Misunderstanding Sacred Tradition

Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles (Athens)

My Evangelical friend Dave and I have continued our discussion, and the topic switched to sacred Tradition. He sent me something he wrote attempting to rebut the notion of Tradition (my comments in blue):

— Begin Dave’s correspondence —

Catholicism states that sola Scriptura or Scripture alone (a Protestant standard or principle) is not Biblical.  They have a verse or two they say supports their position that traditions are also an integral part.  Let’s look at those, shall we?

“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2 NKJV)

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NKJV)

“But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 NKJV)

There are a few common themes here.  First, all are written by the same apostle—Paul.  Second, all three are past tense: “traditions…I delivered,” “traditions which you were taught,” “tradition which he received.”  None of the verses Catholics use to support continuing traditions actually support continuing traditions! [Here’s the error in his understanding: sacred Tradition is not new revelation or continuing traditions. It is not added to over time but was given once for all by Christ, yet it also is something that is enlivened by the Holy Spirit.]

Paul says, “Keep the traditions I delivered to you…the traditions I taught you whether when I was with you in person or by one of my letters…the traditions you received from me or the other apostles.”  Third, as already alluded to, these are traditions taught by the apostles.  All of our doctrines that we follow as Christians were taught to us by either Jesus or His apostles.  The Pope is NOT an apostle! [Yes, so those traditions were delivered (past tense) but as part of the deposit of faith they are preserved by God in His Church through Apostolic Succession. Of course, the pope is the bishop of Rome. Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and he was an Apostle. But I’ve learned arguing this kind of thing isn’t really helpful, so I don’t usually try.]

Remember.  The Bible had not yet been canonized and assembled as a single book.  All the Christians of that period had were the letters and traditions of the apostles.  Once all the apostles had graduated and gone to heaven there were no new revelations! [Agreed, public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle; more on this later.] There aren’t any verses of Scripture to support that traditions continue!  (Only Catholic tradition says traditions are continually viable…hmm [Wrong])  Before the letters and apostolic traditions could peter out, vanish, disappear, God had the Bible canonized and available to all. [And…what verse says that would happen? This is his opinion, and it makes sense given the presupposition of sola Scriptura: God instantly canonized the Bible when the last Apostle died and so the Church had the crystallized truth–the only infallible rule of faith–in the Scriptures. The only problem with this theory is that it bears little resemblance to historical reality.]

Traditions were an integral part of the Church’s beginning.  The traditions taught by the original 12 (13) apostles and our Lord only; and since those traditions have been forever placed in antiquity in the written Word, there is no need for additional ones. [Again, what verse says that all tradition would be placed in the written word?]

— End correspondence —

One interesting thing Dave asserted in there is worth looking at again: “Once all the apostles had graduated and gone to heaven there were no new revelations!”

In other words, public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle. Catholics affirm. But(!), Catholics have a consistent basis for affirming this–sacred Tradition–while Protestants do not, because they reject Tradition. So Protestants need a verse from the Bible that says that public revelation will end when the last Apostle dies. But that verse doesn’t exist, and instead they have to borrow from the very Tradition they think they reject in order to affirm this truth.

And they must affirm this truth, otherwise they have no reason to believe that God couldn’t inspire more books to be added to the Bible! Which would blow sola Scriptura up right in their face.

I informed Dave tactfully that he misunderstood Tradition–it’s not ongoing revelation–and he humbly accepted his misunderstanding. No blame there. Tradition is mysterious, especially to Protestants, who mistrust something that purports to sit alongside Scripture and yet isn’t analyzable in the same way the Bible is.

Sacred Tradition is intimately connected to Apostolic Succession. It’s a river that flows from Christ its source through the Church in her sacramental life and liturgy. The Spirit vivifies it. All this is so far off American Evangelicalism’s radar that it is not surprising that they don’t understand it, much less believe it. That only comes with time, prayer, and study.

15 thoughts on “Misunderstanding Sacred Tradition”

  1. It may also be important to point out to him that when the NT mentions the “word of God” that it is more often referring to oral preaching, not Scripture. Scripture is a part of the overall Tradition.

    1. Good point, Brian. I don’t think he would be able to accept that at all, but it is true. In his mind, sans evidence, all that oral preaching was crystallized in the Scriptures, which were canonized quickly, so the Church had it all in the Bible.

  2. Another note is that we did not even agree on the canon of Scripture until the 4th century if not later. How did Christians manage those hundreds of years? Even after that time it wasn’t till the modern era that publishing technology allowed people to have a bound complete text of Scripture.

    Unfortunately there is a bias against “tradition” in a lot of modern translations. The NIV for example translates the Greek “paradosis” teachings when viewed positively and traditions when expressed negatively.

    What does Scripture itself say is the pillar and ground of truth?

    1. Hi Theron,

      Yes that is all true. But my friend Dave has a common anti-historical attitude and so does not care how the Bible came to him. He believes that his sixty-six book Bible has been experientially confirmed via the Holy Spirit within him, so that’s enough.

      1. “…He believes that his sixty-six book Bible has been experientially confirmed via the Holy Spirit within him, so that’s enough.”

        Unfortunatley, Dan Brown, Elaine Pagels, JD Crossan, et. al. also believe the holy spirit has experientially confirmed that the Gnostic Gospels are Canonical. So there you go…

    1. Yeah me too. But he doesn’t realize it. He thinks that he only submits to God’s Word, the Bible, but actually he submits to his interpretation of God’s Word, which likely has many errors in it.

  3. Every man a Pope.

    I went to a Parish mission (when I was contemplating converting) and the Convert Steve Ray was the speaker. And he told us in Luther’s own lifetime he had regretted the Reformation (mostly because he couldn’t contain it, and people would now kowtow to HIS interpretation of scripture).

    I can’t find the direct quote, but he paraphrased Luther’s frustration and regret over his opening of Pandora’s box by saying that [Luther said] …now there are more theologies than there are heads…

    1. I have heard that expression too, attributed to Luther. And he was right! I don’t think he intended to be the spark that would cause such a conflagration of destruction, but he was.

  4. After I read the book “The Catholic Church and Tradition”, I thought, Why would Jesus and the Holy Spirit work so hard to teach the apostles what God wanted in a church, just to have it disolve when the apostles died? The Bible shows the apostles replacing Judas, wouldn’t that be an example of succesion? The Bible (JOHN?) also says there was so much Jesus did and said the words would fill the earth. I think the apostles would know better what was expected after death. Plus the church can survive on tradition with out the Bible because it surved and thrived hundreds of years with out it.

    Plus, if there is only one Holy Spirit why are so many Churches hearing a different message? Because our minds and the devil get in the way. Jesus also said he would be with His church till the end of time.

    I think many do not realize Catholics have to traditions T’s and t’s Little t’s change T’s do not. Don’t people think how much they are insulting and tearing apart His church by fighting it?

    1. Can you speak more on this book “The Catholic Church and Tradition” (Author/isbn)

      Could not find it on bookfinder

      1. I had the title backwards,”Tradition and the Catholic Church” Msgr. George Angius
        Tan Books Publisher
        Copy revised 2005

        The book tends to keep to the same theme and I found myself asking “what are the origenal Traditions?” and the book never answered. Maybe they are so well known when this book was written they did not need to be written, just like the Bible. He mentions Tertollion a lot because he talks about sticking strictly with the other bishopes that learned from the Apostles. Any person who deviated from them was a heratic. At least for the first 300 years all the bishops had to agree with the pope, thats how they knew it was authentic teaching from the origenal.

        I have to admit I do not fallow the past tense theory, every word spoken is past tense.

        Does he realize the church has volumes of letters… but they were not put in the Bible, Has he read any of the fathers of the first 2 centuries? I haven’t but I get bits and pieces from books I read.

        What about teaching the nations, what does he think they were teaching? They were teaching the mass (which comes from the Bible, but spread out in different sections) They were laying hands on others worthy of being priests so they could continue. All these nations were doing the same Traditions (coinsadence?) Shouldn’t we give Jesus credit for knowing all nations have a ruler, government if they want to survive,…otherwise his people would stray and not know what to do or believe. (like the occupy now) Jesus said “He is king” and he needed a gov./higherarchy on earth for His people to fallow. “What is bound on earth will be bound in Heaven”, I do not think everyone who thinks they know best is going to be bound in Heaven. I think people take Jesus’ love forgranted, he was stern and gave people two choices, there was no gray matter. We can not lower him to our leavel, we need to find our fear again. Jesus did not debate and change his mind to any human. When he told people of His body being the bread and people left, He did not call them back and say it was a joke or a mediphor. You either accpt or not. I do not think Jesus is not with anyone in a different church, but full comunion with him is in the Catholic church. Sorry, I get carried away.

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