Updated: Mar 19
By Luke Lancaster
Many Protestants ignore the biblical nature of Tradition. They think that the only infallible means of communicating God's truths is through Scripture. However, Sacred Tradition, or the verbal passing on of information, is what God intended to be used alongside Sacred Scripture. Both the oral Words of God and the written Words of God are to be taken seriously. What evidence do we have for Sacred Tradition, though? Let's analyze this.
The greatest of the Jewish prophets, Elijah, never wrote anything. Rather, he preached to the people, teaching them what God had to say. Some of his words were written down, but the vast majority were not. How were subsequent generations of people who never saw Elijah going to hear about his prophecies? Well, the things he taught would have been passed down through Jewish tradition.
The prophet Obadiah had a long prophetic career, yet we only have one chapter of writing from him! Did he only teach the same thing which was written over and over throughout his time as the prophet of the Lord? Or did he only speak about what previous prophets had taught? I imagine not. His teachings would have been preserved through Jewish tradition.
In John 20:30, it says that "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book." Seems that this larger pool of information, containing the other things which Jesus taught, was known by John. Those things which were not written down would surely have been taught by the apostles to their successors and communities to ensure that it did not pass away.
Nine of the twelve apostles which Jesus personally chose did not write anything. If they thought that all truth was to be passed on with their writing, shouldn't they have gotten the memo? Why did they instead preach to their communities, and elect successors to continue on the faithful transmission of teaching?
St. Paul preached for three years in the Greek city of Ephesus, teaching the community the whole council of God day and night. Yet all we have a record of is a short, five-chapter, thirty-minute read epistle to the Ephesians. Certainly, there was more which he taught them!
St. Paul said in his 2nd letter to the people of Thessalonica, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). St. Paul did not write out a Catechism or a summary of Christian beliefs for the Thessalonians. Rather, he preached to them. The things which he taught he called "traditions," and such "traditions" were transmitted to other believers through word of mouth. He only wrote two short letters to the Thessalonians!
St. Paul said in his first letter to the people of Corinth, "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Cor. 11:2). St. Paul mainly gave the Corinthians doctrines by way of teaching them in-person. He only put down in writing those issues which the Corinthians struggled with.
With this background in mind, let's consider some teachings of the early Church which were not explicitly written down in Scripture:
EXAMPLES OF SACRED TRADITION
-Infant baptism is a tradition: Origen of Alexandria ( c. 184 – c. 254), claims to have received the practice of baptizing infants from the apostles (Commentaries on Romans 5:9).
-Prayer for the dead is a tradition: St. John Chrysostom claims to have received the practice of praying for the dead from the apostles (Homilies on Philippians 3:9–10).
-The Eucharist is a tradition: All of the Church Fathers unanimously taught that the Eucharist was the literal flesh of Jesus.
-The sacrifice of the Mass is a tradition: All of the Church Fathers unanimously taught that the Mass was a sacrifice
-The canon of Scripture is a tradition: There is no inspired table of contents.
As we can see, Sacred Tradition preserved this handing on of information. God did not intend to having everything written down. Rather, it was through teaching (Tradition) and writing (Scripture) that the whole Revelation of God would be kept pure and infallible.
Although the Jewish traditions were able to be corrupted, Sacred Tradition would not, for its transmission was guarded by the Holy Spirit, "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26). Jesus said that, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).