Is Roman Catholic Tradition Trustworthy?
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Word of God comes in two forms. They say that the Bible is the written form and that Tradition is the unwritten form. They also add that before the New Testament was penned, the apostles were teaching the Church the things of God orally through preaching and teaching. They will say that some of the things taught were written down and became our New Testament. They will also claim that not everything the apostles taught were recorded in written form but continued to be handed down to us in the unwritten form which they call "Sacred Tradition". They will cite John 20:30-31 and John 21:25 as support for their position.
John 20:30-31 "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name."
John 21:25 "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
James G. McCarthy in his excellent book "The Gospel According to Rome" makes the following comments on these verses.
"It is true that the New Testament does not contain a record of everything that Jesus did. John's point in concluding his gospel with this comment was to acknowledge that the life of the Lord Jesus was far too wonderful to be fully contained in any book. He was not commenting on the general purpose of Scripture or the need for Tradition. Neither was he implying that he had left out of his book essential revelation received from Christ. Indeed, earlier in his gospel John implies the opposite (Refer to John 20:30-31 & 21:25 above)". He goes on to say "We can infer from this statement that John included in his gospel all the essential teachings of Christ necessary for salvation. Significantly, he makes no reference to the seven sacraments, the Sacrifice of the Mass, sanctifying grace, penance, purgatory, or an institution such as the Roman Catholic Church - all necessary for salvation according to Roman Catholicism".
According to The Roman Catholic Church, the Church was entrusted with the oral as well as the written teachings of Jesus and the apostles and has the sole responsibility and right to interpret these teachings.
Many non-Catholics reject this idea. They claim that the Scriptures alone is our authoritative guide and rule of faith in this life and that it is the Holy Spirit's responsibility to teach to each individual Christian the Word of God (1 John 2:20-27).
When you study the Scriptures, it is very interesting to see that it does in fact have much to say about Tradition. Doing a word search on the word tradition and traditions you will find that it is mentioned 14 times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. Only three of these verses speak of tradition in a good sense. The rest of them speak of tradition in a bad sense. Let's examine some of these verses now.
In Matthew we see the error of the Pharisees who held their traditions above the Word of God.
Matthew 15:1-9 "Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to [his] father or [his] mother, [It is] a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honour not his father or his mother, [he shall be free]. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. [Ye] hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with [their] lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men."
The Pharisees were a group of religious leaders in the time of Christ. They were the ones who had the responsibility to teach the people the things of God. I find it interesting that the Pharisees (according to the very words of Jesus) were doing just the opposite. They were teaching people to transgress the commandments of God. Notice the method that they used to do this. It was by teaching the tradition of their elders that they caused the people to break the commandments of God. Although they esteemed tradition highly, Jesus said that they were far from God. This passage shows Jesus holding the Scriptures above the traditions of the elders. We should do the same. (Read Mark 7 as well.)
Look at what the apostle Paul says in Galatians
Gal. 1:13, 14 "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: and profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. "
Paul was "exceedingly zealous of the traditions" of his fathers and at the same time was persecuting and wasting the true Church of God. Notice that it was the "traditions of my fathers" that Paul referred to. These traditions were old, traced back to THE FATHERS. Sounds familiar?
Col. 2:8-10 "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power."
The Scriptures WARNS us of the traditions of men saying they are not after Christ but are after the rudiments of the world. Many of the things taught in Catholic Tradition are not even found in the Scriptures but have their roots in the rudiments of this world. For example many of the things taught about Mary (see below) are not taught in the Scriptures but have there roots in the pagan religions of the world.
1 Peter 1:18-19 "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, [as] silver and gold, from your vain conversation [received] by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:"
Even Peter himself (whom the Catholic Church falsely claims was the first Pope) WARNED about TRADITION received from the FATHERS. Again, these traditions came from the fathers. If Peter had no confidence in the traditions of the fathers, why should we have confidence in the so called early church fathers? We read in many places in the Bible that corruption had already started in the early church, even before the death of the apostles. Many of the epistles were written to correct error that had already entered the church. Paul said in Acts:
Acts 20:28-31 "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears."
Paul knew that people would come in with bad doctrine speaking perverse things. Notice where these wolves came from (verse 30) - "... of your own selves". They came from WITHIN! How can we know that the so called early church fathers were not of this bunch, especially when many of them came along far after the death of the apostles? We need to examine their teachings with the Scriptures to see if what they said is true. Paul commends the Bereans in the book of Acts for searching the scriptures daily to see if what he said was true. Paul's teachings were examined in the clear light of the Scriptures to see if they were correct. We need to be like the Bereans and compare any teachings that we hear to the Scriptures to verify if they are true.
Acts 17:10-11 "And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea who coming [thither ] went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
Here, we have an apostle invested with teaching authority by Jesus Himself that commends the Bereans because they checked the things he spoke orally (Tradition) with the written Word of God (the Scriptures) to see if what he taught was true. This is a very clear example of oral teaching being subject to Scripture. We learn many more things in this passage that are important to notice.
First of all, Paul was teaching the Bereans New Testament truths which were easily verified with Old Testament Scriptures. You will find that as you study the Bible that this was a common practice. We read in Luke 24:13-32 that Jesus instructed the disciples on the road to Emmaus about all the things that took place concerning Himself. Here Jesus did not use some new teaching that had not yet been recorded. It says in verses 25-27 that He used the Scriptures beginning at Moses and the prophets to explain all the events that took place concerning Himself. In Acts 18:24-28 we read that Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures and that he vigorously refuted the Jews showing them from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. It is clear that passages like these show that much of what is taught in the New Testament can also be found in the Old Testament. It also clearly shows that the early Church never had a period of time that they were without the Scriptures.
Secondly, we learn from the passage about the Bereans that the Scriptures were readily available to the masses even though they did not have the convenience of the printing press. Notice that they searched the Scriptures daily to check out Paul's teachings. How could this be if they did not have easy access to the Scriptures? This would also hold true for Apollos and the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Thirdly, we learn that the people were literate. Many times people assume that people in the days of Christ were illiterate. If this was the case it would not have mattered that the Bereans had the Scriptures because they would not have been able to read them. But because they were able to search the Scriptures daily it also shows that they knew how to read.
Fourthly, we see the people doing this without the help of the so-called teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church (The Magisterium). Each individual Christian had all that he needed to verify if what Paul was teaching was the truth or not. They did so with the Scriptures and without the aid of the Magisterium, or any other body of men interpreting the Scripture for them.
Fifthly, Paul thought highly of the noble Bereans because they checked his teachings against the Scripture. Can you imagine what would happen today if you did the same with a Pope or the Magisterium? The first thing you would find is that many of the things they teach and practice would not stand the test. Many people throughout the ages have been excommunicated and murdered by the Roman Catholic Church for doing the very same thing that Paul commended the Bereans for.
So far we see that the Scriptures reveal tradition in a bad light. A Roman Catholic apologist will object at this point and say that he is very much aware of these verses and agrees that they condemn tradition. He will say that the non - Catholic needs to understand that there are two kinds of tradition that the Bible speaks about. They are "the traditions of man" that God condemns, and "divine Tradition" which God approves. They will claim that the Roman Catholic Church teaches divine Tradition. In support of their argument they will cite the three favorable passages of Scripture and try to make you believe that this is the kind of tradition that they teach. Let's examine these three passages now and see if this claim is valid.
1 Cor. 11:2 "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered [them] to you."
The King James Version uses the word ordinances in this passage, but it is the same Greek word that is translated tradition in other places. In this verse Paul is praising the Corinthians for practicing the things that he taught them in the past. We have already learned from Acts 17:10-11 that the things Paul taught orally were also found in the Scriptures. Acts 28:23,31 supports this as well. There is no reason to believe that the ordinances Paul taught the Corinthians were extra Biblical things. In fact many of the things Paul taught orally he later wrote down and now are New Testament Scriptures (2 Peter 3:14-16).
In 2 Thess. we see Paul speaking in favor of tradition, but lets look more closely at what Paul had to say.
2 Thess 2:15 "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."
2 Thess 3:6-14 "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. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed."
Notice that Paul talked of traditions that were taught "by word or by our epistle". This implies that what was taught by word was in complete agreement with the epistles since what was revealed to the apostles came from God (Gal. 1:12), was preached, and eventually written via inspiration (2 Peter 1:20-21). Such agreement is not true of many of the traditions being taught today in the Roman Catholic Church.
Further support for this is found in 2 Thess 3:6 which says "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." Although in this verse it appears that tradition has authority, lets finish reading the context in 3:14 "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." Notice that it is the epistle that is used here and not tradition, which clearly shows that what Paul was teaching orally was also in the epistle. Again, this is not true of Roman Catholic Tradition.
Where in the Scriptures do we find that Mary was born without sin and remained without sin her whole life (The Immaculate Conception)? Where in the Scriptures do we find that Mary's body and soul was taken to heaven at the end of her life (The Assumption of Mary)? Where in the Scriptures do we find people praying to Mary and to departed saints (or asking the departed saints to pray for them)? Where in the Scriptures do we find that people can only come to Jesus though Mary? Where in the Scriptures do we find that Mary is our Co-redeemer? Where in the Scriptures do we find that Mary is the queen of heaven? Where in the Scriptures do we find that Mary stayed a virgin her whole life? Where in the Scriptures do we find that the Roman Catholic Church is infallible? Where in the Scriptures do we find purgatory? Where in the Scriptures do we find the sale of indulgence? These are just a few of the teachings that come from Roman Catholic Tradition. There are many more.
The Roman Catholic apologists will claim that some of these things are taught in the Scriptures. Yet when you examine their evidence for these things they are easily refutable. Most of the time they have to make their arguments based upon mere speculations and assumptions. They do this as well when they try to show that some things in the Scripture had to come from Tradition. Here are some of the passages they will cite.
Matthew 2:23 "And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene"."
1 Cor. 10:4 "And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."
They will claim that these things are not found in the Old Testament and that the only way the New Testament writers could have known about these things is through Tradition. This is a false assumption that they make. The more likely explanation is very simple. The author of the Scriptures is God Himself .
2 Peter 1:21 "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake [as they were] moved by the Holy Ghost."
2 Tim. 3:16-17 "All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
If God is the author of Scripture, as the Scripture claims, then He would have knowledge of all the details of the past and have the New Testament writers record it for us without the aid of Tradition. This more readily explains why we have mention of things in the New Testament that we do not find in the Old.
We will end this article with a quote from James McCarthy's Book "The Gospel According to Rome"
"Both sides (Catholic & non-Catholic) agree that the Scriptures are the Word of God and that as such they speak with divine authority. The Lord Jesus Himself, in John 10:35, clearly identifies the Word of God as Scripture. The Point of controversy is Tradition. The Roman Catholic Church asserts that Tradition is also the Word of God. The question which the Roman Catholic Church must answer, therefore, is: Where do Jesus, the prophets, or the apostles teach that Tradition is the Word of God? Or, more precisely: Where in the Bible can it be found that Scripture and Tradition together, as interpreted by the Pope and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, are to be the Church's rule of faith? This is what Roman Catholicism is really asserting and should be the topic of debate. And since the Roman Catholic Church is the one asserting the authority of Tradition and the Magisterium, the burden of proof lies in Rome."
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