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In about turns,changed lives,Resurrection,Ron Galloway

Incredible “About Turns” Part 5: Evidence for the Resurrection

by Dr. Ron Galloway

In part 4 we examined the truly miraculous about turn of Paul on the Damascus Road. We noted that, even on its own merit, the fringe critic of the resurrection is faced with an enormous task. All of the about turns we have covered from Parts 1 to 3 are, even on their own, formidable barriers for the critic or fringe critic. In this post, we will combine all of the information from the previous posts, and assess its combined force. What makes this combination so powerful and immensely difficult to explain away is that all the about turns are the direct outcome of the risen Christ. In light of this same risen Christ, all of these prior about turns powerfully support and sustain the authenticity of the about Turn on the Damascus road.

If someone makes the argument that the appearance to Paul is less reliable because it happened after the ascension of Christ. It should be remembered that while appearing to Paul, Jesus also appeared in a vision to Ananias[i] in which he actually carries on a conversation with Ananias. Add to these post ascension appearances, the dramatic appearance of Jesus to John the author of Revelations, on the island of Patmos.[ii] Then we have the post ascension appearance of the Lord Jesus to Peter in a vision in which Peter sees a sheet filled with unclean animals.[iii] Far from detracting from the veracity of Paul’s experience, these other post ascension experiences provide fierce support for the validity of all the resurrection appearances of Jesus, as well as for the authenticity of all the incredible about turns to which these appearances gave birth.

More than this, there are things that Paul says in the fifteenth chapter of his letter to the Christians in Corinth that not only fortifies all the post ascension appearances to Paul, Ananias, Peter and the others, but also fortifies the authenticity of all the forty-day appearances. For in his letter to the Corinthians Paul reports that during Jesus’s forty-day appearances, he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the Twelve, and then to five hundred of his followers at once. Paul explains that some of these early witnesses have died, but by far the greater part of them are still alive. Paul then writes that Jesus next appeared to James and then to all the Apostles. Finally, Paul declares: “as to one abnormally born”[iv]he also appeared to him.[v] Now in these few sentences one thing seems absolutely clear: the chances that Paul is lying about these appearances is excessively remote. We will now explore why. 

Paul is not saying anything new; he is simply reiterating the resurrection appearances to new believers, appearances which are common knowledge to older believers. These appearances to which Paul refers had long before been spread abroad by the early witnesses to the risen Christ. We learn this both in Luke 1 and Acts 1. Ever since the early Christians was dispersed across the Roman world, the news of these appearances had been spread abroad. We have already covered these appearances in the first three blogs. Here we find Paul simply verifying these same appearances that are covered in Mathew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts. Paul is merely telling the doubters to go check out the witnesses. He knows that there are some people in Corinth trying to convince these new believers that the resurrection never happened. Here Paul puts a stop to all this sceptical talk by inviting the dissenters and the believers not to just take his word for it, but to talk to any of the four hundred and fifty or so witnesses who were still alive.

During those forty-days, we recall Jesus ate with them, walked with them, sat with them, and even stayed with them, showing them how Old Testament Scriptures testified of Him and announced His coming. Then He ascended in front of many, if not all, in the presence of two angels.

Three years after traveling to Arabia and returning to Damascus, Paul spent time with Peter and James.[vi]Here it is again made obvious that Paul is simply passing on information which the early church was thoroughly abreast of, as was Paul before too many years had passed.

In confirmation of all that Paul is recounting about the appearances, the Book of Acts records how Barnabas convinced the Apostles and the other early followers to embrace this man, Paul, who was formerly the worst enemy of the church. This is the same Barnabas who was a respected part of that early community not long after the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  He may have been among those four thousand Jews who repented and gave there lives to Jesus. He was in the very midst of those early witnesses to the resurrection, and very soon a well loved leader of those early Christians.[vii]

It was during his first time with the Apostles that Paul conferred with James and Peter, who had seen the risen Christ.[viii]  Here Paul would learn and hear firsthand from two men who had been witnesses themselves, and in the company of all those early Christians with their incredible about turns, brought into being by the death, resurrection, forty day appearances, and ascension of Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.  The very fact that these early Christians came to embrace this former enemy, not only as a follower, but as one of the twelve Apostles, testifies to the incredible about turn of Paul. His zeal and willingness to suffer for the Lord convinced the Apostles themselves, in spite of the fact that this former executioner of the people of the Way had truly turned a hundred and eighty degrees.  

We must bear in mind as well that Barnabas traveled and lived with Paul for years on a missionary journey appointed by the Holy Spirit.[ix]  Before this, Barnabas had been part of the fellowship of the Apostles, and those early witnesses.[x] He was a man close to and respected by the Apostles themselves. Not only this, he was especially selected by the Holy Spirit to accompany Paul on his first missionary journey.[xi] It is virtually unthinkable that during their time together Paul did not learn from Barnabas in great detail all about many of those early witnesses to the resurrection that Barnabas would personally have known or at least met. As Paul later said before King Agrippa: these things were not done in a corner.[xii] This kind of sharing with Barnabas would undoubtedly have happened years before Paul ever wrote the letter to the Corinthians.

Add to this the fact that Paul and Barnabas returned to meet again with all the Apostles at the Jerusalem conference,[xiii] and Paul, at that time, fellowshipped with them as well, not only with Peter and James. The conference took place long before Paul wrote those first six verses in the fifteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians. Paul is well enough aware of these early witnesses that he knew that some of them had died, and well enough aware of these early witnesses to know that most of them were still alive. There is no hint of a lie in Paul’s recounting of those early witnesses. Therefore, the probability that Paul was lying about any of these early testimonies, including his own, is remote indeed. In light of all these facts, the truthfulness of Paul’s words about these early witnesses who saw Jesus before or after the ascension extends far beyond any reasonable doubt.

As well, this first letter to the Corinthians is a personal letter from Paul, written to encourage new believers still on the milk of the Word. Therefore, it also lends weight to the veracity of Paul’s confirmation of all those appearances. Paul has no axe to grind, and under such circumstances there is no reasonable justification for calling this letter a forgery. Only the most extreme fringe critics would challenge the authenticity and Pauline authorship of the first letter to the Corinthians.[xiv]

By his life and words Paul had convinced these Christians at Corinthto embrace Christ as their Lord and Savior. Paul did not stay that long in this young church, and it was not long before Paul would hear of the problems in this new group of believers. So in Chapter 15 Paul addresses the errors of agitators who were denying the actual resurrection of Jesus from the tomb.[xv] The Corinthian letter must be given a very early date, perhaps 55-57 AD. This is far too early for critics to claim that Paul was undergoing late theological reflections and turning the man Jesus into a God. In reality, right after his Damascus experience, Paul starts declaring Adonai, the risen Lord, Messiah and Savior.[xvi]

The chance that Paul is lying about these appearances is made even more remote when we consider the number of Paul’s enemies within and without the church. For example, we learn in Acts that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill Paul so badly that they took an oath not to eat or drink[xvii] until he was dead.[xviii] As both the writings of Luke and the letters of Paul make extremely clear, he was acutely aware of, and constantly keeping a few steps ahead of, enemies that wanted to either kill him or discredit him. This was especially true of the city of Corinth. So, unless Paul was supremely confident that there were plenty of living witnesses to the risen Christ, he would never say what he says here. If he were lying, he would have to be a complete fool. For Paul is inviting dissenters to the resurrection to go talk to the living witnesses themselves. If none of this were true, Paul would be telling one of the most easily exposed lies imaginable.

 All of the evidences we have discussed testify to the accuracy of what Paul says about the appearances of Jesus to himself and those early witnesses of the risen Christ in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. This leaves the critic and the fringe critic with what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle. The incredible about turns so powerfully fortify each other that the faith, writings, and conduct of those early Christians virtually disallow any other reasonable explanation. For, as we have seen, each appearance and each about turn greatly deepens the veracity of the others. Add to this the extreme improbability that any of them were lying, given the circumstances.

In the next and final post in this series, we will examine yet another about turn, one that permeates almost every book and letter in the New Testament, and appears to be impossible to explain apart from the risen Christ. [xix]

[i] Acts 9:11-16.
[ii] Rev. 1:7-10
[iii] Acts. 10:9-17
[iv]As though unnaturally or untimely born (ohsperei toe ektroemati, wsperei tw ektrwmati).  The root word trauma means wound. This is similar to the English meaning of trauma, as in a wounding experience.  Here the sense is of something torn from the womb. Semantically, it could either mean abortion, or a miscarriage. In both cases the womb must be torn, thus leaving a wound. But in both case no birth takes place. Possibly Paul is thinking of a kind of birth similar to modern C sections. What is clear in the context is that Paul looks at Christ’s appearance to him as the last Apostle as authentic yet somehow irregular. It is almost “as though” (ohsperei) Paul was a miscarriage that somehow got born anyway.
[v] I Cor. 15:1-11
[vi] Gal. 1:18
[vii] Acts 4:36, 9:27, 12:25’ Acts 13:1-3, 15:1-3
[viii] Acts 9:13-17
[ix] Acts 13:1-3.
[x] Acts 4:3-6
[xi] Acts 13:1-3.
[xii] Acts 26:24-27.
[xiii] Acts 15
[xiv]Henry Alford, a master exegete, textual critic, and classical scholar had this to say about 1 and 2 Corinthians: “As far as I am aware the first of these [First Corinthians, brackets mine] has never been doubted by any critic of note.” See Henry Alford, “Alfords Greek Testament,” (Grand Rapids: Michigan, Guardian Press, 1976) p. 45. This is still the case.
[xv] I Cor. 15. Here Paul sets forth in considerable depth the implications of the resurrection, not only of Christ but of all his children.
[xvi] 1 Corinthians 7:10, 12, 17, 22, 25, 32, 35. See especially Acts 13:13-41. Here Paul in Antiochspeaks in the Jewish Synagogue declaring Jesus, Lord, Savior, and Messiah. See also Paul speaking in Athens. Acts 15:22-27, 16:18, 17:22-31. See also Acts 18L5,28, 24:24, 26:23, 28:30-31.
[xvii] Acts 23:12-22.
[xviii] Acts 8:1. Ironically, Paul is part of the beginning persecutors in Jerusalem who then persecute Paul after his conversion. Acts 9:23, 29, 13:49, 14:5-6, 14:19-20. Acts 16-24, Acts 17:5-8. Paul is in Corinth for a year and a half, filled with Jewish enemies who want to kill or discredit him. This is the very place Paul declares that more than five hundred men at once, most still living, saw Christ. At the time of writing the letter, if Paul were lying, his Jewish enemies were right there ready to discredit him. See Acts 18. The Lord told Paul to stay there and that, despite all his Jewish enemies, the Lord Jesus would protect him. In Paul’s life there were a great many post ascension appearances.  Here Jesus speaks to him directly in a vision. See also, with respect to Paul’s enemies, Acts 19:9, 21:27-36, Acts 23:7-11.
[xix] The Greek New Testament. Edited by Kurt Aland,Mathew Black,Carlo M. Martini,Bruce M. Metzsker and Allen Wikgren, United Bible Society Text, 1966. See Liddel and Scott, Greek English Lexicon, (Oxford, Clarendon Press) 1985 Impression.