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I ask this question based on the below points and below verses.

  1. Acts 9:1 says that Saul saw a bright light from heaven and Saul became blind(at least temporarily)
  2. Others did not see anything by just heard the sounds and their sight was not impacted
  3. When Barnabas takes Saul to the Disciples in Jerusalem Barnabas tells them that Saul saw Jesus.
  4. I believe there are verses in Paul's letters where he talks about his experience with Jesus
  5. This event is mysterious as if there was a bright light every one should see it and cannot be localized to one person in a group. On the other hand, sound can be a whisper in one person's ears that others around don't hear.

Acts 9:3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Acts 9:7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.

Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

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Did Saul see Jesus or a bright light?

Answer: A bright light.

This is an interesting question, because the explanation appears not only in Acts 9, but also Acts 22 in which we read:

Acts 22:6-11: “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.

What we should notice is that no, Paul did not see Jesus at that moment. However, circumstantial evidence compels us to recognize that Paul knew exactly Who was speaking to him:

Acts 9:4-5: "[Paul] 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 Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.'”

Later, Paul reiterates this event, and all the pieces then fall together:

Acts 22:17: “It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw [Christ] saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’"

Suppose you shine a bright flashlight at me at night and tell me your name. I may or may not have gotten a glimpse of you, but later I speak directly to you about it. It should not be difficult for me to subsequently relate my encounter with you as "seeing you" at night since that was later confirmed before my eyes.

This should explain how Paul is relating that he saw Jesus.

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  • @xeno. Thank you I am still reading Acts 9 so your linkage to Acts 22 is a good thing for me. I see that in Acts 22:9, it says the people around him saw the light while in Acts 9:7 it says the people around him did not see anyone(the light maybe?). I am not interested in these small issues. My search is to understand a. How did he learn about Jesus as he was not a disciple. b. Why are his teachings different from the gospels, James & Peter. – Yeddu May 11 at 17:58
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    @Yeddu The verse in Acts 9:7: "The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one" seems to indicate that no one actually saw Christ during this encounter. It's also possible that the men around Paul did not see any light at all. It seems to me this was a spiritual encounter with Paul alone. Paul's understanding came directly from Christ, just as it did to the others (2 Pet. 1:16). Paul writes with his own personality, but not (necessarily) his own words (those are the H/S). I hope this helps. – Xeno May 11 at 18:09
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    I am wondering if this is the right question to ask? Clearly Paul didnt see Jesus...has anyone here ever done any welding with Arc, MIG, or TIG? The flash from a welder is instantaneous. Paul wouldnt have seen anything but that flash. Paul absolutely knows it's Jesus because in the context of this momentus event he is suddenly immersed comes a voice that very distinctly tells him "I am Jesus". – Adam May 11 at 21:48
  • I am of the belief that it was a vision and not like what the disciples experienced (3 years before the cross & 40 days after the resurrection). While the disciples & Jesus were Torah observers (at least in the gospels), Paul took a completely opposite stand that Jesus's death and resurrection have done away with the Law. So my question is where and when did from who did Paul get this teaching? – Yeddu May 12 at 5:09
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There are several indications that while Paul's companions could not see anything but the dazzling light, Paul saw Jesus Himself:

  • Acts 9:7 - the companions saw nothing but dazzling light
  • This same verse suggests that while the companions did not see anyone, it also is worded in a way that suggests that Paul did see someone.
  • Lastly we have this positive section, written by Paul himself in 1 Cor 15:

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one of untimely birth.

Therefore, the evidence appears to support Saul actually receiving a personal visit from Jesus.

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  • @Doddard I carefully reread Acts 22:7-9: "[I] fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me." While I now recognize you are correct about Paul's companions seeing this light, I don't get the impression that Paul could make out anything from the midst of the blinding light -- either from Acts 9:7 or 22:7-11. Who knows? – Xeno May 12 at 0:19
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    @Xeno - I agree that it is not clear from the record in Acts but 1 Cor 15 helps a lot. – Dottard May 12 at 1:24
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We must conclude that Saul saw Jesus — or that if he didn't see Him, He saw the light that the same Jesus sent forth. Because we know that God has appeared within or by certain visible forms before.

Matthew 3:16 And Jesus being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him.

Cf. Gn. 1:2; 8:11. 1 Pet. 3:21.

Thus appeared the Spirit of God.

Matthew 3:17 And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Matthew 17:1-6 And after six days Jesus taketh unto him Peter and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: 2 And he was transfigured before them. And his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow. 3 And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4 And Peter answering, said to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him. 6 And the disciples hearing, fell upon their face, and were very much afraid.

Thus appeared the Father.

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