I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.
‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.
‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.” (Acts 22:6-11)
If there is any doubt that Paul considered this to be a post-resurrection appearance, and not just a vision or hallucination, he added his name to the list of eye-witnesses of the resurrection in the early church creed that we have already discussed: “Last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:8).
As a result, Paul’s life was radically changed. Instead of trying to destroy the church he became completely devoted to spreading the good news of resurrection of Jesus. Experiencing a total change in heart, he claimed, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). He proved these words true by enduring hardships, troubles, beatings, floggings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, threats from all sides, and hunger for the sake of the gospel (2 Corinthians 6:4-5, 11:23-28). In the end, he paid the ultimate price by sacrificing his life as a martyr.
Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded during the reign of Emperor Nero (64 – 67 A.D.). While imprisoned in Rome, he hints at his impending death, writing, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6-7). Paul’s death is reported by Clement of Rome in the early first century:
Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience: seven times was he cast into chains; he was banished; he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West, he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world, and having come to the extremity of the West, and having borne witness before rulers, he departed at length out of the world, and went to the holy place, having become the greatest example of patience.2
If you are interested, you can examine further reports of Paul’s martyrdom in Ignatius’s Letter to the Ephesians (12:2), Polycarp’s Letter of the Philippians (9:1-2), Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (Book 2,25:4), Tertullian’s Scorpiace (15:5-6), and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (Book 3,1:1).
The record of history seems clear, both James and Paul were initially in a position of either skepticism or opposition to Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. However, their lives were radically transformed to the point of being willing to lay them down for the message that Jesus had risen from the grave, confirming his identity as the Son of God and the efficacy of his death for the forgiveness of sins. Theories of fabrication, conspiracy, and wishful thinking simply won’t work to explain the historical transformation of these men. They were predisposed against the idea that Jesus would rise from the dead. In Paul’s case, he enjoyed a privileged position in Jewish society, and suffered tremendous loss in preaching the gospel and Christ’s resurrection. What could motivate both of these men to completely reverse position and give their lives to serve Jesus, with no logical explanation of ulterior motive? I see no other logical explanation than what is offered in 1 Corinthians 15 – “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me (Paul) also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:7-8).