Dialogue on “Tradition” in the NT (vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen)

Dialogue on “Tradition” in the NT (vs. Dr. Eric Svendsen) February 8, 2017


A lovely visual of biblical “tradition”: Torah scrolls at Middle Street Synagogue, Brighton, England. Photograph by “The Voice of Hassocks” (5-5-13) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication]


The following dialogue took place on James White’s sola Scriptura email discussion list in 1996. Eric’s words are in blue. It’s one of the very rare occurrences of an actual amiable and constructive dialogue between a Catholic apologist and an anti-Catholic Protestant apologist. My relations with Eric were quite cordial at first, but later on, sadly, he became very bitter towards me and Catholic apologists en masse. In any event, at this juncture, there was a temporary “window of opportunity” and the lines of communication and dialogue were open, and it made for a great exchange.

Dr. Eric Svendsen (raised Catholic) received a Doctor of Theological Studies in Apologetics degree from Columbia Evangelical Seminary, and is the author of Evangelical Answers: A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologetics. He co-founded and is co-director of the New Testament Restoration Ministries.

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“A Lexical and Grammatical Analysis of the Use of Paradosis in the NT”

Nominal Form: There are at least 13 occurrences of the nominal form of paradosis in the NT, only three of which refer to apostolic tradition (1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6). The rest refer either to the traditions of the Pharisees (specifically) or to the traditions of men (generally).

I agree. I stated the same in my chapter on “Bible and Tradition.”

Those that refer to apostolic tradition deal with (1) church practice (1 Cor 11:2-16; head coverings for women),

It is not at all clear to me – all presuppositions aside – that this instance of paradosis is restricted simply to head coverings. As most Christians are aware, the NT did not originally have chapters and verse. In the immediate context, Paul is discussing eating and drinking (10:23-32), then, it seems to me, assumes a broad, general tone, and writes in 10:33: “Just as I try to please everyone in EVERYTHING I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved” (NRSV, as are all citations, unless specified). Then in 11:1 he exhorts his readers: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” surely a general utterance, and obviously not referring to women alone, since Paul was a man!

Next comes the verse in question: “I commend you because you remember me in EVERYTHING and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.” After this he proceeds to the question of head coverings for women. I don’t think that, prima facie, paradosis in 11:2 can be restricted to head coverings alone, given these factors in the context. If it is, it is only a speculation, and neither exegetically nor logically certain by any means.

Two points. First, the view (mine) that paradosis is here referring to what follows is strengthened by the fact that 11:2-16 forms an inclusio; i.e., the section begins and ends with an appeal to terms that connote church practices (v. 2 – paradosis, traditions; v. 16 – sunetheia, custom).

Perhaps, but nevertheless it seems to me – in my admittedly “amateur” appraisal of the passage – that (perhaps to some extent even if the above were true) 1 Cor 11:2 can stand alone, in its own right, and as such it would provide a generic reference to a tradition larger than just the Bible. I’m sure there must be more than a few Protestant commentaries which would agree with me on that.

Second, my main point was simply that headcoverings are included in the apostolic paradosis (with which you seem to agree), but excluded from the Catholic paradosis.

I suppose we would say that this is a typical disciplinary requirement, which can change (such as priestly celibacy). Paul also said that he wished all men were single as he (1 Cor 7:7-38; cf. Mt 19:12). Obviously, this could never actually happen, but the Catholic Church at least takes the thrust behind Paul’s discourse on marriage and singleness seriously, with its requirement and rationale for undistractedly (is that a word?) devoted celibate priests, monks, and nuns.

(2) Christian conduct (2 Thess 3:6-15; working for ones keep);

This is an easier case to make, although I wouldn’t hold that “tradition” here must necessarily be restricted to conduct. However, it’s not a point I would expend much energy fighting for.

and (3) theology (2 Thess 2:15; eschatology) or the gospel (cf. 2:13-14).

Yes. I would, however, maintain that although eschatology is the contextual topic, it is not the sole object of Paul’s statement about “traditions” here, and suggest also that 1 Cor 11:2, according to my reasoning above, refers to the same thing (i.e., the gospel, or apostolic Tradition, generally speaking).

It should be noted that the Catholic church has jettisoned the first tradition (head coverings) as no longer binding,

But this is only relevant (yet only slightly so – see my next comment) if I am incorrect in my alternate analysis.

and makes no claim to unique and sole possession of the second tradition (Christian conduct).

This is irrelevant – at least in a sense- because the topic at hand is whether or not there is reference to (oral?) Tradition apart from what is present in the NT. 2 Thess 3:6 clearly refers to one (whatever its scope), so it is beside the point to assert that Catholics do not uniquely teach it.

The only one that Catholics appeal to in distinguishing themselves from Protestants in the third. Paul tells us in 2 Thess 2:15 that his teaching was sometimes written and sometimes passed along orally: Hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. Yet, it was, in any case, the same message.

It is the same message (all agree), but, of course, the question is whether it is equivalent to what we possess in the NT, or if it goes beyond it in some sense.

No appeal can legitimately be made to this passage to introduce the notion of an on-going oral tradition that was to be held on par with (yet was different from) Paul’s written instructions to the churches.

This is assuming what you’re trying to prove (which you have not yet done).

Paul’s statement was made during a time when there were single copies of his letters circulating throughout the churches. Since sending letters across the Roman empire was a slow process (sometimes taking many months), the churches would naturally need to know the content of these letters before the physical letters actually arrived. The only way this was possible was by word of mouth from one church to the next, or from apostolic courier to each church.

Interesting, but this too does not touch on the central question of the entire content of Paul’s “Tradition.”

The content of the verbal message was not different than that of the letters, as is evident from Paul’s grouping of them in this passage. Paul does not say by word of mouth and by letter (Gr., kai), which would be expected if each one were a different tradition and both were necessary (cf. the wording in Trent vis a vis Scripture and Tradition). Instead, Paul says by word of mouth or by letter (Gr., eite), implying that one or the other is equally sufficient to convey Paul’s message, and that both are essentially the same.

I think this is an altogether weak and insufficient argument. If it all turns on the use of “or” rather than “and,” I would respectfully say you need to come up with a better approach (just from a purely logical perspective). As an example of what I mean, I’ll make an analogy: I’ll play Paul, and my book will represent his letters in the NT, while my e-mail posts are my “word of mouth” (as if they were conversations in person). I could say, “hold fast to my teaching, whether from my book or my postings to the SS list,” but this would not prove that the two were synonymous. My posts to this group go far beyond (both quantitatively and in complexity) what I’ve written in my book about SS {sola Scriptura}. The two are harmonious, and non-contradictory, but not identical.

Thus, my postings might be said to be an extensive commentary of sorts on what I believe the NT to teach on SS. In a sense, it is true to say that they do not go “beyond” Scripture, or contradict Scripture (all doctrinal disagreements aside for the sake of argument!), but they are still different from Scripture in the sense that they delve into things more deeply. In any event, it is certainly not clear that Paul’s oral teaching must be the same as his written, nor that it could not contain information not found in his letters. We can only ascertain that from later patristic testimony, and biblical indications such as those presently under consideration.

On a purely logical level, or always functions in a different way than and. For instance, in the conditional statement, if I have Paul’s written message AND his oral message, then I have his whole message, both conditions would have to be met in order to have Paul’s whole message. Whereas in the statement, if I have Paul’s written message OR his oral message, then I have his whole message, either the first or the second condition would need to be met in order to have Paul’s whole message, but not both.

You neglect to recognize the troublesome consequences of this argument. The use of and in this verse, according to your stated reasoning, would create a scenario of Bible and Tradition having more or less equal force (roughly the Catholic position). Both would be necessary. But the presence of or, (which is the actual case in 2 Thess 2:15), leads to the hypothetical of equally valid Bible Alone (the extreme SS view) or oral Tradition Alone (nobody’s view). The touble is, you’ve in effect admitted that Paul might be possibly espousing the material sufficiency of oral Tradition! You wouldn’t want to seriously argue that, even as a possibility, would you? For by what method do you determine that Scripture ought to be normative rather than Tradition? You simply assume that the Bible is primary. But there is no compelling biblical (or, more specifically, contextual) reason to do that. Thus, I maintain that the entire argument fails, since it leads to unacceptable conclusions either way. We must synthesize it with other similar, “clearer” passages.

For Dave’s analogy above to hold, Dave would also have to postulate that one of the sources of his teaching would be insufficient without the other. In other words, would I need both Daves book and his posts here to know what Dave believes about tradition and sola scriptura?

In a practical sense, this is indeed true. My lengthy posts would elaborate on, and serve as a commentary for, my compact book chapter, which is so general and broad that it could easily be misunderstood, and regarded as having less “depth” than my “fleshed-out” view in fact possesses. The analogy to Tradition and Bible in Christianity is virtually perfect: we need Tradition (and compulsory Authority) in order to fully understand the teachings of the Bible. Thus, the Bible is “insufficient” (again, in practice, not in essence) for establishing orthodoxy, as the history of Christianity abundantly testifies. As I’ve noted before, most early heresies (e.g., Monophysitism and Arianism), believed in sola Scriptura (“SS”), and the Church refuted them by the Bible-as-interpreted-by-apostolic Tradition, within the framework of apostolic succession.

Would I somehow be misled into believing that Dave is really a Protestant if I had only his posts here and not also his book? Of course not. But this is precisely what Dave is arguing is the case with Paul’s theology (i.e., that we need both his writings and his alleged oral transmission of theology).

Not quite. I’m just maintaining that the possibility exists (and seems likely from common sense and biblical indications) for Paul to have taught things other than what is recorded in writing, and that the early Church could have preserved such teachings orally. Nothing you have shown me has convinced me otherwise.

Put it this way; if Dave were to write a treatise that was manifestly Protestant in theology, and later wrote another that was manifestly Catholic in theology, I would not assume that the latter interprets the former, or that Dave held both ideas simultaneously, but rather that Dave changed his mind at some point. Likewise, I cannot believe that Paul would go on record (in his written tradition) with his belief that Jesus is the one mediator between man and Christ (1 Tim 2:5), and at the same time pass on an oral tradition that Mary is co-Mediatrix with Christ!

Again, this is assuming what it is trying to prove, and is a straw man argument. We don’t believe that the Tradition we possess contradicts the Scripture. You are assuming that it does, and argue accordingly. In so doing, you have moved from the basic scriptural data concerning Tradition to Protestant presuppositions about the lawfulness and scripturalness of one particular Marian belief.

Paul certainly did not intend to convey the Catholic notion of two corpuses of tradition – one written, the other oral – which would be perpetuated by the church throughout its lifetime.

“Certainly”? More solid evidence needs to be presented for such a firm conclusion. But we don’t believe in two “different traditions” anyway, but “twin fonts of the one divine wellspring.” For a Catholic who believes in the material sufficiency, as I do (and this would seem to be the mainstream, conciliar position), Tradition is more of a “commentary” on the always-central scriptural data, rather than a force in opposition to it (or, as Lutheran Heiko Oberman said of St. Augustine’s view: “The Church {i.e., Tradition} had a practical priority”). Protestants often exaggerate the (mostly alleged) differences in the Catholic Tradition and Scripture, rather than focus on the intrinsically organic, “symbiotic” connection which is the true Catholic viewpoint (as also in their analyses of, e.g., faith “vs.” works). For us, as for the Fathers, Scripture is central, but not exclusive.

Paul’s concept of Tradition is brought out (exegetically) in other passages of his, which I will cite below. But the notion that all of the apostolic Tradition was synonymous with the written NT would seem to be utterly contradicted by John 21:25 alone (and I would add, by common sense as well).

In any case, to speculate that Paul must be referring here to things not written down elsewhere is just that – speculation.

But it is just as much speculation to assume that the content of Paul’s oral paradosis is synonymous with his written corpus, is it not? Epistemologically, it appears we are in the exact same boat, for you have not proven by any means that the content of apostolic “thought,” so to speak, does not go beyond scriptural confines. That’s why I (and my Church) appeal to the Fathers, as the existence of such oral traditions is purely an historical question, just as the issue of what the “early Church” believed is an intrinsically historical question.

While Paul very well may have said the same thing a hundred different ways (likely he did), the fact remains that the essential elements of Pauls message are included in Scripture – else, what would the purpose of Scripture be? If tradition could just as easily have been passed on orally, and the church is its infallible guardian, why even speak of a canon of Scripture that would be used as a rule of faith? Indeed, why even bother with preserving the writings in the first place?

This point has force only if the Protestant premise of SS is assumed beforehand. There is no compulsion (either scripturally or logically) to create a chasm between Scripture and Tradition, esp. given the facts that the NT was “oral” itself in its earlier stages (e.g., Lk 1:1-2), is an encapsulation of the larger Christian kerygma and apostolic Tradition/paradosis, and was utterly dependent on Tradition (practically, not essentially, speaking) to have its own parameters defined as well. In other words, Tradition is all over Scripture, by the nature of things, even apart from all the proofs which I’ve tried to offer in my response. We simply cannot have one without the other. It is self-evident that the Bible is central and indispensable in any Christian perspective – no one need argue that. Why do we need Tradition? Because we need truth and unity, and the alternate experiment of resorting to the Bible alone without necessary ecclesiastical authority (the practical outworking of Tradition) has (unarguably, I think) proven to be an abysmal failure. That’s why we believe God desired (and desires) that Tradition and hierarchical authority be inherent in Christianity and Christ’s Church.

Verbal Form: The verbal form of paradosis (paradidwmi) occurs 120 times in the NT, but only nine times in relation to the handing down of doctrinal truth. Only six occurrences of this word speak directly to the issue of handing down apostolic tradition.

I came up with seven in my paper. Luke 1:1-2 is another instance of paradidomi, in this case referring to “the matter of the gospel,” as “little Kittel” (p.168) states. Also of relevance is the word paralambano (“received”), which refers to Christian, apostolic Tradition at least seven times (1 Cor 11:23, 15:1-2, 15:3, Gal 1:9,12 {2}, 1 Thess 2:13, 2 Thess 3:6). These refer to the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23), tradition (2 Thess 3:6), the word of God (1 Thess 2:13), and the gospel (all others).

Of these six, one instance refers to the handing down of the church practice of head coverings (which, we have already noted, is irrelevant to the Catholic).

Again, I dispute the specificity of this reference.

Another instance (Act 16:4) refers to the Jerusalem decree for Gentiles to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood. This can hardly be referring to the tradition of the Catholic church, however, . . . In any case, even the moral injunction is recorded for us in Scripture, so again, there is no need for oral tradition here.


This leaves us with four occurrences of paradidwmi. Two of these instances unambiguously refer to the apostolic gospel (Rom 6:17 and 1 Cor 15:3) which Paul outlines in detail in Rom 1-8, as well as in 1 Cor 15:3-5.

We find many indications of Catholic teaching in Romans 1-8 (esp. on the justification question: see, e.g., 1:5, 2:5-13, 5:17-19, 6:17 itself; cf. 10:16, 15:18-19, 16:25-26), so that is a moot point. The gospel in 1 Cor 15:3-5 is clearly not all that Paul passed on, or “handed on,” so it cannot be used to restrict his definition of (apostolic) “tradition.”

There is, therefore, no room here for postulating some additional information that Paul somehow fails to relate to us about his gospel.

Regarding 1 Cor 15:3-5: not technically within the verse itself, but certainly exegetically by recourse to other relevant Pauline and further NT statements.

In other words, that which he handed down to the Romans he is here elucidating. Technically, the subject of the delivering in Rom 6:17 is the Romans, not the gospel. The NIV reads: you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted (The Greek literally says, into which you were delivered). In other words, this instance of paradidwmi does not really speak of the gospel being delivered to the Romans, but rather the Romans (i.e., their eternal destiny) being placed into (or entrusted to) the gospel message. The gospel message is thereby seen as the new master of the Romans which they are now to obey (hupakouw) as slaves (as opposed to sin, their old master to which they were formerly delivered and which they formerly obeyed as slaves).

Fair enough. I’ll yield to your informed judgment on this one.

This leaves us with only two other instances of paradidwmi. One of these, 1 Cor 11:23, gives us Pauls tradition about the Lords Supper (vv. 23-25). No doubt Jesus said much more than is recorded for us here, or in any of the Last Supper accounts. However, the fact that Paul recounts the tradition in creed form makes it clear that what he tells us is the essential teaching of the Supper. Again, we have the complete Lords Supper tradition of the apostles in writing, so that no oral tradition is necessary.

Agreed: our proofs for transubstantiation are solid from scriptural exegesis alone. I would, of course, maintain that the Bible and apostolic Tradition agrees with us about the Real Presence (few, if any “Catholic” doctrines are more explicitly substantiated in the Fathers). So in this case, I would argue that you guys have created an extra-scriptural, extra-apostolic, extra-patristic “tradition of men” (precisely what we are often accused of).

The last instance of paradidwmi is found in Jude 3. Here Jude tells his readers to contend for the faith that was once for all time (hapax) delivered to the saints. To what does the faith here refer? Although this hapax (once-for-all-time) delivering cannot be referring to the canon of the NT since the Revelation had not yet been written, it does imply that Jude assumed that all the essentials of the faith to which he refers had already been laid down and that no additional revelation would in any way overturn what had been given. In other words, anything that John might have added later would have to be in line with what had already been delivered.

Catholics concur that all public revelation ceased with the Apostles.

But what about the Assumption of Mary, an infallible papal proclamation by divine fiat found neither in Scripture nor in historic theology?

The Assumption is a doctrine only indirectly deduced from Scripture, and late-developing (not of late origination), but neither element is inconsistent with Catholic thinking. I don’t think Protestants really want to get into a debate about “late” doctrines, do they? How can a group which can’t, e.g., find a symbolic Eucharist and sola fide for 1500 years of Church history, credibly object to a doctrine which began to rapidly develop in the 4th or 5th century? I’m convinced that most Protestants misunderstand development of doctrine.

Moreover, Jude probably has in mind specifically the gospel and the Lordship of Christ (cf. v. 4). The rest of his letter expounds on the ramifications of these two themes.

Your “probably has in mind” is pure speculation. It remains true that if we are to determine the content and extent of the apostolic Tradition to which Paul and others refer in the Bible, we have to go to the Fathers, as this is an historical question and issue (as are a great many in Christianity). We contend that this Tradition is in essence what the Catholic Church continues to uphold today (albeit greatly developed – not “corrupted”), and we say that several NT passages refer to that Tradition, which is defined by the early Church (esp. the Roman See), rather than by an exegesis colored by a prior axiomatic commitment to sola Scriptura. Sure, we’re biased, too, but the difference is that we have the consensus of the early Church and the Fathers on our side, and for us this is determinative.

This simply begs the question. You are starting with the false assumption that (1) there is such a thing as oral tradition that is not also recorded in Scripture, and (2) that the fathers preserved that tradition without error. I don’t buy either.

As for (1), you have not shown me otherwise. All you’ve demonstrated is, in my opinion, an excessive skepticism, and a denial of the force of several (I think fairly compelling) biblical indications. As for (2), I understand the Protestant position. All we believe with regard to the Fathers is what Protestants hold with regard to the Canon of the NT – that a consensus of opinion is normative. What you apply to the Canon, we apply to all of Christian Tradition. Now, on the other hand, you must explain why it is that you utilize this method for the Canon, but not for anything else, where SS becomes the ultimate arbiter? We believe, too, in the indefectibility of the Church, but not of any particular Father (e.g., St. John Chrysostom believed that Mary sinned).

Observations and Questions: It is odd that Rome would place so much prominence in a word that is used for apostolic teaching only nine times out of some 133 occurrences in the NT, and only two of which remain somewhat ambiguous as to the exact content of the tradition (Jude 3 and 2 Thess 2:15; although even in these two passages that which is handed down is almost certainly the gospel, or [in the case of 2 Thess 2:15] eschatology–both of which are elucidated in detail for us elsewhere in Scripture).

Ah, but there is a bit more (see below), and there is the testimony of the Fathers, and Church history prior to 1517.

It is equally odd that Rome includes in her paradosis articles of faith that are nowhere mentioned in Scripture (e.g., the office of pope, papal infallibility, apostolic succession, the magisterial priesthood, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption),

All of these are there in kernel, or more explicitly (particularly, the papacy). That was the whole point of my book. What truly is mentioned “nowhere” in the Bible is sola Scriptura and the canon of Scripture: the former being an un-apostolic, late-arriving tradition of men, and the latter wholly dependent on extra-biblical Catholic Tradition and conciliar Authority. Yet Protestants manage to firmly hold both viewpoints (excepting the so-called “Apocrypha”), in opposition to (or at least in tension with) their own principles. This is very “odd” to me.

Where is the Assumption of Mary in kernel form in the NT?

In a nutshell: in the notion of the general resurrection of the saints, of whom Mary is a forerunner, and figure of the Church. Also, from the analogy of such righteous saints as Enoch and Elijah (and possibly Paul, in his vision), who were assumed into heaven bodily. Thirdly, if the Immaculate Conception is true (which has considerably more indication), then Mary would be immune from the curse of death (decay of the body), and so, by deduction, would not have to undergo corruption. Adam and Eve would have lived forever but for disobedience. Why, then, is it so unthinkable that Mary the Mother of God (Theotokos), the Second Eve, could be preserved from the curse that the disobedient primal couple brought upon mankind? We don’t require explicit biblical mention of every doctrine, as you do (but then again, you are inconsistent, for SS and the canon of the Bible are themselves absolutely “non-biblical”).

At the same time Rome excludes items that are specifically mentioned in the NT as part of the apostolic paradosis (e.g., head coverings, abstaining from blood and strangled animals, working in order to eat).

Does any Christian body really need to define the principle of “working in order to eat”? Isn’t sloth one of the seven cardinal sins of historic Catholic thinking? :-)

One might legitimately ask just why these are not part of the Catholic tradition since they were clearly included in the apostolic tradition. Put another way, on what basis does the RC church pick and choose which traditions to hold and which to jettison?

On early Church and patristic consensus, and in accord with later theological speculation in full, essential agreement with same. I ask you in return: on what basis did the Reformers jettison a whole host of doctrines previously held for multiple hundreds of years (I think I know what your answer’ll be, but I think it is too simple, given the – yes – divisions).

Let me be certain that I follow you here. The original apostolic tradition is (as you have admitted) not necessarily the same as it is today.

The dogmas are in essence the same, the disciplinary aspects may change.

Indeed, it is possible, on the criteria you provided, to jettison the entire original apostolic deposit, so long as that action is the early Church and patristic consensus, and in accord with later theological speculation in full, essential agreement with same.

Absolutely not. We believe that such a hypothetical could never occur, based on Christ’s promise that the Church is indefectible (Mt 16:18), and that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. Don’t neglect the place of faith, which is easy to do in intense, cerebral discussions such as these. We place faith in Christ, to preserve His Church, and His truth.

Is that how we determine normative spiritual truth? In that case we don’t even need the original apostolic deposit.

Very broadly speaking, spiritual truth is determined by a joint appraisal of the Bible, and the history of the Church (preeminently the Apostles). The Holy Spirit, working in men’s hearts, will illuminate the truth for all who seek it (I think all here would agree with that). The neglect of Church history and patristic consensus has led to the present chaos and relativism. That’s why Newman said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” And this is largely why I converted. I would have loved to have found evangelical Protestantism in Church history, but it “just ain’t so.” I had to face the music at some point.

The Catholic church itself selects only those traditions it deems essential and jettisons the rest–precisely the same thing it chides the Protestant for doing.

Do you wish to equate head coverings and compulsory abstention from meat on Fridays with, e.g., the Real Presence and baptismal regeneration? Isn’t there a slight qualitative difference there?!

The Protestant sees as essential only those things (and all those things) that were committed to the sacred Scriptures – we dont pick and choose which Scriptures we see as essential and those we see as non-essential.

Oh? What then becomes of the distinction that you guys constantly make, of “central” (essential) and “secondary” (non-essential) doctrines? Is this not precisely what you are trying to deny above? And it is a crucial component of the whole SS edifice at that.

Yet the Catholic does not have the advantage of this kind of consistency.

May I ask: what consistency?

The RC church holds to some apostolic traditions but not others, picking and choosing what it thinks is essential. The Protestant holds to one entire body of tradition (written) as authoritative and truly as a canon (measuring rod) by which to judge all other canons of faith. While we see value in examining the interpretations of the fathers, they are not and cannot be the standard themselves.

The obvious retort is: of what use is “one” written “tradition” when it produces doctrinal chaos? What is gained by that? It’s as if you have one ruler, but everyone has different systems of measuring with it!

But the minute this is conceded (i.e., that explanations of Paul’s gospel message can easily be found in other NT passages), then the notion of a supposed need for an oral tradition becomes moot.

No, I was arguing, rather, that other general Pauline statements point to an extra-biblical Tradition.

I have a few things to add as a wrap-up:

Jesus rejects only corrupt, human, Pharisaic tradition (“paradosis“: Mt 15:3,6, Mk 7:8-9,13), not Tradition per se, so this might be thought to be an indirect espousal of true apostolic Tradition. This is also the case with Paul in Col 2:8.

To be precise, Jesus is completely silent about any Jewish tradition of divine origin not found in the OT. We find him only condemning tradition, never praising it or appealing to it as authoritative as we find him doing countless times with Scripture. A very strange phenomemon indeed if Jesus viewed tradition as the interpreter of Scripture, or on par with Scripture, or even helpful in following Scripture.

Not strange at all, because Tradition and Scripture are of a piece, in reality and in Catholic thought, and it is only logical to place Scripture in a central position, in terms of objective reference and record. The fallacy lies in thinking that somehow in so doing, Tradition is rendered irrelevant and secondary. It is not, as it is inherent in Scripture itself, and necessary for correct interpretation. This is Jesus’ view, the Fathers’ view, and the Catholic Church’s view.

I contend that “Tradition,” “word of God,” and “gospel” are essentially synonymous terms for Paul and other NT writers, as the following comparison illustrates (RSV):

1 Cor 11:2 …maintain the traditions…even as I have delivered them to you.

2 Thess 2:15 …hold to the traditions…taught…by word of mouth or by letter.

2 Thess 3:6 ….the tradition that you received from us.

1 Cor 15:1 …the gospel, which you received…

Gal 1:9 …the gospel…which you received.

1 Thess 2:9 …we preached to you the gospel of God.

Acts 8:14 …Samaria had received the word of God

1 Thess 2:13 …you received the word of God, which you heard from us…

2 Pet 2:21 …the holy commandment delivered to them.

Jude 3 …the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Note that in Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians alone, the Apostle seems to use three terms (inc. “tradition”) simultaneously.

Great point, Dave! But on the surface this supports my view that there is no need for oral tradition since, as you point out, the content of that tradition is the gospel – something clearly elucidated throughout the NT.

I just knew you would take this tack! :-) The Protestant will inevitably see in this a collapsing of the oral Tradition into the “gospel,” which is, of course, the written word of Scripture. We look at the same data and conclude: “Bible and Tradition and Gospel are all of a piece.”

I will allow for the possibility that you didn’t mean to make this point. If not, what is your point?

Simply that “tradition isn’t a dirty word” (in Scripture), and that there is no dichotomy between “gospel” and “tradition,” as Protestants commonly try to make.

Catholic apologist David Palm, in his article, “Oral Tradition in the NT” (This Rock, May 1995, pp. 7-12), also points out that the NT explicitly cites oral tradition in Mt 2:23, 23:2, 1 Cor 10:4, 1 Pet 3:19, and Jude 9, in support of doctrine, and also elsewhere (2 Tim 3:8, Jas 5:17, Mt 7:12).

Furthermore, Paul appears to irrefutably assert the authority of oral Tradition (i.e., passed on by himself) in 2 Tim 1:13-14 and 2:2.

I disagree. What he is asserting here is the authority of his teaching. Those teachings are found in his letters. In other words, Paul is not here attempting to show that oral tradition as a category is authoritative, but that his teaching (no matter where its found) is authoritative. It is another matter entirely to show that Paul is referring to an ongoing oral tradition that he somehow (and for some odd reason!) wished to keep separate from Scripture.

Am I missing something? If Paul’s teaching is authoritative “no matter where it’s found,” then his oral teaching is authoritative, right? You said it – I merely repeat. Thus, you have arrived at a Catholic understanding of Tradition. This “Tradition” is not separate from Scripture, but of a piece with it, and in harmony with it.

Paul also seems to be passing on his office to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:1-6: an example of apostolic succession in the Bible (cf. Acts 1:20-26), even though [my opponent] claims above that there is no such thing.

Acts 1:20-26 is the much more compelling indication of apostolic succession (you dealt with 2 Tim 4:1-6, which is comparatively not particularly compelling, which is why I said seems”).

It’s been a pleasure. This is a true dialogue, and I have been privileged to be a part of it.

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