Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Succession and Tradition

One of the reasons I haven't really tackled Richard Bennett, is that I have been having a discussion about some points of Catholic doctrine on another blog. This blogger generally prefers not to be identified on this blog, but I wanted to share some of the things which I have written.

This person feels that there is no Biblical basis for apostolic succession. The apostles were commissioned by God to preach the Word and write Scripture, but that passed away with them.

The best scripture for apostolic succession is Acts 1:15-26, where Peter (*ahem*) tells the other apostles that they should ordain another apostle, and they then proceed to ordain Matthais.

Further, why are Luke and Mark's writings in the Bible? They were not commissioned by Jesus, either before his death, or after, in the way that Paul was. By this logic, they should not have authority, because authority passed away with the apostles and they were not apostles.

She countered that Luke and Mark were apostles, and were commissioned by the Holy Spirit.

The problem with this, is that this is not stated anywhere in the Bible. While Paul claims in his writings that he was commissioned by Jesus, neither Luke nor Mark make such a claim. Actually, the author of the Gospel of Luke says that he is compiling a narrative which he got from eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. He is claiming no inspiration or revelation.

Why did I say "the author of the Gospel of Luke"? Because neither Luke nor Mark actually claim any authorship. No authorship is given at all in these texts. You have to rely on Tradition to put a name with the text.

We also covered Tradition in a different context, when she pointed to the Arians as proof that Sola Scriptura existed before the Reformation. Just to be clear, I don't think that she was claiming that the Arians were correct in doctrine, just that the idea of Sola Scriptura existed before Martin Luther, and that there were scriptures available at that early time.

I replied:

I think that most of the early heresies were rooted in a denial of Tradition, because it is so easy to make Scripture say anything your want it to. Most heresies either deny Tradition, or have a prophet leader who correctly interprets Scripture, or selectively edits the Bible canon, as Luther was tempted to do.

What I have said previously, is that there was no one continuous non-Catholic group of Christians, which had a unified set of beliefs.

Yes, the Arians were Sola Scriptura. That's because Tradition refuted their beliefs. I was all set to write out the beliefs of Arians, and how they relate to sola scriptura, but then I remembered that Mark Shea had that handled in his book By What Authority, so I borrowed this from him:

Arians were principally concerned to preserve the Oneness of God from pagan polytheism. They argued from Scripture. They were well-trained theologians who could read Scripture in the original tongues. The only problem was that they had the idea that Jesus was not truly God but only a sort of superior created being.

In defense of this idea, the Arians rejected tradition and pointed to texts like "the Father is greater than I" (Jn. 14:28) and "Why do you call me good?... No one is good-except God alone" (Mk. 10:18). They could come up with plausible explanations for terms and expressions which we Evangelicals think could only point to Christ's divinity. For example, Arians said the statement, "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30) refers to oneness of purpose, not oneness of being. They pointed out that Scripture refers to supernatural created beings as "sons of God" (Job 38:7 NAB) without intending they are one in being with the Father. They observed that even mere humans were called "gods" (Ps. 8:2-6; Jn. 10:34-36), without the implication that they are God. Therefore they inferred that the Son, supernatural though he may be (as angels, principalities, and powers are supernatural), is neither co-eternal with the Father nor one in being with him.

How would you argue against Arianism using Scripture alone? We'd say that John speaks of the "only begotten" and says of him that he "was God" and was "with God in the beginning" (Jn. 1:1-2, 18; 3:16). We would reply that, although the "Trinity" is not in Scripture, nonetheless the concept of Trinity is there.

But a good Arian would be quick to point out that God plainly says, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father" (Heb. 1:5), which implies that there was a time before the Son was begotten. In other words, the Arian can argue that there was a time when the Son was not. But there was never a time when the Father was not. He is without beginning. Therefore, according to the Arian, the Son does not share God's eternal, beginningless essence. This amounts to a denial of the deity of Christ. Great and supernatural as he may be compared to the rest of creation (and Paul implies he is a creature when he calls him the first-loom over all creation [Col. 1:15], doesn't he?), nonetheless he is only a creature, says the Arian.

The Arian heresy arose in the early 4th century, so, yes, they would have a pretty complete New Testament Bible canon by that time.

We also have early affirmation in belief in Tradition:

Irenaeus wrote around 120 AD (keeping in mind, this is hardly after the NT was written):
When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition...It comes to this, therefore, that these men do now consent neither to Scripture or tradition" (Against Heresies 3,2:1).

"Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?" (Against Heresies 3,4:1).

Tertullian wrote around 180 AD:

"Error of doctrine in the churches must necessarily have produced various issues. When, however, that which is deposited among many is found to be one and the same, it is not the result of error, but of tradition. Can any one, then, be reckless enough to say that they were in error who handed on the tradition" (Prescription against the Heretics,28).

"[The Apostles] next went forth into the world and preached the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations. They then in like manner rounded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality, — privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery"

Your main question is, doesn't Scripture have everything we need to attain salvation? We had the commissioned Apostles spreading the word orally, they wrote it down, died, and then we had the New Testament.

My question is, what about those people who lived in that gray time before the NT canon was complete in all areas of the known world?

At the time that Irenaeus wrote, you could hear all four Gospels and two letters from Paul read in church. Plus the Martyrdom of Polycarp and Letters of Clement, while the letters of Peter and John were not considered canonical, nor was Hebrews or Revelation.

When Tertullian wrote (he was actually one of the first to use the phrase "New Testament"), you could hear the Gospels, Acts, most of the letters of Paul, one letter from Peter, one from John, Revelation and Jude, PLUS letters from Barnabas and Clement, the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter (since John's was so popular?), and the Acts of Paul.

Hebrews and James were not even quoted in the Western church until after 350, while the letters of Pope Clement continued to be included in the Bible through the fifth century! Sure, we could probably live without Philemon, but how would ever get by without James or Hebrews?

Would a Christian in one of those churches have everything they need to attain salvation in one of those churches, hearing the Gospel of Mark, the Shepherd of Hermas, and not Hebrews?"

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Tracy said...

Excellent post Kelly!!!

Kelly said...

Thanks, Tracy. I always appreciate your compliments. :)