Holy Tradition in Ancient Judaism

There is a vast amount of information in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity supporting Holy Tradition from the Prophets as an extra-biblical record of God's word. This record was understood to be the source of Scripture, rather than as being an addition to it. And this was believed not only because the Prophets and Apostles had inherited God's words from an oral transmission of Prophets long before them going back to Adam and Eve, but also because they themselves had initially taught their doctrines orally before writing some of them down. The disciples of the Prophets and Apostles, as Sacred History reveals, also inherited a good amount of unwritten teachings and they too passed down important revelations and interpretations of what they acquired from Scripture and personal witness. This method of doctrinal transmission was instituted because the Ancients had learned from experience that the oral word is more reliable and more trustworthy than the written word, and this was the spiritual arrangement that the Holy Spirit used as the best system for preserving and transmitting God's words. As a result, Scripture was always known to require Holy Tradition to make sense out of the Bible's vague, problematic, and even contradictory passages, as well as to provide a truer context for any missing information in Scripture. Hence, there is very little opposition or objection to Holy Tradition in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, except among the Sadducees and some heretics in Early Church times. Though Jesus is said to have condemned Tradition, the Prophets and Apostles throughout the Bible consistently promoted Holy Tradition, and they even quoted from extra-biblical sources as though they were widely-known doctrines from God. Jude 9 and 14-15 is the best example of the Apostles quoting extra-biblical material as prophetic sources, and 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is the best example of the Apostles establishing for the Church for all generations two categories for God's word- one that is written, the Bible, and one that is oral, Apostolic Tradition. This is how the Ancient Jews viewed God's word; this is what the Bible teaches; and this is why the Early Christians inherited such a concept.

The Ancient Jews had always believed in Holy Tradition, including extra-biblical information, and there are many examples of this. The Book of Genesis itself is a testament to a record of information passed down to Moses in written and/or oral forms. 2 Chronicles 9:29 refers to Scriptures, with titles like "The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite" and "The Visions of the Seer Iddo", since these titles reveal their contents to be words from the Holy Spirit rather than mere historical accounts. And Joshua 10:12-13 mentions an authoritative Book of Jasher, which is not in the Old Testament (OT). The Ancient Jews also had learned from Holy Tradition that Enoch wrote many Scriptures, which even Augustine believed in his book The City Of God, book XV, 23. This is why Jude 14-15 quotes from Enoch, because this passage was preserved in the First Book of Enoch 1:9 and because Jude believed in Holy Tradition. Abraham too is said to have written books (a passage of which is quoted by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews I, 7:1), and Moses was believed to have written extra-biblical books, as well as having passed down an oral tradition explaining how he had written the last passage in Deuteronomy about his death by a revelation from God (along with how he actually left this earth, as recorded by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews IV, 8:48, which must have a connection with the quote of the Archangel Michael in Jude 9, which of course is only a single quote of a much larger and truer account concerning Moses's death).

But there are other examples from Biblically oriented material, revealing the existence of extra-biblical Holy Tradition from God. 2 Esdras 14:37-48 (a book accepted in some Christian bibles throughout Church history) is a passage regarding how God had restored 94 Scriptures after they had been lost before Ezra's lifetime around 500 BC. As God tells Ezra in 2 Esdras, 24 Scriptures (the Ancient Jewish standard of categorizing the OT books) were to be made public, while 70 Scriptures were to be kept private, or unpublished and extra-biblical. 2 Chronicles 29:25 mentions revelation from God, which has no Biblical equivalent and yet was practiced for centuries as part of Holy Tradition before it was recorded in 2 Chronicles. Similarly, Moses was known to have passed down, not just some Scriptures, but also an Oral Bible from God, which was a record of oral doctrines and teachings interpreting the Bible and other extra-biblical material. Jesus mentions this Oral Bible in Matthew 23:1-3, when He tells the Jews and His Disciples to accept the teachings of their religious leaders, according to a succession of doctrine from Moses, which was an extra-biblical tradition called "Moses's Seat". Jesus also practiced Hanakah in John 10:22, thereby blessing this extra-biblical Jewish doctrine, which had been incorporated into the Faith a few centuries before Christ, as stated in 1 Maccabees 4:59. All these extra-biblical, oral traditions from the Prophets (as opposed to those invented by mere men) the Ancient Jews believed and reported on, the Apostles in the New Testament (NT) referred to, and Jesus Himself condoned.

One of the most consistent and ardently accepted Jewish beliefs from Holy Tradition is the doctrine that God had revealed to Moses a Written Bible and an Oral Bible. Since Apostolic times Ancient Jewish records constantly report on how God had revealed to the Prophets special teachings, which were later made into Scriptures or were left as orally transmitted extra-biblical doctrines. These oral doctrines (not the ones established by uninspired men) were cited quite frequently and there was generally no question about their authority and genuineness. In the Talmuds, in Sifre Deuteronomy 351;145a, it says, "The Roman governor Quietus asked Rabbi Gamaliel, 'How many Torahs (Bibles) were given to Israel?' He answered, 'Two- one in writing and the other orally.'" Again in the Talmuds, in Shabbat 31a, it says, "It happened with a heathen that he came before Shammai and asked him, 'How many Torahs do you have?' He answered, 'Two- the written and the oral.'" In Sifra Behuqqotai 8 it says, "'These are the statutes and the ordinances and the laws (literally 'torahs') which the Lord made between Him and the people of Israel on Mt. Sinai by Moses (Leviticus 26:46).' The phrase 'and the laws' indicates that two torahs were given to Israel, one in writing and one orally." In Abot 1:1 (also in Pe'ah 2:6, Eduyyot 8:7, Yadayim 4:3) it says, "Moses received the Torah at Mt. Sinai and passed it on (orally) to Joshua and Joshua to the Elders and the Elders to the Prophets and the Prophets passed it on to the men of the Great Assembly." In 2 Esdras 14:3-6 it says, "Then He (God) said to me, 'I revealed Myself in a bush and spoke to Moses when My people were in bondage in Egypt; and I sent him and led My people out of Egypt; and I led him up on Mt. Sinai, where I kept him with Me many days. I told him many wondrous things, and showed him the secrets of the times and declared to him the end of the times. Then I commanded him, saying, "These words you shall publish openly, and these you shall keep secret."'" Philo in his book Hypothetica 7:6 says, "Besides these (laws) there is a host of other things which belong to unwritten customs and institutions or are contained in the laws themselves." Josephus's book The Antiquities Of The Jews is overwhelmingly filled with extra-biblical accounts woven into the OT, quoting God, Adam, Eve, Seth, the Prophets, and other Biblical characters with little or no OT context, and Josephus considers these extra-biblical reports to be equal to Scripture, as he says in Preface 4 of The Antiquities Of The Jews. This is exactly how the Dead Sea Scrolls were collected, with no distinction made between Biblical and extra-biblical material. And Josephus also, in his book Wars of the Jews 5:4, quotes from two Scriptures, which are no longer identifiable. Even the Greek Septuagint (Greek LXX) version of the OT, translated around 200 BC was regarded as Holy Spirit inspired by the Ancient Jews, the Apostles (since the NT heavily relies on this version, despite its divergences from the Hebrew text), and the Early Christians, who inherited from the Apostles the Septuagint (LXX) collection of Scriptures, which they insisted had included the 12 or so books of the Apocrypha (for instance, Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, the Book of Jesus Sirach, 1-4 Maccabees, Baruch, Tobit, and 1-2 Esdras). And there are many more references to Holy Tradition in written and oral forms recorded in other Ancient Jewish sources before and after Apostolic times.

In addition to these Ancient Jewish reports, the Targums, which were versions of the OT incorporating doctrines, spiritual concepts, and stories from Holy Tradition mixed with the OT, were widely utilized in Ancient Judaism with no objections from any spiritual authorities or sects. Only the Sadducees vehemently opposed Holy Tradition, teaching instead the doctrine that only the Bible can be the word of God. As a result, because the Sadducees focused only on Scripture for their beliefs (which means that they had to invent a theology in order to interpret it), they developed false doctrines and false traditions, such as the doctrine that there is no life after death. Moreover, the Sadducees did not survive as a viable spiritual heritage after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 70, mostly because their doctrines did not come from the Prophets. Hence, Holy Tradition among the Jews since Christ's time has remained intact and without change throughout Jewish history.

Even more contrary to Protestant mythology is the fact that the Apostles in the Bible preserved Holy Tradition, which can be seen in various passages throughout the NT, especially in Jude 9 and 14-15. The Early Christians also made consistent references to the Apostles, who were of the Jewish spirituality, relying on the Jewish extra-biblical Holy Tradition, as in the Book of Acts where the Apostles and the First Christians still practiced Judaism in synagogues. Other writings from Apostolic men and their successors repeat the NT's usage of extra-biblical sources as divine doctrines.

Apart from Jude 9 and 14-15, where Jude quotes from extra-biblical books and oral Tradition regarding a dispute between the Archangel Michael and Satan, as well as a quotation from the First Book of Enoch 1:9, the NT makes frequent mention of extra-biblical concepts, which the Early Christians naturally inherited, including oral doctrines from the Apostles. The Epistle of Barnabas, the companion of Paul, whose letter the Early Christians considered to be genuine or even Biblical, consistently refers to extra-biblical sources, from both the Prophets and Apostles. For instance, in Barnabas 6 it says, "For the Prophet says, 'Who shall understand the parable of the Lord, except him who is wise and prudent, and who loves his Lord?'" This is not in the OT. In Barnabas 7, in the context of the OT scapegoat and its counterpart, it says, "What, then, does He say in the Prophet? 'And let them eat of the goat which is offered, with fasting, for all their sins.' Attend carefully: 'And let all the priests alone eat the inwards, unwashed with vinegar.'" This too is not in the OT. Barnabas 8 speaks about how God commanded sinful Jews to sacrifice a heifer, kill it, and then burn it, so that boys should take the ashes, dip purple wool on a stick with hyssop into the ashes, and then sprinkle the people, in order for their sins to be purified, all to symbolize Jesus as Christ. None of this is in the OT. In Barnabas 9, Scripture is quoted as saying that Abraham circumcised 318 men of his household, which again is not in the OT. Barnabas 12 begins by saying, "In like manner He (God) points to the Cross of Christ in another Prophet, who says, 'And when shall these things be accomplished? And the Lord says, "When a Tree shall be bent down, and again arise, and when Blood shall flow out of Wood."'" This is also not found in the OT, though 2 Esdras 5:5 contains the last clause. And there are a few other examples like this in Barnabas. But though Barnabas makes many references to Biblical teachings, he mingles some extra-biblical doctrines from God into them, just as the Ancient Jews of his time mingled Scripture with extra-biblical material without making any distinction between the two and by referring to both categories as words of God (such as Josephus, the Targums, the Essenes of the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.). Moreover, Barnabas was never condemned for citing these extra-biblical doctrines, nor did the Early Christians condemn his epistle for containing such sources. Indeed, his extra-biblical references were never a matter of dispute; rather they were recognized as simply a reflection of the Bible's usage of extra-biblical Tradition. In fact, the Early Christians highly regarded the Epistle of Barnabas as an example of proper Apostolic dogma, so that this epistle has remained a cherished source of Apostolic beliefs throughout Church history, except among Protestants.

Just like Barnabas, the First Epistle of Clement, who was a disciple of Peter, says in his 46th chapter, "To such examples it is right that we should cleave; since it is written, 'Cleave to the holy, for those that cleave to them shall themselves be made holy.'" Clement constantly refers to the OT, yet here he quotes from an unknown extra-biblical source of the Prophets which he knows to be from the Holy Spirit. But this quote was never treated by the Early Christians as a sign of faulty spirituality. In fact, his first epistle was highly regarded as a genuine piece of Apostolic doctrine, and some Christians in the Early Church even treated it as Scripture, a practice which continued into the 16th century.

Justin Martyr, who lived in the early 2nd century, mentions in his Dialogue With Trypho 71-72 that the Apostles did indeed possess extra-biblical sources, although they originally had been part of the OT. Not only does he state that the Greek version of the OT, translated around 200 B.C., was inspired by the Holy Spirit (which even the Ancient Jews believed), but he also says that the Hebrew version of the OT had been tampered with by the Jews in order to cover up certain prophecies of Jesus Christ. One famous example of this occurs with Isaiah 7:14, where the Greek says that a Virgin will conceive, while the Hebrew was changed to say that only a young woman will conceive, which is not a miracle. This explains why the Early Christians adamantly accepted the Greek OT (LXX) as the most reliable and most Apostolic OT version, since the Apostles in the NT and in Tradition heavily relied on it. And it explains why the Early Christians adamantly accepted the 12 or so books of the Apocrypha as Scripture, books which Protestants no longer accept as part of the OT. In the 3rd century, Origen in his Letter to Africanus backs up this observation by having heard from Jewish elders that the Jews had at one time tampered with the OT and threw out the Apocrypha from the OT in order to cover up criticisms against Jewish religious leaders for the sake of preserving the Faith (since these extra-biblical books revealed strongly negative sides to Jewish religious leaders). The Ancient Jewish Talmuds of the 2nd to 5th centuries similarly speak of pre-Christian Jews seeking to throw out certain books from the Bible in order to prevent people from wrongly using their contents (Aboth d'Rabbi Nathan 1; Jadayim 3:5; Megillah 7a; Tosifta Jadayim 2:14; Shabbath 13b, 30b; Canticles Rabbah 1:1; Baba Batra 15a; Chagiga 13a). It was evidently somewhat common for the Ancient Jews to manipulate the OT for the sake of saving Judaism, since the public had problems from time to time dealing with certain teachings, which Jesus cites in Mark 4:10-11, 33-34. Because these rejected books could still be preserved in Holy Tradition among the more spiritually advanced elders, or among certain OT collections, such manipulations were never perceived to be a sign of heresy or demonic activity. This is what Justin Martyr was dealing with in his debate with a Jewish philosopher, Trypho. Justin provides many examples of OT manipulations by the Jews, quoting OT passages which are no longer part of the OT. And in his Dialogue With Trypho 120, Justin further speaks of how Hebrews 11:37, with its reference to men being sawn in two, came from an OT Scripture or Tradition from the Holy Spirit, which the Apostles accepted as a divine doctrine, though it is no longer part of the OT. Justin was not the only Early Christian making this observation.

Tertullian in the 3rd century also mentions how the Jews had changed the OT in his book On The Apparel Of Women 3. In this chapter he states that the Jews had thrown out the First Book of Enoch, which Jude used in our Bible, because it was too powerfully prophetic of Jesus Christ. Tertullian made a good case for treating it as a Scripture, especially when it is quoted by Jude in the NT. Moreover, some of the Early Christians also accepted 1 Enoch as a Scripture, and some Ethiopians had until modern times included it in the OT. Similarly, Augustine in the 4th century in his book The City Of God XV, 23 accepts the Holy Tradition of the Jews which states that Enoch had "left some Divine Writings", and as a result, Augustine also admits that Jude had used 1 Enoch as a Scripture. However, he explained that by the 4th century the historical connection of 1 Enoch and the other writings of Enoch had been broken up so badly that it was no longer possible to prove without a doubt that the present books from Enoch are the ones from Apostolic times. Thus, 1 Enoch could not be accepted as Scripture, thereby indicating that the Early Christians were very cautious about the Faith and were not in the habit of blindly accepting false traditions, no matter how Biblically and Apostolically representative.

Justin Martyr's, Tertullian's, and Origen's explanation that the Jews had broken up the historical transmission of 1 Enoch and other lost Scriptures shows one reason why 1 Enoch was left out of the Bible. Even Augustine's admission of Enoch having "left some Divine Writings", which were later mishandled by the Jews, confirms this ancient observation. Furthermore, the Ancient Jewish record of their beliefs, the Talmuds, provides direct examples where the Ancient Jews were admittedly in the habit of tampering with the Bible, so as to prevent spiritual confusion and doubts about the Faith. The case regarding the Book of Ezekiel almost being thrown out of the Bible on at least two occasions is a good example of this phenomenon, as it is mentioned in Shabbat 13b and Chagigah 13a. Just how successful they were at throwing out Scriptures and parts of oral Tradition can be ascertained not just in Jude 9 and 14-15, where dogmas once considered part of the Faith are now cited as extra-biblical, but this can be seen also in Matthew 2:23, where the prophets are quoted having predicted that Jesus would be called a Nazarene, and in John 7:38, where Jesus quotes from an unknown Scripture.

All of these men, Justin Martyr, Origen, Tertullian, and Augustine were never condemned by the Early Christians for having taught that the Apostles had accepted extra-biblical material and traditions from the Prophets. This is because it was common knowledge to the Ancient Witnesses that the Apostles had used extra-biblical sources, if from lost Scriptures or from oral Holy Tradition, and if or not these were written in the Bible. There was simply no belief against such activity. Instead, the Apostles were expected to have used a different Bible, a different OT version (the Greek LXX), and the Holy Tradition of the Prophets, without including all this in the NT. Justin Martyr was made a saint for his teachings, Origen has been viewed as a theological genius, Tertullian was important for many western Christians, and Augustine was also made a saint. Though Origen and Tertullian were heavily criticized for having taught a few unorthodox beliefs, their assumption that the Apostles had used extra-biblical sources as Holy Spirit dogma was never a source of contention or condemnation.

But it is not just a few traditional figures who believed this about the Apostles. Even disciples of Apostolic disciples believed that the Apostles had accepted extra-biblical oral and written information from the Prophets as doctrines of the Faith. Ireneus of Lyons, who was a student of Polycarp, who was himself a famous disciple of John the Apostle, taught in his book On The Apostolic Preaching I,9 that there are 7 heavens, which is not an OT doctrine but a doctrine from the oral Holy Tradition of the Prophets, which Ireneus records as an Apostolic dogma, assuming it to be a doctrine of the Apostles from the Holy Tradition of the Prophets. In II, 43, Jeremiah is quoted as saying, "Blessed is He who was before He became Man," which Ireneus uses as a prophecy of Jesus Christ. But this too is not found in the OT, though Lactantius in his book Divine Institutes IV, 8, quotes the same passage that Ireneus did as a prophecy from Jeremiah. Yet Ireneus considers this extra-biblical prophecy from the Prophets to be a doctrine from the Apostles' preaching, and thus, as an Ancient Jewish extra-biblical belief accepted by the Apostles. Once again, Ireneus is not condemned or objected to for having taught that the Apostles had utilized extra-biblical oral Tradition and extra-biblical Scriptures from the Prophets. Instead, he is made a saint, and his teachings have been recognized as being part of the Apostolic Tradition, not just because he was a disciple of an Apostolic disciple, but because his beliefs were in accord with what the Ancient Witnesses had heard from the Lord through the Apostles.

There are countless more examples of Ancient Jews and Early Christians either witnessing or assuming the Prophets and Apostles to have possessed a somewhat different OT and an extra-biblical oral Tradition of the Prophets much different from the modern Protestant perceptions of these things, but the few examples above should suffice to show how prevalent and Apostolic such thinking has always been. As any careful analysis of Sacred History reveals, the spiritual context of the Apostles' Jewish heritage was not one which reflects Protestant concerns and beliefs about Holy Spirit inspiration. The Jews in Apostolic times did not limit God's words just to a written OT of 24 books (which is how the Ancient Jews categorized the number of OT books), nor even the 39 Protestant OT books. There is a vast amount of evidence in the OT, NT, and Sacred History proving that the Jews perceived God's words to have been established through the Prophets according to special categories- a public Bible, an unpublished Bible, and an Oral Bible, all of which constituted in part or as a whole the Holy Tradition, parts of which were not included in Scripture. The Bible and the Ancient Jews, as well as the Early Christians, used Holy Tradition and they did not reject it, either from the Prophets or from the Apostles, and all subsequent generations of Jews and Christians continued this belief. They accepted extra-biblical books, oral teachings, and oral stories because that is what the Prophets in the Holy Spirit had established in union with the OT through the Apostles. This belief was accepted not because the Ancient Jews and Early Christians were more spiritually incompetent than Protestants are today (indeed, they were more spiritually competent), but it is because they were taught by the Prophets and Apostles to trust Holy Tradition as the word of God, both orally and in Scripture. This is the historical context of Apostolic times, and this is the spiritual context of Apostolic doctrine.

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