Sunday, March 20, 2016

Church Tradition (PARADOSIS) and the Bible Canon

The Greek word usually rendered "tradition" is PARADOSIS (παράδοσις) which is derived from PARADIDOMI ("to surrender, intrust, transmit"). This signifier is employed in Matt. 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13; 1 Cor. 11:2; Gal. 1:14; Col. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:15, 16; 3:6.

For PARADOSIS, BAGD has "handing down or over." When considering this word in the context of tradition vis-a'-vis Scripture, I think we must avoid projecting later significations of the term back onto the writings of the NT. That is, we should not interpret Paul's use of PARADOSIS through the exegetical template of Trent (a sixteenth-century council of the Church). In 2 Thess. 2:15, Paul writes that Christian tradition requires loyal adherence whether it is oral or written. Thus we can be confident that none of the traditions Paul mentions in his Epistles lack scriptural backing, and moreover, they are not limited to what is spoken (i.e., oral tradition). None of the traditions (PARADOSEIS) Paul speaks about conflict with what we find in Scripture. Conversely, I do not think the same can be said for the present traditions held by the Catholic Church.

Anglican priest Rebecca Lyman writes the following about tradition: "Our English word 'tradition' cames from the Latin verb tradere, which means literally 'to hand on.' When we speak of tradition, we mean those things that are passed along from one generation to another as important and essential to our identity" (Early Christian Traditions, p. 4).

Stone and Duke add that PARADOSIS is both the act of handing on and subsequently that which is handed on or transmitted.

However, continuing, Lyman also notes: "Christians usually distinguish 'scripture' from 'tradition' in order to emphasize the stronger authority we give to the Bible as the word of God. Yet the Bible itself is the selection of writings chosen and revered by the faithful community" (Lyman, p. 4).

Lyman's definition and comments are helpful although I think she errs by saying that the "faithful community" chose which writings were to be revered. God ultimately decides which writings are canonical, not humans. So while Paul may
have written and known about the importance of PARADOSIS, he would have undoubtedly castigated Dom Gregory Dix when he wrote: "eucharistic worship from the outset was based not on scripture at all, but solely on tradition" (Qt. in The Principles of Christian Theology, John Macquarrie, p. 11).

Charles Ryrie more likely states the truth of the matter: "It was not necessary to wait until various councils could examine the [Bible] books to determine if they were acceptable or not. Their canonicity was inherent within them, since they came from God. People and councils only recognized and acknowledged what is true becausde of the intrinsic inspiration of the books as they were written. No Bible book became canonical by action of some church council" (Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 105).

In a notable piece of scholarship, we also read: "the Canon of the New Testament was completed when the last authoritative book was given to any church by the apostles, and that was when John wrote the Apocalypse, about A.D. 98" (Benjamin B. Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration, pp. 455-56).


Duncan said...

This also depends much on your definition of handing down and over what time span.

Daniel 12:4

Edgar Foster said...

I specifically had the Christian tradition, which Paul said he received and handed on to others. That included the instructions for the Lord's evening meal.

Duncan said...

Apologies, I was hastily thinking about our previous discussion and missed the point of your post.