Why did Paul claim to have seen Jesus risen from the dead?

It is firmly established that Apostle Paul claimed to have seen Jesus raised from the dead (e.g nobody disputes that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15 in which he makes the very claim) It is also generally agreed by all scholars that Paul persecuted Christians before converting (not only does Paul claim this but it is also mentioned independently in Acts. People in the early church knew who was persecuting them and so it would have been hard for this to have gone undisputed if it were not true! Moreover, as Christianity did not exist when Paul grew up he logically must have converted.) Thus Paul had no predisposition to believe he was an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus. Paul was also persecuted for what he preached and passionately spread the Christian message across the world and thus must have been sincere in what he claimed (i.e he wasn’t intentionally lying and had no motive to make the story up). Finally, you only need to read his letters to realise that he was aware of what he was claiming to have witnessed and that he wasn’t just some mad lunatic but a very intelligent and articulate person.

These facts raise the question: What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus and why did he claim to be an eyewitness to the risen Jesus?

Can you please answer the question without making unsubstantiated ad hoc attacks towards Paul please or falling back on atheist presuppositions that God doesn’t exist.

Posted: March 25th 2008

flagellant www

My favourite bible piece is by Paul – the 'faith, hope, and charity’ chapter. Therefore, to some extent, I can forgive him his misogyny, his sex-obsession ('it is better to marry than to burn’), and his tendency to see 'visions’. However, much of I Corinthians 13 may well be attributable to Paul’s translators and interpreters…

You mention Paul’s claim (e.g. 'Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?’). Note, though, that there’s a world of difference between a claim and the truth. It also depends to whom you are talking and what you are trying to do. Let’s give you a bit of help: read this short description of, and comments on, an event that took place in 2005. This story includes one supernatural component, one unlikely description, and one prediction. Read it carefully with the credulity you so clearly bring to religious matters.

Here’s the link .
Having read it, do you believe it? Of course you don’t. Moreover, have you heard that the prediction came true? Of course you haven’t, because it didn’t. Further, newsreel footage at the time would seem to give the lie to the 'aura’ story and the non-blinking bit.

Now, this event took place just a few years ago and there were many witnesses. The audience was much better informed than the superstitious people of two thousand years ago. So why do you believe Paul’s partial account and not Ahmadinejad’s? I suggest it’s partly because you want to believe one and not the other.

Here’s some more:
'The resurrection itself, myth rather than history, may be seen as a metaphor…The value of myth is not in its truth as fact…’ (See link for the full article and context.)

Try reading Bishop John Shelby Spong’s Jesus for the non-religious (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007). Here are some samples: '[The idea of] Resurrection, for Paul, had to do first with God affirming Jesus’ life (Rom I: 1-4)’ (p. 68); 'The resurrection language of the gospels is literal nonsense’ (p. 122); 'Paul provides us with not a single descriptive detail; he only says that 'Christ was raised’ (I Cor. 15:4) (p. 123). And finally 'There was no resuscitated body that emerged from [the] tomb on the third day … [and] there was no ascension…’

The article I mention and the quotes I include are not from atheists such as Dawkins, Dennett, or Harris; they are from highly reputable Christian biblical scholars – people who bring scientific and rational thinking to ancient manuscripts, shot-through with superstition, unfounded liturgy, and self-serving dogma.

May I suggest that you should, in future, engage with topics such as resurrection, and indeed with all matters of faith, with more honesty? Don’t turn your back on views you don’t like; consider, in all humility, that you may be mistaken.

Posted: April 2nd 2008

See all questions answered by flagellant

SmartLX www

I’d really have liked a few references to back up your initial premises. Passive voice declarations like, “It is firmly established…” and, “It is also generally agreed by all scholars…” set off alarm bells here if they’re not supported.

You’re also using one book of the Bible (Acts) to back up another (1 Corinthians). Books written in about the same time and place by like-minded people tend to support one another. I don’t know the timing exactly, but perhaps there was some communication between the authors?

You assume that any reason for Paul’s story to be false is an attack on his character and his faculties. Maybe he was just wrong, or had a bad moment. It happens to the best of us.

Whatever Jesus’ followers did after his death (whether or not they really had an undead Jesus to work with, and whether or not there was a Jesus in the first place) was very convincing. Maybe there was a travelling resurrection show, or maybe the story in itself was compelling enough for most. We may never know.

Assuming Paul was truthful, something convinced him. It could have been a genuine resurrected guy, or it could have been an elaborate trick. Illusionists had less technology back then, but long-range communication sucked and people had less help finding out how a trick was done.

Maybe Paul was a high-profile conversion target for the early evangelists, and the “Road to Damascus” was a deliberate operation something like Scientology’s “Project Celebrity”. You have to admit he was a great catch for Christianity.

Consider also the mere possibility that Paul was convinced by something other than hard evidence (maybe an emotional reason, like guilt from persecuting Christians), but made it sound more like hard evidence in his story. Many new converts still working to convince themselves would be tempted to do this, even today. I’m not saying Paul was like that, but perhaps he thought the real reason he believed would not go over well with an audience.

Otherwise, Paul could have been plain old lying. That’s not an ad hominem; it says nothing about his character except that he could have been a liar. There is no obvious reason why he would lie, but that doesn’t mean he had no possible reason. I’m sure you can think of plenty of reasons if you try. The easiest ones to suggest have to do with money. Others might have to do with love.

Only Paul knew what happened to him on the road to Damascus, physically, mentally and emotionally. He’s dead, and his writings are two thousand years old. Their central claims still have not been confirmed or we wouldn’t be arguing about this anymore. His story is an argument from rapidly fading authority.

Posted: March 27th 2008

See all questions answered by SmartLX


I’m not sure what you’re expecting when you ask an atheist to answer a question about christianity but not to do it from an atheist perspective, but I’m game.

First of all, from an evidentiary perspective, you are arguing for the truth of the bible based on what is written in the bible. There is virtually no evidence outside the bible of the gospel accounts that Jesus even existed, and no evidence of his divinity. You may argue that there are real places talked about in the bible and events that we know happened.

For that I refer you to the genres known as “historical fiction” and “alternate history”. There are countless novels based on historical events and set in real places that are still, in their details, fiction.

So, from my perspective, I don’t see any reason to treat the accounts in the gospels with any more weight than the accounts in any other holy books of any other religions.

Second, any correlation between different parts of the NT is unconvincing. The lineage of the various books of the NT is not clear (nor agreed upon), but it is clear that some books were written before others, and some appear largely to be copies of other books. The synoptic gospels (ie Matthew/Mark/Luke) appear to be copies of each other, or all derived from a similar source. For your argument to be convincing, you need to show that the sources are independent, but in fact it’s clear that they aren’t.

So, back to your question:

What happened to Paul on the road to Damascus and why did he claim to be an eyewitness to the risen Jesus?

My real answer is:

I don’t know, and the matter is of little import to me. It’s your mythology, and I find it weird that you find a written account of an oral tradition of what is said to be an eyewitness account of a very extraordinary occurence to be credible.

But, as I said at the beginning, asking an atheist a question about a theology that he doesn’t believe in is a strange thing to do…

Posted: March 27th 2008

See all questions answered by Eric_PK


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