Does Paul teach his opinions apart from inspiration in 1 Corinthians 7 and in other similar verses like 2 Corinthians 11:17 and 13:10? Many people say, “Yes”, but the answer is actually “No”. Paul does not give his man-made opinions in any of these passages, and he continues to instruct word-for-word as always by the leading of the Spirit. Let’s take a look at the Scriptures concerning Paul’s inspiration and then what 1 Corinthians 7 really says.
First, Paul wrote by inspiration of the Spirit even unto every word. In 1 Corinthians 14:37, Paul stated, “If any man thinks himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord.” In Galatians 1:11-12, he also wrote, “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but through revelation of Jesus Christ.” Then in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul declared that what he taught was from God even to every word and that this was from the Spirit. Evidently, Paul “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). It is clear that Paul’s instructions were the Lord’s instructions, and that these were written and spoken by the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Second, let’s see what 1 Corinthians 7 says. The very first verse that is thought to show Paul teaching his opinion separate from inspiration is verse 6. Verse 6 states, “But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment.” Concession means permission. Paul did not solely say, “I say by way of concession”, but “But this I say by way of concession”. The word “But” is the Greek conjunction de, which can be translated “but” or “and”. All conjunctions like this one conjoin statements, and this verse is conjoined to its pretext in verse 5. Note also the word “this”. “This” is a pronoun, and every pronoun has an antecedent. The antecedent of the pronoun “this” is the discourse of verse 5. Verse 5 is the statement that is “by way of concession” to those who are married that they have “permission” to stop sexual relations for a season to pray, but this saying is “by way of concession, not of commandment”, so you do not have to. By the leading of the Spirit, Paul gives them inspired permission to do so. Therefore, verse 6 in no way presents Paul speaking his own thoughts and not the Lord’s. Here Paul is speaking the Lord’s instruction by inspiration. Let’s continue to look at the rest of 1 Corinthians 7. See, even in verses 7 & 8, Paul speaks that he would that all men were like himself, but these verses are as much an inspired suggestion as the permission given in verses 5 & 6.
In verse 10, Paul stated, “But unto the married I give charge, not I, but the Lord” and then in verse 12, “But to the rest say I, not the Lord“. There are two different interpretations of these verses. Either Paul was separating and contrasting what he said by his own opinion from what the Lord says as a command, or Paul was presenting His commands by the Spirit in contrast from what the Lord said by command in His ministry on earth. Which one is the true interpretation? This can be briefly resolved with a few verses.
Look again at verse 10, “But unto the married I give charge, not I, but the Lord“. This is the answer to this whole controversy. Paul gives a charge to not separate or divorce one’s spouse clarifying that in giving the charge it came from the Lord first in His earthly ministry. Yet, the charge also came from Paul in being guided by the Spirit. See, Paul’s statement in verse 10 does not exclude Paul saying “I give charge”, and likewise, Paul’s charge does not exclude Christ’s Spirit from being the source and authority in verse 12. In other words, Paul said in verse 10, “I give charge, not onlyI, but the Lord”, and then in verse 12, “to the rest say I, not only the Lord”. Paul was right. Jesus did specifically give commands about marriage in His earthly ministry originating with Jesus, and with additional guidance from Christ’s Spirit, Paul is clearly charged those Christians, who may be married to unbelievers.
The Apostle Paul was linking His inspiration by Christ’s Spirit with the authority of the Lord’s words in His earthly ministry. Note 1 Corinthians 7:17 where Paul spoke of this discussion which begins in verse 12 as “But to the rest say I, not the Lord”. He says, “so I ordain in all the churches”. Does Paul ordain his opinions in all the churches? No. Remember Paul stated that what he writes are the commandment of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul stated a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 4:17, “For this cause have I sent unto you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, who shall put you in remembrance of my ways which are in Christ, even as I teach everywhere in every church.” See, Paul’s ways, “my ways” are as Paul says, “my ways which are in Christ”, and these are not his opinions. In Greek, Paul’s can be translated “the ways from me”. See, in writing this letter by the Spirit, Paul also stated, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” (1 Cor. 11:23-24). Paul clearly presenting what Christ had said before in His earthly ministry. Paul presented by inspiration what he says by Christ through the Spirit along with what Christ said when on earth. There is no such passage that has Paul teaching his opinions.
Paul also says that, “I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my judgment” (1 Cor. 7:25). In this passage, Paul gives judgment in contrast to command, or in other words, he gives wisdom and permission having authority from God via the Holy Spirit. In this verse, he says that he is “one that has obtained mercy of the Lord to be trustworthy”. Also in 1 Corinthians 7:40, Paul gives instruction after his judgment, and he says, “and I think that I also have the Spirit of God“. His statement of “I think” is not one of uncertainty as conveyed in English, but it is one of certainty like in 1 Corinthians 4:9, “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men”. Is Paul uncertain about God exhibiting the Apostles last of all to endure many things? Therefore, we know that Paul speaks with certainty about his trustworthy judgment being one, who is guided by the Spirit, because Paul’s judgment and wisdom is by guidance of the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21, 3:15-16).
Lastly, Paul many times spoke a common phrase like “I speak” without giving his opinion, because he said, “I speak by the Lord” (Eph. 4:17). There is no separation of inspiration between Paul and the Lord here nor anywhere else (1 Cor. 1:10, Rom. 15:30, 1 Thess. 5:27).
First Thessalonians 2:13 says,
“And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of the message, the word of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you that believe.”