Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Meme Theme"

Suddenly appearing on my Facebook page the other day was this meme. Clearly, it is attacking the Reformed understanding of "sola Scriptura". The creator believes he is cleaver, using a text from 2 Thessalonians to "prove" the use of "traditions" in Christianity. I had a difficult time restraining my laughter!

The text is a rendering of 2 Thessalonians 2:15. The King James translators gave us the following:

"Therefore brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." (2 Thessalonians 2:15; KJV). 

The word translated "traditions" is the Greek "paradosis" meaning "handing over" or "handing down". That very much defines a "tradition". Most of the New Testament translations use "tradition". The problem is the meme creator misunderstands what is meant IN THIS CONTEXT by the word.

If I may, permit me to begin with a brief look at the New Testament usage of the word. It is found a mere thirteen times in the original manuscripts. Here's a list:

Matthew 15:2, 3, 6 - "tradition of the elders"; used by the Pharisees in questioning the behavior of Jesus' disciples and Jesus' responses. Note, for example, his response in verse 3.

"Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?"

The Pharisees thought the traditions (not the Scripture) passed down from their ancestors was on par with God's Word. Jesus tells them otherwise.

Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13 - The Mark passage is another description of the same event recorded in Matthew. Note here, the strong rebuke of Jesus found in verses 8 and 9.

"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. ... Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."

Again, the Pharisees love to keep ALL the rules found in the TRADITIONS passed down by their ancestors. For them, they are equal in authority to (or even supercede) the Scripture. Jesus says that is not the case.

So, in the only usage in the Gospels, the word is used negatively by Christ. Now on to the epistles.

1 Corinthians 11:2 - "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you."

Many of the more recent translations translate "ordinances" as "traditions" for it is the same word as found in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Important to observe in this verse is it is Paul who delivered these ordinances/traditions. The Apostle to the Gentiles has taught them to the Corinthians while with them and now calls on them to obey what HE taught.

Galatians 1:14 - Paul describes his former self as one "exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." Again, this is a negative usage.

Colossians 2:8 - "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."

Another negative use of the concept of tradition.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 - here we have the passage from the meme.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 - "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."

Again, we see a positive use of the word. But, as I noted in the 1 Corinthians passage, the Thessalonians were to walk after the tradition "which he received OF US", i.e., from Paul.

The context of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 clearly indicates that the traditions in question are those which have been taught by Paul and the other Apostles. Nothing is said here about early church fathers, religious leaders, or even Protestant Reformers. I believe verse 5 of this chapter indicates these are the traditions to which Paul refers.

In verse 15, though, Paul says "the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." What does he mean by this?

First, to repeat, "traditions" refers to what the Apostles taught, not what other men taught throughout church history.

Second, these "traditions" have been taught to the Thessalonians. They learned them from Paul himself when he was in Thessalonica on the second missionary journey (per v. 5; see Acts 17).

Third, how were they taught these traditions? Paul says "by word" or "by our epistle". The latter is easy to understand. Surely the epistle to which Paul is referring is his first letter to that church. In it, he sought to clarify misunderstandings those new Christians had on what they had learned from him. This second letter is a further attempt to provide clarification. But, what does he mean by "word"?

2 Thessalonians was penned around A.D. 52, about 20 years after the resurrection. At the time Paul wrote it, he was in Corinth on his second journey. 1 Thessalonians was the first of the New Testament books written by Paul; this one was the second. It is very probable that only one other book of the New Testament canon existed when Paul picked up his pen to compose this letter and that was the book of James.

Historically, then, the teachings of Christ, who He was, what He did, and what His work means to the believer, had yet to be recorded on paper. They were spread orally by the Apostles such as Paul. In other words, they were taught "by word". Such teaching is the oral tradition of Christianity. Those sent out by Christ repeated the Gospel wherever they went.

Ultimately, the words of the message were recorded in letters such as this. The revelation of God was completed. There was no further use of oral tradition in the same sense.

Some organizations, such as the one to which I assume the meme creator belongs, believes church tradition bears equal weight with the Scripture. If I may quote from one web site:

"... it can be seen that there is no theological distinctions or differences or divisions within the Tradition of the Church. It could be said that Tradition, as an historical event, begins with the Apostolic preaching and is found in Scriptures, but it is kept, treasured, interpreted, and explained to the Church by the Holy Fathers, the successors of the Apostles. Using the Greek term Pateres tes Ecclesias, the Fathers of the Church, this "interpretive" part of the Apostolic preaching is called "Patristic Tradition."

Has the author of these words READ the church fathers? No theological distinctions or differences or divisions? Well, that is not what I see when I read the church fathers. Allow me to continue the quote from the site:

"The Fathers, men of extraordinary holiness and trusted orthodoxy in doctrine, enjoyed the acceptance and respect of the universal Church by witnessing the message of the Gospel, living and explaining it to posterity. Thus, Apostolic Preaching or Tradition is organically associated with the Patristic Tradition and vice versa. This point must be stressed since many theologians in the Western churches either distinguish between Apostolic Tradition and Patristic Tradition, or completely reject Patristic Tradition. ... there is one Tradition, the Tradition of the Church, incorporating the Scriptures and the teaching of the Fathers."

Well, there it is. Tradition is placed on equal footing with the Word of God. No wonder many in the West make such distinctions and/or reject Tradition!

By the way, which men are these who are considered to have "extraordinary holiness" and "trusted orthodoxy"? Who are they who "enjoyed the acceptance and respect of the universal Church?" Again I ask, have you read early church history?

How were these men chosen and considered to be the church fathers? I doubt if ALL early Christian leaders are included in this group. There had to be a picking and choosing of whom to include. Which church fathers make up the Patristic Tradition? Who had the "authority" to make such decisions?

By the way, if a specific father, for example Augustine, is part of this Patristic Tradition, is everything he said and wrote part of that tradition? If not, who had the "authority" to decide what to include and what to omit? Furthermore, is this "Patristic Tradition" limited to the second century? Third century? Fourth century? Why not the sixteenth century? Oh, oh! Protestant Reformation time!

I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but Paul has no such tradition in mind when he wrote 2 Thessalonians. Wouldn't it be more proper to refer to this Patristic Tradition as the "traditions of elders" or "traditions of men?" Ouch! Recall Colossians 2:8, please, along with Jesus' rebuke of the use of such tradition.

When you set any tradition on the scale of authority opposite the Scripture and claim they are equal, you have an authority. Which of the two becomes your final arbiter in spiritual matters? No, tradition equal to the Scripture in terms of authority does not work.

Enter sola Scriptura! The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

"The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from the scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men." AMEN!

The Reformed teaching of sola Scriptura is concerned with the sufficiency of Scripture. We believe Scripture, and only Scripture, is our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. All truth required for our salvation and spiritual life is found in the Scripture either explicitly or implicitly.  This teaching does not claim everything taught by Jesus or His apostles was preserved in the Word but it does mean everything God requires is given to us in His Word. Our consciences are, indeed, captive to the Word. We may not add or subtract from it.

It is Scripture and only Scripture that is our perfect standard of spiritual truth. God's Word reveals what is necessary for our salvation and for glorifying Him.

Nothing further needs to be said about the "Mean Theme so Extreme it is out of the Mainstream"!

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