Paul’s Special Credibility

I had this thought when I was reading William Lane Craig’s The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus: As someone who was persecuting the early Christians, Paul would have been very familiar with the arguments used by the Jewish establishment in this persecution — in particular, for example, that Jesus was not resurrected and made no post-Resurrection appearances, that instead the disciples had simply conspired to steal His body from His tomb and then lied about seeing Him. See, e.g., Matthew 28:10-15.

But Paul came to reject those arguments! (I’ll add that we also are told of no one who began as a believer and then decided, well, no, I guess He didn’t rise from the dead after all.)

Lane himself quotes (48) the wonderful observation by “the great Cambridge New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd” that, when the post-conversion Paul spent two weeks in Jerusalem with Peter and also spoke with James, “We may presume that they did not spend all their time talking about the weather.” That is, says Lane, “The facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection must have been the center of their discussion.” And I would speculate that Paul would have been eager to get Peter’s and James’s reactions to the arguments Paul had made, and the Jewish establishment was no doubt continuing to make, against the Resurrection. Paul apparently came away from those conversations convinced, if he wasn’t already, that the arguments against Jesus’ Resurrection were unpersuasive.

This seems to me to be a big deal. It’s as if the chief prosecutor decides to resign in the middle of a case because he’s convinced the defendant is innocent. And of course it’s even more dramatic than that here: Paul didn’t just quit the prosecution team, he spent the rest of his life evangelizing for the other side — and undergoing all manner of trials and tribulations in doing so, including finally his beheading.

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As I said, this occurred to me while reading Professor Lane’s book, though I don’t think he makes my point specifically. But, as I also noted, he makes some other excellent points about Paul; here’s an example (100):

I think we sometimes fail to appreciate exactly what we have in terms of historical evidence in Paul’s letters. For think of it: here is an indisputably authentic letter [I think Lane has in mind, in particular here, I Corinthians 15:5-8] from a man who knew personally Jesus’ own younger brother [i.e., James] and chief disciple [i.e., Peter] as well as many other early disciples, all of whom, he says, saw Jesus alive from the dead. Why, that is astounding! We may try to explain away those experiences, but it would be futile to say they never happened. Paul’s list of witnesses makes it certain that on separate occasions different individuals and groups saw appearances of Jesus. This fact is virtually indisputable.

And, in an endnote to this passage (125), Lane adds,

Indeed, so strong is the evidence for these appearances that Wolfhart Pannenberg, perhaps the world’s greatest theologian, has rocked modern, skeptical German theology by building his entire theology precisely on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus as supplied in Paul’s list of appearances [citing Pannenberg’s Jesus: God and Man]. Pannenberg also argues for the empty tomb, but its role in his case is subsidiary and confirmatory.