Five Minimal Facts Part III: Paul of Tarsus

Written by Victor Stanley Jr.

The Christian faith receives a great deal of criticism from the secular world on its claims of Jesus being God, and the savior of the world. While many agree that he was a ‘good’ teacher who died for his beliefs, they deny that he resurrected and is indeed the one true God. Dr. Gary Habermas, who is a leading theologian, apologist, and philosopher specializing in the historical Jesus, offers what he calls the “Minimal Facts approach to a critical study of the resurrection of Jesus.”[1]

These five minimal facts are used to establish the resurrection of Jesus as historical fact, and are as follows: Jesus died by crucifixion; Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; The church persecutor Paul was suddenly changed; The skeptic James, brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed; and the tomb was empty. I will briefly explore each of these five points.[i]

The conversion of the church persecutor Saul (his Jewish name), who would become known as Paul (his Roman name), is the third fact that helps establish the truth of the resurrection.

“…[4b] If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: [5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”[2]

“[3] I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”[3]

Here we see that Paul was a devout Jew educated in a Jewish rabbinical school where he would have been taught law; indeed he says that he was a Pharisee with regard to the law. F.F. Bruce, the former Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester before his death, states that, “At the feet of Gamaliel, in addition to rabbinical training he and his fellow students could well have been given prophylactic courses in Greek culture.”[4]

This focus on Paul’s education is to refute the common charge that his conversion was the result of mental or psychological issues. Paul was a highly educated man, and respected member of the Jewish community. Paul claims to have been on the road to Damascus with orders from the high priest to apprehend Christians, when suddenly he has an encounter with the risen Christ. Following this encounter Paul says that he was taught by Christ himself, and from then on out Paul becomes one of the greatest Apostles, and a devout follower of Jesus, which resulted in him being the author of the majority of the New Testament.

Paul’s conversion story along with his claim to have interacted with the resurrected Jesus can be found in Acts 9:1-30; Acts 22:1-21; Acts 26:1-18; and Galatians 1:13-16. In the Acts 26 account of particular interest is the fact that he is recounting his conversion to the King of Agrippa, which again shows that to call him crazy or delusional is an error when he is able to gain an audience with a ruler, who, if he was crazy, would not have taken the time to listen to a word he had to say. Not only this, but Paul was also sane enough to present his own defense before the Emperor of Rome.

The fact that Paul, a highly educated and respected man who was zealous about Judaism, suddenly abandoned his entire belief system and way of life based off of the personal conviction that he had had an encounter with and been instructed by, not some spirit or force, but the physical and resurrected man Jesus of Nazareth, is another historical fact that helps to substantiate the resurrection claim.

[1] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” Southeastern Theological Review 3, no. 1 (Summer 2012): 15, Accessed November 19, 2014, http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/article/str03-1-02

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Philippians 3:4-6.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Acts 22:3.

[4] New Testament History (1969; repr., New York: DoubleDay-Galilee, 1980), 237.

[i] Disclaimer: While this is not by any means an exhaustive or even mildly in depth look into the argument from historical facts for the resurrection of Jesus, it does provide a brief overview. This overview of Dr. Habermas’ five minimal facts provides a starting point for anyone interested in seriously pursuing the research to grapple with and truly understand these facts and the evidence they provide for the veracity of the resurrection.

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