Tradition. In evangelicalism and in some of mainline Protestantism it is something to be hated, disregarded, and put down. I believe that Apostolic or Christian tradition is not in competition with the Scriptures and is a necessary means of Christian interpretation. Without it our view of Christianity is less than complete. Christianity is a tradition, it was started as tradition, and it will continue to be a tradition until the day our Lord returns. We understand that our Lord Jesus started the Church, but He then gave His work to the Apostles whom when empowered by the Spirit began to work. The Apostles and early Christians understood that the Apostles were the ones who had the final say in what was to be believed and practiced in Christianity. The Apostles believed that they were the foundation of the Church with Jesus as the most important piece, the corner stone. It therefore necessitates that we believe and follow their practice as well. We all know that we do that from Scripture, but another way we do that is by following the traditions that they passed down to us that are not recorded in Scripture. Maybe for you who are reading this, this is the first time you have ever considered that a tradition may be out there from the Apostles which is not recorded in Scripture. I ask you to keep an open mind about this. After all we already believe that not everything that Jesus Himself has done is recorded in the Apostles writings; for the Apostle John records that if such things were to be recorded the world could not contain the writings to be written. Separating Apostolic Tradition from the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit is something I think is impossible, but in as much as is possible I mention it here. Tradition as an authority and interpretive method of Christianity is the historically passed down practice and teachings. It is Apostolic when interpreted as true religion, yet nominal when taken in its broad sense. Apostolic Teachings and Practice are to be understood as Jesus’ Directives and therefore important. Tradition is then to be interpreted for the search of Apostolic Tradition which equates to Jesus’ directives for us (making it by implication authority). So as I said before I will continue to validate the necessity of Apostolic Tradition through the threefold method of the Holy Spirit, Tradition, and the Scriptures. Before I start I just want to point out that my main point in this section is that Tradition as a method of interpretation is not only valid and authoritative, but it is also necessary to get the best and most faithful picture of Christianity.
- Apostolic Tradition is not only Scripture and therefore we cannot go by Scripture alone.
- Evidence from Scripture
- Foundations of the Church are living beings not letters and it is good to listen to them Ephesians 2:19-20/ 1 Corinthians 11:2 NRSV
- Their traditions have not been passed down in letter only 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NRSV
- Evidence from Tradition (Early and Now)
- Early Christians affirmed the above
- They saw Scripture alone as problematic
- Evidence from Scripture
- These things are continued to be believed by the vast majority of those in Christianity
- Holy Spirit Empowers both of these (Apostles and their Tradition)
Evidenced in Scripture
So let’s take a look at Scripture and see what it says.
I spoke earlier about the Apostles being the foundation of the church and the authoritative means by which Christianity has flowed from. One of the common verses appealed to for this is, Ephesians 2:19-20.
“So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” Ephesians 2:19-20 NET
A common principle that our Lord taught is that those who comes in the name of another are associated with that person. Jesus says those whom He sends, when accepted, are those whom receive Him, and then when they receive Him they receive the Father also. I appeal to John 13:20 for this. The Scriptures also record that the Apostles themselves also appealed to their association with Jesus as means of authority through the Apostleship. I appeal to 1 John 1:1-3 and when it comes to Paul Galatians 2 and 1 Corinthians 9:1-3. I also want to bring up that the Apostles are obviously recorded as the ones who are mainly founding the Churches as we see recorded in Acts. They Preach Christ, gather assemblies, and eventually establish leaders. So from the historical side we see in Acts, the Apostles can be said to be the founders of the Churches, but also as the authoritative directors in the churches. So as I said earlier they accomplished this by means of word of mouth and written letter. I’d like to focus on two verses from Paul that highlight the need for tradition that is both written and unwritten.
“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.” 1 Corinthians 11:2 NRSV
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NRSV
As Paul writes to these two different churches he praises them and warns them concerning holding to the traditions or practices that he gave them. Some of these practices could be referenced in these individual epistles, but the majority of these traditions were given in person and are not recorded in any epistle given to them. This highlights the fact that authoritative Apostolic tradition of teachings and practice existed in the world that were never recorded in any writing. The implications of this being that (1) Scripture alone is not capable or sufficient in supplying these and (2) that knowing this (taking into account that one wants to be faithful) they must consider and interpret the traditions as passed down in the earliest Christian traditions. Of which can be done through surviving living Christian tradition and written records of Church history. So to recapitulate this section, my arguments are that Scripture itself records that unwritten Christian tradition exists, is necessary in Christianity, and flows from the Apostles; hence Apostolic authority from Christ. With the main implication for Christians that if we want to be faithful then we need to first interpret the traditions out there and incorporate the true ones into our faith.
Evidenced in Tradition
Now let’s look at tradition. When it comes to looking at Christian tradition the main two ways I will be doing this is by looking at a few quotes from a couple of different early Christians and referencing from traditions that are still alive today in Christianity. By quoting these early Christians I hope to present the truth that early Christians believed and valued tradition as totally necessary for practicing faithful Christianity. By referencing existing traditions and faiths such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, I hope to show that tradition is continually affirmed to be necessary in Christianity to this day. And as an obvious side note show that Sola Scriptura was not affirmed by the early church faithful and still to this day is not affirmed by the overwhelming majority of Christians.
I want to start out by quoting some well respected early Christians who affirmed that the necessity of tradition of the Apostles and that it was both written and unwritten. Before I do so I’d like to answer an important question. Does it really matter what early Christians thought about Christianity? I think it does. These people were the ones who the Apostles passed the baton to. These were the ones they wrote to. Some of these people lived during the times of the Apostles and others within 1 to 2 generations. These were the people who spoke the languages of the New Testament and were in the same cultural contexts as the Apostles. So I think their words are incredibly important.
“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the Apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay;—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more. For instance, to take the first and most general example, who is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
“Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, as, e.g., regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, viz., the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points. For as we ceased to seek for truth (notwithstanding the professions of many among Greeks and Barbarians to make it known) among all who claimed it for erroneous opinions, after we had come to believe that Christ was the Son of God, and were persuaded that we must learn it from Himself; so, seeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition.”
“Hence it is manifest, that [the Apostles] did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther.”
Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 61.6.4
“(The Scriptures) need examination, and the perception to understand the force of each proposition. But Tradition must be used too, for not everything is available from the Sacred Scripture. thus the holy Apostles handed some things down in Scriptures but some in traditions.”
“And this custom, coming, I suppose, from apostolic tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors) — this most wholesome custom.”
Irenaeus Against Heresies book 3, 2.2
“But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.” Skipping a bit. It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition.”
“Let our author, then, show this to begin with, that it is in vain that the Church has believed that the Only-begotten Son truly exists, not adopted by a Father falsely so called, but existing according to nature, by generation from Him Who is, not alienated from the essence of Him that begot Him. But so long as his primary proposition remains unproved, it is idle to dwell on those which are secondary. And let no one interrupt me, by saying that what we confess should also be confirmed by constructive reasoning: for it is enough for proof of our statement, that the tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handled on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them.”
“But with respect to the man for whose sake you enter on the discussion of the Scriptures, with the view of strengthening him when afflicted with doubts, (let me ask) will it be to the truth, or rather to heretical opinions that he will lean? Influenced by the very fact that he sees you have made no progress, whilst the other side is on an equal footing (with yourself) in denying and in defence, or at any rate on a like standing he will go away confirmed in his uncertainty by the discussion, not knowing which side to adjudge heretical. For, no doubt, they too are able to retort these things on us. It is indeed a necessary consequence that they should go so far as to say that adulterations of the Scriptures, and false expositions thereof, are rather introduced by ourselves, inasmuch as they, no less than we maintain that truth is on their side.”
“Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?” For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.”
“The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of sound doctrine is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors — of course bona fide debtors — they clamour for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defense of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father. Our opponents think differently, and see fit to divide and rend asunder, and relegate Him to the nature of a ministering spirit. Is it not then indisputable that they make their own blasphemy more authoritative than the law prescribed by the Lord?”
Christian faith continues to this day to hold that tradition is authoritative. In fact the overwhelming majority holds this to be true.
Dei Verbum is view held by Catholic which affirms that the Roman Church practices and follows the Words of God as presented in Scripture and Tradition
Eastern Orthodoxy also holds that tradition is to be valued, practiced, and to be viewed as of Apostolic nature. Same with the Oriental Orthodox.
Evidenced by the Holy Spirit
In order to not be redundant I am going to save my argumentation that the Holy Spirit also proves the necessity of Christian tradition for when I speak in support of the Holy Spirit. I will just say this. The Holy Spirit empowered the Apostles and has been involved in the life of the Church from its inception unto to this day.
End of Section
To recapitulate this entire section, I have set out to prove that tradition when from the Apostles is necessary for our understanding of Christianity and that it is authoritative in the Churches. I have attempted to do so through referencing Scripture, Christian tradition in the past and present, and the Holy Spirit. They support that Apostolic tradition, and by extension the directives of our Lord Jesus, are important and not Scripture only.