Prophets’ Opinions in Scritpure

Paul Writing His Epistles (17th century) att. Valentin de Boulogne.

In 1 Corinthians 7 the apostle Paul gives counsel to the Corinthian Saints on how to live a chaste life. A few times in the course of his instruction, however, Paul says that he’s not giving this counsel as a commandment but as his opinion. “This I say by way of concession, not of command,” he says in verse 8 as he counsels married couples on whether they should be celibate for religious purposes (vv. 1–7). In other words, Paul does not command these Saints to be celibate, but let’s them be if they wish. (It is clear from vv. 7–8 that Paul would prefer the Saints in this situation to be celibate, but he concedes to potential contrary desires nonetheless.)

Later in this chapter Paul is more explicate. After giving and explaining two commandments which he says come from “the Lord” (vv. 10, 12) Paul then says, “Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are” (v. 25). Paul then proceeds to give his opinion.

The word Paul uses that the NRSV translates as “opinion” is γνώμην (the feminine singular accusative of γνώμη), which is basically “opinion,” “view,” “judgement,” “intent,” etc. The verb then used in the next verse is νομίζω (in this case a first singular present active indicative), which means “to think,” “to suppose,” or, you might even say, “to reckon.”

In other words, there comes a point in his letter where Paul feels it is okay to give his own opinion or speculation on a matter without necessarily claiming it is a revelation from God. Notice that he had just claimed twice before that he had a commandment from God to give to the Saints, but on this matter he is going to give his opinion.

This, incidentally, calls to mind Alma’s discourse on the resurrection where he tells his son, “I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven” (Alma 40:20).

We therefore have two scriptural passages that give precedence for the idea that prophets are allowed to express opinions without those opinions necessarily being revelation or commandments from God. I hasten to add that this doesn’t necessarily mean the opinions are false or otherwise uninspired, only that they’re opinions.

But here’s a question I have. If these opinions from Paul and Alma have been canonized, what does that make them? Canonized opinions? And does that then make these opinions more authoritative than non-canonized opinions? Why or why not? I will not attempt to answer these questions here, but want to raise them for others to consider.