First, they will try to say that the phrase “Word of God” can mean more than just the Bible. I have already granted that. The question before us is whether today anything other than the Scriptures is necessary to know the truth of God for salvation. The Scriptural texts I have cited show that nothing else is needed. Our opponents need to show not that Paul referred to his preaching as well as his writing as the Word of God. We grant that. They need to show that Paul taught that the oral teaching of the apostles would be needed to supplement the Scriptures for the church through the ages. They cannot show that because Paul did not teach it and the Scriptures as a whole do not.
Second, notice that our opponents, while making much of tradition, will never really define tradition or tell you what its content is. Now, tradition is a word that can be used in a variety of ways. It can refer to a certain school of understanding the Scriptures, such as the Lutheran tradition. It can refer to traditions supposedly from the apostles that are not in the Bible. It can refer to developing traditions in the history of the church that are clearly not ancient in origin. Usually in the ancient fathers of the church, the word tradition refers to the standard interpretation of the Bible among them. And we as Protestants value such tradition.
Now what do Roman apologists mean when they assert the authority of tradition? Historically they have not agreed among themselves about the nature and content of tradition. Mr. Madrid, for example, has said that tradition does not add anything to Scripture. But almost all Roman apologists for over three hundred years after the Council of Trent argued that tradition does add to the Scriptures. Some Roman apologists believe that all binding tradition was taught by the apostles, but others believe that tradition evolves and develops through the centuries of the church so that there are traditions necessary for salvation that were never known to the apostles. It is impossible to know what the real Roman position is on this matter. The second Vatican Council expressed itself with deliberate ambiguity: “This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.” What does that mean? It certainly does not give us any clear understanding of the character or content of tradition.
Rome usually tries to clarify its position by saying that its authority is Scripture, tradition and church together. Vatican II declared,
“It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”
In fact, however, if you listen carefully you will notice that the real authority for our Roman opponents is neither Scripture nor tradition, but the church. What is the Scripture and what does it teach? Only the church can tell you. What is tradition and what does it teach? Only the church can tell you. As the Roman theologian John Eck said, “The Scriptures are not authentic, except by the authority of the church.” As Pope Pius IX said at the time of the First Vatican Council in 1870, “I am tradition.” The overwhelming arrogance of such a statement is staggering. But it confirms our claim that for Rome the only real authority is the church: sola ecclesia.
W. Robert Godfrey | Sola Scriptura | 1995
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