The transformation of the man, Saul of Tarsus, over the span of history is one of the most studied circumstances in all of New Testament and Biblical Studies and I suspect the ink well will not run dry on it any time soon. This curious episode, to me is one of a list of questions I should ask anyone who doubts the validity of the New Testament writings and the Church’s claims. How do you explain him? But to analyze the metaphysical occurrences, or the psychological state of Saul would be beyond my knowledge and frankly, not important to me in this post. But I am wondering if there is another text in Scripture to help us understand what exactly happened to him.
I have in mind already a candidate, but I will save it for suspense. In Acts 9, Saul was breathing threats against the church and his zeal had lead him to go to the high priest directly and obtain letters to the synagogues of Damascus. This would allow him authority to round up those who were Christ’s followers and bring them captive to Jerusalem. But, as we know, this didn’t happen. Saul met the most brilliant of lights, and in that light, met the risen Jesus. Jesus tells him specifically in the first account to go into the city, and find out what he is to do next. Saul, being in this light was blinded, and had to be led by the hand. It was not until the Lord sent Ananias to meet with Saul that he got his sight back. This literal blinding of Saul is what I want to bunker down in.
During Jesus’ ministry, there was a certain mode of operation that was particularly prevalent, and this was the restoration of sight to the blind. This had been foretold in the prophets as one of the signs that the Messiah’s ministry was contingent on.(ISA 35:5, 42:7) But there is one healing in particular that is very striking. It is in John 9, where he puts clay on a blind man’s eyes and tells him to go wash to receive his sight. Then John gives us a detailed story of the town’s reaction to this miracle. This man becomes almost a prototype evangelist. Everyone is astonished because they know him to be the blind guy who is always there begging, but he is not begging now because he is able to see. He tells of what Jesus did to and for him, although at that point he doesn’t know the extent of who Jesus is. He gets into it with the “Jews” and eventually they put him out of the synagogue because he will not let go of the fact that Jesus had done this, and he had respect for him as a prophet. Later, Jesus finds him and reveals himself to him and calls him to believe. The man assents; then Jesus says these words, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”(JOHN 9:39)And also he says to the Pharisees, “If you were blind, then you would have no guilt; but now that you say ‘We see’, your guilt remains.”(JOHN 9:41)
In the case of Saul, we may be seeing these statements of Jesus playing out in a radical way, both literally and figuratively. On one hand, Paul is a devout Pharisee, no doubt of similar stock to those who Jesus was talking to in John’s gospel. He is a leader of the people and a teacher; his way of viewing the Way, as it was called, was definitely not straddling the fence. He knew without a doubt that this was heresy, and he was determined to root it out! This was him, I perceive, being one who “sees” as it were, and his encounter with the Christ on the road to Damascus left him blind literally. We can see that his “seeing” was his spiritual blindness and now the wild paradox gets super confusing. But can you see where the opposite statuses are taking their effects? All this is to say that if this is correct, then Jesus’ condemnation on those who see, is not a pronouncement of their eternal fate, but an act of chasing after the sinner in whatever state they are in and changing their position so as to cause them to seek him. That those who deem themselves satisfactorily in God’s good graces should have cause to doubt it and to call on His name. Those who know they are not can feel welcomed to call on Him in spite of it.
In conclusion, I think it is stretching it to say that there is some intertextuality at play here, but I think in the least, it is something to consider that Jesus’ statements could play out in this way for at least one disciple, namely Saul. This is the man who wrote in ROM 11:11, “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” And ROM 11:30-32, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God, but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too now have been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” How fitting for this man, the chief of sinners, to be made blind, so that he could see that “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”(1 TIM 1:16).
Let me know what you think! Criticism is always needed.