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1 Timothy 1:15 KJV

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

1 Timothy 1:15 YLT

stedfast is the word, and of all acceptation worthy, that Christ Jesus came to the world to save sinners -- first of whom I am;

1 Timothy 1:15 BSB

This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.

Given the huge disparity in how this verse has been interpreted and translated, what is the most significant impact these differences have in understanding "the gospel of the grace of God" that Paul testified to?

In light of that question, what is the greater truth that Paul most likely intended to communicate with this statement? Was his salvation in some way significantly different than anyone else before him? Or on a much broader scale, what difference does it really make whether or not he thought his own sin was greater (or worse) than anyone else before him (say, for example, Judas Iscariot)? After all, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.


Appendix 1

To clarify the difference between this question and what some think has already been asked or answered previously, please note that this question seeks answers addressing whether (or not) it is Paul's salvation that is intended to be a new and unique pattern of salvation for the Gentile nations (rather than merely an example of God's ability to save), as both the message and/or the method (i.e., the sequence of events) appear to be different for the Gentile nations than it was for the nation of Israel. John preached a message of "repent and be baptised," as did Peter and the other apostles (who admittedly, were entirely focused on the nation of Israel.) However, I do not see this with Paul, nor in the message he preached.

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  • Duplicate. The original is not coming in the duplicate search list hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/29192/…
    – Michael16
    Feb 26, 2022 at 6:37
  • It’s actually not even close to being a duplicate, but perhaps you missed exactly what I asked and the other questions associated with it to help explain why I was asking it. I considered just asking how Paul’s salvation was so different than anyone else before him… but thought it more appropriate to this forum to ask it the way I did above
    – Hugs
    Feb 26, 2022 at 8:23
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    It is a ridiculous assumption to think he or his salvation was any different and special. He simply meant he was the chief example of sinner saved. The next v describes it further. He was as a model prototype 1 Ti 1:16 (as prime recipient of extraordinary mercy in view of his infamous past, Paul serves as a model for the certainty of availability of mercy to others). The Q is basically duplicate.
    – Michael16
    Feb 26, 2022 at 10:49
  • If you don't think or can't see there was anything different or unique about Paul's salvation... I doubt there's much else to say at this point. Being new to the forum, after there is time to earn more points I might try revisiting this question and simply put a bounty on it -- to attract others to weigh in on the merits of it, and more earnestly consider the ramifications of a "perhaps less traditional" perspective on what Paul's intent in this verse might be if it was more than merely purporting (some would even say, braggadociously) about "how bad" anyone was (or can be) before being saved.
    – Hugs
    Feb 26, 2022 at 17:20
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    Does this answer your question? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all
    – Michael16
    Feb 27, 2022 at 5:13

2 Answers 2

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Christ Jesus came to the world to save sinners -- first of whom I am – 1 Tim 1:15 YLT

Paul taught that we should not judge others (cf Rom 14:10-13). It is unlikely that he would compare his own sins against the sins of anyone else. His words are better understood as a general statement, reflecting the way he viewed the severity of his own sins. Key to the interpretation of the verse in question is the translation of the word protos, the Greek word meaning first or chief.

Strong's Concordance

prótos: first, chief
Original Word: πρῶτος, η, ον
Part of Speech: Adjective
Transliteration: prótos
Phonetic Spelling: (pro'-tos)
Definition: first, chief
Usage: first, before, principal, most important.

Rather than saying that he was the worst of sinners, Paul referred to himself as the first or chief of sinners. The subtle irony invites a deeper look into what he was trying to say. The word protos forms a fitting pairing with hapas in the next verse. Both words convey the superlative – the foremost sinner meets with Christ's perfect patience.

Paul was “previously a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (v13). The fact that he was a sinner first before he became an apostle is a subtle albeit more literal understanding of the text. The historical aspect of Paul’s journey from sinner to saint is a key aspect of his apostolic identity. Paul was a sinner first, and the sinner that he was shaped the apostle that he was to become.

Paul stated that he was blameless with respect “to the righteousness which is in the law,” but that zealousness made him a persecutor of the church (Phil 3:4-6, Gal 1:13-14). Blind to his own sins, it was Christ who reached out to him first (Gal 1:15). For Paul, repentance too was a grace (cf 2 Tim 2:25).

Because of his history, Paul was the perfect person to argue that righteousness cannot be attained by the works of the law (Tit 3:5), and to preach, both by his words and his example, the redemption that is found in Christ alone (Rom 3:24). Paul himself acknowledged that the very reason he was shown mercy was to be an inspiration and example for others.

Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost sinner Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. – v16

As a final thought, because Christ came to save sinners, to be first among sinners is in a way to be first among those who are saved. If this is what Paul implied, it would not be his intent to boast or to set himself in a privileged position, but to underscore the point that sinners have first rights to Christ’s mercy (cf Mk 2:17).

Of the three translations in the OP’s question, the BSB deviates from the Greek text the most. The translation “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” loses much of the subtle irony and nuances of the original text.

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Saul was the very first person to be saved in an entirely new way.

prótos: first, chief Original Word: πρῶτος, η, ον Part of Speech: Adjective Transliteration: prótos Definition: first, chief Usage: first, before, principal, most important. 4413 prṓtos (an adjective, derived from 4253 /pró, "before, forward") – first (foremost). 4413 /prṓtos ("first, foremost") is the superlative form of 4253 /pró ("before") meaning "what comes first" (is "number one"

Up until this point to be saved one had to repent of their unbelief in who Jesus was and recognize Him that he was Israel's Savior, Christ, the Messiah as well as the Lord.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” Acts 2:36-39

Paul or should I say Saul was doing just the opposite of what Peter told the whole house of Israel to do. They were to repent of their unbelief as to who Jesus was and acknowledge that he was both Lord and Christ.

Saul was destroying the disciples of the Lord. He was their greatest enemy.

Acts 26:9 So then, I too was convinced that I ought to do all I could to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

He was totally unfit for any salvation according to everything Peter and the other apostles were preaching. Instead of repenting he was endeavoring to do all in his power against Christ and His people. (Acts 9:1-2)

Saul was the greatest enemy of the Lord at that time. He was the foremost sinner of his day, and deserved the direst doom.

Instead, The ascended, glorified Christ and Lord overwhelms him with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1:15)

The ascended glorified Christ reveals Himself to His greatest adversary at the time. Saul is humbled and his blindness is taken away and now he sees that Christ Jesus is the Son of God. The rest is history.

Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came in the world to save sinners, for most of whom am I. That's because of this I was shown mercy, that in me, the foremost, Jesus Christ should be displaying all patience, for a pattern Of those who are about to be believing on him for eonian lfe. 1 Tim 1:16

I'm sure many can attest to the saving grace that came about in their own lives. The grace of God made them a believer in Christ when they were his enemy.

For if, being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in his life. Rom.5: 10

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  • The first half of your answer appears to make good sense (addressing the uniqueness of his salvation, being the first of its kind), but in saying that he was the "foremost sinner" you have drawn the emphasis of the word away from salvation over to sin. King David had Uriah killed, yet he was saved. Why or how? Something similar to Peter's message for all of Israel to repent and be saved, perhaps? But was Paul's message of how to be saved the same as Peter's? Exactly what "pattern" do you think is supposed to be emphasized here in this verse in Timothy?
    – Hugs
    Feb 26, 2022 at 17:58
  • @hugs. Not sure if this is what you were asking for. Paul is telling Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners....It does not matter how bad your sin is. Paul use's himself as an example of being at the bottom, the worst. If God can save him He can save (the worst) ..everyone can be saved by God. No exceptions. It was to comfort those who were about to be believing in Him. He's telling them again they don't need to do anything but believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. David believed the same thing. Acts 2:30-32
    – Sherrie
    Feb 26, 2022 at 19:37
  • This is a pattern of what is believed. Gods Righteousness was then upon who ever believed God's word about His Son by raising Him from the dead.
    – Sherrie
    Feb 26, 2022 at 19:37
  • Okay, then apparently you believe (as many others do) repentance precedes salvation (like as Peter preached in Acts 2.) Although, oddly enough, Paul makes no mention of it in 1Cor.15:1-4, nor does it appear to be a prerequisite in the sequence of events on the road to Damascus. Just something to think about.
    – Hugs
    Feb 26, 2022 at 20:12
  • Without a doubt, John the Baptist preached repentance… as did Peter and the rest of the twelve. It was part of the gospel of the Kingdom. However, Paul refers to a preaching of the cross in 1Cor. 1:18. Why the difference?
    – Hugs
    Feb 26, 2022 at 20:20

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