An apostle, as I said, is someone who is commissioned and authorized to speak with someone for someone else. And Jesus, when He commissioned His apostles, said to them, those who receive you receive Me, and those who do not receive you do not receive Me. And so when we are dealing with the apostles, we're dealing with those who have had a delegated authority from Christ.
In fact, we're talking now about the very foundation of the church. It's not uncommon for a preacher to say, although this isn't in the text, I think what we can learn from this passage is fill in the blank. But how would you respond if an apostle in the Bible said, this is not the Lord speaking, this is me now speaking. How would you respond to a text like that? Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thanks for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.
For the next two weeks, you'll hear messages from R.C. Sproul's series Hard Sayings, which helps us to understand some of those difficult passages, or passages that are even difficult for us to accept. Today, he turns to a hard saying from the apostle Paul. When he's in the middle of giving instructions to the church at Corinth, he stops and says, it's now I, not the Lord, who is speaking. What are we to do with those verses? Does that mean they hold less weight and authority than other parts of Scripture?
Well, here's Dr. Sproul to explain. Today I'd like to turn your attention to a passage in Paul's letter of 1 Corinthians in chapter 7, beginning in verse 10. In this section of 1 Corinthians, Paul is giving various instructions about Christian marriage and setting forth the regulations by which we are to be governed in our marital relationships. He begins in verse 10 by saying this, 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. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband, otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart.
A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. Now the first problem I have with this text is in focusing on what is the most difficult or controversial dimension of it, because in this very short passage there are several major issues to be found within it. But the one I want to focus on most clearly is the statement that Paul makes in verse 12, where he says, but to the rest, I, not the Lord, say. Here the apostle is giving a directive. He is setting forth an apostolic principle for the church, but he's careful to say that the source or the origin of this particular rule is coming from Paul and not from Christ. Nevertheless, I, not the Lord, say this. And notice the stark contrast between that statement by Paul to the statement he makes in verse 10, now to the married, I command, and he starts off by saying, I command, I'm giving a commandment, yet not I, but the Lord.
So, you see the contrast there in the first part of the text. He gives a commandment that he himself utters, but indicates that this commandment is not Paul's commandment, but it is a commandment from God. It's a commandment from the Lord. And then just a little while later, he said, now I'm telling you something, not the Lord. So, the first question we have to deal with here is, what does this mean when Paul says this is something I'm saying and not the Lord? What does this do to the authority of the statement? And there have been different approaches to this text.
One of the most common approaches to the text is this. Since Paul goes out of his way to say that it is not the Lord's instruction that he is expounding here, but his own, that that would set this piece of Scripture apart from everything else, because everything else we presuppose the New Testament writers are in fact speaking for the Lord under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and that therefore their words are the words of the Lord and carry with it the authority of God. We remember, incidentally, the meaning of the term apostle. The word apostle in the Greek language, apostolos, means literally one who is sent. But not anybody that is sent is necessarily apostle.
If I send my child to the grocery store for a loaf of bread, I don't therefore confer apostolic status upon my child. But in the Greek world, an apostle functioned as an emissary for a king or for the government and had the vested authority to speak for the king or to speak for the nation. And we find this in the New Testament with respect to those men whom Christ selected to be his representatives. We are accustomed to speaking of disciples and apostles as if the term disciple and the term apostle were synonyms, and they are not. The word disciple means learner, and Jesus had many disciples who were students in his rabbinic school.
Remember, on one occasion he sent 70 of them out on a particular mission. And there was another occasion when Jesus was teaching on a controversial issue, and we read in the New Testament that after that occasion Jesus giving a hard saying, many of those who had been following Jesus and who had been disciples left him. And remember, Jesus then turned to the twelve and looked at Peter and said, will you also go away? And Peter's response was, to whom shall we go?
Thou alone hast the words of life. It doesn't sound like Peter was too happy with what Jesus was saying either. It was like, hey, we don't have a choice here.
I don't like it either, but you're the best we have, and so we're going to stay with you. But in any case, we know that that number was reduced to the twelve, that inner circle, that major core of students that Jesus called and instructed. And then from that group, all of them, with the exception of Judas, were then later appointed to be apostles. And then Paul was added to this apostolic group later on, as we well know. But even though many of these people were both disciples and apostles, the office of disciple is not the same as the office of an apostle. An apostle, as I said, is someone who is commissioned and authorized to speak with someone for someone else. Now, if I would ask the question I frequently ask my seminary students, who is the first apostle in the New Testament?
What would you say? Mary? Not Mary. Not… John the Baptist? Well, that's a good guess, but he was not an apostle. He was a prophet, and there is a close link between the prophets and the apostles. The first and chief apostle of the New Testament, you may be surprised to hear, is Jesus. He is the one sent from God, and Jesus repeatedly declares this to His people, saying, I speak nothing on my own authority, but I only say that which I have been authorized to say by the Father, and everything that the Father has told me to say I say, and so on. And so Jesus gets into a dispute, for example, with the Pharisees because the Pharisees claim to believe the Father. They believe in God, but they reject Jesus, and Jesus disallows that disjunction, saying, if you reject Me, you really are rejecting the Father because the Father sent Me.
Do you get the connection? If you reject the apostle, you reject the authority of the one who has authorized the apostle to speak in his stead. And Jesus, when He commissioned His apostles, said to them, those who receive you, receive Me, and those who do not receive you, do not receive Me. Now, that's important for us today to understand, particularly in light of some of the controversies that rage in the church, in the feminist movement, for example. I've read repeated scurrilous attacks against the apostle Paul, where people say, Jesus I love, and Jesus I obey, but it's that Paul I can't stand. He's that misogynist.
He's that narrow-minded male chauvinist, and so on. And these attacks against Paul's authority in biblical categories would be seen as an attack on the authority of Christ because Paul also labors the point that he is an apostle, not by the will of men, not by flesh and blood, but he has been called and authorized by God and by Christ. That's one of the reasons why the book of Acts more than once recounts the circumstances and the occasion of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus and of his call by Christ to be an apostle. And so, when we are dealing with the apostles, we're dealing with those who have had a delegated authority from Christ. In fact, we're talking now about the very foundation of the church. And again, I ask my seminary students, what's the foundation of the Christian church?
And repeatedly the answer is, what? Jesus is the foundation. And I say, no, Jesus is not the foundation of the church, the basic metaphor that the New Testament uses for Jesus is that Jesus is the chief cornerstone, and the Bible does say there is no foundation which can be laid except that which is laid in Christ Jesus. But the chief metaphor of the New Testament about the foundation of the church is what? The prophets and the apostles.
The whole building rests upon the apostolic word or the prophetic word of God. Now, given this understanding of this high level of apostolic authority, what are we to do with this passage when Paul says, I tell you this, but not the Lord? Well, the first thing we notice about the text is that he's not saying that he's contradicting something that the Lord had said. He's not saying, well, Jesus told you one thing and now I'm going to tell you something else. But he is careful to point out that he apparently does not have this word that he's about to say by any conscious, direct communication from Christ.
So, at what level of authority do we put this passage? Now, those who believe in the inspiration of the Bible approach it in two different ways. Some say, well, it doesn't matter whether Paul had it through direct communication from Christ, the fact that he was an apostle still leaves us with the same authority of anything else that the apostle says because his office as an apostle is to speak for Christ, and so this is part of the inspired text and carries with it nothing less than the authority of God.
Now, there are two problems with that. One is we are not to assume with our doctrine of inspiration whereby the church has confessed their faith that when the apostles were writing Scripture, for example, they were so superintended by the Holy Spirit that their words being inspired and, as I said, superintended by the Spirit, were the Word of God. Just like the prophets in the Old Testament could preface their statements, thus saith the Lord, and then they would give their utterance. And if when they are writing Scripture they are writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, they are rendered for that task infallible, does that mean that they are then at all times and in all places and that everything they ever say over dinner or in the marketplace, does that carry the weight of divine authority or of infallibility? We know, for example, in the Roman Catholic Church where the church's exposition of the view of papal infallibility, which was decreed in 1870 at Vatican Council I, the church was careful to restrict that infallibility.
It doesn't mean that when the pope's having a conversation over the dinner table that his words are verbally perfect or infallible, but that infallibility is restricted to when the pope is speaking on matters de fide, that is, with respect to the faith, and is speaking ex cathedra, from the chair, that is, in a particularly formal, specific environment. Now, when we look at the apostles and their authority, we recall, for example, in Galatians where Paul was struggling with the Judaizers and their particular heresy. He makes mention of Peter's vacillation on the issue and how that Paul had to confront Peter for his behavior and to rebuke him to his face. We know that the Council of Jerusalem was called in part to settle a dispute among the apostles. So, obviously, they had ideas among themselves when they weren't working under inspiration that were in conflict, and so I come to the conclusion at least that they were not rendered permanently or inherently infallible, but that inspiration simply refers to their work of writing of Scripture.
However, this is what makes the plot so thick, they still were permanently apostles, and they still had the most ecclesiastical authority in the church. And so some would look at this text in 1 Corinthians and say, the only thing that inspiration extends to in this text is not the content of Paul's teaching, but that what is inspired is his statement that this is his idea and not the Lord's. We have at least that much inspiration that Paul is saying under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, I want you to know and I want you to know infallibly that I am teaching you this fallibly. Let me say that again.
Maybe that went too fast for you. He says this could mean simply that Paul is saying that I am telling you now infallibly under inspiration that what I am telling you is fallible, so that he is instructing us not to take this admonition that he gives us here as being of divine authority. That's one way to handle this text. And I have to say to you, I'm not altogether sure myself how we are to take this, but I would favor the other view that even though Paul is declaring here that he did not get this through some direct, immediate enlightenment from Christ, nevertheless as an apostle he's making a command. And presumably that command is coming to us by virtue of apostolic authority and by virtue of inspiration, even if Paul is not immediately aware of his own inspiration. That's another point that we need to understand that the prophets who prophesied in the Old Testament did not necessarily always understand even the content of their own messages.
That wasn't their responsibility. Their responsibility was to deliver the message, and they didn't have to be all that cognizant of the message itself. But there is a passage later on in 1 Corinthians in chapter 14 that sheds a little bit of light on it. If we look in chapter 14 in verse 36, Or did the word of God come originally from you?
Or was it you only that it reached? 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. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Now here he is saying to the Corinthians, remember the things that I am writing to you and the things that I am commanding you are from the Lord. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that this text that I read earlier is now therefore turned around and comes from the Lord. Paul may be just speaking elliptically here and saying, everything else that I've told you in this letter is from the Lord except that which I specifically designate as coming from myself. The good news about this particular troublesome passage is, in the final analysis, it really doesn't matter a whole lot because the instruction that Paul gives here that he says is his commandment that comes from him at the very least comes from the apostle and has been recognized by the church virtually of all ages to carry apostolic authority with it. And what is going on here in this text simply is Paul is adding something to the rules and regulations for marriage and divorce that was not explicitly spelled out by Jesus. He's making an allowance for the separation of couples who find themselves in a mixed marriage.
Now be careful here. Paul does not endorse a Christian marrying a non-Christian, and what is presumably the background here is that two non-Christians had been married, and after their marriage one of them became converted, and then the unconverted one wants out. And Paul is saying that the believer should not get rid of the unbeliever just because they're now in that mixed marriage, but the believer, if the unbeliever wants out, is free to let that person out of the marriage and to be at peace on it.
But that's a matter for further elucidation whenever we look again at that topic of marriage and divorce. But for now, we'll conclude simply with this observation that the apostle here, whether he got his information directly from Jesus or not from Jesus, gives instruction to the church that we consider extremely valuable and important, and the church submits herself to it. I'd like to leave you with this thought today that we must remember that we have no writings that have been passed down to us in the Christian community today that come directly from the pen of Jesus. The inscripturating of the teaching of our Lord was entrusted to the apostles. And so when we want to place Jesus against Paul or Paul against Jesus, what we're really doing, in essence, is trying to pit Paul against Luke or Paul against Mark or Paul against Matthew, because all that we know of the teaching of Jesus comes to us through the gospel writers. And it's because of their delegated authority that we trust that we have knowledge of the actual teaching of Jesus Christ. And I remind you that in our day, it has become a very serious matter where we have seen a wholesale, pervasive disintegration of confidence in the church itself over apostolic authority. And Christianity, from its very foundation, beloved, is apostolic. And it still holds true today that if we reject the authority of the apostles, we reject the authority of Christ. And if we reject the authority of Christ, we reject the authority of God Himself.
That was R.C. Sproul helping us understand a hard saying of the Apostle Paul. And you're listening to Renewing Your Mind. Over the next two weeks, you'll be hearing messages from Dr. Sproul's hard saying series, whether it's hard sayings from the apostles, from the lips of Jesus, the prophets, and other passages of the Bible. In fact, these messages form the basis for Dr. Sproul's new resource, a new book titled Hard Sayings. And the hardcover edition of that book can be yours for your donation of any amount. You can give your gift by visiting renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800 435 4343. We'll give you digital access to all of the messages from the hard saying series, as well as send you this new hardcover book, Hard Sayings from Dr. R.C.
Sproul. So give your gift today at renewingyourmind.org. What did the Apostle Paul mean in Romans 7 when he says, I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate? Was he speaking as a Christian or someone not yet converted? Well, Dr. Sproul tackles that hard saying tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
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