The Words of Jesus
A Commentary on an Article Condemning Tradition
This is the last segment in a series of commentaries on a Protestant article refuting Apostolic Tradition. As these commentaries reveal, the unknown Protestant has countless flaws and erroneous assumptions built into his arguments and conclusions, mostly due to faulty or non-existent research into the Bible and its spiritual context in Sacred History among the Ancient Jews and Early Christians, which is quite typical of Protestant theology. The Protestant rejection of Holy Tradition not only has caused him and his fellow Protestants to ignore Biblical and historical data, but also to force into Scripture pre-conceived meanings and perceptions of Tradition, which were never in the minds of the Bible's writers. In this segment the unknown Protestant concludes his arguments with certain Biblical passages about the words of Jesus and how He supposedly saw Tradition. But without any context from the Bible or Sacred History, the Protestant fails to demonstrate that the words of Jesus were purely for the sake of Scripture alone. His teachings began as oral doctrines and the Apostles began teaching the Gospel in oral form alone. Even the Bible makes references to the Gospel as the Apostolic Tradition, which was eventually known to exist in written and oral forms, in Scripture and Tradition, in imitation of the Ancient Jewish arrangement from the Prophets, who left behind God's words in a Written Bible and an Oral Bible, as their holy sages literally say in ancient documents. This arrangement was never rejected or made inferior anywhere in the Bible, and both the Ancient Jews and Early Christians inherited these categories of the Lord's words not because they were falsifying the Prophets and Apostles, but because their disciples had established them in the synagogues and churches. The words of Jesus are spirit and life, capable of being preserved in both written and oral forms. The unknown Protestant does not understand this, nor does he seek to, and he instead believes in a legalistic man-made tradition against Tradition which has been made into a doctrine of Christ. He knows that Catholics have invented man-made traditions, though he is not aware that Apostolic Tradition is something much different and that Protestants themselves have invented their own human traditions in competition with the Apostles. As a result, he assumes that the words of Jesus were originally Protestant dogmas restricting Tradition into Scripture alone. This is how he concludes his article:
Not once did Jesus speak well about traditions. Neither did Paul, as he said in Colossians 2:8, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, AND NOT AFTER CHRIST." He said to "let the word of God dwell in you richly." It is the word of God that is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) to change one from the inside. Traditions can never be an alternative or of equal value to what God has spoken and written down for all generations to live by. As Jesus said, "My words are spirit and they are life."
It is interesting to note that the quote of Jesus above, in regard to His words being spirit and life, is a reference to both the written and unwritten teachings of His, not just to things He said in Scripture. John 20:30 and 21:25 elaborate on the extent of these words, saying, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book….If every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." As these verses indicate, the words of Jesus on this earth were quite extensive, and it was impossible for the Apostles and their disciples to record everything that He taught. Even oral Tradition could not have contained so much information. Hence, the unknown Protestant's quote of Jesus above does not support the theory and doctrine that what the Apostles wrote is superior to and replaces the oral Apostolic Tradition, nor does it hint that all the unrecorded, oral messages of Jesus have either become questionable or lost. Jesus's words have power regardless if or not they were written or maintained orally generation after generation.
One of the Scriptures which mentions the veracity and generational authority of Holy Tradition occurs in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, where it says, "Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter." Clement of Rome, a disciple of Paul himself, who was mentioned in Philippians 4:3, wrote an epistle to the Corinthians, now called 1 Clement, written when only one or a few Apostles were still left alive, and treated as Holy Spirit inspired by many Early Christians, and accepted as genuine by most Christians, says in chapter 7, "Let us give up vain and fruitless cares, and approach to the glorious and venerable rule of our Tradition." The word "Tradition" was the word used in Greek and cannot be translated correctly in any other way, but what Clement means by Tradition is what he also called "the Gospel", which reflects the Gospel of the Tradition mentioned by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:6: "Now we command you….to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the Tradition that they received from us." There is no indication here of God's word being neatly packaged only on paper. As Paul regarded the Gospel and Tradition as the same thing, both being written and oral, so does Clement perceive the Gospel and Tradition. Ireneus in the 2nd century, who was a disciple of the Apostle John's most famous disciple, Polycarp, follows this Apostolic arrangement of God's word in written and oral forms, saying in his book Against Heresies III, 5:1, "The Tradition from the Apostles does thus exist in the Church, & is permanent among us." Ireneus was writing against heresies of all kinds, and he made it clear that the Bible and Apostolic Tradition were separate yet intertwined arrangements of God's word. What Paul and Clement taught regarding the Bible, Tradition, and the Gospel, thus continued to be faithfully and perfectly preserved long after Apostolic times. And one of the best summaries of this concept, among a number of consistent and universal Early Christian statements about this very same Apostolic Tradition, occurs in the 4th century from the well-trusted Basil the Great, who says in his book On The Holy Spirit 27:66, "Of the dogmas and doctrines preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the Tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals."
Since the Bible and Early Christianity do speak of oral Tradition from the Apostles surviving after all the Scriptures have been written, the words which have been orally preserved of Jesus are spirit and life, just as His recorded teachings are, and therefore they do not fall under the category of irrelevant or faulty or capable of corruption of any kind. His oral words are as Holy Spirit inspired as Scripture is, and that is precisely how the Bible and the Early Church treated oral Holy Tradition. Furthermore, the Bible provides a wide range of Apostolic doctrines for the sake of saving souls, but since the founding of Christianity, Scripture was never believed to be the only deposit of Jesus's words; oral Tradition was also adamantly recognized as containing doctrines not written in the Bible, as well as being the key to interpreting and explaining the Bible according to the original theology of the Apostles, as opposed to Christians and heretics erroneously reinterpreting Jesus's words. Jesus's words were never thought of as nicely packaged writings, nor of words which should be reinterpreted by modern men. Instead, they were perceived to be spirit and life on paper as well as in verbal witness through the Apostles and their Tradition of successors- the bishops and priests of the Church.
As these facts make clear, Jesus did speak well of oral Holy Tradition, and this is why the written and oral teachings of Jesus were recognized in the Bible and Early Church as the word of God. This then provides the context for Paul's statements, quoted above by the unknown Protestant, which say that the word of God must "dwell in you richly" and that the word of God is living and active. This word of God is not legalistically packaged only in the Protestant collection of Bible books, which is different from the Early Church's collection of Bible books, nor is it nicely arranged only in the Early Church's collection of Scriptures. The Apostolic teaching in the Bible and the Early Church promoted and imitated the Ancient Jewish concept of a written Bible and an oral Bible, Holy Tradition, which was instituted by the Holy Spirit through the Prophets, as the Ancient Jews themselves teach in the Talmuds, Josephus, and other sources. Hence, the unknown Protestant's assumption that Holy Tradition was never a part of the Bible's and the Early Church's doctrine and spiritual-historical context is absolutely erroneous and fallacious.
In addition to what the Apostles understood Jesus's words to consist of, Colossians 2:8 mentions the tradition of men. This tradition of men is clearly meant to be something in opposition to the permanent Tradition of the Apostles mentioned by Paul, Clement of Rome, Ireneus, Basil the Great, and all the Apostolic Early Christians. When Paul wrote this statement to the Colossians, not all the Scriptures of the New Testament (NT) had yet been written, so that, even according to Protestant mythology, at least some of the oral Apostolic doctrines were still in tandem with some of the Scriptures already written by the Apostles. If Paul was telling Christians to reject men's tradition, as though all traditions come from men, then this would include the Apostles' Tradition, since the Apostles were also men. But Paul could not have been telling them to believe that all oral traditions false, lest he condemn the Gospel itself. Thus, when Scripture condemns tradition, it is condemning human tradition, not Apostolic Tradition. And when Scripture supports tradition, it is supporting Apostolic Tradition, not Scripture alone. This is what an objective, honest, and historical analysis of this issue has always concluded, for not only does the Bible speak of unwritten doctrines from the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:34, for instance, speaks of dogmas concerning Communion which are nowhere else mentioned in the Bible), the Early Christians also unanimously speak of an oral Apostolic doctrinal inheritance. And because the Bible makes a distinction between the tradition of men and the Tradition of Jesus, Jesus's statement that His words are spirit and life, apply to both their written and oral forms which the Church has inherited from the Apostles unchanged and without corruption. Once again, Jesus must have spoken well of oral traditions, for the whole NT consistently speaks of Apostolic Tradition as being opposed to men's tradition, as well as being a permanent element of the Faith in the Church.
If there is any question about the permanent immutability of Apostolic Tradition, the Early Christians consistently report that the oral doctrines from Jesus have never admitted falsification nor any change at any time since Christ taught. This is what Ireneus, a student of an Apostolic disciple, says in the 2nd century, from his book Against Heresies III, 3:3, "By this succession, the Church Tradition from the Apostles, and the preaching of the Truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying Faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the Apostles until now." Ireneus and the Apostolic disciples witnessed the Apostolic Tradition to have admitted no falsifications of any kind and they had never heard of any. It was well documented and witnessed by all of the Early Christians that the first generations after the Apostles noticed no changes to Tradition. The same is true in the 5th century, when Vincent of Lerins says in his book Commonitory 23:59, "But the Church of Christ, the careful and watchful guardian of the doctrines deposited in Her charge, never changes anything in them." Vincent's contemporaries, with their spiritual grandparents and the spiritual grandparents of Vincent's spiritual grandparents, witnesses all the way to the Apostles, who had for 500 years recorded and discussed the Apostolic Tradition, never noticed any changes in it. Indeed, no one questioned or debated such a belief until Martin Luther in the 1500's mistakenly included most of Holy Tradition with his condemnation of Catholic traditions.
As the Ancient Witnesses testify, Sacred History reveals that Apostolic Tradition has been historically documented since Vincent's time to be as doctrinally sound as it was in Apostolic times. And as the evidence dictates from the only facts available, the belief that the Apostolic Tradition has been replaced by the Bible, and that whatever true traditions did survive after Apostolic times fell easy prey to corruption, falsification, and change, is purely a fabrication and a myth. Even the Holy Tradition of the Prophets in Judaism is documented to have admitted no changes for at least 1500-2000 years, and therefore it is likely to have survived without change for 4000 years and also to the days of Adam and Eve. After all, Holy Tradition is responsible for providing the contents for the book of Genesis and other Scriptures, as well as for the teachings in interpreting them according to their original meanings. As these observations indicate, the Early Church inherited intact the Apostolic Tradition, and they have passed it down to us today most faithfully in the Eastern Orthodox Church, somewhat faithfully in the Catholic church, and in a more weakened form in the Protestant churches. This variation depends on how much respect has been given to Tradition. Nevertheless, it has survived with the Bible because, as Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, the gates of Hades cannot prevail against Christ's Church.
Since Scripture and Sacred History make distinctions between Holy Tradition and human traditions, as well as between Holy Tradition and Catholic or Protestant traditions, what are Jesus's words about Catholic and Protestant traditions? Catholics believe that the pope should be the ultimate spiritual authority on earth, even deciding doctrinal changes to the Faith, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until the Catholics started believing it around AD 800. Catholics believe that priests should never marry, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until it was accepted as a divine command starting around AD 1100. Catholics believed in indulgences, whereby one can pay the church for a document forgiving one's sins, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until about 500-700 years ago, nor was He known to have called for its repeal, when this doctrine ended about 500 years ago. Catholics believe in the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until about 150 years ago. So what are Jesus's words to the Catholics? As Sacred History makes clear, there are many things which Jesus and the Apostles never taught the Church, yet since about AD 800 the Catholics of western Christianity have altered, changed, and subtracted many things of the Faith, even claiming that the Holy Spirit has been guiding such a development of Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition. But there is no evidence that Christ is behind these alterations. Similarly, Protestants believe that salvation occurs at the moment one claims faith in Jesus Christ, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until Martin Luther invented it about 500 years ago. Other Protestants believe that once you are saved you are eternally saved, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until John Calvin invented it about 500 years ago. Protestants believe that most of Apostolic Tradition is inferior to Scripture, yet Jesus was never known to have taught this dogma until Luther christianized this Ancient Jewish heresy of the Sadducees about 500 years ago. So what are Jesus's words to the Protestants? As Sacred History makes clear, there are many things which Jesus and the Apostles never taught the Church, yet since about AD 500 the Protestants have altered, changed, and subtracted many things of the Faith, even claiming that the Holy Spirit has taught them to do this from Scripture. They condemn Apostolic Tradition, yet they make up their own oral doctrines and read them into the Bible, thereby fooling themselves into believing that they possess no traditions. But there is no evidence that Christ has been suddenly teaching these alterations of the Faith. Hence, only the Eastern Orthodox Church is impervious to criticism in regard to the transmission of Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, since they alone have never changed the beliefs of the Early Church. So what are Jesus's words to the Eastern Orthodox? As Scripture and Sacred History make clear, Jesus left behind an Oral Gospel, parts of which were collected in a Written Gospel, all of which were declared to be Holy Spirit inspired, permanent, and incapable of falsification. The words of Jesus to them are spirit and life in the fullest and truest sense, in the way that Jesus meant His words to mean.
For this segment of his refutation of Holy Tradition, the unknown Protestant has failed to conclude from Scripture and Sacred History that the Apostles through the Holy Spirit had designed Christ's words to evolve from oral Tradition to Scripture alone. He has also failed to prove that Tradition is inferior to Scripture and that Tradition is capable of corruption in its transmission, unlike Scripture. Not only has he failed to do all this, but he has also failed to explain why Scripture and Sacred History have consistently favored an arrangement of God's words divided into two separate yet equal categories- Scripture and Holy Tradition from the Prophets and/or the Apostles. The Bible clearly mentions Holy Tradition from the Prophets and Apostles, and the Ancient Jews and Early Christians clearly inherited both a Written Bible for the sake of documented validation of God's words and an Oral Bible for the sake of providing the truest meaning and context of the Lord's words. Together they form the most proper spirituality for the sake of salvation and union with Christ. The Prophets and Apostles did this because it is what the Holy Spirit arranged and it is what experience proved most valuable in preserving and promoting the only Faith most accurately. The Apostolic spirituality therefore is not something legalistically confined to a box of books, nor can Christ's words find the fullest meaning therein. Clement of Alexandria, a disciple of Apostolic disciples, says in the 2nd century, in his book The Miscellanies VI, 7, "The Gnosis (spiritual perfection in Christ) itself is that which has descended by transmission to a few, having been imparted unwritten by the Apostles. Hence, then, knowledge or wisdom ought to be exercised up to the eternal and unchangeable habit of contemplation." As Clement reveals, there is much more to Jesus's words than general statements of theology in written form.
The failure of the unknown Protestant in refuting Tradition is basically his ignorance of the Bible and its spiritual context, Sacred History. Biblical and Early Christian reports of extra-biblical doctrines from Holy Tradition more than indicate how the Bible only hints and gives general statements, or is quite silent, about certain concepts and requires Tradition in order for it to make sense and to be practiced completely and correctly. Clement of Alexandria is another of these witnesses, especially when he was a disciple of Apostolic disciples. As he and his contemporaries noted, the mystical devotion of contemplative spiritual perfection was a part of the Faith, yet the Apostles were known to have taught it not in Scripture but in their Tradition. And no one disputed this belief. This is because the Apostles and their succession of disciples were famous for seeking to receive this gift of God by progressing toward it in spiritual exercises learned from elders who learned it from the Apostles, as the Bible commands us to do when it says that we should be as holy as the Lord is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), or when it says that we should strive for all the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1), or when it says to go on toward spiritual perfection itself (Hebrews 6:1). Tradition alone provides the content for practicing these commandments from Scripture, and the Early Christians never lost it or falsified it. Instead, this more advanced exercise within the Apostolic Tradition did exist and was later transferred to monasticism in the Early Church, where a few spiritual athletes were trained in the Apostolic contemplation to the fullest, from which many ancient documents of that time have preserved in writing what these doctrines consisted of, as well as examples where God sends this grace. Even today Eastern Orthodox monks and nuns carry on faithfully to the fullest extent every aspect of the Apostolic Tradition that had been transmitted to them from the contemplative exercises of the Apostles, though to a lesser extent it survives among Catholic monks and nuns.
The unknown Protestant, because of his ignorance of how the Apostles established Holy Tradition, also fails to notice when the Bible itself promotes extra-biblical doctrines. Alluding to the oral exercises from the Apostolic Tradition, Acts 9-10 refers to one mystical devotion of it, where Peter fell into a trance while praying. As Clement of Alexandria and the ancient monastic teachers relate, such Apostolic devotions come from orally transmitted doctrines which paper and ink cannot express and teach, for only the souls most qualified can describe from experience what is totally subjective and spiritual, and only the souls most properly prepared and motivated are capable of correctly learning the perfect imitation of Christ's words (though there are exceptions to and deviations from this rule, but they are not common). The Bible does not and cannot supply such information, and it is why the Ancient Witnesses believed in Apostolic Tradition and why they, like Jesus and the Apostles and Prophets, practiced the relationship of spiritual elders teaching spiritual disciples in a succession of correct and unchanging spiritual training in the Holy Spirit from the Apostles. They did this because without such personal witness, individuals can be easily misguided into believing that the Holy Spirit is teaching them something when He in reality is not. This is what Hebrews 5:14 was referring to when it says, "But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil." As the Bible and Ancient Witnesses taught, this training is a reference to the practice of spiritual elder-spiritual disciple in the Apostolic succession, not a training of an individual going alone on the spiritual path and believing that he hears the Holy Spirit teaching him things. Though he may be hearing God, there is no Apostolic connection to verify what he hears; it is merely his opinion, especially if it does not conform to Apostolic Tradition and its standard of Biblical interpretation. Hebrews 5:14 also alludes to the mystical ability to ascertain what is or is not from God or Satan, and this is how and why the Apostle John was able to determine that the visions in his Book of Revelation were not from Satan, nor commingled with demonic visions, but had come from the Holy Spirit alone. It also explains how and why Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, was able to determine that his dreams did not come from Satan or his own imagination but from God alone. The same is true for all the determinations of Holy Spirit inspiration which the Apostles, their disciples, and the Early Church had made in regard to everything in Scripture and Tradition, as well as in personal lives.
Everything that we believe has some connection with Tradition, no matter how indirect. For instance, everything that we believe about Jesus comes from the Apostles. This is because Jesus never wrote down anything and so we trust the Apostles alone. However, everything that we believe about the Apostles comes from the Early Christians. For instance, because there is no direct proof, there is no way of knowing if or not the Gospel of Matthew is really authentic or written by Matthew. We simply trust what the Early Christians tell us about this book and other Scriptures as well. The same is true for the belief in the Trinity, since the Bible does not clearly teach this doctrine, and it is true for many other Christian beliefs and practices. We Christians, even Protestants, rely far more on Apostolic Tradition than we realize or may want to realize, yet it is a vital aspect of the Faith which is equal to Scripture, and it has always been treated that way. Protestants may condemn or dismiss Tradition, or parts of it, such as monasticism, for example, due to their misguided hatred for Tradition (unless it is Protestant tradition). Nevertheless, they too, similar to the Catholics, depend on what the Early Church tells us are the words of Jesus, along with what Catholic and Protestant traditions teach them, unlike Eastern Orthodoxy, which relies only on Apostolic Tradition. For this reason, anyone who rejects Apostolic Tradition, even only parts of it, are putting into practice the warning that Basil the Great made in the 4th century, "Were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals." Basil says this because Tradition is not some inferior set of useless rituals and ceremonies; it is the fullness of the Faith, which the Lord gave to His Disciples, which they have given to us through their disciples and successors. It is all interrelated, as the Bible and Ancient Witnesses constantly tell us, and the Holy Spirit has preserved it all up to today. Rituals and Sacraments are part of the Apostolic Tradition and they have their divine purpose with the Bible, and a single Tradition of extra-biblical beliefs and interpretations of Scripture are necessary for understanding and practicing the Faith, and the orally taught contemplative quest for spiritual perfection as taught in Holy Tradition also has its place with Scripture, as the goal and crown of seeing God as He is. Without Tradition, the Bible can mean anything one wants it to mean, and the imitation of the Apostolic spirituality has no absolute standard or power. This is why Protestants who reject and even struggle against Tradition (and even Catholics who keep changing it) are working to defeat what the Apostles have instituted in the Holy Spirit. It is as Basil the Great says- they "unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals". In other words, they erase and/or twist the very words of Jesus Himself for the sake of their own man-made dogmas.
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