Was Paul Deceived?

by Tom Wacaster

A number of attempts have been made by critics to explain the conversion of Paul, apart from the fact that Christ miraculously appeared to him on the road to Damascus. If the conversion of Paul could be explained by purely natural means it would rob Christianity of one of its major arguments in favor of the resurrection of Christ, the apostleship of Paul, and the authenticity of the Christian religion. Not surprisingly, every attempt to discredit the Biblical account has been examined and thoroughly refuted. Some have attempted to attribute Paul’s dramatic change to fraud on the part of Paul himself. It is claimed that Paul was of heathen parents, that he fell in love with the daughter of the high priest in Jerusalem, and became a proselyte and submitted to circumcision in order to secure her hand. When he failed in his plans, he took revenge and attacked the circumcision, and sought to overthrow the whole Mosaic system. Of course this argument fails on a number of points. For one thing, Paul claimed to be “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews.” The whole life of Paul demonstrates that he did not have one selfish bone in his body. 
 
Others attribute the conversion of Paul to physical causes. It is argued that Paul encountered some kind of violent storm and was suffering from a burning Syrian fever and took the lightning and thunder as some kind of heavenly vision. But who ever heard of thunder speaking in the Hebrew language? Then there is the “vision-hypothesis” in which it is claimed that the conversion of Paul can be explained by an honest self delusion. It assumes that Paul was suffering from some mental disease and this resulted in an entire change of conduct. That being the case, the “vision” he had was nothing more than a mythical and symbolical presence of Jesus in the mind of the apostle. This vision theory turns the appearance of Christ into nothing more than Paul’s subjective imagination. But this falls on at least two points. First, there were those who accompanied Paul on his trip to Damascus; men who saw the light, and heard some audible sound, as did Paul. Second, it ignores the fact that Paul relates the entire event as an objective fact. As one author noted, “It is incredible that a man of sound, clear, and keen mind as that of Paul undoubtedly was, should have made such a radical and far reaching blunder as to confound subjective reflections with an objective appearance of Jesus whom he persecuted, and to ascribe solely to an act of divine mercy what he must have known to be the result of his own thoughts, if he thought at all.” Indeed! It should be noted that Paul ties the appearance of Christ to his own apostleship. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul set forth evidence for the resurrection of Christ. He places great importance upon the various appearances of Christ to the apostles and disciples. When Paul says, “Last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also” (1 Cor. 15:8), he draws a clear line of distinction between the personal appearances of Christ and his own later visions, and closes the former with the one vouchsafed to him at his conversion. The importance of this cannot be over emphasized. As Philip Schaff pointed out: “Once, and once only, he claims to have seen the Lord in visible form and to have heard his voice; last, indeed, and out of due time, yet as truly and really as the older apostles. The only difference is that they saw the risen Saviour still abiding on earth, while he saw the ascended Saviour coming down from heaven, as we may expect him to appear to all men on the last day. It is the greatness of that vision which leads him to dwell on his personal unworthiness as ‘the least of the apostles and not worthy to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God.’ He uses the realness of Christ’s resurrection as the basis for his wonderful discussion of the future resurrection of believers, which would lose all its force if Christ had not actually been raised from the dead” (Schaff, History of the Christian Church).
It should be pointed out that if the appearance of Christ to Paul was a delusion, then so was his apostleship. In contrast, the whole life of Paul, from his conversion to his eventual martyrdom in Rome, is the best argument for the authenticity of his conversion and the reality of the vision itself. If Paul’s conversion was a fabrication and the vision a hoax, then the inspired words of our Lord, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is proven false. Could an illusion change history and effect a change on Paul and those who heard and accepted his gospel message? My friends, the conversion of Paul, his vision on the road to Damascus, and his life are as genuine as any fact of history, worthy of serious and sobering reflection. I’ll close this little essay with this interesting observation from the pen of Wayne Jackson:
Lord George Lyttelton (1708-1773) was an Oxford educated scholar who also served with great distinction in the British Parliament. Initially he was highly skeptical of Christianity. He determined he would do a critical examination and expose’ of Luke’s record of Paul’s “conversion experience.” He believed he could establish that Paul’s radical transformation was grounded in base motives of self-interest. He knew there had to be some rational justification for such a major alteration of Saul’s life. After carefully researching the matter in a thoroughly scholarly fashion, he reversed his skeptical view, having concluded that Paul’s conversion was genuine. There was no reasonable explanation for the radical turnaround, other than the fact that Paul actually had seen the resurrected Christ on the Damascus road. The Christian movement was founded, he therefore concluded, upon the truth that Jesus of Nazareth in fact was raised bodily from the dead (Christian Courier Website).

The Beatitudes

by Tom Wacaster

“And he opened his mouth and taught them saying…” Jesus was the Master Teacher; of that there can be no doubt. When compared with the writings of some men, the number of words from the lips of our Lord and contained in the gospels may seem insignificant. It is not the number of words our Lord spoke (and that were recorded), but the intensity and depth of meaning contained in those words that astound us. The sheer beauty of the beatitudes contained in Matthew 5:3-12 surpasses the writings of Tennyson, Shakespeare and Browning combined. Our English words, “and he opened his mouth and taught them saying,” translates a Greek phrase that was used of a solemn, grave and dignified utterance. I once read of a preacher who said he would, on the following Sunday, present the best sermon that any man had, or would ever, hear. On the given occasion, the preacher simply stood, and read the Sermon on the Mount in its entirety, and then sat down. The Beatitudes contain a sampling of the majesty and beauty of the words of Jesus Christ. These few verses that make up what we call the beatitudes’ contain the distinctive character traits which mark the lives of God’s true servants. That is what God wants - servants - men and women who will serve Him and their fellowman. This is a beautiful section of scripture, rich in spiritual truths, and is deserving of our time and study. What must it have been like to actually sit at the feet of Jesus and hear these words for the first time? The inflection in our Lord’s voice, His gestures as He sought to emphasize a certain point, and the tone of voice with which He spoke must have dazzled those who listened. Consider some things about these beatitudes:
First, each one starts with the word ‘blessed,’ which in turn translates the Greek word ‘makarios.’  The word was used to describe a state of deep contentment that is derived from a knowledge and application of the word of God to one’s life. It is more than mere happiness, for men often find happiness in any given moment, only to watch it flee away when the circumstances of life change. The late Foy E. Wallace commented on this word ‘makarios’: “The word beatify means to make happy, and Beatitude means consummate bliss or blessedness. The eight codified declarations which introduce the discourse of Christ, which have been named the Beatitudes, describe realm of the kingdom of heaven as a state of spiritual blessedness which produces the highest happiness of the soul. (Foy E. Wallace, The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State).
Second, the joy and happiness that comes from the incorporation of these things into one’s life is something that is beyond human description, and which in turn produces a joy that cannot be taken from us (John 16:22). Think of Paul in the closing years of his life. No doubt he discovered, and “learned” the secret of being happy (Phil. 4:4), so much so that he could express confidence in the eternal home that awaited him, even while staring death square in the face. One author expressed it this way: “The Beatitudes speak of a joy which comes in spite of sickness, pain, sorrow, loss of a loved one, or grief” (David Padfield). Jesus is telling His audience, “I want to give you a happiness that is so deep, so lasting, so complete, that you will be a truly blessed person” (Charles Allen). In view of the fact that our Lord wants us to be a genuinely happy people, it becomes apparent that a truly meaningful life does come by possessing something, or even doing something, but in being something.
Third, most of the Beatitudes are paradoxical—they express the exact opposite of the world’s view regarding life and happiness. Consider, as an example, the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Try to convince the worldly, materialistic minded individual of the truth of those words. In the eyes of the godless the only way to make any kind of headway in this world is to do it unto others before they do it unto you. Every single one of these beatitudes run against the grain to the thinking of modern man. Yet those who have diligently sought to acquire these character traits have learned from practical experience that Jesus spoke the truth, regardless of how contrary to human thinking they might seem to be.
Fourth, there is an interesting order to the Beatitudes, of which I have no doubt that it was intentional on the part of Jesus. Seeing that so many (if not all) of the beatitudes focus on one’s attitude, we note the following. There are attitudes necessary for becoming a Christian: Submission (“poor in spirit”), Contrition (“they that mourn”), Subjection (“the meek”). Then, there are attitudes essential to growing stronger as a Christian: Instruction (“hunger and thirst after righteousness”), Compassion (“merciful”), Sanctification (“pure in heart”), and Cooperation (“peacemakers”). Finally, there is one attitude necessary for remaining in the faith, namely Conviction (“when men shall persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely”). A close examination of the order suggests that the beatitudes set forth a man who is coming to God and then doing all he can possibly do to maintain that close walk with his Creator. 
Fifth, the structure of each of the beatitudes follows a similar grammatical pattern, containing three parts: an initial pronouncement of blessing (“Blessed are....”), a descriptive term of the character under consideration (“Pure in heart,” “poor in spirit”, etc.), and reward associated with each (starting with the statements “for they shall” or “for theirs is”).
I’ll close this week’s article with a quote from William Barclay regarding the beatitudes: “The world can win its joys, and the world can equally well lose its joys. A change in fortune, a collapse in health, the failure of a plan, the disappointment of an ambition, even a change in the weather, can take away the fickle joy the world can give. But the Christian has the serene and untouchable joy which comes from walking for ever in the company and in the presence of Jesus Christ” (Daily Bible Studies, Matthew, ESword Module).
(In subsequent articles we will take a closer look at each of the beatitudes given by our Lord. TW)

The Sermon On The Mount

by Tom Wacaster
Matthew chapter five begins the longest single recorded discourse of our Lord.  Multiple tributes have been paid to this wonderful sermon, but any attempt to add to the beauty or grandeur of the words of our Lord would be like holding a burning candle next to the sun. R.L. Whiteside had this note regarding the Sermon on the Mount: “It seems certain that no other speech ever delivered has so influenced man as has this sermon on the mount. Its contents, so superior to any production of man, proved the Deity of its author. Its teaching is out of harmony with any school of religion or philosophy of that day; hence, their brightest lights could not have produced it.   Its teaching is distinct, revolutionary, challenging every school of religious thought of the times, both Jewish and heathen. It is not a product of the times, but of Deity.” (R. L. Whiteside, Bible Studies, Vol. 4, p. 117). Eldred Stevens quoted John T. Fisher’s beautiful tribute concerning the Sermon On The Mount:
If you were to take the sum total of all the authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene - if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably by comparison” (Stevens, The Sermon On The Mount, page 1).
This sermon has been called the “Manifesto of the King,” “The Constitution of the Kingdom,” and “The Magna Charta of Christianity.” It has been described as a “forecast and an epitome of the entire oral ministry of Christ.” It is, indeed, “the masterpiece of the Master Preacher.” There is perhaps no other selection in the New Testament that, as a block of teaching, reaches so deeply into the human heart and holds up the mirror to show a man what he is when compared to the Christ Who spoke these words. As we bring this year to a close, and begin a new year, I think it would be profitable to spend some time examining some select portions of these three chapters. No, it won’t be an exhaustive study, for how could it be in the short space allotted in this bulletin? I will, however, provide you with some seeds for thought, and challenges from the words of our Lord that will enrich your soul.
It might be good first to think about our approach to a study of the Sermon on the Mount. First, why should we study the Sermon on the Mount? There are a number of good reasons why we should spend time drinking deeply from these chapters. (1) First, the Sermon on the Mount can be regarded as a summary of what it means to live the Christian life. In it we see (1) The PERSONS of the kingdom, 5:1-16, (2) The POWER of the kingdom, 5:17-20, (3) The PRINCIPLES of the kingdom, 5:21-48, and (4) The PRECEPTS of the kingdom, 6:1-7:27. (2) Second, we should study this sermon because of the superficiality of Christianity in the lives of so many people, both IN the church and OUT of the church. Again from the pen of the late Eldred Stevens: 
How we have thrilled at reading of ages when the Lord and the church of the Lord meant everything to disciples: of ages when Christians were burning with a passion to share their faith with others - to convert others to Christ;  of ages when saints of God would rather die at a stake than compromise one truth of God’s revelation, or allow their lives to be tarnished with worldliness;  of ages when the line between the church and the world was clearly and firmly drawn; of ages when Christians would not give the snap of their fingers for extra dollars, for luxuries, for titillating sensual pleasures. This is not the case now (Stevens, S9.1-2).
(3) Third, we should study these chapters carefully because they provide us with the answers for today’s spiritual deficiencies and present day superficiality. Herein are some of the most pointed and poignant words ever spoken and/or written. Those who love the light will come to the light that their lives may be conducted in the paths of righteousness. Will we bow at the feet of Jesus and learn, and then having learned will we apply these things to our lives? If not, then we will never learn the answer to life’s questions, nor will we ever experience growth as God would have it.
Second, for what PURPOSE was this sermon spoken and recorded? First, it was NOT an elaboration upon the Jewish law. There are things contained within the Sermon on the Mount that do not appear in the Law of Moses. But beyond that, the various “contrasts” that appear suggest that what Jesus was giving was to supersede that old Law. Second, these are not admonitions for some premillennial kingdom that will appear at the end of the Christian dispensation. You will note as we proceed through these chapters that these precepts and principles address the spiritual man. The Kingdom of Christ is “not of this world.” Third, we cannot turn this wonderful sermon into a modern version of the Ten Commandments. Though many of the principles of the Old Law are apparent in this sermon, our Lord goes far beyond that Old Law and presses a deeper application of those truths that will truly make men holy in the sight of God. The Sermon On The Mount provides us with rich spiritual truths that will improve the inner man. For certain those internal changes will be reflected in the outward man. An application of these things to one’s life will provide spiritual growth and maturity. 
Third, Why should we apply these things to our lives?  First, because our Lord promised that those who practiced the things listed herein would be “blessed.” Second, because the Sermon on the Mount provides us with the key to evangelism. If we would live, truly live, the truths contained herein, people would see our lives, observe our “light” and be moved to embrace the things exemplified in our lives. 
Finally, careful consideration should be given to the social and historical background of the Sermon on the Mount. David Padfield provides us with the following information:
The land of Judea was filled with many problems. The country was occupied by a tyrannical military government. It was a world of absolute rulers, the very antithesis of democracy; all power was in one man’s hands. It was a world of persecution. Taxes consumed a third of one’s income. Racial prejudice was prevalent (Luke 10:25-36). Slavery was rampant - approximately three slaves to every free man. The zealots, the terrorists of their day, said, ‘Don’t worry about your inner life. Our holy hope is military might.’ The Sadducees said, ‘Survive by compromise. Make personal gain and the best bargain you can negotiate.’ The Pharisees saw things differently and said, ‘Live a clean, pure life and trust in God and He will do the rest.’  The Pharisees became very strict and relied upon human tradition to put a ‘hedge’ around the Torrah. It has been said that the Sadducees bargained with Rome, while the Pharisees bargained with God (Padfield, The Beautitudes, page 1). 
A study of the Sermon On The Mount will change the lives of those who are  willing to study it with the determination of applying the principles therein to their lives. I’ll close this week’s article with the words of R.C. Foster:
In this sermon Jesus offered the clearest and most powerful declaration the world has ever heard concerning the problem of human conduct. The advance over the revelation offered in the Old Testament is most startling. The range of man’s responsibility is immeasurably extended by the profound emphasis upon the thought-life as the active source of speech and action. The full gospel was not proclaimed by Jesus on this occasion, because this gospel was to be based upon His death, burial, and resurrection, and hence could not be set forth until Pentecost. But the Sermon on the Mount carries the most complete analysis of human conduct — its sources, its motives, its qualities, and results. All the combined wisdom of the centuries has not been able to add anything to the fundamental principles laid down in this sermon. Individual problems have changed with the changing scenery of the generations that have come and gone, but these problems still must be taken to the feet of Jesus for their proper solution on the basis of the principles of life He enunciated (R.C.Foster, Studies In The Life of Christ, 424).