Sunday, October 14, 2007

Hold Fast the Traditions

I’ve been asked to comment on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 regarding the Roman Catholic and Orthodox argument(s) against the Protestant rule of faith.

Our opponents state the question generally: Paul tells the Thessalonian church that to hold fast the traditions, therefore, this proves that Paul told them to hold fast to unwritten things, thereby disproving Sola Scriptura.

The argument may take several forms, sometimes embedded in a farrago of irrelevant argumentation. For example: Paul is discussing his oral traditions taught before NT scripture existed (all of his traditions, not some of them). It's not even possible that he is referring to things "found in scripture already", since many Christian teachings weren't enscripturated yet.

Others, like the Jesuits of Old asserted that the particle eite is disjunctive, indicating things that had not been delivered and those which he had written, which are not the same, but different. Ergo, “tradition” is not identical with what is “written,” and thus the sufficiency of Scripture is disproven.

By way of reply:

1. In answer to both Orthodoxy and Rome, we reply that the time of the Apostles was not the normative state of the Church. If they wish to sustain their argument, it will require them to assert, as does Rome, that somebody or some bodies must be the successor of the Apostles today in order to state contrary to our position. The arguments have proven self-refuting and question-begging.. Indeed, we enjoy watching Rome and Constantinople assassinate each other over who is the true successor to St. Peter and the Eleven. Also, why not, by the basis of this text, are you not a member of the one true, holy, Apostolic Thessalonian Church?

2. Secondly, we reply that eite is not always disjunctive. It can and does have a conjunctive force, as in 1 Cor. 13:8. Nothing can be gathered from this particle’s usage.

3. The Fathers, like Iranaeus, testify to the antiquity of 2 Thessalonians, such that it predates, at the least, the Gospel of Matthew, if we accept the testimony that he wrote first, Mark if Mark wrote first. It is inconsequential to state that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians at that time, therefore, the “traditions” he has in view are different from those in Scripture or incomplete, as if they were not written at a later time. Such is the fallacy of the consequent in our opponents’ argument.

4. Apropos 3, to sustain the argument, our opponent would need to sustain an argument for continuing revelation as well. Are they also Pentecostals?

5. What “traditions” might Paul have in mind, assuming for a moment, that our opponents are correct? Dates of Easter and Lent? Feast days? Prayer to saints? The form and manner of sacraments like the Mass, the conferring of holy orders, marriage, etc? Marian dogmas, papal infallibility? If so, then let them produce the documentation.

6. Should they choose to argue that Paul has in mind things concerning the coming of the Man of Evil, like the date thereof, then let them produce the date and tell us to whom Paul revealed these things, and if they so produce the date, then they must admit that the tradition is not unwritten but written, proving the sufficiency of written things for faith and practice in the Church. If they cannot, then it is true that such traditions can be lost and are not, therefore, necessary for the faith and practice of the churches.

7. What if they say that these traditions are written elsewhere in other Scripture, the text does not thereby teach we are to ignore other traditions? We ask:

a. Where does this text establish the infallibility and perpetuity of those traditions?

b. What traditions might our opponents have in mind?

8. Let them:

a. Against Rome- produce an infallible teaching regarding this text.

b. Against Rome and Constantinople- show the rules by which we may adjudicate between true and false traditions and teachings. We can be true to “traditions” without the “traditions” being true.

9. The standard objection they level against our rule of faith is that it is “private” depending upon the “private interpretations” of the consciences of men, but is it not true that if they cannot produce any certain ( and infallible) rules by which to adjudicate these things, that their rule is just as private, if not moreso? We maintain that our rule of faith is public, as public as Scripture itself, and Scripture is public and clear.

10. We also maintain that Paul himself did not write this letter to particular persons – bishops and presbyters, but to all persons in Thessalonica. Do our opponents believe that these “traditions” were revealed to them all or to certain persons? If the former, how is it that the Church today must depend on the Magisterium or some general “Holy Tradition” known to the bishops themselves in detail but not the laity? If the latter, then to whom was it passed and where is the proof by which we can know this?

11. In context, he's talking about what he had taught them and to beware of a false letter.. Here's the text:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word [of mouth] or by letter from us.

The Thessalonians had evidently been misled by a forged letter, supposedly from the apostle Paul, telling them that the day of the Lord had already come (2 Thess. 2:2). The entire church had apparently been upset by this, and the apostle Paul was eager to encourage them.

For one thing, he wanted to warn them not to be taken in by phony "inspired truth." And so he told them clearly how to recognize a genuine epistle from him: it would be signed in his own handwriting: "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write" (3:17). He wanted to ensure that they would not be fooled again by forged epistles.

But even more important, he wanted them to stand fast in the teaching they had already received from him. The word paradoseis is a transmission of a doctrine or doctrines (since the use is plural), or depending on the context, it can mean the doctrine itself. He had already told them, for example, that the day of the Lord would be preceded by a falling away, and the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. "Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?" (2:5). There was no excuse for them to be troubled by a phony letter, for they had heard the actual truth from his own mouth already. These were truth, of course, in his previous letter.

Paul was urging the Thessalonians to test all truth-claims by his own letter - Scripture, and by the words they had heard personally from his own lips, and the only words of the apostles that are infallibly preserved for us are found in Scripture.

Here's another one: 2 Thessalonians 3:6, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother that is idle and does not live according to the teaching or the tradition you received from us." Look back at 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 14 as well as 1 Thessalonians chapter 4. Paul is referring back to the tradition he had already delivered to them, that is, in writing. In context 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is epexegetical to 2:14 and refers directly to the gospel itself.

If this text is referring to traditions not found in Scripture as we have it, then where in the historical record are these traditions to be found so that you know that you are following them? Did Paul teach something different in the presence of many witnesses that he taught in his epistle to the Romans or the Galatians? If so, where can we find it?


  1. Thanks, Gene. I'll be posting on some of DA's arguments for tradition sometime in the near future.

  2. "What “traditions” might Paul have in mind, assuming for a moment, that our opponents are correct? Dates of Easter and Lent? Feast days? Prayer to saints? The form and manner of sacraments like the Mass, the conferring of holy orders, marriage, etc? Marian dogmas, papal infallibility? If so, then let them produce the documentation."

    I think this is the biggest problem of our Roman Catholic friends. So far, I have not seen any definitive documentation of these "traditions." They simply assumed that they existed.