Jesus's Words

Chapter 1: Paul's Conversion — Improbability and Discordancy of the Accounts of It.1

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Section I: List of These Accounts, With Preliminary Observations.

  • (See Table I, in which they are confronted.)

In one single work, and that alone, is comprised the whole of the information, in which, in relation to this momentous occurrence, any particulars are at this time of day to be found. This is that historical work, which in our edition of the Bible, has for its title The Acts of the Apostles; for shortness, let us say The Acts.

Of this same occurrence, in this one short work no fewer than three separate accounts are visible; one, in which the story is related by the historian in his own person; two others, in each of which Paul is introduced as giving his own account of it. Of these three accounts, no two will be found agreeing with each other. By the historian, Paul when introduced as speaking in his own person, is represented as contradicting not only the historian's account, but his own account. On each occasion, it should seem, Paul's account is adapted to the occasion. On the first occasion, the historian's account was not exactly adapted to that same first occasion. By the historian's ingenuity, Paul is accordingly represented as giving on that same occasion another and better-adapted account. On the second occasion, neither was the historian's account nor Paul's own account, as given on the former occasion, found suitable to this fresh occasion; on this same fresh occasion, a suitable amendment is accordingly framed.

Here, at the very outset of the inquiry, the distance of time between the point of time on which the occurrence is supposed to have taken place, and the time at which the historian's account of it was penned, are circumstances that present a claim to notice.

The year 35 after the birth of Christ is the year which, according to the received accounts, is assigned to the occurrence. According to these same accounts, the year 63 is the date given to the last occurrence mentioned by the historian, Acts 28: after which occurrence, two years are stated by him as having elapsed, at the time at which the history closes. Here then is an interval of about 30 years, between the time at which the occurrence is stated to have happened, and the time at which these three mutually contradictory accounts of it were framed.

In regard to this radical occurrence in particular, namely Paul's conversion,—for the foundation of this his report, what evidence was it that the reporter had, or could have had in his possession, or at his command? One answer may serve for all; the accounts given of the matter by Paul himself.

With Paul, then, what were this same reporter's means and mode of intercourse? In the year 59, and not before, (such is the inference from his own words) did it fall to his lot to be taken into the train of this self-denominated Apostle. Then it is, that for the first time, in the several accounts given by him of Paul's migrations from place to place, the pronouns us,Acts 20:5 and we make their appearance. From 34 to 59 years are 25. At the end of this interval came the earliest opportunity, which, for anything that appears, he could have had of hearing from his master's own mouth, whatsoever account, if any, it may have been the pleasure of that same master to give, of an occurrence, in relation to which there existed not among men any other percipient witness.

Having accompanied his master during the whole of his progress from Jerusalem, the historian speaks of himself as being still in his train on his arrival at Rome. And when we came to Rome.Acts 28:16 It is not precisely stated, nor can it very determinately be inferred, whether at the point of time at which the history closes, the historian was still at that capital; the negative supposition presents itself as the most probable. Posterior to the closing of the real action of the history, the penning of it will naturally be to be placed.

And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him.Acts 28:30 When this last verse but one of the history was penning, had the historian been living with Paul, he would naturally have given us to understand as much; instead of dwelt, he would have said has been dwelling.

By the tokens of carelessness afforded by the omission of so many particulars, which in every work of an historical nature the reader will naturally expect to see specified; such as the name of the historian, the particulars, occasion and manner of his being taken into the company of the illustrious missionary, and the time of that event;—by these tokens, two inferences, how different soever their tendency, seem at once to be suggested. One is, the genuineness of the narrative. A writer, who was conscious that he was not the man he was thus representing himself to be, viz. the companion of the missionary, would hardly have slid in, in so careless a manner, the mention of so material a circumstance. The other is, the slenderness of the author's qualification for the task thus executed by him; the lowness of his station in the scale of trustworthiness, and consequently the smallness of the probative force, with which a mass of evidence thus circumstanced can reasonably be considered as operating, in support of any alleged matter of fact, which, (either by the extraordinariness of its nature, or the temptation which the circumstances of the case afforded for entire fiction or misrepresentation), presents itself as exposed to doubt or controversy.

A supernatural conversion, and the receipt of a supernatural commission for the delivery of a fresh body of doctrine; such are the two events, which, though in their nature so perfectly distinguishable, were according to this narrative combined in one:—the conversion from an unbelieving, cruel, and destructive persecutor of the new fellowship, into a most zealous supporter and coadjutor: the body of doctrine such as if it amounted to anything, could not but have been—what the person in question declared it to be—a supplement to the religion taught by Jesus while in the flesh;—a supplement, containing matter never revealed to, and consequently never taught by, his Apostles.

Now then, of all these supernatural occurrences, which, by the nameless historiographer, are related to have happened to Paul, if anything had really happened to him—on this supposition, (so many as were the different sets of disciples of his, inhabitants of so many mutually distant provinces, no fewer than eight in number); is it in the nature of the case, that in no one instance, in any of his numerous Epistles, he should have felt the necessity of stating and accordingly have stated, to any of these his disciples, the circumstances attending the event of his conversion—an event on which alone all his professions were founded? circumstances to which, as stated in his historian's narrative, could not from their nature have been known to any human being other than himself?

Yet, in no one of all his Epistles, to any one of these his disciples, of any such particular, either in the way of direct assertion, or in the way of allusion, is any trace to be found. Of revelation, yes: of revelation—this one most momentous indeed, but at the same time most mysterious and uninstructive word, repetitions we have in abundance. But of the time and manner of the alleged communication, or of the matter communicated, nothing is anywhere said.

In these considerations may be seen a part, though but a part, of those, on which, in due season, will be seen grounded the inference,—that at no time, in all the personal conferences he had with the Apostles, was any such story told by Paul, as is related by the author of the Acts.

On the supposition that the narrative, such as it is, is genuine,—taking it as a whole, a very important source of division, from which it will require to be divided in idea into two parts or periods, here presents itself. Period the first, containing the portion of time anterior to the historian's admission into the train of the supposed Apostle: Period the second, containing the portion of time posterior to that event: this latter portion continuing, as far as appears, to the time at which the history closes.

In this latest and last-mentioned period are comprised all the several facts, or supposed facts, in relation to which any grounds appear for the supposition that the historian was, in his own person, a percipient witness.

In relation to all the several facts, or supposed facts, anterior to this period,—the best evidence, which, for anything that appears, ever came within his reach, was composed of such statements as, in the course of his service, it may have been the pleasure of the master to make to, or in the hearing of, this his attendant. Whatsoever may be the grounds of suspicion that may be found attaching themselves to evidence passing through such a channel, or issuing from such a source; other evidence will, if taken in the lump, present itself as being in comparison much less trustworthy. All other evidence consists of statements, coming from we know not whom, at we know not what times, on we know not what occasion, each of them with we know not how many reporting witnesses, one after and from another, through so many different and successive channels, between the percipient witness or witnesses, and the last reporting witness or witnesses, from whom the historian received the statement in the way of personal intercourse.

The period of rumour, and the period of observation—By these two appellations it should seem, may the two periods be not altogether unaptly or uninstructively distinguished.

With reference to the period of rumour,—whether, it was from Paul's own statement, or from a source still more exposed to suspicion, that the historian's conception was derived,—one consideration presents itself, as requisite to be kept in mind. This is, With what facility, especially in that age, upon an occurrence in itself true, and including nothing that lies without the ordinary course of nature,—a circumstance out of the course of nature, giving to the whole a supernatural, and to use the ordinary word a miraculous, character, may, in and by the narrative, have been superinduced.2 Fact, for instance, as it really was—at the word of command, (suppose) a man, having the appearance of a cripple, stands up erect and walks: untrue circumstances, one or both superinduced by rumour—the man had been so from his birth; from his birth down to that same time he had been an inhabitant of that same place.

In the chapter on Paul's supposable miracles, about a dozen occurrences of this description will be found. On each one of these several occasions, the propriety of bearing in mind the above-mentioned consideration, will, it is believed, not appear open to dispute, whatsoever on each several occasion may be the application made of it.


1Of the word conversion, as employed everywhere and in all times in speaking of Paul, commonly called Saint Paul, the import has been found involved in such a cloud, as, on pain of perpetual misconception, it has been found necessary, here at the outset, to clear away. That, from being an ardent and destructive persecutor of the disciples of the departed Jesus, he became their collaborator, and in that sense their ally,—preaching, in speech, and by writing, a religion under the name of the religion of Jesus, assuming even the appellation of an Apostle of Jesus,—Apostle, that is to say, special envoy—(that being the title by which the twelve most confidential servants of Jesus stood distinguished), is altogether out of dispute. That in this sense he became a convert to the religion of Jesus, and that in this sense his alleged conversion was real, is accordingly in this work not only admitted, but affirmed. Few points of ancient history seem more satisfactorily attested. In this sense then he was converted beyond dispute. Call this then his outward conversion; and say, Paul's outward conversion is indubitable. But, that this conversion had for its cause, or consequence, any supernatural intercourse with the Almighty, or any belief in the supernatural character of Jesus himself; this is the position, the erroneousness of which has, in the eyes of the author, been rendered more and more assured, the more closely the circumstances of the case have been looked into. That, in speech and even in action, he was in outward appearance a convert to the religion of Jesus; this is what is admitted: that, inwardly, he was a convert to the religion of Jesus, believing Jesus to be God, or authorized by any supernatural commission from God; this is the position, the negative of which it is the object of the present work to render as evident to the reader, as a close examination has rendered it to the author. The consequence, the practical consequence, follows of itself. In the way of doctrine, whatsoever, being in the Epistles of Paul is not in any one of the Gospels, belongs to Paul, and Paul alone, and forms no part of the religion of Jesus. This is what it seemed necessary to state at the opening; and to this, in the character of a conclusion, the argument will be seen all along to tend.

2See Ch. 15. Paul's supposable miracles explained.

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