“For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13-14).
It’s been said that news travels fast but bad new travels even faster- and the actions taken by Paul the Apostle prior to his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road were definitely bad news for anyone who was a Christian during that time.
You see, the Biblical book of Acts identifies Paul (then known as Saul) as someone who was so intensely opposed to Christianity that he searched from house to house in an effort to identify Christians and imprison them for their belief that Jesus was the Messiah (see Acts 8:1-3). If that wasn’t enough, the Scriptures tell us that Paul was planning to expand his persecution of Christians before Jesus apprehended him (Acts 9:1-2).
So Paul was not someone who simply objected to Christianity. Instead, Acts 8:3 tells us that “…Saul laid waste the church” (ASV). One source reveals the extent of Paul’s vendetta against the church by observing, “The word wasted is very strong. It referred not merely to an attempt to devastate or ravage, but to ruin and destroy. It applied not only to cities and lands, but also to people…” (1)
Although these events were known to the Christians of Galatia, we’re not certain of how they came to be informed about these aspects of Paul’s pre-conversion life. For instance, Paul’s use of the phrase, “…you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism” rather than, “I told you about my former conduct in Judaism” seems to indicate that the Galatians received that information from others. Perhaps the false teachers who followed Paul into Galatia related these accounts in an attempt to damage his reputation.
While the subject of Paul’s pre-conversion conduct was probably not something he enjoyed talking about, he used those events to make an important point: his animosity towards Christianity before he met Christ kept him from receiving the gospel from other Christians. Thus we can learn an important lesson from this portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches. While the subject of our lives before Christ may be a source of shame, embarrassment, pain, or disgust (Romans 6:20-21), God can redeem those experiences and bring something positive from them as we minister to others.
(1) Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Galatians 1:13) Copyright © 1942-55 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.