Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Note on 1 Tim. 1:15

When I read through chapter 2, I wrestled a bit with Harvey's interpretation and application of 1 Tim. 1:15. What is Paul referring to and is Harvey over-applying it a bit? So, when we covered this chapter last Friday, I spent a few minutes talking about these issues. It turned out that some other men had asked the same questions.

What I was concerned about was the possibility that some might hold the chapter at arms' length (or worse still, dismiss it altogether!), on account of a difference in interpretation. I didn't want that to happen with such an important chapter. So, in case any of you reading this need the same qualification, here it is. 

The meaning of Paul’s statement “of whom I am the foremost” may very well be in reference to his pre-conversion life. Note the context of 1 Tim. 1:12-16:

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,
13         though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.
But I received mercy
because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
14                                 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me
with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,
of whom I am the foremost.
16                     But I received mercy
for this reason, that in me, as the foremost,
Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience
as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Paul seems to reason along similar lines in 1 Cor. 15:8-9:
Last of all, as to one untimely born, [the Lord Jesus] appeared also to me [on the Damascus Road]. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
All that being said, Harvey's interpretation could be right. Paul didn't have to use the present tense (i.e. he didn't say "of whom I was foremost"). Either way, the point that Harvey is making in this chapter is true (and incredibly important!). It is the point made in Luke 18:9-14 when the danger of self-righteous comparison is compared to the appropriate beat-your-breast, “God be merciful to me, a [literally ‘THE’] sinner” posture before God (and could you imagine Jesus approving of the tax collector coming into the temple the next day - or 10 years later for that matter - and speaking like the Pharisee?!). It is the point made when Jesus exhorts us to deal with our logs before we try to remove others’ specks. It is the point made when a wicked servant forgiven an infinite debt strangled a fellow servant over relative relational pocket change. It's the point Jonathan Edwards made in resolution #8 of his famous Resolutions (see the next post). So, bottom line: we dare not dismiss or hold at arm's length the truth of chapter 2!

Isn't it just possible that the very self-righteous attitude Harvey is warning against could take a legitimate interpretive question and use it like a judicial technicality to throw the case out – even though (or better yet, precisely because) the defendant is guilty?!

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