Paul, the great apostle who founded churches throughout Asia and Europe, whose missionary spirit fills the book of Acts, and who wrote much of the New Testament was initially a fanatic Christian killer.
Known originally as Saul of Tarsus, Paul is introduced in the New Testament at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), one of seven Hellenistic deacons, around 34 AD, only about twelve months after the resurrection.
Next, ďSaul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prisonĒ (Acts 8:3). Extending the vigorous Jewish persecution of the young Christian movement, Saul travelled to Damascus with letters from the high priest to imprison more Christians. However, on the road to the city he encountered the resurrected Jesus. A few days later he was baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9). Paul, in his own words described his dramatic conversion in letters to churches in Corinth (1 Corinthians 15:9-10), Galatia (Galatians 1:12-23), and Philippi (Philippians 3:6-7).
Initially, Paulís conversion was met with suspicion; even the apostles were reluctant to meet with him when he returned to Jerusalem the first time after his conversion: ďThen after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him for fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles Ė only James the Lordís brotherĒ (Galatians 1:18-19, emphasis added). In these days, so soon after the resurrection, the apostles remained in the Jerusalem area, apparently they were still not convinced that Paulís conversion was genuine. Only years later, all apostles felt comfortable with Paul as a fellow Christian and apostle. This might also be one of the main reasons that Paulís ministry was mostly in Gentile territory as far away as possible from his initial anti-Christian, Pharisaic roots.
Saul/Paul spent the remainder of his life in ministry and church planting until his death as a martyr in Rome around 66/67 AD.
A dramatic conversion as what happened to Paul is not necessarily unique. Critics and skeptics will assert that history shows numerous examples of people that convert from one set of beliefs to another. What makes Paulís conversion such strong evidence is its cause. People usually convert to a particular religion because they have heard the message of that religion from a secondary source and have believed it. Quite similar is how Christians today reach out to non-Christians and share the gospel of Christ. Very contrary to this, Paulís conversion to Christianity did not include any sharing by any Christian. It was based completely on his personal encounter with Jesus. Today, we might believe that Jesus rose from the dead based on secondary evidence, trusting the testimony of the disciples and Paul who saw the risen Christ, but for Paul, his experience came from an unexpected primary source: Jesus appeared to him personally. His conversion was not based on the testimony of someone else.