them into prisons. In doing this, he was not giving the women any preferential treatment. He would bind them and imprison them just as he would the men. We could say he was an equal opportunity persecutor.
5. as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
Paul points to the high priest as one who can witness to the truth of his statements, as well as all the council of the elders. The word here is presbuterion, and speaks of that special group of powerful men who ruled Israel. These men, if they would testify, could confirm that Paul received letters to the brethren in other cities. These brethren were the rulers of the Jews in those cities, who would be closely allied with the rulers in Jerusalem. Paul even went so far as to Damascus in Syria, hoping to catch the believers in Jesus as the Christ there, and return them in chains to Jerusalem to be punished.
It seems somewhat doubtful that the Syrian citizens of Antioch who believed were the ones targeted here. More likely it was those who had formerly dwelt in Jerusalem in the great unity who had now fled to Damascus in Syria that Paul was after. They were the leaders and teachers of those who followed the Lord Jesus as the Messiah in every city where they went, so their recall to the capital of Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment or death would have weakened the group of believers in any city, including even out of the country in Damascus.
6. “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me.
Paul explains to these people what we have already learned about in Acts 9, that as he journeyed and came near Damascus, a great light from heaven suddenly shone around him. We learn the supplemental information here that this event took place about noon. That fact was not mentioned back in chapter 9. What was significant about that is that at noon the sun is at its highest point and brightest, and so the brightness of the light from heaven had to be that much greater to outshine the sun as it did.
7. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
Paul describes the fact that he fell to the ground upon being surrounded by this great light. Then, he heard this voice speaking to him. If we would compare this to chapter 9, we would see there is no real difference here, except for the fact that Paul is speaking in the first person.
The Lord Jesus in calling to Saul here uses the Hebrew form of his name, Saoul, rather than Saulos, which is the Greek form. The narrator in Acts, whenever he uses Saul instead of Paul, always calls him “Saulos.” Only the Lord here and Ananias when addressing Saul to return his sight to him use the form “Saoul.” Paul here repeats the Hebrew form they used. Yet we also need to remember that Paul, when telling this story to the mob in Jerusalem, was actually speaking in the Hebrew language, or at least in Aramaic. Luke is recording it for us in Greek, but he is making an inspired Greek translation, for these were not the words Paul originally said, since this is not the language Paul was speaking in. Yet Luke is consistent in using the form “Saoul” only when quoting the Lord or Ananias in this story, as it is given in chapter 9, here in chapter 22, and again in chapter 26, although Ananias is not quoted there.
8. So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
Paul recalls the question he asked, “Who are You, Lord?” There can be little doubt but that he realized that this was Yahweh, the very One he thought he was serving. Yet he realized at this point that he might not know Who Yahweh really is. After all, the Yahweh he thought he knew would not have told him he was persecuting Him! And so he asks this question. The reply comes back that the Lord Yahweh is Jesus of Nazareth, the very One Whom he is hating and persecuting. The only difference here with what we read in chapter 9 is the descriptive “of Nazareth,” which Luke did not record in chapter 9. Probably Paul used this descriptive to be sure that his Israelite audience would know exactly Who he meant. This was the very name that His enemies liked to throw at Him, for Nazareth was a town with a poor reputation, and calling Him this was an attempt to insult Him. Yet now the Lord uses this name Himself, admitting to the name His enemies used to belittle Him, for He is greater than any supposed insult hurled His way.
9. “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.
Those who were journeying with Paul saw the light shining around him and were afraid. Paul says here that they did not hear the voice of Him Who spoke to him. If we would compare this to Acts 9:7, it says they were “hearing a voice but seeing no one.” Is this a contradiction, since Acts 9 says they heard the voice, and Acts 22 says they did not hear the voice? I do not believe so. What Paul means here is that they did not understand the voice that spoke to Paul, though as Acts 9:7 tells us, they did hear it. They could hear a sound, but they could not distinguish the words, as Paul could. Therefore they may have heard, but they did not understand, and so they did not truly hear the voice at all.
10. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’
Paul describes how he asked the Lord what he should do. He describes the Lord’s answer, that he should arise and go into the city of Damascus. There, the Lord promises, he will be told all things which are appointed for him to do. This is fairly similar to Acts 9:6, though the idea that the things he was to do were appointed for him to do them is found only here. Thus this verse makes it more clear to us that the Lord had a plan laid out for Paul to accomplish, and that he was to be shown what that plan was in Damascus.
11. And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.
When the vision of the Lord ended, Paul found that he could not see for the glory of that light. This is again supplemental to Acts 9:8, and is interesting. This might have been normal blindness, in which case a bright light like this would damage the eyes to the extent that they could no longer see light anymore at all, but could see only darkness. Yet could it be that Paul is describing here that he could see nothing but light? The brightness of the heavenly vision had so overcome him that the pale light of this world was no longer visible to his eyes.
Paul describes how those who were with him led him by the hand into Damascus. This is basically the same as we saw it in Acts 9:8.
12. “Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,
Paul now describes the man Ananias who came to him. In Acts 9:10 he was merely described as “a certain disciple.” Here, however, Paul is using him as a witness to these events, and so he speaks of his character. He was a devout man according to the law, we learn. This was the way every Jew living in and around the land of Israel was expected to be in the Acts period, and Ananias acted as he should have in this. He also had a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, we learn. They all knew him, and he was the type of man who had won the respect of all in his city. If any of these Jerusalemites wish to check this out, they will find Ananias to have the good reputation that Paul is assigning to him here.
13. came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him.
Paul describes how Ananias came to him, stood before him, and said these words to him. If we were quoting this with reference to Acts 9:17, we might quote him thus, “Brother Saul…receive your sight…” For we see that the words of Ananias here are much abbreviated from what he actually said as is recorded in Acts 9:17. However, they are not inaccurate, and are a succinct summary of what Ananias actually said on this occasion.
After Ananias said this, Paul describes the return of his vision, saying that the same hour he looked up at him. As we have seen many times before this, the phrase “that same hour” is a figure of speech meaning “right then.” When a parent says to a child, “Come here this minute!” he means “come immediately.” He does not mean that the child has a full minute to come, and can dawdle along until that minute is complete. In their more relaxed society, an hour was about as exact as they cared to get, so this phrase “that same hour” meant the same thing. In other words, it meant “right then,” not just sometime within an hour from that point.
14. Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.
While Ananias’ earlier words are truncated in Paul’s retelling, he now goes on to offer more of Ananias’ speech which was not recorded in Acts 9 at all. Paul explains that Ananias went on to tell him that the God of their fathers, that is, Paul’s and Ananias’ fathers, had chosen him. The purpose for which He chose him was to know His will. The word for “will” here is thelema, and means God’s desire. God had chosen Paul to know just what His desire was for the period in which Paul was living.
God had also chosen Paul to see the Just One. Of course, by this Ananias meant the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had already seen Him on the Damascus road, but from Ananias’ words here, we can be sure that this was not the only time he would see Him, though it was the first. Finally, God had chosen him to hear the voice of the mouth of the Just One, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul would hear His voice, and have the privilege of knowing and obeying His commands. That is what God had chosen Paul for.
15. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.
In light of the things just said, Ananias reveals that Paul will be the witness of the Lord Jesus to all men, telling them what he had seen and heard. In this, we can see Paul giving a nod to the situation he is in right as he is speaking this, for he certainly was at this point testifying as a witness to this angry crowd of Israelites the very truth of what he had seen and heard of the Lord Jesus Christ on that day. Yet there were other things after this that Paul saw and heard of Him, and we can have little doubt but that Paul was a witness to all men of those things as well. For one thing, the very words of Paul that we read in the New Testament were all things that Paul saw and heard from the Lord Jesus Christ, and through his epistles he testifies to us of them.
16. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
The point Ananias is making here is not that Paul should not have been waiting and praying until Ananias came to him. Rather, what he means is that it is time for Paul to go into action, and the time for him to wait has come to an end. He must remain sequestered here no longer, but must stir himself and go into action. The first thing he needs is to be baptized. Yet this has nothing to do with water, and Ananias is not telling Paul that he needs to participate in a ritual involving water. What Ananias is talking about is identification, and what Paul needs is to be identified with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now those who take this baptism to be a water ritual would then go on to use this verse as proof that it is the waters of baptism that wash away a person’s sins. Yet this puts baptismal waters in the place where the blood of Jesus Christ alone deserves to be. It is His blood, not any water used in a ritual, that truly washes away sins. If the blood of bulls and goats cannot wash away sins, how much less a water ritual? As I John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
When we come to understand that baptism means “identification,” then this becomes much clearer. For it is through identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection that we are saved and our sins are washed away. Thus Paul’s identification with Jesus Christ will be with a view to the washing away of his sins. It will be when Paul is identified with Him that his sins will be taken care of and washed away. This will have nothing to do with any kind of water ritual he might perform.
Finally, Ananias speaks of “calling on the name of the Lord.” Your name is your true reputation based on your character, and it is the character of Jesus Christ, not the character of Paul, that will wash away Paul’s sins when Paul is identified with Him and looks to Him for salvation.