The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide is published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's edition is shown above.
Official Adventist Resources:
Support this project
If you would like to support this website, please click on the following link to donate online or you may mail your check to: Life Assurance Ministries, PO Box 905, Redlands, CA 92373. Mark your check "Bible Studies."
Third Quarter 2018 • July, August, September
COMMENTARY—THE BOOK OF ACTS
Week 5: July 28–August 3
COMMENTARY ON "The Conversion of Paul"
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson looks at the conversion of the the apostle to the gentiles: Paul. Not surprisingly, the author gleans most of his commentary for the events of the call and commissioning of Saul from Ellen White. Once again, I am deeply impacted by the fact that Scripture itself reveals the truth about God’s saints and those with whom He tasked the planting of the church. Ellen White, on the contrary, bleaches out the depth and significance of the events in Paul’s life and makes him an example to us rather than a revelation of what God does in the world through those whom He calls and gifts.
The lesson correctly points out that Saul of Tarsus was a Hellenistic Jew: a Jew who grew up in roman territory and who spoke Greek as his primary language. While spiritually he was a Jew, culturally he understood and lived in gentile country. He did, however, by God’s design, go to Jerusalem where he was educated by the great Jewish rabbi Gamaliel.
In short, Saul was uniquely equipped by the plan and foreknowledge of God to be the apostle who would be the primary apostle to the gentiles as the church grew among the nations. He knew gentile culture and language. In addition, he understood intimately the theological and cultural significance of Judaism and of being a Jerusalem Jew—the Jews who stood highest in the “pecking order” of Judaism. Saul KNEW the Old Testament. He understood Jewish theology, and he also knew the gentile mind. God prepared this man for the work he never dreamed he would do.
In fact, Saul was a Jewish name. Paul, which means the same thing as Saul (asked of God), was his Roman name. Paul was first used in Acts 13:9, just after Saul and Barnabas began their first missionary journey. “Paul” seems to signify the fact that Paul had officially begun his gentile mission and was spending the bulk of his mission in gentile territory.
In Acts 9, however, he was still known as Saul when the Lord Jesus intercepted him on his way to arrest and persecute Christians. Jesus blinded Saul and told him that persecuting Christians was hurting Him. The church IS His body.
The lesson quotes Ellen White in The Acts of the Apostles making the case that Saul had participated in the death of Stephen. (He had held the cloaks of the stoners.) She says that Stephen had convicted Saul and caused him to doubt his cause against Christians. She further says that he went and consulted “those in whose wisdom and judgment he had full confidence,” and the priests’ arguments finally convinced him that his rage was worthy rage against the Christians.
This idea is not in Scripture. In fact, Acts 7 ends with the death of Stephen, and far from feeling convicted by Stephen and uncertain that he should oppose the Christians, Acts 8:1–3 says:
And Saul approved of his execution.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
There was no delay. Stephen died, and the next day violent persecution against the church broke out, and Saul “was ravaging the church”. He had no moment of doubt in which he sought council. Ellen White’s comments soft-pedal Saul’s rage and involvement and subtly blames the Pharisees for his decision. In fact, in Adventism, there is no understanding that God’s people are used by Him not because they have soft hearts or a proclivity to be good, but they do what they do IN SPITE of their depraved nature because God calls and appoints them. Saul did not have a soft heart to Christians until Jesus blinded him on the Damascus Road.
Convicted, Paul waited in Damascus, blind, for three days. Meanwhile, God spoke to a Jewish believer named Ananias to restore his sight and to tell him about his commission. Adventism never stresses what Ananias actually said to Saul. Here is the passage from Acts 9:15, 16.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Ananias went to Paul and said not only that he was God’s chosen instrument to bring the gospel to the gentiles as well as to the Jews, but Jesus said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Ananias was tasked with the job of telling Saul that his life would be a life of suffering for Jesus’ name’s sake. After having participated in the stoning of Stephen and in the persecution of the church, Saul had no illusions about how severe his suffering would likely be. Interestingly, God’s grace to Saul was being struck blind so he could see the truth about Jesus. It further concluded with a believing man restoring his sight and bring the prophetic reality to him that he would suffer…and that his life would be spent serving the Jesus who had intercepted him.
Paul’s real significance
The week’s lessons end with a bland mention of Pauls’ going away for three years, then returning to Jerusalem and being introduced to the apostles by Barnabas. The lesson ends with questions designed to have the reader make application from the stories of Paul’s conversion to their own lives.
In fact, Paul’s assignment was unique and eternally significant. He explains it in Ephesians 3”7–13
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
In this amazing passage Paul tells us that he was uniquely chosen to do two things: the first was “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Second, and related to the first, he was assigned the responsibility of explaining HOW the new covenant actually works in the church! In His words, “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
The church, as opposed to Israel, was a “mystery”, a secret suggested by not fully revealed in the Old Testament. To be sure, God made the new covenant with Israel and promised that they, too, would be part of it. Yet the church was not revealed until Jesus completed His mission and fulfilled all the terms of the law.
Only after He ascended to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit was the church revealed. Paul’s epistles explain in detail how the law is obsolete in Christ. He explains how now we live by faith, not by law. He explains how gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus are grafted into Christ and are part of the His body.
It was Paul to whom God gave the job of explaining how the new covenant works, and He was tasked with the job of traveling through gentile territory to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus and to plant churches throughout Asia and Europe.
Paul not only says he received this commission, but he calls it a “grace” that God gave him. The work of Paul took him on three missionary journeys and also to Rome involved unbelievable hardships which he enumerates in 2 Corinthians 4 and 6. Yet Paul calls this life of difficulty God’s “grace”. It was God’s gift and goodness to him to preach and explain the working of the new covenant!
Many of us never understood the grace to us as gentiles that God gave when He appointed Paul to preach to us. Paul is “our” apostle! We, the gentiles who comprise the bulk of the church, have been specifically taught by God’s man, Paul.
When Adventists denigrate Paul and dismiss his teaching of penal substitutionary atonement, when they resent his teaching about church structure and the end of the law for righteousness, when they claim that he’s too hard to understand and call on Peter to support their refusal to take Paul seriously—when Adventists do these things, they blaspheme God’s word.
God spoke through Paul the words He intended all men everywhere to understand. He showed us through Paul how true it is that the law is fulfilled and obsolete. He showed us that the church was a mystery not foreseen until after Jesus ascended. He taught us also about Christ’s return and assured us that God will still fulfill His promises to Israel (Rom. 9–11).
Paul is not the enemy of Christianity or of the law. Instead, he is God’s gift to the world, writing words of eternal Scripture to explain the supremacy of the Lord Jesus and the end of the law!
Paul is one of God’s greatest gifts to the church.