Testing Traditions Against Scripture

Q: In Matthew 15:1-9 (the “you make void the word of God by your tradition” passage), didn’t Jesus indicate that any tradition which contradicts Scripture is false, meaning that we must test traditions by Scripture, meaning that tradition is inferior to Scripture?

A: It is true that any proposed tradition which contradicts Apostolic Scripture is a false tradition and must be rejected, but this does not make Apostolic Tradition inferior to Scripture for that reason. It is also true that any proposed scripture which contradicts Apostolic Tradition is a false scripture and must be rejected.

This was, in fact, one of the ways in which the canon of the New Testament was selected. Any scriptures which contained doctrines which were contrary to the Traditions the apostles had handed down to the Church Fathers were rejected. Between the Gnostic gospels (like the Gospel of Thomas) or Marcion’s edited version of Luke and Paul’s epistles, there were a lot of heretical writings that different groups wanted to see in the New Testament. But the Fathers said, “No, this contradicts the faith that was handed down to us from the apostles. Thus it must be a forged writing.”

So while tradition must be tested against Scripture to see if the tradition is apostolic, it is also true that scripture must be tested against Tradition to see if the scripture is apostolic. There is complementarity here, and one mode of teaching is not automatically inferior to the other.

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