Bible Note #9 — 1 Timothy 1:12-17 — “the worst of sinners”

A Big Machine in the Weeds; photo by GAC

1 Timothy 1:12-17

New International Version (NIV)

The Lord’s Grace to Paul
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

 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. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I think I’ve had the tendency to assume that when Paul refers to himself as the “worst” or “chiefest” of all sinners, he was using hyperbole, a sort of self-deprecating humility.  Or I have thought that he might be making a statement to the effect that blasphemy and outright opposition to the kingdom of God ranks as the highest (or lowest) of all sins.

But I had never really considered the emotional experience of remorse and sorrow he might have felt about the individuals and families whose lives he tore apart in his persecuting activities.  As I read this passage, I find myself wondering if Paul was haunted by memories of children weeping as they were torn out of the arms of their parents by Paul and his men.  Did he have nightmares about wives pleading for their husbands, fathers weeping over their children?  Was he troubled by the on-going realization of the torment he had  brought upon the people and families of the Christians he had no come to love?  I can’t help but think that some of the weight of his statement about the extent of his own guilt may have come from these troubling memories of his past.

After the stoning of Stephen, “Saul [Paul] was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 8:3 [NET]

Ananias talking with God about Paul, “Lord, I have heard from many people [refugees in Damascus who had fled from Saul’s [Paul’s] persecution] about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”  Acts 9:13 [NET]

©2012 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.


6 thoughts on “Bible Note #9 — 1 Timothy 1:12-17 — “the worst of sinners”

  1. Two parts of this passage stand out to me –

    “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

    “Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”


      1. His patience for the sake of our salvation is mentioned in 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”


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