In the 9th chapter of the Book of Acts, we learn of the near-miraculous conversion of the ‘threat and murder breathing’ Pharisee known as Saul. (Acts 9:1-9) Saul was a self-described zealous persecutor of the followers of Jesus who was transformed into the Apostle Paul and became a zealous preacher of the good news. (Philippians 3:2-11) Saul’s conversion was a transformation from persecutor to preacher. Many of us have seen and heard about countless numbers of such conversions. However, there is an alternate phenomenon – when a person is converted ‘from Paul to Saul,’ from preacher to persecutor. This latter phenomenon is the subject of this article.
The ‘Fruit’ of the Pharisees
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not only teachers to the nation of Israel, they were also active proselytizers. Many gentiles were impressed by the order and stability among the Israelites. The gentiles saw in the Jews a comparatively moral nation with strong family ties. They were impressed with their religious grandeur and their stories of Godly favor. But when the scribes and Pharisees successfully converted a gentile, the new convert was subjected, not to the commands of God, but to the hundreds of laws and regulations of the scribes
Jesus called them hypocrites for their pretense of serving God when in actuality they were teaching the commands of men:
“He said to them: ‘Isaiah aptly prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honor me with [their] lips, but their hearts are far removed from me. It is in vain that they keep worshiping me, because they teach as doctrines commands of men.” Letting go the commandment of God, you hold fast the tradition of men.”
– Mark 7:6-8
Jesus went on to emphasize that when one teaches commands of men as if they were doctrines of God, they are invalidating the commands of God:
“Further, he went on to say to them: “Adroitly you set aside the commandment of God in order to retain your tradition. For example, Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Let him that reviles father or mother end up in death.’ But you men say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother: “Whatever I have by which you may get benefit from me is corban, (that is, a gift dedicated to God,)”’— You men no longer let him do a single thing for his father or his mother, and thus you make the word of God invalid by your tradition which you handed down. And many things similar to this you do.”
– Mark 7:9-13
For these and other errors, Jesus proclaimed ‘woes’ upon the scribes and Pharisees. In one such denunciation, he said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and dry land to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one you make him a subject for Gehenna twice as much so as yourselves.”
– Matthew 23:15
Other versions of the Bible render the verse:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”
– King James Version
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”
– Revised Standard Version
“How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourselves are!”
– Good News Translation
“How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You travel across land and sea to find one person who will change to your ways. When you find that person, you make him more fit for hell than you are.”
– New Century Version
Yes, the scribes and Pharisees exerted great and impressive effort in their proselytizing work. They were not content to convert the gentiles in the nearby nations, they went out across land and sea as trailblazers, pioneers and missionaries of their distorted form of religion. Yet, as Jesus explained, it would have been better for those converts if the Pharisees had never arrived. It would have been better for the converts if they had remained in their own beliefs and practices in ignorance of the true God. At least they would have remained open to the teachings of Jesus, instead of becoming actual opposers and resisters of the son of God.
But Jesus goes further. Speaking to the Pharisee’s belief in hell, Jesus said that the converts would be twice as deserving of going to hell. We understand this to mean that not only would the minds of the converts be blinded to truth, they could lose faith altogether. They would go from unbelievers, to believers in the lies of men, to outright atheists!
The ‘Fruits’ of Authoritative Religion Today
We see a parallel today among some, but not all, Christian religious organizations. Instead of promoting the plain and open teachings of Jesus, they sound down in their churches and congregations their interpretations of prophecy and the teachings of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Instead of being modern-day light bearers and ambassadors of the Christ, they fancy themselves as modern-day Jeremiahs, Jehus, and Zechariahs. Instead of spreading the refreshing good news of the kingdom, they proclaim their own slavish and demeaning doctrines. Instead of promoting peace, tolerance and forgiveness, they condemn, judge and seek to silence those of differing views.
Organizations led by such pretense shepherds who only seek glory and survival for themselves are like the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day who produced blasphemers of the son of God. It is no wonder that those who leave such organizations turn on them with the same vitriol and fervor, just as the organizations trained them to do. No wonder their ‘Pauls’ are turning into ‘Sauls!’
We should not be surprised at this result. It is often said that one is the product of their own environment. Jesus said:
“Be on the watch for the false prophets that come to you in sheep’s covering, but inside they are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will recognize them. Never do people gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? Likewise every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit; a good tree cannot bear worthless fruit, neither can a rotten tree produce fine fruit. Every tree not producing fine fruit gets cut down and thrown into the fire. Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those [men].”
– Matthew 7:15-20
Initially, the tree of a false prophet looks fine, but in time the fruit it produces reveal what type of tree it really is. Unless the fruit are sons of the kingdom, the tree will eventually be cut down! This point should not be taken lightly:
“Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.”
– Galatians 6:7-8
In truth, when a Christian organization fails to be ambassadors ‘substituting for Christ,’ teaching the things Jesus taught, and conducting themselves in the way Jesus conducted himself, it becomes a breeding ground for apostasy, agnosticism, and atheism. In one of Jesus’ parables, he illustrated how this happens:
“When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through parched places in search of a resting-place, and finds none. Then it says, ‘I will go back to my house out of which I moved’; and on arriving it finds it unoccupied but swept clean and adorned. Then it goes its way and takes along with it seven different spirits more wicked than itself, and, after getting inside, they dwell there; and the final circumstances of that man become worse than the first. That is how it will be also with this wicked generation.”
– Matthew 12:43-45
Organizations that do not promote the plain and open teachings of Jesus, but instead teach mundane commands of men, can do much good in cleaning up a person’s moral life and dissolving some superstition and error. But unless they replace the error with the true good news of the kingdom of sonship with God and the real life – the heavenly hope (1 Timothy 6:19) – their convert will be defenseless against the machinations of the devil. Whatever scaffolding may have been provided by their old beliefs is gone. And without a true and lasting hope, and a tangible relationship with the Father, in time such a person can become worse off than before. Many of us have seen this sad transformation. Some of us have even ventured down that path. We know of what we speak. We, too, were once on the path to becoming Sauls.
The Path to Saul
One of us was born and raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, the other adopted the religion. As we grew in our understanding of spiritual matters, we were constantly faced with the errors of the Watchtower Society’s teachings. We listened with astonishment at the increasing flips and flops in doctrines such as the 1914 arrival of Christ, the identification of the sheep and the goat, the generation that would not die off, etc.
We are keenly aware of the upheaval that occurred in the organization when the end did not come in 1975 as the Society’s literature strongly suggested. We personally know of people who sold their homes and their worldly possession in anticipation of that end. We know people today who elected not to have children or not go to college because they believed the end was ‘just around the corner.’ They sacrificed much and continue to suffer for those decisions made in obedience to the leading and direction of the Governing Body while the system continues on.
We saw the self-aggrandizement and exalting of the organization to the near extinction of the power and authority of Jehovah and Christ Jesus. And we saw the Watchtower headquarters, oddly named “Bethel,” apparently living up to its namesake who became ‘a renowned center of false worship’ and ‘an idolatrous sanctuary’ as stated in Insight on the Scriptures (published by the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc.), Volume 1, pages 296, 297.
As we gradually opened our eyes to what were the obvious, plain and open teaching of Jesus, we became near indignant that men could so brazenly distort the teachings of the Master and usurp the position of the Spirit of Truth. Even now, we see the increasing stranglehold the Governing Body has on the free expressions of our brothers and sisters. They encourage interested persons to question their own religion, but punish Witnesses who question Watchtower doctrine or suggest possible alternative views. Instead Witnesses are required to parrot the information in the Watchtower literature.
A staple of Watchtower and Awake literature is the unrelenting charge that any religion other than Jehovah’s Witnesses is a part of ‘the world empire of false religion, Babylon the Great.’ The literature from their leadership commonly contains messages of doom to any who do not assent to Watchtower doctrine. This teaching creates in the mind of Witnesses an ‘us vs. them’ chosen people mentality. It encourages separatism and requires Witnesses to become judges of others – deeming them worthy of death. Of course, not all Witnesses comply with this mandate, but this is a fundamental teaching by their leadership. It is therefore rather easy to predict that in time many of its discontented members would use the same tactics against the Watchtower organization. These are the fruits the Governing Body is cultivating; hence these are the fruits they will bear. (Galatians 6:7-8) We were on this path.
At first, we thought Jehovah’ would send fiery prophets to the Governing Body with strong messages of condemnation and destruction for the entire organization. We even thought that perhaps that was a role we were to play. But we could not reconcile such ideas with the personality and spirit of Jesus. Sure, Jesus had strong words for the religious leaders of his day for their disloyalty to the very truths they professed to teach, but only when they threw themselves directly in the way of his teaching about the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus did not seek out controversy or attack the olden ways of the Jewish system. He skillfully put in the leaven of the new truth of the kingdom and let the Spirit of Truth do his own work. Controversy only came when the religious leaders forced it upon him. But when attacked, Jesus did not hesitate to stand in vigorous defense of the truth and the revelation of the Father as he revealed Him.
So, instead of focusing on the errors of the organization, we turned our attention to the scriptures to discover the will of the Father for us. This is how we found what we call the authentic, actual, plain and open teachings of Jesus. (See Part 3 of the Truth Symposium – Receiving Truth.)
We learned that the Father speaks to mankind today by means of his son, Jesus Christ, not through the prophets of old.
“God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the systems of things.”
– Hebrews 1:1-2
So whatever message the Father would have for the Watchtower Society would come from the words of Jesus, not the prophets, and not from our own ideas. We learned that, since the arrival of Jesus, our manner of responding to error and persecution has changed:
“You heard that it was said, ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.”
– Matthew 5:43-45
“Keep on blessing those who persecute; be blessing and do not be cursing.”
– Romans 12:14
That does not mean that we cannot react at all to error and persecution. It only means that the method we use must take on a higher form. Paul counseled:
“Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.”
– Galatians 6:1
The Apostle Jude saw the potential for Sauls and other ungodly men arising within the congregation and he showed the way lovers of Christ should react:
“As for you, beloved ones, call to mind the sayings that have been previously spoken by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, how they used to say to you: ‘In the last time there will be ridiculers, proceeding according to their own desires for ungodly things.’ These are the ones that make separations, animalistic [men], not having spirituality. But you, beloved ones, by building up yourselves on your most holy faith, and praying with holy spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love, while you are waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ with everlasting life in view. Also, continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save [them] by snatching [them] out of the fire. But continue showing mercy to others, doing so with fear, while you hate even the inner garment that has been stained by the flesh.”
– Jude 17-23
Yes, we know first hand the error of the path to Saul. We decided it is much better to try to snatch our brothers out of the fire than to be fiery missiles ourselves. No, we are not blind or naive or ignorant of the Watchtower Society’s many and gross errors. But our response to it has matured in accordance with our faith. When we found the plain and open teachings, we caught ourselves and returned our focus and attention to the path leading to Paul.
The Path to Paul
The bitter transformation from Paul to Saul is due to overly entrusting one's personal salvation and relationship with the Father into the hands of men. When men abuse that trust, it makes it very hard to trust again. It is like a child putting their trust in a family friend only to have that trust betrayed by a sexual assault.
The abuse of religious trust is in actuality an abuse of the spirit. And it grieves the Spirit of the Father. Thus, what is needed is not revenge against their abusers, but a healing of the spirit. For unless the spirit is healed, those who are so abused will never gain closure. They will continue on the path to Saul and ‘persecute’ their abusers until all of their faith in God is gone and their own inner light is extinguished. Those who find themselves going down the path to Saul should take a close look at the transformation of Saul into Paul. Saul was a zealous man who believed in a god who did not really exist, though he fervently believed he did. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not want Saul to persecute the followers of Jesus. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob wanted Saul to be a peaceful follower of Jesus himself. And when Saul was confronted with this truth, he abandoned all that he knew, all that he held sacred, humbled himself and submitted himself to the spirit and the Christ.
Like Saul, one need only to look in the mirror and confront the flaws in their own attitude and worship. If they find themselves mimicking the ancient prophets rather than the son of God Christ Jesus, they must adjust their attitude. They must break the cycle of calling down judgment upon those who disagree with them, including their former abusers.
“Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you.”
– Matthew 7:1-2
They must take full responsibility for their spiritual lives and then look to the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and find the truth, beauty and goodness of the Father of All, not the wrathful god described by the Hebrews or the soulless god of science. And they must accept the leadings of the spirit, especially the Spirit of Truth, and exercise faith in its guidance. Only then can their spirits be healed and can they be free.
There are a large number of ‘Paul to Saul converts’ who arose from among Jehovah’s Witnesses. And we notice that many other religious organizations have produced their own Sauls. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not uniquely saddled with this problem. These men and women deeply love God, but they have formed a distorted view of Him and His will. They have ‘a form of godly devotion but are proving false to its power.’ (2 Timothy 3:5)
By going back and promoting the words of the prophets, they are invalidating the words of Jesus. By choosing the elementary view of a wrathful and jealous God, they are rejecting Jesus’ revelation of a loving and merciful Father. By choosing to judge and condemn, they are failing to allow the power of the Father’s infinite love to do its work.
Hence, we urge all Sauls and potential Sauls – the abused victims of authoritative and dictatorial religions – to seek the Christ, not the prophets. Seek the companionship of a loving and merciful Father, not a wrathful jealous idea of God. And seek the leading of the Spirit of Truth, not the poor direction of a broken heart and a wounded spirit. And finally, gird yourself with the spiritual armor:
“Stand firm, therefore, with your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and with your feet shod with the equipment of the good news of peace. Above all things, take up the large shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the wicked one’s burning missiles. Also, accept the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, that is, God’s word, while with every form of prayer and supplication you carry on prayer on every occasion in spirit. And to that end keep awake with all constancy and with supplication in behalf of all the holy ones.”
– Ephesians 6:14-18
In the article, The Plain and Open Teachings of Jesus, we discuss further steps toward a spiritual healing to reverse the transformations from Paul to Saul and to encourage the development of true sons of the kingdom and citizens of the heavens. We implore all of our readers and visitors to turn away from judgment and condemnation, and join us in uplifting the spiritual conversation in a way that the Christ, our Master and Older Brother, can be proud of. (Luke 18:8)