Responding to Andrew McCallum in comments below, Joseph Richardson not only misrepresented what “tradition” really meant in the New Testament, but he went further and congratulated himself for doing a fine job of things, and related it in a standalone blog post.
Nevertheless, he showed himself to be making several crucial errors, and demonstrating a thorough unfamiliarity with the research on the topic that’s been done in the last 50 years or more:
So from the very beginning, Christians accepted a message and teaching in addition to Scripture. And this is “Tradition” — what was handed down by Christ to His Apostles and by the Apostles to their disciples — and it was infallible, and it preceded the New Testament.
In the first place, you are using the word “infallible” anachronistically here. Infallibility, in fact, was a category that was first considered in church history in and around the early 13th century, when popes began considering whether they could modify the authoritative statements of previous popes. So your use of the word “infallibility” here is a gross anachronism, not worthy, according to Stephen Wolfe, of further discussion.
However, even if you remove the word from your comment here, you are still guilty of equivocating on the word “Tradition”. You’re neither understanding nor distinguishing the different forms of “tradition” that were being discussed in various places.
You call yourself an “academic” but you fail to take into account the various definitions of “tradition” that are understood to have been in place, not only at that time, but throughout early church history, and in fact, you are projecting the current, Vatican II definition of Tradition.
Regarding the word “tradition” (“paradosis”), Oscar Cullmann traces what the “content” of this word was throughout the New Testament, contrasting various kinds of Jewish “oral tradition” along with Christian traditions, and discusses its relationship with various other types of “traditions” in the ancient world. R.P.C. Hanson cites other scholars who confirm and elaborate on what Cullmann had said.
In fact, there were at least a number of different kinds of “tradition” in the early church, which manifested themselves at different times and with different levels of authority. The “paradosis” or the “kerygma” which became written down in the New Testament documents is distinguished from later “ecclesiastical traditions” which nevertheless [wrongly, in many cases] took on the level of authority that the Apostolic traditions were understood to hold.
[The] “Apostolic tradition” was the definitive, eyewitness testimony of the Apostles. This “tradition” lived and died with the apostolic office. No other source had the eyewitness authority of the Apostles. The later church did maintain an “ecclesiastical tradition”, or “traditions of the church”. There was a clear difference in authority between the “Apostolic tradition” and the “ecclesiastical tradition”. However, that did not prevent the church, at a later date, from mixing the two.
As well, you are ignoring what is known about the process by which “oral traditions” did or didn’t become written down as Scripture. For example, Cullmann relates that Papias certainly preferred “the living voice” to the written traditions. And certainly, his testimony gives weight to the notion that there was a “living voice”. However, it also provides a clear example of how that “living voice” became corrupted:
About the year 150 there is still an oral tradition. We know this from Papias, who wrote an exposition of the words of Jesus. He tells us himself that he used as a basis the viva vox and that he attached more importance to it than to the writings. But in him we have not only this declaration of principle; for he has left us some examples of the oral tradition as he found it, and these examples show us well what we ought to think of an oral tradition about the year 150! It is entirely legendary in character. This is clear from the story that Papias reports about Joseph Barsabbas, the unsuccessful candidate, according to Acts 1:23 f., for the post of twelfth disciple rendered vacant by Judas’s treason. Above all there is the obscene and completely legendary account [in Papias] of death of Judas Iscariot himself.
The period about 150 is, on the one hand, relatively near to the apostolic age, but on the other hand, it is already too far away for the living tradition still to offer in itself the least guarantee of authenticity. The oral traditions which Papias echoes arose in the Church and were transmitted by it. For outside the Church no one had any interest in describing in such crude colours the death of the traitor. Papias was therefore deluding himself when he considered viva vox as more valuable than the written books. The oral tradition had a normative value in the period of the apostles, who were eye-witnesses, but it had it no longer in 150 after passing mouth to mouth (Cullmann, 88-89).
So there came a point at which the viva vox, the “oral tradition”, lost its true and Apostolic flavor; not only did it become “not helpful”, but it stopped being genuine, and was actually a hindrance to the proper understanding of New Testament teachings.
I’ve elaborated on this in a number of places:
* * *
So the Protestant claim of “sola scriptura” is not merely a claim that “Scripture is an infallible standard”: it must somehow explain how Scripture became the only infallible standard;
Again, you’re demonstrating a lack of historical sensitivities. Based on my discussion above, you’re conflating a number of different discussions and anachronistically seeking to find the Reformers’ doctrine of Sola Scriptura articulated in the early church. You won’t find that, but you will find such things as “Scripture interprets Scripture” in Irenaeus, or in Justin, who holds to perspicuity, i.e., “pay attention, therefore, to what I shall record out of the holy Scriptures, which do not need to be expounded, but only listened to” (Dialogue with Trypho, 55) and “we are at a loss, if we do not believe that, according to the will of the Father of all things, it was possible for Him to be born man of the Virgin, especially after we have such Scriptures, from which it can be plainly perceived that He became so according to the will of the Father (Dialogue 75).
In fact, the Reformers, having rejected Rome’s authority (which was self-evidently wrong) in so many places), who distilled the concept of Sola Scriptura from these writers like Justin and Irenaeus, for whom Scripture was clear and perspicuous – it is evident that they held to these concepts from the way that they treat the Scriptures in their writings. The Reformers followed suit.
We see no note of “Tradition” in the earliest of the Church Fathers because they took such teachings for granted: what we see instead is the personal testimony that “Peter and Paul gave their witness among us” and “I sat at the feet of the blessed Polycarp as he recalled hearing John share stories of Our Lord”.
We see from the example of Papias that it is one thing to cherish the recollections … it is another thing to accurately transmit those recollections.
As with much of what passes for “Roman Catholic Apologetics”, this comment of yours is pretty much just bluster without truth or substance.