Freethought Archives > Walter R. Cassels > Supernatural Religion 




WE may now proceed to examine the evidence of Paul. "On one occasion," it is affirmed in a passage already quoted, "he gives a very circumstantial account of the testimony upon which the belief in the Resurrection rested (1 Cor. 15:48)." [851:1] This account is as follows: 1 Cor. 15:3. "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4. and that he was buried, and that he has been raised the third day (egêrertai) according to the Scriptures, 5. and that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. 6. After that, he was seen by about five hundred brethren at once (ephapax), of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7. After that, he was seen by James; then by all the Apostles. 8. And last of all he was seen by me also as the one born out of due time." Can this be considered "a very circumstantial account"? It may be exceedingly unreasonable, but we must at once acknowledge that we are not satisfied. The testimony upon which belief in the Resurrection is said to rest is comprised in a dozen lines -- for we may so far anticipate as to say that this cannot be regarded as a resumé of evidence which we can find elsewhere. We shall presently point out a few circumstances which it might be useful to know.

The Apostle states, in this passage, that the doctrines which he had delivered to the Corinthians he had himself "received." He does not pretend to teach them from his own knowledge, and the question naturally arises: from whom did he "receive" them? Formerly, divines generally taught that Paul received these doctrines by revelation, and up to recent times Apologists have continued to hold this view, even when admitting the subsidiary use of tradition. If this claim were seriously made, the statements of the Apostle, so far as our inquiry is concerned, would certainly not gain in value, for it is obvious that Revelation could not be admitted to prove Revelation. It is quite true that Paul himself professed to have received his Gospel not from men, but from God by direct revelation, and we shall hereafter have to consider this point and the inferences to be drawn from such pretensions. At present the argument need not be complicated by any such supposition, for certainly Paul does not here advance any such claim himself, and apologetic and other critics agree in declaring the source of his statements to be natural historical tradition. The points which he delivered, and which he had also received, are three in number: (1) that Christ died for our sins; (2) that he was buried; and (3) that he has been raised the third day. In strictness the kai hoti might oblige us to include, "and that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve," after which the construction of the sentence is changed. It is not necessary to press this, however, and it is better for the present to separate the dogmatic statements from those which are more properly evidential.

It will be observed that, although the death, burial, and Resurrection are here taught as "received," evidence only of one point is offered: that Jesus "was seen by" certain persons. We have already pointed out that the Gospels do not pretend that anyone was an eye-witness of the Resurrection itself, and it is important to notice that Paul, the earliest and most trustworthy witness produced, entirely passes over the event, and relies solely on the fact that Jesus was supposed to have been seen by certain persons to prove that he died, was buried, and had actually risen the third day. The only inference which we here wish to draw from this is: that the alleged appearances are thus obviously separated from the death and burial by a distinct gulf. A dead body, it is stated, or one believed to be dead, is laid in a sepulchre; after a certain time, it is alleged that the dead person has been seen alive. Supposing the first statement to be correct -- of which there must, of course, be the most clear and detailed evidence -- the second, being in itself, according to all our experience, utterly incredible, leaves further a serious gap in the continuity of evidence. What occurred in the interval between the burial and the supposed apparition? If it be asserted -- as in the Gospels it is -- that, before the apparition, the sepulchre was found empty and the body gone, the natural reply is that this very circumstance may have assisted in producing a subjective vision, but that, in so far as the disappearance of the body is connected with the appearance of the person apparently alive, the fact has no evidential value. The person supposed to be dead, for instance, may not have been actually so, but have revived; for, although we have no intention ourselves of adopting this explanation of the Resurrection, it is, as an alternative, certainly preferable to belief in the miracle. Or, in the interval, the body may have been removed from a temporary to a permanent resting-place, unknown to those who are surprised to find the body gone -- and in the Gospels the conflicting accounts of the embalming and hasty burial, as we have seen, would fully permit of such an argument if we relied at all on those narratives. Many other means of accounting for the absence of the body might be advanced, any one of which, in the actual default of testimony to the contrary, would be irrefutable. The mere surprise of finding a grave empty which was supposed to contain a body betrays a blank in the knowledge of the persons, which can only be naturally filled up. This gap, at least, would not have existed had the supposed resurrection occurred in the presence of those by whom it is asserted Jesus "was seen." As it is, no evidence whatever is offered that Jesus really died; no evidence that the sepulchre was even found empty; no evidence that the dead body actually rose and became alive again; but, skipping over the intermediate steps, the only evidence produced is the statement that, being supposed to be dead, he is said to have been seen by certain persons. [853:1]

Influence of the prophetic gnosis
There is a peculiarity in the statement to which we must now refer. The words, "according to the Scriptures" (kata tas graphas) are twice introduced into the brief recapitulation of the teaching which Paul had received and delivered: (1) "That Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures," and (3) "that he has been raised the third day, according to the Scriptures." It is obvious that mere historical tradition has only to do with the fact "that Christ died," and that the object, "for our sins," is a dogmatic addition. The Scriptures supply the dogma. In the second point, the appeal to Scripture is curious, and so far important as indicating that the Resurrection on the third day was supposed to be a fulfilment of prophecy; and we have thus an indication, regarding which we must hereafter speak, of the manner in which the belief probably originated. The double reference to the Scriptures is peculiarly marked, and we have already more than once had occasion to point out that the narratives of the Gospels betray the very strong and constant influence of parts of the Old Testament supposed to relate to the Messiah. It cannot, we think, be doubted by any independent critic that the details of these narratives are largely due to the influence of the prophetic gnosis. It is natural to suppose that the early Christians, once accepting the idea of a suffering Messiah, should assume that prophecies which they believed to have reference to him had really been fulfilled, and that the actual occurrences corresponded minutely with the prophecies. It is probable that Christian tradition generally was moulded from foregone conclusions.

What were the "Scriptures," according to which "Christ died for our sins," and "has been raised the third day"? The passages which Paul most probably had in view were, as regards the death for our sins - Isaiah 53, Psalms 22 and 69, and for the Resurrection -- Psalm 16:10 and Hosea 6:2. We have already pointed out that historical criticism has shown that the first four passages just indicated are not Messianic prophecies at all, and we may repeat that the idea of a suffering Messiah was wholly foreign to the Jewish prophets and people. The Messiah "crucified," as Paul himself bears witness, was "to Jews a stumbling block" (1 Cor. 1:23), and modern criticism has clearly established that the parts of Scripture by which the early Christians endeavoured to show that such a Messiah had been foretold can only be applied by a perversion of the original signification. In the case of the passages supposed to foretell the Resurrection the misapplication is particularly flagrant. We have already discussed the use of Psalm 16:10, which in Acts (2:25 f., 13:35 f.) is put into the mouth of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and shown that the proof passage rests upon a mistranslation of the original in the Septuagint. [854:3] Any reader who will refer to Hosea 6:2 will see that the passage in no way applies to the Messiah, although, undoubtedly, it has influenced the formation of the doctrine of the Resurrection. The "sign of the prophet Jonah," which, in Matt. 12:40, is put into the mouth of Jesus, is another passage used with equal incorrectness; and a glimpse of the manner in which Christian tradition took shape, and the Gospels were composed, may be obtained by comparing with the words in the first Synoptic the parallel in the third (11:29-31). [854:4] We shall have more to say presently regarding the Resurrection "on the third day."

The appearances mentioned by Paul
We may now proceed to examine the so-called "very circumstantial account of the testimony on which the belief in the Resurrection rested." "And that he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. After that he was seen by above 500 brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that he was seen by James, then by all the Apostles, and last of all he was seen by me also" (1 Cor. 15:5-8). There can be no doubt, we think, from the terms in which this statement is made, that Paul intended to give the appearances in chronological order. It would likewise be a fair inference that he intended to mention all the appearances of which he was aware. So far the account may possibly merit the epithet "circumstantial," but in all other respects it is scarcely possible to conceive any statement less circumstantial. As to where the risen Jesus was seen by these persons, in what manner, under what circumstances, and at what time, we are not vouchsafed a single particular. Moreover, the Apostle was not present on any of these occasions, excepting, of course, his own vision, and, consequently, merely reports appearances of which he has been informed by others; but he omits to mention the authority upon which he makes these statements, or what steps he took to ascertain their accuracy and reality. For instance, when Jesus is said to have been seen by 500 brethren at once, it would have been of the highest importance for us to know the exact details of the scene, the proportion of inference to fact, the character of the Apostle's informant, the extent of the investigation into the various impressions made upon the individuals composing the 500 as opposed to the collective affirmation. We confess that we do not attach much value to such appeals to the experience of 500 persons at once. It is difficult to find out what the actual experience of the individuals was, and each person is so apt to catch the infection of his neighbour and join in excitement, believing that, though he does not himself see or feel anything, his neighbour does, that probably, when inquiry is pressed home, the aggregate affirmation of a large number may resolve itself into the actual experience of very few. The fact is, however, that in this "very circumstantial account" we have nothing except a mere catalogue by Paul, without a detail or information of any kind, of certain appearances which he did not himself see -- always excepting his own vision, which we reserve -- but merely had "received" from others. As evidence of the death and Resurrection it has no value.

If we compare these appearances with the instances recorded in the Gospels, the result is by no means satisfactory. The first appearance is said to be to Cephas. It is argued that Paul passes in silence over the appearances to women, both because the testimony of women was not received in Jewish courts, and because his own opinions regarding the active participation of women in matters connected with the Church were of a somewhat exclusive character (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34 f.). The appearance to Cephas is generally identified with that mentioned, Luke 24:34. [855:2] Nothing could be more cursory than the manner in which this appearance is related in the Synoptic. The disciples from Emmaus, returning at once to Jerusalem, found the Eleven and those who were with them saying: "The Lord was raised indeed, and was seen by Simon." Not another syllable is said regarding an appearance which, according to Paul, was the first which had occurred. The other Gospels say still less, for they ignore the incident altogether. It is difficult to find room for such an appearance in the Gospel narratives. If we take the report of Paul to be true, that Jesus was first seen by Cephas, the silence of three Evangelists and their contradictory representations, on the one hand, and the remarkable way in which the third Gospel avoids all but a mere indirect reference to the occurrence, on the other, are phenomena which we leave Apologists to explain. [856:1]

He is next seen "by the Twelve." This vision is identified with that narrated in John 20:19 f. and Luke 24:36 f. [856:2] to which, as Thomas was absent on the first occasion, some critics understand the episode in John 20:26 f. to be added. On reference to our discussion of these accounts, it will be seen that they have few or no elements of credibility. If the appearance to the Twelve mentioned by Paul be identified with these episodes, and their details be declared authentic, the second item in Paul's list becomes discredited.

The appearance to 500 brethren at once is not mentioned in any of the Gospels, but critics, and especially apologetic critics, assert with more or less of certainty the identity of the occasion with the scene described in Matt. 28:16 f. [856:3] We remarked whilst discussing the passage that this is based chiefly on the statement that "some doubted," which would have been inconsistent, it is thought, had Jesus already appeared to the Eleven. [856:4] The identity is denied by others. [856:5] The narrative in the first Synoptic would scarcely add force to the report in the Epistle. Is it possible to suppose that, had there been so large a number of persons collected upon that occasion, the Evangelist would not have mentioned the fact? On the other hand, does it not somewhat discredit the statement that Jesus was seen by so large a number at once, that no record of such a remarkable occurrence exists elsewhere? How could the tradition of such an event, witnessed by so many, have so completely perished that neither in the Gospels nor Acts, nor in any other writing, is there any reference to it, and our only knowledge of it is this bare statement, without a single detail? There is only one explanation: that the assembly could not have recognised in the phenomenon, whatever it was, the risen Jesus, or that subsequently an explanation was given which dispelled some temporary illusion. In any case, we must insist that the total absence of all confirmation of an appearance to 500 persons at once renders such an occurrence more than suspicious. The statement that the greater number were still living when Paul wrote does not materially affect the question. Paul doubtless believed the report that such an appearance had taken place, and that the majority of witnesses still survived; but does it necessarily follow that the report was true? The survivors were certainly not within reach of the Corinthians, and could not easily be questioned. The whole of the argument of Paul which we are considering, as well as that which follows, was drawn from him by the fact that, in Corinth, Christians actually denied a Resurrection, and it is far from clear that this denial did not extend to denying the Resurrection of Jesus himself. That they did deny this we think certain, from the care with which Paul gives what he considers evidence for the fact. Another point may be mentioned. Where could so many as 500 disciples have been collected at one time? The author of Acts states (1:15) the number of the Christian community gathered together to elect a successor to Judas as "about 120." Apologists, therefore, either suppose the appearance to 500 to have taken place in Jerusalem, when numbers of pilgrims from Galilee and other parts were in the Holy City, or that it occurred in Galilee itself, where they suppose believers to have been more numerous. This is the merest conjecture; and there is not even ground for asserting that there were so many as 500 brethren in any one place by whom Jesus could have been seen.

The appearance to James is not mentioned in any of our Gospels. Jerome preserves a legend from the Gospel of the Hebrews, which states that James, after having drunk the cup of the Lord, swore that he would not eat bread until he should see him risen from the dead. When Jesus rose, therefore, he appeared to James; and, ordering a table and bread to be brought, blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to James. [857:1] Beyond this legendary story there is no other record of the report given by Paul. The occasion on which he was seen by "all the Apostles" is indefinite, and cannot be identified with any account in the Gospels.

It is asserted, however, that, although Paul does not state from whom he "received" the report of these appearances of the risen Jesus, he must have heard them from the Apostles themselves. At any rate, it is added, Paul professes that his preaching on the death, burial, and Resurrection is the same as that of the other Apostles (1 Cor. 15:11-12). That the other Apostles preached the Resurrection of Jesus may be a fact, but we have no information as to the precise statements they made. We shall presently discuss the doctrine, from this point of view, but here we must confine ourselves to Paul. As for the inference that, associating with the Apostles, he must have been informed by them of the appearances of Jesus, we may say that this by no means follows so clearly as is supposed. Paul was singularly independent, and in his writings he directly disclaims all indebtedness to the elder Apostles. He claims that his Gospel is not after man, nor was it taught to him by man, but through revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12). Now Paul himself informs us of his action after it pleased God to reveal his Son in him that he might preach him among the Gentiles. It might, indeed, have been reasonably expected that Paul should then have sought out those who could have informed him of all the extraordinary occurrences supposed to have taken place after the death of Jesus. Paul does nothing of the kind. He is apparently quite satisfied with his own convictions. "Immediately," he says, in his characteristic letter to the Galatians, "I communicated not with flesh and blood; neither went I away to Jerusalem to them who were Apostles before me, but I went away to Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and abode with him fifteen days; but other of the Apostles saw I none, save James the brother of the Lord. Now the things which I write, behold before God I lie not... Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem" (Gal. 1:16, 18; 2:1) -- upon which occasion, we know, his business was not of a nature to allow us to suppose that he obtained much information regarding the Resurrection.

Value of Paul's belief as evidence
We may ask: is there that thirst for information regarding the facts and doctrines of Christianity displayed here, which entitles us to suppose that Paul eagerly and minutely investigated the evidence for them? We think not. Paul made up his own mind in his own way, and, having silently waited three years, it is not probable that the questions which he then asked were of any searching nature. The protest that he saw none of the other Apostles may prove his independence, but it certainly does not prove his anxiety for information. When Paul went up to make the acquaintance of Cephas his object clearly was not to be taught by him, but to place himself in communication with the man whom he believed to be the chief of the Apostles, and, we may assume, largely with a view to establish a friendly feeling, and secure recognition of his future ministry. We should not, of course, be justified in affirming that the conversation between the two great Apostles never turned upon the subject of the Resurrection; but we think that it is obvious that Paul's visit was not in the least one of investigation. He believed; he believed that certain events had occurred "according to the Scriptures"; and the legitimate inference from Paul's own statements must be that, in this visit after three years, his purpose was in no way connected with a search for evidential information. The author of Acts, it will be remembered, represents him as, before any visit to Jerusalem, publicly and boldly preaching in Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God, and "confounding the Jews … proving that this is the Christ" (Acts 9:20, 22, 27). This representation, it will be admitted, shows an advanced condition of belief little supporting the idea of subsequent investigation. When all conjectures are exhausted, however, we have the one distinct fact remaining that Paul gives no authority for his report that Jesus was seen by the various persons mentioned, nor does he furnish any means by which we can judge of the nature and reality of the alleged phenomena. We continue here to speak of the appearances to others, reserving the appearance to himself, as standing upon a different basis, for separate examination.

What is the value of this evidence? The fact to be proved is that, after a man had been crucified, dead, and buried, he actually rose from the dead, and appeared alive to many persons. The evidence is that Paul, writing some twenty years after the supposed miraculous occurrences, states, without detailed information of any kind, and without pretending to have himself been an eye-witness of the phenomena, that he has been told that Jesus was, after his death and burial, seen alive on the occasions mentioned! As to the Apostle Paul himself, let it be said in the most emphatic manner possible that we do not suggest the slightest suspicion of the sincerity of any historical statement he makes. We implicitly accept the historical statements, as distinguished from inferences, which proceed from his pen. It cannot be doubted that Paul was told that such appearances had been seen. We do not question the fact that he believed them to have taken place; and we shall hereafter discuss the weight to be attached to this circumstance. Does this, however, guarantee the truth of the reports or inferences of those who informed the Apostle? Does the mere passage of any story or tradition through Paul necessarily transmute error into truth -- self-deception or hallucination into objective fact? Are we -- without any information as to what was really stated to Paul, as to the personality and character of his informants, as to the details of what was believed to have occurred, as to the means taken to test the reality of the alleged phenomena, without an opportunity of judging for ourselves on a single point -- to believe in the reality of these appearances simply because Paul states that he has been informed that they occurred, and himself believes the report?

So far as the belief of Paul is concerned, we may here remark that his views regarding the miraculous Charismata in the Church do not prepare us to feel any confidence in the sobriety of his judgment in connection with alleged supernatural occurrences. We have no reliance upon his instinctive mistrust of such statements, or his imperative requirement of evidence, but every reason to doubt them. On the other hand, without in any way imputing wilful incorrectness or untruth to the reporters of such phenomena, let it be remembered how important a part inference has to play in the narrative of every incident, and how easy it is to draw erroneous inferences from bare facts. [860:1] In proportion as persons are ignorant, on the one hand, and have their minds disturbed, on the other, by religious depression or excitement, hope, fear, or any other powerful emotion, they are liable to confound facts and inferences, and both to see and analyse wrongly. In the case of a supposed appearance alive of a person believed to be dead, it will scarcely be disputed, there are many disturbing elements, especially when that person has just died by a cruel and shameful death, and is believed to be the Messiah. The occurrence which we at any time see is, strictly speaking, merely a series of appearances, and the actual nature of the thing seen is determined in our minds by inferences. How often are these inferences correct? We venture to say that the greater part of the proverbial incorrectness and inaccuracy which prevail arise from the circumstance that inferences are not distinguished from facts, and are constantly erroneous. In that age, under such circumstances, and with Oriental temperaments, it is absolutely certain that there was exceptional liability to error; and the fact that Paul repeats the statements of unknown persons, dependent so materially upon inference, cannot possibly warrant us in believing them when they contradict known laws which express the results of universal experience. It is infinitely more probable that these persons were mistaken than that a dead man returned to life again, and appeared to them. We shall presently consider how much importance is to be attached to mere belief in the occurrence of such phenomena; but with regard to the appearances referred to by Paul, except in so far as they attest the fact that certain persons may have believed that Jesus appeared to them, such evidence has not the slightest value, and is indeed almost ludicrously insufficient to establish the reality of so stupendous a miracle as the Resurrection. It will have been observed that of the Ascension there is not a word -- obviously for Paul the Resurrection and Ascension were one act.

Having so far discussed Paul's report that Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by others, we turn to his statement that, last of all, he was seen also by himself. In the former cases we have had to complain of the total absence of detailed information as to the circumstances under which he was supposed to have been seen; but it may be expected that, at least in his own case, we shall have full and minute particulars of so interesting and extraordinary a phenomenon. Here, again, we are disappointed. Paul does not give us a single detail. He tells us neither when, where, nor how he saw Jesus. It was all the more important that he should have entered into the particulars of this apparition, because there is one peculiarity in his case which requires notice. Whereas it may be supposed that in the other instances Jesus is represented as being seen immediately after the Resurrection and before his Ascension, the appearance to Paul must be placed years after that occurrence is alleged to have taken place. The question, therefore, arises: was the appearance to Paul of the same character as the former? Paul evidently considers that it was. He uses the very same word when he says "he was seen (ôphthe) by me," that he employs in stating that "he was seen (ôphthe) by Cephas" and the rest, and he classes all the appearances together in precisely the same way. If, therefore, Paul knew anything of the nature of the appearances to the others, and yet considers them to have been of the same nature as his own, an accurate account of his own vision might have enabled us in some degree to estimate that of the others. Even without this account, it is something to know that Paul believed that there was no difference between the earlier and later appearances. And yet, if we reflect that in the appearances immediately after the Resurrection the representation is that Jesus possessed the very same body that had hung on the cross and been laid in the sepulchre, and that, according to the Gospels, he exhibited his wounds, allowed them to be touched, assured the disciples of his corporeality by permitting himself to be handled, and even by eating food in their presence, and that in the case of Paul the appearance took place years after Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God, the identity of the apparitions becomes a suggestive feature.

The testimony of Paul must at least override that of the Gospels, and, whatever may have been the vision of Paul, we may fairly assume that the vision of Peter and the rest was like it. Beyond this inference, Paul gives us no light with regard to the appearance of Jesus to himself. He merely affirms that Jesus did appear to him. "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" he says in one place (1 Cor. 9:1). Elsewhere he relates: "But when he was pleased, who set me apart from my mother's womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles; immediately, I communicated not with flesh and blood … but I went away into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus" (Gal. 1:15-17). Various opinions have been expressed regarding the rendering of apokalypsai ton uion autou en emoi. The great majority of critics agree that the direct and natural sense must be adopted: "to reveal his Son in me," that is to say, "within me," "in my spirit." [862:3] Others maintain that en emoi must be rendered "through me," [862:4] giving en, the sense of dia; but in that case the following context would be quite unnecessary. Hilgenfeld  [862:5] thinks that the meaning is "in his person"; and Rückert and a few others read "to me." The liberties taken by interpreters of the New Testament with the preposition en, too frequently from preconceived dogmatic reasons, are remarkable. The importance of this passage chiefly lies in the question whether the revelation here referred to is the same as the appearance to him of Jesus of the Corinthian letter. Some critics incline to the view that it is so, [862:6] whilst others consider that Paul does not thus speak of his vision, but rather of the doctrine concerning Jesus which formed his Gospel, and which Paul claimed to have received, not from man, but by revelation from God. [862:7] Upon this point we have only a few remarks to make. If it be understood that Paul refers to the appearance to him of Jesus, it is clear that he represents it in these words as a subjective vision, within his own consciousness. If, on the other hand, he do not refer to the appearance, then the passage loses all distinct reference to that occurrence. We do not intend to lay any further stress upon the expression than this, and it is fair to add that we do not think there is any special reference to the apparition of Jesus in the passage, but simply an allusion to his conversion to Christianity, which the Apostle considered a revelation in his mind of the true character and work of the Christ which had previously been so completely misunderstood by him. We may as well say at once that we desire to take the argument in its broadest form, without wasting time by showing that Paul himself uses language which seems to indicate that he recognised the appearance of Jesus to have been merely subjective. The only other passage which we need now mention is the account which Paul gives, 2 Cor. 12:2 f., of his. being caught up to the third heaven. A few critics consider that this may be the occasion on which Jesus appeared to him, to which he refers in the passage of the former letter which we are considering; [863:1] but the great majority are opposed to the supposition. In any case there is no evidence that the occasions are identical, and we therefore are not entitled to assume that they are so.

It will have been observed that we have hitherto confined our attention wholly to the undoubted writings of Paul. Were there no other reason than the simple fact that we are examining the evidence of Paul himself, and have, therefore, to do with that evidence alone, we should be thoroughly justified in this course. It is difficult to clear the mind of statements regarding Paul and his conversion which are made in the Acts of the Apostles, but it is absolutely essential that we should understand clearly what Paul himself tells us and what he does not tell us, for the present totally excluding Acts. What, then, does Paul himself tell us of the circumstances under which he saw Jesus? Absolutely nothing. The whole of his evidence for the Resurrection consists in the bare statement that he did see Jesus. Now, can the fact that any man merely affirms, without even stating the circumstances, that a person once actually dead and buried has risen from the dead and been seen by him, be seriously considered satisfactory evidence for so astounding a miracle? Is it possible for anyone of sober mind, acquainted with the nature of the proposition, on the one hand, and with the innumerable possibilities of error, on the other, to regard such an affirmation even as evidence of much importance in such a matter? We venture to say that, in such a case, an affirmation of this nature, even made by a man of high character and ability, would possess little weight. If the person making it, although of the highest honour, were known to suppose himself the subject of constant revelations and visions, and if, perhaps, he had a constitutional tendency to nervous excitement and ecstatic trance, his evidence would have no weight at all. We shall presently have to speak of this more in detail in connection with Paul. Such an allegation, even supported by the fullest information and most circumstantial statement, could not establish the reality of the miracle; without them, it has no claim to belief. What is the value of a person's testimony who simply makes an affirmation of some important matter, unaccompanied by particulars, and the truth of which cannot be subjected to the test of even the slightest cross-examination? It is worth nothing. It would not be received at all in a Court of Justice. If we knew the whole of the circumstances of the apparition to Paul, from which he inferred that he had seen the risen Jesus, the natural explanation of the supposed miracle might be easy. We have only the bare report of a man who states that he had seen Jesus, unconfirmed by any witnesses. Under no circumstances could isolated evidence like this be of much value. The facts and inferences are alike without corroboration, but on the other hand are contradicted by universal experience.

When we analyse the evidence, it is reduced to this: Paul believed that he had seen Jesus. This belief constitutes the whole of Paul's evidence for the Resurrection. It is usual to argue that the powerful effect which this belief produced upon his life and teaching renders it of extraordinary force as testimony. This we are not prepared to admit. If the assertion that Jesus appeared to him had not been believed by Paul, it would not have secured a moment's attention. That this conviction affected his life was the inevitable consequence of such belief. Paul eminently combined works with faith in his own life. When he believed Jesus to be an impostor, he did not content himself with sneering at human credulity, but vigorously persecuted his followers. When he came to believe Jesus to be the Messiah, he was not more inactive, but became the irrepressible Apostle of the Gentiles. He acted upon his convictions in both cases; but his persecution of Christianity no more proved Jesus to be an impostor than his preaching of Christianity proved Jesus to be the Messiah. It only proved that he believed so. He was as earnest in the one case as in the other. We repeat, therefore, that the evidence of Paul for the Resurrection amounts to nothing more than the belief that Jesus had been seen by him. We shall presently further examine the value of this belief as evidence for so astounding a miracle.

Paul's conversion not ascribed to vision
We must not form exaggerated conceptions of the effect upon Paul of the appearance to him of Jesus. That his convictions and views of Christianity were based upon the reality of the Resurrection is undeniable; and that they received powerful confirmation and impulse through his vision of Jesus is also not to be doubted; but let us clear our minds of representations derived from other sources, and understand what Paul himself does and does not say of this vision; and for this purpose we must confine ourselves to the undoubted writings of the Apostle. Does Paul himself ascribe his conversion to Christianity to the fact of his having seen Jesus? Most certainly not. That is a notion derived solely from the statements in Acts. The sudden and miraculous conversion of Paul is a product of the same pen which produced the story of the sudden conversion of the thief on the cross -- an episode equally unknown to other writers. Paul neither says when nor where he saw Jesus. The revelation of God's Son in him not being an allusion to this vision of Jesus, but merely a reference to the light which dawned upon Paul's mind as to the character and mission of Jesus, there is no ground whatever, from the writings of the Apostle himself, to connect the appearance of Jesus with his conversion. The statement in the Epistle to the Galatians simply amounts to this: when it pleased him who elected him from his mother's womb, and called him by his grace, to reveal to his mind the truth concerning his Son, that he might preach him among the Gentiles, he communicated not with flesh and blood, neither did he go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before him, but immediately went away to Arabia, and after that returned again to Damascus. It can scarcely be doubted that Paul here refers to his change of views -- to his conversion - but as little can it be doubted that he does not ascribe that conversion to the appearance to him of Jesus spoken of in the Corinthian letter.

Let any reader who honestly desires to ascertain the exact position of the case ask himself the simple question whether, supposing the Acts of the Apostles never to have existed, it is possible to deduce from this, or any other statement of Paul, that he actually ascribes his conversion to the fact that Jesus appeared to him in a supernatural manner. He may possibly in some degree base his apostolic claims upon that appearance, although it may be doubted how far he does even this; if he did so, it would only prove the reality of his belief, but not the reality of the vision; but there is no evidence whatever in the writings of Paul that he connected his conversion with the appearance of Jesus. All that we can legitimately infer seems to be that, before his adoption of Christianity, he had persecuted the Church (1 Cor. 15:9); and further it may be gathered from the passage in the Galatian letter that at the time when this change occurred he was at Damascus. At least he says that from Arabia he "returned again to Damascus," which seems to imply that he first went from that city to Arabia. When we consider the expressions in the two letters, it becomes apparent that Paul does not set forth any instantaneous conversion of the character related elsewhere. To the Galatians he describes his election from his mother's womb and call by the grace of God as antecedent to the revelation of his Son in him: "When he who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles," etc. And if the reading "through me" be adopted, the sense we are pointing out becomes still more apparent. In the Corinthian letter again, the expressions should be remarked: Verse 8. "And last of all he was seen by me also, as the one born out of due time. 9. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God; 10. but by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was (bestowed) upon me was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11. Whether, therefore, it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed" (1 Cor. 15:8). Peter sees Jesus first, Paul sees him last; and as the thought uppermost in his mind in writing this Epistle was the parties in the Corinthian Church, and the opposition to himself and denial even of his Apostleship, the mention of his having seen Jesus immediately leads him to speak of his apostolic claims. "Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" he had just before exclaimed, and proceeded to defend himself against his opponents: here, again, he reverts to the same subject, with proud humility calling himself, on the one hand, "the least of the Apostles," but, on the other, asserting that he had "laboured more abundantly than they all." He is led to contrast his past life with his present; the time when he persecuted the Church with that in which he built it up. There is, however, no allusion to any miraculous conversion when he says, "by the grace of God I am what I am." He may consider his having seen the Lord and become a witness of his resurrection one part of his qualification for the Apostolate, but assuredly he does not represent this as the means of his conversion.

We shall not pause to discuss at length how far being a witness for the Resurrection really was made a necessary qualification for the apostolic office. The passages, Luke 24:48, Acts 1:22, 2:32, upon which the theory mainly rests, are not evidence of the fact which can for a moment be accepted. It is obvious that the Twelve were Apostles from having been chosen disciples of the Master from the commencement of his active career, and not from any fortuitous circumstance at its close. If Paul says, "Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" he continues: "Are ye not my work in the Lord? If I am not an Apostle unto others, yet I am at least to you: for the seal of mine Apostleship are ye in the Lord. My defence to them that examine me is this" (1 Cor. 9:1-3). There can be no doubt that the claims of Paul to the Apostolate were, during his life, constantly denied, and his authority rejected. As we have elsewhere pointed out, there is no evidence that his Apostleship was ever recognised by the elder Apostles, nor that his claim was ever submitted to them. Even in the second century the Clementine Homilies deny him the honour, and make light of his visions and revelations. All the evidence we possess shows that Paul's vision of Jesus did not secure for him much consideration in his own time -- a circumstance which certainly does not tend to establish its reality.

Paul's conversion according to Acts
What weight can we, then, attach to the representation in the Acts of the Apostles of the conversion of Paul? Our examination of that work has sufficiently shown that none of its statements can be received as historical. Where we have been able to compare them with the Epistles of Paul, they have not been in agreement. Nothing could be more obvious than the contradiction between the narrative of Paul's conduct after his conversion, according to Acts, and the account which Paul gives in the Galatian letter. We need not repeat the demonstration here. Where we possess the means of comparison we discover the inaccuracy of Acts. Why should we suppose that which we cannot compare more accurate? So far as our argument is concerned, it matters very little whether we exclude the narrative of the conversion of Acts or not. We point out, however, that there is no confirmation whatever in the writings of Paul of the representation of his conversion by means of a vision of Jesus, which, upon all considerations, may much more reasonably be assigned to a somewhat later period. If we ventured to conjecture, we should say that the author of Acts has expanded the scattered sayings of Paul into this narrative, making the miraculous conversion by a personal interposition of Jesus, which he therefore relates no less than three times, counter-balance the disadvantage of his not having followed Jesus in the flesh. It is curious that he has introduced the bare statement into the third Synoptic, that Jesus "was seen by Simon" (ôphthê Simôni) (Luke 24:34), which none of the other Evangelists mentions, but which he may have found, without further particulars, ôphthê Kêpha, in the Epistle whence he derived, perhaps, materials for the other story. In no case can the narrative in Acts be received as evidence of the slightest value; but in order not to pass over even such statements in silence, we shall very briefly examine it.

The narrative is repeated thrice: in the first instance (9:1 f.) as a historical account of the transaction; next (22:4 f.) introduced into a speech supposed to be delivered by Paul to the Jews when taken prisoner in consequence of their uproar on finding him in the Temple purifying himself with the four men who had a vow -- a position which cannot historically be reconciled with the character and views of Paul; and, thirdly, again put into the mouth of the Apostle (26:9 f.) when he pleads his cause before King Agrippa. Paul is represented in the headlong career of persecuting the Church, and going with letters from the high priest empowering him to bring Christian men and women bound unto Jerusalem. "And as he journeyed, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus, and suddenly there shone round about him a light out of the heaven, and he fell upon the earth and heard a voice saying unto him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do" (Acts 9:3; cf. 22:6-8, 10). In the second account there is so far no very wide discrepancy, but there, as in the third, the time is said to be about noon. There is a very considerable difference in the third account, however, more especially in the report of what is said by the voice: 26:13. "At mid-day, O King, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and those journeying with me; 14. and when we all fell to the earth, I heard a voice saying unto me in the Hebrew tongue: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against pricks. 15. And I said: Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. 16. But rise and stand upon thy feet; for I was seen by thee for this purpose, to choose thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou sawest, and of the things in which I will appear unto thee; 17. delivering thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send thee; 18. to open their eyes, that they may turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and a lot among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:13).

It will be admitted that this address is widely different from that reported in the two earlier accounts. Apologists argue that in this third narrative Paul has simply transferred from Ananias to Jesus the message delivered to him by the former, according to the second account. Let us first see what Ananias is there represented as saying. Acts 22:14: "And he said: The God of our fathers chose thee, to know his will and to see the Righteous One; [869:1] for thou shalt be a witness to him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard" (Acts 22:14). Now, Paul clearly professes in the speech which he is represented as delivering before Agrippa to state what the voice said to him: "And he said," "and I said," "and he said," distinctly convey the meaning that the report is to be what was actually said. If the sense of what Ananias said to him is embodied in part of the address ascribed to the voice, it is strangely altered and put into the first person; but, beyond this, there is much added which appears neither in the speech of Ananias nor anywhere else in any of the narratives. If we further compare the instructions given to Ananias in the vision of the first narrative with his words in the second and those ascribed to the voice in the third, we shall see that these again differ very materially. Acts 9:15. "But the Lord said unto him: Go: for this man is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before Gentiles and kings, and the sons of Israel: 16. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:15). What must we think of a writer who deals so freely with his materials, and takes such liberties even with so serious a matter as this heavenly vision and the words of the glorified Jesus?

In the third account Jesus is represented as saying: "It is hard for thee to kick against pricks." [869:4] This is a well-known proverbial saying, frequently used by classical Greek and Latin authors, [869:5] and not altogether strange to Hebrew. It is a singularly anthropomorphic representation to put such a saying into the mouth of the divine apparition, and it assists in betraying the mundane origin of the whole scene. Another point deserving consideration is that Paul is not told what he is to do by the voice of Jesus, but is desired to go into the city to be there instructed by Ananias. This is clearly opposed to Paul's own repeated asseverations. "For neither did I receive it from man nor was taught it, but through a revelation of Jesus Christ," (Gal. 1:11 f.) is his statement. The details of the incident itself, moreover, are differently stated in the various accounts, and cannot be reconciled. According to the first account, the companions of Paul "stood speechless" (9:7); in the third, they "all fell to the earth" (26:14). The explanation that they first fell to the ground and then rose up fails satisfactorily to harmonise the two statements; as does likewise the suggestion that the first expression is simply an idiomatic mode of saying that they were speechless, independent of position. Then again, in the first account, it is said that the men stood speechless, "hearing the voice (akouontes tês phônês), but seeing no one" (9:7). In the second we are told: "And they that were with me saw indeed the light; but they heard not the voice (tên phônên ouk êkousan) of him speaking to me" (22:9). No two statements could be more contradictory. The attempt to reconcile them by explaining the verb akouô in the one place "to hear" and in the other "to understand" is inadmissible, because wholly arbitrary. It is quite obvious that the word is used in the same sense in both passages, the difference being merely the negative. In the third account the voice is described as speaking "in the Hebrew tongue," (26:14) which was probably the native tongue of the companions of Paul from Jerusalem. If they heard the voice speaking Hebrew, they must have understood it. The effort to make the vision clearly objective, and, at the same time, to confine it to Paul, leads to these complications. The voice is heard, though the speaker is not seen, by the men in the one story, whilst the light is seen and the voice not heard in the other, and yet it speaks in Hebrew according to the third, and even makes use of classical proverbs, and uses language wondrously similar to that of the author of Acts.

We may remark here that Paul's Gospel was certainly not revealed to him upon this occasion; and, therefore, the expressions in his Epistles upon this subject must be referred to other revelations. There is, however, another curious point to be observed. Paul is not described as having actually seen Jesus in the vision. According to the first two accounts, a light shines round about him, and he falls to the ground and hears a voice; when he rises he is blind (Acts 9:3, 4, 8; 22:6, 7, 11). If, in the third account, he sees the light from heaven above the brightness of the sun shining round about him and his companions (26:13), they equally see it according to the second account (22:9). The blindness, therefore, is miraculous and symbolic, for the men are not blinded by the light. [870:7] It is singular that Paul nowhere refers to this blindness in his letters. It cannot be doubted that the writer's purpose is to symbolise the very change from darkness to light, in the case of Paul, which, after Old Testament prophecies, is referred to in the words ascribed, n the third account (26:18), to the voice. Paul, thus, only sees light which surrounds the glorified Jesus, but not his own person, and the identification proceeds only from the statement: "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." It is true that the expression is strangely put into the mouth of Jesus, in the third account: "for I was seen by thee (ôphthên soi) for this purpose," etc. (26:16); but the narrative excludes the actual sight of the speaker, and it is scarcely possible to read the words just quoted, and their context, without being struck by their incongruity. We need not indicate the sources of this representation of light shrouding the heavenly vision, so common in the Old Testament. Before proceeding to the rest of the account, we may point out in passing the similarity of the details of this scene to the vision of Daniel 10:7-9.

Returning to the first narrative, we are told that, about the same time as this miracle was occurring to Paul, a supernatural communication was being made to Ananias in Damascus: 9:10. "And to him said the Lord in a vision: Ananias. And he said, Behold I am here, Lord. 11 And the Lord said unto him: Rise and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus; for, behold he prayeth; 12. and he saw a man named Ananias, who came in and put his hand on him that he might receive sight. 13. But Ananias answered, Lord, I heard from many concerning this man, how much evil he did to thy saints in Jerusalem: 14. And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. 15. But the Lord said, Go, etc. (quoted above). 17. And Ananias went away, and entered into the house; and having put his hands on him said: Brother Saul, the Lord hath sent me, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way by which thou earnest, that thou mightest receive sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 18. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales; and he received sight, rose up, and was baptised, and having taken food was strengthened." We have already had occasion to point out, in connection with the parallelism kept up in Acts between the Apostle of the Gentiles and the Apostle of the Circumcision, that a similar double vision is narrated by the author as occurring to Peter and Cornelius. Some further vision is referred to in v. 12; for in no form of the narrative of Paul's vision on the way to Damascus is he represented as seeing a man named Ananias coming to him for the purpose described. Many questions are suggested by the story just quoted. How did Ananias know that Paul had authority from the chief priests to arrest anyone? How could he argue in such a way with the Lord? Did he not then know that Jesus had appeared to Paul on the way? How did he get that information? Is it not an extraordinary thing that Paul never mentions Ananias in any of his letters, nor in any way alludes to these miracles? We have already referred to the symbolic nature of the blindness and recovery of sight on receiving the Holy Spirit and being baptised, and this is rendered still more apparent by the statement: v. 9. "And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink."

We may further point out that in immediate connection with this episode Paul is represented, in the second account, as stating that, on going to Jerusalem, he has another vision of Jesus: 22:17. "And it came to pass that, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the Temple, I was in a trance, 18. and saw him saying unto me: Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem; for they will not receive thy witness concerning me. 19. And I said: Lord, they themselves know that I was wont to imprison and beat in every synagogue them that believe on thee. 20. And when the blood of Stephen, thy witness, was shed, I also was standing by and consenting, and keeping the garments of them that slew him. 21. And he said unto me: Go, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles." It seems impossible, considering the utter silence of Paul, that the apparition to which he refers can have spoken to him as described upon these occasions. We have elsewhere remarked that there is not the slightest evidence in his own or other writings connecting Stephen with Paul, and it may be appropriate to add here that, supposing him to have been present when the martyr exclaimed, "Lo, I behold the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God" (7:56), it is singular that he does not name him as one of those by whom Jesus "was seen."

To resume this discussion, however: we have already shown that the statements of the Acts regarding Paul's conduct after this alleged vision are distinctly in contradiction with the statements of Paul. The explanation here given of the cause of Paul's leaving Jerusalem, moreover, is not in agreement with Acts 9:29 f., and much less with Gal. 1:20 f. The three narratives themselves are full of irreconcilable differences and incongruities, which destroy all reasonable confidence in any substantial basis for the story. It is evident that the three narratives are from the same pen, and betray the composition of the author of Acts. They cannot be regarded as true history. The hand of the composer is very apparent in the lavish use of the miraculous, so characteristic of the whole work. Such a narrative cannot be received in evidence.

Evidence for Resurrection inadequate
The whole of the testimony before us, then, simply amounts to this: Paul believed that he had seen Jesus some years after his death; there is no evidence that he ever saw him during his life. He states that he had "received" that Jesus was seen by various other persons, but he does not give the slightest information as to who told him, or what reasons he had for believing the statements to be correct; and still less does he narrate the particulars of the alleged appearances, or even of his own vision. Although we have no detailed statements of these extraordinary phenomena, we may assume that, as Paul himself believed that he had seen Jesus, certain other people of the circle of his disciples likewise believed that they had seen the risen Master. The whole of the evidence for the Resurrection reduces itself to an undefined belief on the part of a few persons, in a notoriously superstitious age, that after Jesus had died and been buried they had seen him alive. These visions, it is admitted, occurred at a time of the most intense religious excitement, and under circumstances of wholly exceptional mental agitation and distress. The wildest alternations of fear, doubt, hope, and indefinite expectation added their effects to oriental imaginations already excited by indignation at the fate of their Master, and sorrow or despair at such a dissipation of their Messianic dreams. There was present every element of intellectual and moral disturbance. Now, must we seriously ask again whether this bare and wholly unjustified belief can be accepted as satisfactory evidence for so astounding a miracle as the Resurrection? Can the belief of such men, in such an age, establish the reality of a phenomenon which contradicts universal experience? It comes to us in the form of bare belief from the Age of Miracles, unsupported by facts, uncorroborated by evidence, unaccompanied by proof of investigation, and unprovided with material for examination. What is such belief worth? We have no hesitation in saying that it is absolutely worth nothing.

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