Does Paul differentiate the appearance(s) from later visions/feelings?

  • Question

    Did Paul draw a sharp distinction between non-physical visions given by God to his prophets and actual “appearances” of Jesus?

“Yes, after all…
  • Christians differentiated appearance/visions

    In General, Christians believed there was a stark difference between appearances of Jesus and visions of him.

    • Generally: Ancients were familiar by default.
    • Examples: Paul, Peter, the church.
    • The church believed “appearances” stopped c. AD 30.

    But no…

    • Acts 12:9 says Peter confused reality for a vision. [Forthcoming]
    • So? 2Cor 12:2 (“in body? I dunno”)= Paul can’t tell. [Forthcoming]
  • Paul assumed all knew that “appearances” stopped

    Paul took it for granted that he and his audience all knew that appearances of Jesus were special, and stopped long ago (ending with Paul).

    A full page will analyze at least these 6 positive arguments:

    • 1 Cor 15:8 (“last… he appeared to me also”)
    • 1 Cor 15:8 (“untimely born”) = Paul shocked.
    • Paul’s case assumes “appearances” stopped.
    • Paul: “Few Christians w/ visions are apostles”.
    • Paul wanted included in the witness-list.
    • The church really felt appearances stopped.

    This is relevant because, long after Paul had received this initiating conversion-appearance from Jesus, he and other Christians nevertheless continued to experience literal “visions” (i.e. non-physical visualizations etc. of Jesus). So appearances and visions are quite distinct in the mind of Paul and early Christians.


    • Paul etc. arbitrarily decided to cut them off (to prevent more leaders from coming).1 [See response]2
    1. A.J.M. Wedderburn: “It may even be that Paul’s claim to have seen the risen Jesus was itself a catalyst that compelled some to say ‘Enough is enough’. For, as we have seen, one would never have thought, from Acts alone, that Paul’s experience belongs to the same sequence as the earlier resurrection appearances. But if one regards the formal leave-taking of the Ascension story as a later, particularly Lukan, development, the way lay open for late-comers to claim to belong to the same circle of witnesses and that open door was an invitation to abuse and fraught with danger.” [Beyond Resurrection (Hendrickson, 1999), 79.]
    2. By way of response, however, that is awfully dishonest and would hardly convince Paul. If the first appearance convinced him so much, how could an unjustified/dishonest line of reasoning stop him from concluding it was Jesus actually appearing the next time?
  • 1 Cor 9:1 (heōraka) implies enduring effect

    Paul writes in 1 Cor 9:1 — “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen [ἑὠρακα ] Jesus our Lord?” which—in the original Greek—implies its consequence persists.

    This is relevant because it implies his conversion experience was unique and not repeated.1

    1. James Dunn: “1 Cor 9:1. - ἑὠρακα (‘I saw’). The choice of tense here is no doubt deliberate. The perfect tense denotes an event which took place in the past and whose effect is still operative - an event which made possible and constituted Paul’s experience as an apostle.(Roloff, Apostalat p. 55) Paul did not think of his apostleship as something re-established by every fresh experience of the risen Jesus. His initial experience determined his apostleship for the rest of his life. His initial experience, in other words was something distinctive - different from all his subsequent experiences.” [Jesus and the Spirit (SCM, 1997), 103.]
      N.T. Wright: “As far as Paul was concerned, an ‘apostle’ was someone who had seen the risen lord; but proof of apostleship came in the fruitfulness of the apostolic ministry. Paul takes it for granted that apostleship bestows a freedom o9f sorts, and he mentions this first because this is the point he is going to develop. But for us the critical connection is between the second and third questions. He is an apostle because he has seen Jesus the lord. He is one of, a finite and limited number, who saw Jesus and remained marked forever by the fact of having done so (that is the significance of the perfect tense of heoraka, ‘I have seen’ the perfect draws attention to the present and continuing significance of a one-off past event).” [The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003), 382.]
      William Lane Craig: “…[it is] not only reminiscent of the language of the appearances, but also indicates an event in the past with enduring consequences: the unrepeated event of seeing Christ and being commissioned as an apostle. His use of εσχατον δε παντωυ (I Cor. 15:8) also indicates that the appearance to him was not repeated.” [Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Edwin Mellen, 1989), 70-72.]
      • cf. Anthony Thiselton: [New International Greek Testament Commentary: The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 2000), 668.]
  • Paul never includes it in vision-boasting

    Paul never includes his Damascus road experience when discussing them. This is relevant because it seems like there was plenty of opportunity for him to (e.g. 2 Cor 12:24)

  • Jerusalem church: “Jesus literally appeared to Paul”

    While the church rejected that later people received an appearance from Jesus, the apostles (Peter etc.) acknowledged that Paul did receive one.1 This is relevant because the church did not acknowledge that all Christians received an appearance, and if the Jerusalem church differentiated these then likely Paul did as well.

    1. James Dunn: “The claim of Paul’s cannot be dismissed as special pleading, because it seems to have been accepted without serious dispute by the ‘pillar apostles’ (Gal 2:9);51 and certainly Paul can rank his ophthanai with the others without having to argue the point or indulge in polemics in the key passage (1 Cor 15:5-8). The appearance was a ‘revelatory act’ to be sure; but that which was ‘revealed’ was Jesus Christ himself (Gal 1:12, 15f).”[Jesus and the Spirit (SCM, 1997), 108.]