The account of Saul’s conversion comprises the majority of Acts 9 (31 of the 43 verses in the chapter), and many have exposited this account carefully. Following that conversion account, however, Luke records two striking instances of many people being saved about which fewer people probably have heard a careful exposition.
These two instances of great evangelistic success are noteworthy because of what we know about what took place on these occasions. Even more remarkable is what we are not told about them.
Lydda and Sharon
In the first, Peter dramatically healed a man in Lydda who had been paralyzed for eight years by proclaiming to him that Jesus Christ was making him whole (9:32-34). As a result, everyone who was living in Lydda and Sharon saw him and “turned to the Lord” (9:35).
Luke does not say anything about any testimony of the gospel in this account, and yet, we read of two entire cities being converted. Are we therefore supposed to understand that these masses of people were saved without hearing any gospel testimony? If so, how were they saved?
Luke then relates an even more remarkable account of Petrine ministry. Joppa was a city near Lydda (9:38a). Because a beloved widow among the believers in Joppa had passed away, and the disciples had heard that Peter was nearby in Lydda (9:36-37a-b), they decided to send for him (9:38c).
Coming with the two men who had been sent to appeal to him to come (9:38c-39), Peter unhesitatingly acted prayerfully to raise her from the dead (9:40) and present her alive to the believers who were there (9:40-41). This marvelous manifestation of God’s power became known throughout the entire city (9:42a), and “many believed in the Lord” (9:42b).
As with the preceding account, Luke provides no information about any gospel testimony being given in Joppa at this time. How then were these many people saved?
These two accounts record numerous people who turned to the Lord and believed in Him after receiving testimony either visually or verbally about His miraculous working through Peter. Because elsewhere Scripture makes clear that people cannot believe in Him of whom they have not heard (Rom. 10:14), we must conclude that Luke intends for us to understand that there was gospel testimony of some sort to these who were saved, even though he does not record it.
Two other passages support this interpretation. First, Luke records that all the multitude of believers who were present at the proceedings of the Jerusalem council kept silent and listened intently to Barnabas and Paul as they declared “what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them” (Acts 15:12).
In the flow of thought in the passage, this testimony from Paul and Barnabas follows the account of how the Gentiles in Caesarea had heard the word of the gospel from Peter and believed it to be saved (15:7-11). Because what was at stake at the Council was how were the Gentiles to be saved (15:1), it cannot be that Luke intends us to understand that these two successive testimonies bore evidence to the Council of two differing ways in which Gentiles had been saved: some were saved by hearing the gospel and believing it (15:7-11), but others were saved only by hearing and seeing the miracles and wonders that God was doing among them (15:12).
This interpretation is confirmed by a second passage that also confirms the interpretation provided above of the two accounts in Acts 9:
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Heb. 2:3-4).
God’s miraculous working among the apostolic company (including therefore what happened in Lydda and Joppa) thus was His acting to witness along with as well as to those who had provided verbal testimony (of the very great salvation that had been first spoken of by the Lord) both to the writer of Hebrews and to others.
Based on this handling of the accounts in Acts 9 and related passages, whenever we read in the NT of people being saved, we are to understand that they received testimony to the gospel prior to their being saved, even if the account does not say anything directly about such testimony being given to them.