HERE'S food for thought to our Christian brethren on this Sunday: what if Paul's' conversion was not of Christ?
What evidence did Paul provide? Who witnessed this? Are the stories convincing in the light of intensive and reasoned scrutiny?
Apparently, there were two different views from the 'eyewitness statements'.
This is unusual in the New Testament where “in the beginning” the four gospels (strictly three), which were generated separately from different perspectives and in different languages, basically agree on the same story of Christ's life and message.
It is a message that transcends religions and whose central tenets can be found in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and various other philosophies. But this knowledge isn’t convenient to most Christians.
Today's version of Holy Scripture has many stories and most faithful, appreciative and learned audiences know the value of having more than one story. Verification can offer the truest depiction of life's infinite variety, depth and breadth.
The tale of Paul's conversion is interesting.
We are led to believe that the man who stoned Stephen and persecuted many others was stunned by a flash of light in the middle of the desert, picked himself up and suddenly asked, "Who are you, Lord?"
Later on, it seems he may have suffered temporary blindness from being out in the sun for too long.
It all seems too convenient.
We should also note that the-person-formerly-known-as-Saul was a Pharisee.
Has anyone wondered why a Pharisee with a perfectly proud and historical name like Saul (meaning ‘prayed for’) would change his monicker to the Roman name, Paul (meaning ‘humble’).
Of course, it could have been a strategic choice.
(1) Romans were the new masters of the universe – so the name fits in with a sense of deference.
(2) Saul was the corrupted King of the Israelites before David, the ancestor of Jesus. So the name fits with the Hebrew crowd too.
Paul was educated. He knew the Holy Scripture, that is, the original Judaic stuff. He knew religious rhetoric. He probably understood Roman legislation. “Know the rules so you know how to break them properly” (that’s Lord Buddha, by the way).
Paul’s knowledge of religious rhetoric was put to use in the 'burning bush' analogy of his reported conversion. This event usually requires a harsh and uninhabitable environment (desert, fire or salt water), lights, voices and one or two followers of lesser intelligence (read soldiers).
Being an educated scribe, a member of the elite, unlike the majority of disciples around at the time (except maybe Mark who wrote in Greek), it was no wonder Saul/Paul was able to grasp the hearts and minds of other less knowledgeable or worldly disciples.
While Paul was eventually part of the survival of the Christian movement, it would beg credulity to say this was dependent on his conversion and presence.
(Or would Christians doubt God's ability to sustain his boy's sweat and blood without Paul?)
And yet Paul’s influence is predominant, as any copy of the New Testament will testify.
In fact, Paul soon become the 'mangimasta', the 'boss-boi', of the disciple establishment, after some very confrontational disputes, probably only a few of which were recorded in his epistles.
So, was it a clever ruse for Paul to become a part of this early Christian disciple movement, instead of chasing them around half the world?
Was it a case of recognising that if you can't beat them join them?
Or maybe a case of "creating and managing change from within the system"?
(Which is purportedly a reason many politicians use to get elected in the first place.)
Whichever way we look at it, Paul's entry into the early discipleship turned the tide of Christianity and paved the way for the establishment of the current Christian institutions, which are founded in large part upon Paul's teachings.
Methinks, Christ's disciples would be more likely to be found down at the local markets, talking with the vagrants, street sellers, beggars and prostitutes.
Helping them out instead of brow-beating them with Buk Baibel.
The disciples might even have time for the public servants working in the tax office or spend a moment or two with the pig keepers, even if Legion did take out some of their previous herd.
Perhaps they’d share a poem or a song or two like King David did, if they had time for these less important things in life.
Everyone’s heard of that bloke, he was Jesus Christ’s great, great, great, great, great and greatest grandfather.
Who were the others?
Oh, that’s right, apart from Solomon, most of them never wrote down anything. But then again that was the scribe’s job, and most people didn’t have one of Paul’s kin taking dictation.
The moral of it all: scribbling is a double edged sword.