“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:12-13 ESV).
1 Timothy 1:13 tells us that Paul the Apostle self-identified as a blasphemer prior to his conversion to Christ. The word “blasphemy” is associated with “…those who speak contemptuously of God or of sacred things.” (1) It may also involve the act of speaking and/or living in a way that shows disrespect for God. Therefore, we can identify a blasphemous person as someone who disdains God in the things he or she says and/or demonstrates contempt for Him through his or her chosen lifestyle.
It seems that blasphemy has become so prevalent in many modern-day societies that we often fail to recognize it for what it is. For instance, one common form of blasphemy occurs whenever someone uses Jesus’ name as an expletive. Another takes place whenever we refer to God in a thoughtless, flippant, irreverent, or frivolous manner as in “ohmigod” or “OMG.” These expressions are blasphemous because they demonstrate a lack of respect and reverence for God.
As a highly dedicated spiritual leader among the people of Israel, it was unthinkable that Paul could knowingly blaspheme God prior to his conversion. It was not until he came face-to-face with the risen Christ that Paul learned the truth about himself and who he was. In Paul’s case, his ignorance concerning Jesus led him to blaspheme “…the only One who can save people” (Acts 4:12 NCV).
The same could also be said of Paul’s self-description as an insolent person. The root of this word in the original language of this passage serves as the basis for our modern-day word “hubris.” It communicates an underlying sense of pride that ultimately reveals itself in insulting comments or the shameful treatment of others. (2) Another source associates this word with an overbearing, violent person. (3)
In considering Paul’s self-assessment as someone who was once a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent man, one source identifies an important nuance that should not be overlooked…
“Although it is not as obvious from the English words, there is an ascending scale of wickedness in the three words blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent. The first sin is a matter of words only. The second describes suffering inflicted on others for their religious beliefs. The third includes the idea of cruelty and abuse.” (4)
(1) G987 blasphemeo, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/dictionary/viewtopic.cfm?topic=VT0000303
(2) G5197 hybristes, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5197
(3) William Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/hybristes
(4) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 2 Thessalonians 1:6, pg.2141