Was Paul Just Ignorant?

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It is written:

1 Timothy 1:12-13-And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13  although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.

Does this passage teach that Paul was shown mercy because he was ignorant of Who Jesus is? Some so teach.

Let’s study.

First, notice the word translated here as “ignorantly.” It can have many different meanings, depending on context. Speaking of this word,” Mounce points out:

“Ignorance carries a largely negative connotation. It stifles intellectual, spiritual, and physical growth. agnoe  can refer to a disobedient state in which the individual is unteachable (Acts 13: 27; Rom. 10: 3; cf. Heb. 5: 12) and turns away from the revelation of God in Christ (1 Cor. 14: 38). See NIDNTT-A, 11-12.”  (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 704-705 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan) 

Paul was not “just unaware” of Jesus’ identity. His ignorance was of a willful type of ignorance.

Second, this conclusion is made more clear by the rest of the phrase connected with the word “ignorantly.” Paul says that his hostility against Christ had been committed in “unbelief.” This word had the meaning of a sustained state of willful and intentional disbelief.

“disbelieve” (or “disbelieved”) in the RV, in Mark 16: 11, 16; Luke 24: 11, 41; Acts 28: 24; “disbelieve” is the best rendering, implying that the unbeliever has had a full opportunity of believing and has rejected it;”. (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index (Word Study), 502 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson)


“apistia as the state of unbelief is a condition in which people can choose to stay or which they can abandon (Rom. 11: 23). The consequences of living in such a state are acting out of ignorance (1 Tim. 1: 13), impeding the miraculous (Mt. 13: 58; Mk. 6: 6), and, at its worst, leading one to reject God and suffer the consequences (Heb. 3: 12, 16).” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1716 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI; Zondervan)

Simply consider how this word is translated in other contexts to see the accuracy of these definitions.

Matthew 13:58-Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.

Matthew 17:20-So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

Mark 6:6-And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Mark 9:24-Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 16:14-Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.

Romans 3:3-For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?

Romans 4:20-He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God,

Romans 11:20-Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.

Romans 11:23-And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.

Hebrews 3:12-Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

Hebrews 3:19-So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

Third, Jesus Himself pointed out that Saul had been “kicking against the goads.”

Acts 9:5-And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

Acts 26:14-And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

A “goad” was a sharp instrument that was used to herd in animal in the direction it was supposed to go. But sometimes you would have a stubborn animal that refused to go where it knew that it should, and so would kick against the goads.

“The reference to goads is a new detail for this scene. A goad is a stick that serves the same purpose as a whip and is used to prod and direct an animal. So in the appearance Jesus was asking why Saul is kicking against God’s discipline and direction. The word often occurs when speaking of a horse that was not to kick against the goad ( κέντρον , kentron ; BAGD 428 §2; BDAG 539–40). Saul was being told not to resist the divine call and to stop persecuting God’s people. The “kicking against the goads” pictures his being pricked and his reaction against them. The pricks are not just his conscience but also the new forces crowding in around him, fighting his sense of divine destiny. To kick against the goads is part of a Greek proverbial idiom, although a general reference simply to the goads is common in Greek literature. [3] Paul cannot and should not fight against Jesus. Paul himself speaks of compulsion in his ministry (1 Cor. 9:15–18; Fitzmyer 1998: 759).” (Darrell L. Bock, Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 17443-17455 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Academic)

The amazing grace of God is shown in Saul of Tarsus, and it can be shown in the lives of those who will stop fighting against Jesus and turn to Him.

Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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