Monday, October 12, 2009

Oral Tradition, The Early Church, and Paul Pavao's Astonishment

I had written (in this previous post):
That's rather the point about the early church fathers - they did not transmit an oral apostolic tradition to us, rather they were our predecessors in trying to search out the meaning of Scripture. Where they do a good job they are to be commended, and where they err they are to be corrected.
Paul Pavao (affiliation unstated, but not Roman Catholic) responded:
I'm a little astonished you can say this. I'm not Roman Catholic, but the early church's appeals to the rule of faith/rule of truth are common. Irenaeus (A.H. III:2:2, I think) makes it clear that they referred gnostics to both the Scriptures and the traditions derived from the apostles.
The rule of faith/rule of truth for the early church fathers was normally either Scripture or the creed (which was derived from Scripture). The creed itself was not in ipse an apostolic tradition, though it was based on the Scriptures (the only authentic apostolic traditions that we have). Irenaeus did refer the gnostics both to Scripture and tradition, as we ourselves do when we point back to what Irenaeus did. Irenaeus comment about heretics claiming to follow Scripture and tradition is a dead-on criticism of Roman Catholicism.

Paul Pavao continued:
There was obviously a rule of faith. It's summarized by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and later writers. Justin refers to it by talking about teachings that came from the apostles. (He even gives a reason for baptism that he said came from the apostles.)
See above regarding the rule of faith. For more discussion, see J.N.D. Kelly's Early Christian Doctrines, pp. 88 et seq.

Paul Pavao continued:
There was an oral apostolic tradition passed down to the church, as well as an attempt to be Scriptural. So your statement's confusing because no one familiar with the pre-Nicene writings would agree with you. (There's a couple summations of the idea of the rule of faith in BakerAcademic's Evangelical Ressourcement Series; those are Evangelical and they treat the oral apostolic tradition as obvious as well.)
There were, of course, men to whom the apostles preached the gospel. What they preached was not in substance different from the Scripture. However, and this is key, no reliable report of their oral teachings has come down to us apart from Scripture. There are some (extremely scattered) alleged oral traditions handed down from the apostles that we find recorded in the earliest centuries of the writings of the church fathers. Generally speaking, though, we find them relying (as do we) solely on the authority of the written tradition of the apostles (i.e. Scripture) to settle doctrinal disputes among themselves. The untrustworthiness of oral transmission can be seen not only in the Rabbinic traditions that made void the Scripture but also in examples from the early church fathers (example here).

Paul Pavao concluded:
I haven't even brought up 2 Thess. 2:15.
I have:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4



John said...

Saying the apostolic traditions are unreliable is to assume what you want to prove.

Turretinfan said...


The apostolic traditions in Scripture are highly reliable. Alleged oral traditions are what are unreliable. I've not assumed that, but demonstrated it (at least by way of example) in the post to which I linked.