Today’s post is going to focus on the New Testament. First, a passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
15 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
This is an interesting passage in light of some of St. Paul’s letters. Here is the Second Letter to the Thessalonians:
13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.
(2 Thessalonians 2:13-15)
Here are a few selections from Second Timothy:
13 Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; 14 guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
(2 Timothy 1:13-14)
You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
(2 Timothy 2:1-2)
Jesus tells his followers to be wary of tradition, and effectively dismisses the tradition of the elders. Yet if tradition is to be disregarded, why does St. Paul then command the Thessalonians to hold onto the traditions he gave them? Why does he also tell Timothy to guard it? Or even more than that, why does he tell Timothy to pass it along to others?
Unbelievers would point to this as a contradiction. Believers would naturally disagree. But if there is no contradiction, why is that so? It can only mean that something changed between those two points in time. So what changed? The Holy Spirit is the natural answer. The descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles after Jesus returned to heaven changed everything. The elders, from whom the tradition of Israel came, did not have the Paraclete to aid them. The Church did. The Holy Spirit directed and guided the Church, and thus changed the nature of tradition. It was no longer merely human tradition from the elders, but Sacred Tradition from God.