As a proof for “Bible-only” Christianity, the Protestant Church of Christ refers to New Testament passages that include any negative portrayal of “tradition” in order to suggest an “either / or” (Scripture / Tradition) dichotomy of authority.
The Protestant Church of Christ perceives Catholic Sacred Tradition as an unbiblical rival to Sacred Scripture. Therefore, you (its members) begin not with openness to any established tradition, but rather, a scriptural quest for proof that traditions (foreign to your own) are suspicious invention of fallen men.
Your reasoning is as follows: The Catholic Church believes “tradition” is “the word of God”, the New Testament disparages “tradition”, so therefore, the Catholic Church is in error. One verse that supports your theory that “tradition” is wrong is Matthew 15:6, which reads, So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God (NIV). Another is Mark 7:8, which reads, You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the traditions of men (RSV). And is the phrase “traditions of men” not a favored popular jab that the Protestant Church of Christ uses in reference to the Catholic Church of Christ? Can you consider that, perhaps, anti-Catholicism, and its proponents’ use of supposed “biblical proofs” against her, might in fact represent a “tradition of men”? Your argument begins with your own established biased beliefs (your traditions), and you are certain you have not made void the word of God; so therefore, the Catholic position is wrong. But it is certainly not the Scriptures that disparage Catholic Tradition, nor is it her use of the word “Tradition” that communicates any kind of anti-Christian leaning; what communicates anti-Christian leaning is Protestantism’s self-made disparaging definition of the word “tradition” and the ensuing anti-tradition culture that it builds around itself. I will show you a thoroughly devised “tradition of men” that Protestantism has injected into the Scriptures, so Protestants can thenceforth proceed to use “the Scriptures” to cast doubt on a most Catholic word: Sacred “Tradition”, and thereby cast doubt on the Catholic Church.
The Greek word for “tradition(s)” within your proofs is paradosis. The word occurs thirteen times in the New Testament. Would you consider the Greek, and not your disparaged nuance of the English (the language in which your “tradition” was born), to determine if the word “tradition” communicates a negative connotation that should stick to Catholicism? In all thirteen uses of paradosis within the New Testament, the word is used with either a positive connotation or a negative connotation. The Greek word, of course, does not prescribe a positive or negative connotation; such is provided by context. The English NIV is one of the most popular Protestant Bibles, is a favored version within your community, and reflects and forms your group’s anti-tradition bias. Anti-tradition philosophy precedes the Protestant translation. As with all Protestant Bibles in some ways, anti-tradition (= anti-Catholic) biases are injected by use of purposefully nuanced words. Basically, the “Scriptures” that Protestantism uses to disparage Catholicism are not the Scriptures, but rather, translations that are purposefully designed to subtly disparage Catholic vocabulary.
Ten uses of the Greek (not English) word paradosis are used with a negative connotation. When the connotation is negative, the word is translated as “tradition(s)”. And of course, those are the occurrences your group uses to ascribe to groups it wishes to disparage. All ten verses are (emphasis added):
- Matthew 15:2 Why do your disciples break the tradition of….
- Matthew 15:3 …of God for the sake of your tradition….
- Matthew 15:6 …sake of your tradition….
- Mark 7:3 …holding to the tradition of the elders….
- Mark 7:5 …according to the tradition of the elders instead….
- Mark 7:8 …holding on to human traditions.
- Mark 7:9 …of God in order to observe your own traditions!
- Mark 7:13 …by your tradition that you have handed down….
- Galatians 1:14 …zealous for the tradition of my fathers….
- Colossians 2:8 …on human tradition….
The NIV’s use of the word “traditions(s)” communicates suspicion because it never correlates to positive events or pro-Christian contexts. As a thought experiment, try to imagine if every use of the word “tradition(s)” within the New Testament was used in a positive, pro-Christian context. Would you not become less suspicious of the word and become more accepting of a kind of tradition that is not of man, but of God?
The Greek word paradosis is used three times within the New Testament in positive / pro-Magisterial contexts. But when the connotation is positive, Protestants more often translate the word as “teaching(s)”, thereby poisoning the Tradition-rich pro-Magisterial well. All three verses are (emphasis added):
- 1 Corinthians 11:2 …holding to the teachings….
- 2 Thessalonians 2:15 …hold to the teachings.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6 …the teaching you received from us.
In all thirteen uses of paradosis, The Protestant NIV translators chose to translate the word as either “tradition(s)” or “teaching(s)”. Either word would work; traditions and teachings are the same thing. Imagine if every New Testament use of the word “tradition(s)” were exchanged for the word “teaching(s)”; would you be suspicious of a Sacred Teaching? Would you react so reflexively to the “apostolic teachings” (which include succession) or does your suspicion of Sacred Tradition exist because you, like the Protestant NIV translators, enter the Scriptures not for truth, but perhaps, validation?2
Your argument has imploded on itself. When the word “tradition” is analyzed within the New Testament, it becomes clear that there are indeed traditions that run counter to God’s intent, but there are also traditions that are precisely His intent: Sacred Tradition. Yet those positive uses of the same word (paradosis) are avoided within your protests. What the New Testament teaches is not suspicion of tradition, per se, but suspicion of teachings that are counter to authoritative Christian teachings. In other words, if you use negatively charged verses that matter-of-factly do not address anything about the Catholic Church (none of them do), yet simply include the word “tradition(s)”, as proofs against Catholic Sacred Tradition, then each verse that includes the actual Greek word for tradition (paradosis) in a positive light must support Catholic Sacred Tradition; and your proofs fail because such positive verses are indeed addressing the subject you are attempting to disprove.
Sacred Tradition is not a “tradition of men”, it is Jesus’ intent. Suggesting that the Sacred Tradition is contrary to God’s will is no different than castigating the Scriptures themselves as “traditions of men”. As a product of Sacred Tradition, the Sacred Scriptures reveal that St. Paul exhorted his flock to maintain the paradosis (1 Corinthians 11:2; Greek inserted). St. Paul also commanded his flock to stand firm and hold to the paradosis which you were taught by us, either by word or by mouth or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15; Greek inserted). St. Paul spoke of an unwritten paradosis. That same unwritten paradosis is Sacred Tradition, and we Christians are commanded to mind the Sacred Paradosis: We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the paradosis that you received from us (2 Thessalonians 3:6; Greek inserted).
The Bible is the word of God, absolutely, but its status as the word of God does not mean the Bible is the only form of authoritative guidance. The Faith that was entrusted to the Apostles was not the Bible; it was the paradosis, the teachings and traditions that Christ Jesus passed on to His followers and guarded by the Apostolic conduit. The Tradition includes the hierarchy, the Magisterium, legitimate interpreters of the Scriptures; they are all part of the same word of God, they are the same message, they embody the same Master’s intent. Sacred Tradition is not of men, it is thoroughly entrusted to men who have entered into Holy Orders: What you [St. Timothy] have heard from me [St. Paul] before many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
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2 Versions vary. Protestant dynamic equivalent versions tend to choose nuanced words that reveal anti-Catholic biases. As a comparison, the New American Bible, as used by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, translates paradosis as “tradition(s)” in all thirteen cases—it does not choose between negatively or positively nuanced words in this case. Most versions translate negative contexts as “tradition(s)”, but vary more substantially with positive contexts.