Bible Review 13:4, August 1997

Did Paul Fall Off A Horse?

A deceptively simple question reveals differences in Bible

By Charles T. Dougherty

As Paul was journeying to Damascus to persecute the Christians there, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” (Acts 9:3–4).

Question: At this critical moment, when Paul was converted to Christianity, did he fall off a horse?

Answer: It depends. If you are a Catholic, you think he fell off a horse. If you are a Protestant, you believe he was on foot and did not fall from a horse.

As a professor of English literature for 37 years, I learned this fact from my students. A specialist in Victorian literature, I had the opportunity, perhaps once a year, to teach Gerard Manley Hopkins’s great poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” At the close of the first part, the poet begs God to bring all men finally to adore Him, either quickly, as in Paul’s case, or slowly, as in the case of Augustine:

Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill…a

I could be a dramatic lecturer, and I would describe for my class St. Augustine’s mother praying for 30 years for her son’s conversion, whereas Paul, when riding to Damascus, was knocked off his horse by a blinding light and a great noise, and was immediately converted.

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