Question: Roman Catholic apologists such as Gerry Matatics, Scott Hahn, and Karl Keating claim that the apostles’ oral teaching was as authoritative as Scripture, that it was passed down through history as “tradition,” that the Catholic Church has been its careful guardian and that evangelicals lack a full understanding of God’s truth because they reject tradition. How do you respond?
Response: Not every word the apostles spoke was inspired of God. Catholics don’t even claim that for the popes, alleged successors of Peter. Moreover, without a written record, no one could be certain even 100 years later, let alone today, that orally transmitted teaching had been passed down accurately. Obviously, we must have an infallible written record, which is why the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to write the New Testament. We are assured that all Scripture is inspired of God. No such assurance is given for tradition. In fact, the opposite is implied.
Certainly while the canon of the New Testament was in the process of composition much of the apostles’ teaching had only been given orally. That’s why Paul reminded the Thessalonians of “the tradition . . . received of us” (2 Thes:3:6) and admonished them to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2:15). It is equally clear, however, both logically and biblically, that whatever applied to and was to be observed by the church down through the ages was included in the permanent New Testament record. The apostles’ teaching certainly has been preserved nowhere else.
Do we have examples of apostolic teaching first given orally then written into the New Testament scriptures? Yes. Paul repeats to the Corinthians in writing what he had previously taught them orally (“delivered unto you”) concerning the Lord’s supper (1 Cor:11:23). Likewise he puts in writing in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians what he had previously taught them orally concerning the Antichrist: “when I was yet with you, I told you these things” (2 Thes:2:5). There are other examples.
Far from promoting extrabiblical tradition, the Bible condemns it. Except for 2 Thessalonians:2:15 and 3:6 quoted above, every other mention of tradition in the New Testament is disapproving. Both Peter (1 Pt 1:18) and Paul (Gal:1:13-16; Col:2:8) reveal its errors and the need to be delivered from human tradition. Far from supplementing and being equal to God’s Word, as Rome insists, tradition is always contrasted with and declared to be contradictory thereto. It is Rome’s traditions (like those of the rabbis) which have led her so far astray. Christ rebuked the Pharisees for voiding the Word of God by their tradition (Mt 15:2,3,6; Mk 7:3,5,8,9,13). Surely He wouldn’t then have His church guided by extrabiblical tradition! In fact, none were passed down from the apostles.
Absolutely no tradition held by Roman Catholics today can be traced back to the apostles. Catholic traditions and dogmas such as the Mass, rosary, prayers to Mary and the “saints,” etc. developed gradually over the centuries, directly contradict Scripture and therefore must be rejected. Matatics, Hahn, Keating, et al. are clever but wrong—not only on this point but in all their defense of Rome’s heresies.