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Tradition and scripture or scripture alone?

Q. Why tradition and scripture rather than just scripture?

Q. Does the Bible support the use of oral tradition?

Occasionally one will encounter an individual who says "If it isn't in the Bible, I don't believe it." This presumes that everything Jesus said and did is recorded in the Bible. However, we all know that Jesus didn't make His graces dependent upon the ability to read or own a Bible. Jesus didn't command that His Apostles go and write down everything He had said so that people can read it. Rather, Jesus said "Go and baptize! Go and teach!" (Matthew 28:19-20) His truths were to be spread, as was obviously necessary before the invention of the printing press, mainly by the spoken word. It is true that some of the Apostles and their companions did commit to writing many things about the life and doctrines of our Lord. The oral teachings of the Apostles are just as truly the Word of God as their written words that we find preserved in the New Testament. This fact is evidenced by the following scriptural passages:

"Jesus performed many other signs as well--signs not recorded here--in the presence of his disciples." (John 20:30, KJV)

"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, and which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25, KJV)

"hold fast to the traditions you received from us, either by our word or by letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15, KJV)

And in Luke 10:16 where Jesus says "He who hears you, hears me." (KJV)

"I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete." (2 John 1:12, NIV)

"I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face." (3 John 13-14, KJV)

These last two passages can be especially appreciated if you remember that family members communicate best by talking to each other rather than passing notes back and forth. By the New Covenant we were all made members of God's family (as opposed to belonging to His book-of-the-month club). The bare essentials to receive God's favor are contained in the Bible but this doesn't mean that God, in His loving generosity, has not provided abundantly far more for those who will avail themselves of it. Nor does it mean that all of us can read it to ourselves and understand the words contained in the Bible, as Acts 8:30-31 so clearly enumerates in the story about the Ethiopian eunuch. Remember that 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is useful; it doesn't say or even imply that it is the exclusive source.

The point is that:

  1. The Bible, Word of God that it is, doesn't claim to be the sole source of information but instead documents certain happenings and the establishment of a teaching authority within His Church; and

  2. Dependence upon the Bible as the sole authority in essence says that Jesus' word is not to be trusted when Jesus says that He will be with His Church (as it baptizes and teaches) until the end of time (Matthew 28:20).

The Bible is not a catechism or theological treatise where one can go for quick easy answers. It's too bad that it isn't, but wishing it was (or pretending that it is) doesn't make it so. Attempting to use the Bible in this manner is to misuse Holy Scripture. The truth is there, but we must know how to get at it as, in many cases, it is not presented in a straightforward manner readily understandable to the 20th Century Christian. This is because the sacred writers depended heavily upon 1st century (and earlier) Jewish traditions, customs, and beliefs which are not necessarily recorded in the Bible. It is important that we also consult the other historical writings to find, and therefore learn, how the writings (now part of Holy Scripture but only important writings at that time) were understood and taught by those to whom the writings were addressed.

"If it isn't in the Bible, I don't believe it" may seem reasonable to the one saying it, but it is a self-contradicting statement because nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Bible is the exclusive authority. Thus, the person saying this believes something which is not in the Bible. In fact, the Bible says that the Church is the authority: "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Timothy 3:15, NAB)

Recommended reading:

  • ●  Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 74-87

  • ●  Shea, Mark P., By What Authority?, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN 46750, 1996

  • ●  Currie, David B., Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 1996, pages 51-62

  • ●  Hardon, John A., S.J., The Catholic Catechism, Doubleday, New York, NY, 1981, pages 41-52

  • ●  Tradition, Bible, or both?, A Catholic Answers Tract, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177

  • ●  What's Your Authority for That?, A Catholic Answers Tract, P.O. Box 17490, San Diego, CA 92177

  • ●  McGuinness, Msgr. Richard M. & Quill, Rev. John A., Who Needs The Church? I Have a Bible, A Defending the Faith Tract, World Apostolate of Fatima, Washington, NJ 07882, 1992

  • ●  Nunez, Luis S., "St. Paul's Scriptural Arguments for Tradition", The Catholic Answer, Volume 10/Number 3, July/August 1996, pages 32-35

  • ●  "Not by Scripture Alone", This Rock, The Magazine of Catholic Apologetics and Evangelization, November 1996, pages 36-38

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