Since visions have arisen as the current topic of choice, and my statement about Paul having a vision of Jesus, and not seeing him physically resurrected resulted in a comment, thought I would address it.
Did Paul see a physical Jesus?
First we need to look at Paul’s own writings. This was a man who thought people (arguably himself) could either in-body or out-of-body “project” to the Third Heaven and could hear things not permissible to tell. (2 Cor. 12:1-5)
If someone said that today, would it be thought of as a physical event, or a spiritual vision?
Paul stated he had so many exceedingly great revelations, he could even become conceited. (2 Cor. 12:7) If someone said that today, would it be a physical revelation, or a spiritual vision?
Paul believed that Jesus spoke directly to him in actual words. (2 Cor. 12:9; 1 Cor. 11:23; 1 Cor. 7:12. Acts 18:9) He did not receive a Gospel from men, but from revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11) If someone told you that Jesus actually spoke to them in English words, would you think it actual, or a vision?
When did Paul get all this information from Jesus? Certainly not prior to his conversion. Apparently not at his conversion. Paul speaks of growing information, and learned experiences throughout the progression of his books. Paul was continually getting revelation, and quotes from Jesus. Now, is the Christian maintaining that Jesus physically re-appeared and discussed these things with Paul? Popping in and out on various occasions?
Why would we, when Paul himself admits in belief of possible “out-of-body” experiences in which a person can enter Paradise, and hear inexplicable things? Paul admits that his comings and goings are dictated by these revelations. (Gal 2:1) Was that a physical appearance?
If someone said that today, would we think the new information, the new revelations were spiritual visions, or Jesus physically appearing?
What does Paul say about his own conversion? Not much. He says he was persecuting the church of God, and then God revealed His son “in me.” (Gal 1:16) What little study I have done, indicates the Greek word apokalupto is an internal revelation, not external. In means exactly that—“in” as within the limits of space. Paul does not claim, here, that Jesus was externally revealed to him, but internally revealed in him. In fact, Christians today would use this same language, without even thinking of the implications of a physical appearance.
And (with one exception) that is it on what Paul writes about seeing Jesus. Now let’s look at what the author of Acts records.
[Side note: Why I doubt Acts as being historical. Acts. 9:1 has Paul asking the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus to take prisoners back to Rome. A Pharisee, asking a Sadducee for a letter of authority in a city in which the high priest had no authority whatsoever. In fact, if found with the letter, it is very likely the high priest would be killed for trying to exert power outside his domain by the Romans. An unlikely request for an unnecessary letter that is only trouble.]
Does Paul see Jesus? Nope. He sees a light and hears a voice. (Acts 9:3) It should be noted that Paul did not recognize the voice; let alone any claim to recognize a face that wasn’t seen. The people with him did not see anyone.
God himself now says that Paul has a vision. (Acts. 9:12) A straight reading of the text would be that Paul saw a light, and later saw a vision of some sort.
But perhaps the author of Acts is adding their own bend to the story. Let’s see how the author records what Paul says happened. Nope, again we have a bright light and a voice. (Acts 22:6-7) No mention of Jesus.
Think on this for a moment. This is a fellow that has so many revelations; he has a problem with pride. He talks regularly of Jesus teaching him directly. Yet the one thing he does NOT say is “Jesus appeared to me on the road.” According to Acts, immediately after recounting his tale of seeing this light and hearing this voice Paul DOES refer to a later instance in which Jesus appeared to him. In a trance. (Acts. 22:18) If Paul deliberately and particularly refrains from stating he saw Jesus at this event, how can the Christian claim to know more than Paul?
When Paul tells the tale to King Agrippa (same thing. Lights. Voice. No Jesus) he refers to it as a vision. (Acts. 26:19)
If someone said this today, would you believe that Jesus actually physically appeared, or that this was a spiritual vision?
Taking all of this into account, if there was nothing more, we would be done. Paul speaks as if these were visions; Acts speaks as if these were visions.
So now we come to the lone applicant for a physical appearance—1 Cor. 15:8 Paul says Jesus appeared to Peter first (the Gospels say some women) and after that to Peter (the gospels have two unknown followers) then the Twelve (the Gospels only have eleven.) Paul records Jesus then appeared to over 500 (not in the Gospels) and then to James (not in the Gospels) and then to all the apostles (possibly in Matthew. You know—where some of them doubted.) Then, finally to Paul.
When? When did Jesus make this appearance to Paul? Before Paul’s conversion? This is extremely problematic, because it would mean that Paul saw Jesus post-mortem, and was not convinced. At Paul’s conversion? This is contrary to both what Paul says in Galatians, and what Acts records as having happened.
Yes, I know the Sunday School stories all have Jesus appearing in the flash of light. Just not what the authors record, even though the author immediately records events of Jesus appearing at a later time.
The only possible remaining time, is some period after the conversion event. Which starts to create problems. If Acts is going to be considered History, Paul records having visions of Jesus while in a trance. When Paul uses the word “appear” in 1 Cor. 15, he could easily be meaning that as in “appear in a vision.” Remember, this is the fellow that believes people can have auditory visions in the Third Heaven; it is not out of the realm of possibility, that he can hold to visual visions in this world.
We are always informed that “Scripture must interpret Scripture.” If every other verse points in one direction, and one points in another, we are to look at the anomaly and see how it fits to all of the other instances.
Every other verse points to Paul believing he had spiritual visions in Jesus. Spiritual Revelations. Spiritual conversations. Some while in a trance.
If, in 1 Cor. he says Jesus “appeared to him” and elsewhere these appearances are visions, the most natural conclusion is that Paul is talking about visions. In fact, in order to get the results desired, the Christian must abandon the normal claim of Scripture interpreting Scripture!
If the Christian is claiming Paul is stating a physical appearance, when did it occur, and why was it not recorded?
I have compared these visions to Virgin Mary appearances, and wondered why Christians hold Paul’s visions as actual, but not the Virgin Mary’s. I have been informed they are nothing alike.
Most Christians hold that Jesus received a modified but partially recognizable physical body post resurrection. That he then went to heaven.
AFTER this, he appears to Paul, (at least sometimes as a vision, and while Paul is in a trance), imparts spiritual wisdom, and continues to pop in and out.
Most Christians hold that Mary died, went to Heaven, and receives a modified spiritual body of some sort. If a Christian resurrection is similar to Jesus’; this modified body is recognizable in some way with the former physical one.
AFTER this, Mary appears to people on earth, in an apparent recognizable physical form, imparts spiritual wisdom, and then continues to pop in and out.
How is that different than Paul’s experience? The only difference I see is bias.
We all have biases. I presume everyone in the world likes French Fries, for example, just because I do. Does not make bias “evil” or “wrong” but it is simply a part of humanity.
Because of how Christians are raised and taught, there is an inherent bias to presume that Paul felt a physical Jesus appeared to him. What one must be careful to do is recognize that bias, and refrain from using it as a methodology for what is a vision, and what is actual. Because many Christians are equally bias against the possibility of the Virgin Mary appearing in a physical form, and that people who hold to belief in such visions are genuine, honest, and sincere. But incorrect.
Using this same method, when applied to Paul, it would seem he was genuine, honest and sincere as well. And equally incorrect.