The other day I noted that I agree with J.R.D. Kirk who wrote, “I believe in the resurrection not because of the evidence…but because Paul believed in and I believe him” (see here). I think we may have been misunderstood as promoting some sort of bumper sticker theology to the equivalent of “Paul said it, I believe it, that settles it”. I did not intend to be dismissive of the evidence for the resurrection; I intended on emphasizing the value of the evidence being enhanced and made more valuable due to the character of the witness(es). I assume Kirk would say something similar.
In April the church of which I was a part when I lived in San Francisco is doing a sermon series where they will be tackling some big questions like the resurrection of Christ. One lady from the church emailed me today asking if I would write something on the resurrection for the website. I agreed. I wrote on why I find the resurrection likely because of the testimony of Paul (see here). I will reproduce it here in order to clarify (fill out) what I asserted a few days ago. Here is what I wrote:
While there are many reasons to affirm the historicity of the resurrection it may be the testimony of the Apostle Paul that I find most convincing. In his letter to the Philippians he wrote that he was “circumzied on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, as regards the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal persecuting the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (3.4-6). He follows this by confessing that “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). In other words, his conversion/call to Christianity came with no obvious perks. He had an experience that shook him causing him to shift from persecuting the church to becoming her foremost apostle.
The author of the Book of Acts tells the story of Paul being on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians there when he encountered the resurrected Jesus (9.1-19; 22.1-21; 26.1-20). In fact, in the last two of these accounts Paul gives a testimony that sounds just like the one noted above. He appeals to his Jewish ancestry and his desire to get rid of the Christian sect. It was the appearance of Christ that turned him into a follower of ‘the Way’.
At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians (15.1-58) he spends a lot of time reminding the church there that (1) he was one of the witnesses of the resurrected Christ, (2)that he preached the resurrection as one of the core elements of his message, and (3) if the resurrection did not occur this whole thing is a big waste of his time as well as their life. The resurrection of Christ and our eventual resurrection is central to the gospel. If there was no resurrection Christianity is a horrible lie.
For Paul, a man who has no reason to become a Christian, and who in fact hated Christianity, to dedicate his whole life to telling everyone that “God has fixed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17.31), which led to him being dismissed by the brilliant philosophers of his day (v. 32), while not the end of the argument ought to, at the very least, make even the most hardened skeptic curious as to why! For Paul the doctrine of resurrection was more than merely a neat story–all history depended upon it. He said that we wait along with creation for our redemption (Roman 8.19-23). It is when the children of God are resurrected that the whole created order will be restored.
If Jesus did not rise from the dead we are still in our sins, we will not rise from the dead, the created order will not be restored, and there is no reason for hope. This is Paul’s belief. For a man who was comfortable as a religious leader of his people to suddenly become an itinerate prophet, being beaten and rejected by many, so that he could proclaim such an absurd message says something. In my opinion it says Paul did see Jesus, resurrected and alive, and it shook his world.
I believe in the resurrection, in part, because I believe Paul had no reason to lie.
Maybe this will better explain what I mean when I say I believe Paul. Part of the problem is (1) I do not have an empty tomb to visit and (2) I have never seen the resurrected Christ but (3) I do have access to copies of Paul’s letters and he claims to have seen Christ and to have known others with the same experience (naming some who would have seen an empty tomb). Yes, the evidence is convincing but I do not have direct access to the evidence but I do have indirect access to a self-proclaimed eye-witness.