“As one born out of due time”. (1 Cor.15.8) Paul referred to himself in this manner, and the Greek word translated “born out of due time” is EKTROMA, meaning an abortion. We’ll give a little more thought to this shortly, but first of all, a brief biography of this ancient apostle would not be out of place. Saul was born in Tarsus, a distinguished city in Cilicia. (Acts 22:3, 21:39) He was a Hebrew of Hebrew parents, (an expression which savours of a little pride), of the stock of Israel and of the Tribe of Benjamin. (Phil.3:5) But he also came from a family that had acquired Roman citizenship, a much prized possession, especially in those days. Hence Saul was a Freeman of Rome by birth. (Acts 22:28) According to Jewish law, he was circumcised on the eighth day. (Phil.3:5)He grew up to work with his father in the business of tent making. (Acts 18:3) Every Jewish boy was taught some handicraft. The Rabbis said, “Whoever does not teach his son a trade is as if he brought him up to be a robber.” Tent making was a lucrative occupation, and some of the financial profits went to provide Saul with an education not available to many of his peers. He spent much time in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel”, the senior and most respected of the elders of the Jewish Sanhedrin. (Acts 22:3) It would seem likely that the family moved to Jerusalem during Saul’s educational years, because we read that his sister, and her young son, were resident there. (Acts 23:16) He also spoke of his “manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among my own nation at Jerusalem.” (Acts 26:4)
So bright and keen was Saul in all his studies that he won the admiration of Gamaliel, and before long was to join the Nobility of the Pharisees. (Phil.3:5) He said, “After the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” (Acts 26:5) Eventually to become a favoured member of the Sanhedrin, because he spoke about his ability to vote in the assembly. (Acts 26:10) This meteoric rise to fame must have gone to Saul’s head. He was too young to carry the responsibility with dignity and humility. In his own words, “I profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal.1:14) And so by the age of about 30, he was to watch the strange saga in Israel of a man whom the crowds considered to be the Messiah, a man of about his own age, but with a very different character.
Sheer zeal for the traditions of the elders, and the varied tapestry of Israel’s history, led Saul to grow more and more antagonistic to the tales he heard about this carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Even the mention of the Galilean town was enough for him to spit with contempt. Eventually he sat amongst the full assembly of the Sanhedrin that dreadful night when the man was brought in for trial. The semi-circle of seats for the 71 members were arranged according to seniority, and because he was one of the youngest present, he would have had a back seat, but one can imagine him joining with others in the delights of mockery before the prisoner was led away to Pilate.
It was just a matter of days before a new irruption took place in Jerusalem. Whereas Saul believed the whole sordid affair of this pseudo-messiah had been laid to rest, here it was again in the persons of the man’s disciples, causing disturbances by their preaching in public places. Saul’s anger arose once more, and he made it his business to trounce it, destroy it once and for all. In his own words he became “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious” (1 Tim.1:13) He “beyond measure persecuted the church of God and wasted it.” (Gal. 1:13) His persecution was so intense that he bound and delivered to prison both men and women, and caused some to be put to death. (Acts 22:4) “Many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the Chief Priests, and when they were put to death, I gave my vote against them.” (Acts 26:10)
On one occasion a Greek disciple by the name of Stephen preached openly, and caused a riot which inflamed the mob to commit murder by stoning him to death, even though they had no licence for such actions under Roman Law. Saul was there. He took no active part, but was wholly in favour of the action. (Acts 8:1) The witnesses left their cloaks at Saul’s feet while casting the stones. (Acts 7:58)Eventually, “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he went to the High Priest” and obtained written authority to apprehend disciples, both men and women, at Damascus. (Acts 9:1-2)
Suddenly something happened to arrest the progress of this zealous religious bigot. On his way to Damascus he was struck down by a bright light from heaven, and apprehended by the voice of the One whom he persecuted. Within a matter of minutes he changed from being the worst and most cruel persecutor of Christians to a trembling servant of Jesus. (Acts 9:3-6) In his own words, he was not “disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19) but recognised God’s mercy to him, who did it all in “ignorance and unbelief.” (1 Tim.1:13) The change that came over Saul was one of the most dramatic and rapid U-turn experiences of known history.
In later years he spoke of himself as “the chief of sinners”, (1 Tim.1:15) “the less-than-the-least of all saints” (Eph.3:8), and “the least of the apostles, who is not worthy to be called an apostle.” (1 Cor.15:9) At Antioch he changed his name from Saul to Paul. King Saul, who was “head and shoulders above the rest” (1 Sam.10:23) was probably the type-cast for Saul of Tarsus, a tall young man, who thought of himself as mentally, spiritually, and in zeal, “head and shoulders” above the rest, but now wanted to dispense with that image, and so chose to use a Roman name which meant “small.”
But in 1 Cor.15:8 he spoke of himself as “an abortion.” What did he have in mind? The expositors have had a field-day presenting opinions, and we need not repeat them all here. But in basic language an abortion is a baby “born before his due time” as the A.V. neatly puts it. In what sense was Saul of Tarsus “born before his due time”? He represented the nation ofIsrael who had persecuted and finally crucified their Messiah. Given a second chance by the Master’s words on the cross, Peter preached repentance to the nation, but they stoned Stephen to death and threatened all the disciples with imprisonment and death. But in arresting the progress of Saul, God was showing as by a figure that a day would come when “they [the whole nation] would look upon Him whom they pierced, and would mourn for Him,” which is exactly what happened to Saul ,and it is the guarantee that the same will happen to the nation of Israel in these end days.
And if God has this promise in store for those who once were His chosen people, we can also rejoice in the fact that Jesus was the “firstborn from among the dead”, (Col.1:18) the guarantee that “in Christ shall ALL be made alive.” (1 Cor.15:22) Saul’s conversion was not just a capricious act of a God who takes delight in choosing whomsoever He wants, and rejecting the rest. He caused Paul to enact the part He’d planned for the nation of Israel, in other words to be a light to lighten the Gentiles. And that task is now more or less complete, with the Kingdom of God at the portals.
The preaching of Paul the Abortion, and all those who have followed in his footsteps, has fulfilled the plan of God for the nations of the world. When Israel refused to become the evangelist nation, God caused one man to do the job instead. His ways can never be thwarted. In days to come He will return and set up the tabernacle of David, that the residue of men may seek the Lord, and be saved. (Acts 15: 16-17) Will the church object to that goal, as Israel objected to the enlightenment of the Gentiles? Only time will tell.