In 1 Cor 4:6, Paul instructs the church in Corinth to "not think above what is written."

Did any early Christian scholars (before translation of the Bible into English) comment on this? If so, what were their conclusions?

Is there a consensus among modern Biblical hermeneutists as to what Paul meant? If so, what are their conclusions? If not, what are the varied positions?

  • My version (NKJV) says, "...that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one another." Paul's intent (according to the thrust of the chapter) was that they not think of themselves as superior to others, but to be humble servants as Paul and Apollos were. Is this what you are asking about?
    – Steve
    Jun 21, 2014 at 14:04
  • Not really as interested in the "so that" (the reason for not doing it) as much what it entails. Immediately before, Paul is talking about not being intimidated by the judgement of others or the self, then says he applies "these things" so that they can learn the meaning of "don't go beyond what is written?" What's that meaning?
    – Andrew
    Jun 21, 2014 at 17:15
  • 1
    Do you want an answer to the question as posed, or are you asking for the conclusion of Biblical scholars as in the body of your narrative? It is very unclear what you are asking. I suggest you take some time to decide exactly what you want to know and rephrase your question. You can find some help in asking questions in the Help section.
    – BYE
    Jun 22, 2014 at 11:32
  • 1
    This paper discusses six different views held by theologians of what it means: laidlaw.ac.nz/assets/Files-PDF-Word/… Aug 24, 2019 at 1:32
  • 1
    This Catholic article argues against 1 Cor 4:6 being an argument for Sola Scriptura: catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/going-beyond Aug 24, 2019 at 1:43

3 Answers 3


That specific phrase is present in the New International Version:

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.

The meaning of the part of the verse you quoted is fairly clear: God's word is sufficient. Do not invent more of it.

I'm not sure if about commentary from early scholars, but there is English commentary from several Reformation-era scholars. Of course, they often commented using the King James version:

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; 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.

Matthew Poole (17th century):

And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes: by these words the apostle lets us know, that though he had said, 1 Corinthians 1:12, that some of them said, "We are of Paul, and others: We are of Apollos"; yet the names of Paul and of Apollos were but used to represent other of their teachers, which were the heads of those factions which were amongst them. In very deed there were none of them that said, "We are of Paul or of Apollos", (for those that were the disciples of Paul and Apollos were better taught), but they had other teachers amongst them as to whom they made factions, whom Paul had a mind to reprove, with their followers...

That you might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written; and that (as the apostle saith) all the church of Corinth, as well ministers as people, might learn to have humble opinions and thoughts of themselves, not to think of themselves above what, by the rules of God’s word, was written in the Old Testament they ought to think; or above what he had before writen in this Epistle, or to the Romans...

(punctuation modernized)

In other words, Paul used the hypothetical phrases "I am of Paul" and "I am of Apollos" (mentioned earlier in the epistle) to demonstrate the folly of relying on manmade words of the teacher more than than the God-made words of the scripture, and using those manmade differences as a source of pride.


Paul is referring to his letters which were carried to other cities as well as Corinth. If you read from the first verse, it is evident that people were talking about Paul as well as his co-workers. Paul is attempting to clear up any preconceived notions regarding his work and ministry. The readers are not to conflate those things that he has previously written.


I don't disagree with the two answers above, but we need to remember that most of the New Testament had not yet been written when Paul wrote this, including most of his own letters. However, his own example in the letter provides the context we need; he frequently quotes passages from the Old Testament and adds to this commands "from the Lord" (especially 1 Corinthians 7, see v25) so he clearly knows they have and are preaching from copies of the OT and at least one of the gospels. Someone did a PhD thesis at Union School of Theology in the UK (www.ust.ac.uk) that demonstrated that Paul was referring to Matthew's Gospel in his epistle. This implies that he either left a copy with them when he planted the church, or knows that they had received one since then.

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