Paul’s Radical Conversion To Christianity
By James Bishop
Apologists have pointed out that there are several persuasive reasons as to why Paul’s radical conversion is significant for defending the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
Our best historical evidence sees Paul, who formerly persecuted and killed early Christians, converted as a direct result of an experience with the risen Jesus. He tells us of his persecution of the early Christians, and goes as far as to say that, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). Yet, in our early creed he affirms that Jesus had appeared to him (1 Cor. 15:8), James, Peter and many others.
Paul hated Christianity
Prior to his conversion Paul was a persecutor of the early church and consented to murdering early Christians. Our first question should be in answer to “Why Paul, as a Pharisee, was so hostile to the early Christian proclamation of the risen Jesus?”
In fact, Paul answers this for us. As a Pharisee, Paul had a high view of the Old Testament (OT), yet in the OT we find that if anyone is crucified he has been cursed by God: “for the one who is left exposed on a tree is cursed by God. You must not defile your land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance” (Deuteronomy. 21:22-23). Paul, like other Jews were waiting and anticipating the coming of the Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule and the oppressors.
So, when the early Christians were telling fellow Jews & gentiles that Jesus was this long awaited Messiah after him having been crucified, what they were then in fact saying is that the long awaited Messiah was cursed by God and condemned to hang on a cross like a common criminal. That Paul considered seriously blasphemous, scholar Martin Hengel captures this saying that “The social stigma and disgrace associated with crucifixion in the Roman world can hardly be overstated” (1).
To this Paul admits after his radical conversion, writing that…