Not Just Paul’s Opinion

I had always just assumed that Paul was merely giving his opinion in I Corinthians when he says “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her”.  It just seems obvious that Paul is giving his own personal opinion and not saying anything authoritative in that verse.  So as such, we (and the Corinthians) can take it or leave it.

I recently read this article and it’s totally changed my mind about the authoritative claims in this passage.  Paul it seems is writing the whole letter from his own apostolic authority as the founder of the church in Corinth.  When he says in an earlier verse that “not I, but the Lord says. . .” he is referring to the teachings of Jesus on marriage which had not been written down into the Gospels yet.  Paul is actually giving us the earliest written portion on the Sermon on the Mount, which to this point had been passed on in the oral tradition.

So it’s not that Paul is doing some sort of automatic writing as he pens this letter with God whispering in his ear the whole time, and then Paul hears silence and decides to let us know he’s throwing his own thoughts in.  The entire letter is formed by Paul’s own thoughts and he pauses to tell us something Jesus specifically said. Then he lets us know that he’s back to offer more of his own authoritative instruction.


24 thoughts on “Not Just Paul’s Opinion

  1. I think this is an interesting analysis. Was everything Paul wrote to the churches inspired? If so, how do we know that? If not, how can we tell the difference?

    I know the (or “a”) Mormon answer to this question, but I am not sure of the Evangelical one.

  2. I’ll answer a different question by saying everything Paul wrote to churches (and pastors) was authoritative.

  3. So what then is the connection between authoritative (in the sense that he is able to have the final word over how doctrines will be taught, and basic church/worship protocol, etc.) and inspired. LDS would say that in our church, they would hopefully go hand in hand, but we all know they don’t always. You can be authoritative but not inspired. You can also be inspired and not authoritative. I think Paul in his letters may have always been authoritative, but the question still remains: was he also always inspired (meaning speaking for God, or teaching doctrine exactly as God sees things or woud have us understand them, because they came directly from God)? And if the answer is yes (which it may be, or it may not), how do we know? This goes back to the question of how can we tell what scripture should indeed be considered scripture, and what should not? What formula is there?

    Mostly I’m just thinking out loud. Pardon my rambling 😉

  4. Why does it seem like Mormons are so quick to dismiss Paul? The Epistles are scripture, and you’ve got the JST of them. To my knowledge, the Brethren have never said anything undermining their designation as inspired scripture. Their place in the canon has never been seriously questioned by the prophet.

    So, why?

  5. You’re definitely dismissing the epistles as authoritative and inspired scripture. You’re trying to figure out how to declare part or all of his writings as non-canonical and thus not theologically binding.

    It has nothing to do with whether you think he is a good writer, an influential church figure, or a important.

  6. It’s an overcompensation for Evangelical opponents who tend to obsess about Paul so much (especially Romans), that they occasionally even ignore what Jesus Christ himself said.

    As far as I’m aware, no one else in my ward is “dismissing Paul.” A lot of what he said actually gets a lot of play in a typical Mormon ward throughout the year. As much as any other prophet.

    It’s just a distorted reality of the world of interfaith debate. We tend to overcompensate for each other.

  7. You think it’s that simple? I’m actually inclined to think that Mormons in geenral are uncomfortable with Paul, except for a few snippets that are seen as supporting Mormon doctrine (1 Cor 15), or that are broad and universal in character (Ephesians 6, anything about morality). Certainly I think Mormons are uncomfortable with Paul’s theology.

  8. I simply disagree here with Kullervo that “Mormon’s in general are uncomfortable with Paul, except for a few snippets that are seen as supporting Mormon doctrine”. Certainly there are many who are uncomfortable (including myself!) with certain *interpretations* of Paul, but the majority of Mormons I have interacted with quote Paul freely and certainly don’t hedge when doing so. There probably are certain passages (certainly not everything but a “few snippets”) of Paul’s writings that they may not understand, but implying that that means they become “uncomfortable with Paul’s theology” in general is simply an over-generalization in my experience. I would bet most Mormons simply believe that Paul’s thought (including the particular passages that they may not understand) ultimately harmonizes with Mormon teachings in general, and I sincerely doubt they are nervous (or “uncomfortable”) about Paul’s writings undermining LDS teachings.

    Moreover, what is meant by “Paul’s theology” in such a statement Kullervo? Who’s reconstruction of Pauline thought is being referred to? Lutheran (and Augustinian) and Reformed interpretations? I should seriously hope not, for recent Pauline scholarship (the past 30-45 years or so) has simply demolished many Lutheran/Reformed (Calvinistic) interpretations (which have historically been most prevalent) of Pauline theology. The works of scholars such as James Dunn, N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington III, Fr. Fitzmeyer, and numerous others often align quite well with Mormon teachings generally while at the same time undermining traditional Lutheran and Reformed readings in many crucial respects (e.g., “justification by faith” and “covenantal-nomism”, resurrection, dikaiosune tou theou, free will, corporate election, and numerous other relevant and related issues). In my view, there simply are no reasons why Mormons should be uncomfortable with Paul’s thought (even if there are some who might actually be), since it very much does mesh well with the Mormon tradition. Perhaps those who are uncomfortable (if there are any) simply haven’t taken the time to understand the breadth and depth of Paul’s writings or the Mormon tradition.

  9. The reason for my question is not to dismiss paul or even because I am not comfortable with his theology, simply to understand why Evangelicals think what he wrote is “authoritative” while not finding other similarly inspired writers ‘authoritative” Mormons would say that Paul was speaking from authority as an apostle and acceptance into the canon means that his inspiration can be applied to all of us, not just those saints in Corinth. That does not mean that Paul was perfect in his theology, nor does it mean Mormons dismiss him. We find him as authoritative as Joseph Smith or Ezra Taft Benson and for much the same reason we find them to be authoritative.

    I think Mormons are comfortable with most all of Paul’s writings except maybe Paul’s counsel not to marry and for Women to wear long hair.

    Kullervo, if you have a conference talk that is dismissive of Paul I think that is what is necessary to prove your point.

  10. Is Paul’s theology different than the author of James or or the epistles of John? If so, whose is authoritative?

  11. Kullervo, if you have a conference talk that is dismissive of Paul I think that is what is necessary to prove your point.

    No, then you misunderstand me entirely, because such a talk would actually disprove my point.

    While the Mormon on the street would probably parrot the line that Paul is scripture and therefore inspired, yadda yadda, yadda, in practice I think that it is not unusual for individual Mormons so seriously downplay much of what Paul has said.

    Look at some of Seth’s comments on this blog, in fact. Look at frofreak’s comments in this thread. The fact that he’s essentially speculating as to what parts of the scriptures are actually scripture is a big deal.

    I’m saying, in my experience, a lot of individual Mormons are uncomfortable with Paul, to the point that I have heard some Mormons even attempt to relegate some of Paul’s writings to non-scriptural, non-authoritative, or non-inspires status. I was also guilty of this as a Mormon. However, the brethren and the prophets and the leadership of the Church have never said anything that would justify anything but full inclusion in the canon of inspired, authoritative, revelatory scripture.

  12. You’re taking me as representative of what Mormons think Kullervo?

    Have you read my blog? I didn’t vote for Romney and I hate the GOP’s guts. I oppose the LDS support for Proposition 8. I support Celestial polygamy. I’m OK with conceding that we’re really much different than the rest of Christianity. I entertain notions that Joseph Smith may have been a “fallen prophet.”

    And you think I’m a touchstone for the “vibe on the street” for Mormons? Really?

    I’m a Mormon blogger.

    We’re a completely different breed from most other Mormons and should not be taken to represent anything other than our own small corner of Mormondom.

  13. Besides, didn’t you just get done tut-tutting me for using anecdotal data for defining other Christians on the cross issue?

  14. Kullervo,

    I think you may have missunderstood my comment. Like I said, it was a bit stream of conciousness, and not very clear looking back.

    I agree that if I was “essentially speculating as to what parts of the scriptures are actually scripture”, that would be a big deal. But that is not what I was doing.

    Let me try again. Given that some of Pauls letters are included in the scriptures (and are therefore scripture as I accept them) and are therefore considered inspired and authoritative, and given that he wrote many, many letters, all of which were authoritative (since he was writing them in the role of apostle of the church of Christ), but not all of which were included in the scriptures (or are they?), how what criteria do we have to justify including some letters as inspried scriptures and others not? I confess ignorance regarding the apocryphal writings of Paul here, so set me straight if I got it all wrong. But this is an important question in my mind as it goes to how we can determine if and how anything extrabiblical (including both modern day scripture, as well as found ancient christian texts) should be considered scripture.

    Is it simply a matter of verifying that it was written by Paul, and if so, it must be scripture?

  15. Kullervo,

    Ok, I think I see what you are saying, i.e. that Mormons affirm that Paul is scripture but that when you really read what he is saying he sounds far too “Born Again” for the Mormon sensibility and there is a tendency to temper his words in some way, either by reference to other scripture or simply ignoring the strongest passages.

    I would tend to agree that lay Mormons aren’t familiar with some of Paul’s arguments that support the salvation-by-faith-alone idea and others dismiss them or consider them not as authoritative as Nephi and others.

    I also think its a big deal to critique and analyze which parts of scripture are “scripture” and authoritative. But I think its something that is an important part of Mormonism, whether its explicit or not in the standard Mormon teaching.

    I think those that don’t are intellectually inconsistent or misguided in accepting the Bible and all of the books and verses in it, whole cloth without analysis.

    Its kind of like the doctrine that we should vote to sustain the leaders of the church, the fact that we have blindly unanimous votes makes you think that the doctrine is not really alive today, but I still think its meritorious. I think we should be free to test the words of the Bible against the Spirit and new revelation and I think that is a Mormon way of thinking, whether or not most Mormons think that way.

  16. Frofreak,

    Every letter written by Paul that wasn’t proven to be a forgery early on has been included in the New Testament. If a new “lost” letter from Paul were found I believe you would see it’s inclusion in the canon by every major Christian organization and publisher.

  17. Frofreak — To somewhat repeat what Tim said, to the best of my knowledge we don’t have any of Paul’s writings that we know about that aren’t included in the Bible. (And as far as I know, the same is true for all the New Testament writers. We do have one Psalm attributed to David that’s not in the Protestant or LDS canon, but is accepted by Orthodox as canonical.)

    I don’t agree that if such Pauline writings were discovered that they’d be instantly join the canon recognized by most Christians. But I’m sure they’d be widely published and discussed. (As a practical matter, the authorship of any ancient writings attributed to Paul would be debated endlessly by scholars and theologicans, so the question is a theoretical one only.)

    Kullervo said:

    While the Mormon on the street would probably parrot the line that Paul is scripture and therefore inspired, yadda yadda, yadda, in practice I think that it is not unusual for individual Mormons so seriously downplay much of what Paul has said.

    I haven’t seen that (although Seth R. may be right that many Mormons aren’t familiar with Paul’s theology). It is clear, though, that there is some tension between Paul and James on the issue of works and grace. While I don’t think they contradict each other, there certainly is a difference in emphasis. A Mormon trying to synthesize the teachings of the two apostles may be more inclined to intepret Paul from a Jamesian point of view rather than the other way around, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as “seriously downplay[ing].”

    And, for what it’s worth, at least three of the Articles of Faith allude to the letters of Paul (the 13th article even mentions him). That’s hardly a downplaying.

  18. My Question to Evangelicals is what makes Paul so special that they would consider his writing to the churches “inerrant” simply because it is Paul? I am still struggling with the root of that sort of understanding of what is the “word of God”.

  19. No, Seth, of course I am not invoking you as typical. I’m naming you as one example of a phenomenon I have experienced a number of times.

    I realize that I am only presenting anecdotal evidence. That pretty much is a given considering how much I hedged what I said with things like “in my experience.”

    I’m talking about a phenomenon I have encountered more than once (on the internet as well as in the real world), and enough times to jump out as interesting and significant.

    Whether it’s a trend, a minority trend, or a few isolated instances is not even relevant. The point is still that it’s inconsistent with the position of the Church’s leadership.

  20. To answer Seth’s original objection: Why do Evangelicals spend so much time talking about Paul?

    Paul wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. It’s hard to get away from him. Romans is one of the few books of the Bible solely devoted to theology (as in making theological propositions, if A then B kind of stuff). So when we get into theological discussions it makes since to go to a book of theology.

    I’m curious to know where you think we accept Paul over Jesus. Pretty sure with every one of Jesus’ teachings I can find something by Paul that backs it up.

  21. OK, fair answer Tim.

    It’s usually in the grace vs. works context. Every time I’ve read the four Gospels, Jesus really looks like a big fan of good works. A lot of his analogies and parables present them as being required in at least some sense.

    Not that I want to debate this point at the moment really. I acknowledge that Evangelicals and Mormons both have good ways of reconciling grace and works and have plenty of Biblical backing for their respective reads.

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