Jesus's Words

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

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Section 3: Vision I. Dialogue on the Road: Paul Hears a Voice, Sees Nothing

I. Account as per Acts 9:1-9.

And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.Acts 9:1-9

II. Paul's Supposed First or Unstudied Account as per Acts 22:3-11.

I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished. And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.Acts 22:3-11

III. Paul's Supposed Oratorical or Studied Account as per Acts 26:9-20.

I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities. Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
Acts 26:9-20

On comparing the three accounts of Vision 1st, the particulars will be found referable to twelve heads. Under no more than two of the twelve, will the conformity among them be found entire.

Where disconformity has place it may be clear or not clear of contradiction. Clear it may be of contradiction, when it consists either of mere deficiency or mere redundancy, or of both: deficiency or redundancy, according as it is this or that account, which, on the occasion of the comparison, is taken for the standard.

On the occasion in question, such is the importance of the occurrence, that the proper standard of reference and comparison is that which is most ample: that which, if not strictly speaking complete, wants the least of being so. On the part of the historian, speaking in his own person, omission is in such a case without excuse.

Not so, necessarily, in the case of a person whom the historian speaks of as giving that person's own account of that same occurrence. What may be is, that in the nature of the occasion in which the person is represented as speaking of it, there is so much of suddenness, by reason of impending danger, or urgent pressure, that, of the quantity of time necessary for complete utterance, and even of that necessary for complete and correct recollection, more or less was wanting.

On the occasion of that account of the matter, which is the first of the two on which the historian represents Paul as giving an account of this momentous occurrence,—this justification for want of completeness, or this excuse for want of correctness, might naturally enough have place. For it was while pleading for his life at Jerusalem, before a mixed multitude, no inconsiderable part of which were endeavouring at the destruction of it, that Paul is represented as delivering this first of his two accounts:—call that the supposed unstudied or unpremeditated account.

Not so, on the occasion on which he is represented as delivering the second of these same two accounts. On this occasion, it is true, he is represented as pleading in his defence. But it is pleading in and before a regularly constituted judiciary, and after time for preparation in much greater abundance than he could have wished:—call this the supposed studied or premeditated account.

In this view, the proper standard of comparison can not be dubious. The historian being himself, in all three accounts, the immediately reporting witness, and having had his own time for the forming of them all,—that which he gives in his own person, and which therefore naturally occupies the first place, should, in respect of both qualities, as well as in that of clearness, have been, (and, setting aside deceptious design, naturally would have been), as perfect as it was in his power to make it. To the others alone could any excuse be afforded, in respect of any one of those requisites, by any circumstance peculiar to the respective cases.

What is above being observed—Of the ten following instances of disconformity, seven will be found to be cases of simple deficiency, three of contradiction.

In those which are cases of simple deficiency, it will be seen to have urgency for its justification or excuse; for the others there appears no justification or excuse.3 Of the twelve distinguishable heads in question, under two alone, viz. that of place and that of time, will the conformity be found complete. Place, a spot near to Damascus, in the road leading from Jerusalem to Damascus: Time, meaning time of day,—about noon. But, in the quality of trustworthiness deficient as all three accounts will presently be shown to be, it will be seen how little is contributed, by conformity as to the mere circumstances of time and place.

Now then let us see the subjects, in relation to which a want of conformity is observable. To save words, the shortest form of description possible will throughout be employed.

  • 1. The light seen.
  • 2. The dialogue.
  • 3. Falling to the ground.
  • 4. Language of the voice.
  • 5. Kicking against the pricks.
  • 6. The Lord's commands.
  • 7. Paul's companions' posture.
  • 8. Paul's companions' hearing or not hearing.
  • 9. If hearing, what they heard.
  • 10. Nothing seen but light.

1. Light seen.

Between Acts account and Paul's 1st or supposed unstudied account, no disconformity worth remarking. In Acts it is a "light," in Paul 1st a "great light";4 in both it is about midday. But in Paul's 2d or supposed studied account, it is above the brightness of the sun at that time of the day.

In Acts the passage is simply narrative: in Paul's 1st, the urgency of the occasion left no room for flowers. But in Paul's 2d, time being abundant, flowers were to be collected, and this is one of them. In the ordinary course of nature there exists not upon earth any light equal in brightness to that of the sun; especially the sun at midday, and in such a latitude. Supposing the light in question ever so much greater than the midday sun, neither Paul nor this his historian could, without a miracle on purpose, have had any means of knowing as much. For a miracle for such a purpose, the existence of any effectual demand does not seem probable. For the purpose mentioned,—namely the bereaving of the power of vision every open eye that should direct itself towards it,—to wit, so long as that same direction should continue,—the ordinary light of the sun would have been quite sufficient. At the time and place in question, whatever they may have been, suppose it true that, though midday was the time, the atmosphere was cloudy, and in such sort cloudy, that without something done for the purpose, a light productive of such effects could not have been produced. Still, for this purpose, a specially created body of light different from that of the sun, and exceeding it in intensity, could not be needful. The removal of a single cloud would have been amply sufficient:—a single cloud, and that a very small one.

But if the light was really a light created for the purpose, and brighter than that of the sun; of circumstances so important, mention should not have been omitted in the standard narrative.

Here then is either a deficiency in the standard narrative,—and this deficiency, as already observed, an inexcusable one,—or a redundancy in the subsequent account: a redundancy, the cause of which seems sufficiently obvious: a redundancy—in that account which, being premeditated on the part of the historian, is given by him as being premeditated on the part of the speaker, whom he represents as delivering it: a redundancy,—and that in a word a falsehood: a falsehood, and for what purpose?—for deception: the hero represented by his historian as using endeavours to deceive.

2. Dialogue.

Per Acts, the Dialogue contained five speeches: to wit, 1. The voice's speech; 2. Paul's; 3. The Lord's, whose voice, Paul and his historiographer,5 from what experience is not said, knew the voice to be; 4. Paul's; 5. The Lord's. In Paul 1st, speeches the same in number, order, and, save in one phrase about kicking against the pricks, nearly so in terms. But in Paul 2d, the number of the speeches is no more than three: and, as will be seen below, of the last the import is widely different from that of any of those reported in the other two accounts.

3. Falling to the ground.

Per Acts and Paul 1st, by Paul alone was this prostration experienced. Per Paul 2d, by his unnumbered companions, by the whole company of them, as well as by himself. Deficiency here on the part of the proper standard; so, in the case of the unstudied speech. In the studied speech it is supplied.

4. Language of the voice.

Per Acts and Paul 1st, of the language nothing is said. Deficiency, as in the case last mentioned; to wit, in the regular history, and in the unstudied speech. In the studied speech it is supplied. Stage effect greater. Agrippa, to whom it was more particularly addressed, being, under the Roman viceroy, a sort of king of the Jews,—what seems to have occurred to the historian is—that it might be a sort of gratification to him to be informed, that his own language, the Hebrew, was the language which, on this occasion, was employed by that voice, which by Paul, by whom it had never been heard before, was immediately understood to be the Lord's; i.e. Jesus's; i.e. God's. The character, in which Paul was on this occasion brought by his historiographer on the stage, being that of a consummate orator, furnished with all his graces,—this compliment was among the rest put into his mouth. Moreover, by Jesus no language, for aught that appears, but the Hebrew, having been ever spoken, hence the account became the more consistent or credible.

5. Kicking against the pricks.6

It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Per Acts, this proverbial expression is employed by the voice, as soon as it turns out to have been the Lord's. In the supposed and hasty unstudied speech, it is dropped. This is natural enough. In Paul 2d—in that studied speech, it is employed: it stands there among the flowers.

6. The Lord's Commands.

Commands delivered to Paul by the Lord. Under this head there is a disastrous difference; a sad contradiction. Per Acts, the command is for Paul to go into Damascus: there it stops. Follows immediately an article of information, which is, that at that time and place there is no information for him; but that, sooner or later, some will be ready for him. After he has arrived at Damascus, it shall there, by somebody or other, be told him, it is said, what he is to do. So likewise in Paul 1st, in the unstudied speech, he is, in like manner, to learn not merely what he is to do, but everything that he is to do. Lastly comes, Paul 2d, the studied speech. By the time the historian had arrived at this point in his history, he had forgotten that, according to his own account of the matter, no information at all had, during the road scene, been given to Paul by the Lord's voice; by that voice which was so well known to be the Lord's. That the supposed studied speech, by the charms of which the favour of the King was so happily gained, might be the more impressive,—he makes his orator, in direct contradiction to the account which, on the former occasion, had by him (the historian) been given, enter, on the very spot, into all the details of the Lord's commands.

When the time had come for composing this supposed studied speech,—the historian had, it should seem, forgot Ananias's vision, that subsidiary vision, which we shall come to presently, containing a further promise of the Lord's commands and instructions; and which, after all, unless it is by this studied speech that they are to be regarded as given, are not given by him anywhere.

7. Paul's companions—their posture.

Per Acts, though he fell, they stood it out. Per Paul 1st, not said whether they fell or stood it out. Per Paul 2d, they fell. The supposed studied oratorical account is here in full contradiction with the historical one.

8. Paul's companions—their hearing or not hearing.

Per Acts, they not only saw the light, but heard the voice. Per Paul 1st, they did NOT hear the voice. In the supposed hasty and unstudied speech is the oratorical account made to contradict the historical one. In this particular, which of the accounts was true? If the historical, the haste must, in the oratorical, be the apology, not only for the incompleteness but for the incorrectness. In Paul 2d, nothing is said about their hearing or not hearing.

Supposing the story in any of the accounts to have had any truth in it, there was a middle case, fully as possible and natural as either of these extreme and mutually contradictory ones. It may have been, that while some stood their ground, others fell. And the greater the numbers, the greater the probability of this middle case. But as to their number, all is darkness.

9. Paul's companions—if they heard, what it was they heard.

If they heard anything, they heard, as far as appears, whatever Paul himself heard. Per Acts, it is after the order given to Paul to go on to Damascus,—with the promise thereupon, that there and then, and not before, he should receive the information he should receive; it is after the statement made of his hearing all this from the voice, that the further statement comes, declaring that it was by Paul's companions also that this same voice was heard. But this same voice was, it is said, the Lord's voice. That when the voice had answered to the name by which Paul called it, to wit, the name of Lord, it stopt there, so far as concerned Paul's companions;—and that it reserved what followed, to wit, the above-mentioned order with the promise, for Paul's single ear; true it is, this may be imagined as well as anything else: but at any rate it is not said.

If Paul 2d—the studied oratorical account—is to be believed, all the information for the communication of which this miracle was performed was, as will be seen, communicated here upon the road: viz. immediately after the voice had been called by him Lord. But, if this was the case, and, as above, Paul's companions heard all that he heard,—then so it is, that the revelation was made as well to them as to him;—this revelation, upon the strength of which we shall see him setting himself up above all the Apostles; himself and that Gospel of his own, which he says was his own, and none of theirs. Now then—these companions—was it upon the same errand as his that they went, to wit, the bringing in bonds to Jerusalem all the Damascus Christians? If so, or if on any other account they were any of them in a condition to need conversion,—they were converted as well as he; or else, so far as concerned them, the miracle was thrown away. Companions as they were of his, were they or were they not respectively attendants of his? attendants going under his orders, and on the same errand? Unless, by the Jerusalem rulers, on the part of the Damascus rulers, both will and power were depended upon, as adequate to the task of apprehending the followers of Jesus and sending them bound to Jerusalem, such these companions ought to have been, every one of them—supposing always on the part of this about-to-be Apostle an ordinary prudence: that sort and degree of prudence with which no ordinary police-officer is unprovided. Some persons under his orders he must have had, or he could never have been sent on so extensively and strongly coercive an errand.

These companions, if, on this occasion, any such or any other companions he had, had each of them a name. To this vision, such as it was, they being each of them respectively, as well as himself, whether in the way of sight and hearing both, or in the way of sight alone, percipient witnesses, their names, in the character of so many percipient witnesses, ready upon every proper occasion to answer in the character of reporting witnesses, would have been of no small use: of use, were it only for the giving to this story a little more substance than it has in the form we see it in.

As to Ananias—the supposed principal actor in the scene next to Paul—for him, indeed, supposing any such person to have existed, a name, it is seen, was found. But, with a view to any purpose of evidence, how little that name amounted to, will be seen likewise.

In this vision of Paul's, as it is called,—was any person seen, or anything but light—light at midday? No; positively not any person, nor as far as appears, the light excepted, anything whatsoever. Per Acts 9:8, when when his eyes were opened—so it is expressly said,—he saw no man. This was after he had fallen to the earth; for it was after he arose from the earth. But, it was before he fell to the earth, and thereupon heard the voice, that, according to this same account, he saw the extra light—the light created for the purpose: and, forasmuch as at the conclusion of the dialogue with the five speeches in it—forasmuch as at the conclusion of it, such was the effect produced upon him by the light, as to render him at that time stone-blind, requiring to be led by the hand, it could not from the first have been anything less effective. Per Acts, in this state he continues all the way as far as Damascus, and for three days after his arrival there. So likewise in the supposed unstudied speech, Paul 1st. But in the studied speech, Paul 2d, there is no blindness; the blindness is either forgotten or discarded.

But the curious circumstance is, his being led by the hand—all the way to Damascus led by the hand:—led by the hand by these same companions. Now these same companions, how was it that they were able to lead him by the hand? All that he saw was the light, and by that light he was blinded. But all that he saw they saw: this same light they saw as well as he. This same light, then, by which he was blinded—were they not blinded likewise by it? Was it a privilege—a privilege reserved for a chosen favourite—a privilege which it cost a miracle to produce—the being blinded when nobody else was blinded?

Blinded then as they were, how came he to be led by them, any more than they by him? Can the blind lead the blind? Let Jesus answer. Shall they not both fall into the ditch?(Matthew 15:14.)

Oh! but (says somebody) it is only in Paul 1st,—in Paul's supposed unstudied speech, that the historian makes them see the light that Paul saw. Answer. True: but neither in his own person does he say the contrary. As to their seeing, all he says is, that they saw no man, "hearing a voice but seeing no man." (ver. 7.) But by the same account, (ver. 8.) "When his eyes were opened, he saw no man;" so that, though in what he says in his own person the historian does not mention this which he mentions, speaking in Paul's person,—yet he does not contradict it.

10. Paul's companions.

What part, if any, took they in the conversation? Per Acts, they stood speechless: and it is after the dialogue has been reported, that this is stated. In the unstudied speech, nothing is said about their speech. In the studied speech, with reference to them, no mention is made of speech; any more than of sight or hearing.

But, forasmuch as, according to Acts, whatever Paul saw and heard, they saw and heard likewise; how happened it, that by no one of them, so much as a word, on an occasion so interesting to all, was said—or a question put? To be sure it was to Paul alone, that by the voice, whosever it was, any address was made. It was his concern:—his alone, and none of theirs.

So, indeed, some might think; but, others in their situation, quite as naturally might think otherwise. Sooner or later, at any rate, they would recover whatever it was they lost: sight, if sight; speech, if speech. Whenever recovered, speech would thereupon range with but the greater freedom, for the restraint which, for a time, had been put upon it:—range over the whole business, including whatever secrets Paul had been put in possession of:—the commission, the sweeping and incarcerating commission he had been intrusted with by the rulers, and the unperformed promise that had been made to him by the voice, which being at midday, accompanied by an extraordinary light, was of course the Lord's voice. These things would naturally, by these his companions, have been converted from secrets into town-talk.

Nay but (says somebody) though it is said he saw no man, it is not said, he saw not the Lord: and elsewhere he may be seen saying—saying in the most positive terms, that he did see the Lord.7 And if he did see the Lord anywhere, why not here as well as anywhere else?

"Saw no man." Yes: so says the English version. But the original is more comprehensive:—Saw no person, says the original: that is, to speak literally, saw no one of the masculine gender. No one what? No one person of this gender: this is what the word means, if it means anything. No person; and therefore no Lord: no God; if so it be that, when applied to denote God, the word person means God, or as some say, a part of God.

Note, likewise,—that, when the companions are spoken of,—both in the translation and in the original, the object to which the negative is applied is expressed by the same word as when he, Paul, is spoken of.


3 In regard to the matter testified, that is, in regard to the object of the testimony; it is, first of all, a requisite condition, that what is reported to be true should be possible, both absolutely, or as an object of the elaborative Faculty, and relatively, or as an object of the Presentative Faculties,—Perception, External or Internal. A thing is possible absolutely, or in itself, when it can be construed to thought, that is, when it is not inconsistent with the logical laws of thinking; a thing is relatively possible as an object of perception, External or Internal, when it can affect Sense or Self-consciousness, and, through such affection, determine its apprehension by one or other of these faculties.
A testimony is, therefore, to be unconditionally rejected, if the fact which it reports be either in itself impossible, or impossible as an object of the representative faculties.
But the impossibility of a thing, as an object of these faculties, must be decided either upon physical, or upon metaphysical, principles.
A thing is physically impossible as an object of sense, when the existence itself, or its perception by us, is, by the laws of the material world impossible.—Hamilton's Logic 460.—Ed.

4 "Light,—great Light."—It will be noticed that this "light" is presented first objectively as a phenomenon, a thing, But what is "light"? The universal answer is "That force in nature which, acting on the Retina of the eye produces the sensation we call vision." This vision is the total of the subjective effect of that agency of Nature, the subjective realization through the functions of the Cerebellum. But functions are accomplished through agencies called organs. The retina is one of these organs. Through the operations of these organs and cerebellum subjective apprehension is produced as an effect, but in some cases of very forcible apprehensions they are interpreted as a diseased condition of the organs of sense. Ideas sometimes acquire unusual vividness and permanence and are, therefore, peculiarly liable to be mistaken for their objective prototypes and hence specters, spectral allusions which are very common in cases of emotional excitement.
Further, it will be noticed all the time that the reporter, Luke, wrote what Paul, or some other person or rumor had previously communicated to him. Now Luke, was accustomed to pen these wonders, these superhuman Chimerical prodigies. Take the example of the trial of Stephen, Acts 7. After the Charges of the Complainants, Ib. 6-9, "Libertines" and others had been heard by the High Priest, he inquired of Stephen personally as to the verity of the charges, And Luke reports his responses, And then to make sure of portraying fully the Emotional conditions of the witnesses and the spectators, he reports, When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.Acts 7:54
This Saul, now Paul, must have acted as overseer or umpire. Paul, is by chronologers reckoned to have been about 12 years of age; But it will be seen that Luke, the narrator, is just such a superserviceable witness as wholly impairs his credibility. He says first, Stephen was in fact filled with the Holy Ghost, saw the glory of God, for he evidently was gloriable, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God; and that in addition thereto he states that Stephen, said he saw the same wonders—with the addition that the heavens were opened, &c. If he had been cross-examined and asked whether little Paul, did not behold all these wonders, he no doubt would have answered in the affirmative and volunteered the statement, That they all saw these wonders, the high priest, the accusers, by-standers, and human canines that gnashed their teeth upon Stephen. Consult any author on Psychology on the subject of Emotions, Exstatic illusions.
But in the assembly inquisitors of Stephen, Paul and others before the high priests, what special law or cannons were they accused of violating? Answer, one cannon is quite conspicuous, to wit: Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people. Exodus 22:8
When the inquisitor the high priest found the accused guilty, he was delivered over to the witnesses for execution. The detectives enjoyed the luxury of doing the stoning. If Christ's limitation had been in use, to wit:—that none but the guiltless should throw stones, the accusing sleuths might have been less zealous.—Ed.

5 Historiographer is used purposely by the author to denote a specialist for the occasion.

6 "Goad" is the word used in the Douay Testament and in the late revisions of The Protestants.

7 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.1st Corinthians 15:8

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