“Now, brethren, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the saying: ‘Nothing beyond what is written.’ The purpose is that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over another” (1 Cor 4:6, HCSB). Much hermeneutical ink has been spilt over this verse textually, grammatically, applicationally, et al. However, the guiding principle contained in it always needs to be heeded and practiced.
Throughout church history theological pursuits have enticed men to go “beyond what is written.”
Most often fueled by intellectual pride a la 1 Corinthians 8:1, intense controversies have erupted and have kept on bubbling and boiling. Even the ecumenical councils that were convened to resolve such theological differences were often driven by pagan philosophical presuppositions resulting in perverted hermeneutics on both sides of the fence. The creedal outcomes were regularly closer to political compromises than to exegetically driven systematizations.
Well, unfortunately, things have not improved in our era which today is characterized by blog wars. Don’t misunderstand me; the battle for truth goes on and we can’t be pacifists (Jude 3, etc.). However, it seems like a majority of these frequently vitriolic skirmishes should be characterized by what John MacArthur once labeled “fighting over a dandruff flake on the eyelash of a gnat”! Worse than this are those heated battles where there is no exegetical evidence for an eyelash flake or even a gnat.
God created us as His image bearers to worshipfully seek Him through His Word. But we’re creatures with creaturely limitations. Furthermore, unfortunately but so painfully true, we’re fallen creatures with sinful proclivities driven by prideful egos. So we must ever be grateful for God’s special revelation but we’re not omniscient. Isaiah 55:8-9 must be spiritually tattooed as a 24/7 reminder on our hearts.
When it comes to the crucial area of theological explorations and extrapolations we must follow our Creator’s warnings such as found in texts like Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (NASB). We have all we need for life and godliness in the riches of the parameters of Deuteronomy 29:29b; however, God has placed a wall between verse 29b and verse 29a. Verse 29a belongs uniquely to Yahweh-God. Trying to scale that wall is prideful idolatry. Rather, when we get to that wall, which Jerry Wragg has well labeled “the wall of worship,” we need to be overwhelmed with gratitude for the privilege of practically exploring and systematizing our rich portion (i.e., v. 29b). Then, “not going beyond what is written,” we’re graciously given the joyful privilege of worshipping our God humbly “in spirit and truth.”
Dr. Zemek serves as the Academic Dean of The Expositors Seminary and an elder at Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL.