Question: I have been trying to witness to a Catholic friend who is quite knowledgeable regarding the beliefs of his Church. He makes a very big deal over the validity of “tradition” and even refers to the Scriptures to support his view. What does the Bible mean by “tradition?”
Response: 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). How are we to understand this?
Obviously, while the canon of the New Testament was being written there was much oral teaching not yet committed to writing. We have every reason to believe, however, that whatever was to be observed by the church down through the ages was put into the New Testament. There are two reasons for this.
First of all, every other mention of tradition in the New Testament except for the two above is derogatory and warns against it (Mt 15:2-3,6; Mk 7:3,5,8-9,13; Gal:1:14; Col:2:8; 1 Pt 1:18). Christ rebuked the Pharisees for making void the Word of God by their tradition. Peter and Paul speak of having to be delivered from tradition. Surely Christ would not leave His church with unwritten tradition which is so easily perverted! That which was taught orally and which was to be permanent for the church was put in writing. There is no oral tradition lost and waiting to be rediscovered. God doesn’t work that way!
Secondly, we have examples of this in Scripture. Paul tells the Corinthians that he is putting 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 Thessalonian epistle what he had previously taught them concerning the Antichrist—“when I was yet with you, I told you these things” (2 Thes:2:5). Not one Catholic tradition can be traced back to the apostles; and Catholic tradition contradicts the Bible.