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Paul Admits Often That He Is Uninspired

Paul himself denigrated he had constant inspiration. So our assumption the early church thought Paul was always 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 elsewhere "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 Holy 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 marital or blood-relationships within a single family unit without faith. John the Baptist decried such ideas in Matthew chapter 1 -- the Jews who thought their relationship with Father Abraham saved them. FYI: As Jesus implies about children, Judaism maintains children are innocent of any sin by law - based upon the story of the minor children being innocent of the sin of the adults who wanted to return to Egypt, and who God punished by saying they would not see the promised land but the children would enter it.)

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”) 

As Spinoza, a Jewish Talmudic scholar, said in 1670 - referencing Paul's "opinion" "think" and "my judgment" language in various passages  -- that Paul believes typically that his ideas came from his own mind without inspiration: 

(38) For instance, in 1 Cor. vii:40, Paul says: But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment, and I think also that I have the Spirit of God." (39) By the Spirit of God the Apostle here refers to his mind, as we may see from the context: his meaning is as follows: "I account blessed a widow who does not wish to marry a second husband; such is my opinion, for I have settled to live unmarried, and I think that I am blessed." (40) There are other similar passages which I need not now quote. (Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise (1883)(orig. 1670) at this link.)

 

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.

We as Gentiles should defer sometimes to Jewish commentary that explains how Paul's words match or do not match what a Jewish person would or would not say if they were speaking under inspiration from God. Spinoza says Paul is not using words to signal he speaks as one inspired, e.g., he does not say "the Lord revealed."Absent that, Spinoza says Paul is not asking us to treat him like an inspired prophet. (FYI: Jesus as "the Prophet" of Deut 18:15-18 over whom Yahweh spoke from heaven "listen to him" is exempt from this requirement. See The JWO Principle from Deut 18 and Numbers 22.)

 

Spinoza Sees The Same Implication In Other Passages.

In 1670, Spinoza -- whose background was as an objective Jewish Talmudic-scholar -- also found Paul's "think" passages conveyed Paul had no sense of constant inspiration. Also, Spinoza said Paul's proof-texting to win a point proves Paul did not believe he spoke with prophetic authority. Spinoza explains: 

(2) If we examine the style of the Epistles, we shall find it totally different from that employed by the prophets [in the Law & Prophets].

(3) The prophets are continually asserting that they speak by the command of God: "Thus saith the Lord," "The Lord of hosts saith," "The command of the Lord," &c.; and this was their habit not only in assemblies of the prophets, but also in their epistles containing revelations, as appears from the epistle of Elijah to Jehoram, 2 Chron. xxi:12, which begins, "Thus saith the Lord."

(4) In the Apostolic Epistles we find nothing of the sort. (5) Contrariwise, in I Cor. vii:40 Paul speaks according to his own opinion and in many passages we come across doubtful and perplexed phrase; such as, "We think, therefore," Rom. iii:28; "Now I think," [Endnote 24], Rom. viii:18, and so on. (6) Besides these, other expressions are met with very different from those used by the prophets. (7) For instance, 1 Cor. vii:6, "But I speak this by permission, not by commandment;" "I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful" (1 Cor. vii:25), and so on in many other passages. (8) We must also remark that in the aforesaid chapter the Apostle says that when he states that he has or has not the precept or commandment of God, he does not mean the precept or commandment of God revealed to himself, but only the words uttered by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount. (9) Furthermore, if we examine the manner in which the Apostles give out evangelical doctrine, we shall see that it differs materially from the method adopted by the prophets. (10) The Apostles everywhere reason as if they were arguing rather than prophesying; the prophecies, on the other hand, contain only dogmas and commands. (11) God is therein introduced not as speaking to reason, but as issuing decrees by His absolute fiat. (12) The authority of the prophets does not submit to discussion, for whosoever wishes to find rational ground for his arguments, by that very wish submits them to everyone's private judgment. (13) This Paul, inasmuch as he uses reason, appears to have done, for he says in 1 Cor. x:15, "I speak as to wise men, judge ye what I say." (14) The prophets, as we showed at the end of Chapter I., did not perceive what was revealed by virtue of their natural reason, and though there are certain passages in the Pentateuch which seem to be appeals to induction, they turn out, on nearer examination, to be nothing but peremptory commands. 

Hence Spinoza concluded Paul was conceding he was not inspired generally, if ever, in anything he wrote. See Spinoza, A Theologico-Political Treatise (1883) chapter 11 at this link.

As Spinoza aptly points out: 

(20) Thus Moses, the chief of the prophets, never used legitimate argument [i.e., he relied upon inspiration], and, on the other hand, the long deductions and arguments of Paul, such as we find in the Epistle to the Romans, are in nowise written from supernatural revelation. 

(21) The modes of expression and discourse adopted by the Apostles in the Epistles, show very clearly that the latter were not written by revelation and Divine command, but merely by the natural powers and judgment of the authors. (22) They consist in brotherly admonitions and courteous expressions such as would never be employed in prophecy, as for instance, Paul's excuse in Romans xv:15, "I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, my brethren."

Elsewhere, Spinoza points out that Paul's entrities reflect / imply a lack of inspiration: 

(47) These passages, I say, show...the authority for admonishing whomsoever and wheresoever he pleased is asserted by Paul in the Epistle to Philemon, v:8: "Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet," &c., where we may remark that if Paul had received from God as a prophet what he wished to enjoin Philemon, and had been bound to speak in his prophetic capacity, he would not have been able to change the command of God into entreaties. (48) We must therefore understand him to refer to the permission to admonish which he had received as a teacher, and not as a prophet. Id.

 

Spinoza thereby makes a valid point that Paul can only talk this way because he is not repeating direct commands from God - he is entreating, i.e., trying to persuade by bold speach on what is more "convenient," i.e., proper, in such and such circumstance.

 

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.

End.

 

Study Notes. 

Spinoza makes a comment that the epistles of the apostles and others like James cannot be regarded as inspired because they disagree upon the faith alone doctrine.  Spinoza chooses to highlight the difference between James and Paul which Luther admitted exists. Spinoza wrote: 

(52) Furthermore, if we go through the Epistles at all attentively, we shall see that the Apostles, while agreeing about religion itself, are at variance as to the foundations it rests on. (53) Paul, in order to strengthen men's religion, and show them that salvation depends solely on the grace of God, teaches that no one can boast of works, but only of faith, and that no one can be justified by works (Rom. iii:27,28); in fact, he preaches the complete doctrine of predestination. (54) James, on the other hand, states that man is justified by works, and not by faith only (see his Epistle, ii:24), and omitting all the disputations of Paul, confines religion to a very few elements.

See link.