To those who have asked or wondered, yes, I realize that there was still more of the life of Peter to cover. I ended up teaching those sections without notes, and so I’m behind on that. It will get done at some point. 🙂
Saul the Persecutor
Saul first appears on the biblical stage, by name, as an enemy of the cross. It is possible that, living in Jerusalem, Saul was among the groups of Pharisees who saw, questioned, and aggravated Jesus during His earthly ministry.1 But the first time we see his name is in connection with the death of Stephen. It is possible that, being from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, that Saul is one of the men who was arguing with Stephen in Acts 6.
Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and them of Cilicia, and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke. Then they suborned men, who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the Law. Because we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us.2
After Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, the Jews were outraged.
When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But [Stephen], being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, “Behold! I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him together, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. … And Saul was pleased with his death.3
After hearing the sermon, Saul accompanied the mob (and was perhaps involved in it) that threw Stephen out of the city. According to Deuteronomy 17:7, the witnesses against someone had to be the first ones to stone him. So it was these witnesses who removed their outer garments and left them in the care and supervision of Saul. This event seemed to awaken a bloodlust in Saul, an indignation against anyone who would dare promote the name of Jesus, for we see soon afterwards:
As for Saul, he was devastating the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women away, and committed them to prison.4
Years later, Saul spoke about his actions against the church:
I truly thought within myself that I ought to do many things antagonistic to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. I did these things in Jerusalem, and I shut up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priests. And when they were murdered, I voted against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme. And being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even into foreign cities, in which I also went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests.5
He also said that, “beyond measure, I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.”6
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Since Saul was a “young man” when Stephen was killed, he would have been even younger (and thus not in any sense a leader) when Jesus was on the earth, some 3-7 years earlier. Therefore, if Saul was among the groups of Pharisees, it would be no surprise that he isn’t mentioned at all. Additionally, only two Pharisees are mentioned by name in the gospel accounts: Simon (Luke 7) and Nicodemus (John 3); and both of them are mentioned because they were involved in a one-on-one discussion with Jesus. All that to say, the fact that Saul is not named in the gospel accounts does not prove he wasn’t there.
2 Acts 6:9-14.
3 Acts 7:54-58; 8:1. The word “consenting” (KJV) literally means “was pleased with.” It gave Saul pleasure to see Stephen get stoned.
4 Acts 8:3. See Modern Literal Version.
5 Acts 26:9-12.
6 Galatians 1:13, KJV.