Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Lately, we’ve been going through the topic of the resurrection. We’ve been covering key historical facts that are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 and tonight, we’re going to discuss the conversion of Paul.
This is one where the explanations for what happened to Paul on the Damascus road can be quite funny. For instance, Dan Barker has said that maybe Paul was struck by lightning. (You’d think some of those who were with him would have mentioned that and Paul would have asked why his hair was suddenly standing on end and his clothes smelled all crispy.)
Epilepsy is another common explanation, but Beauregard and O’Leary in “The Spiritual Brain” state that this is among the least likely explanations. The word for a thorn in the flesh refers to an irritation and not a serious problem. In fact, I would also add that this is given to Paul according to his testimony AFTER he had a vision of Heaven.
Another idea is that Paul had excessive guilt. This however is a modern idea. Internal guilt would not make sense to an ancient person. They understood shame to those who were their in-group, the ones they took their identity from. Paul would not have had that with the Sanhedrin. If anything, the texts we have indicate that Paul would have been quite respected among them.
What evidence do we have however that Paul genuinely was a Jew against Jesus and then he was a Jew for Jesus? We have his own testimony and that of Luke. Philippians 3 and Galatians 1 both give examples of the way Paul was before his conversion and throughout the epistles you can read about how he persecuted the church.
The explanation that Paul gives for his change is that he saw the risen Christ. As a result of that, he went off and spent some time alone before hitting the evangelistic road. I believe that it was at this time Paul was probably reading the Old Testament and seeking to understand it in light of what he had seen in Christ. If only more of us would do that! That includes myself! The early Christians had as their Bible the Old Testament only and I am sure most of them knew it better than most of us.
Let’s also be clear on something else. Paul was not an idiot. He was very well educated for his time and he would not have made Christianity his faith unless he was intellectually convinced of it. That he was willing to go against the Sanhedrin and effectively banish his heritage in light of Christ should tell us about the seriousness of his conversion. When we read 2 Corinthians 11, we see all the nice little “perks” he got from his new faith.
Thus, we have strong evidence that Paul was converted as a result of seeing the risen Christ and no evidence against it. In the light of the inadequacy of other theories to explain it that rely on modern ideas pushed onto an ancient culture or on speculation without evidence, why not go for what Paul himself says is the explanation? He really did see Jesus.