TRANSFORMATION: Saul Into Paul, Bill Wilson Into Bill W.

TRANSFORMATION: Saul Into Paul, Bill Wilson Into Bill W. September 26, 2018

Although they lived over 2,000 years apart; there are uncanny similarities between the lives, spiritual paths, and impacts of the Biblical character, Saul, and AA co-founder Bill Wilson.

This week, we will look at the transformation of the man known as Saul into the man we now refer to as the Apostle Paul ~ the man who took Christianity “on the road” and into many parts of the world. Next week we will look at the transformation of the man known as Bill Wilson into the man we now refer to as Bill W. ~ the man who took recovery “on the road” and into many parts of the world.

Since persons “in” recovery are not necessarily versed in the history and language of persons “in” religion, I offer here a simple assessment of the story of Saul in the Bible. Similarly, as we proceed in this series, I will tell a simple assessment of the story of Bill Wilson, since it is perhaps equally true that persons “in” religion are not necessarily versed in the history and language of persons “in” recovery.

The man we call Paul lived over 2,000 years ago. He was not born or raised as a Christian. In fact, he was a devout Jew, originally named Saul. He had never met Jesus face-to-face, having been “untimely born” after Jesus’ crucifixion. One thing that Saul and Jesus did have in common is that they were both born and raised in Jewish homes.

When Jesus began his ministry, his followers were Jewish. The followers believed that Jesus was the Messiah, whose arrival had been predicted in the Old Testament. Some Jews, like Saul himself, believed that Jesus was not the Messiah. They believed the real Messiah was yet to come. Many Jews believed that the followers of Jesus posed a threat to Judaism by, among other things, their incorrect insistence that Jesus was the Messiah.

Those who would come to be called “Christians” (Jesus never heard the word “Christian”) tried to remain within the Jewish faith tradition ~ but eventually found irreconcilable differences with those who increasingly perceived them to be departing from the faithful to do their own thing in their own “Way.” (The Jesus movement was, early-on, referred to as the Way).

Saul, a devout Jew, described himself as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus; sanctioned by religious leaders to hunt-down the trouble-maker “Christians” and rid Judaism of the followers of this wannabe Messiah who were mucking things up.

Things soon dramatically changed for Saul. One day, according to the Bible, while Saul was on the road to Damascus on his quest to hunt-down the followers of Jesus, he was confronted with a visit from Jesus himself, even though Jesus had been crucified decades earlier. Jesus asked, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul was shocked, knocked off his horse, and blinded for three days by this encounter!

Blind, incapacitated, and utterly dependent on those around him, Saul spent the next three days in what must have been a time of deep uncertainty, soul-searching, recovery and rehabilitation. He must have questioned the path of inflicting harm on others that he had been on prior to his encounter with Jesus. He must have wondered why he ~ of all people ~ had been chosen to receive the blinding flash in an encounter with the divine. He must have wondered on what path he was now headed in life. Saul’s sense of self, sense of God, and sense of purpose in life changed dramatically and forever. He became a follower of Jesus and a proponent of the gospel.

After his spiritual awakening, (not unlike what Bill Wilson would have in New York City 2,000 years later) ~ when Saul regained his sight, Saul changed his name to Paul and began to spread the gospel of Jesus throughout the world. Paul traveled from church to church and from town to town, helping fledgling groups to achieve their primary purpose of knowing Jesus, serving God, and being of use to each other. And 2,000 years later, Bill Wilson would become a world ambassador as he traveled from church to church and from town to town, helping fledgling groups in their primary purpose of achieving sobriety.

Paul spoke to each town, group, and home he visited in the language of hope, unity, strength, and purpose. In one of his letters, called epistles, Paul said that all believers were, “Ambassadors of Christ” entrusted with carrying “the message of reconciliation” to all those who suffer needlessly. More than any of the original disciples who had met Christ face-to-face, Paul changed the course and shape of Christianity as we understand it today.

As we shall see next week, Bill Wilson played a similar role and served a similar purpose for a “Way” known as AA.

Please ask your friends and colleagues to subscribe to this blog by entering their email address in the upper right corner of this page. Your comments may be incorporation into future posts. Please read the six posts published previous to this one in this series called “Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery.”

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  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Saul did not change his name to Paul. As an infant he was given the Hebrew name Sha’ul as a Jew and also the Greek/Roman name Paulos as a Roman Citizen. He preferred to go by the name Paulos around Greeks because it was a common name they could easily pronounce, whereas the “sh” phoneme was about as foreign and hard for them as the !click sounds of some African languages would be for us.

  • Dwight Wolter

    Thanks for writing, Jon-Michael. This entry in this year-long series titled “Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery” is about the spiritual conversion slash transformation of Saul into Paul and its relationship to the conversion slash spiritual awakening of the alcoholic stockbroker, Bill Wilson, into Bill W. the co-founder of AA and how those conversion experiences continue to be played out not only in Church but in recovery fellowships.