Roman Catholic Tradition
and
New Testament tradition

Are They the Same?


Roman Catholic Tradition

First a definition of terms. What is meant by Tradition? Usually spelled with a capitalized T, this means Roman Catholic Tradition. How does the Roman Catholic Church define Tradition? Here is what they say in the new Vatican Catechism of the Catholic Church - (numbers are paragraph numbers)

#81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit." And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.

#82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

#83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus' teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by Liguori Publications, English translation copyright 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.--Libreria Editrice Vaticana, bearing the Imprimi Potest of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, page 26.

Also there is this similar statement from a 19th century Roman Catholic Catechism:

   Q. What is tradition?
[pg. 87]
   A. The doctrines which the Apostles taught by word of mouth, and which have descended through every successive generation even to our times.

Source: A Doctrinal Catechism, by the Rev. Stephen Keenan, published in 1848 by E. Dunigan & Brother, [James B. Kirker], in New York, No. 371 Broadway, pgs. 86-87.

Note that these catechisms are both claiming that the apostles are the original source of Catholic Tradition. They assert, in effect, that the Catholic Traditions of papal infallibility, the immaculate conception of Mary, prayer to the saints, veneration of images, the assumption of Mary, Mary the queen of heaven, Mary the mediatrix of all grace, etc., were believed and taught by the apostles but were never set down explicitly in writing in the Bible. Rather, these Traditions were supposedly believed from apostolic times, and passed down faithfully from one generation to the next by hearsay, by word of mouth.

The result of Catholic teaching is that the Bible is represented as being incomplete, just the written portion of the word of God, and that only by the addition of the teachings of hearsay, the alleged oral or unwritten "living Tradition" will you have the complete fullness of the inspired Word of God. By "living Tradition" they mean the teaching authority of the church passed on through the apostles to their successors, which Catholics call the Magisterium. Here is how the Dictionary of the Liturgy defines Magisterium-

The teaching authority of the Church, which was originally bestowed on the Apostles with St. Peter at their head and now resides in the bishops with the Pope at their head. This Magisterium is twofold.

(1) The Solemn or Extraordinary Magisterium is exercised in the formal declarations of the Pope or of the Ecumenical Councils of Bishops approved by the Pope.

(2) The Ordinary Magisterium is exercised by the Pope or bishops in their normal means of instructing the faithful - through word, writing, and action.

The Extraordinary Magisterium is always infallible when exercised. The Ordinary Magisterium may also be infallible when the Pope or bishops teach with moral unanimity. However, "no doctrine is understood as infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such" (Canon 749). Infallible teachings are to be accorded the assent of faith by Catholics. Noninfallible teachings must be given a religious respect of intellect and will.

Source: Dictionary of the Liturgy, by Rev. Jovian P. Lang, OFM, published by Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y., Copyright 1989, ISBN 0-89942-273-X, bearing the IMPRIMI POTEST, NIHIL OBSTAT, and IMPRIMATUR of the Catholic Church, page 379.

In a nutshell, the Roman Catholic Church claims for itself the right and authority to declare doctrines or articles of faith infallibly (without any error). These points of doctrine are to be believed without doubt or question, at the risk of one's salvation. These infallibly declared doctrines need not be revealed by scripture, since their validity rests solely on the presumed apostolic teaching authority given to Peter and his successors, which have; it is claimed; passed down this Tradition in unwritten form (living Tradition) primarily from Peter to the present pope. However, this oral Tradition is considered to be as binding upon the Catholics, and according to one Catholic writer, it is more safe than the Bible:

    Like two sacred rivers flowing from Paradise, the Bible and divine Tradition contain the Word of God, the precious gems of revealed truths.
    Though these two divine streams are in themselves, on account of their divine origin, of equal sacredness, and are both full of revealed truths, still, of the two, TRADITION is to us more clear and safe.

Source: Catholic Belief or A Short And Simple Exposition Of Catholic Doctrine, by the Very Rev. Joseph Fa Di Bruno, D.D., Author's American Edition, edited by Rev. Louis Lambert, Eightieth Thousand, published in New York, Cincinnati and Chicago and copyright in 1844 by Benzinger Brothers, printers to the Holy Apostolic See, Imprimatur John Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, pg. 45.

Infallible Papal declarations of doctrine from Tradition.

An interesting thing to note here is that even Catholics would have a very difficult time reciting a complete list of all the "infallibly declared" doctrines and documents that they are bound by. Papal and Council declarations generally tend to be rather ambiguous in this area, leaving the issue open to interpretation. Not even the official Catholic publications are bold enough to attempt a definitive list of infallible papal encyclicals in order to clarify matters. It would seem that the muddier the waters on this issue, the better Catholics like it. And this from the same Church that claimed the authority to define and declare the Canon of Scripture at the Council of Trent! Can they not produce an authoritative list of their own infallible papal declarations??? It seems not. Perhaps they feel that hornet's nest is best left undisturbed.

In any case, there are two "infallible" Papal declarations that I suppose every Catholic would put at the top of any such list of Roman Catholic Tradition-

1. Pius IX and The Apostolic Constitution Defining the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854.

Here is Ineffabilis Deus online.

2. Pius XII and Mary's assumption into heaven, declared in the Apostolic Constitution Defining the Dogma of the Assumption, Munificentissimus Deus, November 1, 1950

Here is Munificentissimus Deus online at EWTN.

Beyond these two, opinions on infallible declarations would probably diverge to varying degrees, but these two Traditions are generally agreed to be prime examples of infallible declarations from the Papacy. The first declares that Mary was preserved from any sin what-so-ever for the entirety of her life, from the point of her conception, and the second declares that Mary was taken up into heaven at the conclusion of her life on earth (they are not real sure she died). Any Catholic who doubts or rejects these Traditions, is considered to have fallen away from the true church, and the true Christian faith, at the risk of his salvation, since they are clearly rebelling against the presumed infallible teaching authority of the Magisterium.

So, now the Roman Catholic usage of the word Tradition should be clear. So what does tradition mean in everyday use? In a generic sense, tradition is any practice, teaching, doctrine, or custom handed down from one to another, and this can be passed on by the spoken word OR through the written word. This definition can be confirmed in any dictionary. Every sermon ever spoken constitutes tradition. Every bible class ever given constitutes tradition. Every Bible ever printed constitutes tradition. Every thought, word or deed passed on from one to another is tradition in this generic sense.

What now follows, is every occurrence of the words tradition or traditions to be found in the New Testament. Each passage will be examined in context to determine how the word is being used, and whether or not it supports the Roman Catholic doctrine of Tradition.

Tradition in the New Testament

Mat 15:2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.
Mat 15:3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
Mat 15:4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
Mat 15:5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
Mat 15:6 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.

Mark 7:1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
Mark 7:2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
Mark 7:3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
Mark 7:4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables.
Mark 7:5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?
Mark 7:6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Mark 7:7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Mark 7:8 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.
Mark 7:9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
Mark 7:10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
Mark 7:11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
Mark 7:12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
Mark 7:14 And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand:
Mark 7:15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man.
Mark 7:16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

In the above passages from Matthew and Mark, there are two illustrations used-

First the Pharisees accuse the followers of Jesus of not washing their hands in ritual fashion in accordance with tradition, prior to eating a meal. Jesus' response to this accusation is that the words and teachings of men will defile a man, not how he eats his food, or whether or not he first washes his hands.

Second, Jesus uses the commandment of honoring your Father and Mother for illustration purposes. Some Jews would apparently declare their goods and property "Corban" or in other words, dedicated to the Temple, placing them out of bounds for their parents. A Jew who made such a declaration was able to use the goods his entire life, without having to share any of it with his parents. By declaring their property Corban, or holy, they used Tradition as an outward display of holiness to nullify the intent of the commandment of God to honor your Father and Mother. This practice is condemned by Jesus as a tradition of men than puts God's commandment to no effect. The standard Jesus uses in these passages is the written word of God contained in the fifth commandment (fourth by Catholic reckoning). In opposition to God's Law are the unscriptural Traditions of the Pharisees, which are clearly condemned. Who fails to see the relationship of unbiblical Roman Catholic Traditions here?

1 Pet 1:17 And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear:
1 Pet 1:18 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;
1 Pet 1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:
1 Pet 1:20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
1 Pet 1:21 Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.

The redemption by gold and silver here has two apparent applications. First, the practice of freeing a slave by paying off his debt, and second, the repeated apostasy of Israel and their worshipping of silver and gold idols. This passage clearly teaches that redemption lies only in Jesus Christ, and not in the Traditions or practices of church fathers. Again, who fails to see the relationship of unbiblical Roman Catholic Traditions here?

Col 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.

Again tradition is used in a negative sense related to useless deceptive philosophy based on human reasoning and the Traditions or teachings of men. The Greek word translated rudiments here can be associated with pagan spiritism. So, this passage condemns the logic, traditions, and paganism of the world that lead the Christian away from the simple Gospel message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Who would use this verse to support the unbiblical Roman Catholic Traditions that promote Mary worship?

Gal 1:11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
Gal 1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Gal 1:13 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:
Gal 1:14 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 makes an interesting point here. The Gospel message that he preached came from Jesus, not from man or his traditions. In establishing his preaching as true, Paul distances himself from the unbiblical Jewish Traditions he so enthusiastically pursued and enforced prior to his conversion to Christianity. This is a complete rejection of his former Traditions as being opposed to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. So, where do Roman Catholic Traditions of Mary fit here?

2 Thess 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

Could this be it? Can this verse finally be the one to bolster Roman Catholic Tradition? Oh, how often this verse is quoted by Catholics!  See this page.

2 Thess 2:15 in no way supports Roman Catholic Tradition, unless it can be proved that those very same Traditions were revealed to Paul by Jesus Christ, and that Paul taught those Traditions. By definition though, this is impossible for Catholic Traditions.

2 Th 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.

See this page for 2 Th 3:6.

1 Cor 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
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.

*(In the King James, the word translated as "ordinances" is translated elsewhere as tradition.) Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to keep the pure doctrines as he taught them, and as received from Jesus Himself (Gal. 1:12). Paul is warning the Corinthians not to wander from the truth as they have heard it from him, just as he does in Galatians-

Gal 1:6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Gal 1:7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

In conclusion, there is no verse that endorses Roman Catholic Tradition as they define it. Rather, it can be seen that the Roman Catholic teachings such as those regarding Mary that are defined as Tradition, are roundly condemned by scripture as the Traditions and Doctrines of Men, and are a perverted Gospel to be rejected by those who know the truth.

The traditions (teachings and doctrines) of Jesus Christ, as taught by the apostles, were all faithfully recorded in scripture, and lead one to Christ only for salvation-

Acts 4:10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
Acts 4:11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.



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