This fifth Sunday of Easter we continue looking into the resurrection. In the previous essay it was established that the disciples and others claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. This week we look to another claim that has consensus from scholars: A key persecutor of the Church (Saul of Tarsus) was suddenly changed and claimed to meet the risen Jesus. Saul of Tarsus is better known in history and by the Church as the Apostle Paul. In 1 Cor 15:9-10; Gal 1:12-16, 22-23; and Philippians 3:6-7 the Apostle accounts of his conversion. One moment he was persecuting Christians and he was preaching the Gospel, suffering persecutions and killed. During his ministry, Paul would write the majority of the New Testament, in the midst of these trials.
In the book of Galatians Paul accounts for his persecutions of Christians “you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” His activities as a persecutor of the Church are documented also in Acts 9. There was clearly a change in the life of Paul, the question is “Why did he change?” What made this notorious enemy of the Church become the chief evangelist of the Gospel to the point of death? Paul and Luke both explain the reason for this radical change. He encountered the risen Jesus. It is fascinating because Paul had no reason to convert to Christianity. He was the role model Jew. He was not someone who could be intimidated. Especially by frail Christians. But Paul says he encountered the risen Jesus and he changed.
It was such a radical paradigm shift that he went away for three years. Three years later he would find Peter in Jerusalem, where he visited with him for fifteen days. (Gal 1:18) Then he went away again, this time for fourteen years! (Gal 2:1) He comes to the apostles to make sure he is preaching the true Gospel. They confirm that he is and extend to him the right hand of fellowship and he begins his ministry to the Gentiles. (Gal 2:1-10; Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Tertullian, Dionysius of Corinth, and Origen) Paul’s ministry would contain suffering and intense persecution ultimately leading to his beheading according to Tertullian. (Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 58)
Paul’s conversion may not seem like a big deal. However, his conversion is unique from others because what it took to move a man like Paul from the course he was already on. Paul’s conversion wasn’t based on what he heard. His conversion was based on what he perceived to be a personal appearance of the risen Jesus. The difference is primary source versus secondary source. Most belief is based on secondary sources (the Bible). However, even when the belief is primary, no other central figure of a religion is believed to have been raised from the dead, let alone have provided any evidence for such an event. Paul believed because Jesus graciously condescended and met him. (Habermas and Licona, 65)