Christian Theology and Apologetics

A Historical Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: Part 3


Significant Conversions

Paul. Earlier I discussed the death of Paul as recorded by Clement and how this Apostle suffered while alive and was martyred for his faith in Christ. What is truly remarkable about Paul is that originally he was an enemy to the church. He persecuted the early Christians; in fact, he was present at the stoning of Stephen (Ac 7:58-8:4). Paul himself wrote to Galatia, Corinth, and Philippi about his conversion from persecuting the church to an Apostle (Gal 1:12-16; 1 Cor 15:9-10; Phil 3:6-7). In Galatians 1:22-23 Paul mentions that the churches in Judea kept hearing reports of his conversion, though he still remained outside of their sight. This demonstrates that the churches of Judea knew Paul’s pre-Christian persecution of the church and that they knew his conversion to Christianity as well. Thus, Paul’s persecution of the church and conversion to Christianity are both independently attested to; Paul wrote regarding his persecution of the church; In Acts, Luke recorded Paul’s persecution and conversion; lastly, Paul recorded a tradition circulated by early Christians in the Judean churches that may date to within three to ten years of Paul’s conversion.[1]


Conversion of Paul. Paul states in Gal 1:11-22 that the gospel he received was not from man and that he had received it via revelation “ἀποκαλύψεως” of Jesus Christ. In the Pauline corpus the term “ἀποκάλυψις, revelation” is used to describe a physical manifestation of Jesus.[2] In 2 Cor 12:1-6 Paul was not cognizant of whether he was present with Christ in his body or not thus inferring that he viewed the revelation of Jesus as more than a mental experience, but something that may have been a physical viewing of Christ. In writing to the Corinthian church Paul asks them, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?”[3] Paul clearly understood himself to be an Apostle (Rom 1:1; 11:13; 1 Cor 1:1; 15:9). Paul viewed the Corinthian church as his work in the Lord (1 Cor 4:15); he was their “father” in the Lord. In 1 Cor 9:1 Paul also remarks, “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Thus, Paul clearly believed he had saw Jesus, but nothing further is elaborated upon in this passage.


Paul also equated Christ’s appearance to him as with the appearances to the other Apostles and Christians (1 Cor 15:4-8); in this passage Paul uses the term “ὁράω, appeared” to denote Christ’s appearance to Peter; the Twelve; five hundred witnesses, James; to all the Apostles; and finally to Paul himself. The term ὁράω also occurs in 1 Cor 9:1 which shows the semantic range of the word; whether it is speaking of an appearance or something seen, Paul clearly uses the term as something perceived by his eyes. Therefore, postulating some visionary experience is highly unlikely and not supported by Paul’s usage of the term.[4]

In the book of Acts, Luke records the conversion of Paul some three times and several elements to the story corroborates what Paul claimed in his letters. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a very zealous Jew that studied under Gamaliel (Gal 1:14; Ac 9:1-2; 22:3-5). Acts and Paul’s Epistles record Christ’s appearance to him (Gal 1:12, 16; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; Ac 9:3-6; 22:6-20, 26:13-18). In Acts and the Pauline Epistles we learn that Paul was commissioned by God to have a ministry for the Gentiles and Jews (Gal 1:16; Ac 9:15; 26:17-18). Paul also went to Damascus after the appearance of Christ (Gal 1:17; Ac 9:8; 22:10-11; 26:20). Thus, Luke’s writings confirm what Paul says of his own experience. Even if one allows for legendary embellishment of Luke’s narratives, the writer still includes much of what Paul said himself elsewhere.

Neither Paul’s historicity nor his sudden conversion to Christianity has any serious detractors among historians. Even those who are critical of Christianity do not doubt this. The details of Paul’s conversion combined with what he believed thereafter, afford evidence for Christianity and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He went from being a persecutor of the church to arguing in synagogues for the Messiah to be identified as Jesus Christ. He went from being a Pharisee to a Christian and his core beliefs could be summarized in the pre-Pauline formula given in 1 Corinthians 15.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.[5]

How does one go from being a persecutor of the church to one willing to die for what that church teaches—that Jesus is the risen Messiah? In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, Paul indicates that he was imprisoned for the Gospels sake. Paul had been beaten so many times he couldn’t remember them all. On five occasions he received thirty-nine lashes from the Jews. He was beaten with rods some three times; shipped wrecked three times; stoned once to the point of death it seemed (Ac 14:19). Paul endured danger from his own people; from Gentiles; animals; dangers amongst fake Christians; endured cold exposure; malnourishment; sleep deprivation, and all sorts of troubles.[6] This man endured a great deal before finally being martyred as mentioned in part two of this series. Clearly Paul was fully convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead and was the Messiah.

[1] Licona, 375.

[2] 1 Cor 1:7; 2 Cor 12:1.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Co 9:1.

[4] “See” or “seen” (Rom 15:21; 1 Cor 9:1; Col 2:1, 18; 1 Thess 5:15; 1 Tim 3:16); “Appeared” (1 Cor 15:5, 6, 7, 8).

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Cor 15:3-8

[6]New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 2 Cor 11:23-28.



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