Opinion and Scriptural Grounding

1 Corinthians 7:25

I take yet another opportunity here to remind you that this forum is entitled McBurnett’s Musings, and not Robert’s Revelations of Truth.

I constantly implore people to carefully consider the bona fides of whoever it is they happen to be reading, listening to, or studying under on matters spiritual. Bona fides is a Latin term that refers to one’s qualifications in a specific endeavor. I am admittedly lacking in bona fides when it comes to Christian study and teaching – no seminary training nor do I read Hebrew or Greek, which is why I spend as much time studying those who are indeed well grounded in those areas.

And so it was that I came to a lecture by Richard B. Hayes. Dr. Hays is widely acknowledged and highly respected as a New Testament scholar. Actually, some would proclaim him the premier New Testament authority in America today. He currently presides over the Duke Divinity School, which places him pretty near the top of bona fides in Christian scholarship and teaching, in my opinion.

I absolutely love it when someone the likes of Dr. Hayes brings forth a simple scriptural reference that I have repeatedly overlooked. In the course of his lecture, he quickly passed through today’s text, 1 Corinthians 7:25. By way of context, Paul is expounding on marriage, sexuality, widows and the like – all keenly relevant issues both then and today.

Dr. Hays noted that in staking his position regarding the societal attitude towards virgins, Paul says, “I have no command from the Lord about this; I give my opinion.” Well, I had never heard the last clause, and Dr. Hays bona fides notwithstanding, I had to go read for myself. Now, the first translation I pulled up was the NIV, which says, “I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment,” which lands differently for me so off I went seeking other translations. Using the ever helpful website tool BibleGateway, I found 29 translations which use “opinion,” 13 which say “judgment,” and 12 which use other terms. My next thought was that the “mainstream” translations surely use judgment, but on inspection I found the tally split equally 2-2 between opinion and judgment in the four translations I most frequently consult.

St. PaulDr. Hays’ point, in part, was that Paul – even Paul – found himself compelled to address issues for which he found no direct scriptural command. This is not at all to say that Paul just jumped out there with his opinion. Surely, he grounded his opinion (or judgment if you prefer) on related scriptures which informed his opinion and then he relied on his experience.

I’m not going to enumerate Paul’s bona fides here, but how about these for starters: blinded by God, hearing from God directly, meeting repeatedly with Jesus’ immediate disciples as well as other church elders (including James the brother of Jesus), trained as a Pharisee, and being fluent in both Aramaic, Hebrew and likely Greek?

“So,” you might ask, “What is your takeaway?” My takeaway is simply that as in so many other ways, Paul sets an example and invites us to follow. We are not to shrink away when confronted with issues which are not directly addressed in the Bible. When we face such situations, we are called to draw on all our resources – including scripture, our church tradition, our personal experiences and then fully exercise our reasoning abilities.

This is an excellent reminder for me to keep pressing forward, to seek the wisdom of others, to take a position on difficult matters and to seek God at every opportunity.

Paul had opinions, I have opinions, you have opinions. Do not shy away from exploring them internally – and with others.

Wringing opinions from scripture,