Was Saul Unconsciously a Christian Before his Damascus Conversion?

Christians frequently pose this question to skeptics of the Christian supernatural claims:   Why would Paul—a devout, highly educated Jewish rabbi—convert to the very belief system which he intensely despised and vigorously persecuted unless he really had seen the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road?  Below is one New Testament scholar’s hypothetical resolution to that enigma:

“…the pre-Christian Paul was a committed, zealous persecutor of  Christians.  This vigorous reaction on Paul’s part presupposes that the basic elements of the preaching of Christians had had a very strong effect on him.  …behind Paul’s vehemently rejecting, aggressive attitude to Christians there was an inner build up in his person that numerous works of depth psychology have ascertained in other cases to be the basic motivation for aggressive behavior.  Is it too much to assume that the basic elements of Christian preaching and practice unconsciously attracted Paul?  However, out of fear of his unconscious strivings, he projected them on to the Christians, so as to be able to attack them there all the more wildly?

Fanatics often suppress the doubt in their own view of life and practice.  If that is true of Paul, his religious zeal was a kind of measure of his inner build-up, which was formally released in a vision of Christ.  Perhaps we can say with Jung that Paul was unconsciously a Christian before his conversion.

Jung:  ‘…because [Paul] did not want to see himself as a Christian, as a result of resistance to this, for a while he became blind.  This blindness was psychogenic.’

The unconscious ‘Christ Complex’ (presuming that there was such a thing in Paul) may have been formally brought to a boil by the Christians whom he persecuted.  He wanted to find release by fighting an external enemy.  That became his ‘destiny’.  And Saul became Paul.”

—Gerd Luedemann, German NT scholar, in his book, The Resurrection of Jesus

Luedemann goes on to suggest that Romans chapter 7 may be Paul’s reflections on his conversion experience; on his liberation from the law and from sin.  Romans chapter 7 may describe Paul’s personal conflict in making a decision…a decision which was resolved for him on the Damascus Road…a mental break from this world to “the other world of hallucination”.  And thus…his “heavenly vision”.


2 thoughts on “Was Saul Unconsciously a Christian Before his Damascus Conversion?

  1. Like the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth, I have a strong feeling that Paul is also a narrative construct, maybe from the mind of Marcion, but I am not that knowledgeable a scholar to nail it down.


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