TraditionThe Problem: Those who follow sola scriptura theology refuse the authority of all other sources. Since these Christians specifically deny the authority of the Church's Sacred Tradition, they see the guardians of Sacred Tradition as modern-day Pharisees and Scribes. Two passages are used to implicitly associate Roman Catholic leaders with the people who opposed Jesus Christ.
The Truth: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are two rivers which flow from the same source, the source of Truth who is God alone. Both are treasured, preserved, and guarded as One by the Body of Christ, for they are One in God, who is One.
Mt 15:2-9 "Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." 3 He answered them, "And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.' 5 But you say, 'If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'"
Mk 7:4-13 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?" 6 And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 8 You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men." 9 And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; 11 but you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God) 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do."
A careful reading of both passages shows Jesus attacking tradition which breaks covenant ties and the family bond. Human tradition uses God as an excuse to dispense with covenantal duties, but the divine tradition of Scripture honors and nourishes covenantal duties, it does not destroy them. An ironical sidenote: in the March/April 1997 edition of Envoy, pp. 44-45, Mark Shea points out that Mark 7:6-8, the verses most often used against Sacred Tradition, show Christ quoting a version of Is 29:13 found only in the Greek, i.e., the Septuagint version of Isaiah - the Hebrew Scripture version of Isaiah used by sola scriptura Christians does not contain the verse. (See "The Canon of Scripture" below).
Deut 32:7 Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you.
Psalm 44:1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what deeds thou didst perform in their days, in the days of old...
Psalm 78:2-3 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
Are you worshipping as the first disciples worshipped? Do you believe what they believed? How do you know? Scripture relates only the first 50 years of discipleship. Have you read the works of the early disciples of the Church in order to find out what they believed?
1 Cor 11:2 I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.
The word Paul uses for "tradition" here is precisely the same word Christ used in Matthew.
1 Cor 4:16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
Phil 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
Paul hands on binding tradition, oral tradition. Paul tells us to imitate him. He teaches as Christ taught - in the ancient Jewish oral tradition.
Is 59:21 "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children's children, says the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore."
Rev 3:3 Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent.
While Scripture speaks of what was written, it also constantly refers to Christ fulfilling what was spoken:
Mt 1:22-23 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (which means, God with us).
Mt 2:15,17-18,23 This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt have I called my son...." Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more."... And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Mt 4:14 that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled...
Mt 8:17 This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, "He took our infirmities and bore our diseases."
Mt 12:17 This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
Mt 13:14,35 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: 'You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive... This was to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world."
Mt 21:4-5 This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass."
Mt 27:9-10 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel,
Rom 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ.
2 Thess 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
Gal 3:2,5 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?
2 Thess 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
2 Tim 2:2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
This oral tradition is to be passed on through faithful men who can themselves pass it on. This tradition was meant to be maintained. It IS maintained.
Jn Chapters 14 and 15 Christ promises the coming of the Spirit and describes how the Church is rooted in Him. The Church will always be led by the Spirit, because she is One with Christ.
Jn 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
Jn 17:20-21 "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
It is through "their word," the word of the Apostles transmitted both orally and in writing, that we come to believe in Jesus.
2 Jn 12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink, but I hope to come to see you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
Jn 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
Christ's oral teaching is explicitly guaranteed to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Mt 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Christ taught only through speech. He wrote nothing (except in sand). He did not command His disciples or Apostles to write anything, apart from the Book of Revelation. Instead, He commanded his Apostles to teach. Scripture doesn't say the Apostles had the authority to write. Only Sacred Tradition testifies to their authority to write Christ's teachings down. If the Apostles have the authority to take it upon themselves to pass on teachings through writing, do they not also have the authority to pass on teachings orally, especially since oral teaching authority WAS specifically given to them by Christ? What of disciples such as Mark and Luke, who may not even have walked with Christ at all, but rather wrote according to what Peter and Paul told them? From whence comes their authority to write?
Mt 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
Lk 10:16 "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
1 Thess 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
Col 2:22 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, 21 "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" 22 (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines?
Note that Paul here insists that we hold fast to Christ, who is specifically referred to as the Head of the Body. We must reject the Mosaic works of the Law, which had strict prohibitions on what could be handled (dead bodies), tasted (pork and shellfish), or touched (blood).
Mt 13:51 And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
The treasure is the same throughout all the ages, but not all the secrets of the treasure-store have been brought out. Only those in authority know how to bring out the treasures of the storehouse of God.
Scripture references oral tradition (the exegesis of the following seven Scripture passages summarizes an on-line article on oral tradition on the Catholic Answer Web site, Feb 1997):
Mt 2:23 And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
No verse in the Old or New Testament has such a prophecy. This verse is introduced in a way unlike any other prophecy in the New Testament. It is an oral tradition.
Mt 23:2-3 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.
This phrase "Moses' seat" occurs nowhere else in Scripture, yet is clearly accepted by Jesus' audience as a reference they understand.
Acts 15:21 For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues."
The tradition of teaching authority passed from Moses to the Pharisees and Scribes, who were listened to respectfully in synagogue. Christ commanded that their teaching authority be respected and followed, although their living example was not to be followed when it contradicted what they taught.
1 Cor 10:1-4 I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same supernatural food 4 and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.
Neither account of this incident, neither Exodus 17:1-7 or Numbers 20:2-13, mentions the rock following the Chosen People through the desert, nor does any other section of Scripture. This is clearly an oral tradition passed on from Paul to his newly-baptized converts.
2 Tim 3:8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;
Neither Exodus 7:8ff, nor any other verse in Scripture tells us what the names of the magicians of Pharoah's court were. It is, again, oral tradition.
James 5:17 Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.
The 1 Kings 17 account of Elijah's altercation with King Ahab says nothing of him praying.
Jn 7:16-18 So Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; 17 if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
During Christ's time, oral tradition was the rule of faith for the Jews. Remember, there is no record of Christ authorizing anyone to make a written record. He only authorized them to preach orally. The Talmud, the first written collection of the oral tradition of the rabbis, is made up of two parts, the Mishna and the Gemara. The Mishna was written down at about the end of the 2nd century A.D., while the Gemara was written down during the 3rd to the 6th centuries. Written targums (commentaries) appeared after the Babylonian Exile, but the rabbis didn't approve of them since they encouraged private interpretation of Scripture, undermining the God-given teaching authority of the Levitical priests (cf. How the canon was established below). The theological system set up by God for the Hebrews was a combination of written Law and oral interpretation of that Law through the priestly teaching office. The Catholic Church continues the Divine tradition into which the Christ incarnated, safeguarded in truth by the Bridegroom of Israel.
Early Christians' comments on Sacred Tradition