The Coherence of Paul’s Conversion Accounts

The conversion of Paul is an extremely perplexing fact of history for skeptics.  Paul was an ardent opponent of Christianity and had everything to gain by destroying its claims. He persecuted the early Christians with zeal and thought he was serving God. When someone must confess such a drastic error in embarrassing detail, it is not likely they are fabricating their testimony. Accordingly, the testimony of a hostile witness is considered extremely convincing in a court of law. For these reasons skeptics have concocted fanciful theories such as Paul suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy[1] or conversion disorder.[2] Yet these desperate attempts do not account for the evidence of Jesus’ empty tomb or the eye witness testimony of the disciples or the appearance to and conversion of the once skeptical brother James. Paul was not in the frame of mind to hallucinate the risen Jesus and he does not fit the medical profile of someone who is likely to experience conversion psychosis.  For this reason skeptics seek to nitpick at the details in Acts to derive contradictions.

I have charted the three accounts of Paul’s conversion and color coded the key parallel phrases as a means to demonstrate the basic consistency of the accounts.  Paramount is to note the context of each passage. The first (Acts 9:1–19) is told by the narrator Luke. The second version (22:3-16) is told in Paul’s own words after he was arrested at the temple and taken to the barracks. The third is Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa. Accordingly the first has detail Paul would be unaware of like Ananias’ commission from God. The second and third have more detail in the message from Jesus to Paul reflecting the first person. From my arrangement and color coding it is readily apparent that the basic account is the same and that the minor discrepancies are merely the normal variations found when someone recalls an important event. They also reflect the contextual emphasis based on the setting.

Acts 9:1-19 Acts 22:3–16 Acts 26:8–19
1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 

2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.


3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 

4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women,

5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.


8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.
11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. 12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests.
3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 

4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.

8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.

9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,

12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.

14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.

16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”



6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 

7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’

9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.

10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’

11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.


13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.
14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,
17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you
18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 




17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;

19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.



12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 

13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him.

14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth;

15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.

16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’




The coherence is much more significant than the minor variations.  It is consistent that Paul was persecuting the Christians and in that duty he was approaching Damascus when he was suddenly enveloped by a blinding bright light. He heard a voice but his traveling companions only heard a sound. Skeptics make much of the fact that 9:7 says they heard the voice but 22:9 reads that, “they heard not the voice” in the old King James.[3] This is merely a case of an unfortunate translation choice on the part of the KJV.  While the Greek term, ἀκούω, can be rendered “hear”, it is also is used for “understand” or “comprehend” as in the case of Mark 4:33.[4] Modern translations reflect this rendering. While the atheist Dan Barker has criticized this as unjustifiable[5], the alleged contradiction seems drastically overstated because it is entirely possible to hear and not understand. Furthermore, in the third account (Acts 26:8–19), Paul supplies an additional detail that the voice spoke in Hebrew. Perhaps it is as simple as the fact his companions did not comprehend Hebrew?

The details that are consistent are far more significant. Paul fell to the ground and heard Jesus asking him why he was persecuting Him. While the third account to Agrippa presents a general summary of Paul’s commission, the other two give more detail. Jesus told him to travel onto Damascus where he would be told what to do. Blinded, he was led to the city by his companions where he fasted for three days. The first account provides the details about Ananias, who God had convinced to encourage and heal Paul. Paul was healed, converted and baptized and began to preach in Damascus.  According to his writing in Galatians, Paul then spent some time in alone in the Arabian Desert. I suspect he studied the Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 53 and developed his theology. He also may have received additional revelation from the Lord during that time.[6] The results are self-evident in his composition of nearly half the New Testament.

Let’s say I am on a jury hearing your case. If your mother says you are a wonderful person and can be trusted, I still would have my doubts. However, if someone who dislikes you testified that you were honest, I would be inclined to think you trustworthy. The conversion of an enemy is powerful evidence. Even more, what could be more convincing than the complete turn around of an educated and skillful opponent with nothing to gain? Paul had everything to lose by converting yet the historical record is clear and undisputed. Paul went from persecutor to preacher of the Gospel. The only adequate explanation is that he met the risen Lord.



[1] D Landsborough, “St Paul and temporal lobe epilepsy,” J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry.;50, no. 6 (June 1987): 659–664.

[2] Gary R. Habermas and Michael Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004), 114.

[3] Skeptics Annotated Bible compared with (accessed 5/18/2011).

[4]James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLG 201, #8.

[5] Dan Barker, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists. (Berkely: Ulysses Press, 2009), 246–50.

[6]Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 296.

Earthquake Data Confirms Holy Friday As A Very Supernatural Day

The events surrounding the crucifixion of Christ have puzzled scholars for millennia. Is there evidence to corroborate the supernatural events described in the Gospels?  This presentation will demonstrate that indeed there are multiple lines of corroborating evidence. The first task of determining the exact date for the death of Jesus is problematic. There are good arguments for both 30 and 33 AD. Luke places the beginning of Jesus’ ministry shortly following John the Baptists’ during “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius” (Lk 3:1). Augustus died in AD 14 and was succeeded by Tiberius.[1] A straight forward reckoning would place Jesus’ baptism in AD 29. However, many scholars believe that Luke may have Tiberius’s reign from the time when Augustus raised Tiberius to be coregent in AD 11.[2] Thus, we arrive at a date of AD 26-27 for Jesus Baptism.

To determine the length of Jesus’ ministry John’s gospel is the most useful. John mentions at least three Passovers during Jesus’ ministry (John 2:23; 6:4; 12:1).[3] This infers a bare minimum of two years. There is an unnamed feast in Jerusalem which many commentators believe to be a fourth Passover (Jn. 5:1).[4] This appears plausible because the Passover in John 2:23 occurred in the spring, hence the soon harvest in John 4:35 indicates 9 months had passed. John also mentions events in Galilee preceding the Passover mentioned in John 6:4.[5]This leads us to postulate a three year ministry.

Thus we can infer a date of AD 30 or 33 depending on how one reckons Tiberius’ fifteenth year.  This is supported by Luke’s assertion that Jesus was about thirty years of age when he began his ministry (Lk. 3:23) given a 5-4 BC birth. Still yet, because his death was on the Friday day of Preparation (Mk 15:42) and the month of Nisan was based on the New Moon, we can derive two possible dates Nisan 14 or 15. Those days possibly fall on Friday in either AD 30 or 33. Hence, the two most probable dates are Nisan 14 (April 3), AD 33, and Nisan 14-15 (April 6- 7), A.D. 30.[6] Perhaps we can find other evidence which will favor one date over the other.

With the dramatic events described one wonders if there is any extrabiblical evidence in the historical record. There is more than you might expect. Phlegon of Tralles was a Greek writer and freedman of the emperor Hadrian, born about A.D. 80 and wrote in the 2nd century AD. The ancient Greeks calculated dates based on their Olympic games every four years. His chief work was the Olympiads, an historical compendium in sixteen books, from the 1st down to the 229th Olympiad (776 BC to AD 137), of which several chapters are preserved in the historian Eusebius’ Chronicle. The early church fathers were well aware of Phlegon’s writings and used his history in their apologetics.

The historian Eusebius quoted Phlegon directly in his chronicles:

Indeed Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of olympiads, also writes about this, in his 13th book writing thus:

However in the fourth year of the 202nd olympiad, an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea.[7]

The fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad ran from summer of 32 to summer of 33 AD because the first Olympiad occurred in 776 BC.  Hence, Phlegon’s history favors the 33 AD date. Furthermore, Origen confirms the existence of this data in his debate with the skeptic Celsus:

He [Celsus] imagines also that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention; but regarding these, we have in the preceding pages, made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Savior suffered.[8]

Julius Africanus further refers to the writings of historian Thallus who wrote concerning the possibility of a solar eclipse:

This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye.  Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Cæsar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth—manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer.[9]

As Africanus realized, a solar eclipse concurrent with a full moon is a scientific impossibility. In response to this, the christian apologist Tertullian understood this as how those ignorant of Christ explained the mysterious darkness:

In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives.[10]

Tertullian was confident that the reports were available in the archives, yet he does not think it necessary to view the darkness as an eclipse. Indeed an eclipse was simply the first century skeptics attempt to explain away the supernatural events surrounding Jesus death. While it is nice to have these ancient confirmations I wondered if there was anything modern science might reveal. Indeed there are surprising confirmations.

The Israel Exploration Journal published by the institute of archeology at the Hebrew University published an article “Earthquakes in Israel and Adjacent Areas: Macrosismic Observations since 100 BCE.” On page 265 they list a slight earthquake in Jerusalem in AD 30 and one in AD 33 which affected Judea, Jerusalem including damage to the temple![11]

Indeed it appears scientific analysis has corroborated the Biblical account. There was indeed an earthquake in Jerusalem, one which even damaged the temple. Does this prove the account in the Gospels? Well to claim proof might be too strong… but given the evidence it sure does make putting your trust in Jesus seem like a reasonable proposition. The Bible tells us that all have fallen short of God’s righteous standard. But, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”” (Ro 10:9-11)



Earthquake Data Reference Key:
S A. Sieberg: Untersuchungen uber Erdbeden und Bruchschollenbau im ostlichen Mittelmeergebiet, Denkschruften der medizinisch-naturwissenschafilichen Gesellschaft zu Jena 18 (1932), pp 159-273. 

R G.L. Araniakis: Essai sur le climat de Jersalem, Bulletin de l’Institut d’Egypte ser. 4,t. 4, 1903, pp. 178-189. 

W B. Willis: Earthquakes in the Holy Land, Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 18 (1928), pp.73-103. Amendment in Science, Vol. 77, No. 1997, 7 April 1933, p. 351.


[1] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament : Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 96.

[2] Lea, The New Testament,  97.

[3] Lea, The New Testament, 96.

[4] Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John Believe and Live, (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2002),43.

[5]Lea, The New Testament, 96.

[6] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 126.

[7] Phlegon, 13th book 202 Olympiad in Chronicle (English Translation by Tertullian Project), Jerome

[8] Origen, Contra Celsus Book II Chap. LIX

[9] Julius Africanus. The Extant Fragments of the Chronography, XVIII

[11] D.H.K. Amiran; E. Arieh; Turcotte, “Earthquakes in Israel and Adjacent Areas: Macrosismic Observations since 100 BCE,” Israel Exploration Journal 44 (1994):260-305.


Critique of “The Resurrection of Christ: Theological Implications”

In this article Dr. Daniel Wallace argues that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is an essential and central doctrine of the Christian faith.  To make his case Wallace lays a foundation by examining the Old Testament hope for a general resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:1-2). Then he demonstrates the centrality of the resurrection to the first century apostolic faith by examining the sermons in Acts and passages from Paul’s letters. After the groundwork is laid, Wallace examines nine theological points that are dependent upon the reality of Christ’s resurrection.


Wallace is a much respected textual critic and scholar of the first order, yet this article is concise and written in an accessible style.  A major strength is Wallace’s exhaustive command of the scriptures.  In addition, Wallace’s reasoning is sound throughout. His nine theological points are evidenced thoroughly and convincingly with appropriate proof texts. Furthermore, these points are well selected to demonstrate their contingency to the resurrection. Points three and four are especially convincing. Jesus cannot be a good teacher if he was a false prophet and “good news” of the gospel is precisely that death was conquered. In light of that truth, Christianity is incoherent without the resurrection. In the discussion on the forgiveness of sin, Wallace offers real life illustrations that show the doctrine to be sensible and relevant. He also makes a compelling parallel between the Sadducees and liberal theologians. In spite of their objections, he demonstrates from the scriptures that the resurrection is a non negotiable belief for true Christianity.


In his brief discussion of the Old Testament, Wallace emphasized the vagueness of Jewish resurrection belief.  While that is true, he neglected to mention that there were many prophecies that point to Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.  Isaiah 53 is a foundational chapter pointing to Jesus Christ, a discussion of it would have added force to Wallace’s case. For instance Isaiah 53:8 points to his death and verse ten points to the resurrection. The typology of Jonah (Jon. 1:17), the bronze serpent (Num 21:9), and Abraham’s offering of Isaac (Gen. 22:2) also come to mind. There is also a very solid historical case to be made for the reality of the resurrection. For example, the early creed, (1 Cor. 15:3-8), dates to a few years of the actual events.[i] I think it would have added to his case to mention the factual historical apologetic.


Modern skeptics would have us believe that our faith is unreasonable and outdated, yet the popularity of the new age, paranormal and occult has never been higher. I believe that nearly all people intuitively know there is more to reality than mere matter reacting according to the laws of physics and chemistry. One of my passions is to help people to realize that the Christian faith is the true spirituality and that the bible is the true guidebook to the supernatural. One of the best ways to convince people is the evidence for the resurrection. There is a compelling objective basis to believe it really happened. As Wallace demonstrated, once that is established, the rest of Christ’s teaching is authenticated.  To my mind the resurrection is not merely part of the gospel, it is the gospel.  Boice calls it the pivotal doctrine and makes a similar argument to Wallace.[ii] Most definitively, Paul argued that without it “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).  The scripture also teaches that when someone believes it is an act of supernatural grace (Eph. 2:8). Faith is a gift of God and conversion is the resurrection of a spiritually dead sinner to new life in Christ. I believe the resurrection because, in a spiritual sense, I have experienced it.  It was clear to me that he was writing to evangelicals who may have been influenced by modern liberal theologians or that had perhaps never considered the centrality of the resurrection. I think he was successful and I will refer to this article again in my ministry. To my way of thinking, you really are not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word if you do not believe that Christ rose from the grave.

[i]Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, Rev. Ed. of: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus. (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996), 154.

[ii]James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith : A Comprehensive & Readable Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 340.

Is The Shroud of Turin Evidence For Jesus’ Resurrection?

I just listened to a lecture by Dr. Gary Habermas at the EPS apologetics conference, and according to Gary it turns out there is very strong evidence in favor the Shroud’s authenticity. There are paintings of Jesus from the third through the tenth centuries that look they copied the face from the shroud. If the shroud was their model it had to preexist the artwork.  It’s not a casual similarity, they have the same bruise marks and all. Forensic scientists have verified that the blood is real and that the body was in a state of rigamortis. Not to mention there is pollen from Jerusalem on it which is an unlikely find if it was a medieval European forgery as skeptics assert.  As usual, skeptics have written it off as a hoax, which is understandable.  In fact, I had discounted it as a forgery like so many other “relics” the medieval church attempted to pass off.  Mainly because there was a carbon 14 test in the 1980s that dated it to the Middle Ages. So you would think that would be the end of it…

However it has now been demonstrated that the cloth they tested was a patch woven into the shroud from when it was scorched by fire – the original fibers are much older. At a symposium in 2005 it was demonstrated that newer fabric was spliced and woven into the old in the sample taken for the test. The carbon 14 test from the 1980s is now regarded as unreliable. Here is the peer reviewed scientific journal article that discredits the 1988 carbon dating.

Abstract :

In 1988, radiocarbon laboratories at Arizona, Cambridge, and Zurich determined the age of a sample from the Shroud of Turin. They reported that the date of the cloth’s production lay between a.d. 1260 and 1390 with 95% confidence. This came as a surprise in view of the technology used to produce the cloth, its chemical composition, and the lack of vanillin in its lignin. The results prompted questions about the validity of the sample.

Preliminary estimates of the kinetics constants for the loss of vanillin from lignin indicate a much older age for the cloth than the radiocarbon analyses. The radiocarbon sampling area is uniquely coated with a yellow–brown plant gum containing dye lakes. Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin. The radiocarbon date was thus not valid for determining the true age of the shroud.

Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the shroud of turin by Raymond N. Rogers

The image on the Shroud of Turin has not been explained by science and appears to be holographic in nature according to particle physicists who have examined the image. Far from being painted on the cloth , there is no other image like it in the world. It appears to be burned into the very top layer of the fibers similar to (but not identical to) radiation. The holographic nature strongly controverts ancient forgery methods, could it be that it evidences Jesus’ miraculous transformation from death to life?

The Resurrection Challenge

If you do not believe in the resurrection then the challenge is to provide an alternate explanation that accounts for all 5 facts. If you are a believer, the challenge is to submit arguments and evidence that support the 5 facts or additional facts you feel support the historicity of the resurrection. Submit your video responses via YouTube and let’s see where the evidence leads. Now pay attention to my channel as I will be releasing videos that support my 5 lines of evidence.  The first one, History 101, is just a brief overview of some general principles historians use in evaluating evidence. I will post a video supporting each point. I will do my best to respond personally to the most challenging alternate explanations. I will not respond to videos are overly vulgar or disrespectful. 

I will make a decision at the end of September and mail prizes, (2 new hard backs, The Case for the Real Jesus by Strobel and prodigious atheist turned deist Anthony Flew’s, There is not/a God) to the winners. I will be posting videos all through the month with my research supporting the resurrection. I hope you will follow the evidence where it leads! So how do you explain the evidence?