I here present a brief sketch as to why “tradition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is necessarily apostolic oral tradition, and why we must adhere to oral apostolic tradition as it has been handed down to us.
So then, brethren, be standing firm and holding fast the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word or by our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
1. The Church at Thessaloniki had been disturbed by a letter purporting to have been from St. Paul claiming that the day of the Lord had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
2. St. Paul tells them not to be disturbed “by a spirit, a word, or an epistle (seemingly) from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
3. After describing some particulars about the man of lawlessness, he asks the Thessalonians whether they remember, when he was last with them, that he had spoken these things to them (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
4. He continues speaking about the man of lawlessness and the spirit of delusion the Lord will send on those who persist in their unbelief, and then gives thanks that the Thessalonians are not of that sort but are the first fruits of sanctification, and then exhorts them to “hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by word or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
Four interesting observations are in order:
1. The written word was not necessarily a guarantee of apostolicity; a fraudulent document going out in St. Paul’s name had misled and confused the Thessalonians.
2. The Thessalonians had the apostolic traditions which they had been taught through St. Paul’s apostolic ministry, and they were to use that to compare anything that disturbed or shook their mind (i. e., anything that was “new” or out of concert with the apostolic tradition), and the entirety of that apostolic tradition was not only St. Paul’s letter to them, but also his spoken word.
3. That the teaching of “the man of lawlessness” is not contained anywhere else in canonical letters of St. Paul clearly entails that this tradition was that which St. Paul had given them orally while ministering to them.
4. The unity of oral apostolic tradition and Scripture is clearly presumed; i. e., oral apostolic tradition and Scripture are not opposed to one another, and, in fact, are essentially the same since they are manifestations of the authority of a single source: the apostolic ministry.
Now some sola scriptura adherents will argue that since St. Paul’s teaching regarding the lawless one has been preserved in 2 Thessalonians, and since that letter has been received by the Church as canonical, that this obviates oral apostolic tradition. This conclusion, however is false, and here’s why.
First and foremost, St. Paul’s counsel to adhere to oral and written apostolic tradition is, itself, certified in the same canonical text that supposedly obviates apostolic tradition. This is simply self-contradictory. In other words, Scripture itself enjoins upon the Thessalonians that they hold to the oral apostolic tradition St. Paul had delivered to them. Clearly Scripture cannot be used to obviate oral apostolic tradition.
Secondly, this begs the question that sola scriptura advocates assert but do not prove: namely, that the Scriptures (which necessarily, on their terms, include the New Testament) are all-sufficient. Scripture nowhere asserts this (the spooftexting of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 notwithstanding), but more importantly the sheer logic of history denies it: the complete canon of Scriptures were not available to all Christians for many decades (to estimate on the highly conservative end) after Pentecost, since the New Testament was not complete until the end of the first century. Unless sola scriptura advocates are willing to argue that a partial New Testament canon is also all-sufficient (since various Churches in the first century would have only some copies of St. Paul’s letters, and not all the New Testament canonical books would have been available to all Churches till, minimally, well into the second century, perhaps a century after Pentecost), then they are forced to admit that the Church operated for decades after the death of the last Apostle, and for perhaps as long as a century after the death of most of the Apostles, before there was any realistic opportunity for Churches to have most, though perhaps not all, of the completed canon of the Scriptures. This means the Churches did not have direct access to the Apostles themselves, nor of their writings, for perhaps as long as a hundred years (again, estimating very conservatively, I happen to think it was much longer), and therefore were without anything that was “all-sufficient” to guide them in their faith.
Clearly, the Churches had to operate on oral apostolic tradition for many decades, even for as long as a century (I would argue longer even than that).
If, therefore, sola scriptura cannot withstand the test of canonical Scripture as well as historical fact, it is a false teaching and should be rejected.
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