The Conversion of Saint Paul, Part 4

1 Corinthians 15:3-8 This week’s lessons help us to prepare for Easter by showing how Paul’s conversion provides proof for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Only Explanations

According to Lyttleton there were four explanations for Paul’s claim of his own conversion.  We will look at the first two today.

1. Was Paul an imposter? Paul could not have made false claims in regard to his conversion, because he lacked all motive for doing so. There could only have been two motives: either to advance himself in some way, or to gratify some personal passion or desire. But how could either of these have been true? Paul did not advance himself by his conversion, nor could he have hoped to. Exactly the opposite was the case. Paul’s future lay in a continuation of his Judaism. He was a privileged young man who already had made a noteworthy mark in life. The Christians were non-privileged and persecuted. Paul had nothing to gain and everything to lose by his conversion. And he did lose much. From the beginning those he had formerly served sought his life, as he had sought the lives of others (Acts 9:23). As the years of his service unfolded he endured more persecutions and lost more than any of the other early believers. Eventually he lost his life for his profession.

But perhaps there was some other desire that would have caused him to lie about his conversion. Some people have claimed revelations from God in order to indulge their sinful natures. That could not have been Paul’s motive. Paul lived a chaste and holy life. Some claim revelations in order to exalt themselves as some great prophet. Paul, on the contrary, abased himself as “the chief of sinners.” There was no rational motive that could have caused Paul to embrace the faith of Jesus Christ without being convinced of it. So although we must still consider whether Paul was mistaken, we can at least eliminate deliberate deception as a possibility.

2. Was Paul an enthusiast? If Paul was not a deliberate deceiver, the possibility exists that he was self-deceived as the result of an overly enthusiastic religious temperament. Was Paul like this? Zealous he certainly was, as well as determined, strong-willed, and ruthless! But not enthusiastic in the sense of one who easily deceives himself in the fervor of some self-generated religious experience. The real proof of this point is that intellectually Paul believed in the resurrection and still was not in the least inclined to embrace Christianity. This was not the case with all Jews. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. “Once dead always dead” was their conviction. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection, which Paul once used to great effect in a later appearance before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 23:6-8). But although as a Pharisee Paul believed in the resurrection and although he knew of the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead as an evidence of a future resurrection of his people, Paul was not inclined to embrace that conviction. Like Martha, he was willing to believe in a general resurrection at the end of time, but he was not willing to believe in one affecting either himself or his contemporaries (cf. John 11:24). He was too “sane,” too “intelligent,” too “modern” to believe along those lines.

Study Questions
  1. What are the first two possibilities for Paul’s conversion?  Why couldn’t these explanations be true?
  2. Besides experiencing genuine conversion, what are some other reasons people are sometimes drawn to Christianity?

Application: Pray for opportunities to talk with people who might be showing an interest in the Christian faith, but for the wrong reasons.

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