Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 2, 1958
NUMBER 22, PAGE 1,9-11b

The Conversion And Apostleship Of Paul

James E. Gunn, Marathon, Florida

The conversion and apostleship of Paul, duly studied and considered, is of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a divine revelation. It is an argument to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer. We have numerous accounts in the New Testament attesting to the conversion of the apostle Paul: three accounts in Acts of the Apostles plus Gal. 1:11-16; Phil. 3:4-8; I Tim. 1:12,13; I Cor .15:8; II Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1. After all these accounts have been studied a decision must be reached as to its authenticity. I feel that all the answers that have been given can be classified under one of the four following headings: (1) Paul was an impostor who said what he knew to be false, with an intent to deceive; (2) he was an enthusiast who imposed on himself by the force of an overheated imagination; (3) he was deceived by the fraud of others; or (4) what he declared to be the cause of his conversion did all really happen and therefore proves our proposition, that the Christian religion is a divine revelation. We shall now consider each of these statements to see which appears to be the most logical after weighing the evidence.

The first statement that we will deal with is, Paul was an impostor. What could have induced him while on his way to Damascus, filled with implacable hatred against the disciples, to turn and also become a disciple of Christ himself? There must have been some motive behind such action. We shall now examine all the things which might have motivated such action: wealth, reputation, power, gratification of some passion, and fraud. It seems impossible that wealth could have been the motive behind such action. Wealth was in the possession of those whom he had forsaken, and poverty on the side of those to whom he turned. So poor had they been, that those among them who had property sold it in order to provide the dire necessities of the rest. He was later engaged in the task of collecting means for those threatened with starvation. In some instances the Christians with whom he labored were of such humble conditions that he refused to take anything from them even for the bare necessities of life, but labored himself for his needs. He wrote to the Corinthians; "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and we toil working with our hands" (I Cor. 4:11, 12.) In his farewell to the elders of Ephesus, he appeals to them as knowing it to be true that "I coveted no man's gold, or silver, or apparel. Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me" (Acts 20:33,34.) He forsook the Jewish hierarchy with its great temple and its overflowing treasuries, where his zeal in putting down the hated followers of Christ would have been almost certainly rewarded with a fortune. Instead he chose to be with the poverty stricken disciples of Jesus Christ. Near the end of his life he presents to us the picture of an old man shivering in a Roman dungeon and pathetically asking for a cloak to be sent to him to cover his naked and suffering limbs during the severity of the approaching winter. We can therefore conclude that his motive could not have been that of wealth.

Is it possible that his motive for this action could have been for the purpose of gaining for himself a reputation? Those to whom he turned and united himself were held in universal contempt. Their leader had been put to death as a criminal among thieves, and the chiefs of the group to which he affiliated himself were illiterate men. There was no reputation for the promising student of Gamaliel in parting with his splendid honors and identifying himself with a group of ignorant fishermen.

He would only be execrated as a deserter and betrayer of the Jewish cause, and he might rest assured that the same bloody knife that slew the Shepherd of the scattered flock would soon be unsheathed against him. All the reputation that he had so zealously built up was gone the hour that he made this change, and from that day on contempt was his portion. He was accounted as the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things. (I Cor. 4:13) We cannot say his motive was to gain a reputation.

Was it for power that Paul was seeking that he made this change? His whole career was marked by a complete absence of all self-seeking. He had no eye to worldly ambitions. He did not interfere with government or civil affairs, he meddled not with legislation, he formed no commonwealths, he raised no seditions, he affected no temporal power. He did not assume any pre-eminence over other Christians and regarded himself as not worthy to be called an apostle. His primary interest was the proclamation of Christ, and in that he would rejoice Phil 1:18. He refused to have men to call themselves as followers of him. (I Cor. 1:13.) He rebuked the churches unsparingly for their sins, and did not hesitate if the need so warranted it to incur their displeasure. Disclaiming all pre-eminence, position and power, he preached Christ and him crucified, and chose to bury himself behind the cross.

Was Paul's motive the gratification of any other passion? Impostors have pretended to receive divine revelations as a pretext in order that they might indulge in loose conduct. That could not have been true with Paul because most of his teachings were absolutely antagonistic to any such purpose. His writings breathe nothing but the strictest morality, obedience to magistrates, order and government with the utmost abhorrence of all licentiousness, idolatry or loose behaviour under the cloak of religion. "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and righteously and unblameable we behaved ourselves toward you that believed" (I Thess 2:10.) "We wronged no man, we corrupted no man, we took advantage of no man" (II Cor. 7:2.) The whole teaching of the Apostle is in the sternness and most uncompromising hostility to everything but the highest and holiest ideas.

Could Paul's motive have been that of fraud? Did Paul pretend to receive a divine revelation in order to give him prestige in advancing the teachings of Christianity? This could not have been true because Christianity was the one thing he had set out to destroy. Why then this sudden change in his views regarding the unpopular teaching of the resurrected Christ? Would he have endured the loss of all things and exulted over it for what he knew was a fraud? It would be an imposture as unprofitable as it was perilous, both to himself, the deceiver, and to the others whom he deceived. Only the sternest conviction that he had received a divine revelation would have induced him to pass through what he had suffered, or to have asked others to do the same. "If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable" (I Cor. 15:19.)

Should Paul have attempted to deceive the people, he could not have been successful in doing so. He would have had to depend on others to supply him with the secrets of this new religion. He was an authority and an apostle of this new religion, and the above assumption being true he would have had to depend on his enemies to supply him with the information. It must have come in another way. His own account, "for neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ" Gal. 1:12, appears to me to have the greater degree of credibility. If he had fabricated the story of his conversion, he would certainly have located it in a place so remote or hidden that there could be no witness to refute his testimony. Instead, the miracle of his conversion, with a great light from heaven exceeding the brightness of the sun, is located on the public highway to Damascus. It was at noonday, when the minds of the witnesses could not be deceived, and when all, the accompanying soldiers were present with him. Had there been any possibility of disproof, some of the witnesses would certainly have attempted to make it known at one of the many occasions on which Paul confirmed it. If Paul was an impostor, then all of his miracles were simply tricks or slights of hand. Although he was a despised and hated Jew, he set himself to the job of converting the Gentile world and teaching doctrines that shocked every prejudice, and at which they were wont to mock in derision. From the facts thus far presented it seems impossible that Paul could have by performance of magic in the presence of shrewd and many times hostile people have performed all of the various miracles which he did; so we can conclude that Paul was not a cheat telling a trumped-up story about his conversion, and if he were, he could not have succeeded.

Was Paul a deluded enthusiast whose overheated imagination imposed on him so that he imagined to be true that which had never really taken place? Let us now analyze the five elements of the make-up of man to see if this statement could be substantiated. (1) Could he have let his temper run away with him? This could not have been true even though like all great men, he had an intense fervor, yet it was everywhere governed by discretion and reason. His zeal took second place to the matter of his judgment. In different matters he became "all things to all men ... to the Jews he became a Jew, to them that are without law as without law, to the weak he became weak all that he might gain some" (I Cor. 9:19-23.) His zeal was eager and warm, but tempered with prudence, and even when he appeared before Agrippa, Festus, and Felix he did not act with the blind inconsiderate zeal of an enthusiast.

(2) Could it have been a period of melancholy during which he testified of his conversion? It seems almost absurd to consider this when we realize the great sorrow he expresses for his former ignorant persecution of the church. He had a desire to depart and be with Christ, but there was nothing sorrowful about it. All of this was based on the revelation that he already had of the rewards that awaited him in the life to come. He tactfully met the Athenians openly claiming to be the interpreter of the "unknown God" to whom they had erected an altar and were worshiping. He never hesitated to avert injustice by claiming his privileges as a Roman citizen. He was the very antithesis of gloominess. In whatever state he was, he had learned to be content. Neither his actions, his writings or his interested greetings and salutations, show the slightest coloring of melancholy.

(3) Another characteristic of man that some might say would have caused Paul to have become an enthusiast is that of ignorance. It seems impossible that this charge could be laid against the Apostle Paul. He was brought up at the feet of the great learned philosopher Gamaliel who was considered to be the master of both Jewish and Greek learning. We can, therefore, conclude that a pedagogue of such an outstanding teacher could not be accused of being ignorant.

(4) Our next consideration is that of credibility. As a resident of Jerusalem, Paul could not be a stranger to the fame of the miracles performed by Jesus. He had the facts of the resurrection, of Pentecost, and all the miracles performed by the apostles up to the death of Stephen. Far from being credulous, he had barred his mind against every proof and refused to believe. Nothing less than the irresistible evidence of his own senses, clear from all possibility of doubt, could have overcome his unbelief.

(5) Could it have been for vanity or self-conceit that he so acted? Men of this type flatter themselves that because of their superior worth they are the recipients of extraordinary gifts and favors from God, and of these they make their boasts. There is not one word in his Epistles, nor one act recorded in his life in which the slightest mark of boastfulness appears. When compelled to vindicate his apostolic claim from attack he did so effectually but in the briefest way and with many apologies for being compelled to speak thus of himself. (cf II Cor. 11:1-30.) When he had a vision of heaven, he modestly withheld his own name and covered it up in the third person. For fourteen years he observed absolute silence in regard to this special mark of the divine favor. (II Cor. 12:1-12.) Would this be the way a vain man would act? "Neither is Paul that planteth, nor Apollos that watereth, anything, but God who gives the increase" (I Cor. 3:4-7.) Instead of self-conceit, he writes of himself in the terms of the most complete abnegation. Everywhere it is "not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (I Cor. 15:10.)

Now suppose that in some way wholly unaccountable, Paul had actually been swept away by enthusiasm at the time, and imposed on himself, by imagining the events that took place; the same would have been true with as all others under such circumstances; they see what they expect to see. Imagined visions such as this would be in accord with the opinions already fixed in one's mind, and this definitely was not true with Paul. He had been conscientiously persecuting the Christians and while on his way to Damascus was determined to fulfill this desire so far as was possible with him. Should he have seen a vision, it would have been very much different from that which he records. With nothing having happened to change his opinions or alter his determined mind, it would be as impossible for him, in a moment, to have imagined the complete revolution that is recorded in the New Testaments it would be for a rapid river to carry a boat against a current of its own stream. Suppose it was a meteor that burst upon them. How can we account for the words which Paul heard, and his receiving and obeying the instructions to go to a certain place in Damascus? How can we acknowledge the fact that Ananias had been led to the same place for their interview, and that after three days Paul's blindness was healed? And greatest of all, how can we account for the mighty works and wonders afterwards wrought by Paul following this revelation?

Our third consideration of his conversion is the possibility that he was deceived by others. This can be dismissed very easily in that it seems morally impossible that the disciples of Christ could have thought of such a fraud at the instant of Paul's greatest fury against them. It was physically impossible for them to do so. Let us consider; could they produce a light brighter than the midday sun, cause him to hear a voice speak out of that light, make him blind for three days and then return his sight by a word? No, this was not done as there were no Christians around when the miracle of his conversion took place. No fraud could have produced those subsequent miracles which he himself actively performed and to which he so confidently appealed in proof of his divine mission.

We have endeavored to answer each of the arguments as presented in the introduction of this paper. We have shown by the most logical evidence at our disposal that Paul was not an impostor deliberately proclaiming what he knew to be false with intent to deceive; he was not imposed upon by an overheated imagination, nor was he deceived by the fraud of others. We conclude that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul, is literally and historically true. With this, we therefore accept the account given in the Word of God, and the Christian religion is proved to be a revelation from God.