Ask a conservative Christian about her belief in the resurrection of Jesus and she will eventually point to Paul’s claim—“have I not seen the Christ”—as evidence of eyewitness testimony for the historical reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
What better evidence can one get than eyewitness testimony, right??
Let’s use critical thinking skills to evaluate the Christian claim that Paul of Tarsus saw a resurrected dead body:
Our most detailed account of Paul’s alleged sighting of the resurrected Jesus occurs in the Book of Acts. However, most exerts doubt that the author of the Book of Acts was a traveling companion of Paul. Therefore, the Damascus Road Story, found only in the Book of Acts, is simply a story. For all we know it is a legend (gossip and hearsay) or it is a complete fabrication by the unknown author of Acts, invented for theological and evangelization purposes.
But what about Paul’s own letters? The fact is, Paul never once discusses his conversion in his epistles other than the very brief statement “have I not seen the Christ”. Did this sighting occur on the Damascus Road? We don’t know. Maybe it occurred in Damascus. Maybe it occurred in Jerusalem. For all we know, Paul “saw” Jesus on the ceiling of his moonlit bedroom one night!
But what about Paul’s statement “have I not seen the Christ”? Conservative Christians tell us that even if we don’t know when this sighting occurred, the Greek word used infers a literal sighting with the eyes. So whenever it occurred, the sighting was a literal sighting with the eyes, not something going on inside Paul’s head. Ok. There is a dispute among scholars as to whether or not the Greek word Paul uses in this statement can only mean “to see literally with the eyes”, but we don’t even need to get into that debate. Let’s assume that Paul meant that he literally saw the resurrected body of Jesus with his eyes. So what! Even if Paul’s use of the Greek word translated into English as “to see” was intended to convey a literal sighting of a real object (a body), this is no assurance that he really did. Let me repeat: Just because Paul sincerely believed that he had seen a back-from-the-dead body does not mean he did!
Experts tell us that most people who experience a visual hallucination believe it to be real—even after the hallucination has ended—even though, by definition, a visual hallucination occurs only in the brain. But human beings do not need to hallucinate to see things that aren’t really there. These situations are called “illusions”: the literal sighting of a literal object in one’s external environment but a false interpretation in the brain of what is seen.
If tomorrow, someone tells us that he really and truly saw his dog Fluffy abducted by three-foot tall, green, anntenae-toting space aliens, most of us are not going to believe him. So why do Christians believe a similar fantastical “sighting story” from 2,000 years ago???
It is not rational, folks. Such a belief defies the principles of critical thinking. Just because millions of people believe this tale to be true does not change the fact that such a belief is irrational.
End of post.