Thursday, October 25, 2007

That is not a Law, which is Enjoined by Men

O: “My question is, can you prove absolutely from scripture alone that Jesus' commentary in the Mt15/Mark7 incident has anything to do with Jesus condemning oral teachings over and against praising written teachings, since scripture never connects the dots between tradition must equal oral tradition, and "word of God" must equal written teaching?”

Without regard to Orthodox’s comments beginning “since …” I can easily agree that the main point of Jesus’ comments in Matthew 15 and Mark 7 is not to distinguish between the mechanisms of oral versus written transmission of information, but to distinguish between Scripture and extra-Scriptural tradition.

O: “Can you prove that the traditions of men or the traditions of the elders, isn't differentiated from the word of God, not because of the oral/written distinction, but because of the distinction that these teachings weren't passed down and accepted by all the people of God as the authentic word of God, especially given that they are explicitely [sic] referred to as the traditions of the elders which implies they weren't accepted by all the people?”

Surely those traditions of the elders were not accepted by all the people, for there was always a faithful remnant that clung to the word of God. On the other hand, that is not the distinction that the passage is making, nor is it the reason that the traditions are termed the traditions of the elders. The term “elders” here is equivalent to “them of old time” (i.e. the ancient Jews). It’s a reference to the fact that these traditions (like those of modern Orthodoxy) are very old.

Furthermore, as noted above, it is not precisely the oral/written difference that is being made. Instead the difference is between the Scriptures and the extra-Scriptural Jewish traditions.

O: “Given that the passage doesn't actually say explicitely one way or the other, is it possible your understanding is coloured by your own protestant traditions?”

Actually, as noted above, the false dilemma is resolved by noting that the passage is teaching a third thing, not either of the two “Orthodox” provided. Protestant coloration does not come into it.

O: “Can you see how someone with different pre-suppositions regarding the distinction between the word of God and the traditions of men, could legitimately interpret this passage differently to protestants? (e.g. Athanasius).”

Athanasius discusses one of these passages in his “Homily 51.” (link) (This link has been provided from a Roman Catholic web site to free the link of any claim of Protestant bias.) His discussion is more or less the same as a modern Protestant’s discussion would be: the Jews invented traditions, and those invented traditions are contrasted by Jesus to Scripture, Athanasius goes so far as to point out that such human innovation was prohibited by Scripture: about as close to Sola Scriptura as one could ask for.

Indeed, Athanasius asserts essentially the same position set forth above, for he writes: “For of course that is not a law, which is enjoined by men (wherefore also He calls it "a tradition"), and especially by men that are transgressors of the law.” Our Rule of Faith is Scripture Alone, not the traditions of men.


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