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In 1 Corinthians 15:8 Paul says...

8 And last of all He appeared to me also, as to one of untimely birth.

Is this referring to:

  1. the circumstances surrounding his persecution of the followers of Christ and subsequent nature of his conversion
  2. his own birth as a child (perhaps born after his father had died)
  3. The timing of his birth in terms of then current events...ie the prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem was likely to happen soon
  4. the upheaval Christianity had caused in the Jewish religion (this created quite a deal of conflict within that religion at the time)
  5. Perhaps Paul viewed that he was to be the last of the apostles?
  6. Was Paul referring to his conversion having not personally met Jesus which is different from other apostles?
  7. Is Paul being critical of his previous occupation...ie a persecutor and murder of Christians? (he was present at the Stoning of Stephen)

I dont want to colour answers with my own thoughts and research on this question. I am trying to find unique answers, uncorrupted by what could be unreliable or misinterpreted personal research, from others on this forum.

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  • It's an idiom simply means unfortunate, inauspicious see more synonyms for the word to get the idea. He is cursing his own fate bec he is cursing himself. He often called himself unworthy and the least. Not due to depression and self loathing like some pretentious calvinist but in genuine remorse of his past, and humility.
    – Michael16
    May 14 at 3:46
  • @Michael16, do you have a citation for this... It's quite interesting. This should be an answer.
    – Austin
    May 14 at 5:56
  • @austin my own understanding from a similar phrasing in another language. Born wrong-timely has to mean misfortunatly pitifully like cursed at birth, words like here. wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/misfortunately.html the next verse itself uses unworthy to explain see Thayer's Greek Lexicon STRONGS NT 1626: ἔκτρωμα ἔκτρωμα, ἐκτρωτος, τό (ἐκτιτρώσκω to cause or to suffer abortion; like ἔκβρωμα from ἐκβιβρώσκω), an abortion, abortive birth; an untimely birth: 1 Corinthians 15:8, where Paul likens himself to an ἔκτρωμα, and in 1 Corinthians 15:9 explains in what sense.
    – Michael16
    May 14 at 7:30
  • We have a similar saying or curse in Indian language that says, "this person should've dead at birth". I wish he should've been born dead or killed. I am sure even the scholars maybe unaware of this usage.
    – Michael16
    May 14 at 7:53
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I am always reminded of the few lines in Shakespeare's Macbeth in the final dramatic scene where Macduff declares to Macbeth, "Despair thy charm ... Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripped ..." But I digress ...

1 Cor 15:8 about Paul being:

  • NIV: one abnormally born
  • BSB: one of untimely birth
  • NKJV: one born out of due time
  • NASB: one untimely born

The noun here is ἔκτρωμα = untimely birth = miscarriage or lifeless abortion, or birth beyond term. There have been several ways this word, as applied to Paul, should be understood:

  1. As an apostle, Paul was born "late" - well after the other apostles were "born" (ag, Ellicott) and because Paul was the last to see the Lord.
  2. Paul was somehow not worthy to be an apostle because it was as though he had an "aborted" birth and thus was due less honor (eg, Benson); ie, Paul was completely unworthy to be an apostle because of his "late" (or untimely) birth making him sickly and weak (eg, Barnes, Gill, Meyer, Bengel's Gnomen, Pulpit).
  3. Paul's birth as an apostle was very sudden and violent just like an aborted birth (eg, Matthew Poole, Expositor's Greek).

I do not think it necessary to choose between these alternatives because they can all be valid simultaneously. Note Paul's comments elsewhere:

  • 1 Cor 15:9 - For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
  • 1 Cor 9:2 - If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
  • 2 Cor 12:11 - I have become a fool, but you drove me to it. In fact, you should have commended me, since I am in no way inferior to those “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing.
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Paul's Untimely Birth?

I will use the concordance-friendly KJV to answer this question. Notice that in 1 Cor 15:1-4 Paul is speaking expressly declaring the gospel--Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection in full accordance with the scriptures.

Beginning with verse 5, Paul is giving eye witnesses to the resurrected Christ--telling about those who saw the resurrected Christ with their own eyes. Twice he mentions one of the apostles singly (verses 5 and 7). Twice he mentions the all the apostles because we know that Christ appeared to them more than one time as a group (verses 5 and 7 also).

This question appropriately arises out of the very next sentence because of the immediacy of need to explain his connection to the apostleship group, and the necessity of proving that he was also an appropriate eye witness of Jesus' resurrection. This requirement was revealed to be the necessary element by Peter in seeking a replacement (at least in number) for Judas, in Acts 1:21-22:

Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. (My emphasis)

This appears to leave out Paul as far as being eligible to be an apostle-OR DOES IT? Some say that because Paul had not "companied with" the other apostles "all the time", beginning with the baptism of John, unto the day that Jesus was taken up from the other apostles, he could not have been an "apostle of Jesus Christ". Yes, Peter and the others "appointed" two men as candidates, casting lots on them to see which one was the lucky, or unlucky one Acts 1:23-25). The lot fell upon Matthias in Acts 1:26:

And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Therefore, the apostleship of Paul needed an explanation at that very point in Paul's description of the eye witnesses of Christ's resurrection. verse 8 in the KJV states:

And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

Here, Paul is letting us know that he was a son of God through faith--just like the other apostles-- and even more, that he was indeed an apostle of Jesus Christ. Notice the explanation of OP's verse in question in the very next three verses, verse 9-10:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (My emphasis)

Being "born out of due time" appears to be a very precise term--more so than merely, "untimely birth". Untimely birth could mean a premature birth, as well as a late birth. However, "due time" had already passed (according to Peter and the other apostles) for the birth of Paul when he was stopped on the road as he was nearing Damascus (See Acts, chapter 9). At that time, Paul was still warring with those disciples of Christ, including the very apostles he had just mentioned in verse 5 and 7.

The importance of this is that, notwithstanding whatever contentions made--pro or con--about how, or if, Paul met Peter's criteria for being an apostle of Christ, it is Christ who chooses the ones who he sends, not Peter, not anyone else. Acts, chapter nine clearly reveals that Christ chose Paul to do EXACTLY what the other apostles did, as beautifully expressed in verse 11:

Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed. (My emphasis)

Maybe Paul was late compared to the others in his being "born again", but his message was identical to that of the other apostles--"so we preach, and so ye believed." Clearly, he was "sent by" Christ Himself, with orders, not Peter, not the other apostles (see: apostolos-ἀπόστολος-Strongs G6652). Paul was truly an apostle of Christ, sent to declare the gospel, just like he began to declare in 1 cor 15:1:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;

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  • Paul is not of the 12 Apostles - none of the 12 ever called him an apostle not with a 'A'. rev 21:14 - And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. Only 12. His teaching was not the same as the others or even the same as Jesus. Only Paul claims himself to be everything no one else May 12 at 10:08
  • @anothertheory So just who is the twelfth apostle other than the eleven and Paul? Did Jesus expressly send your theoretical choice to preach the gospel.? If so, when? Where does it say that in Scripture? What did he have to say that was different from Paul and the others.? What did Paul have to say that was different from the others? May 12 at 15:02
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I’m struggling to understand how you’ve come to 7 options from this verse and where this construct of options was generated from. It appears to be an argument generated from a translation rather than the Greek. Either that or I’m really missing something here.

The Greek εκτρωματι translated untimely birth, means a still born baby, aborted baby, a miscarried baby. He is comparing himself to someone who was miscarried. He was making the point that he is so insignificant, that it’s hard to even look at Paul, but yet God looked upon Paul too and revealed Himself to Paul too. This was not a reflection of how God saw Paul but how Paul saw himself before God. Essentially unworthy!

Paul is graphically describing his utter insignificance and unworthiness to have the Lord reveal Himself to Paul, someone so difficult to look upon, as difficult as it would be to look upon a miscarried baby, not fully developed, lifeless and unwashed covered in blood and mucus.

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Thayer's Greek Lexicon STRONGS NT 1626: ἔκτρωμα

ἔκτρωμα, ἐκτρωτος, τό (ἐκτιτρώσκω to cause or to suffer abortion; like ἔκβρωμα from ἐκβιβρώσκω), an abortion, abortive birth; an untimely birth: 1 Corinthians 15:8, where Paul likens himself to an ἔκτρωμα, and in 1 Corinthians 15:9 explains in what sense: that he is as inferior to the rest of the apostles as an immature birth comes short of a mature one, and is no more worthy of the name of an apostle than an abortion is of the name of a child. (Numbers 12:12; Ecclesiastes 6:3; Job 3:16; in Greek first used by Aristotle, de gen. an. 4, 5, 4 (p. 773b, 18); but, as Phrynichus shows, p. 208f, Lob. edition (288f, edition Rutherford), ἀμβλωμα and ἐξαμβλωμα are preferable; (Huxtable in Expositor for Apr. 1882, p. 277ff; Lightfoot Ignatius ad Rom. 9 [ET], p. 230 f).)

Vincent's Word Studies One born out of due time (τῷ ἐκτρώματι)

Only here in the New Testament. It occurs, Numbers 12:12; Job 3:16; Ecclesiastes 6:3. The Hebrew nephel, which it is used to translate, occurs in the same sense in Psalm 58:8, where the Septuagint follows another reading of the Hebrew text. In every case the word means an abortion, a still-born embryo. In the same sense it is found frequently in Greek medical writers, as Galen and Hippocrates, and in the writings of Aristotle on physical science. This is the rendering of the Rheims Version: an abortive. Wyc., a dead-born child. [.....]

The meaning of the word G1626 ektróma is stillborn, and the reason is quite clear in the context as to why Paul curses and debases himself out of remorse, as often seen in his letters, that is because he persecuted the assembly of God. He used to be a zealous legalistic Pharisee, an expert of the law; he was a cruel, arrogant, blasphemer, and satanic man who was an antichrist. He was the chief example of a sinner getting saved and transformed. Since, his many sins were forgiven, he loved more and worked harder for God, in gratitude (1 Timothy 1:13-16; Luke 7:40-48). His remorse was very severe that he called himself a stillborn or someone who should've rather been born dead.

I think there is a translation issue that causes confusion and misinterpretation, despite the fact that the dictionaries clearly defines the word. There is a translation question too How should "ektroma " be translated in 1 Corinthians 15:8? The most commonly used phrase in the modern versions "untimely born" is ambiguous though the implication is premature birth, but it still doesn't convey what does it mean by prematurely born? The phrase "born at the wrong time" is more ambiguous and confusing. Then an even more strange and bizarre translation is "abnormally born" (NIV, GNT, ISV, HCSB) which would lead some misguided readers and mockers to imagine that Paul was handicapped by birth. The word "untimely" could be understood as unfortunate, unfit, ill-suited, which is the right sense of the word. So, I would rather the modern versions choose these words like "cursed" or "accursed" for a better easy understandability. I think the best literal translations are those which used miscarriage, still-born and abortive which conveys the true sense in the context. I found a few translations that went against the common and popular translation.

A Faithful Version

And last of all He appeared to me also, as one who was born of a miscarriage.

Darby Bible Translation

and last of all, as to an abortion, he appeared to me also.

Smith's Literal Translation

And last of all exactly as an abortive, was he also seen by me.

Haweis New Testament

And last of all he was seen also by me, who am but as an abortion.

Mace New Testament

and last of all, he was seen by me too, who am as it were an abortive;

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The Greek word Ektroma (G1626) doesn't exactly mean "stillborn" as much as it does "untimely", or in today's language - premature birth. Premature born babies are weak, sickly, and require more care than babies who born after a full term. In context with the entirety of the Paul's epistle, he is saying he is not worthy to be counted as one of the Apostles, although he does refer to himself as one. Paul not only didn't know Jesus, he murdered those who did. Ektroma is not out of self-pity, but out of guilt in which he feels he owes the apostles more than he could repay.

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Have you read and rejected commentaries on this topic? If not, here is a link to a couple that are interesting. https://www.studylight.org/commentary/1-corinthians/15-8.html

Paul's seemingly unfortunate turn-of-phrase initially sounded like self-pity. However, that's unlikely according to sentiments of Luke 7:47 - He who has been forgiven much, loves Jesus much more...than he who has been forgiven little. Plus, the verses that follow do not support a self-pitying state.

Stretching a bit...I wonder if it has to do with Paul being a Benjamite. Benjamin was born of unusual circumstances (Jacob's encounter with an angel); left-handed characteristic. Being a Benjamite and Hebrew scholar, Paul may have been aware that his line had been 'inserted' into the line of Jacob by an Outside Force rather than 'naturally' occasioned. Paul's late apostleship was 'set apart' from the others, just as Benjamin's birth was 'differently last'.

This may or may not be useful. It just came up, and I've learned to go with it because sometimes other insights follow on the heels of an 'outing'. Will see.

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  • I like where you are going with this. Food for thought.
    – Adam
    May 12 at 8:22

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