Bible, Tradition and Church

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven...Matthew 16:18ff

Some Christians claim that there is no need for a Church as guardian of the truth, since the Bible is the sole rule of faith. To prove their position they usually cite:

... and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. [2 Tim 3:15-17, NASB]

On closer examination it becomes apparent that these verses really do not teach on the sufficiency of the Bible. Verse 17 (especially when verse 14 is ignored) seems to imply the sufficiency of Scripture "for every good work," but no connection is made to salvation, a key part of the faith. Verse 15 connects the importance of sacred writings to salvation, but these writings are those that Timothy knew since childhood, i.e. Old Testament only. Even though verse 16 enumerates the great utility of "All Scripture" for teaching the faith, still no sufficiency is implied. A glass of water is profitable for health, but not sufficient, since air and food are also needed to live.

It is ironic that in 2 Tim 3:14, Timothy is told: "continue in the things you have learned ...knowing from whom you have learned them." This verse strongly suggests Apostolic Tradition. In the same letter, Timothy is informed on how to pass on Christ's teachings:

...things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. [2 Tim 2:2]

St. Paul actually commands the Thessalonian Christians to hold fast to the Traditions taught by the Apostles, both oral and written:

So then brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. [2 Thess 2:15; see 1 Cor 11:2]

Finally if everything that Jesus and the Apostles did and taught were recorded in the Bible, then why did St. John close his Gospel with this curious verse:

But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. [John 21:25, RSV; see 20:30]

or his last two Epistles with these verses: 2 John 12 and 3 John 13-14?

Jesus in Mark 7:5-13 or Matt. 15:1-9 does not condemn all traditions but those corrupted by the Pharisees. Unlike the human traditions of the Pharisees, Apostolic Tradition is God's Word spoken through the Apostles, not recorded in the Bible. The Church as promised by Christ (Matt 16:18-19, see front panel; Matt 18:17-18) preserves and teaches the Apostolic Tradition. This Church is the pillar and support of the truth, as is written:

... you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. [1 Tim 3:15, NASB; see Eph 2:19-21]

Another function of the Church is to explain passages in the Bible. St. Peter warns about teachings in Scripture that are difficult to understand:

... as also in all his (St. Paul's) letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. [2 Pet 3:15-16]

According to the Bible, the disciples had to explain the Scriptures. An example is St. Philip explaining the Book of Isaiah to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:30-31. Also this function of the Church includes interpreting the Bible:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation; for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. [2 Pet 1:20-21]

St. Peter in this passage warns us not to personally interpret God's message (prophecy) in Scripture. The Church being "men moved by the Holy Spirit" can only rightfully serve at this capacity.

Even though the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, it is not the only guiding rule of faith. Both the Bible and Apostolic Tradition are the Word of God. Both are important sources for the Faith. The Catholic Church being the Church founded by Christ preserves both from corruption and uses both to teach God's Word with guidance from the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:16-20; John 16:12-15).

Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.