Apostle with a good skeptical ‘bent’…
Paul is clearly a good example of faith, but to what extent is he a good example of a ‘cordial but ruthless’ critical/skeptical thinker?
Consider the following:
- He originally was a strong skeptic of the faith, even going so far as putting Christians to death
- It would take something very convincing to ‘convert’ his worldview to become the outstanding Christian spokesperson, evangelist, and apologist that he became.
- He claims that it was an appearance of the risen Jesus Christ that overpowered him.
- His subsequent actions show him to be a man of critical examination all through his life.
A couple of incidents from his life to illustrate this:
- After his conversion, he immediately “baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ”: (Acts 9.22)
- “He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews…” (Acts 9.29)
- He appeals to eye-witnesses often for his claims (Acts 13.31; I Cor 15)
- He appeals to seasonal patterns as evidence of God’s character (Acts 14. 17)
- He appeals to concrete experiences even in theological debates (Acts 15.12)
- “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead” (Acts 17.2-3)
- “While Paul was at Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him” (Act 17.16-18)
- His argument to them was based on 1) logic and 2) proof (Acts 17.29-31)
- “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue…” (Acts 18.4)
- “Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Act 19.8)
- He challenged the church leaders to ‘be on your guard’ about truth in the future (Acts 20.29-31)
- He appeals to his encounter with the risen Christ (Acts 22.6ff; 26.12))
- In court, he appeals to strict historical data (Acts 24)
- Before the authorities, he appealed to the openness of the data (Acts 26.26)
- He speaks of ‘thinking with sober judgment’, of ‘being convinced in your own mind’, of teachers who ‘by smooth talk and flattery deceive the minds of naive people’, of ‘wanting you to be wise’.
The list goes on and on…he consistently uses data, appeals to evidence, asks for proof, and answers requests for proof.