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Untimely Birth

UNTIMELY BIRTH (נֵ֫פֶל, H5878, abortion, from verb “to fall”; ἔκτρωμα, G1765, abortion, abortive birth).

1. The word occurs three times in the OT (Job 3:16; Ps 58:8; Eccl 6:3), and refers to the fetus which comes lifeless from the mother’s womb. The thought appears in Num 12:12 (where in LXX ἔκτρωμα, G1765, occurs for כַּמֵּ֑ת), Aaron’s plea that the leprous Miriam may not be as a dead thing, coming out of its mother’s womb with half of its flesh consumed, i.e., like a still-born child coming into the world half decomposed (KD, in loc.).

2. The classic fig. reference is Paul’s self-derogation in 1 Corinthians 15:8, where Paul, as the last to whom the risen Lord appeared, likens himself to an ἔκτρωμα, G1765, &--;an abortion—“the decisive feature is the abnormal time of birth, and the unfinished form of one thus born” (TWNT, II, 465); “born out of due season” (KJV), “untimely birth” (ASV, RSV), “monstrous birth” (NEB). The meaning is not “late-born,” or late in becoming an apostle, which is expressed by the earlier phrase: ἔσχατον πάντων “last of all.” ̓Εσχατον rather suggests “abortive birth,” by which Paul means, as is evident from his explanation in v. 9, that because he persecuted the Church of God he was an apostle inferior to, and less worthy than, the other apostles, as the abortive child is behind the one born mature (Meyer, Thayer, in loc.). Paul’s sense of high privilege for the honor of seeing the risen Christ makes him painfully aware of his unworthiness for having once persecuted the Church. What he is and has accomplished is attributable not to himself, but to God’s grace (1 Cor 15:10).