I have heard it said that Christianity is nothing more than a breakaway religion that the apostle Paul started, founded on his fake conversion, for his own personal gain. This argument is then used to discredit Paul and his writings. I find this very interesting since he (Saul) was the early church’s greatest persecutor (in the first few years). I wonder if the people who claim Christianity as a creation of Paul’s have actually thought about the reality of their claim.
To try and translate this into a modern day situation, I considered the man Saul, arguably the church’s initial greatest enemy. He “breathed out murderous threats against the disciples” (Acts 9:1), he intended to take any disciples as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2), he created harm for followers of the Way and arrested people under the authority of the high priests (Acts 9:13-14), he was responsible for Stephen’s death (Acts 7), he approved of killings of followers (Acts 8:1), and he began destroying the church, dragging people to prison (Acts 8:3).
If I was to think of a single person known for their tangible opposition to the church during the 20th century, there are many that come to mind. If I narrow that group down by focusing only on those who were a physical threat to Christians to the point of death, such as Saul, there are people like Stalin, Mao Zedong, Saddam and most recently Osama Bin Ladin.
I realize that Christianity is much larger now than it was in Paul’s day. Even so, what if we heard the claim today that before his death, Osama converted to Christianity. That would be a huge answer to prayer but very shocking. What if he actually faked his conversion in the hope of becoming one of the faiths most influential leaders (like Billy Graham) or biggest defenders (like C.S. Lewis) in the hope that he could then push his own agenda. How many of us would think that a logical argument? It is nonsense! Why then do people try to make the same logical argument against Paul?
We must not forget at Saul was already successful and near the top of the pecking order in what he was doing as a Jewish religious leader. As a new follower of the Way, he automatically became as enemy of his fellow Jewish religious leaders, and the persecution he suffered was real and life threatening. He experienced 39 lashes 5 times, was stoned, beaten with rods 3 times, shipwrecked 3 times, adrift at sea, and constantly in danger where ever he went (2 Cor 11:16-33). Add to that, he spent multiple times in jail and it is believed he was finally martyred in Rome. Why did he not retire to Jerusalem to enact his devious plan in comfort and prestige? To conclude his conversion was fake for what he could gain from the new religion is ludicrous, illogical and simply unreasonable.
Below is an excerpt from, “The life and work of St. Paul, Volume 1” by Frederic William Farrar. I hope it will help shine further light on the ridiculous nature of the above mentioned claim. Paul was the man he was because of a personal encounter with the risen Jesus Christ and nothing else! Who he was, what he did and what he said must not be ignored because of an illogical argument attacking his credibility. To ignorantly dismiss Paul’s claim of the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 15:3-8) is to play with eternal fire and project an arrogance without measure. No matter how committed someone may think they are against the Christian faith, I doubt they would ever come close to Paul before his conversion.
“And here let me pause to say that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of St. Paul’s conversion as one of the evidences of Christianity. That he should have passed, by one flash of conviction, not only from darkness to light, but from one direction of life to the very opposite, is not only characteristic of the man, but evidential of the power and significance of Christianity. That the same man who, just before, was persecuting Christianity with the most violent hatred, should come all at once to believe in Him whose followers he had been seeking to destroy, and that in this faith he should become a “new creature”.
And to what does he testify respecting Jesus? To almost every single primarily important fact respecting His Incarnation, Life, Sufferings, Betrayal, Last Supper, Trial, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Heavenly Exaltation.
He was not separated from the events, as we are, by centuries of time. He was not liable to be blinded, as we are, by the dazzling glamour of a victorious Christendom. He had mingled daily with men who had watched from Bethlehem to Golgotha the life of the Crucified,—not only with His simple-hearted followers, but with His learned and powerful enemies. He had talked with the priests who had consigned Him to the cross; he had put to death the followers who had wept beside His tomb. He had to face the unutterable horror which, to any orthodox Jew, was involved in the thought of a Messiah who “had hung upon a tree.”
He had heard again and again the proofs which satisfied an Annas and a Gamaliel that Jesus was a deceiver of the people. The events on which the Apostles relied, in proof of His divinity, had taken place in the full blaze of contemporary knowledge. He had not to deal with uncertainties of criticism or assaults on authenticity. He could question, not ancient documents, but living men; he could analyse, not fragmentary records, but existing evidence. He had thousands of means close at hand whereby to test the reality or unreality of the Resurrection in which, unto this time, he had so passionately and contemptuously disbelieved. In accepting this half-crushed and wholly execrated faith he had everything in the world to lose—he had nothing conceivable to gain; and yet, in spite of all—overwhelmed by a conviction which he felt to be irresistible—Saul, the Pharisee, became a witness of the Resurrection, a preacher of the Cross.”
The Life and Work of St. Paul, Volume 1, By Frederic William Farrar pp 114-115.