Acts 9:1-6 – Saul Encounters Yeshua on the Damascus Road

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POSTED 04 NOVEMBER, 2017

“Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Yeshua whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Many Bible readers are surely familiar with the supernatural encounter of Saul, the enemy of the Believers, with the Living Yeshua on the road to Damascus, and the complete turnaround that he experienced. The great travesty of Saul’s activities, in persecuting the Believers, is not just seen in him condemning many of them to blasphemy—but also how Saul, as a Pharisaical zealot (Galatians 1:14), sought support from the Saddusaical high priest, for religious-political approval to condemn the Messiah followers (Acts 9:1). And if this were not enough, not being content in searching out for the Believers in the environs of Jerusalem and Judea, Saul expanded his vendetta to the Jewish community in Damascus (Acts 9:2).

We all know the narrative quite well, “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9:3, NIV). From Saul’s vantage point, he was surely experiencing powers beyond his terrestrial control. As Luke narrates, “And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him…” (Acts 9:4a, RSV). Here, the verb used to describe Saul’s action is piptō, “to fall, fall down” (LS),[1] and while it can be used in various instances of veneration,[2] here the reaction was probably one of fearing the unknown. The voice speaks out, “Sha’ul! Sha’ul! Why do you keep persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4b, CJB/CJSB).

The response as seen in most English versions is, “Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 9:5a, TLV), the source text having tis ei? Kurie. Not all versions render the title Kurios by the proper “Lord,” though, with some having the lowercase “lord” (NLT), and others either “Master” (The Message) or “sir” (CJB/CJSB, New American Bible). While these latter three renderings are not lexically incorrect—as the title Kurios can indeed mean either “Master” or “sir”—once Saul came to a fuller understanding of who was speaking to him (cf. Acts 9:20, 22), did he simply consider this Yeshua to have been just another one to be extended the courtesy of being called “sir”?

While there tends to be no discussion on this among Acts commentaries, the source text, of Yeshua’s self-identification to Saul in Acts 9:5b, bears something important: egō eimi Iēsous hon su diōkeis.[3] It would have been entirely normal for Luke to have simply written egō Iēsous as a part of Yeshua’s self-identification. In Stephen’s dialogue in Acts 7:32 preceding, where he quotes from Exodus 3:6, “I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHERS” (Acts 7:32), the source text only says egō ho Theos tōn paterōn sou, whereas the Septuagint of Exodus 3:6 has egō eimi ho Theos tou patros sou, “I am the God of your father.” Certainly, not every use of the formula egō eimi or “I am” in the Book of Acts is indicative of Divinity, or even a general supernatural nature.[4] But, recognizing how egō eimi is the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14), we do have to consider potential parallels between the appearance of HaShem or YHWH at the burning bush to Moses, and now this dramatic intervention of Yeshua the Messiah to Saul on the Damascus Road.

When what was clearly a supernatural entity exclaimed to Saul, “I AM Yeshua whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b, PME), did Luke provide a hint that something more was present than just Yeshua identifying Himself? Once again, the source text could have just said egō Iēsous, and all readers would deduce would be a statement of self-identification. But with egō eimi Iēsous instead employed—in what is obviously a dynamic, spiritual scene, with a supernatural entity intervening to stop Saul’s persecution of the Believers—questions are necessarily raised about possible connections between Saul’s Damascus Road encounter, and previous Biblical scenes such as the burning bush theophany.


NOTES

[1] LS, 641.

[2] One definition available is indeed, “fall down, throw oneself to the ground as a sign of devotion or humility, before high-ranking persons or divine beings, esp. when one approaches w. a petition” (BDAG, 815).

[3] This also appears in the paralleling records of Acts 22:8, egō eimi Iēsous ho Nazōraios, “I AM Yeshua of Nazareth” (PME), and Acts 26:15, egō eimi Iēsous hon su diōkeis, “I AM Yeshua whom You are persecuting” (PME).

[4] Places where egō eimi are employed in the Book of Acts, where created beings are unambiguously in view, include: Acts 10:21; 22:3; 26:29.


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