Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious….— 1 Timothy 1:13
By Rick Renner
Sometimes I hear people say, “I just don’t know if So-and-so can come to Christ. They are so hardhearted and far from God!” If you’ve ever said this about a person in your life, today I want to give you hope. We’re going to look at what kind of person Paul was before he came to Christ — and I believe you’ll see and understand that if God could save Saul of Tarsus (who became known as the apostle Paul), then He can save anyone!
In First Timothy 1:13, Paul described himself before his conversion to Christ: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious….” Although Paul was a strictly religious Jew before he surrendered his life to Jesus, he admitted that he had been guilty of blasphemous behavior. The word “blasphemy” is the Greek word blasphemia — and it does not primarily refer to speaking irreverently about divine matters. It has a broader meaning that refers to any type of debasing, derogatory, nasty, shameful, ugly speech or behavior that is intended to humiliate someone else. Paul used the word “blasphemer” to describe his own past words and actions when he purposefully mistreated and humiliated believers for whom he had no tolerance.
Before Paul’s conversion to Christ, he persecuted believers in Jesus Christ with a vengeance. To make sure readers understood how atrocious his treatment of Christians was before his conversion, Paul then clarified what he meant, stating that he also used to be a “persecutor” and “injurious.”
The word “persecutor” comes from the Greek word dioko, which means to pursue or to ardently follow after something until the object of pursuit is apprehended. It was the very word used to depict a hunter. By using this word dioko, Paul revealed that he aggressively pursued Christians to capture or kill them like a relentless hunter tracking the scent of an animal.
Proof of this is found in the book of Acts. For instance, Acts 7:57,58 states that Paul (then called Saul of Tarsus) was present at the stoning of Stephen: “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” Also, from Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa, we know that he cast his vote for the death of many believers. The apostle told Agrippa, “…Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:10).
There is no doubt that before Paul came to Christ and was still known as Saul, he was such a scourge to the Church that believers everywhere had heard of his vengeance (see Acts 9:21). Saul was obsessed with a sense of duty to eradicate Christians and to cleanse this “filth” from the Jewish community. In fact, when Paul later described his behavior before his conversion in First Timothy 1:13, he used the word “injurious” to explain the maliciousness of his past behavior.
The word “injurious” is the word hubristes. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament states: “The word [hubristes] indicates one who in pride and insolence deliberately and contemptuously mistreats, wrongs, and hurts another person just to…humiliate the person. It speaks of treatment which is calculated to publicly insult and openly humiliate the person who suffers it.”11
Although Paul laid claim to being among the most religious Jews (see Philippians 3:5,6), his use of the word hubristes in First Timothy 1:13 reveals that hatred raged in his heart. Paul acknowledged that his loathing of Christians was once so intense that he derived personal pleasure when humiliation and pain were inflicted on them. Whereas the word “blasphemer” reveals that he once verbally humiliated believers, the word “injurious” indicates that his physical behavior toward Christians was shameful — and that he enjoyed doing it. Both his words and actions were intended to debase, defame, dehumanize, depreciate, drag down, malign, mock, revile, ridicule, scorn, slander, slur, smear, and vilify believers.
When Paul was still Saul of Tarsus, he discriminated against believers, treated them with hostility, dehumanized them, and even contributed to their deaths (see Acts 8:3; 9:1; 26:11). He was moved with rage to extinguish the spreading flame of Christianity. However, one encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was all it took for Saul’s heart to be emptied of rage and hatred and filled instead with a deep love for the Church he had so horribly persecuted and humiliated in the past.
In a split second of time, this man who had been such an enemy of God and the Church was converted to Christ and totally transformed. When people heard that he had come to Christ, it was hard for them to believe at first, because he had been such an ardent persecutor of the Church (see Acts 9:21). But his conversion was real — and it proved that if God could save Paul, then God could save and change absolutely anyone! If there was ever a situation where it seemed impossible for someone to be saved, it would have been Saul of Tarsus — but one encounter with Christ changed everything in a split second.
So what about your friend, acquaintance, relative, coworker, and so forth, who seem so distant from God? Are they so far that they cannot be reached and changed? No, Paul’s testimony affirms that God can reach any heart, regardless of how hard it is or how far that person has wandered from God. So don’t give up hope! Keep praying and believing for your lost loved ones to come to a saving experience with Jesus Christ. If it can happen to Paul, it can happen to anyone!
- 11 Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 488
Rick Renner is a prolific author and a highly respected Bible teacher and leader in the international Christian community. He is the author of more than 30 books, including the bestsellers Dressed To Kill and Sparkling Gems From the Greek.
In 1992, Rick and his family moved to what is now the former Soviet Union. Two years later, he and his wife Denise founded the Riga Good News Church in Latvia before moving on to Moscow in 2000 to found the Moscow Good News Church. In 2007, the Renners also launched the Kyiv Good News Church in the capital of Ukraine. Today, Rick serves as Bishop for this group of churches.
In addition, Rick and Denise pioneered a Bible school, and a ministerial association that serves thousands of Russian-speaking pastors throughout the former USSR as well as parts of the Middle East.
Rick also founded Media Mir, the first Christian television network established in the former USSR. Its broadcast capabilities via terrestrial stations in Russia, Ukraine, Mongolia, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova, and as well by satellite means millions of people are reached with these messages. It has since expanded into book publishing and managing social media accounts. Website: Renner.org