Do not write above what is written

Our modern Bibles are replete with footnotes and often theological notes, interpretations, and the rest of it. What we often don’t appreciate is that early scribes often wanted to add theological notes and explanations into a text in the very same way, but unfortunately sometimes what happened is that their notes (written in the margins) would be mistaken by a subsequent scribe as part of the text itself. Thus, for instance, the famous Johannine comma:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
~ 1 John 5:7-8 (KJV)

However, as the NIV notes: “Late manuscripts of the Vulgate testify in heaven: the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that testify on earth: the(not found in any Greek manuscript before the fourteenth century)”

In fact such a reading is not found in any Greek or Latin before the fourteenth century with the exception of the Clementine Vulgate. Most scholars agree, therefore, that this was actually a theological interpretation of the Trinity which was first put into the margins, and then later mistaken, in one family of texts, for part of the book. Obviously the Johannine comma caused much trouble for Christians, and perhaps Catholics in particular (after Trent – though John Paul II did explicitly say that the Johannine Comma was an area upon which Catholic scholars can legitimately disagree, and then excluded it from the standard liturgical text of the Church, so that it never appears in the readings at Mass).

However, Catholics have often not made a point, in dialogue with certain protestants (Strongly reformed protestants) of pointing out another such curious instance of what most probably is a scribal inscription which moved from the margins to the text. It actually occurs in one of the verses classically used in anti-Catholic apologetics to support the idea that Christians ought not go beyond scripture (thus, implicitly, Sola Scriptura).

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.
~1 Corinthians 4:6 (KJV)

This verse is often translated by Protestant translations in the following way:

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.
~NIV

The problem is, of course, that the word in Greek (ὑπέρ) is most naturally translated as ‘above’ (though ‘beyond’ is a possible translation). However, this doesn’t seem to fit the theme of what Paul is saying about not putting one’s faith in men. However, once one reads it as follows, it becomes a little more clear:

Now these things, brothers, I have applied to myself and Apollos because of you, in order that by us you may learn [that not above what is written], so that no one will be puffed up against another.

The scribe’s note was specifically to tell others not to write between the margins – “do not write above what is being written” which is actually a more natural translation of the Greek. Then, the passage would read:

Now these things, brothers, I have applied to myself and Apollos because of you, in order that by us you may learn, so that no one will be puffed up against another.

This reading fits extremely well with Paul’s theme of not allowing divisions according to different early leaders (i.e., I follow Paul, I follow Cephas, I follow Apollos, et al.). Therefore, if this is in fact a scribal note in the margins (telling other scribes not to write ‘above the lines’ and thus not between the lines, but in the margins), then the reading which follows is awkward only because this is yet another ‘note’ which got mistaken for part of the text. Though I find this argument compelling based on the most natural way to read the flow of Paul’s argument here (since to tell the Corinthians to not go beyond what has been written seems very odd, since he obviously wanted them to go at least as far as what he was just then writing, and also most of the New Testament hadn’t been written yet, and a number of other curiosities follow), even if one did not want to agree that this argument is compelling because they feel an attachment to this verse, a Catholic should point out, at least, that the reading which is standard in Protestant translations is seriously questioned by scholarship.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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