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We read in 1Cor 15:7-9, how St. Paul appraises himself with reference to Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to him:

Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

One wonders as to why Paul compares himself to an untimely born child, in that he would prove himself to be no lesser in zeal and energy vis-a-vis the other Apostles in spreading the Good News. Is his statement based on some traditions of the Jews in relation to treating of an untimely born babe? Does the metaphor have larger connotations? My question therefore is: What according to the Catholic Church, are the basis and larger connotations of the term “untimely born” as St Paul refers to himself in 1st Corinthians?

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What are the basis and larger connotations of the term “untimely born“ as St. Paul refers to himself in 1 Corinthians?

The Douay-Rheims 1899 Catholic edition of 1 Corinthians 15:7-9 goes as follows:

7 After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles.

8 And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time.

9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Although not strictly a Catholic source, Bill Porter, hits the nail on the head:

Being "born out of due time" appears to be a very precise term--more so than merely, "untimely birth". Untimely birth could mean a premature birth, as well as a late birth. However, "due time" had already passed (according to Peter and the other apostles) for the birth of Paul when he was stopped on the road as he was nearing Damascus (See Acts, chapter 9). At that time, Paul was still warring with those disciples of Christ, including the very apostles he had just mentioned in verse 5 and 7.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has a foot note for this precise verse of Sacred Scripture:

St. Paul compares himself to a child born prematurely; hence it is difficult to see how there can be any allusion to the comparative lateness of our Lord’s appearance to him. He seems to be thinking rather of the sudden, catastrophic manner in which grace came to him. Others think that he compares himself out of humility, to a child born physically weak. - 1 Corinthians 15

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Remember that St. Paul said this in the context of listing eyewitnesses to Jesus's resurrection in which he was the last one to whom Jesus appeared, in contrast with the other apostles. St. Thomas Aquinas provided a natural reading of 3 ways of St. Paul's comparing himself to the other apostles as 3 aspects of a fetus untimely born:

  • outside the proper time (born after the coming of the Holy Spirit)
  • with violence (coercion at Damascus), and
  • lacking quantity (consider himself less virtuous, see v. 9)

From St. Thomas Aquinas's commentary on 1 Cor 15 (I added emphasis and formatting):

Last of all. Here the Apostle recalls the appearance made to him alone. In regard to this he does two things: first, he shows the order of the appearances; secondly, he assigns its reason (v. 9).

He says, therefore: I have said that Christ was manifested to all, but last of all, i.e., finally and after the resurrection he appeared to me as to one untimely born, and therefore as the latest. He says, as one untimely born for three reasons. One, untimely born refers to a fetus, because it is born outside the proper time or because it is brought forth with violence or because it is not born with due quantity; and because the Apostle saw these three things in himself, he says: as one untimely born.

  1. For, first of all, all he was reborn outside the time of the other apostles. For the other apostles were reborn in Christ before the coming of the Holy Spirit, but Paul after.

  2. Secondly, because the other apostles were converted to Christ spontaneously, but Paul by coercion: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice” (Ac 9:4). And this is of great value against heretics, who say that no one should be forced to the faith, because Paul was forced. And as Augustine says: Paul made more progress in the faith, although he was forcibly converted, than many who came spontaneously.

  3. Thirdly, because he regards himself as less than the others and that he had not arrived to the virtue of the other apostles.

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  • I am doubtful that Saul actually saw Jesus. I don't know if you have ever done any welding, however, as anyone with welding experience will tell you, welding flash is instantaneous blindness. You cannot see anything beyond the flash itself. Saul was blinded by the flash when the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road and he was blind for a few days if you read the passage a little further. Saul knew that it was Jesus not by sight but by the sound of the voice in the context of that brilliant flash of light.
    – Adam
    May 16 at 8:05
  • @Adam Thank you for the welding analogy. I made a correction to my answer; I was too hasty in summarizing Aquinas's commentary. May 16 at 18:20

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