Updated: May 30
By Luke Lancaster
Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters argue that Paul preached their doctrine of Sola Scriptura to the Corinthians, "I have applied all this to myself and Apol′los for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another" (1 Cor. 4:6). They believe that, when Paul says "not to go beyond what is written," that he means to use Scripture as your final authority on matters of doctrine. This text is not a good text to argue from, however.
The phrase "what is written" can be translated numerous ways, and has befuddled Biblical commentators. In fact, one commentary on the passage just left 4:6 blank, because he had no idea what it referred to. For example, the phrase "do not go beyond what is written" can also be translated "keep within the rules." So, this might not even be referring to Scripture!
Some scholars even think that 4:6 wasn't even originally within Paul's letter, but was a note by a later scribe. The next scribe would have just copied it due to the text’s sentence structure. With all of this ambiguity, why point to this text as definitively proving Sola Scriptura?
Even if the phrase "what is written" is authentic and referred to Scripture, I could say the same thing to somebody as a Catholic. If my friend was being puffed up like the Corinthians were, I could tell him not to go beyond the Scripture's teaching about humility.
This or that Corinthian would cling to this or that teacher, which started creating divisions. They were getting puffed up, arrogant, and loved worldly wisdom - rather than divine wisdom. To combat that, Paul tells them not to do that, and quotes six times from the Old Testament about worldly wisdom vs Divine wisdom. The cross of Christ seems weak, but it is far above the world's wisdom - which distains the cross (1 Cor. 1:18 – 2:16). Paul tells them to imitate him (4:6, 16) and his humility, and to not exceed his teachings written up to 4:6, or of his quotations from the Old Testament.
Paul isn’t talking about only using Scripture as an authority. In fact, Biblical scholars Beale and Carson say in their Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament that scholars see 1 Cor. 4:6 as “most naturally taken as a reference to Scripture . . .not to transgress the exhortations found in and constructed from the Scriptures, to boast exclusively in the Lord (not in human leaders), and to recognize the unity of the people of God.” This is far different than Sola Scriptura, the teaching that says that only doctrines found explicitly in Scripture carry weight.