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Paul makes it clear that the following section is not a command from God but his own opinion:

Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. (1 Corinthians 7:25, ESV)

Does this mean that 1 Corinthians 7:26–40 is not the 'Word of God'? If it is, how can this be explained? If it isn't, doesn't this call some other verses, particularly from the epistles, into question, i.e., that they might be just the writer's opinion?

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One of the things it is important to realize about the Bible is that the authors did not sit down to 'write the Bible'. Books of the Bible have to be taken first as what they were intended by their authors to be - a biography of Jesus, a history of the early church, or a letter to one of the churches. Yes, God did inspire those authors to write something that would be infallible and of eternal value, but he did not simply dictate a message for all people for all time which Paul or whoever then wrote down. It's highly likely that Paul did not realize that he was writing Infallible Scripture when he did it. He certainly wrote other letters that are not included in Scripture.

Because of this we find things in the Epistles which are of unclear value to those of us who read them 2000 years later. Paul asks the church to greet specific people that he knows. That isn't God instructing us to greet those people, it's Paul sending a greeting to people he knows. It's part of God's awesome power that he can use those writings to instruct us, without making everything a direct commend from him.

In other words, God inspired Paul to write those words in his letter. The fact that they are Paul's opinion (but a divinely inspired opinion) are unimportant. They are meant to be there, and they are just as inspired as every other part of the Epistle. The Bible also contains many other things that are not the direct command of God - stories of people who did less-than-righteous things; opinions offered by characters that do not necessarily reflect God's opinions

Why did God cause Paul to write his own opinion as part of Scripture? A good questions, which I don't have a definitive answer for. Maybe it was to draw attention to the fact that Christianity is not just a set of written rules, but sometimes calls for us to use the Holy Spirit that he gave us to work out what the right thing to do is. But I speculate. The answer here is that there is no conflict between Paul writing something that is his opinion, and the fact that God inspired him to write exactly that.

  • +1 for "In other words, God inspired Paul to write those words in his letter. The fact that they are Paul's opinion (but a divinely inspired opinion) are unimportant." I tend to agree with that statement myself. – David Stratton Oct 10 '12 at 14:04
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    To be honest I think you've done a particularly amazing job explaining this ( to my own personal satisfaction anyway that is ). In my case I would tend to agree with everything you wrote here but I don't know that I would have been capable of formulating it. I think the question you brought up Why did God cause Paul to write his own opinion as part of Scripture? was probably the essence of my issue and I think your answer is as good as I'm likely to get this side of glory. It serves as a reminder of the hugeness of God. Thanks. And thanks to all the other answers and comments too. – byronyasgur Oct 10 '12 at 18:56
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Using the basic rules that Biblical Literalists use when determining what is to be taken as "literally the Word of God", we find the basic principle:

When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense,seek no other sense;

Therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.

That makes things pretty simple. In context, this was an Epistle, which is to day, a letter of instruction to the Church at Corinth. Literally, Paul is saying that this is something he is speaking "with permission" - that is, the author himself is stating that this is his personal position, not something that the Holy Spirit guided him to write.

Therefore, it is reasonable to believe and understand that these words were not laid upon Paul by the Holy Spirit, but "by permission" indicates that he had the Holy Spirit's permission to write these things. That implies he sought out the will of God in these things and found no opposition or reason not to write these things.

This means, logically, that these verses are not the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but are not in contradiction to the will of God.

This is all in line with the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

  1. no commandment of the Lord: yet . my judgment-I have no express revelation from the Lord commanding it, but I give my judgment (opinion); namely, under the ordinary inspiration which accompanied the apostles in all their canonical writings (compare 1Co 7:40; 1Co 14:37; 1Th 4:15). The Lord inspires me in this case to give you only a recommendation, which you are free to adopt or reject-not a positive command. In the second case (1Co 7:10, 11) it was a positive command; for the Lord had already made known His will (Mal 2:14, 15; Mt 5:31, 32). In the third case (1Co 7:12), the Old Testament commandment of God to put away strange wives (Ezr 10:3), Paul by the Spirit revokes.

Then again, Clarke's commentary states:

I have no commandment of the Lord - There is nothing in the sacred writings that directly touches this point.

Yet I give my judgment - As every way equal to such commandments had there been any, seeing I have received the teaching of his own Spirit, and have obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful to this heavenly gift, so that it abides with me to lead me into all truth. In this way I think the apostle's words may be safely understood.

Which, of course, would indicate that this is the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which leaves the concept of a fully inspired Scripture intact.

So apparently the answer to the question is, not surprisingly, "There seems to be more than one point of view on the subject, neither authoritative."

As a sige point, this isn't the only place in 1 Corinthians where such a statement is made. Verse 6 has a similar statement (KJV):

But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

which most commentaries interpret to be referring to the preceding verse, but again, interpret differently.

  • I think this seems well thought out. Basically the infallible scriptures includes Paul's sanctified opinions showing us that we should learn to also form goo opinions yet be flexible knowing others may have equally sanctified opinions. I am glad the scriptures an Paul made this distinction. – Mike Oct 11 '12 at 10:36
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Paul is not trying to make the point that 1 Corinthians 7:12ff is his opinion where the rest is God's inspired Word. Rather, Paul knows the oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings on divorce that were later written down in the Gospels, but he is not aware of a time when Jesus ever spoke specifically to a situation in which one spouse becomes a Christian and the other remains unconverted. Therefore, he carefully distinguishes between the written words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and his own understanding of how Jesus’ teaching would apply to this new situation. Paul makes the notations (“Not I, but the Lord” and “I, not the Lord”) in order to delineate between directly quoting Jesus and not quoting Jesus.

So, Paul is not saying that 1 Corinthians 7:12ff is simply his wisdom or opinion. Paul is saying that 1 Corinthians 7:12 and following is newly revealed Scripture, led by the Spirit, through his pen. When Paul says, “Not I, but the Lord”, he is saying this is a quote directly from the Lord, recorded in Matthew 5:32. When Paul says, “I, not the Lord”, he is saying this is a new word revealed through him from God in the Holy Spirit.

Simply put, Paul is delineating between quoting Jesus and not quoting Jesus.

Paul views his admonition here as authoritative and inspired, not merely as human wisdom (v. 40; cf. 14:37–38).

  • Welcome to the site! This doesn't really have much to do with your answer, but I find that sharing the following tends to help new visitors avoid mistaking the purpose of this site. I do hope to see more from you! When you get a chance, please see How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? – David Stratton Feb 23 '14 at 2:36
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    Interesting, you might be right. Just to be clear you're saying that "from the Lord" is not referring to some word spoken directly to Paul by the Lord through the spirit. ie divine wisdom or revealed knowledge etc. I always assumed that's what it would have meant; but rather when he says "but [I give my judgment] as one who by the Lord's mercy ... " he is referring to being inspired by the spirit. If correct then I think this brings heavenly inspiration much closer to us; and I do tend (myself) to think that our wisdom is inspired by God, even if we don't know for certain that that is the case – byronyasgur Feb 24 '14 at 19:26
  • Good answer. I have no doubt that Paul was familiar with the words of Jesus. After all, he had direct revelation from Jesus himself, both on the road to Damascus and especially during the early period of his novitiate in Arabia (Galatians 1:15-17). As a word of correction, however, he did not receive his revelation of Jesus from "the Gospels," since more than likely they had not been written yet. A minor quibble. Welcome to the site. Don – rhetorician May 28 '18 at 13:42
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I would suggest "authority". Early Christians recognise his authority. I see here in 1 Cor 7 Paul put up a counsel.

Php 4:8 NIV Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

Whatever is right? Love/care. Paul's writing demonstrates his "heart": 1Cor7:32 I would like you to be free from concern. v35: I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

He is suggesting something good, it is up to the reader to evaluate considering also their own situation. Php 4:8 again says "think". To me, Paul's opinion/counsel is not that different from Jesus saying in Matthew 19:10-12.

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