St. Paul's sin


There is a thing quite confusing to me - st. Paul murdered and persecuted many Christians before his conversion. Therefore, in this period of his life, he rejected the sacrifice of Jesus as true and holy. Wouldn’t this be an unforgivable sin? The same goes for all willfull converts, who rejected Christianity, but after some time repented.


No. The unforgiveable sin is final despair/deliberate rejection of Christ with full knowledge and consent. As long as we are alive we can repent of any crime/sin no matter how heinous or grave it might be. Having been a notorious sinner has never prevented anyone from becoming a Christian or from becoming a saint. St. Paul is only one example. St. Augustine is another, as well as St Mary Magdalene. God’s mercy is such that all who have sinned may be given grace and come to repentance.


St. Paul stopped rejecting Jesus after his encounter with Him. Therefore, Paul was able to be forgiven.


That’s the problem. Pharisees commited eternal sin when they said that Jesus casts out devils by devil. St. Paul and “christianity-atheism/paganism-christianity” also, with full consent, rejected Christ and yet didn’t commit unforgivable sin, because they repented. How is that possible? Where is the difference between the behaviour of pharisees and the behaviour of st. Paul?


Jesus was warning the Pharisees that if they persisted in ascribing to the devil the work of the Holy Spirit that they would not find forgiveness. We are not to persist in sin, but repent. Many Pharisees did repent and were added to the Church. Others didn’t and were thus lost. As long as we’re alive we can repent of our sins. The danger is in hardening our hearts against repentance, like some of the Pharisees did. St. Paul did his crimes in the real belief that he was stamping out a dangerous sect, not because he rejected Christ or the Holy Spirit. He didn’t fully understand who Christ was and what he was doing, and neither did many of the Pharisees. Like St. Paul, those Pharisees who repented were saved. Those who didn’t were lost.



Jesus washed away all those sins in Baptism.


Various Pharisees later became Christians.

There is no sin that cannot be forgiven in this life - if there is repentance.


Perhaps you should read THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN
James Akin

The identification of the unforgivable sin as final impenitence—dying in a state of unrepentance—can be shown to go back at least to the time of Augustine. In fact, in the Summa Aquinas gives a nice little catalogue of Augustine’s passages dealing with the subject:

The idea that the Pharisees committed eternal sin is a judgment that is unfounded.


Again, the unforgiveable sin is final impenitence, i.e., impenitence to death. You do not commit the unforgiveable sin at any moment in your life. The unforgiveable sin just is your life, at the moment of its conclusion, if you die unrepentant.


St. Paul was a Pharasee brought up in the Mosaic tradition. He was very zealous for the beliefs of his faith. He saw Christians as enemies,because they represented Jesus as God, and saviour, and followed the New Way. Paul saw this as a threat, so he began to persecute them. On the road to Demascus Jesus appeared to him and enlightened him to the truth, that He was the same God of the old and new testament. Paul suffered blindness for three days, and he wouldn’t eat. Then Annanias laid hands on him and he regained his sight.
Paul had fallen into the fault of self–righteousness, I do not say sin because Paul was truly ignorant of the truth. Self-righteousness is a spiritual fault, it is spiritual blindness, ignorance. Something like scales fell from the eyes of St.Paul representing this blindness in a physical way. Light which surrounded. Paul was the enlightenment produced by the presence of the truth, Jesus. and thats were conversion comes in Not eating for three days probably represented the remorse Paul felt at condoning the death of St.Steven, and persecuting the innocent Christians, but he only knew this after the revelation of Jesus. Once Paul was set on the road called Straight his zeal was reinforced by the Holy Spirit and became the Apostles to the Gentiles. So the sin of Paul was that of a deep hidden pride we all have due to the effects of original sin that causes us to be self-righteous, and not God-righteous, it is a human fault. It might be referred to as the “happy fault” because it led St. Paul to Christ, as He is the only one who can cure this fault,because it is hidden, we are blind to it’s existence in us. This fault has caused so much human tragedy, wars, church and national divisions, heresies, hatred and even murder all because those involved think they are right. eg. Abortion is one example, gay marriage is another, the wars in Muslim countries especially against Christians. Killing in the name of Allah Even in the spiritual life it is called “Vain Glory” and “Wood Worm” and the “Moth that Consumes” It’s like the mortar in a dam, if a slight leak develops (self-righteousness) if the leak isn’t stopped it will destroy the whole dam.


Aquinas suggests that it is possible to commit the unforgiveable sin in this life.

To the Objection (3) (Art.4) Further, repentance and impenitence are about the same object.

But there is no repentance, except about past sins. Therefore the same applies to impenitence which is a species of the sin against the Holy Ghost. Therefore the sin against the Holy Ghost presupposes other sins.

He answers… “If by impenitence we understand with Augustine (De Verb. Dom., Serm. lxxi) persistence in sin until the end, it is clear that it presupposes sin, just as repentance does. **If, however, we take it for habitual impenitence, in which sense it is a sin against the Holy Ghost, it is evident that it can precede sin: for it is possible for a man who has never sinned to have the purpose either of repenting or of not repenting, if he should happen to sin. **”


Aquinas is saying, if I interpret him correctly, that it is possible for us to harden our hearts against the Holy Spirit. I’m sure people have done this (there are examples in Scripture) and still do it. A good reminder to always keep our hearts soft towards God–his corrections of us and his will for us. :slight_smile:


I do think he is indicating something more than hardening of heart which can come about through ignorance, weakness and carelessness. He is speaking of what classifies a sin unforgiveable as having a ‘certain malice’ or choice motivating it. To the objection that this quality is determined at the finality of a life he answers that that quality can be present prior to sin being committed thus rendering the person gravely condemned at the moment of the sin. When you look at Mark 3 where Jesus has spoken the words about the unforgiveable sin regarding the Pharisees, at the beginning of the chapter we can see that ‘certain malice’ already established when they witnessed Jesus healing power and capacity to drive out demons. “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” - Mark 3:6

Aquinas in the article prior says…

"According to the various interpretations of the sin against the Holy Ghost, there are various ways in which it may be said that it cannot be forgiven. For if by the sin against the Holy Ghost we understand final impenitence, it is said to be unpardonable, since in no way is it pardoned: because the mortal sin wherein a man perseveres until death will not be forgiven in the life to come, since it was not remitted by repentance in this life.

According to the other two interpretations, it is said to be unpardonable, not as though it is nowise forgiven, but because, considered in itself, it deserves not to be pardoned: and this in two ways. First, as regards the punishment, since he that sins through ignorance or weakness, deserves less punishment, whereas he that sins through certain malice, can offer no excuse in alleviation of his punishment. Likewise those who blasphemed against the Son of Man before His Godhead was revealed, could have some excuse, on account of the weakness of the flesh which they perceived in Him, and hence, they deserved less punishment; whereas those who blasphemed against His very Godhead, by ascribing to the devil the works of the Holy Ghost, had no excuse in diminution of their punishment.

…Secondly, this may be understood to refer to the guilt: thus a disease is said to be incurable in respect of the nature of the disease, which removes whatever might be a means of cure, as when it takes away the power of nature, or causes loathing for food and medicine, although God is able to cure such a disease. So too, the sin against the Holy Ghost is said to be unpardonable, by reason of its nature, in so far as it removes those things which are a means towards the pardon of sins. This does not, however, close the way of forgiveness and healing to an all-powerful and merciful God, Who, sometimes, by a miracle, so to speak, restores spiritual health to such men."

So the unforgiveableness of the sin can be believed to be referring to its nature also rather than only the state of sin at the moment of death.

That lesson could be warning us that like the Pharisees, so knowledgeable about the ways and promises of God, but could be overcome by envy of Jesus spiritual good and non-conformity to their ways, that they reject the Holy Spirit in Him… we also have the capacity to reject the Holy Spirit in our journey to heaven motivated by certain malice.


At death’s door, the only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of not being repentant. Even prison wardens know this, because they offer every criminal, even and especially the ones to be executed, the services of the chaplain. ~ One last chance.


Aquinas is no doubt right. Who am I to debate Aquinas? :stuck_out_tongue: But, we cannot know who is truly reprobate and who isn’t, nor can we judge anyone based on our perceptions. God knows the heart better than anyone else and all the mitigating circumstances that speak to one’s culpability. We must carefully guard our hearts against malice so we don’t fall into this sin.

The OP wanted to know how St. Paul’s murderous persecution was any different from the Pharisees malice towards Christ–if St. Paul had committed the unforgiveable sin. Well, obviously God didn’t think so or Jesus would not have called him. But, the OP wanted to know why that was so when St. Paul’s intentions certainly weren’t in favor of Christ and his Church. I think St. Paul’s was a rigtheous anger and not malice against the Holy Spirit in that he thought the people of “the Way” were perverting the Jewish faith. The Pharisees simply hated Christ out of jealousy and envy and so had hardened their hearts to the point of saying that the works Christ did through the Holy Spirit were those of the devil. That’s my understanding of it, anyway.


Paul seems to have had a pronounced way of knowing his was right, and his righteous anger followed suit. This may have been the reason Christ called him as an apostle to the Gentiles, rather than someone else. Not only would he be a convert and understand the experience and psychology of conversion, he would have been able to transfer the aggressive energy of that righteous anger of his (wherever it originally arose from) to furthering the gospel in distant lands. There was no doubt Paul did not mind being a thorn in other people’s sides, including Peter’s. And he did not mind chastising the towns he had converted and left behind when he learned they had lost their way. He was a born leader. He was not afraid to preach the truth and ride a fast horse. Because he died defending Christ rather than persecuting him, whatever his sins, he would have been easy to forgive.


I agree , but with one slight addition, instead of righteous anger, I would add, and I see it as critical, “self-righteous anger:” see St.Paul thought he was right (righteous by his knowledge, but not righteous by God. He was wrong as to the truth in his knowledge, so he was ignorant and fallible, God enlightened him to the truth, now he became God- righteous, because he had the truth. He thought he was right, but because of ignorance and a determined will in his ignorance he became a terror to Christians. He was set on the road called Straight, on the road of truth.


The OP seems to have another misconception. In his second post he describes St. Paul’s faith journey as “Christianity - atheism/paganism - Christianity.” Paul was a Jew who became a Christian. He was not a Christian who apostasized and returned, and he was never an atheist or a pagan.



Then Aquinas was wrong! :shrug:

There is no sin that cannot be forgiven in this life - if there is repentance.


I think (just my opinion, of course) that Aquinas understood that some people can harden their hearts to the point that they cannot/will not repent–everything must be their way, or no way, not even God’s way. Such people can commit such a sin and not repent and never intend to repent. Although, it would have to be deliberate. In the case of the Pharisees, I believe Our Lord was warning them against this for it was jealousy and envy which drove their words and actions more than any deliberate desire to thwart God. We cannot know anyone’s eternal destiny, but we can guard against hardening our hearts so that we don’t sin by rebelling against God willfully and knowingly.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit