The following is my response to a good critique of a short blog entry I posted yesterday and my reply. Please visit Did God dictate every word in the Bible? for the original post. James presents very good arguments against, and in my reply I give an answer to why they are not at all compelling for myself. I truly appreciate James’s intellect and willingness to engage me.
There is “a time to break down, and a time to build up” (Ecc 3:3)
OBJECTION 1: ‘THE PROPHETS’ REFERS TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
Firstly I think you start with an anachronistic concept of what prophecy is and what was considered prophetic writings, you do make some room to say: “Although it is sometimes argued that prophesy can be expanded to also include “forth-telling“ divine truth (“God is good, so you ought to believe it.”) Yet with both definitions, we are still not able to include all of the texts contained in the Bible.” This would certainly be how we use that word today, but it certainly isn’t the way it was used at the time the New Testament was written, take a look at this for example:
“For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, as the Greeks have’ but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, [the prophets], who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of [prophets] since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them.” – Josephus in against Apion(It should be noted that the 22 books he mentions, are the same as the current OT, just divided differently.)
In the time of Jesus, as in todays Jewish scripture the books categorised as the prophets, start with Joshua and include Judges, Samuel and Kings. Whenever Jesus refers to ‘the prophets’, he is talking about most of the historical writings as well.When Jesus makes statements like “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John,” (Matthew 11:13, ESV)and…'”But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.’ (Matthew 26:56, ESV)and..’And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.’ (Luke 24:27, ESV)The natural reading is that he citing the books in the way they were understood at the time, which again would include all the history and contracts you seem to regard as some vestigial cultural leftover.
So in alignment with his own culture Peter says in acts:”And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.” Acts 3:24So when Peter, a 1st century Jew in 2 Peter 1:21 refers to the prophetic word, the most natural reading is either all the history with the exception of Chronicles, or more likely the entire Old Testament we have today, which was stored up in the Temple and considered uniquely prophetic, as it was clearly considered at that time according to Josephus. To try and make Peter refer to anything other that what is considered the Jewish scripture of his time considered prophetic books, then you really have to read your own position back into history and against even what we knew Peter himself considered prophetic.
The argument presented here does not deal with the real issue addressed in my short blog post, namely that the sacred writings of the Jews contain a very strong resemblance to human writing, which in many casts very strong doubts on the idea of a unilateral divine dictation of each biblical word. Nonetheless, I will deal with the valid issues introduced. The main argument I want to make that “the Prophets” refers to a portion of the Tanakh not to the whole of the Hebrew scriptures.
The historical separation of the Hebrew Canon
It is plain that you are trying to argue that the phrase “Prophets” was used interchangeably to speak of the whole of Scripture, perhaps with the exclusion of the Law. Firstly, the separation of the Law and the Prophets is already a strong argument against the inclusion of “historic writings” into the “prophets” because it shows there is indeed a separation and “Prophets” does not apply to “all of the Scriptures.” Second if we observe the development of the early Hebrew canon, we can see it has been historically divided into at least three section, the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Nebiim), and the Writings (Ketuvim) (1).
The scriptural separation of the Hebrew Canon
There is no specific statement in the New Testament that clearly identifies which books are included under what designation. However, we see specific and careful references towards separate sections of the Hebrew Bible. In Mat 5:17 Jesus carefully mentions “The Law” and “The Prophets,” as two separate entities. Then in Luke 24:44 Jesus follows the same formula to mention three categories of the Tanakh, saying “Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” It makes no more sense to differentiate the psalms if they are part of the Prophets, than it does to differentiate Exodus if it is already part of the Torah. The fact that there is no mention of the Ketuvim (writings) in the New Testament by name implies that the Hebrew Canon of the Ketuvim was not yet agreed upon.
The logical separation of the Hebrew Canon
If we critically and logically analyze the saying of Jesus with the argument that “Prophets” includes the historical writings, and in fact all of the Ketuvim, we can run into unanswerable questions. Take for example the moment Christ is seized and led away to be crucified; He is recorded saying “But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Mat 26:56). If your “Prophets includes history” argument is be true, it would logically follow that all sections in the Bible predicted the event of Christ’s crucifixion. The word “fulfilled” refers to something that is predicted or prophesized, for how can historical facts be later fulfilled? While we can go to Isaiah and find an actual prophecy foretelling this future, can we find a prophetic prediction of Christ’s crucifixion in the recordings of the conquest of Canaan and the breaking up of land amongst the tribes of Israel? Can we find a prophecy of the crucifixion that can be later fulfilled in the books of Chronicles or Kings? In the historical narratives of Ruth, Esther of Nehemiah? Perhaps we can retroactively find analogies such as “Boaz or Mordecai represents the redeemer,” however, to claim that those are prophetic foretelling’s of the crucifixion is untenable.
The historical voices of the early Jewish era
Regarding Josephus was a historian who lived between 37CE and c. 100CE who did mention “22 books” of the Hebrew Bible, though we should note that there are today “24 books” of the Hebrew Bible, divided as 66 in the Protestant Old Testament. To argue from Josephus into this is largely irrelevant, for he was one of many voices regarding the Hebrew biblical canon. The discrepancy of 2 books has been fiercely argued about by scholars, some saying that Josephus simply reorganized and merged two books, others arguing that he did not include Esther and Eccleseastes (1).The reason there is no scholarly consensus on these issues is because it simply is not clear, certainly not clear enough to make an argument from this.For example the Book of Sirach, which lists all the great people of the Hebrew Bible, in their order of appearance, gets everyone in the Torah, and Neviim, but misses some people from the Ketuvim, Ruth, SoS, Esther, & Daniel (2). In the Mishnah (rabbinical writings), we see that calls there is a debate whether the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes are part of the canon (Yadaim 3:5). Thus it is clear that not all the Books of the Old Testament (Masoretic Text) that we know of were included.
On the other hand, many books that are not in today’s Protestant Scriptures, are indeed found in ancient texts. Take, for example, the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which the early Christians and even Jesus himself, used and quoted at least 90% of the time (3). There are numerous books not found in the Protestant Canon, like Tobit, Wisdom of Solomon, additional parts of Esther, Psalms of Solomon, another Psalm (151), Maccabees, and others. (4) In fact this is why the Catholic Bible includes many books that the reformers removed, the Catholics went off of the early Septuagint text (greek), while the reformers went to the oldest Hebrew text, (Masoretic), of which the most dated complete copy is from only a thousand years ago (5). There are yet other texts that are not today in our Protestant scriptures, but were found in the variants of the Hebrew Bible that were preserved in the Dead Sea. (6)
Therefore it is very flawed to argue that the designation of “Prophets” was universally and unequivocally understood to refer to all Hebrew Scriptures, for neither is that term so defined historically or scripturally, nor were the Hebrew Scriptures definitely canonized at such a time.
OBJECTION 2: ‘USEFUL DETAILS’ AUTHENTICATE AND DEMONSTRATE
The next point you make is that there are parts of the Bible that read: “Here is what God says,” vs everything else that is written down. Why is there a differentiation? I would like to state here that I don’t believe everything in the Bible was laser engraved onto rock like the 10 commandments, but I do believe every word is directly from God, including the parts that appear very human, I believe it all illustrates something to us, even if there is something we don’t see the purpose of, as sometimes God comes in firestorm and sometimes in a gentle breeze.
Having read the Qur’an and being fairly well versed in Islamic literature, the Qur’an very much being seen as purely hard dictation with no context or explanation contained therein, I can certainly appreciate God wanting to have us know the history and context of specific commandments in a way we know is from him. Much Islamic division comes for this very reason, that although the Qur’an is seen as coming directly from God there is a large variety of confusion as to what much of it means without the Sayings of Muhammad and his biographies, of which there are many different versions of leading to much confusion.
The small personal details in the New Testament aren’t purposeless, it gives us useful details that demonstrate it’s authenticity as opposed to the Gnostic gospels which lack proper personal names or geographical details. They also demonstrate love to us in certain ways, taking a cloak from Turkey to Rome in 60AD is no small task, if only we were all able to show this kind of dedication to each other? I believe God intended these personal interactions at the ends of many of the New Testament books for a reason and were not included accidentally.
Again, the argument presented here does still not truly deal with the real issues addressed in my earlier blog post, namely that “the sacred writings of the Jews contain a very strong resemblance to human writing, which in many casts very strong doubts on the idea of a unilateral divine dictation of each biblical word.” I want to clarify that my point is not explicitly or implicitly denying the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, but merely challenging the popular notions of verbal plenary inspiration. And for the record, I do not personally think VPI is as tenable or compelling as a Barthian view of Scripture, or a Ennian one, for that matter (7,8).
The difference in attributive language
One of your arguments is that while in some cases God is directly quoted as saying a particular phrase, you believe “every word is directly from God.” Indeed, this is the unclear and imprecise definition that most fundamentalists and many evangelicals would divulge. I readily admit that there are much more precise and scholarly works by scholars like BB Warfield, who himself still admitted that “Inspiration is not the most fundamental of Christian doctrines, nor even the first thing we prove about the Scriptures… ‘without any inspiration we could have had Christianity.” (9) In any event, I would argue that saying “every word is directly from God” does not in any way address the issue that some words ‘directly from God’ are specifically quoted as such, while other ‘words directly from God’ are first person narrative, or poetry using the human authors cultural situatedness, or quotes of a human king and etc. Plainly put, some textsin the Bible are specifically attributed to God, others to humans saying God’s words, and some to humans with no reference of God.
The historicity is not authenticity
While I’m not trying to “argue against the Bible” I may have to take polemics straight from the theism vs atheism debate against your statement that the minute historical details (all the names, places, and people) are arguments towards the authenticity of the Bible. Your argument works well for documenting the historicity of the New Testament in a Greco-Roman context, but it is miserably self-refuting as evidence for verbal plenary inspiration. If you argue that the “small personal details” are evidence God wrote every single word, it would logically follow that many other writings are also divinely inspired scripture, for they too use “small personal details.” In fact, in the many debates I have watched, apologists like William Lane Craig often argue that the very human nature, names, and references, are evidence that the New Testament is another real historic document, like countless others, written by real humans about a real event. This is fine for attesting the resurrection, but it fails despondently in attesting verbal plenary inspiration.
The purpose cannot argue for authenticity
It appears a part of your argument weighs on the “purposeless” of a text, basically, if we can learn something valuable from an ancient text, then it must be the product of verbal plenary inspiration. I think this direct association has no warrant. Firstly, this type of thinking can be applied to any other ancient religious text, if we find a valuable thing to learn from the Koran, does that mean God breathed out its words? Second, if we could find other Christian explanations for these types of Biblical texts that do not include VPI, your argument would fail. And I believe we can. For example, suppose God inspired the direct idea and Paul wrote it in his words. Here is another, suppose God inspired a feeling in Paul and the letter was the result of that interaction. Any of these ideas are just as valid if the only criteria is thw “there is a purpose” argument.
The Reductio ad Islam argument
In nearly every argument known to man someone will invariably invoke the most evil or horrible thing they can imagine as being in some way associated to their opponents position. Generally speaking this is “evil thing” is usually Hitler, but we Christians use often use the closest contender, Islam. Though I hardly think you were purposefully trying to associate me with Muslims, I think there is a point to be made here. In your argument regarding Islam, you imply that the reason the Koran is so confusing stems from that fact that it does not have these ‘useful human details.’ Therefore, it logically follows, a Scripture which is void of human details but simply records God speaking is flawed and Islamic. Yet this is the type of Scripture I argue that I would find to be the most convincing of verbal plenary inspiration. My response is that the comparison to Islam is not at all convincing. Just like with the lack of uniformity in Islam, there were many conflicting views in early Christian theology, and are many more ideological and theological nonconformities in Modern Christianity. (10, 11) Furthermore, it could be theoretically argued, that if God wanted do, he certainly could have written a book void of human influence, and kept it from confusion, therefore I feel the Islam argument serves only to distract.
OBJECTION 3: PAUL’S APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY AS EVIDENCE
Finally you quote Part of 1 Corinthians 7 to demonstrate Paul thinks part of his letter is just him,”Those who would argue that God verbally dictated 1 Cor 7:13 to Paul, are essentially saying God dictated the following to Paul: “write ‘I Paul am writing this not God.’”However I think if we follow the wider logic of the passage it actually teaches the exact opposite of what your claiming it does. Let’s take a look:First up Paul starts the letter of 1 Corinthians by establishing the authority in which he is writing the letter”Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:1-2, ESV)Then once we get to the part you are citing he says:’To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. (1 Corinthians 7:10-12, ESV)
Notice how when talking about divorce, it says that not I but the lord, seeing as he has already referred to Jesus as Lord back in chapter 1:2 and every time he uses Lord through the rest of 1 Corinthians it seems to be referring specifically to Jesus, what he is saying here would naturally be referring to Jesus’ teaching on divorce, which we have recorded in Matthew 7. Where as when he gives instructions about believers already married to unbelievers, as there is no specific saying from Jesus himself on the issue, he makes it clear that it is coming from his authority as a messenger of God (which he established at the start of the letter) and is not a quote from Jesus. He is adding commands to that of Jesus that he expects his readers to obey, which assumes a certain level of authority, which would be consistent with 1:1 where he calls himself an Apostle.
You make a very fine point in introducing the issue of Apostolic authority into the mix, this is something I (regrettably) did not touch on in the original post. My original post was largely about the incorrect view of divine dictation that many assume towards the Scriptures, yet you bring up really interesting thoughts, so I will share a few of my own. This is where we really get into the meat of the issue with the last part of my blog post. I attempted to make a distinction between the writings of Paul where he seemingly speaks from his own personality versus the quotation where God himself is seen as speaking. I would argue that there is a very obvious difference where Paul appeals to his own authority and where he gives a revelation from God. Though smarter men than I have published on this both pro and contra, here are some inconsistencies that I personally find in the synthesis of Apostolic authority and verbal plenary inspiration.
Apostolic authority and NT books not written by Apostles
The first issue we deal with is that Apostolic authority is a brand new concern that is historically unfounded in the Old Testament. The previous orthodox method was a follows, God sent prophets who declared his word stating “Thus saith the Lord,” it was later written down by scribes, and then handed down and copied over the ages. In the NT we have the introduction of Apostles who write the New Testament, on their own apostolic authority hardly using phrases like “thus saith the Lord.” Yet, many conservative Biblicists would argue this is not an issue, because these men have their own “Apostolic Authority.” Herein is my concern, according to Scripture, Mark and Luke were not Apostles nor prophets, logically this follows that they did not have this “Apostolic authority,” which then follows that Acts, Luke, and Mark are not written or dictated by an Apostle. We can also get into the issue of the book of Hebrews, scholars are unsure of who wrote it, but many different names have been suggested (12). If we don’t know whether an Apostle wrote it, how can we know it contains verbal plenary inspired words? These types of issues suggest that Apostolic authority cannot be a comprehensive answer to the questions posed by verbal plenary inspiration.
Paul’s use of the word opinion (gnṓmē)
With the aim of version consistency I stayed with the ESV throughout this blog, however, perhaps other translations better show Paul’s original Greek meaning. In 1 Cor 7:25, where Paul states he has no command but gives a “judgment,” the more accurate translation is “opinion.” This is attested in the fact that many literal translations such as the NASB, HCSB, ISV, NET, and other translate gnṓmē into “opinion” though unfortunately the tradition of the KJV, ASV, and ESV does not. The Greek gnṓmē is best understood as “’experientially, personally know’ – a personal opinion or judgment formed in an active relationship, the result of direct “first-hand” knowledge.” (13) Apostolic authority, on the other hand, is not about something one personally or experientally knows, it is quite the opposite, it is an authority that “derives directly from Jesus Christ.” (14) With this information presented, it becomes harder and harder to argue that Paul speaks from his Apostolic authority when he says he has no judgment from the Lord but says “I give an opinion” – didómi gnṓmē (1 Cor 7:25 NASB).
Comparison to the teaching of Jesus recorded in the Gospels?
An argument given to negate Paul’s clear statement that his opinion/judgment is not of the Lord but of himself, is given as follows: Paul does not contrast his personal word with God’s inspired word, but rather his apostolic inspired word with Christ’s previous recorded teaching. This makes sense if we have an anachronistic view of early Christianity, and assume they all head a leather bound edition of the KJV with the Gospels before the Epistles. Yet history is not in agreement, most liberal and conservative scholars say the first book of Corinthians was published before all of the Gospels. If we average the dates given by at least forty published scholarly sources (including many staunch conservatives) for the writing of 1st Corinthians, we get the year 55. (15) Doing the same type of averaging between sixty and seventy published scholarly sources, we get average dates 61 for Mark, 65 for Matthew, 66 for Luke, and 86 for John. (16, 17 ,18, 19). It is not likely that Paul would reference written Gospels that would not yet exist for ten years. Then if the argument is changed that Paul was referencing oral tradition, there is the question of why he would refer to an oral tradition that people may or may not have heard. Especially in light of the fact that these were new believers whom had only heard Paul’s basic Gospel (1 Cor 15) we can only rest on speculation about their knowledge of the oral tradition Paul was referencing to.
The mixed views of Bible commentators
I would argue that something universally attested would be universally received and understood, however, in the interpretation of these particular passages, the field is not uniform, even among conservative protestants and evangelicals. If this was plain, clear, and unavoidable, Bible commentators would all agree, yet this is not the case. Look only at the following commentaries that give a differing opinion to the widely accepted comments of Matthew Henry and JFB (both commentaries I also frequent). The first three imply that these passages were not at all inspired, wheras the fourth, by no less than John Wesley himself, argues these passages were not inspired by verbal plenary inspiration, but by a divine light.
“I have no express command on the subject; I give it as my opinion; I do not speak it directly under the influence of divine inspiration;” see 1 Corinthians 7:10, 1 Corinthians 7:25, 1 Corinthians 7:40. Paul here does not claim to be under inspiration in these directions which he specifics.” (20)
“Nor had the apostle any command from the Lord Jesus Christ, under the Gospel dispensation, obliging to virginity; The apostle does not make use of his power and authority, as such, to make decrees, and prescribe rules, binding on the consciences of men; only humbly and modestly gives his opinion, which if thought well of, might be followed by them.” (21)
“I have no commandment. He had no revelation upon the subject, but could give his Christian judgment.” (22)
“I have no commandment from the Lord – By a particular revelation. Nor was it necessary he should; for the apostles wrote nothing which was not divinely inspired: but with this difference, – sometimes they had a particular revelation, and a special commandment; at other times they wrote from the divine light which abode with them” (23)
The logical convolutions of “God’s words being not from Jesus”
Finally I’d like to rest again on the simplest argument, that to work around the simple words of Paul requires more hermeneutical twirls and loops than an Olympic gymnast is comfortable with. If we are to read each and every word as divinely and specifically uttered by God, and then a few of these divinely uttered words say they are not from the Lord, its easiest to take them at face value. It’s far more complicated to figure out an elaborate way of saying while Paul is not writing the words of Jesus, he is saying the words of God, even as Paul says they are his. I agree it is possible to make that case, but I argue that it’s a harder case to make than simply taking the words of the Bible at face value. It becomes a matter of nitpicking and making very abstract statements about the verbal plenary inspiration of words that say they are not inspired in a verbal plenary way. This gets so confusing that one commentator has even stated that “he may not have known he was speaking with authority to all the church in all ages, and being used to pen God’s eternal Word. But if Paul was not fully aware of how inspired these words were, they are no less inspired because of that.”(24). With arguments like these we could assume all manner of wild things, like perhaps Paul could have written many other letters that were inspired but he simply didn’t know this, and so they were lost. Again, I would argue it’s the easiest to read the text as it is.
First I admit that this is your strongest point. Also I wholeheartedly agree that many throughout church history have made affirmations that consent with you, including many Bible commentators and theologians. However, many have disagreed with the majority as well, including some of the commentators I have quoted above, theologians or scholars as prolific as Karl Barth, Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, and etc. My argument does not rely on tradition or majority, for Christian tradition and majority has often found itself in bad places, one only has to look at the history of the Catholic church, the violent reformation, the promotion of southern slavery and etc, to see that the opinion of many Christians does not stand as a valid argument. Likewise, arguments towards majority seem to be useless according to Jesus (Mat 7:13). Finally, let us both be honest with the text and read it as it stands and as it is, not as the indoctrination from the modernist-fundamentalist controversy tells us it should be.
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