PROOF OF THE RESURRECTION FROM THE CONVERSION OF SAUL
By Wayne S. Walker
Some three to five years after the resurrection of Christ, a young man named Saul of Tarsus became a leader of the Jewish persecution against the church. One day he and some companions were travelling to Damascus to bring any Christians whom he might find there bound to Jerusalem. While on the road just outside the city, a bright light shone from heaven and a voice called, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Acts 9:5 tells us, “And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Saul obviously believed the Lord, and following the instructions of Jesus he went into Damascus, obeyed the gospel, and became famous as the apostle Paul.
It is evident that Paul had some kind of experience on the road to Damascus. If Jesus had not been raised and were still dead—having been stolen by His disciples and hidden in an unknown tomb, or having swooned on the cross, then revived, and died later—Paul’s encounter with Him must have been something less than reality. This was the contention of a young English nobleman, Lord George Lyttleton, who was a Bible critic before 1747.
Lyttleton and his friend Gilbert West, both of whom had been under the influence of some infidels, were “Fully persuaded that the Bible was an imposter and determined to expose the cheat. Lord Lyttleton chose the conversion of Paul and Mr. West the Resurrection of Christ for the subject of hostile criticism.” They parted ways and researched their topics thoroughly for about a year and then came together again. “The result of their separate attempts was, that they were both converted by their efforts to overthrow the truth of Christianity.” (Quotes from The Fundamentals, Vol. V, p. 107; reprinted in Evidence Quarterly, 1:2, p. 9; via Internal Evidences of Christianity by Homer Hailey, p. 55.)
Lyttleton was 38 years of age at the time he published his Observations on the Conversion of St. Paul which first appeared around 1747. In it, he laid down four propositions exhausting all the possibilities of the case, which we shall examine.
1. Either Paul was “an imposter who said what he knew to be false, with an intent to deceive;” or
2. He was an enthusiast who imposed on himself by the force of “an overheated imagination;” or
3. He was “deceived by the fraud of others;” or finally,
4. What he declared to be the cause of his conversion did all really happen, “and, therefore, the Christian religion is a divine revelation.”
Thus, we want to look at this proof of the resurrection from the conversion of Saul.
I. Paul was not an imposter, an intentional deceiver. Men lie about matters, especially religion, for one of six reasons, none of which was characteristic of Paul.
1. Wealth could not have been the motive. Did you ever know a true Christian who became rich as a gospel preacher? “Wealth was on the side of those forsaken, poverty on the side espoused. Even though poor and in want, he refused to accept help when it would hinder the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:11-12). “The closing picture of his life is that of an old man in a Roman prison, asking that a cloak be sent to him to protect him from the cold, 2 Tim. 4:13” (Hailey).
2. “Reputation was not the motive, for reputation lay on the side of the Pharisees, universal contempt on the side chosen” (Hailey). Notice Philippians 3:4-7.
3. “Power did not motivate him; that is, the desire for power. He had no eye for worldly ambition when he became a Christian. He addressed his inferiors as ‘co-laborers,’ ‘fellow-workers;’ he neither lorded it over individuals, nor over the churches he established. Paul preached Christ as head, hid himself behind the cross, and rebuked sin of all kinds in the churches, without fear or favor, but never with an air of superiority” (Hailey). See 1 Corinthians 3:4-9.
4. The motivation was not ease, pleasure, or luxury. Suffering rather than ease was characteristic of Paul’s life (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
5. The gratification of fleshly passion would not have been a motivating factor. “Some may claim revelations in order to indulge in loose conduct, but Paul preached the highest standard of morals, and condemned all departures from such a standard” (Hailey). Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 18-20.
6. “Was it simply a pious fraud? Did Paul pretend conversion simply to spread Christianity?” (Hailey). Some will stretch the facts to promote what they consider a good cause. Did Paul? No, because he opposed lying as evil (Ephesians 4:25). He did not believe that an end, however proper it might be, justified unlawful means (Romans 3:8). From all the evidence, we must conclude that he was honest and sincere.
II. Paul was not an enthusiast, a zealot with an overactive imagination. The definition of an enthusiast, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is “a religious madman, a fanatic. One whose mind is wholly possessed and heated by what engages it….A fervent and imaginative person.” What are the characteristics of enthusiasts?
1. They are given to great heats of temper. Although bold and fervent, Paul was reasonable and logical, governed by discretion (Acts 17:2-3).
2. They are often quite fickle. Enthusiasts run after every new doctrine that comes down the pike. Paul taught against such instability (Ephesians 4:14).
3. They are somewhat melancholy. An enthusiast runs the gamut from the heights of ecstasy to the depths of despair, always brooding when things go wrong. But Paul was ever rejoicing, even in tribulations (Romans 5:3-5).
4. They tend to prefer ignorance. The religious fanatic often remains ignorant of all facts which do not fit in with his preconceived notions. But Paul was characterized by “much learning” (Acts 26:24-25).
5. They are frequently vain. The madman is usually filled with self-conceit at his own supposed importance. In contrast, notice Paul’s humility in his work (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
6. And they always see what they are looking for. This is also a mark of misguided zeal. However, Paul on the road to Damascus was looking for anything other than what he saw. He was persecuting Christ, not looking for Him (Acts 22:3-5).
III. Paul was not deceived by others. This is so obvious that Lyttleton dismissed it with a single page.
1. This was a moral or psychological impossibility. In his state of bitterness against the disciples, it was out of the question that they would be able to deceive him into having a vision (Acts 26:9-11).
2. It was also a physical impossibility. They simply did not have the means to produce the light and the voice with which to deceive him (Acts 22:6-10).
3. Besides, Paul didn’t even come in contact with the leaders of Christianity until much later (Galatians 1:11-12, 15-19; 2:1).
IV. Thus, Lyttleton concluded that Paul really saw Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. And as a result of this, Lyttleton decided that Christ must have been raised from the dead. Consider Paul’s own testimony to the resurrection of Christ.
1. He personally claimed on more than one occasion to have seen the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:1, 15:8).
2. He claimed that the resurrection was the basis for his faith in the Sonship of Jesus (Romans 1:4), his hope of life after death (1 Corinthians 15:19-20), his apostleship (Galatians 1:1), and his willingness to endure sufferings (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
Conclusion: There are only two possible theories to explain Paul’s conversion and subsequent commitment to Christianity. One is that he was either a deceiver or one deceived. The other is that Jesus was raised from the dead. Thomas Jefferson obviously accepted the first theory. In a letter of 1820 he contrasted the “lovely benevolence” of Jesus with the “charlatanism” which followed. He wrote:
“I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore to him [Jesus] the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus” (reported by Sidney E. Ahlstrom in A Religious History of the American People, p. 367).
However, our study indicates that this simply cannot be the case. Unless we are willing to lay aside the use of our own reason and the rules of evidence by which facts are determined, there is only one logical answer. The story of Paul’s conversion is literally and historically true, and thus, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. He is the divine Son of God, and the Bible is a special divine revelation. The evidence, including that from the conversion of Paul, sustains that proposition that it is more rational to believe than to disbelieve.
—taken from Torch; April, 1984; Vol. XIX, No. 4; pp. 8-12