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Chapter 4

PAUL'S TESTIMONY CONSIDERED


Enough has perhaps been said to cause the reader to agree with the view of St. Paul's conversion taken above--that is to say, to make him regard the conversion as mainly, if not entirely, due to the weight of evidence afforded by the courage and consistency of the early Christians.

But, the change in Paul's mind being thus referred to causes which preclude all possibility of hallucination or ecstasy on his own part, it becomes unnecessary to discuss the attempts which have been made to explain away the miraculous character of the account given in the Acts. I believe that this account is founded upon fact, and that it is derived from some description furnished by St. Paul himself of the vision mentioned, I. Cor. xv., which again is very possibly the same as that of II. Cor. xii. For the purposes of the present investigation, however, the whole story must be set aside. At the same time it should be borne in mind, that any detraction from the historical accuracy of the writer of the Acts, is more than compensated for, by the additional weight given to the conversion of St. Paul, whom we are now able to regard as having been converted by evidence which was in itself overpowering, and which did not stand in need of any miraculous interference in order to confirm it.

It is important to observe that the testimony of Paul should carry more weight with those who are bent upon close critical investigation than that even of the Evangelists. St. Paul is one whom we know, and know well. No syllable of suspicion has ever been breathed, even in Germany, against the first four of the Epistles which have been generally assigned to him; friends and foes of Christianity are alike agreed to accept them as the genuine work of the Apostle. Few figures, therefore, in ancient history stand out more clearly revealed to us than that of St. Paul, whereas a thick veil of darkness hangs over that of each one of the Evangelists. Who St. Matthew was, and whether the gospel that we have is an original work, or a translation (as would appear from Papias, our highest authority), and how far it has been modified in translation, are things which we shall never know. The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke are involved in even greater obscurity. The authorship, date, and origin of the fourth Gospel have been, and are being, even more hotly contested than those of the other three, and all that can be affirmed with certainty concerning it is, that no trace of its existence can be found before the latter half of the second century, and that the spirit of the work itself is eminently anti-Judaistic, whereas St. John appears both from the Gospels and from St. Paul's Epistles to have been a pillar of Judaism.

With St. Paul all is changed: we not only know him better than we know nine-tenths of our own most eminent countrymen of the last century, but we feel a confidence in him which grows greater and greater the more we study his character. He combines to perfection the qualities that make a good witness--capacity and integrity: add to this that his conclusions were forced upon him. We therefore feel that, whereas from a scientific point of view, the Gospel narratives can only be considered as the testimony of early and sincere writers of whom we know little or nothing, yet that in the evidence of St. Paul we find the missing link which connects us securely with actual eye-witnesses and gives us a confidence in the general accuracy of the Gospels which they could never of themselves alone have imparted. We could indeed ill spare either the testimony of the Evangelists or that of St. Paul, but if we were obliged to content ourselves with one only, we should choose the Apostle.

Turning then to the evidence of St. Paul as derivable from I. Cor. xv. we find the following:

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received and wherein ye stand. By which also ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures: and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures; and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater portion remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that He was seen of James; then of all the Apostles. And last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."

In the first place we must notice Paul's assertion that the Gospel which he was then writing was identical with that which he had originally preached. We may assume that each of the appearances of Christ here mentioned had in Paul's mind a definite time and place, derived from the account which he had received and which probably led to his conversion; the words "that which I also received" surely imply "that which I also received IN THE FIRST INSTANCE": now we know from his own mouth (Gal. i., 16, 17) that AFTER his conversion he "conferred not with flesh and blood"--"neither," he continues, "went I up to Jerusalem to them which were Apostles before me, but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus: then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see (?st???sa?) Peter, and abode with him fifteen days, but others of the Apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." Since, then, he must have heard SOME story concerning Christ's reappearances before his conversion and subsequent sojourn in Arabia, and since he had heard nothing from eye-witnesses until the time of his going up to Jerusalem three years later, it is probable that the account quoted above is the substance of what he found persisted in by the Christians whom he was persecuting at Damascus, and was at length compelled to believe. But this is very unimportant: it is more to the point to insist upon the fact that St. Paul must have received the account given I. Cor. xv., 3-8 within a very few years of the Crucifixion itself, and that it was subsequently confirmed to him by Peter, and probably by James and John, during his stay of fifteen days in Peter's house.

This account can have been nothing new even then, for it is plain that at the time of Paul's conversion the Christian Church had spread far: Paul speaks of RETURNING to Damascus, as though the writer of the Acts was right as regards the place of his conversion; but the fact of there having been a church in Damascus of sufficient importance for Paul to go thither to persecute it, involves the lapse of considerable time since the original promulgation of our Lord's Resurrection, and throws back the origin of the belief in that event to a time closely consequent upon the Crucifixion itself.

Now Paul informs us that he was told (we may assume by Peter and James) that Christ first reappeared WITHIN THREE DAYS OF THE CRUCIFIXION. There is no sufficient reason for doubting this; and one fact of weekly recurrence even to this day, affords it striking confirmation--I refer to the institution of Sunday as the Lord's day. We know that the observance of this day in commemoration of the Resurrection was a very early practice, nor is there anything which would seem to throw doubt upon the fact of the first "Sunday" having been also the Sunday of the Resurrection. Another confirmation of the early date assigned to the Resurrection by St. Paul, is to be found in the fact that every instinct would warn the Apostles AGAINST the third day as being dangerously early, and as opening a door for the denial of the completeness of the death. The fortieth day would far more naturally have been chosen.

Turning now from the question of the date of the first reappearance to what is told us of the reappearances themselves, we find that the earliest was vouchsafed to St. Peter, which is at first sight opposed to the Evangelistic records; but this is a discrepancy upon which no stress should be laid; St. Paul might well be aware that Mary Magdalene was the first to look upon her risen Lord, and yet have preferred to dwell upon the more widely known names of Peter and his fellow Apostles. The facts are probably these, that our Lord first shewed Himself to the women, but that Peter was the first of the Apostolic body to see Him; it was natural that if our Lord did not choose to show Himself to the Apostles without preparation, Peter should have been chosen as the one best fitted to prepare them: Peter probably collected the other Apostles, and then the Redeemer shewed Himself alive to all together. This is what we should gather from St. Paul's narrative; a narrative which it would seem arbitrary to set aside in the face of St. Paul's character, opportunities and antecedent prejudices against Christianity--in the face also of the unanimity of all the records we have, as well as of the fact that the Christian religion triumphed, and of the endless difficulties attendant on the hallucination theory.

We conclude therefore that Paul was satisfied by sufficient evidence that our Lord had appeared to Peter on the third day after the Crucifixion, nor can any reasonable doubt be thrown upon the other appearances of which he tells us. It is true that on the occasion of his visit to Peter he saw none other of the Apostles save James--but there is nothing to lead us to suppose that there was any want of unanimity among them: no trace of this has come down to us, and would surely have done so if it had existed. If any dependence at all is to be placed on the writers of the New Testament it did not exist. Stronger evidence than this unanimity it would be hard to find.

Another most noticeable feature is the fewness of the recorded appearances of Christ. They commenced according to Paul (and this is virtually according to Peter and James) immediately after the Crucifixion. Paul mentions only five appearances: this does not preclude the supposition that he knew of more, nor that the women who came to the sepulchre had also seen Him, but it does seem to imply that the reappearances were few in number, and that they continued only for a very short time. They were sufficient for their purpose: one of preparation to Peter--another to the Apostles--another to the outside world, and then one or two more--but still not more than enough to establish the fact beyond all possibility of dispute. The writer of the Acts tells us that Christ was seen for a space of forty days--presumably not every day, but from time to time. Now forty days is a mystical period, and one which may mean either more or less, within a week or two, than the precise time stated; it seems upon the whole most reasonable to conclude that the reappearances recorded by Paul, and some few others not recorded, extended over a period of one or two months after the Crucifixion, and that they then came to an end; for there can be no doubt that St. Paul conceived them as having ended with the appearance to the assembled Apostles mentioned I. Cor. xv., 7, and, though he does not say so expressly, there is that in the context which suggests their having been confined to a short space of time.

It is perfectly clear that St. Paul did not believe that any one had seen Christ in the interval between the last recorded appearance to the eleven, and the vision granted to himself. The words "and last of all he was seen also of me AS OF ONE BORN OUT OF DUE TIME" point strongly in the direction of a lapse of some years between the second appearance to the eleven and his own vision. This confirms and is confirmed by the writer of the Acts. St. Paul never could have used the words quoted above, if he had held that the appearances which he records had been spread over a space of years intervening between the Crucifixion and his own vision. Where would be the force of "born out of due time" unless the time of the previous appearances had long passed by? But if, at the time of St. Paul's conversion, it was already many years since the last occasion upon which Christ had been seen by his disciples, we find ourselves driven back to a time closely consequent upon the Crucifixion as the only possible date of the reappearances. But this is in itself sufficient condemnation of Strauss's theory: that theory requires considerable time for the development of a perfectly unanimous and harmonious belief in the hallucinations, while every particle of evidence which we can get points in the direction of the belief in the Resurrection having followed very closely upon the Crucifixion.

To repeat: had the reappearances been due to hallucination only, they would neither have been so few in number nor have come to an end so soon. When once the mind has begun to run riot in hallucination, it is prodigal of its own inventions. Favoured believers would have been constantly seeing Christ even up to the time of Paul's letter to the Corinthians, and the Apostle would have written that even then Christ was still occasionally seen of those who trusted in him, and served him faithfully. But we meet with nothing of the sort: we are told that Christ was seen a few times shortly after the Crucifixion, then AFTER A LAPSE OF SEVERAL YEARS (I am surely warranted in saying this) Paul himself saw Him--but no one in the interval, and no one afterwards. This is not the manner of the hallucinations of uneducated people. It is altogether too sober: the state of mind from which alone so baseless a delusion could spring, is one which never could have been contented with the results which were evidently all, or nearly all, that Paul knew of. St. Paul's words cannot be set aside without more cause than Strauss has shewn: instead of betraying a tendency towards exaggeration, they contain nothing whatever, with the exception of his own vision, that is not imperatively demanded in order to account for the rise and spread of Christianity.

Concerning that vision Strauss writes as follows:

"With regard to the appearance he (Paul) witnessed--he uses the same word (?f??) as with regard to the others: he places it in the same category with them only in the last place, as he names himself the last of the Apostles, but in exactly the same rank with the others. Thus much, therefore, Paul knew--or supposed--that the appearances which the elder disciples had seen soon after the Resurrection of Jesus had been of the same kind as that which had been, only later, vouchsafed to himself. Of what sort then was this?"

I confess that I am wholly unable to feel the force of the above. Strauss says that Paul's vision was ecstatic--subjective and not objective--that Paul thought he saw Christ, although he never really saw him. But, says Strauss, he uses the same word for his own vision and for the appearances to the earlier Apostles: it is plain therefore that he did not suppose the earlier Apostles to have seen Christ in the same sort of way in which they saw themselves and other people, but to have seen him as Paul himself did, i.e., by supernatural revelation.

But would it not be more fair to say that Paul's using the same word for all the appearances--his own vision included--implies that he considered this last to have been no less real than those vouchsafed earlier, though he may have been perfectly well aware that it was different in kind? The use of the same word for all the appearances is quite compatible with a belief in Paul's mind that the manner in which he saw Christ was different from that in which the Apostles had seen him: indeed, so long as he believed that he had seen Christ no less really than the others, one cannot see why he should have used any other word for his own vision than that which he had applied to the others: we should even expect that he would do so, and should be surprised at his having done otherwise. That Paul did believe in the reality of his own vision is indisputable, and his use of the word ?f?? was probably dictated by a desire to assert this belief in the strongest possible way, and to place his own vision in the same category with others, which were so universally known among Christians to have been material and objective, that there was no occasion to say so. Nevertheless there is that in Paul's words on which Strauss does not dwell, but which cannot be passed over without notice. Paul does not simply say, "and last of all he was seen also of me"--but he adds the words "as of one born out of due time."

It is impossible to say decisively that this addition implies that Paul recognised a difference in kind between the appearances, inasmuch as the words added may only refer to time--still they would explain the possible use of [?f??] in a somewhat different sense, and I cannot but think that they will suggest this possibility to the reader. They will make him feel, if he does not feel it without them, how strained a proceeding it is to bind Paul down to a rigorously identical meaning on every occasion on which the same word came from his pen, and to maintain that because he once uses it on the occasion of an appearance which he held to be vouchsafed by revelation, therefore, wherever else he uses it, he must have intended to refer to something seen by revelation: the words "as of one born out of due time" imply the utterly unlooked for and transcendent nature of the favour, and suggest, even though they do not compel, the inference that while the other Apostles had seen Christ in the common course of nature, as a visible tangible being before their waking eyes, he had himself seen Him not less truly, but still only by special and unlooked for revelation. If such thoughts were in his mind he would not probably have expressed them farther than by the touching words which he has added concerning his own vision. So much for the objection that the evidence of Paul concerning the earlier appearances is impaired by his having used the same word for them, and for the appearance to himself. It only remains therefore to review in brief the general bearings of Paul's testimony as given I. Cor. xv., 1-8.

Firstly, there is the early commencement of the reappearances: this is incompatible with hallucination, for the hallucination must be supposed to have occurred when most easy to refute, and when the spell of shame and fear was laid most heavily upon the Apostles. Strauss maintains that the appearances were unconsciously antedated by Peter; we can only say that the circumstances of the case, as entered into more fully above, render this very improbable; that if Peter told Paul that he saw Christ on the third day after the Crucifixion, he probably firmly believed that he did see Him; and that if he believed this, he was also probably right in so believing.

Secondly, there is the fact that the reappearances were few, and extended over a short time only. Had they been due to hallucination there would have been no limit either to their number or duration. Paul seems to have had no idea that there ever had been, or ever would be, successors to the five hundred brethren who saw Christ at one time. Some were fallen asleep--the rest would in time follow them. It is incredible that men should have so lost all count of fact, so debauched their perception of external objects, so steeped themselves in belief in dreams which had no foundation but in their own disordered brains, as to have turned the whole world after them by the sheer force of their conviction of the truth of their delusions, and yet that suddenly, within a few weeks from the commencement of this intoxication, they should have come to a dead stop and given no further sign of like extravagance. The hallucinations must have been so baseless, and would argue such an utter subordination of judgement to imagination, that instead of ceasing they must infallibly have ended in riot and disorganisation; the fact that they did cease (which cannot be denied) and that they were followed by no disorder, but by a solemn sober steadfastness of purpose, as of reasonable men in deadly earnest about a matter which had come to their knowledge, and which they held it vital for all to know--this fact alone would be sufficient to overthrow the hallucination theory. Such intemperance could never have begotten such temperance: from such a frame of mind as Strauss assigns to the Apostles no religion could have come which should satisfy the highest spiritual needs of the most civilised nations of the earth for nearly two thousand years.

When, therefore, we look at the want of faith of the Apostles before the Crucifixion, and to their subsequent intense devotion; at their unanimity at their general sobriety; at the fact that they succeeded in convincing the ablest of their enemies and ultimately the whole of Europe; at the undeviating consent of all the records we have; at the early date at which the reappearances commenced,--at their small number and short duration--things so foreign to the nature of hallucination; at the excellent opportunities which Paul had for knowing what he tells us; at the plain manner in which he tells it, and the more than proof which he gave of his own conviction of its truth; at the impossibility of accounting for the rise of Christianity without the reappearance of its Founder after His Crucifixion; when we look at all these things we shall admit that it is impossible to avoid the belief that after having died, Christ DID reappear to his disciples, and that in this fact we have the only intelligible explanation of the triumph of Christianity.


Samuel Butler

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