1) The article ‘St Paul converted by epileptic fit, suggests BBC’ By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent and Jonathan Wynne-Jones

states ‘ ‘A documentary about St Paul has infuriated Christians by suggesting that the apostle’s conversion on the road to Damascus may have been caused by an epileptic fit’How would you respond to this claim?2) The article also states ‘An even more bizarre theory, suggested by Dr John Derr, an American earthquake expert, is that Paul could have been struck by a bolt of electro-magnetic energy, similar to ball lightning, released by an earthquake. The programme quotes scientists saying that such an event could have triggered what Paul would believe to be a mystical experience, as well as leaving him blind for several days.’ [I also came across this article ‘Was Saint Paul struck blind and converted by lightning?’ by Bullock JD (Department of Ophthalmology, Wright State University, School of Medicine, Dayton, Ohio) which claims ‘In the Bible, St. Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was struck blind by a light from heaven. Three days later his vision was restored by a “laying on of hands.” The circumstances surrounding his blindness represent an important episode in the history of religion. Numerous theories have been proposed to account for this event which has been the subject of interest of theologians, philosophers, artists, and physicians. A lightning strike could explain all of the features of this episode.’] How would you respond to this claim also? I would very much appreciate your response to these claims, especially claim 2).

The best response I could find online was which seems to respond to claim 1) more than claim 2). I was hoping you could also respond to the above claims or build on the response found in this article.


The idea that Paul may have had an epileptic seizure is, at its very best, speculation.  There is no evidence that Paul was an epileptic, unless you take 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. But in this passage, Paul does not give any indication whatsoever that his thorn in the flesh was epilepsy.  There have been many theories on the nature of his weakness, but all are speculation. We cannot rule out epilepsy, but it is speculative and rather unlikely.  I believe that the best witness we have to the nature of what happened to Paul is the words of Paul himself.  Clearly Paul did not believe that he simply had an epileptic seizure.  Paul had a vivid vision, which led to his blindness, which was cured when Ananias laid his hands on Paul.  Is this evidence of epilepsy?  The simply answer is no!  Paul should know better than we that this event was a one-time thing on the road to Damascus.  Is there any element of this that suggests epilepsy?  Simple answer: no.

The second theory (at least the first half of it) does not even deserve the name theory. An earthquake released a ball of lightning?  What?  Has an earthquake ever caused a bolt or any other kind of lightning?  Can any educated person believe this idea?  What possible reason caused an opthalmologist to speculate that Paul was struck by lightning?  Now, it is true that seeing a very bright light can cause blindness, and Paul did see a bright light, so that part is not ridiculous.  However, the possibility that this was ball lightning is the problem. Ball lightning does not speak words to people like Saul.  Ball lightning does not instruct people to go to Damascus.  It is true that “numerous theories” have been proposed for Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus.  However, I am loathe to accept theories about this from people who have a presupposition that this must have been a natural phenomenon, especially when it is pretty obvious that this was not merely a natural phenomenon.  That Paul was a special man, chosen by God to preach to the Gentiles is proved correct by history.  Like I said above, we would do well to accept the account of the only person who would know about what happened on the road to Damascus.  That person would be Paul.  Paul did not think that he had an epileptic seizure.  What he experienced may have felt like an earthquake, and what he saw may have looked superficially like ball lightning, but it is Paul who knows what he actually saw and heard, and he is the only one to properly interpret what he saw and heard.  He tells us that it was a vision from God, and his life appears to back up his claim. Could God have used actual lightning as part of what happened to Paul?  I cannot 100% rule this out, but what Paul described does not align with this idea.  It is like what Moses saw on Sinai and Jesus, Peter, James and John saw on the Mt. of Transfiguration.  When God appears to humans, he does so in the form of a brilliant light.  This is not lightning.

Perhaps I am coming across a bit too strong here. To be honest, I tend to become overly impatient with people who try to provide a “natural” explanation for an occurrence which is clearly presented in the Bible as a supernatural event. So take what I say with a grain of salt.

John Oakes

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