Inspiration of Paul’s Writings

(Chelsea Casali) #1

I have been wrestling with the question of inspiration when it comes to Paul’s writings. It started when I read 1 Corinthians 7:10 where Paul says, “I say, not the Lord…” I read commentaries that said Paul did not know he was being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul clearly was writing letters to the early churches at the time and likely did not know his writings would be made into Scripture. Humans then decided to make these letters part of the Bible. When I read the Bible, I trust and believe Jesus’ words completely. I respect Paul and believe he is a true apostle and a great leader for the early churches. I believe his teachings are valuable, but can I truly look at them as inspired and infallible? At the end of the day I do believe they are true, but I struggle with these doubts. Paul and Peter clearly had disputes on some things, they were human and though they knew Jesus and the gospel, they also had human opinions. Wouldn’t it be similar to reading a Christian book to gain wisdom and advice? I would appreciate learning from the Christian book, but I would not feel the need to agree with all of the content. A lot of what we believe as evangelicals is based on the teachings of Paul, as Jesus does not speak on all topics. The scariest part to me is that the whole basis of the Evangelical message pretty much lies in Paul’s teachings- salvation by grace alone. Jesus seems to stress works much more in His writings. How many times do we hear Jesus say the path to salvation is narrow and talk about condemnation for sin?

A common response to this question is the 2 Peter 3:14-16 refers to Paul’s writing as Scripture. When Peter talks about Paul’s writings he says some things are hard to understand, so how do we know we are understanding them correctly? It helps me to think that Jesus said Peter is the Rock on which the Church would be built because that makes me think God has given him authority to say that Paul’s writings are valid. However, I’m not sure which writings Peter was talking about when he said that. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, Paul and Peter didn’t seem to agree on everything. Paul says all Scripture is God breathed in 2 Tim 3:16-17, but to me this argument is circular. And Paul didn’t even know his letters would be Scripture when he said that, right?

Other arguments suggest that the thoughtful canonization of Scripture means that Paul’s letters were validated as the word of God. But the people who chose to make Paul’s letters part of Scripture were also human. People also say you must have faith that God intervened in compiling the Bible over the centuries, but this seems to be more human supposition. I know many churches that even say they only believe in the infallibility of Scripture in their original languages, implying that the translation process was subject to error. If God intervened in the canonization process, why would He then not intervene with the translation? I love Jesus and enjoy studying Scripture. I just struggle with believing certain promises as I think about this question often. I would love to hear input and thoughts! Thanks so much!

(Jimmy Sellers) #2

It is really good to see you dive in to the word and it reminds me of my experience with Paul’s writings not so much about the inspiration aspect but more about the content. Quite frankly a lot it did not make sense. I took it on face value warts and all but always felt like something was missing. What helped me to get over this hurdle was reading Paul in context. For me this meant diving into 2nd Temple Judaism, historically and culturally add to that the Greek and Roman influence and you have 1st century Palestine sort of reminds me of New York. I would recommend that you read NT Wright. He is considered a leading authority on Paul.
Some thing to think about:
The question you are asking could also be ask of Jesus, to my knowledge he never wrote a word.
The same could be ask about any of the OT writers.
When you ask did Paul even know that his letters would be scripture presupposes that Paul thought that he was starting a new religion.
Just somethings to noodle on.
Here are a few books that you might want to take a look at.

I hope this helps you along the way.

(Shane Kennett) #3

Hi Chelsea,

I feel Paul’s writings, as with all of the Biblical writings, have to be understood in context of the entirety of the Word. Paul’s compassions for the church was sincere, inspiring and, I believe, the inspired Word of God. More importantly, it was consistent and congruent with the overarching Word of God.

I recently learned that the gospels were not written to be an historical account of Christ’s life, while it certainly does provide us with a glimpse of history from four different perspectives, rather it is the story of Christ written to different audiences. Some of the specifics may not be exactly perfect, but it’s the imperfections that reveal the truth. Jesus spoke in parables for a reason, and against legalism. I feel we as Christians should focus on the meaning of the stories, all of them going back to Genesis, and understand what Christ’s life example is teaching us. God wants a personal relationship with us, period, but to have a relationship with Him we must be clean. Christ cleans away our sin with His blood and flesh, enabling us to have the same type of relationship He had with His Father.

I feel Paul was trying to convey this deeper meaning in his letters, to a variety of different audiences. These were not twitter followers, they were real people with whom he had real relationships with. I feel his inspired writings provided the inspiration and message of love, grace, and justice for people he dearly loved.

Just my random 2 cents. I love your question and I hope my input is consistent with the Word of God. I pray this community will rebuke me, kindly, if I’ve step out too far on the ledge to explain how I understand His Word.

Glory be to God,

(Shane Kennett) #4

Thank you for the recommendation for NT Wright, I’ll check it out. Thank God for audiobooks, and YouTube! :pray::pray::pray:

1 Like
(SeanO) #5

@Chelsea_Casali Do you think you might be understating Paul’s self-understanding? If Paul did not believe his words were from God, why would he have to say “not the Lord, but I say”. I think that in and of itself speaks volumes. The below article pointed out some additional verses where Paul’s self-understanding of speaking the actual words of God comes through and makes a few additional points.

Also, if you think about it, what are the OT Scriptures? They are the record of what God said to His people through His messengers. And what are Paul’s letters? What God said to His people through His messenger to the early Church. In that sense, it in fact seems natural for Paul’s letters to be Scripture.

Regarding Peter’s statement about the confusing nature of some of Paul’s letters, I think it bears remembering that Paul was a scholar and Peter was a fisherman. Paul was writing sophisticated theological treatises. Romans is considered a great work in world literature. So it is natural these two men might approach matters differently. Also, their disagreements, as far as I understand, were not theological, but practical. Peter was refusing to eat with Gentiles and hanging out with the Jewish crew - Paul called him out. That is not a theological disagreement. It was a practical disagreement and Peter repented of his actions. That was one brother exhorting another.

If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37).

And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

(Lakshmi Mehta) #6


I hope the answers thus far have been helpful in dealing with doubts about the inspiration of Paul’s teachings. I would like to add a few more thoughts on how Jesus’s message is not different from Paul’s when it comes to grace. Consider the response Jesus gave in the account of rich young ruler when the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved”?

Mark 10:27 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.

Mark 10:45 - "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In this chapter Jesus is saying, there is no one who can live a holy life to merit salvation and salvation is only possible with God, making it a gift of God. That is grace! Jesus goes on to say his life will be given as a ransom. This is in agreement with John the Baptist’s announcement in John 1:29 identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world which is followed by the calling of the first disciples who recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Moreover, in many of the gospel encounters with Jesus, we see Jesus forgive sins irrespective of the severity of sin, which again agrees with the gospel of grace as described by Paul. One very clear reference to grace is the parable in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus says the tax collector who repented of being a sinner was justified than the Pharisee who thought of himself as righteous by following the law.

The message of grace is not something that begins in the New testament but that which starts in the Old testament soon after Adam and Eve sin in Gen 3:15 where we see a prophecy concerning Jesus. God in the Old testament was always willing to forgive anyone who repented and holy life was always possible only through the Holy Spirit’s enablement. Couple verses that come to mind are:

Ps 86:5 For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You

Zech 4:6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

I hope this gives some assurance to stand firm on the gospel of grace while you continue to work through the doubts about the inspiration of Paul’s teachings. If there are specific passages in the life of Jesus which are difficult to reconcile with grace, may be we can discuss those further. God bless!

(Jimmy Sellers) #7

After reading @Lakshmismehta post it dawned on me that I missed a major point in your inquire the subject of a difference in the teachings of Jesus and Paul. To add to post here is a list of 15 things that Paul agrees with Jesus on.

  1. Alive in Christ
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes,” (John 5:21).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive,” (1 Cor. 15:22).
  2. Anxiety
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” (Phil. 4:6).
  3. Atonement
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” (John 10:11)
    2b. Paul
    1b. “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma,” (Eph. 5:2).
  4. Deity of Jesus
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am,” (John 8:58). Compare with Exodus 3:14, "And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”
    2b. Paul
    1b. “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” (Col. 2:9). See also, Phil. 2:5-8.
  5. Forgiveness
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” (Matt. 6:14).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you,” (Eph. 4:32).
  6. Jesus is the only way
    1a. Jesus
    1a. "Jesus said to him, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me,” (John 14:6).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5).
  7. Justification by faith
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life,” (John 5:24). See also John 3:16-18; Luke 18:9-13.
    2b. Paul
    1b. “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1).
  8. Law, the
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill,” (Matt. 5:17).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law,” (Rom. 3:31).
    2b. “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise,” (Gal. 3:17).
  9. Law, living the
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matt. 19:18-19).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law,” (Rom. 13:8-10)
  10. Predestination
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given,” (Matt. 19:11).
    2a. “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out,” (John 6:37).
    3a. “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day,” (John 6:44).
    4a. “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father,” (John 6:65).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will… 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,” (Eph. 1:5,11).
  11. Resurrection
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day,” (Matt. 17:22-23).
  12. Paul
    1b. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
  13. Rewards and Punishment
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds,” (Matt. 16:27).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “who will render to every man according to his deeds,” (Rom. 2:6).
  14. Sinfulness of man
    1a. Jesus
    1a. "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 “These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man,” (Matt. 15:19-20).
    2b. Paul
    1b. "There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one," (Rom. 3:11-12).
  15. Tradition
    1a. Jesus
    1a. “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3).
    2b. Paul
    1b. “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ,” (Col. 2:8).
  16. Works Righteousness denied
    1a. Jesus
    1a. "Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23"And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness,” (Matt. 7:22-23).
    2b. Paul
    1b. "Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith,” (Gal. 3:11).
    This is a cut and paste from CARM. Here is the link.
(Chelsea Casali) #8

Thank you all, I really appreciate the responses! I hope I’m not coming off negatively, I do believe Paul, these are just questions I wrestle with. I want these doubts to be proven wrong because I truly want to trust everything I read in Scripture. Thank you for the reminder of the message of grace in Jesus’ writings @Shane_Kennett, @Lakshmismehta and @Jimmy_Sellers. I also appreciate all of the resources provided and will look into them. Lakshmi, I absolutely love what you shared about Jesus’ message aligning with Paul’s. The verses from Mark 10 provided me with a lot of clarity, I definitely needed to hear that. Jimmy, I really enjoyed seeing the comparison of Paul and Jesus’ statements by topic, very helpful!

@SeanO I appreciate your thoughts, thank you! I understand where you are coming from on Paul’s self-understanding. I read the article you posted and found it interesting. In one sense, a doubt creeps in that even if Paul felt he was inspired, there have been so many others who falsely thought they were inspired by God throughout the years (i.e. Joseph Smith). I can see why you would think it would be odd for me to trust the OT or gospels yet struggle with Paul’s letters, when they were all written by humans. The difference in my mind is that the OT prophecies were directly endorsed and quoted by Jesus. The gospels are historical narratives of the life of Jesus corroborated across 4 different accounts. Peter’s endorsement of Paul does help me very much, especially since Jesus declared him the rock on which His church would be built.

To go back to Paul’s self-understanding though, I’m not sure that when Paul says, “not the Lord, but I say” I can take that to mean Paul was considering every other part of his letters as the Lord’s words. Right before Paul makes that comment in 1 Corinthians 7, he says “Not I, but the Lord says” referring to the direct teachings of Jesus on divorce. A commentary on Blue Letter Bible by David Guzik says this about 1 Cor 7:10:

“This is a clue that Paul may not have been conscious of the degree of inspiration he worked under as he wrote 1 Corinthians and perhaps other letters. He simply knows that though he based his remarks in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 on what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:3-9 (yet not I, but the Lord), he has no specific recorded command from Jesus in the case of a Christian married to an unbelieving spouse. He knew he was writing with God’s authority to the Corinthians, but he may not have known he was speaking with authority to all the church in all ages, and being used to pen God’s eternal Word. But if Paul was not fully aware of how inspired these words were, they are no less inspired because of that.” (

I feel a bit concerned at the thought that Paul may not have realized his letters would be authoritative teachings for the church at large. Paul seemed to be talking to specific churches within the culture of the times. It seems we follow certain teachings from Paul, but not others, like head coverings for instance. Why do you think many churches see the importance of following some of Paul’s teachings but not others?

Everyone’s points certainly helped my understanding of Paul as being qualified to write Scripture. I guess at this point, my main question is if Paul wrote these letters to specific churches rather than Christians at large, how do I know all of the principles apply to us? Were they meant to be compiled into what we know now as the Bible, being studied over and over again by Christians throughout the centuries, with each word taken to heart? And how can we trust that men picked the right letters when canonizing the Bible? I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thank you so much for taking the time to help me work through these questions!

(SeanO) #9

@Chelsea_Casali I think in this case I would be forced to humbly disagree with that particular commentator :slight_smile: To me, Paul’s self-understanding is quite apparent. And I think the difference between Joseph Smith or Muhammad, who both thought they experienced great revelations, and the apostle Paul is the One to whom they pointed and the way that they lived.

Like Jesus, Paul gave of himself sacrificially for others. And like Jesus, Paul testified of the true God and His Messiah. At the very least, we can affirm that Paul exemplified what it looks like to think profoundly about the mystery of Christ and His Body, the Church.

I do think there are bits of Paul’s letters that are impossible to arrive at a conclusive opinion on. I just don’t think we have the evidence. But I do not think that directly impacts the inspiration of his letters or the degree to which they magnificently expound the mysteries of Christ.

(Jimmy Sellers) #10

Sorry for being late here.
I would like to make a few comments that have helped me to better understand the Bible and in this case Paul. I subscribe to the thought that the Bible was written for us but not too us and that includes OT and NT scriptures, in short, we are reading someone else’s mail, mail from the 1st century, mail that if read in that day would have been filtered by the culture of the day and all its assumptions. I try to think of it like this, the “for us part” is the Gospel, Christ crucified, Christ Glorified the “not too us part” is all the stuff that is hard to apply into days culture and because we are talking about Paul that would include, food and table manners, temple, exile, observance of days, Law (Torah) and circumcision. Add to this his strong belief in the eschaton and I think that it would be safe to say that Paul was living in the narrative and that this immediate concern was how to prepare this community of believes (new creations) for their participation in what he felt had already begun with the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the eschaton. Add to that what I believe is the most important thing in Paul’s letter is that they were inspired text regardless of what Paul thought about the possibility of the longevity of the letters or how they would be received in the distant future (if he even thought in those terms).

Somethings that I have learned:

  1. Paul was not starting a new religion any more that Moses was.
  2. What Paul understood about Torah was not wrong in the sense that he misunderstood God or that God changed his mind and hadn’t told anybody.
  3. As a 2nd Temple Pharisee Paul’s theology was monotheism (one God), election (son of Abraham), and eschatology (God’s new creation). The Pharisees believed that they were part of this narrative and would take an active role in God’s rescue of his creation. Not all Jews were on broad with this.
  4. I don’t believe that Paul was converted in the sense that we would consider conversion today. If conversion means that he believed that his Damascus road encounter with Jesus was real with Messiah, then yes. If conversions means that he walked away with a new theology then the answer is no, it took Paul 14 to 17 years to fully sort out this new theology around this resurrected Messiah.
    5, For quite along time (100 plus years) what we call Christianity was considered a subset of Judaism. This might be a good place to again point out that not all those claiming to be Jews were in total agreement about what it meant to be Jewish and for what it meant to stay Jewish.

This is food for thought. I would recommend that you read NT Wright if you want a better explanation of this line of thinking. If you can only get one book on the subject get:

(Chelsea Casali) #11

Thank you for your responses Sean and Jimmy. Very helpful! Jimmy, I like the thought that the Bible was written for us but not to us, similarly to reading someone else’s mail. I’m definitely going to look into getting that book! Did you learn those 4 points from that book? Those points make me interested in learning more about the start of Christianity, is there a resource you liked in particular about that?

Thanks so much again for your thoughts everyone!

(Jimmy Sellers) #12

Sorry for the late reply. I am glad that you found my post helpful. As to the 4 points they are a short list of my take a ways from my studies of Paul. I like Wright’s work for several reasons,his writing style is engaging and challenging and his bibliography is worth the price of the book. I found that good scholars read and cite good scholars both the pro and the con. You will find hundreds of rabbit trails to explore.

I think that this a good place to put things in a proper perspective. Don’t let scholarship drown out the Holy Spirits work in your life. I don’t think that we will ever have all the answers in this life. I do believe that God gives us each the light necessary to believe. If I am not mistaken @SeanO SeanO quotes Blaise Pascal along these lines.
God bless your studies.