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.