Was Paul Uncertain About His “Inspiration”?

Wayne Jackson
In a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said: “I think I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40). Was the apostle uncertain of his possession of the Holy Spirit? Read this discussion of this puzzling passage.

“As Paul concluded a discussion of marriage problems (real or potential), in 1 Corinthians 7, he declared: ’ . . .and I think that I also have the Spirit of God’ (v. 40).Does ‘Spirit’ here refer to a ‘disposition’ that is God-like, or is this a reference to the ‘Holy Spirit’?If this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, what did Paul mean by the expression, ‘I think’?Did he not know whether or not he possessed the Spirit?”

First, while the term “spirit” sometimes is used with reference to a disposition, e.g., “spirit of gentleness,” etc. (Gal. 6:1; cf. 1 Cor. 4:21), clearly, in the context presently under consideration, the allusion is to the Holy Spirit.Paul commonly referred to the “Spirit of God” in his Corinthian correspondence, with no ambiguity as to his meaning, namely an allusion to the third Person of the divine Godhead (cf. 1 Cor. 2:11,14; 3:16; 6:11 (cf. v. 19); 12:3; 2 Cor. 3:3,17).

Now the second question: did Paul know whether or not he possessed the Holy Spirit?If so, why did he say, “I think,” rather than, “I know.”Let us discuss these inquiries separately.

  1. There is no question but that Paul knew absolutely that he possessed the Holy Spirit, and that he taught by divine authority.In his epistle to the Galatians, chapters 1 and 2, the apostle forcefully argued for his sacred authority as a spokesman for Christ.His commission was not “from” man as a source, nor “through” man as a conduit; it was from Christ directly (1:11-12).Paul had an appointment to his work comparable to what the other apostles enjoyed (2:6ff).He was not “a whit behind [i.e., not in the least inferior to] the very chiefest apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5).

    Perhaps no better demonstration of Paul’s apostolic authority is to be found than that which is illustrated in this very context – the 7th chapter of the First Corinthian epistle.Keep in mind that chapter divisions are a human facilitation designed to categorize themes.

    In this section, dealing with a host of complex marital situations, Paul employs the imperative mood no less than 21 times in the 40 verses.Mostly the imperative is the mood of command; but even when it is employed to grant permission (cf. 7:15, 36), “the rhetorical power” of authority is “still lurking beneath the surface” (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, p. 485).In view of the repetitive use of the imperative in this section, it is hardly feasible to conclude that Paul was “wondering” about his possession of the Spirit of God in verse 40.
  2. It is beyond the scope of this brief article to discuss the various views of the term, “I think” (dokeo) in 1 Corinthians 7:40.Perhaps the key to a reasonable view of the expression, however, is to note the varying levels of authority mentioned by the apostle in this discussion.

    1. He appealed to the previously revealed testimony of the Lord himself (v. 10).
    2. He issued commands upon the ground of his own apostleship, thus supplementing the Christ’s teaching (vv. 12-17; cf. 10:15).
    3. Finally, as a brother interested in the saints’ spiritual happiness, he offers advice, which, though not bound upon them, nonetheless is seasoned with years of experience from one who possessed the Spirit of God (vv. 25,40).

As one scholar noted: “. . . his advice is more than a personal opinion.It is backed by the influence of God’s Spirit” (Simon Kistemaker, First Corinthians, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, p. 256).

A.T. Robertson called it “inspired judgment” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Nashville: Broadman, 1931, Vol. IV, p. 136).

Difficult years of rigorous Christian service, under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit, had provided Paul with a wisdom that was not to be taken lightly.In view of the fact, however, that this was advice, there is nothing inappropriate in the use of “I think,” as a subdued affirmation of sacred wisdom.There is no uncertainty; there likely is humility.