15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
faithful (v.15) = trustworthy, consistently proven dependable
saying (v.15) — a statement significant enough to bear frequent repetition
all (v.15) — completely without doubt
acceptance (v.15) = complete, wholehearted acceptance, reception
Christ Jesus came into the world (v.15) — This statement itself bears witness to the preexistence of the Lord Jesus, and the order of the titles, pointing to the exalted One who emptied Himself, is appropriate to the fact that His coming into the world refers to His birth. He left the glory which He had with the Father before the world was (John 16:28; 17:5). — Vine, page 150.
sinners (v.15) = those who miss the mark — all humans (Romans 3:23)
of whom I am chief (v.15) = first — the emphasis in Greek is on “I.” Lit. “of whom, I, in contradistinction to others, am foremost
Christ came to save sinners (v.15), and for this reason, Paul obtained mercy (v.16), even though he was a great sinner himself (v.15).
that in me first (v.16) = chief — same word as in v.15
The word “first,” Greek, protos, in verse 16, has an evident relation to the word “hereafter” in the same verse and, indeed, he calls his conversion “a pattern to them which hereafter should believe on [Christ] to life everlasting.
In using the word “pattern” he does not refer, of course, to the circumstances which attended his conversion, but to the conversion itself by grace … exceedingly abundant,” to the “mercy” and “longsuffering” shown to him.
In this he was indeed a “pattern,” for the words “exceeding abundant,” in verse 14, appear also in a historical passage which he himself later penned to the Romans. Historically, ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). (The terms are identical in the Greek.)
1 Timothy 1:15 and its immediate context, then, confirm the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ indeed “came into the world to save sinners,” — even the chief of sinners — and that Paul was the living demonstration of this fact! They prove that this is indeed “a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation,” and that since the chief of sinners is now in heaven with Christ, no sinner need despair.
But there is more, for while the Greek word protos, rendered “first” in verse 16, is the same as that rendered “chief” in verse 15 and thus bears the idea of foremost, or leading, it is also the common word for first in order, and indeed, Paul was the first person to whom the Lord had showed such amazing grace — and in such a dramatic way.
Thus this passage provides strong evidence that the present dispensation of grace, and the Body of Christ, began with Paul — at his conversion. Our Lord had had a full complement of twelve apostles, Matthias had taken the place of Judas, and they had all been “filled with the Holy Spirit.” But the message of the twelve had been rejected and Stephen had been stoned. Israel had sent a message to heave, saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (See Luke 19:14). It was then that God raised up another apostle, an act which in itself indicated that He was ushering in a new dispensation.
And what a fitting representative was Paul of Jews and Gentiles “reconciled … unto God in one body by the cross” (Ephesians 2:16)! He was both a Hebrew and a Roman — by birth! And he of all men was a former enemy of God, now reconciled by grace! — Stam, pates 48-50.
Jesus Christ (v.16) — Note the change in order, from Christ Jesus, with emphasis on His preexistence, to Jesus Christ, with emphasis on His sacrifice and exaltation.
longsuffering (v.16) = self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate or punish — should read “all His longsuffering.”
The authorized version misses the possessive force of the definite article which occurs with the word “longsuffering” in the Greek text. It is more correctly, “all His longsuffering.” Expositors translates, “The utmost longsuffering which He has.” The Greek word translated “longsuffering,” is makrothumia, made up of makros, “long,” and thumos, “soul” or “spirit.” It has the sense of a strong passion, stronger even than orge, “anger.” Thumos is a tumultuous welling up of the whole spirit, a mighty emotion which seizes and moves the whole inner man. The restraint implied in it is a patient holding out under a trial, a long-protracted restraint of the soul from yielding to passion, especially that of anger. — Wuest, pages 35-36
pattern (v.16) = lit. “sketch or delineation” — example
everlasting (v.16) — The word “everlasting” is aionion, “without beginning or end, that which has always been and always will be.” When used of the sufferings of the damned, the word of necessity must mean everlasting, not eternal, for these have a beginning but no end. When it is used of the life which God gives the believing sinner in salvation, the meaning is “eternal,” since the life God gives is the life He possesses, and that life had no beginning and will have no end. Hence, the word “eternal” should be used here, not the word “everlasting.” — Wuest, page 36
King eternal (v.17) = King of the Ages
immortal (v.17) = incorruptible, not liable to decay
the only God (v.17) — there is no “the” in the original, adding emphasis to “only” — “wise” is not in the best manuscripts
honor (v.17) — accord veneration, reverence, deference in the measure that one values another
glory (v.17) = recognize and acknowledge to God the excellences which are His essentially in His nature, character and operations. It adds nothing to Him, but acknowledges what is His
forever (v.17) = lit. “to the ages of the ages” — everlasting
Amen (v.17) = It is and shall be so.
Wuest’s translation — Trustworthy is this word and worthy of unqualified acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. Moreover, on this account I was shown mercy, in order that in my first Jesus Christ might demonstrate the longsuffering which He has, as an example to those who are about to be believing on Him for life eternal. Now, to the King of the Ages, the incorruptible, invisible, unique God, be honor and glory, for ever and ever. Amen. — Wuest, pages 36-37.
Bible interpretation would be a great deal clearer and simpler if people would simply take this passage at face value and understand that Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was saying no less than than he was saved in a way that no person before him had ever been saved and that this salvation took place so that God could show us the way that everyone could be saved in the future. Before Paul, one had to have faith in God (which, of course, was faith that He would save through the Redeemer, Jesus Christ) AND demonstrate that faith by keeping the law. After Paul, everyone could be saved, and could only be saved, by faith in Jesus Christ alone apart from the law.
Paul was the example, both because he was a terrible sinner who opposed God, proving that anyone could be saved, and because he was the first saved under a new dispensation of grace, proving that anyone could be saved by grace through faith alone.