Paul delivers his famous account of the death and resurrection of Jesus:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.—1 Corinthians 15:3-9 (ESV)

His description of himself is that he is one untimely born, which in Greek is ektroma <1626>. The literal definition of the word is "an abortion, abortive birth". The secondary definition, by analogy, is "an untimely birth". Virtually all translations use the less vivid translation, though the Aramaic Bible in Plain English, GOD'S WORD® Translation, and Darby Bible Translation do use some variation of the first sense.

Which translation best fits Paul's intended meaning here?

5 Answers 5


We know exactly what Paul meant by the word because he immediately explains it:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.—1 Corinthians 15:9 (ESV)

Therefore Paul means us to understand that when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9), he was not worthy to be called an apostle. Thus he is not claiming to be the victim of an abortion in any literal sense; he must be speaking metaphorically. Of course, the phrase in verse 8 makes clear via the word "as" that a simile is intended. So it would probably be best if the non-metaphorical meaning were used to bring out Paul's full meaning.

An "untimely birth" sounds like Paul was "born under a bad sign" or doomed by fate. Those make some sense as analogies to one who is unworthy. But the context of the entire chapter is resurrection: rebirth. Paul's former life was a dead end, so to speak, and so it makes even more sense to call himself "stillborn" or even "an abortion". When Paul talks about his former life, he talks about being spiritually dead.

Paul actually talks about himself being fortunate at birth from a post-conversion vantage point:

But when he who had set me apart before I was born*, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone.—Galatians 1:15-16 (ESV)

The ESV note is:

Greek set me apart from my mother's womb

The maximal contrast between Paul's old life and his new one, comes when you compare his self-designation as an aborted fetus to the resurrection body:

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
—1 Corinthians 15:53-55 (ESV)

According to Barnes' Notes on the Bible, the Greek word is used in the Septuagint to translate "stillborn" (nephel <05309>) in Job 3:16 (NJPS):

Or why was I not like a buried stillbirth,
Like babies who never saw the light?

and Ecclesiastes 6:3 (NJPS)

Even if a man should beget a hundred children and live many years—no matter how many the days of his years may come to, if his gullet is not sated through his wealth, I say: The stillbirth, though it was not even accorded a burial, is more fortunate than he.

Both of these use strong imagery to highlight the unworthiness and misfortune of the subject.


Translators should not shy away from vivid, even disturbing, images when rendering the Bible to a target language. The word ektroma should be translated "an abortion" in 1st Corinthians 15:8.


The Greek noun ἔκτρωμα occurs three times in the LXX. (Please click here.) In one instance, the wider context appears to be in reference to defiance of the authority of God.

In Numbers 12:12, Miriam is struck with leprosy because of her defiance of the authority of Moses; in fact, Miriam had arrogated herself the title of spokesperson of the Lord on par with Moses (Nu 12:2). When Aaron noticed her with leprosy, he described her as the living dead.

Numbers 12:12 (LXX)
12 μὴ γένηται ὡσεὶ ἴσον θανάτῳ, ὡσεὶ ἔκτρωμα ἐκπορευόμενον ἐκ μήτρας μητρὸς καὶ κατεσθίει τὸ ἥμισυ τῶν σαρκῶν αὐτῆς.

Miriam was not on par with Moses, but on par with someone dead ("...ὡσεὶ ἴσον θανάτῳ..."). In the Masoretic Text we see the Hebrew word is the participial form of מוּת in the Qal (active), but the participle is in the masculine singular. (Please click here for the expanded analysis.) According to Walte and O'Connor (1990), this structure is indicative of the "predicate participle," or what we would call in Modern English the future progressive participle, since the participle occurs in tandem with the Qal imperfect of הָיָה. (Please click here in Google Chrome for best results.) In other words, Aaron was stating that Miriam "will be like the living dead (i.e., leper), whose flesh is comparable to the stillborn child."

Thus the LXX translators used the Greek word ἔκτρωμα to refer to a living human (Miriam), who was like the "living dead." The word ἔκτρωμα was therefore used to refer to the living dead, because the remainder of the verse in Hebrew makes allusion to the stillborn child.

So in summary, in the LXX there is at least one example of the use of ἔκτρωμα to refer to the person who is still living, but "as the living dead."

In conclusion, Paul had made reference to himself as one who was born dead (ἔκτρωμα), since he had defied the authority of Jesus Christ and tried to destroy the church of God (1 Cor 15:9). Like Miriam he took his pharisaical authority to be on par with Moses. After his conversion he was viewed as a leper among the believers of Jesus Christ--that is, they mistrusted and excluded him (Acts 9:26), and, like the leper Miriam who spent time in the wilderness apart from the Congregation of Israel (Nu 12:14-15), Paul too spent time in exile in the wilderness of Arabia (Gal 1:17).

We could therefore translate the verse in question in loose, but amplified form, as follows:

8 and last of all, as to one born a leper, He appeared to me also.

Walke, Bruce K. and M. O'Connor (1990). An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Winona Lake: Eisnebrauns, 628.

  • 1
    Excellent analysis! Thank you for the references. Nov 13, 2017 at 14:41

“Ektroma” should be translated “Prematurely born”.

1 Corinthians 15:5-8 Amplified Bible (AMP

And that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the [a]Twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, the majority of whom are still alive, but some have fallen asleep [in death]. 7 Then He was seen by James, then by all the apostles, 8 and last of all, as to one [b]untimely (prematurely, traumatically) born, He appeared to me also.

Paul after mentioning his appearance to Cephas and all the others, He said; “8 and last of all, as to one [b]untimely (prematurely, traumatically) born, He appeared to me also.

Paul was given the privilege to see in his vision, the resurrected Jesus in his heavenly glory. And so he said: “and last of all, as to one prematurely born, He appeared to me.”

What did then Paul mean by the phrase “prematurely born?”

Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus said to his followers that he was going to prepare a place for them in his father’s home. (John 14:2) Paul wrote that Jesus was the first fruit, then those who belong to Christ (brothers) will be resurrected to spiritual life, sometime in the future, during Jesus coming, or presence.

1 Corinthians 15:23

But each in his own rank and turn: Christ (the Messiah) [is] the first-fruits, then those who are Christ’s [own will be resurrected] at His coming. (AMPC)

Therefore, by the phrase “ektroma”, “prematurely born”, Paul meant that He was born or resurrected to spiritual life in his vision, prior to the coming or presence of Jesus, and so was able to see Jesus in His heavenly glory.


The meaning of the word G1626 ektróma is fairly clear if we see the dictionaries. It means stillborn, abortive child, or someone who should've rather been born dead. But still the translators have used confusing, ambiguous and bizarre words for it, leading to strange interpretations. The reason why Paul debase himself as a stillborn is because of his former life as a blasphemer and antichrist as mentioned in the context as well as in 1 Timothy 1:13-16.

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).)

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? Premature birth doesn't necessarily a dead child. 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 very few translations that went against the common, popular translation and are worthy of some respect.

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;


BDAG identifies various ways types of abnormal births for which this word was used:

ἔκτρωμα, ατος, τό (Aristot., De Gen. An. 4, 5, 4 [773b, 18]; PTebt III, 800, 30 [142 B.C.], on this s. New Docs 2, 82, prob. ‘miscarriage’; Num 12:12; Job 3:16; Eccl 6:3; Philo, Leg. All. 1, 76; Phryn. p. 208f Lob., w. preference for ἄμβλωμα ‘abortion’) a birth that violates the normal period of gestation (whether induced as abortion, or natural premature birth or miscarriage [cp. Hesych. ἐκ.=παιδίον νεκρὸν ἄωρον; also the verb ἐκτιτρώσκειν PCairGoodsp 15, 15f of a mother who miscarried because of violence done to her], or birth beyond term) untimely birth. So Paul calls himself, perh. taking up an insult (ἔ. as a term of contempt in Tzetzes [XII A.D.], Hist. Var. 5, 515 Kiessl.; Straub 48f) hurled at him by his opponents 1 Cor 15:8 (in any case the point relates to some deficiency in the infant [cp. Hos 13:13, MSchaefer, ZNW 85, ’94, 207–17, not an insult]: Paul confesses himself to be unworthy of being called a full-fledged apostle); imitated IRo 9:2. ESchwartz, NGG 1907, 276 refers to Eus., HE 5, 1, 45. Cp. AvHarnack, SBBerlAk 1922, p. 72, 3; AFridrichsen, Paulus abortivus: Symb. Philol. f. ODanielsson ’32, 78–85; JMunck, NT Essays: memorial vol. for TManson, ’59, 180–93; PvonderOsten-Sacken, ZNW 64, ’73, 245–62 esp. 250–57 (‘miscarriage’ among the apostles).—Acc. to GBjörck, ConNeot 3, ’39, 3–8 ‘monster’, ‘horrible thing’.—M-M. EDNT. TW. Spicq.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 311). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Paul seems then to be highlighting the atypical nature of his apostleship which did not originate during the ministry of Jesus but much later. He also is referring to it in a self-deprecating way, indicating that the birth of his apostleship was grotesque, like a failed abortion because he was at the time a persecutor:

7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 9For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.


I originally ignored the normal usage of the word which refers to a pregnancy that was prematurely terminated by suggesting that he was born late. But I have since come to see the premature aspect of the word as referring to the fact that he was "born" before the end of the age (Matthew 24:3) which didn't happen until 70AD. He was called mid-Acts while the kingdom program had not yet failed. Perhaps he was intimating that his persecuting the Jewish church caused him to be brought into apostleship earlier than might have been convenient!

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