Paul Admits Often That He Is Uninspired
Paul himself denigrated he had constant inspiration. So our assumption the early church thought Paul was inspired does not make sense. How could the early church give Paul something he denied himself?
For example, Paul in an epistle writes: "I give my advice" (2 Cor. 8:8-10). That's not constant inspiration. Second, Paul quotes Scripture, and says the Lord gives that command, but "the rest is from me, not from the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:10-12). The latter is certainly not inspired. Next, Paul says in another epistle: "concerning virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my own opinion" (1 Cor. 7:25). Again no constant inspiration there. Again, Paul says "what I am going to say now is not prompted by the Lord but from a fit of folly" (2 Cor. 11:17). Same thing. Finally, in advising virgins not to marry, Paul adds "I think I have the spirit of God." (1 Cor. 7:40). Can a constantly inspired person only "think" he says something with God's spirit? Of course not.
Hence, Paul's own writing proves he was self-aware that he was often writing without inspiration.
This is also clear from how Paul would give commands, and cautions his reader that Paul is not writing under inspiration.
Paul Cautions: Don't Take My Commands Too Seriously -- They Are Uninspired
Here are more details on the examples that Paul emphasized he was speaking on his own in his letters. Hence, Paul cannot be viewed as Scripture that is inspired in every word, for Paul denies for himself that very same interpretation.
First, in Paul's own words, he once said "I speak not by Commandment ... and herein I give my advice" (2 Cor. 8: 8-10). Paul's calling his words "advice" certainly did not mean it was the Word of God.
Likewise, in this next quote from 1 Corinthians, note the two different sources of the commands which Paul has written: "Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord .., but the rest is from me, not from the Lord” (I Cor. 7:10-12). Paul in saying this did what OT principles required for recognition of a statement as inspired -- he said the message was from "the Lord."
(Incidentally, what Paul says is "not from the Lord," but himself, is the bizarre notion that an unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and likewise the unbelieving wife by the believing husband, and if this were not so one's children would be "unclean" -- unsaved, but now are "holy" (saved). Clearly, Paul is off on a ridiculous theory that contradicts his faith-alone doctrine, and ascribes the cleansing of a sin for one parent to not only automatically apply to their spouse but also to their children. See 1 Cor. 7:10-14. Paul had the good sense not to attribute that idea to God that one's salvation is through close blood-relationships within a single family unit without faith. John the Baptist decried the same idea in Matthew chapter 1 -- the Jews who thought their relationship with Father Abraham saved them.)
Finally, here is another quote which definitely tells us that some of Paul's utterances and admonishments were of his own making: “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my own opinion” (1 Cor.7:25). See also 2 Cor. 11:17 ("What I am going to say now, is not prompted by the Lord, but said as if in a fit of folly, in the certainty that I have something to boast about”)
Hence, Paul did not understand he was always speaking under inspiration. When he wanted that understood, Paul followed the OT requirement of saying the "Lord" burdened him with a message.
Did Paul Express A Broader Understanding?
However, one time Paul made a statement that appears more sweeping. In 1 Cor 14:37-38, Paul writes: "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized." Presumably, if you are not recognized, you are not accepted by Paul. You are excluded. So Paul here apparently made his own words a test to exclude Christians from the communion of Christians at Corinth.
One commentator applied these words to Paul's words on women as teachers. It said: "Any one who rejects Paul’s teaching on the submission of women and woman preachers, is 'not recognized' by God... or condemned. Harsh but true words." ("May Women Teach.")
However, I have two objections to how broad to read Paul's statement. First, it is inconsistent with Paul's own words that he is not always speaking under inspiration, and he points that fact out. Second, Paul in context meant at most that "this" commandment he gave was from God, i.e., his preceeding command to have one speak and another be silent during prophesying. The threat upon the one who does not "recognize this" did not mean to encompass all "the things which I write..." at all times and in every letter. How do we know that? Partly because in other places, Paul says he is not writing under inspiration. Hence, the commentator read "this" with misplaced emphasis.
Hence, our conclusion above remains. Paul made it clear when he believed he spoke for the Lord. This is one of those passages. This was an OT requirement to have words taken as prophetic. They had to be said to be from the Lord (unless the Lord spoke from heaven to crowds telling them to "listen" to you, as was the case with Moses and Jesus.) Otherwise, Paul's own self-assessments show us he did not expect us to take his letters as inspired.
This fits precisely into the fact Paul made it clear he was trying to persuade, citing often his interpretation of inspired OT passages such as Habakkuk and Genesis. Why would a person whose every word is inspired need to do this? (By contrast, Jesus' proof of constant inspiration was demonstrated by the voice twice from heaven saying "Listen to Him" at Jesus' baptism and at the transfiguration. Although Jesus quoted from Scripture, Jesus did so to explain missapplications, and did so in a commanding way -- never pleading with us to accept his interpretation as Paul does.)
Thus, we can safely conclude that unless Paul says God burdened him with a message that he is no more inspired than C.S.Lewis who writes a piece to persuade us.
Paul Admits Unsure Of His Revelations' Validity
Paul himself even expressed uncertainty whether he had God's spirit to prophesy: “I THINK that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40). If Paul truly was always writing with inspiration as almost everyone assumes, why would Paul talk this way EVER?
Paul amazingly in Galatians 2:2 says revelations sent him to Jerusalem, but Paul then admits he went because he was unsure he was running in the correct direction:
I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
If you or I were sure we were having revelations from God, why would we be unsure and need other men to confirm what we teach? Precisely because we are not sure the revelations are valid. Did Paul perhaps mean by "revelations" thoughts or ideas that popped in his head? It seems that is entirely possible. Thus, we obviously have been misunderstanding Paul to be firm that he heard revelations from God or Jesus.
Incidentally, the ruling in Acts 15 did not confirm any gospel of Paul -- the gospel we read about in his epistles about faith alone, eternal security, the abrogation of the Law, etc. The Acts 15 ruling by James with the 12 apostles only agreed not to put on the Gentiles initially any more than 4 rules, including not eating meat sacrificed to idols, or meat with blood in it. It explained that beyond this, the Gentiles will hear over time the Law read weekly (i.e., they will grow in learning and God's leading on what the Law teaches they should do). Thus, Paul's peculiar non-synoptic-gospel doctrines in his epistles were not approved by the 12.
Thus, if Paul did not know he spoke by the spirit, and did not know from revelations alone that his gospel was valid, then why should we assume Paul is always inspired in his epistles?
Paul Could Not Regard His Letters As Inspired or Otherwise Why is His Letter to Corinthians Lost?
A defender of Paul as properly in canon mentions there is a letter of Paul's that has never been found. Paul mentions this letter. If Paul's every written word is inspired, then how would God let a precious letter like this disappear? This is how this Paul-defender tries to rationalize why this is lost:
Not everything Paul (or the others) wrote was inspired and intended to be recognized as Scripture. Peter and John determined which were to become a part of the canon. Paul, for example, makes reference to at least one additional letter which was not included (1 Corinthians 5:9) (Ernest L. Martin, The Original Bible Restored (1984).)
Martin without any basis in fact claims Peter and John determined Paul belonged in canon. And thus, they supposedly picked which writings of Paul to keep. But there is utterly no basis to this assertion. Regardless, this concedes that not everything Paul wrote was inspired. So how do we know? Martin confesses why he thinks he knows: he makes up a supposition -- unproveable -- that Peter and John determined canon. A convenient explanation but sadly one that nothing in ancient church history supports. Canon was not actually settled by the church until the 1500s - at the Council of Trent. The Protestant congregations have never had a convention to do anything differently except in the early 1800s, the King James dropped out the eight books of the Apocrypha which it had in 1611. Hence, the very concept of canon has been evolving because indeed there is no apostolic confirmation of canon, either from Peter or John, to prove any true inspiration, and thus it is an issue every age of Christianity must constantly revisit.