For many years, I have tried to teach people from Scripture the key truth that in interpreting evangelistic accounts in Scripture, “lack of mention is not proof of absence!” (I am quoting myself here—this is my own statement that I originated).
By carefully considering the biblical records of Paul’s initial discipleship experience, his initial evangelistic activity, and his later evangelistic testimony about his initial evangelistic activity, we plainly understand the importance of this truth.
Paul’s Initial Discipleship Experience
Right after Paul had been saved, he was discipled by Ananias to understand what had happened to him and what he had been commissioned to do for Christ:
Acts 22:12 And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, 13 Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. 14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. 15 For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard.
Ananias revealed to Paul that he was commissioned to be Christ’s witness to all men to testify to them that he had seen and heard the risen Christ. For Paul, faithfulness in evangelism thus meant witnessing to everybody that he had seen and heard the risen Christ.
Given any opportunity, Paul would have always told people about Christ’s resurrection appearance to him.
Paul’s Initial Evangelistic Activity
After having further contact with disciples in Damascus, Paul engaged in Damascus in his initial evangelistic activity:
Acts 9:19 And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. 20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
According to some, the lack of mention in this account of Paul’s testifying to his seeing and hearing the risen Christ in His resurrection appearance to Paul proves that Paul did not testify to his being an eyewitness of the risen Christ when he preached Christ in these synagogues. If that approach were correct, we would have to believe that Paul began his evangelistic ministry by disobeying and disregarding what he had been plainly and very recently informed he was commissioned to do as Christ’s witness “unto all men” (see the treatment of Acts 22:14-15 above).
This is a seriously faulty claim that no one should accept as true. The very brief record of his initial evangelistic activity provides zero biblical basis to hold that Paul did not witness for Christ in these synagogues in obedience to what he had just been instructed was his commission to do as Christ’s witness “unto all men.”
Rather, we have full biblical warrant from Acts 22:14-15 to hold that Paul certainly testified in his preaching in these synagogues that he himself had seen and heard the risen Christ. We also have full biblical warrant for holding this position by what Scripture reveals to us in a later account of Pauline evangelism.
Paul’s Later Evangelistic Testimony to His Initial Evangelistic Activity
Many years after he had been saved, Paul defended himself before king Agrippa by testifying to him about his evangelistic activities throughout his life as a Christian because of the experience that he had in seeing and hearing the risen Christ:
Acts 26:15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; 17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, 18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. 19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
In this evangelistic testimony about his lifetime of his evangelistic activities, Paul testified that he showed first to those at Damascus that they had to repent, turn to God, and do works fitting for repentance (Acts 26:20). Acts 9:20, however, does not say anything about Paul’s telling the people in those synagogues to repent, turn to God, and do works fitting for repentance.
When, therefore, we compare this direct testimony from Paul himself about his initial evangelistic activity in Damascus with the earlier record of that initial Pauline evangelistic activity, we learn that Paul preached in those synagogues much more than what is briefly recorded in Acts 9:20 (that Christ was the Son of God). Comparing Acts 26:19-20 with Acts 9:19-20 proves that we are not to take the lack of mention of testimony to a particular truth in the biblical record of an evangelistic encounter as proof of absence to any testimony to that truth in that encounter.
We must not hold that the lack of mention of testimony to a given truth in the biblical record of an apostolic evangelistic encounter proves that there was no testimony given to that truth in that encounter. “Lack of mention is not proof of absence!”
Note: In much of this post, I have adapted and used my own material that I have posted elsewhere in an online discussion concerning the teaching of Scripture about apostolic evangelism.
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