Recently, Paul’s bold claim struck me afresh: “Paul, an apostle (not from men, nor by human agency, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father…)” (Galatians 1:1). Within just a few words, Paul quickly dismissed any doubt regarding the authority behind his commission. It rested solely upon Christ and God.
Powerful statement! If true, he has prepared his readers to be confronted with a message bearing genuine apostolic authority, a message worthy of scrutinizing attention.
Enter the skeptic. Did Paul even exist?
A simple line of reasoning appears to not only be instructive, but also to lead us to Jesus himself. The method involves merely seeking the best explanation for the book of Acts.
Whether composed within ten years of when Paul’s missionary activity is described as having occurred, as some believe, or even around 30 years later, as others ascribe, imagine the ruckus that would have arisen when Acts began to circulate if Paul had not made those missionary journeys!
In every congregation where I have been a member, the old timers knew not only the history of their congregation, but also what well-known speakers had passed through. If Paul the apostle had not made those missionary journeys, voices of dissent would have arisen from Rome and Corinth to Philippi, Ephesus, Lystra and both Antiochs! A repeating chorus would have been, “Paul is claimed to have done what here?” Acts would have been rejected.
Similarly, as those same early Christians read Acts’ portrayal of Saul of Tarsus, they would have naturally compared it with what they knew of Paul’s personal history. If it did not ring true, the book of Acts would have been rejected. The best explanation for Acts would seem to be that its story of Paul fit with their own congregational knowledge of, and experiences with, Paul.
If this is true, then what can account for the conversion of the powerful young Saul of Tarsus, who possessed even personal access to the Sanhedrin and whose convictions against Christ ran so deep that he persecuted the church, into the Christ-driven missionary Paul?
In Paul’s own words as recorded in Acts, “I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ He said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting'” (Acts 22:7,8).
Nothing short of seeing the risen Lord adequately explains why Saul would have abandoned his position and convictions to become the persecuted apostle Paul.
As many have pointed out, the stark transformation of Saul of Tarsus is indicative that Christ has indeed been raised from the grave.
Returning full circle to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we hear Paul prepare us for the message of one who was commission by Christ himself and by God. The best explanation is that not only does Paul’s apostleship not have a human origin, neither does the gospel.