Jesus's Words

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

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Section 7: Commission to Paul by Jerusalem Rulers—Commission to Bring In Bonds Damascus Christians—Paul's Contempt Put Upon It

Per Acts, in the historical account, is stated the existence of a commission:—granters, the Jerusalem rulers; persons to whom addressed, Paul himself at Jerusalem; and the synagogues, i.e. the rulers of the synagogues, at Damascus: object, the bringing in custody, from Damascus to Jerusalem, all Christians found there: all adult Christians at any rate, females as well as males; at Paul's own desire,(See Acts 9:2.) adds this same historical account; for to be punished.Acts 22:5 adds Paul 1st supposed unpremeditated oratorical account in Acts 22:5. In the supposed premeditated oratorical account, Paul 2nd, the existence of authority and commission granted to him by the Chief Priests is indeed mentioned, 26:12: but, of the object nothing is said.

In the unpremeditated oratorical account, such is the boldness of the historian, nothing will serve him but to make the orator call to witness the constituted authorities—the Jerusalem rulers—whoever they were, that were present,—to acknowledge the treachery and the aggravated contempt he had been guilty of towards themselves or their predecessors: towards themselves, if it be in the literal sense that what on this occasion he says is to be understood: 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.Acts 22:5 In the premeditated oratorical account, the boldness of the orator is not quite so prominent; he says—it was with having received authority from the chief priestsActs 26:10 at Jerusalem, that he went to Damascus; but, for the correctness of this statement of his, he does not now call upon them, or any of them, to bear witness.

In respect of the description of the persons, of whom the Jerusalem rulers, exercising authority in their behalf, were composed,—the conformity, as between the several accounts, is altogether entire. In the historical account, it is the authority of the High Priest, and the High Priest alone, that is exercised: in the unpremeditated oratorical account, it is that of the High Priest and all the estate of the Elders: in the premeditated account, it is that of the Chief Priests: nothing said either of High Priests or Elders.

Neither, in the supposed unpremeditated oratorical account, is it stated—that, at the time and place of the tumult, the rulers thus called to witness, or any of them, were actually on the spot. But, the spot being contiguous to the Temple—the Temple, out of which Paul had been that instant dragged, before there had been time enough for accomplishing the determination that had been formed for killing him,—the distance, between the spot, at which Paul with the surrounding multitude was standing, Paul being under the momentary protection of the Roman commander—between this spot and the spot, whatever it was, at which the question might have been put to them, or some of them, could not be great.

On the part of the historian, the boldness, requisite for the ascribing the correspondent boldness to the orator, may be believed without much difficulty. The materials for writing being at hand, there was no more danger in employing them in the writing of these words, than in the writing of an equal number of other words.

Not so on the part of the orator himself. For, supposing the appeal made, the multitude might have saved themselves the trouble of putting him to death: the constituted authorities whom he was thus invoking—those rulers, against whom, by his own confession, he had committed this treason—would have been ready enough to proceed against him in the regular way, and take the business out of the hands of an unauthorized mob.

The truth of the story, and for that purpose the trustworthiness of the historian, being to be defended at any rate,—by some people, all this contradiction, all this mass of self-contradiction, will of course be referred to artlessness, or, to take the choice of another eulogistic word, to simplicity: and, of trustworthiness, this amiable quality, whatever may be the name given to it, will be stated as constituting sufficient proof. No such design, as that of deceiving, inhabited, it will be said, his artless bosom: no such design was he capable of harbouring: for, supposing any such wicked design harboured by him, could he have been thus continually off his guard?

But—by all this self-contradiction, the quality really proved is—not artlessness, but weakness: and, with the desire of deceiving, no degree of weakness, be it ever so high, is incompatible. By weakness, when risen even to insanity, artfulness is not excluded: and, in the fashioning, from beginning to end, of all this story, art, we see, is by no means deficient, how unhappily soever applied.

But the story being such as it is, what matters it, as to the credence due to it, in what state, in respect of probity, was the author's mind? Being, as it is, to such a degree untrustworthy and incredible, as that, in so many parts of it, it is impossible it should have been true, the truth of it is impossible: what matters it then, whether it be to the weakness of the moral, or to that of the intellectual, quarter of the author's mind, that the falsity is to be ascribed?

Not only in the whole does this history, anonymous as it is, present satisfactory marks of genuineness,—that is, of being written by the sort of person it professes to be written by, namely, a person who in the course of Paul's last excursion was taken into his suite; but in many parts, so does it of historic verity. True or not true,—like any other history ancient or modern, it has a claim to be provisionally taken for true, as to every point, in relation to which no adequate reason appears for the contrary: improbability, for example, of the supposed facts as related, contradictoriness to itself, contradictoriness to other more satisfactory evidence, or probable subjection to sinister and mendacity-prompting interest.

But, under so much self-contradiction as hath been seen,—whether bias be or be not considered, could any, the most ordinary fact, be regarded as being sufficiently proved?

Meantime, let not any man make to himself a pretence for rejecting the important position thus offered to his consideration;—let him not, for fear of its being the truth, shut his eyes against that which is presented to him as and for the truth;—let him not shut his eyes, on any such pretence, as that of its being deficient in the quality of seriousness. If, indeed, there be any such duty, religious or moral, as that of seriousness; and that the stating as absurd that which is really absurd is a violation of that duty;—at that rate, seriousness is a quality, incompatible with the delivery and perception of truth on all subjects, and in particular on this of the most vital importance: seriousness is a disposition to cling to falsehood, and to reject truth. In no part has any ridicule ab extra, been employed:—ridicule, by allusion made to another object, and that an irrelevant one.12


12See Bentham's Church of Englandism Examined.