Acts 9:3-5 is Not a Prooftext for the Deity of Christ

Jason Dulle

I’ve often heard Christians appeal to Paul’s Damascus road experience in support of the deity of Christ. We read: “As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 So he said, 'Who are you, Lord?' He replied, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:3-5)

It’s said that as a monotheistic Jew, Paul’s acknowledgement of Jesus as “Lord” is an explicit attribution of deity. I find this interpretation unlikely. First, the Greek word kurios simply means "master," and is used of both human persons as well as God. The term applies to anyone who is in a position of authority over someone else. For example, we read that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” If anyone knew Abraham was not a god, it was Sarah! We have no reason to believe Paul used the term because He thought He was speaking to the one true God. He recognized that any voice speaking to him from heaven must be coming from someone who had authority over him, and thus addressed the as-of-yet unknown person with a term that acknowledged his authority.

In fact, Paul’s words, and the chronology of the event make it abundantly clear that He did not know He was speaking to the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. For one, he had to ask who it was that was speaking to him. How could he affirm as God one whose identity he did not know? Secondly, Paul’s acknowledgement of the lordship of the speaker was made prior to the speaker identifying Himself as Jesus. How could Paul have been affirming the deity of Christ when He did not even know it was Christ when he called Him lord?

Finally, Luke recounts a nearly identical situation in Acts 10 regarding Cornelius’ conversation with the angel.  We read, “He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. 4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:3-4).  Was Cornelius confessing the angel to be YHWH because Cornelius addressed him as “lord?”  Clearly not.

There are plenty of passages affirming the deity of Christ, but this is not one of them.

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