Some people have had dramatic religious conversions. In fact, my three favorite Christian thinkers outside of the biblical authors—St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, and C. S. Lewis—all experienced amazing life-changing conversions to Christianity. But there is one person whose conversion to the Christian faith changed the world forever. That individual said that his spiritual transformation was due to encountering the resurrected Jesus Christ.
So far in this series on evidences for the resurrection we have examined four confirmatory aspects to buttress the truth of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection (see part 1, part 2, and part 3). In this article we’ll briefly explore how Christianity’s greatest convert adds one more powerful reason to affirm the resurrection.
5. The Greatest Religious Conversion Ever
Saul of Tarsus was a respected, first-century Hebrew scholar of the Torah (the Law), a member of the Jewish party of the Pharisees, and a Roman citizen (Acts 21:37–22:3). Fervent in his devotion to God and in his intent to protect ancient Judaism from what he perceived as false and heretical teaching, he became the central adversary of the primitive Christian church. Saul expressed his impassioned hostility toward Christians by having them arrested and inciting physical persecution and execution of believers, including Stephen (Acts 7:54–8:3; Galatians 1:13–14). Traveling on the road to Damascus to further persecute the church (ca. AD 31–33), Saul underwent an extraordinary life-changing experience. According to his claim, Saul saw and spoke with the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9:1–30; 22:5–13). Following his dramatic conversion to the movement he once hated, he took on the Gentile name “Paul” and became the greatest advocate of the newfound Christian faith. After Jesus Christ himself, many scholars view the apostle Paul as the second most important figure in the history of Christianity. Paul went on to become the faith’s greatest missionary, theologian, and apologist as well as the inspired author of 13 New Testament books.
What caused Paul’s conversion—arguably the greatest religious conversion ever? To understand the true impact of this conversion, let’s consider what may be the modern equivalent of Paul’s first-century conversion to Christianity. Imagine the British prime minister and statesman Winston Churchill becoming a member of the Nazi party. Or American president Ronald Reagan embracing Soviet communism. Or German Führer Adolf Hitler converting to the religion of Judaism. Whatever equivalent one rightly accepts, Paul’s conversion to Christianity was an absolutely astounding event.
But how is this extraordinary change of allegiance to be explained? According to Paul himself, the incredible transformation of one of Western civilization’s most influential religious leaders and thinkers was due to the appearance of the resurrected Christ. The conversion of the apostle Paul, not to mention his life and accomplishments, seems truly inexplicable apart from the fact of the resurrection.
It seems the only thing that could have possibly changed Saul’s incredibly negative opinion about primitive Christianity was for him to encounter its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, raised from the dead.
Reflections: Your Turn
Have you ever known someone who has had a genuinely dramatic conversion to Christianity? What struck you about it? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- I address the resurrection of Jesus in two of my books, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (see chapter 10) and 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (see chapters 1 and 2).
- I also recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona and Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb by William Lane Craig.
- A further recommended source is N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.