Friday, November 2, 2007

Did Early Believers Need Evidence?

Did early Christians demand evidence that Jesus rose from the dead before they converted? Many apologists argue that they must have. They argue that there is no way that that early Christians would have believed such outrageous claims unless they saw real solid evidence to back up those claims. Is there anything in the New Testament that supports this argument? Is there any way to figure out just what kind of evidence a first century Jew or pagan needed to see before converting to Christianity?

The first place to look would have to be Paul. He was the most prolific soul-winner and writer of the early church. According to Liberty University Professor Gary Habermas: "On matters concerning the historical Jesus, Paul was an authoritative source, an eyewitness who was close to the data he records." If early Christians required evidence, there is no way that Paul could have been successful if he did not have the goods. He must have talked to all the eyewitnesses and checked out their stories, right?

Amazingly, Paul seems to say quite emphatically that he did not do any sort of investigation before he converted (certainly nothing as impressive as Lee Strobel's two year quest). Paul tells us in Galatians 1:11-18 that he got what he knew directly from Jesus Christ.

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother.

Of course, Paul's vision on the road to Damascus was probably pretty darn impressive, but it is not the kind of evidence that could have been verified by anyone who heard Paul's preaching.

If the only evidence Paul had when he began his preaching was this visionary experience, then the people who heard Paul must have relied upon that vision when they converted. They did not have the testimony of the original apostles who were eyewitnesses to Jesus' life and ministry because Paul did not have the testimony of the original apostles available to him. At least for the first three years, Paul's testimony to his own vision was more than sufficient to convert large numbers of pagans.

1 comment:

  1. I think you are right. After his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul did not need to be instructed by the other disciples about the theological implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection because he knew the scriptures better than any of them did. That is why he was able to begin his missionary work without consulting any of them for three years. Given this, when Paul talks about handing on what he received in 1 Corinthians 15:3, it makes more sense to me that he is talking about what he received by way of revelation from Jesus himself on the road to Damascus rather than what he received from the other apostles.