Section 2: At Damascus, No Such Ananias Probably
This same Ananias—of whom so much has been seen in the last chapter—Paul's own imagination excepted, had he anywhere any existence? The probability seems to be on the negative side: and, in the next section, as to whether Paul's companions on the road are not in a similar predicament, the reader will have to judge. But let us begin with Ananias.
At Damascus, at any rate—with such power in his hands, for securing obsequiousness at the hands of those to whom he was addressing himself—with such power in his hands, Paul could not have had much need of anything in the shape of a vision:—he could not have had any need of any such person as the seer of the correspondent vision—Ananias.
For the purpose of aiding the operation of those considerations of worldly prudence, which these powers of his enabled him to present, to those whom it concerned,—there might be some perhaps, who, for yielding to those considerations, and thus putting themselves under the command of this formidable potentate, might look for an authority from the Lord Jesus. But, forasmuch as, in this very case, even at this time of day, visions, two in name, but, in respect of probative force, reducible to one—are so generally received as conclusive evidence,—no wonder if, at that time of day, by persons so circumstanced, that one vision should be received in that same character. At Damascus, therefore, on his first arrival, there could not be any occasion for any such corroborating story as the story of the vision of Ananias. At Damascus—unless he had already obtained, and instructed as his confederate, a man of that name—no such story could, with any prospect of success, have been circulated: for the purpose of learning the particulars of an occurrence of such high importance, the residence of this Ananias would have been inquired after: and, by supposition, no satisfactory answer being capable of being given to any such inquiries,—no such story could be ventured to be told.
Such was the case, at that place and at that time. As to any such evidence, as that afforded by the principal vision, viz. Paul's own,—perhaps no such evidence was found necessary: but, if it was found necessary, nothing could be easier than the furnishing it. As to the secondary vision, viz. that ascribed afterwards to a man of the name of Ananias,—at that time scarcely could there have been any need of it—any demand for it; and, had there been any such demand, scarcely, unless previously provided, could any such correspondent supply have been afforded.
In other places and posterior times alone, could this supplemental vision, therefore, have been put into circulation: accordingly, not till a great many years after, was mention made of it by the author of the Acts:—mention made by him, either in his own person, or as having been related, or alluded to, by Paul himself. Even the author of the Acts,—though in this same chapter he has been relating the story of Ananias's vision,—yet, when he comes to speak, of the way, in which, according to him, Paul, by means of his protector and benefactor Barnabas, obtained an introduction to the Apostles, viz. all the Apostles, in which, however, he is so pointedly contradicted by Paul himself,—yet speaks not of Barnabas, as including, in the recommendatory account he gave them, of Paul—his vision, and his merits—any mention of this supplemental vision:—any mention of any Ananias.(See Acts 9:27.)
At Damascus, howsoever it might be in regard to the Christians—neither to Jews, nor to Gentiles, could the production, of any such letters as those in question, have availed him anything. Such as had embraced Christianity excepted, neither over Gentiles nor over Jews did those letters give him any power: and, as to Jews, the character in which—after any declaration made of his conversion—he would have presented himself, would have been no better than that of an apostate, and betrayer of a highly important public trust. To men of both these descriptions, a plea of some sort or other, such as, if believed, would be capable of accounting for so extraordinary a step, as that he should change, from the condition of a most cruel and inveterate persecutor of the new religion, to that of a most zealous supporter and leader,—could not, therefore, but be altogether necessary. No sooner was he arrived at Damascus, than, if the author of the Acts is to be believed, he began pleading, with all his energy, the cause of that religion, which, almost to that moment, he had with so much cruelty opposed. As to the story of his vision,—what is certain is—that, sooner or later, for the purpose of rendering to men of all descriptions a reason for a change so preeminently extraordinary, he employed this story. But, forasmuch as of no other account of it, as given by him, is any trace to be found;—nor can any reason be found, why that which was certainly employed afterwards might not as well be employed at and from the first;—hence comes the probability, that from the first it accordingly was employed.