Traditions of Men

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
(Mark 7:6-13)

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
(2 Thessalonians 2:15-3:6)

Both of the passages above are used by Biblical (or Evangelical) and Roman Catholic apologists respectively to drive home a point of view. Evangelicals that espouse a bible-alone approach to truth will point out to the Roman Catholic the verses in Mark 7 and the Roman Catholic typically responds with the verses in 2nd Thessalonians and then the stalemate ensues. One could surmise that the two passages above create a contradiction but that conclusion would lack merit since the passages above are easily reconciled with mere reasoning. There are two ways of understanding the passage that come readily to mind:

1) Christ was denouncing “bad” traditions while Paul was extolling “good” traditions so it is fine for the Christian to elevate the traditions of “godly” men to the same level of reverence as the Word of God (per John Paul II – see R1) as long as the  Christian chooses the “good” traditions and not the “bad” traditions.

This is presumably the position that the Roman Catholic apologist would take in an attempt to reconcile the two passages above. If you notice, I have placed the words: good, bad and godly in quotes so that the reader understands that these words (or standards) need defining before one can understand the position above. What is a good tradition and how does it differ from a bad tradition? How does one ascertain a godly man or even whether a tradition espoused by a godly man is a good tradition or a bad one.  Peter, the apostle that Christ urged to “feed His sheep”, had a tradition of preaching and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (Act 2:38) but Peter also had another tradition where he would refrain from eating with Gentiles when other Jews were around (Galatians 2:9-15). Are both of these traditions good? If not, how do we know which one of the traditions was a bad one and which one was good? I think Christians would agree that Peter that was certainly a godly man but we are only certain of this because of scripture. Likewise, we know that Peter’s refraining from eating with Gentiles when Jews were watching was a bad tradition only because scripture informs us so.  In summary, since we need scripture to discern between the good traditions and the bad ones, it follows that scripture alone is the only infallible guide for the Christian; all traditions of men must ultimately be judged by and brought into conformity with the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, the approach of embracing “good” traditions and denouncing “bad” ones must succumb to a much better rule, namely, embracing that which is more superior to the traditions of men.

2) When Paul refers to “the traditions … received of us” or “the traditions which ye have been taught” he is referring to the teachings found in scripture so there is no contradiction between his words and Christ’s words.

This interpretation is the only warranted one because it is rooted in scripture. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul states that we should only follow him in as much as he follows Christ. In Romans 3:4 Paul urges us to adopt a point of view in which only Christ’s words (i.e. the words of Scripture) are true but all other words from anyone else are false. Why does Paul want us to adopt this point of view? So that when man’s word is brought into judgment against God’s words, God’s words will always overcome (Romans 3:4b)! If you will allow me to overstate the point, consider 1 Corinthians 4:6 where Paul advices us not to think beyond that which is written in scripture or 2 Peter 1:19 where Peter discounts his own eyewitness testimony for the more sure and certain words of scripture.

I will end this blog with the commentary of Dr. Henry Morris (author of “The Defenders Study Bible”) on 2 Peter 1:19:

More Sure Word.
As sure as Peter was of what he had seen and heard, this was only his own experience, and could only be given as a personal testimony to others. Thus, he stressed that God’s written Word, available to all in the holy Scriptures, was more sure than any personal experience he or others might have. It is not in Peter or Paul as men, no matter how sincere or holy they may be, that we must trust, but in Christ as revealed (not in our experience either!) in God’s written Word.

As a result the [Roman Catholic] Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Wash. DC: United States Catholic Conf., Inc., 1994, 1997) Para 82.

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