Saturday, February 13, 2010

Paul Calls Himself an Aborted Fetus

My home computer got a virus last Sunday and since I do 95% of my blog posts from home I was severely hindered from doing little more than post forthcoming or newly arrived titles in the store. I have a couple of things I need to catch up on. One of those was the post I had planned for last Sunday.

The readings for Sunday were Is. 6:1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Cor. 15:1-11 and Luke 5:1-11. I want to look at a verse from 1 Cor. 15. Verse 8 reads from the New American Standard as follows “and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” In my early Christian years I read the New American Standard and so this is how I always remembered this verse. Shortly after Baker Publishing Group acquired the distribution rights for God’s Word translation I was reading this passage and read this “I was like an aborted fetus.” My first reaction was, “Wow, did they ever get that wrong!” At the time I was also reading Garland’s commentary on 1 Corinthians so I checked to see how he translated it. Garland’s translation is “And last of all, as to an aborted fetus, he appeared to me.” (p. 682) What? What about the “untimely birth”? The ESV and the NRSV read “as to one untimely born.” The NIV, HCSB and TNIV translate it as “abnormally born.” NLT translates it as “wrong time.” KJV and NKJV both translate it as “born out of due time.” The NEB reads “though this birth of mine was monstrous.” The closest I found was the Darby translation which reads “and last of all, as to an abortion, he appeared to me also.” I think Darby, Garland and God’s Word may have it right.

Garland observes that “timing” “is not Paul’s concern, and this view is ruled out because an ektroma [the Greek word in question] is always born prematurely, never late. It refers to a fetus expelled from the womb before being fully formed, whether it lives or not.” (692) Some have tied this to God’s calling of Paul which Gal. 1:15 says was done while Paul was still in the womb. Because Paul was a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion this meant that “God’s purpose for him, established in the womb, had ‘miscarried or been aborted.’” (692) Garland says that as attractive as this may be it “remains rather speculative” since we don’t need to go out of the immediate context to find a satisfactory explanation.

Garland explains, “If he [Paul] means that he was an aborted fetus or a stillborn child, which is more likely, then he is referring to his state of wretchedness as an unbeliever and persecutor of the church.” (693) Garland appeals to an essay by Harm W. Hollander and Gijsbert E. Van Der Hout, “The Apostle Paul Calling Himself and Abortion: 1 Cor. 15:8 Within the Context of 1 Cor. 15:8-10.” Hollander and Hout argue that “Paul draws on Jewish usage of the term to stress that the person in question is in a ‘deplorable position,’ whose life is ‘miserable and worthless’ and ‘cannot sink lower.’” Paul was unfit for the task God called him to do. But “God’s grace does not remove this obstacle but overcomes it so that it is clear that God, not the messenger, ‘is responsible for the message.’” “His sufficiency as an apostle is tied to resurrection imagery of being given life. The appearance of the risen Christ to him was a kind of resurrection from the dead. This image fits the theme running through the chapter of God’s power giving life to the dead. Both his unworthiness and his lifelessness are overcome by God’s power.” (693) This interpretation has been contested by some (and here) but I think it has merit and should be seriously considered.

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