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I, Not The Lord (1 Corinthians 7:12)

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Last week I posted some new ideas on the passage in 1 Corinthians that seems to say it is better to stay single than to marry. If you missed the post, you can get all caught up here. One question that arose in subsequent discussion (some in the forums and some via email) concerned verses 10 and 12 of that chapter, where it seems that Paul might be providing wisdom that is not inspired by God.

“Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.

I will concede that on the face of it, it seems that Paul may be admitting that he is giving uninspired advice. One of the principles of Biblical interpretation is that the most obvious meaning should be considered first. It would be easy to believe from these verses that Paul at first gives wisdom inspired by God (“not I but the Lord”) and then gives personal, uninspired wisdom (“I, not the Lord”). So can we conclude that Paul gives personal opinion here? Obviously this would bring his words into contradiction with other verses, even some written by Paul himself. For example, in his second epistle to Timothy, Paul says “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16). See also 2 Peter 2:20-21. Clearly there would be a conflict with that interpretation. Either all Scripture is inspired or it is not. A second principle of interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Further to this, it must be impossible for one Scripture to contradict another. So there must be a way of resolving this apparent contradiction!

So let’s step back and discover what Paul meant when he said: “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord.” To unwrap this we need only look to the words of Jesus, who in Mark 10:1-12 gave His guidelines for marriage and divorce. Though He does not use the exact words “A wife is not to depart from her husband,” that teaching is clear from His words. Notice that Paul does not quote Jesus – he merely summarizes the Lord’s teaching. So when Paul says “not I but the Lord” he is saying that he will repeat what Jesus has already taught – that a woman should not leave her husband and a husband is not to divorce his wife.

Now we turn to verse 12 where Paul says “I, not the Lord say…” We must interpret this in light of what Paul has already said. He has just repeated something that the Lord Himself taught while He was on the earth. Now Paul is going to teach something that Jesus did not speak about. Paul is not saying that he is going to give his opinion or give some uninspired teaching. He merely states that what he is about to say is something on which Jesus was silent.

We see then, that in no way was Paul going outside of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when he wrote those words. He is merely going beyond the scope of the teaching Jesus provided, discussing a difficult situation that was important to the people of Corinth.

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