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NIV 1 Timothy 1:15

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.

Is Paul using hyperbole here?

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  • We would need some scripturally supported criterion of comparison to judge someone a worse sinner than someone else (in a sort of mathematical sense). However, if we count Lucifer (aka Satan) as a sinner, I don't see how Paul by any means could be regarded a worse sinner than Lucifer, so most probably the expression is being used as hyperbole.
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 17:03
  • The πρῶτος means "first"; it can mean both a) "first" as the leading in class, and since that class is that of sinners, then "worst of the sinners"; thus it is a pedagogic hyperbole teaching to mind one's own sins and not those of others, and always consider oneself worse than others; or b) "first" as "first to be considered", then it is not a hyperbole and teaches that before minding sins of others, one has to first care for one's own sins and only then try to care for those of others, like "take log out of your eye, and then you will see how to take speck from eye of another" (Matthew 7:3). Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 17:06
  • Great answer. Elaborate it with "full acceptance" if you would.
    – user35953
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 17:12
  • Each human person who is truly convinced of the reality of sin within humanity, will only know that reality through their own humanity.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:06
  • @TonyChan Have done it, but haven't added much anyhow. Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 18:40

2 Answers 2

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The πρῶτος means "first"; it can mean both a) "first" as the leading in class, and since that class is that of sinners, then "worst of the sinners"; thus it is a pedagogic hyperbole teaching to mind one's own sins and not those of others, and always consider oneself worse than others; as St Augustine has it, (I have read this Augustinian idea in Thomas á Kempis' famous "Imitation of Christ": "There is no [spiritual] danger whatsoever if you consider yourself worst than all humans, but there is a great danger if you consider yourself better than even one human".

or b) "first" as "first to be considered", then it is not a hyperbole and teaches that before minding sins of others, one has to first care for one's own sins and only then try to care for those of others, like "take a log out of your eye, and then you will see how to take speck from eye of another" (Matthew 7:3).

I think that the first is more plausible interpretation, but have not yet anything to substantiate this plausibility other than my fallible intuition.

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  • Great answer, yet again. +1 to balance the unnecessary down vote. I think Paul was so clever with language that he has what is called an economy of words - deliberately using a word with two meanings when both are intended. I believe this may have been one of them. Could not both your excellent definitions be correct at the same time?
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 19:34
  • @Dottard Thanks! As to your question, I like the idea of Augustine that inspiration does not belong to the one to whom this inspiration is given, be he a prophet or an apostle, but to the Inspirer, the Holy Spirit; thus, as Augustine writes, even if the author of the inspired words did not entertain a certain idea with which those words were pregnant, it means that H.Spirit pre-knew that such a semantic possibility would be open to later readers, but not even to the inspired author as yet. So, in this light Paul could have one idea, or both, or also other ideas, not yet understandable to me. Commented Jan 15, 2021 at 19:41
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The word foremost can also mean the first. Paul was the first to persecute the Church; even to the point of death. It means that Paul knew how wretched he was. if it is in the present tense it simply means that he will always be the first one to greatly sin against the Lord by trying to destroy His people.. So Paul knew how amazing was the grace of God to call himself to then be used of Christ. It is not possible that Paul continued to be the "worst" of sinners....He was not walking in sin when he wrote these letters...

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