Paul’s Example on How to Deal with Silence in Scriptures

What would happen if you used the Command, Example and Necessary Inference hermeneutic to help us understand how to deal with scripture’s silence on a given issue? As hard of a time as people give necessary inference, coming to logical conclusions on issues through the study of scripture is something we all have to do. That is true on issues scripture is clear about and on issues scripture is silent about. Necessary inference is just that, necessary. The problem we run into is how much authority we place on the conclusions arrived at via necessary inference. I think Paul gives us a clue about how we present our conclusions on issues of silence in 1 Cor 7:10-12 that help us keep things in perspective and present them fairly,

“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her”

Paul gives his take on the issue but says very clearly that he has no direction from the Lord. I am sure Paul prayed on this one, studied up, etc and this is the conclusion he reached. Yet he still says this is just Paul talking and not something that is directly from the Lord. Paul knows how to distinguish between the things that have been revealed to him by God and the things that have not. Obviously we don’t have the same inspiration Paul had but the principle is the same, we must be very careful when speaking on issues scripture is silent about and be up front about that when we present those issues that these are our opinions and why we have them/what scriptures we have based those conclusions on. I do believe God wants us to wrestle with issues scripture is silent on and I do believe the Bible is still our guide in those cases but we must have the humility and clarity of Paul to make the distinction of which things are clearly from God and which things are our own conclusions in these areas of silence. We get ourselves in trouble when we have an issue that scripture doesn’t directly address but we give our opinion as if it is scripture. We need to follow the example of Paul and be humble enough to say that what we are about to say is our own opinion on an issue but that scripture never addresses it.

Take home point – we need more people who are willing to say, “This conclusion is from me, not necessarily the Lord…” when we discussion issues of silence.

Thoughts?

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

17 Responses to Paul’s Example on How to Deal with Silence in Scriptures

  1. Charlie Sohm says:

    Command, Example, Necessary Inference (CENI) was developed as a hermeneutic to cut through the divisive medieval and protestant traditions in an attempt to properly and universally understand and apply the teachings of scripture. But it was not the first. Centuries earlier St Vincent of Laurens insisted that Antiquity, Universality and Consensus should be our guide.

    Interestingly, Paul didn’t really use either of these approaches. For instance, he says that the Lord commanded that a woman must remain unmarried or else be reconciled if she is divorced. Search all you like, but you won’t find either the Lord Jesus or any other biblical writing saying this. Where and when did he get this teaching from the Lord? I don’t know, but assuming he is sincere, it would have to be some special revelation in a vision or something, kind of like Peter had on the rooftop in Joppa.

    But when Paul admits that he has an informed opinion on a matter, but not a divine edict, it is generally to be taken as Law, and not just some guy trying to fill in the gaps. I can’t imagine the church taking his words any differently. As he said, “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” When we apply CENI to fill in our apparent gaps, and make those interpolations have similar weight as Paul’s interpolations, what are we resting on BUT human wisdom?

    In other words, I’ll trust somebody who says that scriptures seem to point a certain way a lot more if I can see the Spirit’s fruit rather than if their logic is indestructible.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I am definitely willing to go with Paul on his opinion on this matter. But why does he differentiate it from the rest of his teaching? It seems to me that in some cases Paul has revelation from God and writes accordingly but in this instance he does not. We know that because he says so in the verse quoted above.

      I agree with you that our filling in the gaps are not on par with Paul’s.

  2. Luke says:

    This isn’t a direct comment on the CENI issue, but…

    I think there are at least two different interpretations to the interesting “I, not the Lord” phrase:

    (1) On this particular issue, Paul has no direct revelation from God, so he is giving his own personal opinion. It might be the opinion of a very wise and godly man, but ultimately, it is just that—an opinion. This seems to be the interpretation you take (forgive me if I am mistaken).

    (2) It’s also possible that Paul is distinguishing between things specifically taught by Jesus (in this context, on divorce), and things that Jesus didn’t say, but that he, Paul, as an inspired apostle, IS saying. In other words, Paul isn’t giving a personal opinion, he’s saying, “Jesus, didn’t mention this, but I’m telling you that…”

    I tend to agree with the second interpretation.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Hmmm….let me think about that one. My first thought was, why didn’t Paul say this on the zillion other things he wrote on that Jesus didn’t specifically mention. But I guess this take would say Jesus did teach on this particular issue but didn’t address all the aspects that Paul is going to address…in other words Jesus taught on this but was silent on this part so let me fill you guys in…meaning this teaching is also from God and not just Paul’s opinion. Is that what you are saying?

      • Luke says:

        Yeah, that’s pretty much it. In the context of the passage, Paul would be saying something like, “We know that Jesus said ______ on divorce, but I (as an inspired, authoritative apostle) am also telling you ________.”

        To me this is not an unnatural reading of what Paul was saying. Verses 10-11 could be referring to something Jesus was known to have said that we don’t have recorded, something that was specifically revealed to Paul, or it could even be a reference to Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 19. Then in verse 12, Paul goes on to give teaching that he had received from the Holy Spirit (depending on how you view the idea of inspiration).

        (It’s hard for me to get a grasp of how widespread this particular interpretation is, but a cursory study showed me that it is the view held by David Lipscomb and Jimmy Allen.)

    • mattdabbs says:

      Here is what a few have said on this issue:

      1 – Oster in his 1 Corinthians Commentary on 1 Cor 7:12 – “Paul disclaims any personal revelation from the Lord on the topic under consideration.” (p.161)

      2 – Blomberg in the NIV Application Commentary says that neither “I” (Paul or the Lord) is any less binding than the other. He says, “Too often, readers have inappropriately questioned the inspiration or authority of Paul’s instructions in verses 12-16 on the grounds that these are merely Paul’s fallible, spur of the moment opinions. Paul’s ironic conclusion to this chapter in verse 40 is actually a strong avowal of inspiration by the Holy Spirit for his entire letter.” (p.139)

  3. Matt,
    I tend to agree with Luke on this one. There are a number of issues Paul addresses in 1 Cor 7 that Jesus did not Himself speak about.

  4. mattdabbs says:

    Digging around a bit on this one…I could definitely be swayed on this.

  5. Paul Smith says:

    Just another bone to chew on… The author of the book of Hebrews draws a significant lesson from the silence of Scripture as he compares Jesus to Melchizedek. For example, he states that Melchizedek was “without father, or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life…” Now, it would be remarkable if the author truly believed that Melchizedek had no earthly progenitors or that he was never born, or that he never died. But, drawing totally from the absence of the Genesis account of such an ancestory (especially one that would fit a Levitical priesthood, which obviously could not have existed) the Hebrews writer makes an astounding claim for the priesthood of Jesus. I am in no way arguing that we have the same Spirit guiding us as the Hebrews author, I am simply pointing out that the silence of Scripture was duly noted and sometimes used by rabbinic teachers.

    In regard to Paul and 1 Cor. 7, I agree that Paul is saying, “listen, when it comes to divorce Jesus had something to say to those in the Israelite covenant, but he did not speak to every situation…I am addressing one such situation he did not address…” The reason he did not so specify every argument is that he may have felt no need to draw a specific reference to the teachings of Jesus. It is also worth noting, perhaps in passing, that Paul himself did not address every issue that we are confronted with in terms of marriage, divorce and remarriage.

    I am in full agreement with your suggestion that when we get closer and closer to an area of biblical “silence” we need to express our conclusions as personal conclusions and not a “thus saith the Lord.” We may have wonderful evidence, and we may be absolutely correct, but humility demands we preface opinions as opinions.

  6. Rich constant says:

    the question I would ask is what did Paul consider as scriptures?
    our view good is limited to the degree that we use the scriptures correctly.
    when we throw out a major portion god’s word and his dealings with his people and their situations.
    we do indeed wind up with a dull sword

    • mattdabbs says:

      At the time of Paul’s writing 1 Corinthians as far as we know the 4 Gospels had not yet been written down. So when Paul is citing the teachings of Jesus he must be citing either personal revelation or oral tradition (as mentioned by Luke in his comment above as would have later been recorded by Matthew in chapter 19)

    • mattdabbs says:

      Rich…can you help me understand how any of this is throwing out an portions, much less major portions of God’s word? Thanks for the comment.

  7. mattdabbs says:

    Take home point – unless you have the inspiration of Paul, qualify all opinions with “This is my opinion, based on X, Y, and Z…”

    I think you guys are making some really good point here that I am still considering. I think the conclusion of the original post remains unchanged, we need more people who are willing to distinguish which parts of our teaching and preaching are clear biblical teachings and which parts are opinions.

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  10. Charlie Sohm says:

    Interesting discussion. I also think it’s interesting how much the church as a whole completely ignores the content of both Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings here. The divorce rate within the church is appalling, and there is little to no accountability within the church to address this.

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