Thursday, May 20, 2010

Protestants going beyond what is written.

A popular (but by no means universal) proof-text Protestants use for alleged support of Sola Scriptura (SS) is 1 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV), "I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, 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." The phrase "do not go beyond what is written" is taken by some Protestants to mean don't look outside the boundaries of Scripture for Christian doctrines. While this claim might seem plausible upon a surface level reflection, I suggest that such a claim is going beyond what is written in terms of reading too much into that phrase, ignoring the context and other key information.
The following are some important factors to take into consideration regarding this passage:
  • The context is speaking on the issue of pride and other sinful attitudes plaguing the Corinthians, and not focused on laying out a rule of faith. The problem Paul is talking about is not one regarding "scripture alone" versus "scripture plus." 
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2 explicitly tells them to hold onto the traditions Paul handed onto them, thus 4:6 could not be teaching SS.  
  • Given that various NT Scriptures (e.g. 2nd Corinthians) weren't written yet means practicing SS was (functionally) impossible at that point in time.
  • When one looks at how Protestants have historically read 1 Corinthians 4:6, it was not really appealed to as a SS proof text. For example, here is John Calvin's Corinthians Commentary on this verse
"The clause above what is written may be explained in two ways — either as referring to Paul’s writings, or to the proofs from Scripture which he has brought forward. As this, however, is a matter of small moment, my readers may be left at liberty to take whichever they may prefer." 
Those are hardly the comments we would expect for a SS proof text - Calvin says the meaning of the phrase isn't that big of a deal! Taking the first option, Paul was speaking of heeding his warnings in his own epistles. Taking Calvin's second option, Paul simply was telling them to heed the warnings of the OT citations in the previous 3 chapters. Neither option comes anywhere close to suggesting a SS proof.
  • The term "written" can mean a whole range of things: (a) the whole Bible, (b) the whole OT, (c) the whole NT, (d) the whole OT plus partially completed NT, (e) Paul's Epistles, (f) Paul's lesson on humility given in 1 Corinthians Chapters 1-3, (g) the OT passages Paul quotes in his lesson on humility, (h) something else.

    Evaluating these options, (a) is the only option that satisfies SS, but it is not the only option or even most likely, given options like (b) and (e)-(h) are far more exegetically fitting.

Really, taking these factors into consideration, for a Protestant to suggest 1 Corinthians 4:6 is a proof text for Sola Scriptura is engaging in a blatant fallacy of begging the question. Simply examining the context, the point of the verse is Paul is saying he inserted his name and Appolos' into the lesson on humility he gave in chapters 1-3 so as not to point any fingers at the true culprits and to curb the Corinthian pride (4:6a). For the Corinthians to exalt themselves beyond what Paul wrote in chapters 1-3, especially the OT texts against pride and worldly wisdom (4:6b), is to act outside of the acceptable boundaries of Christian humility (4:6c).

End Note: Much of this was taken from a conversation I had with a Protestant in another comment box on my blog (see comments by Nathanael Taylor, starting March 10).


Ike said...

I enjoyed reading this post. I would also ask you to read Acts 17:10-12.

If only "we" were more like the noble Bereans...who eagerly examined the Scriptures...comparing Paul's word's with the Word of God. I think I should do that along with you...Wayne Dawg....and I'll throw in ole Steve the ex-catholic:-_)

Nick said...

I'll take your challenge and raise you 9 verses: Please read Acts 17:1-12.

1When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue.
2As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
3explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said.

Paul's custom was to go to the local synagogue and show that the man named "Jesus" was the Messiah the OT foretold in types and figures and prophecy. This is where Apostolic preaching bridged the gap between the OT and Christian era. The point was never to go about proving this or that doctrine from Scripture, the point was linking the life of Jesus to the OT. Thus, properly examining context, this has nothing to do with Sola Scriptura.

Rhology said...

The point of Acts 17 Berea is that the Bereans are commended for confirming Paul's msg from the Scriptures. You haven't addressed Ike's point.

Nick said...

No, you're misreading the text; they were were "commended" because they "were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness." The Thessalonians caused a riot and turmoil over the preaching, the Bereans acted in a civil manner (which included calmly comparing Paul's message of the life of the man named "Jesus" with the OT foreshadowing and prophecy, cf 17:2-4). You're ripping things out of context.

Rhology said...

Yes, they were commended for receiving the msg, b/c it just so happens that Paul's msg was in line with the OT. That is, they correctly interped the OT and the Thessalonians didn't.
It's so funny - they didn't need a Magisterium to properly interpret it. So crazy how that happens.
Anyway, you said:
The point was never to go about proving this or that doctrine from Scripture

That's what the Bereans did, and they did it right. So...what was the problem again?

Nick said...

You've got to be kidding me: "it just so happens that Paul's message was in line with the OT"? As if Paul's authority was restricted to what the OT says? Paul was an Apostle, he held Authority as high as Scripture.

And you can keep trying to read what isn't there, but the context is focused on demonstrating "Jesus is the Messiah" from the OT - a far cry from using Scripture as the sole and final rule of faith on all Christian faith and practice.

There really isn't anything more to argue.

Rhology said...

"it just so happens that Paul's message was in line with the OT"? As if Paul's authority was restricted to what the OT says? Paul was an Apostle, he held Authority as high as Scripture.

Yes, I know that, of course. Doesn't change the fact that Paul's msg was in line with the OT. If it had differed, it woulda marked him out as a false teacher, no?

the context is focused on demonstrating "Jesus is the Messiah" from the OT - a far cry from using Scripture as the sole and final rule of faith on all Christian faith and practice.

That's fine. But what we DON'T see is anything like "Now the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians, for they submitted Paul's teaching to Peter/the Magisterium of the church to see if these things were so", now do we?

Jae said...


You keep harping about the total insignificance of the Apostolic Tradition/Teaching which is so irrelevant and not even related to the Bereans in Acts 17:1-12 teaching "Sola Scriptura".

Let's get real again, afterwards few questions. Your church (I guess Reformed) in the 30's was one who agreed, actually ALL christian churches that artificial contraception is against the Will of God - what happened since the Anglican Lambeth conference 80 years ago? Does your Church TEACH what is otherwise FALSE? What happened to Unchangeability of Truth? These are real hard facts, that most if not all protestant churches (in their assertion to each his own) have followed historically the footsteps of Anglicanism. (google Humanae Vitae).

How about gay-marriage? Many evangelical churches had already succumbed, again history is repeating by one.

Without the Apostolic Teaching which Christ ordained and founded upon His Apostles and successors that are BINDING to Christians without which we are lost. That is a fact! Now if you think otherwise that it is Biblically ok (the use of contraception) then from what authority do you say so?


Rhology said...


the total insignificance of the Apostolic Tradition/Teaching which is so irrelevant

Where have I "harped on" that? Or even said anythg of the kind?
Rather, I've merely asked you and all other RCs and EOx to PROVE that what you CLAIM is ApTrad really is ApTrad. The way Jesus told us to examine such things to find out is to examine them in light of Scripture (Mark 7:1-13), and the Bereans here follow that example.
When I ask you to prove that your alleged ApTrad actually came from the apostles, you retreat to "we're the church founded by Christ!" and "we have bishops going back to Peter!" and other irrelevancies. Try actually answering the challenge sometime. It'd be a refreshing change.

what happened since the Anglican Lambeth conference 80 years ago?

A better question is: Why should I care?

What happened to Unchangeability of Truth?

What happened to judging Truth by what God has said, rather than what people think and agree on?

How about gay-marriage? Many evangelical churches had already succumbed

Oh, so other churches' succumbing means that I am wrong for holding to Sola Scriptura. All you need is a connecting argument!

Now if you think otherwise that it is Biblically ok (the use of contraception) then from what authority do you say so?

If you insist on your bizarre and questionably-healthy obsession with opposing contraception loudly and openly all the time, fine - show me in the Bible where Jesus or the apostles gave us commands with respect to never using contraception. Don't show me psgs where we're commanded not to murder people - I absolutely oppose abortion, RU486 and other morning-after pills, birth control pills of all kinds (since all contain an abortifacient functionality), and other abortifacient methodologies. Don't quote the psg about Onan, since his problem was clearly that he refused to provide offspring for his brother. I don't see a biblical problem with barrier methods. Prove me wrong, if you (notice, you brought it up, not me) insist on talking contraception.
Also, for purposes of instruction, show me Apostolic Tradition opposed to barrier methods of contraception. Do not quote it unless you prove that it came from an apostle, and describe specifically how you know it came from an apostle, and which one, and whether this is just your private opinion or whether this has been infallibly stated by the RCC; if the latter, state where and when and how you know it was infallible. Thanks!

Jae said...


Thanks for the reply.

Frankly, I think your logic is somewhat unstable maybe because it preoccupies the blinded prejudice against the Church instead of real reasoning.

This is the main reason why protestants are house divided, splintering group into groups without end. I'm insisting on my bizarred obsession with artificial contraception like what you said primarily because WHAT YOUR CHURCH (I don't know if they are still the same) SAID, DECLARED AND TAUGHT 80 YEARS AGO THAT IT IS INTRINSICALLY EVIL AND AGAINST THE WILL OF GOD....then suddenly a change of mind? There exist NO binding teaching from the protestant side, where your "idea" is insignificant onto different to other christians. This is the perrenial problem with protestant's "Sola Scriptura" from which came confusion and divisions.

You said, "The way Jesus told us to examine such things to find out is to examine them in light of Scripture (Mark 7:1-13), and the Bereans here follow that example."

Comment: Sir whose test or examination are you refering to? well we can ask the Mormons, Unitarians, Seventh day or Jehovah's because they all claim they have extensibly EXAMINE in the light of the Scripture just like you, so I suggest pick one.

Don't you get it until now? If a christian happen to disagree with another christian on some basic christian doctrine, WHO IS going to say who's roght and wrong, both can't be right, right? Any written document (including the Bible)can't render a decision and pass judgment. If it happen the Bible speaks back to you, let us know, ok?


Jae said...

1. How do you know that the Apostolic Tradition/Teaching is infallible?

Jn 16:13 - guided by Holy Spirit into all truth
Jn 14:26 - Holy Spirit to teach & remind them of everything
Lk 10:16 - speak with Christ's own voice
1Tim 3:15 - Church called "pillar and foundation of truth"
1Jn 2:27 - anointing of Holy Spirit remains in you
Acts 15:28 - Apostles speak with voice of Holy Spirit
Mt 16:16 - first infallible pronouncement
Mt 28:20 - I am with you always
Lk 10:16 - He who hears you hears me
AA 6:10 - speak with voice of Holy Spirit
Acts 2:42 ... doctrine, community, sacred rite (bread).
Eph 5:25-26 ... Christ loved the Church.
Mt 16:18; 14:26 ... Christ protects Church.
Heb 13:17 ... obey.
Mt 18:17-18 ... church as final authority (bind on earth/heaven).
BONUS - Mt 23:2 ... Pharisees succeeded Moses (seat of Moses).

2. How do you know when the magic "ex cathedra"-ness has been invoked?
Matt. 16:17–19 "keys to the kingdom, bind on earth/heaven"
John 21:15–17 "love Me? Feed my sheep".

To "define" a "doctrine concerning faith or morals” which "must be held by the whole Church.” An example of this invocation can be found in Providentissimus Deus: "To Our Venerable Brethren, All Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic World, in Grace and Communion with the Apostolic See.” (PD, n. 20)

3. Do you know that infallibly?
Yes. I have the assurance of Jesus Christ Himself.

4. Are its infallible statements the Word of God?

No. Infallible statements, which are usually made when some doctrine is called into question, are an affirmation of Sacred Tradition or Sacred Scripture (both the Word of God). These statements clearly define a dogma in order to address a heresy or prevent one.

Oh by the way, going back to contraception, google "Humanae Vitae" to satisfy your curiosity about this Catholic teaching BINDING to all catholic (Universal) christians and it is considered for us an infallible Apostolic Teaching in action....oh before I forgot you are right that Apostolic Tradition goes back to Peter and the Apostles. (read Early Church Fathers) if you care.


Jae said...


I hope you know Rev. Albert Mohler (President of the Evangelical Theological Society) and this is what he said, “Last week, another once-big church succumbed to the relentless, media-savvy campaign of determined secular forces...leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America voted to lift the ban that prohibited sexually active gay and lesbian people from serving as ministers and the blessing of the same-sex couples. Evangelical Lutherans and Episcopalians join other denominational giants, Unitarians, Presbyterians and Anglicans aside from many independent churches in their reckless moral degradation and recklessness.”

Your request for the "connection" with Sola Scriptura is wide open in this example...don't let me spell it out for you, obviously their pastors, elders would contradict your version of the Scripture about the matter and this is the... END RESULT.


Jae said...


Here are just a few sampler of your founders take on Artificial Contraception (I'm not yet quoting protestants church's teaching against Arti Contraception before 1930).

Let's look at Protestant history on the subject of contraception.

Martin Luther on contraception (1483 to 1546):

"Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest or adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes into her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed."

JOHN CALVIN on contraception (1509 to 1564):

"Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race."

John Wesley on contraception (1703 to 1791):

"Onan, though he consented to marry the widow, yet to the great abuse of his own body, of the wife he had married and the memory of his brother that was gone, refused to raise up seed unto the brother. Those sins that dishonour the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which he did displeased the Lord - And it is to be feared, thousands, especially single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls."

Examining sermons and commentaries, Charles Provan identified over a hundred Protestant leaders (Lutheran, Calvinist, Reformed, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Evangelical, Nonconformist, Baptist, Puritan, Pilgrim) living before the twentieth century condemning non-procreative sex. Did he find the opposing argument was also represented? Mr. Provan stated, "We will go one better, and state that we have found not one orthodox theologian to defend Birth Control before the 1900's. NOT ONE! On the other hand, we have found that many highly regarded Protestant theologians were enthusiastically opposed to it."

So what happened?

It's the old story of Christians attempting to conform the world to Christ and the world attempting to conform Christians to its ways. Protestants fought bravely, but in 1930 the first hole appeared in the contraception dike (in the Anglican Church) and lead to a flood that would engulf the other Protestant Churches, too. In the next thirty years all Protestant churches were swept away from their historic views on contraception. The most terrible point is that just a few years earlier, in 1908, the Anglican Church condemned the very contraception that they would later embrace.

These words were from your "fathers", so what is your take?

Oh, by the way both Artificial Contraception and gay-marriage is in conflict with God’s laws comes from a variety of sources pimarily by Apostle Paul which based on God Ordained NATURAL LAWS.


Anonymous said...

These are helpful reflections. Given that the NT mostly refers to the OT when using the word "Scripture," and given that the NT had not even been written (much less canonized) at that time, along with the rest of the letter (which exhorts them to keep the "traditions" handed down and not "the letters" written down) all make the text a very problematic foundation for Sola Scriptura indeed. Pax******Bradley

noye said...

Why all the argument guys? If you do not understand Scripture, then turn to the Author for answers. But when he the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears(John 16:13) Joshua 1:8 says to meditate on God's word. So please meditate on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit will give you revelation. Do not use your carnal mind to try to understand Scripture, it will not work. Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, .......he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. In order for anyone to understand Scripture, we must have the Spirit of God in us and Jesus Christ has told us what we need to do(ref to John 3:3-7) Stay blessed everyone and I pray that God will fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Jace said...

In a previous comment, someone said that Paul the apostle is to be held in the same authority as scripture. Not true, according to the holy Word of God-

Gal. 1:8, "but even if we or an angel of heaven should preach any other Gospel than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse."

Thus the commendation of the Bareans.

The vs. above is express and explicit undeniable scriptural evidence (and there is a plethora of supportive scriptures) that apostolic authority, however broad it may be, is supboardinant to holy scripture. Therefore, it seems clear that the Protestant version of the Berean passage is the correct one.

I know how devastating it must be to learn that those you've trusted are malevolently misleading or innocently mistaken, but we must follow the Truth, wherever it (He) may lead us.

My sympathies to the denominations of the Church of Rome and the Easter Orthodox, but the arbiter of righteousness and authoritative Truth lies not in evil men (cf. Mathew 7:11) dressed in gold-trimmed robes and head-coverings holding scepters, but rather in sacred scripture alone.