The Bible and Catholic Traditionalism
The American Heritage Dictionary offers several definitions for the word “tradition,” including the following: “The passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication” (2000, p. 1829). Tradition is not inherently evil; in many respects, tradition has positive effects on future generations. However, in the field of Christian theology, tradition must be subjected to the “litmus test” of the inspired Word of God. If we elevate mere human tradition to the level of apostolic tradition recorded in the inspired Scriptures, we may accept any innovation as a product of divine will. Sadly, Catholicism has been at that point for centuries.
The Catechism declares that “[a]s a result the [Catholic—MP] 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’” (1994, 82, emp. added). Other Catholic authorities have declared: “It is an article of faith from a decree of the Vatican Council that Tradition is a source of theological teaching distinct from Scripture, and that it is infallible. It is therefore to be received with the same internal assent as Scripture for it is the word of God” (Attwater, 1961, p. 41, emp. added).
Placing tradition on an equal level with Scripture or making it superior to Scripture inevitably undermines of the Bible’s authority and inspiration. Over the hundreds of years of abusing and misusing God’s Word, Catholicism has adopted this deplorable practice. Catholics allege that “[w]hereas much of the teaching of Scripture could not be determined without Tradition, Tradition would suffice without Scripture; it is the safeguard of Scripture” (Attwater, p. 42, emp. added). Moreover, “Catholic theologians maintain that as a source of truth, tradition is superior to Scripture. Scripture is, after all, incomplete; it not only requires interpretation, but it required tradition in order that it might be recognized and established.... Scripture is not a textbook; in a sense, it is a dead word which must be brought to life in the living voice of tradition” (Brantl, 1961, p. 162, emp. added).
In order to prioritize human tradition above biblical revelation, someone first must discredit, undervalue, and disrespect the Bible. Calling the Scripture “a dead word” is a blatant affront to Christ, Who firmly stated that His words, which are recorded in Scripture, “are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
The traditions that make up the Catholic Church’s depositum fidei (deposit of faith) include the Apocrypha, the teaching of the “church fathers,” and the records of universal belief of Catholicism (Catechism..., 74-141; Brantl, p. 163). Although Catholics use these sources extensively in defending their dogmas, these writings cannot take the place of biblical inspiration.
The Catholic canon of the Old Testament has 46 books instead of 39. The Council of Trent (1546) recognized as canonical seven books that originally were rejected as part of the Old Testament. These seven, among other apocryphal books, do not bear the signs of divine inspiration, i.e., they lack prophetic authority, harmonization with revealed truth, early Christian acceptance, scriptural confirmation, and/or any direct claim of divine inspiration (see Jackson, 1999; Geisler and Nix, 1968, pp. 264-275; McDowell, 1972, pp. 33-40). As Geisler and Nix noted, “[t]he overwhelming arguments in favor of rejecting the Apocrypha as part of the canon provide convincing evidence that the books are not God-breathed” (p. 270). Therefore, these books should not be considered as the Word of God.
For centuries, the Catholic Church also has treated many of the writings of the “church fathers” as being inspired—even though the fathers never claimed their documents were inspired. Catholic apologists and leaders around the world have promoted these writings by claiming that they prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Catholic tradition is linked to apostolic doctrines. This point of view overlooks the reality of early apostasy. Only Christ’s apostles and New Testament prophets were guided into all truth (John 16:13). Although the “church fathers” made a great effort to maintain the purity of the New Testament, they were not inspired to speak and/or write infallibly. In many cases, their writings reflect ideologies completely foreign to the divine pattern. Jesus warned His disciples of the coming of ungodly men who would deceive, “if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Since there is a possibility that even the “church fathers” could have been deceived and believed false teachings (cf. 1 John 4:1), no Bible student should consider their writings as part of the “deposit of faith.” Although the writings of these men are valuable in studies of church history and other disciplines, one should keep in mind that the fathers were fallible men who were subject to error and apostasy (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Finally, Catholicism alleges that the pope, the universal body of bishops, and the church possess infallibility in matters of faith and morals (see “First Dogmatic...,” 1870, 4.1-9). Therefore, any doctrines they adopt become part of the Catholic “deposit of faith.” But we have seen in another article (Pinedo, 2008) that many of the teachings of the popes, the episcopal councils, and the Catholic Church in general are far from infallible. In many cases, they are self-contradictory.
Man’s tendency to exalt his traditions above the Word of God is nothing new. Jesus Himself had to confront this irreverent spirit so prevalent among the Jewish elite of His day. He accused the Pharisees of transgressing the commandment of God to keep their own traditions (Matthew 15:3-9; Mark 7:6-13)—traditions that transgressed (Matthew 15:3), contradicted (Matthew 15:5-6; Mark 7:11-12), invalidated (Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:9,13), and profaned (Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6-7) the commandments of God. Catholic traditions also transgress, contradict, invalidate, and profane the pure truth of the Word of God (cf. Matthew 15:9).
It is my desire that you, as a student of the Bible, will hear what the Bible says, study what the Bible says, believe what the Bible says, and keep yourself from believing another gospel (Galatians 1:6-10). The traditions of men should not supersede the commandments of God, for only the Word of God endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). Hearing and obeying the Word of God should be our ultimate goal. Jesus said, “[H]e who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24, emp. added). He also added, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48, emp. added).
One day, when we stand before the divine throne to be judged, a Book will be opened. This book will not be the writings of a man, it will not be the traditions of our fathers, nor will it be the book of “human conscience.” The Bible, which has been criticized, mutilated, and altered by many, will be opened. And, when the voices of many other books fall absolutely silent, we will hear the words of the Bible, and God will pronounce His final judgment. We should obey the Gospel of Christ that we may have eternal life in heaven after that judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (2000), (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.
Attwater, Donald, ed. (1961), A Catholic Dictionary (New York: Macmillan).
Brantl, George, ed. (1961), Catholicism (New York: George Braziller).
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), (Mahwah, NY: Paulist Press).
“First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ” (1870), First Vatican Council [On-line], URL: http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/V1.HTM#6.
Geisler, Norman and William Nix (1968), A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press).
Jackson, Wayne (1999), “The Apocrypha: Inspired of God?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/read/the_apocrypha_inspired_of_god.
McDowell, Josh (1972), Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade for Christ).
Pinedo, Moisés (2008), “Is the Pope ‘Infallible’?,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/3844.