Friday, August 16, 2019

Does 1 Corinthians 4:6 Support Sola Scriptura?

  • Defining The Issues:
          -Patrick Madrid wrote an article for Catholic Answers titled Going Beyond in which he proposed a number of objections to the citation of 1 Corinthians 4:6 as being a supportive text for Sola Scriptura, all of which will be addressed in this article. This passage most certainly does weaken the Roman Catholic concept of "Sacred Tradition."
  • Exegetical Analysis Of Corinthians 4:6:
          -In context, the Apostle Paul figuratively spoke of the apostles as being fellow custodians of the gospel. He did so with the intention of explaining to the Corinthian Christians their designated purpose, preaching the gospel. 
          -While Paul had described himself and his fellow Christian laborers as planting the seeds of spiritual conversion in the minds of the unbelieving, he gave all the credit and glory to God for success in ministry (1 Corinthians 3:5-15). While the apostles planted, God had caused the growth. 
          -It is only by the power of God that the apostles were able to carry out their mission in the efficacious manner as they did. So the Corinthians need not become puffed-up in their minds (1 Corinthians 3:3-4). Paul was addressing issues such as pride, selfishness, worldly wisdom, and even sexual immorality.
          -The Corinthian Christians needed to depend on the wisdom of God, not man. Dependence of God leads to humility. They needed to learn how to keep their thinking in alignment with God's revealed will. 
          -The church as a whole needs to use only the written Word of God as the standard of evaluating leaders in the church. Many professing Christians evaluate ministers on the basis of humor, how they persuade, how they look, and by their intelligence. 
          -These points of consideration, however, are completely unbiblical standards by which to judge the validity of ministry. Thus, they violate the principle set forth by the Apostle Paul in this text. We should not elevate ministers to a status that is not scripturally warranted. That is precisely the rationale of Paul's phrase: "not to think beyond what is written." 
          -The King James Version adds the phrase "of men" after the word "think" in an effort to clarify the meaning of this passage. The New International Version translates it as, "Do not go beyond what is written." The New Jerusalem Bible says, "Nothing beyond what is written." 
          -1 Corinthians 4:6 prescriptively assumes the principle of Sola Scriptura as being necessary for the establishment of sound doctrine. It contains a general principle by which we are to observe. Any development that is not contained in Scripture did not originate from the Spirit of God.
  • Is The Phrase "What Is Written" Mentioned In 1 Corinthians 4:6 An Allusion To The Book Of Life?:
          -Roman Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid mentions the fact that some biblical commentators have interpreted the phrase "what is written" as being a reference to the Book of Life (Revelation 20:12). This interpretation is rooted in the point that the four previous verses allude to the concept of divine judgment. However, connecting the phrase "what is written" with the "Book of Life" is problematic, since it would involve the Apostle Paul instructing the Corinthian Christians to not go beyond a book that they never even had access to in the first place. The Book of Life is located by God's throne in His heavenly kingdom. Moreover, the only place where Paul had made reference to the Book of Life was very briefly in Philippians 4:3.
          -The Roman Catholic New American Bible Revised Edition has this footnote on 1 Corinthians 4:6: "That you may learn from us not to go beyond what is written...It probably means that the Corinthians should avoid the false wisdom of vain speculation, contending themselves with Paul's proclamation of the cross, which is the fulfillment of God's promises in the Old Testament (what is written). Inflated with pride: literally, 'puffed-up,' i.e., arrogant, filled with a sense of self-importance. The term is particularly Pauline, found in the New Testament only in 1 Cor 4, 6. 18-19; 5, 2; 8, 1; 13, 4; Col 2, 18 (ch the related noun at 2 Cor 12, 20). It sometimes occurs in conjunction with the theme of 'boasting,' as in vv 6-7 here."
          -The text of 1 Corinthians 4:6 is fairly straightforward in that it is referring to Scripture. It is abundantly clear that Paul was assuming the principle of Sola Scriptura. Rome flatly contradicts the scriptural pattern set forth by the apostle in this verse because it elevates the authority of men to unbiblical levels and has throughout history defined the meaning of several dogmas that far transcend the boundaries of written revelation.
  • Patrick Madrid Claims That Citing 1 Corinthians 4:6 As Biblical Support For Sola Scriptura Would Also Require (Logically Speaking) Rejecting The Inspiration Of Subsequent Canonical Writings Which Comprise The New Testament:
          -The Old Testament was sufficient in making known the purposes of God in His own timing and wisdom, but not the exhaustive content of divine revelation. Jesus Christ Himself always appealed to the Scriptures as the final court of authority in spiritual matters. That is in fact the constant pattern recorded in Scripture. A logical parallel can be formulated to demonstrate the absurd nature of this objection: "the present pope does not have the authority to infallibly define dogma because there are future successors yet to be elected." The point is that the effectiveness of authority is not determined by its extent. Scripture has always been in a sense a sufficient rule of faith. The phrase "what is written" refers to Scripture. If the canon of Scripture is still open, then it follows that more divine revelation will be communicated in writing. It is not as though the apostles did not believe their writings to be divinely authoritative. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). The text of 1 Corinthians 4:6 affirms in a straightforward manner the ultimate authority of Scripture: "do not to exceed what is written."
  • Evaluating The Roman Catholic Case For Sacred Tradition:
          -Roman Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid objected to 1 Corinthians 4:6 as being supportive of Sola Scriptura on the grounds that the Apostle Paul taught orally to first century Christian churches (1 Corinthians 11:2). However, the underlying problem with this objection is that Sola Scriptura is not a denial of authoritative church traditions. Furthermore, we cannot know which traditions are valid apart from Scripture. Neither can it be proven that Paul's references to tradition were different in substance from what is taught in written revelation. His intent was not to teach that there are two separate sources of divine revelation, but to distinguish apostolic teaching from the assertions of apostates who claimed to accurately represent the gospel. The apostles received their teachings from God. Traditions upheld by the Roman Catholic Church such as the Immaculate Conception (A.D. 1854) and Assumption of Mary (A.D. 1950) are of spurious origin.


  1. You did a really good job with this post! :D

  2. Quick commentary on the last part: if there were infallible oral traditions being taught with scripture texts, them the Corinthians would have TWO infallible sources of revelation to use: oral tradition and sacred scripture. So it is very clear that 1 cor 4,6 cannot be teaching Sola Scriptura, i.e., ONLY Scripture is infallible, and Tradition are NEVER infallible.

    Knowing that the interpretation of the verses cannot change within the passage of the years, it is very clear that if the Corinthians could not interpret 1 Cor 4,6 as a "sola scriptura rule", because Paul also used to gave them "infallible oral rules" (see 1 Cor 11,34), so we cannot read this passage as a "sola scriptura" either. The meaning of the bible does not change with the passage of the time, or even with the death of the apostles - and i'm afraid that you are thinking this way.

  3. Tulio Christofoletti,

    You made assertions without actually dealing with my last paragraph. Also, a verse certainly can be given an application to broader circumstances if it is contextually warranted. That is not the same as saying its meaning changes over time. Further, you can't produce what those apostolic traditions are. You cannot tell me specifically what Paul had in mind. So a reference such as 1 Corinthians 11:2 is irrelevant. Scripture itself is apostolic tradition preserved in writing.