Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"The Things Written" in 1 Corinthians 4:6

2 Pet. 1:20, 21 indicates that Scripture is Re Vera Vox Dei. The apostle proclaims that men "spoke from God" as they were carried along by holy spirit. This passage appears to uphold and articulate the unparalleled supremacy of Scripture.

Another verse which undoubtedly harmonizes with the passage in 2 Peter is 1 Cor. 4:6:

Ταῦτα δέ, ἀδελφοί, μετεσχημάτισα εἰς ἐμαυτὸν καὶ Ἀπολλὼν δι' ὑμᾶς, ἵνα ἐν ἡμῖν μάθητε τό Μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται, ἵνα μὴ εἷς ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἑνὸς φυσιοῦσθε κατὰ τοῦ ἑτέρου (W-H of 1881)

In this portion of Paul's exhortatio, we find a ἵνα (purpose) clause followed by the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡμῖν. The author then employs the aorist subjunctive active (μάθητε) followed by a particle of negation (Μὴ).

γέγραπται is the perfect indicative middle/passive form of γράφω. It would therefore seem that we could render part of the apostle's words as follows:

"that by our example you might learn the rule: "Do not go beyond the things that are written."

"in order to teach you by our example what those words mean, which say, 'Nothing beyond what is written!'" (Weymouth NT)

At issue, in this case, is what γέγραπται references. Does it mean, 'the things that Paul has written to the Corinthians in his first letter'? Or does it refer to something else?

Based on the context and the lexical significance of 1 Cor. 4:6, I would suggest that γέγραπται points to the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures that Paul quoted profusely in his letter to the Corinthians. These sacred writings are not to be transgressed (the aorist verb μάθητε indicates a totality/wholeness of action): their summative counsel is to be implicitly obeyed.

From Vincent's Word Studies:

Not to go beyond the things which are written (τὸ μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται)

Lit. (that ye might learn) the not beyond what stands written. The article the introduces a proverbial expression. The impersonal it is written is commonly used of Old-Testament references.

Now if the Bible tells us not to go beyond what the OT prescribes for us, how much more should we not go beyond the written instructions contained in the NT. It therefore seems that the Bible--God's written Word as a whole--is the final court of appeal and the Norma Normans of the Christian ecclesia.


hgp said...

Another important question can be formulated:

What exactly does Paul mean by "Not to go beyond the things which are written"?

One possibility: We should not transgress any Biblical imperatives (or commandments).

Another possibility: We should not add any imperatives, that are not (implicitly or explicitly) in the Bible.

My (tentative) view is, that the first possibility is what Paul talked about. This leaves open the possibility of adding further imperatives, as long as they don't conflict with existing Biblical imperatives.

This question bears directly on questions as "Can Jehovah's Witnesses implement their own procedures for disfellowshipping, even if they are not described in the Bible"? My view would answer: "Yes, as long as those procedures are not going existing Biblical commandments".

Edgar Foster said...


Your remarks are always valued here. While my comments were meant to set forth one possible understanding of Paul's words, there are other possibilities as well. I agree that the first possibility you suggest, could be more likely than the second one. And, like you say above, this understanding would allow for disfellowshipping those who are violating biblical principles although they might not be transgressing scriptural laws.

Scott Lawson Lawson said...

Edgar, do you see 2 Peter 3:16 as indicating that Paul's writings were already attaining the status of inspired scripture?

Edgar Foster said...

Scott, I've generally understood 2 Pet 3:16 in that way. B.B. Warfield writes:

"the Canon of the New Testament was completed when the last authoritative book was given to any church by the apostles, and
that was when John wrote the Apocalypse, about A.D. 98" (Revelation and Inspiration, 455-56).

In harmony with this observation, my view is that the NT canon was completed in the first century. Of course, there are two distinct meanings for "canon." I'm using the word in the sense "divinely inspired and authoritative writing."

Edgar Foster said...

I also like this observation from Neil Lightfoot:

"The Bible owes its authority to no individual or group. The church does not control the canon, but the canon controls the church. Although divine authority was attributed to the [NT] books by the later church, this authority was not derived from the church but was inherent in the books themselves. As a child identifies its mother, the later church identified the books which it regarded as having unique authority" (How We Got the Bible, 112).

Scott Lawson Lawson said...


Just a quibble. You say:

"Ταῦτα δέ, ἀδελφοί, μετεσχημάτισα εἰς ἐμαυτὸν καὶ Ἀπολλὼν δι' ὑμᾶς, ἵνα ἐν ἡμῖν μάθητε τό Μὴ ὑπὲρ ἃ γέγραπται, ἵνα μὴ εἷς ὑπὲρ τοῦ ἑνὸς φυσιοῦσθε κατὰ τοῦ ἑτέρου (W-H of 1881)

In this portion of Paul's exhortatio, we find a ἵνα (purpose) clause followed by the prepositional phrase ἐν ἡμῖν. The author then employs the aorist subjunctive active (μάθητε) with a particle of negation (Μὴ) to form a subjunctive of prohibition. γέγραπται is the perfect indicative middle/passive form of γράφω."

Μὴ doesn't construe with μάθητε. That would mean "may not learn". The words "to go" is in ellipsis and an it is that which is negated. Not so?

If it is that Paul's writings are already consider to rise to the level of inspired scripture why wouldn't they be included in the things written that shouldn't be gone(scribbled?) beyond?

Scott Lawson Lawson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Edgar Foster said...


See Wallace, GGBB, 469. He refers to this construction as the prohibitive subjunctive which is normally formed by Μὴ + the aorist subjunctive, "typically in the second person." Wallace says that it should be rendered "Do not" as opposed to You should not."

I'm not denying the possibility that Paul is including his own writings in the prohibition of 1 Cor 4:6, but reading the verse in context leads me to believe that the "things written" are more restrictive (applying to the quotes that Paul makes in the preceding chapters). Meyer evidently applies the apostolic words to "the rule of humility and modesty" contained in the OT.

Alford writes: "To refer γέγραπται to what has been written in this Epistle, as Luth., Calov., Calv. (altern.), is quite inadmissible, for, as Grot. remarks, 'γέγραπται in his libris semper ad libros Veteris Testamenti refertur.'"

So he takes issue with the interpretation I favor and similarly believes Paul is referring to the OT.

As for Peter's words, up to a decade may separate 1 Corinthians and 2 Peter.

Edgar Foster said...

Hi again Timothy,

Thanks for your input. You appear to be right about the construction. I wrote the piece some years ago and thought (at the time) that the construction was a subjunctive of prohibition. I'm not sure what gave me that idea, but I need to correct that part of the blog entry.

I still believe that Paul could be alluding to what went before his exhortation in 1 Cor 4:6. Rogers and Rogers adds that he could be referring to scripture passages quoted or to his own teaching. Or it's possible that he includes both as you might suggest.