According to Acts, was Jesus’s appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus physical?

  • Question

    In the book of Acts, three accounts are given by the author of Paul’s conversion via Jesus’s appearance on the road to Damascus (in Acts 9, 22, 26). The question arises as to whether the author of Acts intended this event to be understood as a physical one occurring in space-time, or instead as an event localized in Paul’s mind (even if a supernatural one) and therefore not occurring in space-time.

“Yes, after all…
  • Acts: “Jesus rose physically”

    The book of Acts teaches that Jesus was physically resurrected from the dead.

    • Acts says “his body was not left to decay.”
    • Acts says his body (that ate/drank) ascended.
    • Luke, in general, teaches Jesus rose physically (empty tomb, tangible Jesus, not a ghost, etc.)
    • The author of Acts followed the teaching of the apostles (who taught a physical resurrection).
    • The author of Acts agreed with Paul.
    • Early Christians in general did.
    • That’s what “resurrection” meant by default.

    This is relevant because Acts says Jesus appeared to Paul, and a mere mental vision of Jesus is not an appearance (meaning the author of Acts is inept).

    • Michael Licona: “[t]he same Luke who reports the appearances to Stephen and Paul is likewise very clear that he interprets the appearances to the disciples as disclosing a literal resurrection of Jesus’ corpse. … Jesus is taken up from among his disciples and is lifted up into the clouds (Acts 1:9-11). He ate and drank with his disciples before his ascension (Acts 10:39-41), and his body is said not to have decayed as king David’s did but was instead raised up (Acts 2:30-32; 13:35-37). It is difficult to state more clearly than Luke has done that Jesus’ resurrection involved raising his corpse.” [The Resurrection of Jesus (IVP, 2011), 329.]
“No, after all…
  • Acts 26:19 “heavenly vision” isn’t physical

    The Greek “optasia” philologically denotes a non-physical experience. (See full page here.) This is relevant because Acts 26:19 reports Paul saying, “I did not prove obedient to the heavenly vision [optasia]” and the “heavenly vision” was Jesus himself (or the nature of his appearance).

    But no,

    So what? Plausibly…

    • The vision is not of Jesus, but of Paul’s mission. [Forthcoming]