Tradition in the New Testament
Catholics believe that Scripture and Tradition are inseparably linked and that they, together, form the two witnesses to the one revelation of God, Jesus Christ.
What is tradition and where did it come from? Catholics believe that tradition is the deposit of faith which was given to the early Church by Christ through his Apostles which pre-dates the New Testament and has been passed on to us today. Over time the tradition has evolved as our understanding of Jesus and all he accomplished has deepened but the original deposit of faith remains unchanged. Just one of the evident effects of the deepening of this understanding is the Church’s decision to compile together what earlier was viewed as a haphazard collection of letters and texts and come to venerate them as Sacred Scripture.
Tradition passes the faith on through the liturgies of the Church, its Sacraments, artwork, music, hymnology, sermons, the writings of the saints and the yearly calendar with its feasts and fasts. For the first 1500 years of Christianity, before the invention of the printing press, this was the only way in which the Gospel could be passed on and it is a tool given to us by Christ to do just that.
Can you find Tradition in Scripture? Of course! The New Testament is riddled with allusions to things taught by Christ that are not recorded in the text.
“Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” Jn 20:30
Not only is there evidence of extra-scriptural teaching but St Paul even writes explicitly about the passing on of παράδοσις, or tradition to his followers:
“Stand firm and hold to the traditions [παραδόσεις] which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thess 2:15
“Keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition[παράδοσιν] that you received from us.” 2 Thess 3:6
“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions[παραδόσεις] even as I have delivered them to you.” 1 Cor 11:2
Now we also find in the scriptures two words related to παράδοσις; namely παραδίδωμι and παραλαμβάνω. These speak of tradition delivered and tradition received as the faith is passed on, not forgetting that this is what tradition is; the passing on of faith.
“For I received [παρέλαβον] from the Lord what I also delivered [παρέδωκα] to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread…” 1 Cor 11:23
“For I delivered [παρέδωκα] to you as of first importance what I also received,[παρέλαβον] that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Cor 15:3
Ultimately the Church and her Tradition are guided by the Holy Spirit and the faithful deliverance and reception of that Tradition is guaranteed by that same Spirit:
“The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26