The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 4:6
A Commentary on an Article Condemning Tradition
After presenting three Biblical arguments for his assertion that Holy Tradition is unnecessary and is inferior to Scripture, the next point that the unknown Protestant writes is a repetition of his main premise, that every oral doctrine of the Apostles was eventually recorded in the NT, so that the Bible may appear to contain every doctrine which the Apostles ever taught. He finally uses a Bible verse directly relating to this argument, and it seems to be the best and only real proof that he is able to find against Tradition. Nevertheless, his best proof is not proof at all, and it instead leaves more questions than answers.
This is how he makes his point:
The only revelation we have today is the same committed to the apostles that was written down. This was what the church accepted and practiced after the apostles, that which was written, not what is spoken. The same Paul who is claimed to write of traditions specifically tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:6, "Do not to go beyond what is written." How could he do this if he approved of the apostles' oral teaching alongside the writings? He couldn't. That is why what was taught was penned on paper, pointing to the Scripture as our final authority.
Though his use of 1 Corinthians 4:6 is a valid point in the debate between the necessity or uselessness of Apostolic Tradition, the unknown Protestant's historical knowledge of what the Early Church did or did not believe and practice regarding Tradition is extremely pitiful. Whoever wrote this criticism of Tradition did not even bother to find out what the Early Christians had to say about this subject, nor did he even consult the major problems in translating it from the original Greek. He simply assumes that Paul was a Protestant who wrote this verse with Protestant doctrine in mind, and as a result, he assumes that the Early Christians also believed in the Protestant dogma against Tradition. But the facts say completely different things, proving that Paul had in mind something other than the abolishment of Apostolic Tradition or the total incorporation of Tradition into Scripture when he wrote 1 Corinthians 4:6. Indeed, the Ancient Jews and Early Christians overwhelmingly believed that the Prophets and Apostles intentionally and/or unintentionally left certain doctrines out of the Bible. The Ancient Jewish historian of the 1st century, Josephus, wrote detailed accounts of the Old Testament (OT), including massive amounts of information from Holy Tradition not found in the Bible. The fundamental record of basic Ancient Jewish beliefs, the Talmuds, similarly contain massive amounts of extra-biblical information regarded as Holy Spirit inspired. One of the Apostle John's most famous disciples, Papias, wrote five books with the expressed purpose of recording some of the extra-biblical doctrines of the Apostles. Many other texts and writings from the Apostles, their disciples, and their succession of disciples and teachers taught the belief that there were extra-biblical Apostolic doctrines from the Holy Spirit, as recorded in the Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Ireneus, Clement of Alexandria, and countless other famous Early Christians. In the 2nd century Clement of Alexandria, a disciple of Apostolic disciples, even says in his book the Miscellanies VI, 7, "And the Gnosis itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the Apostles. Hence, then, knowledge or wisdom ought to be exercised up to the eternal and unchangeable habit of contemplation." Extra-biblical doctrines from the Holy Spirit was the universal belief and practice of everyone in the Early Church. Basil the Great in the 4th century sums up this Early Church belief quite well in his book On The Holy Spirit 27:66, saying, "Of the dogmas and doctrines preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the Tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals."
As these facts, which Sacred History abundantly offers, prove, the Early Christians faithfully preserved intact what Paul taught in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, where the Gospel was said to consist of written and oral doctrines. These oral doctrines were not necessarily mentioned in Scripture, as Paul indicates in 1 Corinthians 11:34, which speaks of extra teachings about Communion from Paul that are nowhere else in Scripture mentioned. Basil the Great points this out in his book On The Holy Spirit 9:22, saying, "Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our Faith in Father, Son, & Holy Ghost, what is the written source?" His point is that the Bible does not conclusively teach the Trinity; it only mentions confusing aspects about it, or even denying its existence. Similarly, oral traditions, not Scripture, have determined the authenticity and meanings of every Biblical text for every generation of Christians, as well as deciding which books are from the Holy Spirit and which ones are not. The Bible does not and cannot supply such information, and it is why the books of the Bible were never fully canonized until the 4th to 5th centuries. Thus, Apostolic oral doctrines distinct from Scripture were common knowledge to every Christian since the Apostles, and this is why Basil says, "No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical." Because Protestants do not know these once commonly-known spiritual facts of our Bible and Apostolic heritage, they are far less than moderately versed in church matters. And they "unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals", making Christianity into a shell of a religion, as the Early Christians say. This is why the unknown Protestant quoted above is so pitiful in his understanding of the Faith.
Despite all this evidence supporting Apostolic Tradition, evidence which definitely indicates a different meaning for 1 Corinthians 4:6 than saying that this verse establishes Scripture to be superior to Holy Tradition, the unknown Protestant makes the claim that the only revelations we have from God are all written down in the Bible and that this is "what the Church accepted and practiced after the Apostles, that which was written, not what is spoken". So where is the evidence for making the assertion that the Early Church rejected oral doctrines and relied only on the written Bible? There is no such evidence, except for utter silence and total contradiction of the idea.
This is the basis of the Protestant belief that the Early Church rejected oral traditions and believed only in the written Bible- non-existent evidence. Such a vast amount of silence on so important a subject to Protestants should prove to the honest seeker of God that the Apostles never incorporated all their oral doctrines into Scripture, since their initial witnesses never inherited such a doctrine and practice, nor does simple observation indicate this, as the teachings of the Trinity and the determination of Bible books prove. There were not even debates about this subject in Early Christianity; there were just statements in support of Apostolic Tradition as being equal to Scripture. This means that 1 Corinthians 4:6 was never originally written to be a teaching against extra-biblical oral doctrines from the Apostles, since it was unanimously believed that the Holy Spirit through the Apostles had left behind for all generations extra-biblical doctrines. Moreover, if 1 Corinthians 4:6 were meant to be a denouncement of Tradition, what is Tradition for in 2 Thessalonians 3:6? This verse says, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the Tradition which he received from us." Why did the Holy Spirit not write "Scripture" instead of "Tradition"? In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul mentions how the Apostolic Tradition consists of both oral and written doctrines. Why did Paul say in 1 Corinthians 4:6 not to obey oral Apostolic doctrines (if that is what he meant) and then tell the Thessalonians to obey oral Apostolic doctrines? And then again, why does Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:2 praise the Corinthians for obeying oral Apostolic doctrines and yet in 4:6 he supposedly commands them to reject oral Apostolic doctrines? These contradictions in Scripture about Tradition's role in conjunction with Scripture and vice-versa were never a problem throughout the rest of the Bible and among all the Early Christians; they all simply accept oral Apostolic doctrines. Hence, in the context of Scripture and Sacred History, both Ancient Jewish and Early Christian, 1 Corinthians 4:6 does not make sense if it should mean that the oral Apostolic Tradition has been totally replaced by Scriptural doctrines or that it has been made inferior to the Bible. And there are even more inconsistencies if this verse is to be interpreted as a doctrine against Holy Tradition, raising many more questions than presenting solutions or conclusive answers.
One of the major inconsistencies about 1 Corinthians 4:6 is the ultimate meaning of Paul's command, "Do not go beyond what is written". The phrase "not go beyond" has been assumed to mean "not believe apart from", and that does not appear to be an issue. So then it must be asked, "Does Paul mean to say that the Corinthians should not go beyond what is written in the OT?" Or does he mean to say, "Do not go beyond what is written in the OT and New Testament (NT)?" Either one of these questions is contradicted by the Apostles themselves, including Paul, throughout the NT, since they constantly went beyond what is written in the OT and NT, even adding new doctrines apart from Scripture. In Acts 7:53 Stephen refers to a doctrine from the oral Tradition of the Prophets, which states that angels gave Moses the Law, and not God Himself directly, which is taught in the OT. Paul also taught this same doctrine about the Law given to Moses through angels in Galatians 3:19, even though it is nowhere written in the OT. Nevertheless, it is written in the Book of Jubilees, which some Ancient Jews and Early Christians accepted as Scriptural, a book which had continued to be part of the OT among some Ethiopians into modern times. So then it can be asked, "Does Paul mean for us not to go beyond what is written in the Bible and in texts reflecting Holy Tradition? The Apostle Jude seems to answer this question with a yes, since Jude 9 and 14-15 both quote the Archangel Michael and the Prophet Enoch from texts which had been accepted by some Ancient Jews and Early Christians as Scriptures or as sacred accounts. For instance, 1 Enoch, which Jude 14-15 quotes, was discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, proving that it was written before Christ, used as a Scripture or sacred text by some Ancient Jews, treated as Scripture by some Early Christians, and which some Ethiopians had accepted in their OT even into modern times. And what about the NT? In Ephesians 5:14 Paul refers to a source which he quotes as though it were a written text, even using the introductory phrase for a Scripture "it says", despite the fact that it is nowhere written in the OT and NT. He certainly went beyond what is written in the Bible in this case, totally going against 1 Corinthians 4:6, unless he meant something else by this verse. Similarly, Matthew 2:23 actually goes beyond what is written in the OT in order to prove that Jesus was the Nazarene prophecied by the Prophets. Jesus Himself quotes an unknown Scripture in John 7:38, as though it came from the OT. He certainly went beyond what is written. And this list can go on and on, revealing how Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles often went beyond what is written in the OT.
At this point the good Protestant will say that 1 Corinthians 4:6 refers to anything written by the Apostles, so that all their instances in the NT of going beyond what is written in the OT was meant to be included in this command. In other words, it was doctrinally okay for the Apostles to exempt themselves from obeying a doctrine which they expected others to obey. Though it is possible for the Apostles not to practice what they preach for some greater good beyond their time, it is still unethical and hypocritical at the least, if not spiritually and doctrinally deceptive. What would have been the point for Paul to command his readers to obey a doctrine which he and the Apostles, even Jesus, never adhered to? Since they went beyond what is written throughout their writings in the NT, they certainly had also gone beyond what is written in their oral preachings of the Gospel. The Early Christians must have observed many examples of this activity, yet they were commanded not to do this. Certainly, this puts into question the integrity of Paul, since the Bible does not solve this dilemma, unless 1 Corinthians 4:6 means something other than the total integration of Holy Tradition into Scripture or the total replacement of Tradition by Scripture.
Extra-biblical texts, such as the Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, etc., books which were regarded as authentic, spiritually sound, and in some cases as Biblical, also went beyond what is written, just like the Apostles in the NT. The Epistle of Barnabas frequently quotes extra-biblical texts from the Prophets and he even quotes Jesus from the oral Tradition, which Paul and Barnabas are cited as saying in Acts 14:22. 1 Clement makes a few extra-biblical quotes of certain texts. The Shepherd of Hermas makes at least one reference to Tradition from the Prophets concerning Eldad and Medad. Papias records many oral doctrines from Jesus and the Apostles, one of which was written in the Gospel to the Hebrews, which was a book recognized as Biblical by some Early Christians. And the list of acceptable semi-canonical books from the Apostles and their disciples going beyond what is written in the OT and NT can go on and on, indicating that Paul must not have intended 1 Corinthians 4:6 to mean that all oral Tradition has been replaced by or made inferior to Scripture. In fact, all this evidence suggests that Paul's concept of the OT or of "what is written" was something much different from what Protestants want to believe. Martin Luther after all, in his commentaries of the NT, declared that James, Hebrews, and Jude were unbiblical and he proclaimed that the books of the Apocrypha and John's Revelation were "not Holy Spirit inspired", a spiritual attitude which Protestants to this day have been heavily influenced by. Because the Apostles, their disciples, and the Early Christians not only accepted James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation, and the Apocrypha as Holy Spirit inspired, it is very likely that the Protestant concept of not going "beyond what is written" is a distorted and false perception compared to the Early Church concept of not going "beyond what is written", which they inherited from the Apostles and Paul. The spiritual differences between the Early Church and Protestantism are quite clear in this case, proving that the Apostolic doctrine of the Early Church surrounding the original meanings of 1 Corinthians 4:6, which allowed for extra-biblical oral doctrines, are in total contrast to the meanings of this verse which Protestantism has fabricated in the last 500 years.
In addition to the Apostles in the NT and their disciples in their own writings, the Early Christians went beyond what is written when they developed the doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible nowhere teaches that there should be a Trinity, though Matthew 28:19 may have hinted it, where Jesus tells His Disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But Jesus seems to repudiate this idea in Mark 10:17-18 by calling God the only good One and indicating that Jesus is less than good, suggesting that there is a Duality of the Father and the Holy Spirit, with the Son being a subservient god or spirit-being. Proverbs 7-8 teaches that Wisdom is a Person of the Godhead, with Wisdom being our Mother, who is certainly different from Jesus and the Holy Spirit, all of which suggest a Quadrinity of Father, Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit, rather than a Trinity, or it suggests a Trinity of Father, Mother, and Son or of Father, Mother, and Holy Spirit, or even just a Duality of the Father and Mother. Scripture does not say or specify the Persons of the Godhead, let alone state that there should be a Trinity, a Quadrinity, a Duality, or just the Father. The Early Christians also went beyond what is written when they developed the concept of a canon, an official list of Bible books. The Apostles never taught the concept of an official list of books for the Bible; they simply left behind certain Scriptures and oral doctrines. It was only in the late 2nd century when heretics thought up this doctrine, which the Church then felt inclined to imitate. Nevertheless, official lists of Scriptures were made up for certain regions for the next 250 years, all of which contained different books. The Bible as we know was never universally finalized until about AD 400 containing all the Scriptures accepted today, though when Martin Luther appeared in the 1500's, he invented his own list of Scriptures by throwing out some books from the Bible. Because of all this manipulation of the list of the Bible's books, it is clear that Scripture does not prove if or not its own contents are Biblical, nor does it prove if or not certain books should be kept out as unbiblical. It has always been left to Holy Tradition, or to man-made traditions in Protestantism's case, which has determined which books should be made Biblical and which books should not be. Hence, when Christians believe that only a certain set of books are Biblical and all others are not, they are going "beyond what is written", since the Bible does not teach nor conclusively indicate if or not James, Revelation, Barnabas, 1 Enoch, and many other books in and out of the Bible are Biblical or not. The Ethiopians have taught that 1 Enoch can be perfectly harmonized with the rest of Scripture, while Luther taught that James is totally incompatible with the rest of Scripture. Any book can be made to conform or not to conform with Scripture, and in some cases, it is mostly a decision of men or Tradition itself which determines a Scripture. As a result, the Trinity and the Bible's finalized canon are classic examples of Holy Spirit inspired teachings which are derived from oral doctrines in Holy Tradition (or in traditions of men for Protestants) going "beyond what is written" in Scripture. This means that all Christians since the Apostles either have broken Paul's command in 1 Corinthians 4:6 or it was never ever meant to be interpreted as referring to the cessation of oral Apostolic Tradition. The latter makes far more sense and fits into the context of Sacred History and spiritual experience.
In the same way as the Trinity and the Canon, the belief that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew or that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews comes totally from oral doctrines not written in the Bible. The Gospel of Matthew, Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, and other Biblical books were written and left to us anonymously. The Bible nowhere records who wrote such writings, and it is only oral Tradition which has taught us the Apostolic sources for these books, not Scripture. Therefore, the doctrines supporting the origins of these texts necessarily go "beyond what is written" in the Bible. In other words, Christians who believe these oral doctrines are either falsifying or deliberately breaking Paul's command in 1 Corinthians 4:6, unless this verse was never ever meant to be interpreted as referring to the cessation of oral Apostolic Tradition or as proving the superiority of Scripture over Tradition.
Similarly, the Bible requires in some cases extra-biblical interpretations in order for its passages to make sense or to be harmonized in meaning. James 5:14, for instance, tells Christians to call for a priest or bishop to pray over and anoint the sick with oil. Scripture nowhere else explains what this verse is about, other than indirect references about oil being used in sanctification, though again, it is not known if it is just a good ritual or a devotion sending down God's grace. Nevertheless, oral Tradition in the Early Church had always and unanimously understood this passage to be a Biblical statement about the Sacrament of Holy Unction, whereby the sick were anointed by a priest for the sake of a special reception of God's grace, as important as Communion and Baptism. It was never recognized as a symbolic ritual or a temporary religious custom of any kind, though this is precisely how Protestants interpret this verse. For both interpretations, Scripture does not specifically teach what this verse regards, thus requiring an extra-biblical oral doctrine, from either Holy Tradition or man-made tradition, in order to understand and practice or dismiss this teaching. There are many other examples like this. In the same way, the Bible teaches predestination, the doctrine that teaches how God creates certain people to go to Heaven or to go to hell, that is, people have no choice in the matter. And yet the Bible also teaches free will, the doctrine that teaches how people do have the power to choose between Heaven and hell without God coercing them either way. The Bible totally contradicts itself in this matter, without indicating how to resolve it, thus requiring an extra-biblical oral doctrine to make sense out of these conflicting teachings. Many Protestants themselves have split up into various denominations over this issue, with one church emphasizing predestination and another church emphasizing free will, and yet another church accepting a unity of both doctrines. The Early Church read Scripture and harmonized these passages into a unified concept of predestination-free will having equal power over souls, due to Apostolic Tradition, but some Protestants think otherwise. Hence, certain Bible passages necessarily require oral Holy Tradition or man-made traditions in order for problematic Scriptural teachings to be understood and practiced for the sake of salvation. And there are many examples of such a need throughout the Bible. For this reason, Paul's command in 1 Corinthians 4:6 for the Corinthians not to "go beyond what is written" either has been corrupted or opposed by all Christians or it was never ever meant to be interpreted as a doctrine establishing Scripture over Tradition. The latter makes the most sense because the Bible often necessitates oral doctrines, if from Holy Tradition or man-made tradition, in order to believe and practice it.
In relation to the unknown Protestant's assumption that all oral traditions have been totally incorporated into Scripture, two more questions can be asked: What is an oral tradition? And who determines an incorporation of an oral tradition into Scripture? Catholics read Matthew 16:18, where Jesus calls Peter the rock of His Church, and they are firmly convinced that their oral doctrine of total papal spiritual authority had been incorporated into Scripture as the original meaning of this verse. Protestants, the Early Christians, and Eastern Orthodox read the same passage and they do not hear this verse teaching such an idea. The Early Christians, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox read James 5:14 and they see how the oral doctrine of the Sacrament of Holy Unction has been incorporated into Scripture, whereas Protestants read the same verse and they do not hear it teaching this belief. In fact, they do not at all see any oral traditions being incorporated into James 5:14. Some Charismatics read Acts and 1 Corinthians and they recognize how Scripture teaches that speaking in tongues is the only proof of one's salvation. Other Christians have never interpreted these passages in such a way. 7th Day Adventists read the Bible and they see how it teaches that the soul literally goes to sleep after one dies, whereas other Christians have never understood it to teach this idea. And there are countless other examples of Christians asserting their own theological biases into Scripture, even recognizing totally different oral traditions being incorporated into Bible verses or dismissing the possibility of certain oral traditions being incorporated into Scripture. So how do we know what is an oral tradition, when not all Christians can agree on what an oral tradition may be? Some Christians say that a certain doctrine comes from the Bible, while other Christians dispute it and say that it comes from inferior oral traditions and is not found in Scripture. So how do we know what is or is not an oral tradition being incorporated into Scripture? Both of these things too are not taught in Scripture and they can only be asserted through oral doctrines, if from Holy Tradition or from man-made traditions. Therefore, the determinations of what is or is not an oral tradition and the assertions of if or not an oral tradition has been incorporated into Scripture are not found in the Bible but they are only known by going "beyond what is written". Either all Christians since the Apostles have corrupted or defied 1 Corinthians 4:6 or Paul never ever meant this verse to be a doctrine establishing Scripture over oral Tradition.
After asking these two questions and observing that the determinations of what is or is not an oral tradition incorporated into Scripture requires once more that Christians go "beyond what is written", there is thus this question: How do we know what does or does not go "beyond what is written", as stipulated in 1 Corinthians 4:6? Christians are supposedly not to go "beyond what is written", and yet in some cases no modern Christian seems to know or agree on which doctrines are or are not written in Scripture, since each Christian throughout Church history necessarily has adopted different theological beliefs interpreting what is or is not written in the Bible, particularly certain oral traditions and doctrinal interpretations. In fact, all Christians and Jews throughout time, even Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles in the Bible, consistently have gone "beyond what is written", so that extra-biblical oral doctrines and traditions cannot be separated from Scripture in any way because the Bible does not and cannot explain itself conclusively in every case, even about certain aspects of salvation and communion with God. This is why there have been theological debates over the centuries and this is why Christianity has become so divided in doctrine and practice. Thus, the exact determination of what Paul meant by not going "beyond what is written" means something different to each Christian, depending on where his spiritual tradition and experience have derived from. It is not simply a matter of adding extra-biblical teachings alongside Scriptural teachings, as Protestants have oversimplified 1 Corinthians 4:6 to mean, because every Christian must go "beyond what is written" in order to understand and practice what Scripture says, even in understanding 1 Corinthians 4:6! Moreover, the Bible even shows the Apostles going "beyond what is written". Therefore, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about not going "beyond what is written", it cannot be a doctrine establishing Scripture over Tradition in any way, since applying and maintaining extra-biblical doctrines, oral and written, are vital to understanding and practicing the Gospel.
In 2 Peter 3:15-16 and 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:1-9, Peter and Paul mention that during Apostolic times there were Christians misinterpreting Apostolic teachings and even distorting Scriptures written by the Apostles. This means that there were people having problems understanding what the Apostles taught orally and in the NT, so that some Christians were reading into Scripture false beliefs and also falsifying and misunderstanding what the Apostles verbally taught. Since this was happening in Apostolic times, then it is quite safe to say that more of such activity has happened after the Apostles. As these verses point out, Scripture indicates that there had been false traditions interpreting the Bible during Apostolic times, which means that there had also been the true Tradition of Bible interpretation asserting itself against the false traditions. Therefore, true and false traditions of Biblical interpretation and practice have always been known to co-exist since Apostolic times, making it even more necessary to recognize and apply an extra-biblical oral Apostolic standard of doctrinal beliefs making sense out of Scripture. Similarly, certain oral beliefs had to develop through the Apostolic Tradition long after Apostolic times, since some of the heretical errors, which forced a need for previously unspecified doctrinal formulations to develop, had never appeared until after the Apostles. The heretics in Apostolic times and soon thereafter taught from Scripture that there is no Trinity, so that the Church had to develop its own doctrine over the centuries proving the Trinity as an Apostolic truth. The heretics in Apostolic times and soon thereafter taught from Scripture that matter is pure evil, so that the Church had to later formulate its own doctrine denouncing it. The heretics in Apostolic times taught from Scripture that a hierarchy of bishops and priests was evidence of an inferior faith, so that the Church was forced to establish its own doctrine on this issue. The heretics taught from Scripture that only the Gospel of Luke and Paul's epistles were Holy Spirit inspired, so that the Church had to eventually develop a doctrine of a Canon, which is an official determination of which books should or should not be made Biblical. And examples of this sort go on and on, proving the spiritual necessity of going "beyond what is written".
Because heretics made up distorted doctrines from Scripture and forced them into theological discourse, doctrines which Scripture could seem to support, spiritual confusion over the original meanings of Scripture became a serious threat, thereby forcing the Early Church to develop doctrines in response to the danger. This activity began during Apostolic times and can be seen in the Book of Acts and in other passages, where the Gospel was being twisted to teach that all the OT laws and regulations were still binding. The NT reveals how the Apostles countered these heretical tendencies and developed doctrines in response to them, doctrines which were initially "beyond what is written" and beyond what had previously been the Gospel! Acts 15 is a classic example of how the Apostles actually formulated a new doctrine, or modified some doctrines, in order to counter the threat of spiritual confusion and division. If such problems were appearing in Apostolic times, requiring doctrinal maneuverings to defend the Apostolic Faith, as in the case of OT laws and other issues, then it should also be assumed that even more problems would appear after Apostolic times necessitating doctrinal re-evaluations and solutions in order to maintain the original Apostolic Tradition and Faith. And this is precisely what had happened in the Early Church, so that the Church had to go "beyond what is written" in order to remain faithful to it, not as though adding into the Faith new doctrines alongside of Scripture, but by imitating the Apostles with doctrinal flexibility in preserving the Faith from heresy and error. Had the Bible been strictly applied and practiced, there would have been no correct standard of Biblical interpretation and the Church would have turned out to be much like the Sadducees, who did not believe in Holy Tradition but in the strict rendering of the Bible's teachings, which caused this sect to die out once dramatic changes, such as the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, forced their Bible-only theology to become obsolete. Also, because the Sadducees rejected Tradition and followed only the Bible's words, they learned from Scripture certain doctrines which are clearly false, such as the belief that there is no life after death, since the OT strictly speaking does not teach that there is life after death, which of course is ridiculous and self-contradictory. This means that even the OT requires extra-biblical oral doctrines from the Prophets' Tradition in order to make sense. Hence, the Apostles and the Church have always needed to go "beyond what is written", for by not doing so, no standard of Truth and spiritual logic could ever be recognized and preserved in the face of ever-changing tactics from Satan and his followers. This does not mean, as the Catholics and Protestants so often believe, that theology and spirituality can and must change every century or so, but it does mean that in dramatic instances of major proportions in the Church, with some amount of reluctance, and through a collegiate process of determination, rather than through the dictates of one man or organization, a theological shift can be allowed to occur if it conforms to some degree with traditional tendencies. Certain changes are allowed under certain dire circumstances, but with reluctance, not too often, and only through a certain ecclesiastical process. This has always been the teaching left to the Church from the Apostles regarding instances when going "beyond what is written" becomes necessary.
So what does 1 Corinthians 4:6 mean? Scholars do not really know. In fact, this is one of the Bible's most confusing and elusive passages to translate from Greek, the original language of this verse. Then what does this verse say? Clearly, Paul does not hint of any doctrine about Scripture being superior to Tradition anywhere else in his epistles, and in fact he promotes a perpetuation of Apostolic oral traditions on a handful of occasions, as in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Also, many translations of the Bible, no matter which language throughout Church history, have always differed in translating this verse. The unknown Protestant writing against Tradition uses a translation which seems to make Paul declare how Scripture alone is superior to anything else, even Tradition. Other translations play around with similar meanings, while even other translations present Paul teaching something not at all opposed to Holy Tradition. For instance, the King James Version of 1 Corinthians 4:6 says, "That ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another." The words "of men" were added to the verse so as to convey the sense from the Greek that Paul was referring only to Biblical concepts about men's ways. In other words, he was talking only about some Scriptural passages regarding men's ways, rather than talking about every book of the Bible. Thus, this translation presents Paul seeking to make his readers think about what the differences between good and bad men are, as they are reflected in certain parts of Scripture. Indeed, the context of this verse actually indicates this idea, which is another reason why the King James Version adds the words "of men" and translates the verse in this way. This translation not only is supported by the context, and even fits the Greek sense, but the context of Scripture supports this as well, since the Bible constantly promotes the perpetual preservation of Apostolic Tradition, not the eradication of it.
If Paul were teaching the Corinthians to reject oral traditions and believe only in what the Bible strictly teaches, Paul would have seriously contradicted himself, and the problem Paul was trying to solve by writing 1 Corinthians 4:6 would have also been exacerbated rather than solved. Paul's preaching, which was the Gospel, was already in the form of oral doctrines, since only some of the NT books had been written at the time 1 Corinthians was written and since John 21:25 teaches that it was impossible to record the whole Gospel. So if Paul had told the Corinthians not to go "beyond what is written", then all the oral doctrines he was preaching to them at the time would have been considered to be "beyond what is written" and therefore everything that he and the Apostles had been preaching would have been invalid while they were trying to spread the Gospel. Also, it does not make sense for Paul to make Scripture superior to Tradition when he had already praised the Corinthians for preserving the oral Apostolic traditions in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and he was still preaching oral doctrines not yet recorded in the unfinished NT of the time. If he were telling them not to believe any doctrine not written in Scripture, then why were they expected to believe any of his oral doctrines before they were written down? Why were they praised for accepting his oral doctrines in 1 Corinthians 11:2? Why believe anything Paul, Apollos, and the other Apostles orally preached? Yet throughout the NT Paul defends his oral preaching (what the people heard, not read) as being as necessary as Scripture itself (2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2; Colossians 1:5, Ephesians 1:13, etc.).
But even if Paul were speaking of a finished NT when he told them not to go "beyond what is written", the Bible by itself does not explain its problematic passages, ambiguous doctrines, and other oddities. Plus, there were already false teachers going around twisting Scripture and misunderstanding what the Apostles had orally told them and creating theological divisions even within the Corinthian church. The Corinthians would not have been able to understand what the Bible truly was meant to say without adhering to a pre-existing authoritative extra-biblical oral Apostolic standard of interpreting Scripture's doctrines, especially in the face of certain people finding new meanings in the Bible, some of which may have sounded quite reasonable. Apostolic Tradition was the only true standard for Biblical interpretation, which Paul praised them for adhering to in 1 Corinthians 11:2. Without any authoritative external standard of Apostolic Biblical exegesis, the Corinthians would have simply continued forming more and more divisions, which Paul was trying to stop. Anyone can read into Scripture anything one wants to find in it. For instance, the Bible can be made to say that James 5:14 is a Sacrament or it can be made to say that it was applicable only in Apostolic times. Yet only one of these oral traditions interpreting Scripture can be Apostolic. Thus, allowing the Corinthians to stay within the bounds of Scripture alone would have allowed each Christian to interpret the Bible in any way desired, or to develop different systems of theology. The Corinthians were already doing this, as Paul states in the 3rd chapter of 1 Corinthians, so it would not make sense for Paul to initiate more ways to divide this church.
The concept of Apostolic Tradition for the Corinthians was important. Paul praises them in 1 Corinthians 11:2 for preserving the oral traditions, and in 1 Corinthians 11:34 Paul establishes for them and for all Christians more oral doctrines by mentioning in this verse "further directions" about the Eucharist, which he nor any other Apostles throughout Scripture wrote about. But if 1 Corinthians 4:6 was meant to teach that Scripture is superior to Tradition, the Corinthians would not have needed to hear Paul preaching to them and correcting their false beliefs and practices. They could simply tell Paul that what he was saying cannot be found in Scripture, which of course anyone can interpret in any way desired, as stated in 2 Peter 3:15-16. In fact, with all these divisions in Corinth, even some groups setting up Apollos or Cephas as greater authorities than Paul, it is quite plausible that the Corinthians would have simply gone even farther and ignored Paul's oral teachings altogether, calling them extra-biblical and therefore false. Telling the Corinthians to accept only the Bible as the sole words of God would have thus caused more divisions and led to a major undermining of Paul's and even all the Apostles' spiritual authority. Thus, 1 Corinthians 4:6, for many reasons, could not have been originally written to be a command to establish Scripture as being superior to Tradition. The Corinthians thrived on the Apostolic Tradition and Scripture praised them for doing so.
In addition to these observations and problems surrounding the interpretation and translation of 1 Corinthians 4:6 being a doctrine supporting Scripture over Tradition, the Early Church itself witnessed the Corinthians preserving the Apostolic oral doctrines even near the end of or after the Apostolic Age, and they were still praised for doing so. Clement of Rome was a disciple of Peter and Paul, and he was specifically mentioned in Scripture, in Philippians 4:3, as a man whose "name is in the Book of Life". While only a few Apostles were still alive, or more likely after all the Apostles had died, Clement wrote what is now known as 1 Clement, an epistle to the Corinthians. These Corinthians still had serious problems with divisions in their church and Clement had written to them to admonish them to strive for spiritual unity and purity. In the 7th chapter he says this, "Therefore, let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our Tradition." (Some translations, true to their anti-tradition bias, have falsified the Greek word "Tradition" in this verse to mean "holy calling" or some other words, but "Tradition" is the only correct translation of the Greek word). As Clement points out here, the Apostolic Tradition was still expected to be adhered to. Clement does not tell them to follow Scripture alone, which is impossible without interpreting into it anything one wants to believe, instead, he tells them to obey the Apostolic Tradition, which is the venerable rule or canon or standard of truth, as the Greek word "rule" means. In other words, he is telling them not to follow Scripture alone, but to follow the standard of truth- Apostolic Tradition. Hence, Clement does not at all seem to be aware of the idea that Scripture is superior to Tradition, even though he mentions in this epistle that he has read 1 and 2 Corinthians from Paul. Furthermore, the Early Christians also seemed to be totally ignorant of such an idea by accepting 1 Clement as either a Scripture or as a sacred text of some kind, fully conforming with Apostolic doctrine in every way. There is no indication from the contents and context of 1 Clement suggesting that 1 Corinthians 4:6 should be interpreted and translated as a doctrine promoting Scripture as being superior to Tradition. Indeed, quite the opposite is indicated and promoted.
Because of all these facts and observations from Scripture and Early Christianity, the evidence suggesting that 1 Corinthians 4:6 is a statement establishing Scripture as being superior to Apostolic Tradition is non-existent. Such a belief only came into existence some time after Martin Luther invented the doctrine that Scripture is superior to Tradition (or it can be said that he christianized this heresy from the Sadducees). Hence, the Bible is being forced to say something other than what it was originally meant to say. But one of the more powerful proofs supporting the ancient interpretation of this verse is the fact that when the Ancient Jews and Early Christians spoke about Scripture, they were often including oral doctrines from Holy Tradition, and in some cases, they used the word "Scripture" when they meant to say "Tradition". The Ancient Jewish historian of the 1st century, Josephus, does this at the end of his Preface to the Antiquities of the Jews, where he states that his accounts of the OT will only come from the Scriptures which were kept at the Temple of Jerusalem, the most authoritative texts of the Bible. He also says this at the end of his book in the Antiquities of the Jews XX, 11:2. Nevertheless, his accounts of the OT blend into Scripture many stories, doctrines, and reports from the oral Holy Tradition, so that he saw no distinction between Scripture and Tradition; they were all the word of God. The Ancient Jews also made frequent Targums, which were OT versions blending into Scripture many accounts and beliefs from the oral Holy Tradition, making no distinction between Scripture and Tradition; they were all the word of God. Equally so, this concept can be found in the Bible. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 it says, "When you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers." Here Paul was referring to the oral Apostolic doctrines, which he terms the "word of God", just as the OT was called by him the "words of God" in Romans 3:2, "In the first place the Jews were entrusted with the words of God." Like the Ancient Jews, Paul made no distinction between Scripture and oral Holy Tradition; they were all the word of God and they were synonymous concepts. Therefore, when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 4:6, telling his readers not to go "beyond what is written", it is very conceivable, especially in light of this verse's context, the Bible's context of this teaching, and the Early Church's perception of it, along with the logical inconsistencies of a strict rendering of it, that Paul was speaking about Scripture and Apostolic Tradition as a single unit, that is, that Paul was telling his readers not to go beyond the Bible and Tradition's interpretations of it. According to all the evidence, if Paul was telling his readers to remain within the bounds of the Bible's content, the inferred involvement of Holy Tradition's support of Scripture makes the most sense as the original meaning behind this command.
This careful and full analysis of 1 Corinthians 4:6 brings to light many reasons for interpreting it to include Apostolic Tradition with Scripture. The interpretation and/or translation of this verse as a doctrine establishing Scripture as being superior to Tradition has no precedent throughout the rest of the Bible and especially throughout much of Ancient Judaism and all of Early Christianity. As a result, the unknown Protestant's usage of this passage as proof against Holy Tradition does not fit the context nor sense of Apostolic teaching in and out of the Bible. Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence in and out of Scripture revealing how the Apostles had originally taught Scripture and Tradition to be equal yet distinct sources of Holy Spirit inspiration. Such a massive amount of proof effectively undermines the idea that Paul had in mind any concept of elevating Scripture over Tradition in his writings. Had he in mind this concept, there would have been ample evidence from the Bible and the Early Church supporting it or at least competing with opposing views about it. But there is no such evidence because he did not originally write 1 Corinthians 4:6 with the intention of formulating an anti-tradition belief. It has only been in the last 500 years, mostly among Protestants, that this Bible verse has been interpreted to oppose Tradition as a proof in support of Luther's pre-conceived man-made doctrine that Scripture is superior to Apostolic Tradition. This is not sufficient proof that Paul had originally written 1 Corinthians 4:6 as a doctrine against Tradition. Therefore, the integrity of Scripture and the Early Church must be maintained in this instance, due to the weight of evidence in support of 1 Corinthians 4:6 as a teaching inferring Tradition's equal status with Scripture, since Scripture often requires Apostolic Tradition to understand it and protect it from heresy, and since the Bible and Early Church so often went "beyond what is written" in order to preserve the Faith, or at least it is a verse being neutral toward Tradition. Many Protestants wishfully yearn to use 1 Corinthians 4:6 as proof for their anti-tradition doctrine, however, a complete analysis of its context and initial meaning in the Bible and Sacred History proves just the opposite, that it is a Bible verse inferring the interaction of Scripture and Tradition, or that it is totally neutral about Tradition. This is the only spiritually and historically consistent meaning which can be gathered from 1 Corinthians 4:6.
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