I was listening to a recent podcast from the Unbelievable? program on Premier Christian Radio just the other day. The debate for the podcast centered on the resurrection of Jesus. In one corner, defending the Christian position, was Jonathan McLatchie. In the other corner, was Michael Alter, a Jewish skeptic of the resurrection who has done considerable research and written a book on the subject.
In this post, I want to address one component of Alter’s attack on Paul the Apostle’s testimony. In their debate, Alter tries to draw a comparison between Paul and Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. His point was that we cannot trust Paul’s testimony, and that if we choose to believe Paul, then we should also have to believe Joseph Smith’s testimony. The idea behind Alter’s move is that Paul has a radical experience on the Damascus road, never actually seeing the physical resurrected Christ, and that Joseph Smith has an experience where he is visited by an angel. So, Alter suggests that Smith’s experience is just as valid as Paul’s, and we should therefore accept it as equally authoritative.
Now, here’s the rub: the parallels are not as close as Alter would like us to believe. Allow me expound on this a bit.
- Paul’s conversion was anticipated by Jesus in the Gospels (see Mark 13:9).
- Paul’s Damascus Road experience involves a known entity, Jesus.
- Paul’s post-conversion message is consistent with the Gospels.
- Paul’s experience fits in the context of the Bible (God uses supernatural means to reveal Himself to others at other times).
- Joseph Smith’s conversion was not anticipated in either the Old or New Testaments.
- Joseph Smith’s experience involves a previously unknown entity, the angel Moroni.
- Joseph Smith’s message is extra-biblical. It is not consistent with the teachings of the Old and New Testament, but teaches that additional revelation is needed.
- Joseph Smith’s experience does not fit the context of the Bible. Gold plates in North America do not gel with Scripture.
So, Alter suggests that Paul and Smith could have both been deceived by Satan masquerading as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14-15). The trouble, though, is seen in the above comparison. If one of the two men is deceived, it is clearly Smith. If Paul was deceived, then he was deceived into seeing Jesus and preaching a message that is consistent with Jesus’ teachings and ultimately leads to countless people coming to personal faith in Christ. This does not seem likely.
So, to close, let me say that I see no reason why Paul’s testimony should not be trusted.