“But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.” (Acts 9:22, AV)
It often seems difficult for people to change their minds about things, even when the proof is undeniable. This is a problem of paradigms. According to the dictionary, a paradigm can be defined as a philosophical and theoretical framework of any kind. The problem is that people establish these things in their mind and they will filter out anything that does not agree with their preestablished framework. Paradigms have held back industrial and scientific development. It has stifled inventions. It has kept people from believing the truth.
Here, we see Saul of Tarsus who had an experience with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He was a Pharisee educated under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). As a Pharisee, he knew the Scriptures and understood the teaching of the Pharisees. He would have held to the law and observed the teachings of the elders. He would have been seen by those in Judaism as an expert in the Scriptures.
The problem with Saul was that before his conversion to faith in Christ, his understanding of the Scriptures was flawed. He understood that man was justified keeping the law and the traditions he was taught. This was his paradigm. There was no way that he could even fathom a different system. Thus, he could not grasp the truth of the gospel intellectually. The only way he could grasp the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, was through divine illumination.
No one comes to an understanding of the truth of the gospel that results in true faith based upon knowledge alone. Understanding and belief are a divine work. Now, as a Pharisee, Saul truly knew the Hebrew Scriptures. He would have been considered an expert. Yet, without the encounter with the risen Lord he would have remained in his lost condition.
However, Saul had a skillset in the Scriptures that would become vary useful in his calling. The text states that he went into the Jewish synagogues in Damascus proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. He confounded the Jews in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah. How did he do this? He did it using his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, of which he was an expert. However, now he taught them with a paradigm shift in his understanding. Formerly he had one mindset regarding the Scriptures that agreed with the Pharisaic teachings. After his conversion, his understanding changed. After conversion, he understood from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah and justification came by grace through faith in Jesus alone.
We learn two very important things from this. First, Paul’s ability to confound the Jews was in part a result of his understanding of Scripture. This lets us know that we must be serious students of the word of God. By increasing in our understanding of Scripture, we will be better able to communicate its truth to those who do not understand, even those who might be argumentative.
Yet, a second and vital truth is this. While our understanding is vital to effective communication, only the divine illumination of this truth to the heart and mind of the unbeliever will result in breaking through another’s paradigm so they will believe. Thus, we must study the Scriptures so that we may be better evangelists, but only God can touch the heart of a person, causing them to believe.