NT Wright, page 398:
Conclusion to Part II of The Resurrection of the Son of God:
There is much more to be said about the conversion of Paul and its relation to his wider theology. Some of that will emerge briefly later on. But we have said enough to round off our treatment of Paul with the clear understanding that he believed he had seen the risen Jesus in person, and that his understanding of who this Jesus was included the firm belief that he possessed a transformed but still physical body. Attempts to undermine this conclusion by appeal to ‘what really happened’ at Paul’s conversion, on the basis either of Acts or other passages in Paul, carry no conviction.
Gary: I don’t doubt for a second that Paul believed that he had seen Jesus. But the question is, “What did Paul see exactly?” Did Paul see the resurrected but transformed body of the formerly deceased Jesus of Nazareth, with nail-prints in his hands and feet, a sword wound in his side, and marks on his scalp and forehead from the crown of thorns? Or did Paul simply and only see a bright light and heard a voice coming out of that bright light, as “Luke” states in his three accounts in the Book of Acts?
As I stated in another post, if I were traveling on the freeway/interstate one day and a bright light (as bright as the sun) appeared in front of my car, addressed me by name, told me that it/he was Jesus Christ, and told me that I was going to be a missionary to the Gentiles for him, …when recounting this event in later years…I would state that Jesus Christ had appeared to me, even though I had never seen a human form standing or levitating in front of me! The bright light and the voice would be enough to convince me that I had “seen” Jesus.
But even if this is what Paul meant when he said in I Corinthians 15 that he had “seen” Jesus, how can we be certain that Paul did not experience this event only in a vision, which to Paul, felt as if he were actually/literally experiencing it in real life? Many people who have visions are willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that their experience really did happen; that it was not a dream. And, as I have pointed out before, why if Paul believed that this event was real did he call it a “vision” in Acts chapter 26?? If Jesus Christ appeared in a body to you while traveling on Interstate 5 and spoke to you, would you call this experience a “vision” if you believed it to have been real??
Let’s look at a Bible passage that discusses another of Paul’s visions:
II Corinthians 12
It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep[a] me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.[b] 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power[c] is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
So, Paul states in this passage that he has had several “visions” of the Lord. In the first “vision” Jesus came down to earth to meet him on the road to Damascus, and in the second vision, Paul is taken up into the highest heaven to presumably meet Jesus and to hear things which he cannot repeat. Do we really believe that the mortal body of Paul ascended up into space to enter the “third heaven” and that he heard things that “no mortal is permitted to repeat”??
It sounds more to me that Paul, a Pharisee who already believed in resurrections and spirits, was a very devout, religious man whose intense beliefs sometimes triggered spectacular visions, including seeing resurrected dead men on dusty roads and travel through space. How do we know that when Paul says that he has “seen” Jesus, he wasn’t talking about having seen Jesus on his space flight to heaven mentioned in II Corinthians above? There is nothing in Paul’s writings that state that Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus as told by Luke.
Rev. Wright may be correct when he says, “he (Paul) believed he had seen the risen Jesus in person, and that his understanding of who this Jesus was included the firm belief that he possessed a transformed but still physical body”, but that does not mean that Paul actually saw a body with his own two eyes. No one can say for sure why he believed he had “seen” Jesus. Paul, in his own writings, gives us no details regarding what he saw, and “Luke” only tells us that Paul saw a light…and was then blinded.
If this is the evidence upon which Rev. Wright believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the veracity of the Christian story, it is very weak. Unless he is going to do better in the upcoming chapters, he had better start appealing to blind faith, because his “evidence” would only convince someone who has already made the decision that he wants to believe, even if not one shred of evidence exists to support this 2,000 year old story.