Section 9: In Paul's Epistle to His Galatians,—by His Silence, Acts Accounts of His Conversion Are Virtually Contradicted
Of Paul's outward conversion—conversion from the character of an authorized persecutor of the religion of Jesus, to that of a preacher of a religion preached in the name of Jesus—such, as we have seen, is the account given in the Acts; given by the author of the Acts, and by him alone. For, what ought never to be out of mind, if instead of two different accounts—declared by him as having been, on different occasions, delivered by Paul—he had given two hundred, still they would have been his:—not Paul's, but his.
All this while, now for little less than 1800 years, from Paul's own pen we have an account of this his conversion: and, of any such story as that of its being effected through the instrumentality of visions,—in this account of his, not any the slightest trace is to be found;—not any the slightest allusion to it.
At the time of his giving this account—supposing this story of the mode of his conversion true—supposing even that, though false, it had been got up and propagated—at the time of his giving the account which bears such unquestionable marks of being his, was the occasion such as to render it probable, that he could thus have omitted all allusion, to an occurrence at once so extraordinary and so important? If not, then so it is—that, by the silence of Paul himself, the story related by his historian is virtually contradicted.
The occasion here in view is—that of his writing the so often mentioned, and so often about to be mentioned, Epistle to his Galatian disciples.
At the time of his writing this letter, so we shall have occasion to see over and over again in the tenor of it, he was acting in opposition—declared and violent opposition—to the Apostles: struggling with them for the mastery; declaring that to them he was not beholden for anything;—that the Gospel he preached was not their Gospel, but a Gospel of his own, received by him directly from Jesus;—declaring, that in Jerusalem itself, the seat of their authority, he had preached this Gospel of his, which was not theirs; but confessing, at the same time, that when he did so, it was in a secret manner, for fear of the opposition, which he well knew, had they known of it, they could not but have made to it.
In this state of contention—supposing any such miracle as that in question wrought in his favour—was it in the nature of the case that he should have failed to avail himself of it?—to avail himself of the account which the truth—the important truth—would have so well warranted him in giving of it? Supposing it true, had there at that time been witnesses to it—any percipient witnesses—the supposed Ananias—the supposed companions on the road,—would he have failed making his appeal to their testimony? Supposing even that there were none such left, the truth of the occurrence—of an occurrence of such momentous importance, would it not have inspired him with boldness, sufficient for the assertion of it, with all that intensity for which the case itself furnished so sufficient a warrant, and which the vehemence of his character would have rendered it so impossible for him to avoid? Supposing even the story an utter falsehood, yet, had it been at this time got up and promulgated, could he, if he saw any tolerable prospect of its obtaining credence, have failed to endeavour to avail himself of it?
No, surely. Yet, in this his address, made to his Galatian disciples, and to all such inhabitants of that country, as he could see a prospect of numbering among his disciples—in this address, written under a sense of the necessity he was under, of making for his support against the Apostles, the most plausible case his ingenuity could enable him to make,—not any, so much as the slightest, hint of any such miracle, does he venture to give. Revelation! revelation!—on this single word—on the ideas, which, in the minds with which he had to deal, he hoped to find associated with that word—on this ground, without any other, did he see himself reduced to seek support in his contest with the Apostles. Revelation? revelation from Jesus? from the Lord, speaking from heaven? from the Almighty? On what occasion, in what place, at what time, in what company, if in any, was it thus received? To no one of these questions does he venture to furnish an answer—or so much as an allusion to an answer. Why?—even because he had none to give. He had been a persecutor of the disciples of Jesus—this he confesses and declares: he became a preacher in the name of Jesus—this he also declares; a preacher in the name of him, of whose disciples—the whole fellowship of them—he had been a persecutor—a blood-thirsty and blood-stained persecutor. His conversion, whatever it amounted to, how came it about? what was the cause, the time, the place, the mode of it; who the percipient witnesses of it? To all these questions, revelation; in the single word is contained all the answer, which—in this letter—in this plea of his—he, audacious as he was, could summon up audacity enough to give. Why, on so pressing an occasion, this forbearing? Why? but that, had he ventured to tell any such story, that story being a false one, there were his opponents—there were the Apostles, or men in connection with the Apostles—to contradict it—to confute it.
Had he made reference to any specific, to any individual, portion of place and time, the pretended facts might have found themselves in contradiction with some real and provable facts. But, time as well as place being left thus unparticularized,—he left himself at liberty, on each occasion, if called upon for time or place, to assign what portion of time and place the occasion should point out to him as being most convenient;—best adapted to the purpose of giving lodgment to an appropriate falsity;—and without danger, or with little danger, of exposure.
At distinct and different times, five interviews we shall see him have, with the Apostles—one or more of them: the first interview being,—according to his own account, as given in this very Epistle,—at little if anything more, than three years' distance from the time of his quitting the occupation of persecution. Then, says he, that