Biblical non-biblical traditions

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14).

“We don’t even have to appeal to extra-Biblical doctrines or events to find accord with Protestants on the validity of extra-Biblical traditions—we can just use Scripture. In the New Testament, there are numerous affirmations of extra-Biblical traditions:

  • – The Old Testament does not name the magicians in Egypt who tried to discredit Moses, but Paul calls them Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim 3:8).
  • – Jude expects his readers to be aware that Michael the Archangel disputed with Satan over the body of Moses (verse 9) and that Enoch prophesied Christ (verse 14), but these stories are found nowhere else in Scripture.
  •  – The writer of the book of Hebrews 11:37 talks about Old Testament saints being sawn in half for their faith—but he didn’t get this from the Old Testament.

And it is not just New Testament references to the Old Testament that seem to go beyond the Bible. In Acts 20:35, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”—yet Jesus is not recorded as having said this anywhere in the Gospels.

It seems apparent that the New Testament writers were not afraid to reference extra-biblical traditions.

This does not, of course, raise extra-biblical traditions to the level of inspiration—but it does show that unwritten traditions can be infallibly affirmed.

IN PRINCIPLE Protestants Agree: Traditions not recorded in Scripture can be infallibly affirmed (by Scripture).

IN PARTICULAR Catholicism Affirms: Traditions not recorded in Scripture can be infallibly affirmed (by the Church).

It is not uncommon to hear Protestants complain that Catholics added unbiblical traditions to what the Bible teaches. Sometimes they will even cite scriptures that disparage man-made traditions (e.g., Matthew 15:3–6). Doesn’t holding to traditions not taught by the Bible nullify the word of God?

The first thing to note here is that there is a big difference between something being non-biblical and it being anti-Biblical. Owning a cell phone is non-Biblical; worshipping an idol is anti-Biblical. Simply not appearing in the Bible doesn’t make something false. Moreover, numerous facets of Protestant worship are based on a denomination’s tradition rather than anything affirmed or commanded in Scripture.

For example, the idea of youth pastors, worship bands, meeting in Church buildings, or sitting in pews has no explicit support in Scripture. Most Protestants, however, recognize that not all Christian beliefs and practices are spelled out in the Bible. They realize that there is development and religious thought and that these sometimes lead to affirmations that, though extra-Biblical, are nonetheless authoritative.

To believe otherwise would be to reject the Church’s explanation of the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea, or the Council of Chalcedon’s definition of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it would threaten Protestantism itself, which is a development that did not come to exist until the sixteenth century. The real problem, then, comes when a religious group teaches something that is contrary to the Bible.

IN PRINCIPLE Protestants Agree: We can affirm beliefs and practices that aren’t explicit in Scripture but developed over time.

IN PARTICULAR Catholicism Affirms: The Church can teach doctrine and prescribe practices that aren’t explicitly found in Scripture but developed over time.”

Love,
Matthew

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