“Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.”
Most (better) translations say:
“But these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollo, for your sakes; that in us you may learn, that one be not puffed up against the other for another, above that which is written.”
In this verse, Paul is telling the Corinthians to not “puff” themselves against each other. This means that they should, following the example of Apollos and Paul, not be prideful and see themselves or their own missions above others and their missions. We must all work together, as one, to build and expand the Body of Christ.
Many Protestant apologists (most notably Matt Slick) will breeze through the context of this verse and go straight to that one saying: “Above [or beyond] what is written.” “You see?”, They’ll say, “Not above what is written! Sola scriptura!” In reality, this passage is talking about anything but Scripture.
Ver. 6. These things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself, and to Apollo. Literally, these things have I transfigured in me and Apollo, that is, I have represented the divisions and disputes among you, as if it were by your contending, whether I, or Apollo, or Cephas were the best preachers, without naming those, as I might do, who are the true causes of these divisions, by striving who should be thought men of the greatest and brightest parts. — That in us, and by our example, who have no such proud disputes, you might learn that one be not puffed up against the other, and above that which is written, against the admonitions given in the holy Scriptures of being humble: or against what I have now written to you, that we must strive for nothing, but to be the faithful ministers of God, and not seek the esteem of men. (Witham) — It is the opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas and likewise of Estius, that St. Paul, Apollo, and Cephas were not the real causes of the divisions that existed amongst the new converts at Corinth, but that in making use of these names, he wished to teach them, that if it was unlawful to keep up these divisions even for the sake of the apostles, how far should they be from doing any thing of this kind for those whose authority was much less in the Church. But Calmet is of opinion, that the divisions amongst the Corinthians were certainly on account of Paul, Apollo, Cephas, and perhaps some others, whose names are not mentioned.
In the Greek the text does not read “do not go beyond what is written.” The words “go” or “to go” are added due to the demands of English syntax.
In the Greek the text reads: “I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you may learn from us not beyond what is written.”
Scholars agree on only one thing with this text, namely that no one can say precisely what St. Paul was referring to.
Some feel that he could be referring to the context of his argument (which he states in saying that he has “applied all this [his previously **written argument] to” himself and Apollos. If that is the case, then Paul is merely saying there is nothing more to the argument or issue at hand beyond what he has written here.
It could be that Paul is referring to something else that is written, perhaps previous instruction or even a direct lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures that only the Corinthians know Paul is referring to (perhaps a previous homily or letter), but this cannot be definitively said.
Some translations render the expression similar to the NRSV: “So that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, ‘Nothing beyond what is written.’” It is very ambiguous when rendered this way, but it may be more precise because the specific subject isn’t mentioned. No one can say for sure.
While some religions that hold to a Sola Scriptura theology might use this to impress their belief that Paul was instructing Christians to follow only what is written in the Scriptures for authoritative doctrine, as can be seen by the NRSV translation most Protestant scholars do not subscribe to this (the majority of translators were Protestant and subscribe to Sola Scriptura). The text is hard to understand because we are clearly left without a definitive subject.
Whatever your take on what it may be, the fact that it is ambiguous shows it is not the main point of the subject matter at this point of the epistle. The NABRE states in the footnote regarding this scripture: “It probably means that the Corinthians should avoid the false wisdom of vain speculation, contenting themselves with Paul’s proclamation of the cross, which is the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament (what is written).”
I’ve heard a couple explanations. One explanation suggested that Paul was referring to the sacred writings of the Old Testament and their teaching on humility, such as the Old Testament verses he previously quoted in 1 Cor 1:19; 1:31; and 3:19
Another explanation suggested that the phrase was proverbial with origins in how penmanship was taught and meant that the Corinthians ought to follow Paul’s own example of humility, to pattern their conduct on his own conduct. In teaching penmanship, the teacher would write the letters of the alphabet on a wax tablet with a stylus and the student tried to trace over the teacher’s letters, endeavoring not to go beyond what the teacher had written on the tablet. Even today, children are sometimes taught penmanship with special penmanship books containing preprinted letters of the alphabet and the child is suppose to trace over the preprinted letters with a pencil, endeavoring not to go beyond what is preprinted, not go beyond what is written.
]not beyond what is written
I’ll go one step further.
I believe the “Not beyond what is written:” is in brackets so it would read
“I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you may learn from us*** not beyond what is written**]*. Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.”
The phrase in question could also be translated as “Not above the line”
So it would read :
“I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you may learn from us Not above the line ]. Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.”
Some biblical scholars think this may simply be a note from a scribe telling future scribes not to write their notes above the text.
They point out that if you leave that portion out the text actually makes more sense.
“I have applied all this to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you may learn from us. Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.”
In the past both Catholic and Protestant versions of the bible have omitted the section and printed as is shown above, due to the fact that the section is impossible to translate.
So the fact is that “Do not go beyond what is written”: may not even be part of scripture.
This seems like a great explanation, but does this section exist in multiple manuscripts by different scribes? Wouldn’t it be very unlikely that multiple scribes would put the same warning in the same place?
One thing is clear. The teaching that this verse is conveying isn’t “do not go beyond what is written”
It is watch Paul and Apollos, and do what they are doing.
We can’t do that. So I chalk this one up to “it really has no meaning for me, since I can’t see what Paul and Apollos are doing.”
The text itself says that the only way to determine the meaning of "do not go beyond what is written" *** is to watch Paul and Apollos and we can’t do that.
So, by what the bible itself says, we can not determine the meaning of the phrase “do not go beyond what is written” ***
The idea is that it was 1 scribe who did this. It was later mistaken for a part of the text and over time became the dominate way to tranlate the verse. It wasn’t unusual for different manuscripts to have minor differences in the first say 500 years of the new testament. but over time a consensus arose on what was to be copied on each text.
The theory is that the consensus on this one was wrong. But that is a minority opinion I believe.