Skip to comments.Tradition Still Requires Interpretation
Posted on 02/09/2011 12:55:10 PM PST by RnMomof7
One of the common Catholic objections to the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is that without the Church to offer authoritative interpretations we are all just left with our own personal readings of Scripture. So, the argument goes, evangelicals may talk a big game about the Bible being our ultimate authority, but actually the final authority rests with each individual interpretation of Scripture. In light of this chaotic free-for-all, consider how much better is the Catholic understanding of authoritative Tradition with a capital T.
There are a number of ways an evangelical could respond to this argument.
1. Illumination. We believe the Spirit opens the eyes of his people so that spiritual things can be spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:6-16). This illumination is not limited to church councils.
2. Perspictuity. We believe that the main things of the Biblesin, salvation, Christ, man, God, faithcan be clearly understood. Our God speaks and knows how to speak. Jesus and the apostles quoted Scripture all the time as if they believed there was a meaning in the text that they could understand and others ought to have understood as well.
3. History. At our best, evangelicals do not confuse sola scriptura with solo scriptura, the latter entailing a complete rejection of theological tradition. Creeds and confessions matter. The historic Christian faith matters. All councils, catechisms, and theologians are fallible, but this doesnt mean we ignore the communion of the saints that have gone before. Biblical interpretation must be informed by and rooted in tradition, just not controlled by it.
Those three points could be elaborated for a thousand pages, but I want to focus on one other response to the Catholic argument against sola scriptura.
Interpretations Need Not Apply?
I respect Catholic theology for its intellectual history, its commitment to doctrinal precision, and for the many places it promotes historic orthodoxy. But I do not see how an appeal to authoritative church tradition, in its practical outworking, makes the interpretation of Scripture any more settled. In my experience, what it does is push the boundaries of the debate away from Scripture out to papal encyclicals and the like. This is fine to do as a means for establishing what Catholics have believed about Christian doctrine (much like I dont think its a waste of time for Presbyterians to discuss the Westminster Confession of Faith). But heres my point: just because you have an authoritative tradition doesnt mean you wont argue over the interpretation of that tradition.
For example, take the immigration debate. How should Christians view the ethics of immigration? Two evangelicals might both turn to the Bible and come up with a difference response. Im not saying one answer wouldnt be more right than the other (were not relativists or hard postmodernists when it comes to texts), but they could very well disagree even though they both adhere to sola scriptura. So do Catholics have an easier time giving a definitive answer? Clearly not.
In May 2008, First Things printed an exchange between two Catholics on the issue of immigration. This was how the conservative author began (three paragraphs in):
Is there a Christian answer to these urgent question? For Catholics at least, there are relevant teachings in the Catechism: (1) The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome foreigners in search of security or a livelihood; (2) there should be not unjust discrimination in employment against immigrants, and (3) the immigrants themselves should obey the receiving countrys laws. (40)
The author on the left also began with an appeal to Catholic Social Teaching:
Deriving its understanding from revelation and reason, the Catholic Church teaches (1) that persons have right to emigrate in search of a better life when poverty, hunger, unemployment, unrest, and similar factors greatly hinder human flourishing; (2) that states have a right to limit immigration when the common good of society requires it in due consideration of such factors as national security and the domestic economy, but not out of inconvenience, selfishness, or minor cost; and (3) that more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin, as the Catechism puts it. (44)
Both authors are obviously working with the same material, and both quote the part about prosperous nations being obliged to welcome immigrants. But you can already see they are going in different directions. The first authors third point highlights the need for immigrants to obey the laws of the land, while the second authors second point goes out of the way to say that nations cannot refuse immigrants out of selfishness. Same tradition, but still a debate.
Interestingly, both authors go on to interact with various Cardinals and Bishops, but neither quotes from Scripture. This doesnt mean their arguments cant be scriptural, it is simply to make the point that the debate centers on interpretations of interpretations.
A Tangled Mess Too
This leads to one last thought. Just because Protestants have a bazillion denominations and Catholics have, well, the Catholic Church, doesnt mean that the Catholic Church is any less a mishmash of traditions. They have under a more formal unity just as many competing ideologies and theologies.
For example, heres Russell Hittinger, Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, writing about the thought of Thomas Aquinas:
The past century and a half of papal teaching on modern times often seems like a tangle: any number of different strandstheology, Thomistic philosophy, social theory, economicsall snarled together. And yet a little historical analysis may help loosen the know.
In fact, a careful reading of papal documents reveals one of the main causes of the tangle.
Throughout Catholic thought over the past hundred and fifty years, they have run two quite different uses of Thomisma combination of four threads weaving in and out of the Catholic Churchs response to the strangeness of modern times. (First Things June/July 2008, 33)
Later, as a case in point, Hittenger explains (in a sentence that will make sense to few Protestants):
The affirmations to be negated in Pius IXs 1864 Syllabus became affirmation to be affirmed in Leo XIIIs famous 1892 encyclical Rerum Novarumpositive statements on Catholic teaching on modern social and political issues. (35)
In the end, the best arguments of sola scriptura come from the way Scripture views Scripture. I recognize I havent done much of that here. But clearing away counter-arguments is important too. And one of the most common is the charge that Protestantism got rid of one infallible Pope, just to put a million little popes in his place. Makes a good evangelical wince a little, doesnt it? But before you take a step or two in the direction of Rome, remember that even one Pope has a million interpreters.
BTW These Doctors of the Church there are 33 In 2000 years. They Have 3 Requirements as Doctors of the Catholic Church:
1) holiness that is truly outstanding, even among saints;
2) depth of doctrinal insight; and
3) an extensive body of writings which the church can recommend as an expression of the authentic and life-giving Catholic Tradition.
But Sola Scriptura..... No Tradition Allowed...
The Catholic Church had a foundation in Holy Tradition long before the Bibble was recorded (even the Old Testament.)
Tradition for Catholics — isn’t rituals, it’s the oral passing down of the Word of God as recorded in the Bible. It has been a part of the Catholic Church and will remain a part of the Catholic Church forever.
>> “This illumination is not limited to church councils.” <<
No, it is limited to individuals.
Only individuals can have a relationship with God. The Holy Spirit is sent to the individual believers, not to any ‘council.’
Christianity is strictly a one on one experience between the believer and their Lord; there is no provision for anything in between given in the word of God.
A Return to Tradition: A new interest in old ways takes root in Catholicism and many other faiths
Scripture Is Tradition
SCRIPTURE AND TRADITION
The Importance of Tradition Today
The Place of Custom and Tradition
Early Church Fathers on (Oral) Tradition - Catholic/Orthodox Caucus
Holy Tradition: The Road That Leads Home
On Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition
Recovering the Catholic Moral Tradition: The notion of happiness
Tradition and Reform
APOSTOLIC TRADITION: Consistency or Contradiction?
Can Vatican II be interpreted in the light of Tradition?
The New Mass: A Return to Tradition???
Pope praises Ukrainian-Catholic Church for upholding Sacred Tradition, communion with Seat of Peter
The Shadow Tradition - Magisterium vs Murk
[Catholic] Tradition catching on with Baptists [Ecumenical Ash Wed. Service]
Pope will preside at Ash Wednesday Mass, procession; act will renew ancient tradition
How Tradition Gave Us the Bible
Papal Supremacy Is Against Tradition
"In Light Of Tradition"... The Society Of St. Pius X And Vatican II
The kids are all over this thread with their simplistic retorts, can we have a new thread for adults?
Arguing with childish minds is like trying to clean a mirror with a muddy rag.
Of what value is a list of links to well known catholic error?
The catholic church is darkness defined; it leads to the second death.
They can not even understand this very simple truth... darkness is so overwhelming
That's about the best explanation for the ridiculous notion that we must depend on someone else to explain God's Word to us that I've ever had the pleasure to read! Thanks for using the absurd to show how absurd it truly is!!
Nice... gotta remember that...
Actually, you don't. There is nothing in scripture that supports popery, Mass, purgatory, et. al. The Magicsterium* says that they exist, so "tradition" supports their existence, and the mass of Roman Catholics drink up the bilge as if it's true.
And fallible men, just as you accuse here, are the authors of it. Not scripture.
*credit to Quix
Have you not read that RnMomof7 is not the author of the piece? Care to argue your points with the author?
If others happen to agree that’s one thing. But your post seems to ascribe the authorship to RM7.
Well, e-s, that's about the only thing you're gonna find here responding to fact. It's sad...but true.
Let me get this straight -- The Roman Catholic church EXISTED in the time of Abraham and Moses (as this scripture was written down by men inspired by God) and served as "tradition"?
That is indeed laughable. Are you sure you want to stand by that statement? Or maybe you misstated it (I hope).
Regardless, this is one for the books and that's a fact.
Suitable for framing! :o)
John 21: (We'll be using the KJV today, kids, to keep things on even footing):
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
The Bible Itself declares that it doesn't contain everything.
You need to read some more Scripture. The New Covenant fulfills the Old Covenant. The New Testament fulfills the Old Testament.
Quiz for today —
How many Gospel writers quote the Old Covenant and the Old Testament?
I just realized how funny the title is.
It is written in presnet tense.
Tradition is the Word of God that was handed down from person to person in ancient times until it was written down in the Bible.
Tradition is not a “present tense” thing.
It’s been here a long time. (And you can thank the Catholic Church for preserving it.)
No... If you READ the verse you quoted, you'd find that the subject is Jesus and the things he did. How does this verse exegetically support "tradition?"
can you not see the difference