We find three accounts of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts—Acts 9:1–19a, 22:1–21, and 26:9–23. Why? And what are the primary differences among them?
In answering why, if nothing else, Luke wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit, so we can conclude that Paul’s conversion was important to God and that He wanted it to be remembered by His people. In keeping with the book of Acts, Acts 1:8 announced the spread of the witness to Christ and His resurrection to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. In taking the gospel beyond Samaria, Acts 9 records the history of Paul’s conversion through the pen of Luke. Acts 22 presents Paul’s conversion and commission from his own lips to the Jews, and Acts 26 does the same to the Gentiles in Caesarea. So, one might say Acts 9 introduces us to the primary apostle to the Gentiles, and Acts 22 and 26 gives us his witness to this conversion and commission before the Jews and Gentiles in keeping with the theme of the spread of the gospel in Acts.
In discovering the differences among the three accounts, we might first notice that each account details Paul’s encounter in Christ on the road to Damascus and his commission to be an apostle. Beyond that, what follows is a summary of the primary differences between these three accounts.
The difference in contexts was already noted. Acts 9 is a third-person account of Paul’s commission, Acts 22 and 26 first-hand accounts from Paul, and that to Jews and then Gentiles.
Acts 9:1–19a brings out the hesitation of Ananias to see Paul, something the reader himself might have had (Acts 9:9–16). But, knowing that he, too, spoke to the Lord and accepted Paul would have built the anticipation that others would as well (e.g., Barnabas and the apostles; cf. Acts 9:26–30).
Acts 22:1–21 contains a number of choice details by Paul to connect with his Jewish audience. He gives his Jewish background (Acts 22:1–5) and focuses on Ananias’s good repute, God’s revelation through him to Paul, and his miracle in curing Paul’s blindness (Acts 22:12–16), as if to give a Jewish witness to his commission. Tying Jesus to the Jewish God of the Old Testament, Ananias describes Paul as called by the Father (God) to know His will and see and hear the Righteous One (i.e., the Messiah). Paul also recalled a second commission by Jesus in the temple, as if to say that God through Jesus called him to the Gentiles from the most important place in the Jewish nation.
Acts 26:9–23 leaves out Ananias and Paul’s blindness altogether and summarizes Paul’s commission in terms of Jesus alone. In recalling this commission, this account gives the most detail for the gospel that he was to preach (Acts 26:18–23), a necessity in light of his Gentile audience.
We can only thank God for Paul and his role in taking the gospel to the world. May our lives as Christians be as his—radically transformed by Jesus from walking in darkness to spread the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.