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July 2, 2007 / Daniel

Tradition again

Any time we bring up the subject of sola scriptura, we have to take a look at 2 Thess. 2:14-15, a passage that figures prominently in the debate.  

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Every time that I listen to the local Catholic radio station I hear this verse brought up to deny sola scriptura.  However, I don’t think that it’s a slamdunk for those against sola scriptura. 

 I know that this might seem a little obvious, but when Paul is speaking of “traditions” he means “traditions” that come from the apostles (1st century teachings).   He cannot be talking about traditions that developed in the 2nd or 3rd century or later.  To read this as afffirmation of all later traditions would rely on a semantic anachronism (i.e. like the Baptist preacher who talks about dynamite when talking about δύναμις (dynamis) in Romans 1:16).  Paul can’t be talking about doctrines that hadn’t been developed yet. 


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  1. Dennis / Jul 3 2007 3:27 am


    I listen to Catholic radio too. I think there are some great programs out there (and some that are just so so).

    I agree with you that when Paul is talking about traditions, he’s referring to Traditions (capital ‘T’) that were handed down from the Apostles.

    I think when Catholic radio is talking about that, they are not talking about the traditions that were derived later on.

    Sometimes, however as I’ve written before, a Council might declare dogma just because an outside faction is challenging a belief.

    Something that the Catholic Church has never officially decided on is predestination. It knows that it exists but allows the believer to accept different interpretations of it (Thomist/Molinist?). Well, if some Protestant denomination started criticizing the Pope for not having an established dogma on predestination then the Church would get together and make a ruling one way or another regarding Predestination.

    They would determine this through prayer, through reason, and by examining what the early Church Fathers believed. Above all, they would ask that the Holy Spirit guide them.

    And He does!

    What allows the Church to rule on dogma after Christ is the Apostolic Succession that is present in the Orthodox and Catholic Church. Christ said in Matthew 18:18 that the Apostles had the power to bind and loose on earth and in heaven. This authority has been passed down (through the laying of hands) from the Apostles to the present day Bishops in the Orthodox and Catholic Church.

    This is what holds the Church Councils infallible. It’s not because these are perfect men. It’s because they are protected by the Holy Spirit. These are men who have a direct connection to the Apostles (through the laying on of hands) and when they are together, what they bind on earth has already been bound in heaven.

    What Paul is talking about however is the oral Tradition that the Church holds dearly:

    –The Real Presence in the Eucharist
    –Sanctity of Life
    –The Apostle’s Creed

    All of which can be traced back to the 1st Century.

  2. Levi Michael / Jul 3 2007 4:25 am

    I agree that this passage is clearly referring to those oral traditions which were normative at the time of his writing. That much is obvious.
    However, the absence of teachings from the earliest post-scriptural Christian writings is not proof that they weren’t a part of the deposit of the faith, the Tradition. It only means that they were first publicly professed at a later date.

    I tend to think of the Tradition as an a living, authoritative interpretation of the Apostles’ experience with the Incarnate Lord. It is the authorizative interpretation, given to the Church by the Holy Spirit, who led the Apostles into all truth.

  3. fiester25 / Jul 3 2007 1:09 pm

    Here’s the problem to me with apostolic succession. How do we determine who are the real successors? If I talk to Levi, he’s going to tell me the Orthodox bishops. If I talk to Dennis, he’s going to tell me the Catholic bishops. Who’s right? Not that I want you guys to duke it out.

    Isn’t there a better source for apostolic teaching than either of these denomination’s bishops? Here’s my Protestant answer–the New Testament does the job of apostolic succession.

  4. Bryan L / Jul 3 2007 3:29 pm

    You answer your question “how do we determine who are the real successors? ” with the answer “Here’s my Protestant answer–the New Testament does the job of apostolic succession.”
    But the similar question could be asked how do we tell which books should have been in the NT or whether there should have even been a NT? Since both question are related to church traditions and decisions that were made through church history, in the end I believe the answer to both questions come down to trusting that God guided these processes in history through his Holy Spirit.

    Now truthfully I think there’s too much water under the bridge to determine who the real successors are. In the end I believe they are both valid for their traditions. I don’t think God intentionally split the church into those various traditions (all though he could have to preserve something in each that would have gotten lost in the other) but I do think he supplied both of them with the necessary leadership and authority they needed to survive through history.

    Now maybe our question is how do we bring these different traditions back together? Or maybe that’s not something we should try since maybe the purpose of the different traditions (Catholicism, Greek Orthodox, Protestantism) is to keep each other in check or call each other to account, sort of like the checks and balances in Government. Who knows.

    Just some thoughts.

    Bryan L

  5. Dennis / Jul 3 2007 3:31 pm


    Catholics regard the Orthodox bishops as validly apostolic with the only real difference being that they don’t recognize the Pope as the head of the Church. The Apostolic succession was not broken and it is evident in the fact that their doctrine has remained unchanged after the Schism.

    In regards to the New Testament being a better source, I won’t argue with that. However, the New Testament can be read different ways by different people. I may view a line differently than you and you may view a line differently than Levi.

    Whose interpretation is correct? For Levi and I, we would defer to the teaching authority of our Churches (which should be relatively the same). For Protestants, they go to one of two places. They either defer to their local pastor or they make the judgement on their own (through prayer and discernment).

    This I think is the fundamental difference between Catholics/Orthodox and Protestants. The way that we read the New Testament is different as we aren’t at liberty to interpret Scripture that conflicts with Church Teaching. Why? Because we accept the teaching authority of the Church and truly believe that she is without error.

    Why? Because of the Apostolic Succession. Apostolic Succession actually means more than the laying of hands. It’s for a Bishop to teach all that he knows about Christ to his successor and then lay hands.

    This is evident in Scripture between Paul and Timothy. Paul in 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 mentions the grace received through the “imposition of my hands” and instructs Timothy to entrust to others what he has learned so they can be taught as well (2 Timothy 2:2). This is still going on today. It’s a chain that has remained unbroken for almost 2000 years and is part of the Oral Tradition.

  6. Levi Michael / Jul 3 2007 9:14 pm

    The Orthodox recognize the Apostolic succession of the Roman Catholic bishops, in fact many pre-Schism popes are venerated as saints in OC (Orthodox Church, not Orange County!). In Orthodox theology Apostolic Succession does not guarantee the fidelity of any one bishop to the Apostles’ Teaching, but it does guarantee that as a whole God will use the bishops to protect the church from error. And the bishops keep one another from error. So, in Orthodoxy it takes three (I think) bishops to consecrate a bishop and it also take three bishops to depose a bishop.

    The importance of 2 Thess. 2:14-15 in the debate about sola scriptura is it reminds that the doctrine itself is not found in Scripture.
    The Christian Church which received the writings of the NT was a living worshipping eucharistic community. All without the aid of the NT writings, because they had the first hand testimony and guidance of the Apostles. (Incidentally, the earliest post-scriptural authors were first century disciples of the Apostles, Ss. Ignatius of Antioch, Justin the Martyr, and Polycarp.
    Even in the churches which emphasize sola scriptura, the Scriptures are not an authoritative in themselves, but they are authoritative as they are interpreted within the given tradition. Some tradition (authoritative interpretation) is always the norming norm. This is maybe what the Anglicans mean when they insist on the dependence on Scripture, Tradition and Reason.
    In Orthodoxy Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition are not two opposed forces a la Protestantism. Neither are they two sources of truth a la St. Thomas. They are one and the same.
    From the historical perspective the oral tradition gave rise to, and predated the written tradition.
    Here’s a link to section in Fr. Thomas Hopko’s series The Orthodox Faith on the “Sources of Christian Doctrine”

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