The Biblical Necessity of Tradition
One of the important effects of Tradition is a unified standard of Bible interpretation, which was regarded by the Early Christians to have come from the Apostles (and for the Jews it came from the Prophets), due to a succession of actual disciples and witnesses, as well as the universal acceptance of this unified foundation, suggesting a single source rather than various human origins. Because it was as meticulously preserved without any additions or subtractions, like the textual transmission of the Bible's teachings, Tradition was not only known to have come from the Prophets or Apostles but it was also known to have come from the Holy Spirit. This aspect of a single interpretation of what the Bible says established an Apostolic unity of doctrine, practice, and spirituality for the great majority of Christians for about 1000 years, in contrast to the more limited, modern concept of Christian unity, which is not really a unity in the Apostolic-Biblical sense because this type of unity is merely a general conformity of only the most basic doctrines, practices, and spirituality. Without the original, unified standard of interpretation, the Bible can say whatever a person wants it to say. Hence, Pentecostalists read the Bible and they see in every passage the doctrine that talking in tongues is necessary for salvation or that it is some kind of catalyst towards it. Other Christians read the same passages and they understand Scripture to say that talking in tongues has no connection at all with salvation. Calvinists look at the Bible and they see in every passage how humans have no choice in choosing Christ or Satan. Other Christians read the Bible and they see how God has given us the free will to choose Christ or Satan. Lutherans look at the Bible and they see in every passage how faith alone leads to salvation. Other Christians are convinced that the Bible teaches how a combination of faith, good works, love, perseverence, and other virtues all lead to salvation. Catholics look at the Bible and they see in every passage how the papacy is God's representative for all Christians. Other Christians do not hear the Bible saying that at all. And this list goes on and on, involving many assumptions that the Bible says certain things, though in reality the Bible is either quite vague or silent about certain doctrines or is totally ambiguous.
Because the Bible is missing important spiritual information which could easily minimize or eliminate or explain complicated questions and spiritual divisions, Holy Tradition is a necessity. Where in the Bible is abortion denounced? There may be a few hints of it, but there is nothing clearly stated suggesting that it be rejected, yet true Christians everywhere condemn it because Apostolic Tradition has taught us to condemn it. Where in the Bible is slavery abolished? God and the Apostles everywhere condone it as some kind of moral duty to be practiced by all of God's children, yet Apostolic Tradition has always looked down on the idea. Where does the Bible say that the Trinity should be worshipped as One God, and where does Scripture explain that Christ is both God and Man eternally without any commixture? The Early Christians admitted, and simple observation dictates, that Tradition, not Scripture, has always determined this doctrine. And where in the Bible is it stated that the Epistle of James or the Epistle of Philemon or the Book of Esther or any Bible book should be accepted as Holy Spirit inspired? Since Scripture contains some teachings which are not consistent with each other, such as when God incited King David in 2 Samuel 24:1 to count the people of Israel and yet in 1 Chronicles 21:1 it says that Satan incited King David to count the people of Israel (There is no Biblical doctrine explaining how to harmonize these and other conflicting verses, nor any Biblical reason that they should even be harmonized), the Bible does not provide a definite key to proving which of its books, or any others, should or should not be made Biblical, especially with any doctrinal contradictions between them. Because the Early Christians decided on the final list of Bible books, among many lists of Scriptures, it is Tradition that made this determination, not the Bible. Similarly, the Bible contains problematic and/or contradictory teachings which Scripture cannot resolve by itself, but it has always been Tradition's interpretations which have resolved the Bible's most conflicting and contentious doctrines. As these facts make clear, it is Holy Tradition which has always been the standard for understanding the canon and doctrines of the Bible, and it is the deposit of all the Apostles' oral teachings. Tradition is not only vital to the Faith, it is the Gospel itself and the Key to the Scriptures, as the Early Christians clearly taught.
At this point Protestants may object and insist that the Bible is not missing any spiritual details, such as the Holy Trinity. But they say this only because they cannot admit to the idea that Apostolic Tradition is from the Holy Spirit, lest the foundation of their dogmatic beliefs be refuted. Despite what they insist on believing (or refuse to research), there are spiritual gaps in the Bible which are the direct cause for so much Christian division and so many different branches of theology. If all the Bible's doctrines really were so clear and self-evident, theological debates even among Protestants would not exist. Nevertheless, they do exist, and this is why no honest student of the Bible can say that the Trinity is openly taught and described in Scripture. In fact, there are verses opposing the concept of the Trinity along with verses which suggest it. For instance, the Bible says that Jesus Christ is God and it also says that He is not God, presenting passages, like John 1, where God is the Word who became Flesh, Jesus Christ, and also stating that Jesus says that no creature, including Himself, is good but God alone is good, as in Mark 10:18, thereby asserting that God and Jesus are totally separate entities. This is what the Bible says and yet there is some apparent contradiction here. Yet the Bible provides no explanation of how to resolve it, so that people can theoretically interpret whatever they like out of it. And this has always happened whenever Holy Tradition is rejected or replaced by another tradition.
Some heretics of Early Church times were convinced that the Bible says that Jesus was born a mere human being, but then at His baptism the Word came down, mingled with His Flesh, and then Jesus became God, among other variations of this theme. According to these people, the Bible clearly says this. Orthodox Christians since Early Church times have been convinced that the Bible says that Jesus was born God and that His Flesh has always been God, as fully God and fully Man. They understood that the Bible clearly says this. The Bible also says in Proverbs 7-8 that Wisdom is creation's Mother, as though She is God, along with Jesus Christ and/or the Holy Spirit. Some people in ancient times were convinced that the Bible clearly says this. Thus, the Bible can be understood to say that Wisdom is a Person of the Trinity. The Bible does not say that She should not be part of the Trinity. So, why should Wisdom not be interpreted as a Person of the Godhead? Because of this concept of the Mother Wisdom, the Bible can be understood to teach that there should not be a Trinity, but instead, there should be a Quadrinity- the Father, Mother, Son, and Holy Spirit. Does the Bible really say that there should only be a Trinity and not a Quadrinity, or a even Duality of simply the Father and the Son? Does the Bible really say that Jesus was God and was born as God through the Virgin Mary? These problematic points and questions were utilized by the ancient heretics who were quite active in repudiating the Apostolic Tradition of Scripture interpretation. But according to the traditional oral doctrines of the Apostles, the Bible was accepted as teaching that the Trinity is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as teaching that Jesus is eternally God and eternally Man. This interpretation was known to have come only from Apostolic Tradition, which must be interpreted into the Bible, a fact that the Early Christians were aware of and proudly declared. As these observations reveal, the Bible is missing important doctrines which Scripture does not and cannot clarify or announce, nor was it ever expected to. The Bible thus forces Christians to embrace and rely on Holy Tradition as the Key to the Scriptures and as the means by which the Bible's disputed teachings can be explained.
In addition to the Protestants insisting that Scripture presents the doctrine of the Holy Trinity without any confusion, they also adamantly believe that the Bible's books, and no other books, prove each other to be Holy Spirit inspired. But where in the Bible does it say that the Epistle of Barnabas should not be accepted as Biblical? Where in the Bible does it say that the Book of Revelation should be made Biblical? It was not the Bible that determined that the Epistle of Barnabas should be left out of the Bible. It was not Scripture that determined that the Book of Revelation should be accepted as Biblical. In the first centuries of Christianity, many churches believed that Barnabas was a Scripture and many churches believed that Revelation was anti-biblical. Though Protestants often explain away this fact by saying that Biblical books fit into a pattern of thought like a puzzle and therefore they automatically validate each other to the exclusion of other books, this teaching itself is a Protestant tradition invented by modern men, since the Ancient Jews and Early Christians never believed such an idea, nor were they always in total agreement about which books should or should not be made Biblical.
As stated above, Scripture is not always clear, containing within its contents many doctrines which are vague or ambiguous or even contradictory. The ambiguous and contradictory Bible passages have no Biblical resolutions, and indeed, they can be used to prove how certain Bible books actually oppose each other. This is precisely what Martin Luther did with his observations of how the Epistle to the Romans opposes the Epistle of James regarding Luther's new concept of faith vs. works, thereby proving to him and some of his followers that the Epistle of James is anti-biblical. Since Scripture contains problematic and contradictory teachings, some extra-biblical books can be easily interpreted in a way that could make them conform to the rest of the Bible, as some Early Christians did with Barnabas and the Revelation of Peter, and conversely, some Biblical books can be easily interpreted in a way that could make them not conform to the rest of Scripture, as Luther did when he taught in his NT commentaries that the Apocrypha, James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation were all unbiblical. Therefore, as the Ancient Jews and Early Christians were aware, the Bible's books do not somehow confirm themselves, or validate themselves through some self-evident pattern, to be Holy Spirit inspired to the exclusion of other books. Instead, it is Holy Tradition which confirms certain books to be Biblical or not, as had taken place among the Jews in the 3rd century with the OT and among the Christians in the 4th century with the NT. And this is a historical fact experienced by many witnesses in Sacred History.
As the above-stated comments make clear, the Bible does not always directly and/or indirectly say what people insist it says in some instances, and it needs a tradition to interpret some of the passages, whether this tradition is Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Early Christian, or whatever. This also applies to people who claim to be theologically neutral when they read Scripture or who claim to rely only on loving God and doing good works to help other people as the basis of salvation or faith or true Christianity. However, it is impossible for anyone to read Scripture without some outside bias influencing how he understands the prophets', Jesus's, and the Apostles' words, and it is impossible to determine what loving God is or what and how to put into practice helping other people. Does one understand Christ's words according to the Pentecostal tradition or the Catholic tradition or which tradition? Does one put into practice the love of God and the doing of good works according to the Eastern Orthodox monastic tradition or the Church of Christ tradition or what? Hence, the Bible does not exactly tell people how to put into practice love for God and doing good works. Sometimes, doing good deeds in some situations at certain times of the day or week may be opposed to what the Holy Spirit would rather have a person do in such cases, but the Bible does not explain that and other details involved with loving God and helping other people. Tradition fills in those blanks, or at least what we may call blanks.
Furthermore, the Bible did not make the decision to leave the Epistle of Barnabas out and put the Revelation of John in; Holy Tradition provided for this decision, which Protestants to this day accept as a divinely inspired decision, if they admit it or not. Holy Tradition allows for Scripture to be interpreted in a certain way so that only certain books were made Biblical and certain other books were left out. This mostly took place in the 4th century. Similarly, the Early Christians often made the point that Holy Tradition was responsible not only for the belief in the Trinity but also in how to explain it. Protestants also accept this explanation of the Trinity, among many, to be a divinely inspired doctrine, even though the authoritative explanation of the Trinity was formulated in the 4th century, precisely the time when they claim that the Early Church had become corrupted by false doctrines. Therefore, Protestants also believe in non-biblical, oral traditions from the Apostles (as well as from their own reformers) through Holy Tradition (or Protestant tradition) at a time when they declare the Apostolic Church to have been compromised by error, despite their protests against such a fact. So, as these observations indicate, all Christians, including Protestants, utilize traditions outside the Bible in their worship, faith, and service to God. The issue is if or not one's spiritual tradition is in perfect conformity to the Apostles or if or not it is mingled with the traditions of a reformer. Indeed, that has always been the ultimate driving force behind all the theological debates in Christianity for the last 2000 years.
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