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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: Did Paul Make a Distinction Between His Words and the Lord’s Words? (1 Corinthians 7:12)

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Question 19

Did Paul Make a Distinction Between His Words and the Lord’s Words? (1 Corinthians 7:12)

Supposedly, Paul made a clear distinction between his words, and the words of the Lord. This, it is argued, demonstrated that Paul did not consider his words to have the same authority as Jesus. We read the following in his first letter to the Corinthians:

To the rest I say—I and not the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:12 NRSV)

This statement supposedly shows that Paul did not believe that he had the same authority as Jesus. Does this not prove that his words should be considered as fallible?

The Issue Is Who Spoke on the Subject

Paul does make a distinction between his words and the words of Jesus. However, this distinction was not in the area of whose words were authoritative—it is a distinction concerning which authoritative teacher spoke on this particular issue.

Jesus Did Not Directly Speak on This Subject

In context, Paul is dealing with a number of issues regarding marriage. He makes the statement that these words are his, and not that of the Lord Jesus. He does this because Jesus did not directly comment upon this matter while here upon the earth.

Since Jesus left no divinely authoritative word on the subject, it was up to the Apostle Paul to give God’s Word on these issues. Paul is not comparing the authority of Jesus’ words with his own authority to teach. He is merely saying that Jesus did not comment on this matter.

Paul’s Commands Were Authoritative

After making this statement, Paul then gave some specific commands to the believers concerning how to act on these issues regarding marriage. They are as follows:

Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is an unbeliever and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a Christian woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not have a godly influence, but now they are set apart for him. (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is not required to stay with them, for God wants his children to live in peace.) (1 Corinthians 7:12-15 NLT)

Therefore, Paul is making a strong claim of his own authority. Since he did not have a direct word from the Lord Jesus, he felt he could give his own authoritative word. Later, in the same chapter, he claimed that his commands were authoritative:

Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. (1 Corinthians 7:25 NRSV)

Basically, Paul is saying the following: since he did not have any authoritative teaching on the subject by Jesus, then he would give his own authoritative words. There is no thought here of claiming less authority than Jesus. Therefore, we have no contradiction between Jesus and Paul. Neither do we have Paul acknowledging that his writings were of lesser authority.

Summary - Question 19
Did Paul Make a Distinction Between His Words and the Lord’s Words? (1 Corinthians 7:12)

Some object to the doctrine of inerrancy by assuming Paul contrasted his words with those of Jesus. While Paul did make a distinction between his words and those of Jesus, it was not in the area of who had authority and who did not.

Paul merely stated that he was giving his authoritative word on certain issues regarding marriage because Jesus did not directly speak about the subject. He was not denying that his commands were any less authoritative.

Did Certain Bible Doctrines Change Over Time? ← Prior Section
Since the Term Inerrancy Means “Scientific Precision,” Does the Bible Really Teach Inerrancy? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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