CSC: WELS Topical Q&A: Bible: Inspiration/Inerrancy: tradition Apostolic
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Q:You said to me in a letter:
"Do you assume that what Paul and the other apostles said differed from or in some way "completed" what they wrote? Why would "oral tradition," that is, words the apostles spoke but did not write, be in any way at odds with what is written in the New Testament?"

You assume that the Catholic church believes that these apostolic oral traditions differed from or were at odds with the Scripture. They simply are not. Paul clearly shows that all Christians are to hold fast to the Word of God as it comes to us in revelation. He says' that it comes to us in 2 different media. 1) written(Scripture) and 2) Oral Tradition(Oral apostolic teachings--2 thess 2:15). This was certainly true for the Apostles in Jesus' day and seems to be a command for all Christians. The Early apostolic church and Fathers sure seemed to believe this. As a matter of fact Even Protestant Church historians such as J.N.D. Kelly cite the fact that tradition was used as an authority for early Christians. This is a biblical command from Paul the Apostle and needs to be obeyed by all Christians.

You also said
"Historically, the Roman Catholic Church has assumed the right to teach a number of things that are not written in Scripture." This may be true but then again as Paul shows in 2 thess 2:15 the word of God comes down to us in 2 forms not just one. So If it comes down to us in oral apostolic tradition thats fine. If it comes to us in Scripture then that's fine too. But just because it is not in scripture doesn't mean its not to be believed or obeyed as a teaching from the Apostles. Paul shows us we need both. Coincidentally there are some Catholic theologians who would say that there are no traditions that are not found in the Bible (at least implicitly). But even if there was, so what? You said
"Its bishops claim to be the custodians and authoritative interpreters of teachings that Jesus imparted to the apostles, and which the apostles passed on to their successors the bishops, but which were not written in the New Testament. The content and the tone of your letter suggest that you are of that point of view." Not only am I, but the Scriptures and the early Church are also of that opinion. Bishops with Authority(Matt 18:15-20; 2 Cor 10:8; Luke 10:16; Hebrews 13:17) and custodian and Church authority and guidence in Scripture can found in (Acts 8:30-31) which also shows the fallacy of Sola scriptura. Also the Word of God as Oral Teaching(Doctrine or tradition) can be found in(1 thess 2:13;1 Tim 4:16; Titus 1:9; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Cor 11:2). So the Bible teaches that we do have an authoritative Church to guide us into all truth (John 16:13) as Jesus promised not just a Bible. And it does show us that clearly tradition if it is apostolic is Authoritative and must be held by all Christians (2 thess 2:15). You seem to be poo-pooing the question I ask you. You did not respond. The question still remains. If you say that all the traditions that the apostles taught were written down, if you judge that by Scripture itself it clearly refutes itself. Where does the Bible say that only the Bible is authoritative and infallible?


A:It is true that in the early church while the apostles were still alive, oral traditions were passed down. Luke says that they were repeated so exactly that what he writes in his gospel will show Theophilus that what he heard orally was true (Luke 1:2,4).

But not all the oral traditions were true. John warns against so called apostolic teachings that were false (Revelation 2:2). Paul warns against oral and written teachings that were falsely represented as something Paul taught (2 Thess 2:2). Peter warned against oral and written teachings that many false prophets would bring into the church.

The only teachings that are authoritative are those that came to us from God's chosen prophets in the OT and the Christ's chosen apostles in the NT (1 Pe 3:2). Jesus said that he would give a special gift of the Holy Spirit to the apostles so they would recall exactly everything he taught (Jn 14:26).

The idea that this same gift would be given to others after the apostles is not found anywhere in Scripture--it is a claim many false teachers have made down through the history of the church. The authority of the oral words he spoke that Paul claims (2 Th 2:15) is for his written and oral words spoken as an apostle. This verse does not apply to all the pastors of the church at the time. Remember in 2 Th Paul is warning the people not to accept everything someone claimed that Paul said (2 Th 2:2). The passages that speak of the authority of church leaders (Mt 18:15f, 2 Co 10:8, Lk 10:16, He 13:17) is not the authority to introduce new teachings. Paul urges Timothy and Titus as pastors , and Peter urges pastors (1 Pe 5), to always be sure to teach only what the "Scripture" (a term which refers to the written word of God) says (1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 3:14-16).

There will always be false teachers who say that what they teach is the word of God. Jesus said this will especially be true as the world nears its end--it is a sign of the end times. All of NT writers inspired by the Holy Spirit warn us against them. So when someone or some church says that what he/it teaches is the word of God, God urges us to test what they say (1 Thess 5:21,22).

The only tool God has given us to do that testing is the written word of God. Any one claiming to have an oral tradition handed down from one of the inspired prophets or apostles must have both historical proof, and what he teaches must be in total agreement with the revealed word of God that we have. Otherwise each person can decide for himself what is true and what is not, and then we no longer have an objective message from God but subjective human ideas guiding the doctrine of the church. That, as Scripture warns us, is a fertile field in which Satan can sow his seeds of false doctrine to lead many people to their souls' destruction.



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