1 Corinthians 15:9
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
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(9) For I am the least of the apostles.Paulus Minimus. Here the mention of his conversion—the thought of what he had been before, what he had become since—leads the Apostle into a digression, occupying this and the next two verses. The two thoughts of his own inherent nothingness and of his greatness by the grace of God are here mingled together in expressions of intense personal feeling. While he was a persecutor he had thought that he was acting for the Church of God; he was really persecuting the Church of God. The Christian Church had completely taken the place of the Jewish Church—not merely abolished it, but superseded it.

1 Corinthians 15:9-11. I am the least of the apostles, because I persecuted, &c. — True believers are humbled all their lives for the sins they committed before they repented and believed. But by the grace of God I am what I am — A Christian and an apostle; and his grace upon — Or toward me, in raising me to so high a dignity, and so happy a state; was not in vain — But produced, in a great measure, its proper fruit. For I laboured more abundantly than they all — That is, more than any of them, from the peculiar love God had showed me; yet — To speak more properly; not I, but the grace of God which was with me — This it was which at first qualified me for the work, and still excites me to zeal and diligence in it. As to Paul’s labouring more than any of the other apostles, it must be observed that they confined their preaching, for the most part, to the Jews, Galatians 2:9 : but Paul preached the gospel to all the Gentile nations, from Jerusalem, round about to Illyricum, Romans 15:19, and also to the Jews who lived in those countries; and by his labours he converted great numbers both of the Jews and Greeks. Moreover, as his success in spreading the gospel exceeded the success of the other apostles, so his labours, if we may judge of them from his own account, 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, greatly exceeded theirs likewise. Therefore whether it were I or they — Whose doctrine you own and adhere to; so we preach, and so ye believed — We agreed in our doctrine concerning the particulars above mentioned: all of us spake, and still speak the same thing.

1 Corinthians 15:12-13. Now if Christ be preached, By all of us, and that upon such infallible grounds as I have mentioned; that he rose from the dead, how say some of you — Or rather, how can some among you say; that there is no resurrection of the dead? — With what face can any who allow of Christ’s resurrection, pretend to deny the resurrection of his disciples, whether it be from an attachment to Sadducean or philosophical prejudices? For, if there be no resurrection of the dead — If that doctrine be, in the general, altogether incredible; then is Christ not risen — “The apostle hath not expressed the ideas, by which the consequent in this hypothetical proposition is connected with its antecedent. But when these ideas are supplied, [as follows,] every reader will be sensible of the connection. Christ promised, repeatedly, in the most express terms, that he would raise all mankind from the dead, Matthew 16:27; John 5:28-29. Wherefore, if there is to be no resurrection of the dead, Christ is a deceiver, whom no person in his right senses can suppose God to have raised, and to have declared his Son. And if Christ hath not been raised, the gospel being stripped of the evidence which it derives from the resurrection of its Author, the whole of the preaching of the apostles, as is observed 1 Corinthians 15:14, is absolutely false; and the faith of the Corinthians in the divine original of the gospel, and of all Christians, from the beginning to the present hour, is likewise false. Such are the consequences of denying the resurrection of the dead.”

15:1-11 The word resurrection, usually points out our existence beyond the grave. Of the apostle's doctrine not a trace can be found in all the teaching of philosophers. The doctrine of Christ's death and resurrection, is the foundation of Christianity. Remove this, and all our hopes for eternity sink at once. And it is by holding this truth firm, that Christians stand in the day of trial, and are kept faithful to God. We believe in vain, unless we keep in the faith of the gospel. This truth is confirmed by Old Testament prophecies; and many saw Christ after he was risen. This apostle was highly favoured, but he always had a low opinion of himself, and expressed it. When sinners are, by Divine grace, turned into saints, God causes the remembrance of former sins to make them humble, diligent, and faithful. He ascribes to Divine grace all that was valuable in him. True believers, though not ignorant of what the Lord has done for, in, and by them, yet when they look at their whole conduct and their obligations, they are led to feel that none are so worthless as they are. All true Christians believe that Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and then risen from the dead, is the sun and substance of Christianity. All the apostles agreed in this testimony; by this faith they lived, and in this faith they died.For - A reason for the appellation which he had given to himself in 1 Corinthians 15:8.

I am the least of the apostles - Not on account of any defect in his commission, or any lack of qualification to bear witness in what he saw, but on account of the great crime of his life, the fact that he had been a persecutor. Paul could never forget that; as a man who has been profane and a scoffer, when he becomes converted, can never forget the deep guilt of his former life. The effect will be to produce humility, and a deep sense of unworthiness, ever onward.

Am not meet to be called an apostle - Am not fit to be regarded as a follower of the Lord Jesus, and as appointed to defend his cause, and to bear his name among the Gentiles. Paul had a deep sense of his unworthiness; and the memory of his former life tended ever to keep him humble. Such should be, and such will be, the effect of the remembrance of a life of sin on those who become converted to the gospel, and especially if they are entrusted with the high office of the ministry, and occupy a station of importance in the church of God.

Because I persecuted the church of God - See Acts 9. It is evident, however, that deeply as Paul might feel his unworthiness, and his unfitness to be called an apostle, yet that this did not render him an incompetent witness of what he had seen. He was unworthy; but he had no doubt that he had seen the Lord Jesus; and amidst all the expressions of his deep sense of his unfitness for his office, he never once intimates the slightest doubt that he had seen the Saviour. He felt himself fully qualified to testify to that; and with unwavering firmness he did testify to it to the end of life. A man may be deeply sensible that he is unworthy of an elevated station or office, and yet not the less qualified to be a witness. Humility does not disqualify a man to give testimony, but rather furnishes an additional qualification. There is no man to whom we listen more attentively, or whose words we more readily believe, than the modest and humble man, the man who has had abundant opportunities to observe that of which he testifies, and yet who is deeply humble. Such a man was the apostle Paul; and he evidently felt that, much as he felt his unworthiness, and ready as he was to confess it, yet his testimony on the subject of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus ought to have, and would have, great weight in the church at Corinth; compare the note on Acts 9:19.

9. least—The name, "Paulus," in Latin, means "least."

I persecuted the church—Though God has forgiven him, Paul can hardly forgive himself at the remembrance of his past sin.

The least, not in dignity, or gifts, or labours; (he tells us, that he had laboured more than all, he had made the gospel to abound from Jerusalem to Illyricum; he hath in this Epistle let us know, that he spake with tongues more than they all); but deserving the least esteem, as he afterward expoundeth himself, telling us, that he was not worthy of the name of an apostle. He gives the reason, because he had before been a persecutor of the church of God, the history of which we have, Acts 9:1-3.

For I am the least of the apostles,.... Referring not to the littleness of his stature, but to the figure before used, and as expressing not the opinion of others concerning him, but the true and real sense he had of himself, for which he himself gives the strongest reason that can be given; and by "apostles" he means not only the twelve, but all other ministers of the Gospel that were sent forth by Christ to preach it: nor need this be wondered at, when he says, that he was less than the least of all saints, Ephesians 3:8 though when his person and doctrines were traduced by false teachers, and attempts were made to disgrace his ministry, and render it useless, in vindication of himself, and without vanity, he does not stick to assert, that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles, 2 Corinthians 11:5 and yet here adds,

that am not meet to be called an apostle; not only to be one, but to bear the name of one. No man was meet or fit for such an office of himself; none of the apostles were any more than himself; but his meaning is, that though he was chosen, and called, and qualified by the gifts and grace of God for this office, yet he was unworthy to be called by the name of an apostle of Christ, for the reason following,

because I persecuted the church of God: he not only consented to the death of Stephen, the first martyr, and held the clothes of them that stoned him; but he made havoc of the church, haling men and women to prison, and continued to breathe out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord; and had letters of commission from the high priest in his pocket, to seize any of this way at Damascus, and bring them bound to Jerusalem, when Christ met him in the way, and was seen by him: according to his own account, he shut up many of the saints in prison, gave his voice against them when they were put to death, punished them oft in every synagogue, compelled them to blaspheme, and being exceeding mad against them, persecuted them to strange cities; see Acts 7:1. This he mentions both for his own abasement and humiliation, and to magnify the grace of God, to which he ascribes all he was, had, and did, as in the next verse.

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
1 Corinthians 15:9. Justification of the expression ὡσπερεὶ τῷ ἐκτρώματι. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 are not a grammatical, though they may be a logical parenthesi.

ἐγώ] has emphasis: just I, no other. Comp. on this confession, Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:15.

ὃς οὐκ εἰμὶ κ.τ.λ.] argumentative: quippe qui, etc. Comp. Od. ii. 41, al.; Xen. Mem. ii. 7. 13; Matthiae, p. 1067, note 1.

ἱκανός] sufficiently fitted, Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5.

καλεῖσθαι] to bear the name of apostle, this high, honourable name.

1 Corinthians 15:9. ὁ ἐλάχιστος corresponds to ἔσχατον πάντων (1 Corinthians 15:8); “the least” properly comes “last”: cf. Ephesians 3:8, which enhances this expression; also 1 Timothy 1:15.—ὃς οὐκ εἰμὶ ἱκανὸς καλεῖσθαι κ.τ.λ., “who am not fit to bear the name of apostle”.—ἱκανὸς (lit[2292] reaching up to, hinreichend), as distinguished from ἄξιον (worthy: 1 Corinthians 16:4), denotes adequacy, competence for office or work (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:5); the words are interchangeable “where the capacity to act consists in a certain moral condition of mind and heart” (Ed[2293]: cf. Matthew 3:2, and John 1:27).—διότι (propterea quod, Bz[2294]) ἐδίωξα κ.τ.λ., “because I persecuted the Church of God”—a remorse which never left the Ap. (cf. Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13 ff., Acts 26:9 ff.); the prominence of this fact in Luke’s narrative is a sign of Paul’s hand. The Church of Jerus., whatever opposition to himself might proceed from it, was always to Paul “the church of God” (Galatians 1:13; Galatians 1:22): on this phrase, see note to 1 Corinthians 1:2. For καλέομαι, in this sense, cf. Romans 9:25 f., Hebrews 2:2. This ver. explains how P. is “the abortion” among the App.; in respect of his dwarfishness, and the unripeness of his birth into Apostleship.

[2292] literal, literally.

[2293] T. C. Edwards’ Commentary on the First Ep. to the Corinthians.2

[2294] Beza’s Nov. Testamentum: Interpretatio et Annotationes (Cantab., 1642).

9. because I persecuted the church of God] Acts 7:58; Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1. Cf. Galatians 1:13; 1 Timothy 1:13.

1 Corinthians 15:9. Ἐλάχιστος) in Latin Paulus, minimus.—ὅς, who) The language increases in strength.—ἐδίωξα, I persecuted) Believers even after repentance take guilt to themselves for the evil, which they have once perpetrated.

Verse 9. - For. This and the next verse are an explanation of the strong and strange term which he had applied to himself. The least of the apostles. In St. Paul there was a true and most deep humility, but no mock modesty. He knew the special gifts which he had received from God. He was well aware that to him had been entrusted the ten talents rather than the one talent. He could appeal to far vaster results than had been achieved by the work of any other apostle. He knew his own importance as "a chosen vessel," a special instrument in God's hands to work out exceptional results. But in himself he always felt, and did not shrink from confessing, that he was "nothing" (2 Corinthians 12:11). The notion that he here alludes to the meaning of his own name (Paulus, connected with παῦρος, φαῦρος, equivalent to "little") is very unlikely. In Ephesians 3:8 he goes further, and calls himself "less than the least of all saints," though even there he claims to have been the special apostle of the Gentiles. Because I persecuted the Church of God. This was the one sin for which, though he knew that God had forgiven him (1 Timothy 1:13), yet he could never quite forgive himself (Galatians 1:13). In my 'Life of St. Paul' I have shown from the language used, that this persecution was probably more deadly than has been usually supposed, involving not only torture, but actual bloodshed (Acts 8:4; Acts 9:1), besides the martyrdom of St. Stephen. We can imagine how such deeds and such scenes would, even after forgiveness, lie like sparks of fire in a sensitive conscience.

"Saints, did I say? with your remembered faces;
Dear men and women whom I sought and slew?
Oh, when I meet you in the heavenly places,
How will I weep to Stephen and to you!"
1 Corinthians 15:9
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