Jesus, “It is written” and Paul, “Do not go beyond what is written” By Jack Kettler*
When Jesus and the apostle Paul declared the above, they are referring to Scripture. Our Lord, followed by the apostle Paul, is setting forth the written Scriptures as the highest authority.
As in previous studies, definitions will be looked at along with scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how to live.
Also called: Holy Scripture, Holy Writ or the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments
The Scriptures as God speaking:
The apostle Paul in the book of Romans, says, “For the Scripture saith.” It is significant to note when one consults Isaiah 28:16 whom the apostle is quoting, one finds that it is God speaking. Scripture references itself to reinforce its authority.
Looking at the text in Isaiah that Paul is quoting:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16)
(Underlining emphasis is mine throughout this study)
Another example of this is in Romans:
“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)
Was God speaking or the Scriptures? If there is any doubt, we know for sure after reading Exodus 9:16 that it is God speaking, whereas, Romans says, “the Scripture saith.”
Again, looking at the text, Paul is quoting from Exodus. Notice the personal pronouns:
“And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)
Therefore, God and the Scriptures are so closely identified as to be synonymous. In essence, we learn from these examples, “thus saith the Lord God” and the phrase “the Scriptures saith” can be and are used interchangeably.
Part 1, Jesus “it is written:”
The importance of the written Scriptures:
Christ’s view of Scripture:
“If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35)
The Scriptures to be written down:
God’s Word was to be written down and set forth as truth that is superior to the oral traditions and the utterances of men. The inscription of God’s Word is the prima facie blueprint that is outlined in the Scriptures.
The inscription of God’s Word gives us an objective divine standard to determine the truth.
Observe the clear commands that are outlined in God’s Word about this:
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…” (Romans 15:4)
“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord… And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people…” (Exodus 24:4, 7)
“Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.” (Isaiah 30:8)
“Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.” (Jeremiah 36:2)
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersover thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou have good success.” (Joshua 1:7-8)
“And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)
“Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book and send it unto the seven churches…” (Revelation 1:11)
God’s Word was to be written down so that His people could know how to live in a way pleasing to Him and be able to know right from wrong. Apart from the objective written standard of Scripture, man is left with his own subjective opinions or the subjective opinions of others.
Because of Scriptural authority, the biblical writers, appeal to what had been written:
A few examples are:
“Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerrubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God.” (Ezra 3:2)
“But he answered and said, It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
“And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luke 4:4)
“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (1Corinthians 1:19)
“Because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1Peter 1:16)
When Jesus says, “it is written,” or “have ye not read” it was the end of the debate for Him. In Matthew 4:10, Christ used this very phrase when He rebuffed Satan during the wilderness temptation. Indeed, Jesus used “it is written” to preface His teaching or to end an argument numerous times.
Moreover, there is not one example in Scripture where Christ’s human opponents questioned the authority of Scripture after Jesus used this argument. Jesus used the Scriptures as the final court of appeal. Christ and the apostle Paul viewed the written Scripture as authoritative and cited them frequently.
Our Lord’s appeal to “it is written” is repeated in Matthew 4:4; 21:13; Mark 9:12; John 8:17. The phrase “it is written” is a reference to the Word of God. In addition, when Jesus quotes the Old Testament or says, “it is written,” this should inspire confidence in the Scriptures because Furthermore, Jesus is establishing the Scriptures as God’s highest authority.
In fact, doing a word search on “It is written” you find:
“it” AND “is” AND “written” occurs 311 times in 93 verses in the KJV.
In addition, there are numerous places where Christ and the apostles quote the Old Testament directly. For example, in Matthew 19:4-5, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24. In Hebrews 1:5, the writer is mentioning Psalms 2:7.
The irrefutable apologetic, the Scriptures:
Additionally, in Acts 18:24, 28, we learn of Apollos who was “mighty in the Scriptures” and convinced the Jews publicly that Jesus was Christ from the Scriptures. Apollos’s method sheds important light on how important the Scriptures are. Apollos did not use testimonials or new revelations to convince the Jews; he used the Scriptures as his apologetic.
Seeing this apologetic pattern in Scripture:
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they, which testify of me.” (John 5:39)
“Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” (Acts 26:22)
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, [Paul most certainly is including the New Testament writings here] and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)
The word “inspired” comes from a Greek word meaning “God-breathed.” Peter uses the same Greek word for “Scripture” (γραφὴ) to describe the writings of the apostle Paul (γραφὰς plural form of the same word) in 2Peter 3:16.
Part 2, Paul “Do not go beyond what is written:”
In light of the above on the Scriptures, consider Paul’s unequivocal declaration:
“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.” (1Corinthians 4:6 ESV)
In the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on First Corinthians, Leon Morris makes the following comment about the 1Corinthians 4:6 passage:
“‘not go beyond what is written’ was a catch-cry familiar to Paul and his readers, directing attention to the need for conformity to Scripture.” (1)
We can learn more about what Paul means by the phrase “not to beyond what is written” from Simon J. Kistemaker:
“b. Learning. “That from us you might learn not to go beyond what is written.” Scholars have spilled much ink in an effort to explain this part of the text. A few examples show various ways to translate this phrase:
“That you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written” (NKJV)
“May you learn from us not to go beyond what is set down” (NAB)
“So that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written’ ” (NIV)
“You may be taught the truth of the words, ‘Nothing beyond what is written’ ” (Cassirer)
These examples reveal not so much different translations of the Greek text as differences in understanding the text itself. Some scholars are of the opinion that the words “not to go beyond what is written” are an unintelligible gloss that should be deleted. But there is no textual evidence to substantiate the claim that these words are a gloss. Furthermore, omission of these words makes the verse itself incoherent. Most scholars think that these words “are evidently a proverb or a principle in proverbial form.” It may have been a saying that was current in the political arena of Paul’s day and served to promote unity. Paul, say these scholars, uses a maxim familiar in Corinthian circles to urge an end to the divisions in the church and to foster unity.
Nonetheless, when Paul borrows the phrase what is written, is he referring to the Old Testament Scriptures? Presumably, yes! The proverb itself must convey a message, which in the context of the two epistles to the Corinthians signifies the Scriptures. And in these letters, the Greek word gegraptai (it is written) frequently introduces quotations from the Scriptures. Paul quotes repeatedly from the books of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. In total, there are seventeen Old Testament quotations in I Corinthians and ten in II Corinthians.
Paul’s stern warning to the Corinthians not to go beyond what is written appropriates additional meaning in chapter 10. After citing a few incidents from the history of the people of Israel, he asserts: “Now these things happened to them as a warning and were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (10:11). It would indeed be too restrictive to limit Paul’s warning “not to go beyond what is written” to the six Scripture passages, he has quoted in the first three chapters of I Corinthians (1:19, 31; 2:9, 16; 3:19, 20). Conclusively, Paul refers to the entire Old Testament revelation.” (2)
Simon J. Kistemaker most certainly makes a convincing case that phrase from the apostle Paul is referring to is the written Scriptures.
When Jesus said, “it is written,” He established beyond all doubt that the Scriptures are the Word of God. In addition, in this study, a pattern is seen that when we read “the Scriptures saith” it is identical to God speaking. When Jesus rebuked Satan said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
In Matthew 4:11 we read “Then the devil left him…” Jesus vanquished the Devil by His appeal to the authoritative Word of God.
As seen, there is a clear pattern in Scripture of appealing to what had been previously written. This pattern establishes a normative rule for using the Scriptures to determine the truth. Therefore, using the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures and allowing them to be the highest or final court of appeal is biblical and it is the duty of God’s people to submit to their authority. This is so because when the Scriptures speak, it is God speaking!
Therefore, when Jesus said, “It is written,” this confines the debate to the Scripture. Likewise, as Paul has said, we are “Do not to go beyond what is written” establishes the parameters of the debate.
In closing, Chapter I. – Of the Holy Scripture – Westminster Confession of Faith:
“I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
II. Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testament, which are these:
Of the Old Testament
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, 2 Samuel, I Kings, 2 Kings, I Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
Of the New Testament
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, I Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, I Peter, 2 Peter, First, Second, and Third Epistles of John, Jude, Revelation
All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.
III. The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings.
IV. The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
VIII. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.
IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12)
1. Leon Morris, The Tyndale New Testament Commentary 1Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Inter-Varsity Press, and Eerdmans, 1983), p. 78.
2. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 1Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1986), p. 134-135.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
* The above article has been adapted from the book The Religion That Started in a Hat By Jack Kettler