A Commentary by John Stott
Here the apostle describes his pre-conversion state ‘in Judaism’, that is, ‘when I was still a practising Jew’ (NEB). What he had been like in those days was well known. ‘You have heard of my former life’ he says, for he had told them. He mentions two aspects of his unregenerate days, his persecution of the church, which he now knew to be the ‘church of God’ (verse 13), and his enthusiasm for the traditions of his fathers (verse 14). In both, he says, he was fanatical.
Take his persecution of the church. Paul persecuted the church of God ‘beyond measure’ (AV). The phrase seems to indicate the violence, even the savagery, with which he set about this grim work. What he tells us here we can supplement from the book of Acts. He went from house to house in Jerusalem, seized any Christians he could find, men and women, and dragged them off to prison (Acts 8:3). When these Christians were put to death, he cast his vote against them (Acts 26:10). Not satisfied with *persecuting* the church, he was actually bent on *destroying* it (verse 13). He was determined to stamp it out.
He was equally fanatical in his enthusiasm for Jewish traditions. ‘I was outstripping many of my Jewish contemporaries in my boundless devotion to the traditions of my ancestors’, he writes (verse 14, NEB). He had been brought up according to ‘the strictest party’ of the Jewish religion (Acts 26:5), namely as a Pharisee, and this is how he had lived.
Such was the state of Saul of Tarsus before his conversion. He was a bigot and a fanatic, whole-hearted in his devotion to Judaism and in his persecution of Christ and the church.
Now a man in that mental and emotional state is in no mood to change his mind, or even to have it changed for him by men. No conditioned reflex or other psychological device could convert a man in that state. Only God could reach him – and God did!