1Timothy 1.15-16 What did Paul mean by “first of sinners” if he did not mean “worst,” “foremost,” or “chief” of sinners? To shed light on this, let us examine the context of Paul’s thought by looking at the next verse. In verse 16, Paul declared, “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
Was Paul the “worst” sinner who ever lived? Did Paul believe he was worse than Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero? Did he think he was worse than Haman who tried to kill all the Jews? What about Ahab, Jezebel, the wicked kings of Israel, not the mention the evil kings who ruled Gentile nations? Such a conclusion should be highly suspicious to one who reads history, considers the context of a passage, or thinks critically. Paul as “worst of sinners” certainly does not agree with what he wrote elsewhere (cf. Philippians 3.4-6) and what he wrote a couple of verses before (1 Timothy 1.12-13).