Book Notice – Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says

Edith M. Humphrey
Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says.
Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology.
Eds. C.A. Evans and L.M. MacDonald
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013.
Available at

This book by my lovely friend Edith Humphrey of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is about how Scripture and Tradition relate to each other. The blurb reads:

In some of the church’s history, Scripture has been pitted against tradition and vice versa. Prominent New Testament scholar Edith Humphrey, who understands the issue from both Protestant and Catholic/Orthodox perspectives, revisits this perennial point of tension. She demonstrates that the Bible itself reveals the importance of tradition, exploring how the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles show Jesus and the apostles claiming the authority of tradition as God’s Word, both written and spoken. Arguing that Scripture and tradition are not in opposition but are necessarily and inextricably intertwined, Humphrey defends tradition as God’s gift to the church. She also works to dismantle rigid views of sola scriptura while holding a high view of Scripture’s authority.

Edith is perhaps most well-known for her informed but witty lecture at the 2010 Wheaton Conference on “Glimpsing the Glory: Paul’s Gospel, Righteousness and the Beautiful feet of N.T. Wright” (though I’ll never be able to look at her own feet again without smiling to myself). Edith also has had quite a theological journey that runs Salvation Army, Anglican, and finally Greek Orthodox. So she’s well equipped to thinking about what scripture and tradition means as she’s lived in a number of ecclesiastical contexts with diverse views on tradition. Her contribution here shows a wealth of experience in wrestling with the topic and a desire to clarify ideas and to provoke to thought, rather than just to make pronouncements.

In sum, the book examines traditions embedded in the NT, critical remarks about tradition in the NT, the pattern of worship in the NT, and places the Bible in relation to Tradition and traditions. According to Edith: “Our main quest in this study has been to examine the theme of tradition in the Scriptures, rather than Scripture as read by Tradition. At every point, however, these two concerns are linked, since Scripture is enveloped by Tradition and Tradition is enshrined in Scripture” (p. 160). Some great discussions on everything from the LXX to the rabbis to celibacy!

I think understanding the Scripture and Tradition/tradition relationship is important and it qualifies the meaning of sola scriptura for Protestants. I rather like Craig Allert’s approach to the subject in his book, A High View of Scripture, though now I’m glad to say that another good read on the topic is Edith’s fine volume, relatively short, but bursting with great insights, and elegantly written.

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  • Patrick

    Still, if we have a current tradition that is at odds with a clear NT teaching, I would think it’s wrong. The proper traditions the text alludes to would be highlighted by the text it seems.

    Like the main creeds, IMO, all are drawn from the text, not independent of it.

    • Edith M. Humphrey

      Absolutely, something at odds with clear NT teaching is not part of Holy Tradition. However, not all of Holy Tradition is clearly articulated in Scripture: the most obvious example (pointed out by a colleague of mine) is prayer to the Holy Spirit. This is not at odds with the NT, which names the Spirit “the Lord” and which commands baptism in the triune name, and which calls us to worship the Lord. But we have no actual example or command, as we do with examples of prayers to Jesus (“Lord Jesus,receive my spirit” and “Lord Jesus, come!”) A purist who is sola scriptura would say that we have no warrant to pray to the Spirit (I have heard this argued); the Church, led into all truth, as Jesus promised, says instead, we must adore the Spirit and may rightly pray to Him, even though normally prayers are to the Father, through the Spirit, in the name of the Son our Lord Jesus.