1Cor 15:8

Steven R. Lo Vullo doulos at appleisp.net
Mon Aug 27 16:44:55 EDT 2001

on 8/27/01 2:13 AM, Iver Larsen at iver_larsen at sil.org wrote:

Hi Iver:

I don't have an answer to this question that I am entirely comfortable with,
but thought I would offer a few comments.

> In the three occurrences I could find in the LXX both NIV and NRSV
> consistently translate the corresponding Hebrew word (nefel) as "stillborn"
> and this sense fits the context well. (The references are listed in BAGD:
> Num 12:12, Job 3:16, Eccl 6:3. It is the same three places the Hebrew
> "nefel" occurs.) Other expressions are used in the Hebrew OT and the LXX for
> miscarriage, untimely birth or abortion when the foetus is alive.

First, just a slight correction. Though "nefel" is used in Job 3.16 and Eccl
6.3, it is not used in Num 12.12. However, it is clear that a stillborn
child is in view also in Num 12.12, so the LXX translation using EKTRWMA, as
you indicate, seems here to refer to stillborn delivery.

While I would *like* to take EKTRWMA to mean "untimely birth" in a broad
sense that would cover a "late birth" (since it fits the context and would
save us all a lot of trouble!), I think I really need to see at least one
unambiguous example of EKTRWMA used to refer to a *late* birth. I think it
skirts the issue to define it simply as an "untimely birth" in the sense of
a late birth, since all the examples I have seen involve a stillborn birth
or a premature birth (BAGD, etc.). In other words, even if we define it
broadly as an "untimely birth," it seems to me the untimeliness is early,
not late. Until I see that unambiguous example, I have to work on the
assumption that what is in view in 1 Cor 15.8 is either a stillborn birth or
a premature birth. 

> Are there any reasons NOT to think that the word means "stillborn" also in 1
> Cor 15:8? It would be a figure of speech, of course. Could it be like saying
> "It would have been better if I had never been born"? The whole of Job 3 has
> as its theme that Job curses the day he was born. He says he would rather
> never have been born, or have died at childbirth or even before birth so he
> would have been stillborn. In all cases he would never seen the light of day
> and experienced the tragedy he has been through. My suggestion is that Paul
> is alluding to Job 3:16.

I agree that it is a figure of speech, but I don't find the above
explanation convincing. There is certainly evidence that Paul regretted his
former way of life, especially his persecution of the church (v. 9; Gal
1.13), but I don't think there is any evidence that he regretted being born.
On the contrary, he believed that God had set him apart from his "mother's
womb" (EK KOILIAS MHTROS; Gal 1.15). Even if we interpret EK KOILIAS MHTROS
as something like "before I was born," the fact remains that Paul viewed his
birth as part of God's divinely appointed plan for his life, the plan that
included his meeting Jesus, his whole reason for living.

I have a suggestion which isn't new, but which has been proffered by many
exegetes over the course of time. This interpretation takes EKTRWMA as
"premature birth" and posits that it metaphorically describes the suddenness
and unexpected nature of Paul's conversion, in contrast to those who were
apostles before him. It goes back at least to Calvin, whom I will simply
quote here:

"[H]e compares himself to one that is born prematurely, and that, in my
opinion, with reference to his sudden conversion. For as infants do not come
forth from the womb, until they have been there formed and matured during a
regular course of time, so the Lord observed a regular period of time in
creating, nourishing, and forming his Apostles. Paul, on the other hand, had
been cast forth from the womb when he had scarcely received the vital
spark.... he was in one moment begotten, and born, and a man of full age.
Now this premature birth renders the grace of God more illustrious in Paul
than if he had by little and little, and by successive steps, grown up to
maturity in Christ."

While I am uncomfortable with some of the wording in the last sentence, I
think on the whole Calvin's explanation makes good sense.

Spicq's comments on this word (though a bit confusing at times) seem to
indicate that his view is similar to Calvin's:

"The reference would be to the abnormal and sudden character of Paul¹s birth
to the Christian faith and the apostolic ministry. His case is indeed
different from that of the Twelve. He, Saul, was in a way a 'premature
birth,' in an immature stage of his gestation in grace, 'only a spiritual
embryo' (T. Boman, p. 49). He immediately explains: 'since I had persecuted
the church of God' (verse 9). Moreover, in the occurrences of ektroma, the
emphasis is always placed in the abnormal birth, before term, whether the
baby is dead or living (Schneider). It required an omnipotent intervention
by Christ to give this persecutor, in one stroke, both faith and the
apostolic calling."

There you have it. A Reformed guy and a Roman Catholic in agreement. That
has to count for something!

> I am not sure how to render the meaning with this option. Maybe something
> like "Last of all he was seen by me even though I was like a person unfit to
> live. Why am I saying this? Because I am the least of the apostles, and I am
> not even worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of
> God!" (The explanatory function of GAR can be expressed by "I am saying this
> because...". It is clear that v. 9 is explaining the background for using
> the figure of speech in v. 8.)

I think the explanatory function of GAR can be just as easily explained by
relating it to the idea expressed in ESCATON DE PANTWN ... WFQH KAMOI. In
other words, "He appeared to me LAST of all the apostles because I am LEAST
of the apostles, and am not fit to be called an apostle. The reason I say I
am least of the apostles and am not fit to be called an apostle is because I
persecuted the church of God."

Steve Lo Vullo
Madison, WI

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