Tough Questions Answered

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Why Is Paul So Important to Historians Studying the Resurrection of Jesus? #5 Post of 2012

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Historical scholar Mike Licona, in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach, asks just this question.  His answer is important to understand.

A priority must be assigned to Paul because he is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus, and there are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.  Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.  And he personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.

Paul’s conversion is especially interesting because he was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.  Therefore Jesus’ resurrection is reported not only by his friends but also by at least someone who was a vehement foe at the time of the experience.  Paul’s belief that he had witnessed the risen Christ was so strong that he, like the original disciples, was willing to suffer continuously for the sake of the gospel, even to the point of martyrdom.

Let’s recap what Licona is saying.  Paul is important because:

  1. He is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus.
  2. There are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.
  3. Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.
  4. He personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.
  5. He was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.
  6. He was willing to suffer and be martyred because his belief in the risen Jesus was so strong.

In future posts, we will look at a couple of skeptical arguments as to why we should discount Paul’s writings as evidence of the resurrection.  Licona presents these arguments and then responds to them, so stay tuned.


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Comments

  • Kdeltakilo

    Hi Bill. Interesting post. I look forward to following your future posts. I just did a video at YouTube on Paul. I was recently made aware of the anti-Paul teaching that seems to be growing. I’m ProphecyPodRadio at YouTube if you’re interested in how I rebut the critics of Paul.

  • Boz

    Michael R. Licona (born July 17, 1961)[1] is an American New Testament scholar and Evangelical Christian apologist. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria) which he completed “with distinction” and the highest mark and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Liberty University. Licona was the Apologetics Coordinator at the North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention) and Research Professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary until 2011.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Licona certainly sounds more like an apologist than a historian.

    1. He is the earliest known author to mention the resurrection of Jesus.

    True.

    2. There are numerous extant texts he wrote that give us clues pertaining to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection.

    Paul discusses the resurrection in a number of letters. Whether he is actually telling us anything meaningful about a real event is the question we are trying to answer.

    3. Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself.

    Paul’s is the only first person claim we have for an appearance of the risen Jesus. However, I don’t see how his reports of seeing the risen Jesus are any more “verifiable” than Joseph Smith’s reports of seeing the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates.

    4. He personally knew the other disciples, who were also claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them in both individual and group settings.

    Actually, Paul never uses the word “disciple” to describe anyone he knew. While Paul says that the risen Jesus appeared to others, he never refers to what they “claimed” to see. The only sources that Paul cites for his information are scripture and revelation.

    5. He was an enemy of the church when his experience of the risen Jesus occurred.

    Actually, Paul doesn’t say that he was an enemy at the time of the appearance. That detail comes from the author of Acts. For all Paul tells us, he could have stopped persecuting Christians prior to the appearance.

    6. He was willing to suffer and be martyred because his belief in the risen Jesus was so strong.

    A real historian would not simply take everything Paul says at face value.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    While I agree Paul is important, we must be careful to not assign significance solely because of characteristics. For example, he is traditionally characterized as the first to chronologically write about Jesus’ resurrection…but someone had to be first. Just because it was Paul does not make it more or less significant than the second or third or fourth (or more accurate.)

    This is a bit like saying the goalie is “significant” because s/he is the one to stop the ball from going in the goal. Well…yes…but really that is more descriptive of the position than how important they are. The opposing team had to move the ball through 10 other players before it gets to the goalie…

    The more fascinating study (and frustrating) is Paul’s back story. What did he mean when he said he persecuted the church? (Gal. 1:23). This is far too broad to give any definition. He could have been doing anything from mocking the church, to preventing them from synagogue to killing them with flaming swords—we don’t know.

    Paul never claims his persecution was anything but personal; Paul never states it was state-sanctioned in any way. Even more curious–contra Acts—Paul states he was unknown by sight in Judea. (Gal. 1:22)

    Secondly, how much did Paul know about the church’s claims? Paul makes an interesting catch-22 for Drs. Habermas and Licona’s “minimal facts” claim. Paul was literally right there on the ground at the claim’s initiation. If Paul heard, and was not convinced, by the minimal facts being proclaimed—why would we be when we are so many years and generations removed from investigating the facts? Paul had hands-on opportunity to inspect the claims and found them insufficient.

    On the other hand, if Paul (of all people) was NOT informed of the minimal facts, then how many outsiders were given historical claims to study? How much were the Christians proclaiming “Jesus Died by crucifixion. Empty Tomb. Disciples claim experiences of Risen Jesus.” If it wasn’t even known by those trying to prove the Christians wrong?

    Thirdly, what WAS it that converted Paul? Paul indicates he was not convinced by humans, was not taught it, but received it by “revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 1:12) Dr. Licona does an admirable job laying out the arguments for whether this was a vision, or an actual physical presence, but admits it doesn’t further our information. “We concluded that Paul’s description of his conversion experience in this text is too ambiguous to obtain details pertaining to the nature of his conversion experience that would be helpful to our investigation.” The Resurrection of Jesus, pg. 436.

    Fourthly, why is it, if Paul was converted by Jesus’ appearance, does he not provide any details about the event? In 1 Cor. 15, he is adamantly attempting to convince the Corinthians there will be Resurrection bodies…yet gives no illumination whatsoever regarding his own alleged experience with Jesus? Notice Matthew, Luke and John go out of their way to emphasize the physicality of Jesus, (eating, walking, talking, touching) yet Paul is strangely silent even when it would so strongly support his argument!

    Paul is fun to study and all…but in the end he leaves us more questions than answers. I am not convinced he is quite the “slam dunk” many apologists think he is, once we start to peel back the layers.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    Licona’s comments in the post are a summary of a painstaking and thorough historical analysis that was accomplished earlier in his book, The Resurrection of Jesus. I cannot quote the entire book, so as I’ve recommended to many others, you’ll need to actually go read the rest of the book to get the background material.

    And, I would ask you to please go read the comment guidelines for the blog. Snide remarks about Licona (e.g., “A real historian would not simply take everything Paul says at face value”) are out of bounds. Deal with only with his arguments, please.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Bill,

    Anyone who writes “Paul’s letters are the only verifiable reports by a verifiable eyewitness of the risen Jesus himself” is not doing historical analysis. He’s doing apologetics. The use of the term “verifiable” is absurd.

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  • Joel

    Excuse me…but I thought that John Mark penned the first letter and that he denoted the “First Resurrection of Christ….so why all the Paul stuff…..Paul may have known Christ during his time in Jerusalem, but not the first to pen his description. Mark was reliably the first in ~40 A.D. Paul did not come into play until his journey to Damascus to persecute the Christians there..After Paul was on his way… After Stephen’s stoning…

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