Paul tells us that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16), but in some passages he uses the expression “I speak as a man.” (Romans 3:5; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 11:17; Galatians 3:15). How is this reconciled?
Paul declared that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God”: our breathing consists of inspiring air containing oxygen which is vital for our organism; so also the sacred writers received directly from God, like a breath, the content of the messages they wrote.
The perfection and infallibility of the Scriptures assembled in our Bible attest to the extraordinary and supernatural influence exercised by God throughout the centuries over their various writers, by means of His inspiration. The Bible, which is the collection of all their inspired books, is a miracle which only God could have carried out. It is complete, contains all the revelation of God written for humanity, and He has no more to tell us in our days - if He did, it would be a repetition of what is already written.
But the writers weren’t like robots, or mere scribes of texts dictated to them. The wonder is that God used their personalities to express His eternal truths by means of the human reasoning process, in such a way as to transmit exactly the message of God in a language which is at the reach of the intellect of each one of us.
And so we can perceive the characteristics of style peculiar to each writer through the books of the Bible, without in any way jeopardising its perfect concordance and coherence, even though they were written throughout centuries by men of varied cultures, occupations and languages.
Like the other writers, the apostle Paul very clearly leaves his own writing style. Educated in the best school of the Pharisean Jewish sect, in the midst of the Greek culture which prevailed at his time, his writings stand out for the exactitude of his language and the logic of his arguments, some of which require great attention to be understood. He sometimes places different points of view side by side for better enlightenment of what he is teaching.
Peter refers to him, saying: “… our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:15,16 (NKJV). Note that Peter places the writings of Paul in equality with the other Scriptures.
Paul found considerable opposition inside the church of Corinth to what he taught. Some even doubted his ministry and his authority as apostle, which forced him to brilliantly defend himself in his second letter to that church (chapters 10 to 12). He said that he made himself foolish to glory in his remarkable experiences, “for not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” (10:18 - NKJV), and “What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.“ (11:17 - NKJV).
Here we have an illustration of Paul’s rhetoric: as a faithful servant of the Lord, he was meek and self-denying and normally would never exalt his own person before the others. But the only way to eliminate the evil caused by the defamation of the rebellious within that church was to defend himself, speaking foolishly, and not according to the Lord. No doubt he had been inspired by God to write in this way, to remedy the harm in that church and in uncountable others until our own days, where those who want to raise doubts over his teachings appear.
Now let us see the other texts presented by our enquirer:
Romans 3:5: “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.)” Paulo is here proposing a sophist question, such as of someone who uses rhetoric to defend a logically inconsistent argument. Therefore, a man. This doesn’t mean that Paul wasn’t writing by divine inspiration, but it only represented a faulty and human point of view for the purpose of later argument. The question itself already invites a negative answer, and in the following verses the apostle perfectly clarifies the justice of God as it really is.
Romans 6:19: “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” This is a remarkable example of how the word of God is presented to us: our intellect and knowledge is limited in some way or other by the environment in which we live and by our experience, limit called here “weakness of your flesh”. Paul therefore speaks in human terms in order to be understood by the Romans. They were used to the practice of slavery and Paul uses this metaphor to illustrate the transformation from a sinful behaviour to a pious one: such as changing the presentation of members as slaves from one to another master. Even today we can understand him. Paul didn’t mean that he wasn’t inspired when he said this, but that he was speaking in a manner to be understood.
Galatians 3:15: “Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.” In this sentence Paul is referring to profane contractual obligations, not religious, and makes it clear by saying: I speak in the manner of men. What follows concerns a sacred covenant, and as the clauses of a profane covenant must be observed, so much more must be observed the clauses of that made between God and Abraham. God has indeed accomplished faithfully His part and Christ is the Seed of Abraham by means of Whom all nations on earth are blessed. The Lord Jesus Himself said: ““Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56).
Finally, some people object that the apostle Paul wrote, for example: “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say …” (1 Corinthians 7:12 - NKJV), suggesting that the teaching he gave sometimes was not inspired because it wouldn’t have come from the Lord. But they are completely wrong: far from saying that he wasn’t inspired, the apostle is adding his words to those of the Lord. As the church of Christ was formed, and Gentiles were converted, many situations were created which were outside of the existing religious limitations of the Jews, and had not been included in the teaching of the Lord in His ministry which had been directed principally, though not exclusively, to the Israelites. These new situations demanded directives, and only the inspired words of an apostle could lay them down (see 1 Corinthians 7:40, 2 Peter 3:2).
“I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man… it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul to the Galatians 1:11,12 (NKJV)
“I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man… it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”