“I, not the Lord”: When Paul Doesn’t Speak for Jesus

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul makes a move that many of us who look to the Bible for guidance might find surprising. He distinguishes between himself as someone giving a personal opinion and the Lord whose commands must be obeyed.

Speaking of marriage, Paul says, “To those who are married, I give a command–not I, but the Lord…” (v. 10).

But a few verses later he turns to those who are married to unbelievers and changes his tune: “To the rest I say (λέγω ἐγώ), not the Lord…” (v. 12)

Similarly, in v. 25 he distances his apostolic advice from Dominical commands: “Now concerning virgins I do not have a command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as someone who is faithful by the mercy of the Lord.”

Within our authoritative canon, we see that those with authority can signal to us that they are authoritatively telling us not to take their instruction as something to be taken as authoritative in the same way as other parts of scripture.

Not everyone reads it this way, of course. I remember a friend in seminary giving a class presentation and telling us that we know we can’t listen to Paul and blow off this advice in 1 Cor 7 because it’s our scripture. My thought was, and is, that precisely because it’s scripture we have to listen to what it tells us and allow it to establish for us what we are supposed to do with it.

In this case, there is a category of, “Pious advice, from the apostolic ‘I’ who does not speak ‘for the Lord.”

What I want to explore with you is whether such a distinction between an apostolic “I” and the commands of the Lord might help us with 1 Timothy 2:11-12:

    Let a woman learn in silence and total submission–I do not permit a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence.

There are any number of issues that the passage raises as part of the canon (e.g., that women, even in Paul’s churches, were not silent and did in fact teach and exercise authority over men). But the question I have been pondering is that of the “I, not the Lord,” of 1 Corinthians 7.

Might we take the first person singular of this passage as an indicator that what we are dealing with is a pious attempt at holy advice that, nonetheless, is not “the command of the Lord” but rather the “opinion of one” who was striving to be faithful?

What do you think?

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3 thoughts on ““I, not the Lord”: When Paul Doesn’t Speak for Jesus

  1. I actually found your insights by googling Paul’s “I and not the Lord” statement. I am still searching….I think there are a couple more that are similar. I am a die-hard lover of scripture, but I absolutely think that part of what the Holy Spirit made sure was put into print was that there is a difference between the advice of an extrememly faithful Paul and the Lord’s own words.
    Thanks….I will forward you thoughts to a friend.
    t.

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