Infallibility, Tradition, and the Scriptures

Question #1: At what point in time is purely oral tradition no longer reliable?..When children play the game of “telephone” and pass one message on to another, it doesn’t take too many relays before the message becomes garbled. The written scriptures (our Bible) don’t become garbled as easily. Assuming you have reliable scribes transcribing the copies, the 20th generation will be the same as the original autograph. No so with oral tradition. Unless you write it down, it will become distorted within a few generations. So it is very important that the oral tradition also be written down.
Question #2 - Do the writings of the early church fathers contain the entire oral tradition of the apostles? If not, where else should I look? I can accept the writings of the ECFs as a reliable source for apostolic oral tradition because the early church was ony a few generations removed from the apostles, and so there wasn’t that much time for the oral message to become garbled.

Also, question #3: If the church is infallible in both teaching doctrine and interpreting scripture, then how are the teaching and the official pronouncements of the church different from Holy Scripture? If both are infallible, why do we not just bind the oral traditions (and their official interpretations) into a book and march with both books to the front of the church during a worship service. Are both equally inspired? …More questions later!

Hello, Allisa:) Why if oral tradition is a bad thind does scripture say to follow it. Who put the Bible in canon?And what was added to scripture?God Bless

Ultimately you’re not trusting in human beings to preserve God’s Word in writing; you’re trusting God Himself.

Therefore, if you can believe that God will preserve His Word when it’s transmitted in writing, why can’t you believe that God will preserve His Word when it’s transmitted orally?

[quote=Alissa]Question #1: At what point in time is purely oral tradition no longer reliable?..When children play the game of “telephone” and pass one message on to another, it doesn’t take too many relays before the message becomes garbled. The written scriptures (our Bible) don’t become garbled as easily. Assuming you have reliable scribes transcribing the copies, the 20th generation will be the same as the original autograph. No so with oral tradition. Unless you write it down, it will become distorted within a few generations. So it is very important that the oral tradition also be written down.
Question #2 - Do the writings of the early church fathers contain the entire oral tradition of the apostles? If not, where else should I look? I can accept the writings of the ECFs as a reliable source for apostolic oral tradition because the early church was ony a few generations removed from the apostles, and so there wasn’t that much time for the oral message to become garbled.
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These are very good questions. You have articulated the problem that I see very well. I look forward to hearing the response.

Michael

[quote=Lisa4Catholics]Hello, Allisa:) Why if oral tradition is a bad thind does scripture say to follow it. Who put the Bible in canon?And what was added to scripture?God Bless
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Lisa, I think that this is a pragmatic arguement that dodges the questions.

But I still think you are neat;) .

Michael

[quote=michaelp]Lisa, I think that this is a pragmatic arguement that dodges the questions.

But I still think you are neat;) .

Michael
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Michael, I think your neat too,but I have told you I am no debater or theologeon:) I asked in prayer for the truth and I was led to the Catholic Church(and that is being simplistic about what I experienced and to continue to experience),but anyway it was a sort of needle I must admit, it gets sort of rediculous after a while when people are mini popes but don’t see it.The "you Catholics"thing as if we are all lost sheep that know nothing. Michael you know I have a great respect for you and like you very much,but something that you have not admitted yet,is that the Bible being Gods word is taken on Faith,too.Someone who is not Christian who won’t accept the gift of faith won’t believe it.Alot of non-catholics have such a block when it comes to authority they will not believe it either.God Bless

Hi,

At what point in time is purely oral tradition no longer reliable?

At what point in time is any oral tradition no longer reliable? It may be less obvious, but any Sola Scriptura adherent is likely to be depending on oral traditions of a particular church or a pastor.

As Catholics, we believe that only Peter’s successors and the bishops in communion with him has the authority, given by God himself, to determine what the reliable Traditions are. Without this particular authority, and therefore charism of the Holy Spirit, the Church has no right to claim any authority in this matter. As Sola Scriptura churches do not claim to any authority in interpretation, disunity becomes an inseparable part of this particular doctrine. This is why authority and unity are two sides of the same coin - you can not have one without the other.

God bless,
TTM

[quote=Alissa]Question #1: At what point in time is purely oral tradition no longer reliable?..When children play the game of “telephone” and pass one message on to another, it doesn’t take too many relays before the message becomes garbled. The written scriptures (our Bible) don’t become garbled as easily. Assuming you have reliable scribes transcribing the copies, the 20th generation will be the same as the original autograph. No so with oral tradition. Unless you write it down, it will become distorted within a few generations. So it is very important that the oral tradition also be written down.
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That is not a good example of tradition.

  1. The children did not consider the message important, but a game.
    If you tell school children they will get out of class 20 minutes early if the message is correct at the end, you will be sure to get the correct message with the last child. The early Christians considered Tradition as the word of God. Thus, extremely important.

  2. Tradition is not ONE person to ONE person, but many persons teaching over and over many persons. Thus, even if one gets it wrong in transmission, the others will correct the error.

  3. We all learn by tradition. Just think of when children first start school, before they could read. Everything they learned was by tradition, that is the learned apart from writing and reading since they could not read yet. If a teacher would have asked these children who could not read, “what is that stuff on top your head that you comb or brush?” They all would have answered “hair”, without error. They learned this tradition from their families, who learned it from their families and so on. No child would have got it wrong. This has been going on for centuries, without error. Thus, tradition is very accurate. In other words, we learn how to talk, how to communicate, how to act, etc. through tradition. It is part of our family life. All parents teach their children. Yet how much do they write down what they taught their children? How many volumes does the average parent write down? Very little if at all. Why write down what they already know? Thus they taught by tradition, and the children learn by tradition.

Thus it was with the Church. Jesus taught His apostles and did not write it down. Why write down what they already knew? The apostles taught and preached for years, over and over, repeating doctrines over and over. There successors did the same, thus teachings were handed down. The apostles practiced the sacraments over and over. They were always baptizing, thus they were always teaching about baptism. Their successors learned from the apostles, and since they administered the sacraments over and over and over, these explanations of the sacraments were passed down over and over. It was part of the daily life of the Church, just like combing your hair every day. That is why all the early Christians believed the same basic teachings.

[quote=Alissa]If the church is infallible in both teaching doctrine and interpreting scripture, then how are the teaching and the official pronouncements of the church different from Holy Scripture?
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The Church doctrines cannot contradict the Scriptures. One has to be aware of the depth of understanding the Church has of the Scriptures, however. It is easy to claim, for example, that “call no man Father” means to not call a priest “Father” - but studying the Scriptures in depth reveals the true meaning of the passage, which negates accusations such as this.

God bless,
TTM

Now, no one here cannot find any writing from your parents where they explicitly wrote, “that fine stuff on top your head is called hair”, and neither has anyone here written, “I remember on such and such a day, my mother first told me that the stuff on top my head is called hair”

Yet we all know what hair is, before we knew how to read and write. And **none of us have written when we learned this, nor have our parents ever written when they taught it. **

Why write down what we already know?

That is exactly how apostolic Tradition was handed down. Jesus taught the apostles everything they knew. That was why He did not pick scripture scholars. Everything the apostles learned about the Gospel came from Jesus or the Holy Spirit. But, they did not write down the day they learned a doctrine from Jesus, nor did Jesus write down the day He first taught a doctrine. Just as we cannot write down the exact day we learned something basic from our parents, such as what hair is, and neither can our parents write down the day they taught us this. Neither is it necessary for the apostles or their successors to write down any of what they learned from Jesus, just as it is not necessary for us to write down what we learned from our parents. Since we all know it, since all children get the basic traditions from their parents correct, and since their parents learned from their parents without error, then why write it down. It was and is part of our family life.
Thus it is with the Church the apostolic Traditions are part of the life of the Church, and have been taught for centuries without error. It is not necessary to write down what has always been known. The Church fathers did write down some things, in addressing the errors of the day. But, it is not necessary.
The first time the Church officially wrote down large portions of apostolic Tradition was with the Roman Catechism. That is because Luther’s man-made tradition of “scripture alone” was confusing the faithful on what exactly was the tradition handed down by the Church.
Thus, catechisms are simply the basic apostolic traditions written down, and illuminated with scripture, and updated with clearer explanations of teachings of the Church.
The new catechism is the same thing, except it addresses secularism more instead of the errors of Protestantism.
Hope this helps.

[quote=Alissa]Question #1: At what point in time is purely oral tradition no longer reliable?..When children play the game of “telephone” and pass one message on to another, it doesn’t take too many relays before the message becomes garbled. The written scriptures (our Bible) don’t become garbled as easily. Assuming you have reliable scribes transcribing the copies, the 20th generation will be the same as the original autograph. No so with oral tradition. Unless you write it down, it will become distorted within a few generations. So it is very important that the oral tradition also be written down.

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I’ll just offer a few thoughts on one question. First, I think you are mistaken that written scriptures do not get garbled. In the early centuries of the Church, there were lots of writings that claimed to be Apostolic and inspired in addition to the ones that you accept as our Bible. So if the writings themselves were not garbled (which, in the manuscripts, still did happen), they could have been obscured by the Gospel of Thomas, etc. It was the authority of the Church which preserved and identified the authentic Scriptures in light of the Tradition she preserved (and continues to preserve).

Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems you think first there were oral traditions which were eventually written down into Scriptures. This is true; this is part of the Catholic understanding. But then, it seems, you think the oral traditions are no longer necessary, having been written down. Worse, it seems, the oral traditions became distorted, having been clung to for too long, after their time. The truth is (1) the Sacred Tradition (a manifestation of Divine Revelation, the one Deposit of Faith) never becomes unreliable, and (2) Sacred Tradition never becomes unnecessary since it (a) was needed to produce the Scriptures, (b) was needed to identify authentic (i.e., inspired) Scriptures (determined the canon), and therefore © provides the authentic and authoritative interpretation for Scripture. The cause of (1) is Divine grace: Jesus’ promise to remain with his Church and his gift of the Holy Spirit to guide her into all truth.

I get the impression that protestants are not comfortable with Tradition because it seems unclear just what is in it – why not just write it down and call it Scripture (or better, it was written down as the Bible). I get the impression that protestants are not comfortable with Tradition because it seems too open-ended – the pope/Magisterium might go and define some new doctrine (I couldn’t think of any silly examples). To me, the authority of the Bible doesn’t make sense without the authority of Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium to interpret it.

[quote=Alissa]Question #1: At what point in time is purely oral tradition no longer reliable?..When children play the game of “telephone” and pass one message on to another, it doesn’t take too many relays before the message becomes garbled. The written scriptures (our Bible) don’t become garbled as easily. Assuming you have reliable scribes transcribing the copies, the 20th generation will be the same as the original autograph. No so with oral tradition. Unless you write it down, it will become distorted within a few generations. So it is very important that the oral tradition also be written down…
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you are aware of course that the OT (Hebrew Scripture) was passed on orally for centuries before it was written down
you are aware of course that in pre-literate societies complicated traditions, stories, geneologies, beliefs etc. are passed on orally for hundreds of years without variation. this is because first there are those in each generation charged with the duty of listening, remembering and tellling and also every time these things are repeated they are done so in the entire group, in a formal setting, and any variation from what is remembered is quickly corrected. Preliterate peoples have incredible memories for the spoken word, which is largely lost in societies that base education and knowledge on the written word. As a matter of fact, as long as the OT was hand-written for each new copy, by scribes, which still exist in Orthodox Judaism, errors in copying were miniscule. When the first machine printed bibles came into being thousands of errors came in through typesetting. It took over a hundred years to eliminate such errors in the first King James versions.

[quote=Vincent]Ultimately you’re not trusting in human beings to preserve God’s Word in writing; you’re trusting God Himself.

Therefore, if you can believe that God will preserve His Word when it’s transmitted in writing, why can’t you believe that God will preserve His Word when it’s transmitted orally?
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But God didn’t ‘preserve His Word’ (by which you mean Scripture, not Jesus himself) hence the need for Erasmus’ corrections of the Vulgate text, some agreeing with, others disagreeing with St. Jerome.

And that is only one example of such corrections occuring.

Adam

Thank you to each of you who has taken the time to post replies to my questions. I appreciate each post.
DCDUREL wrote in post #9 and #10 (my paraphrase) 1. Church tradition is treated with much more reverence than a child’s game, so the relay of info will be more accurate. 2. It is not a one-to one relay of information, but rather many people are involved. Hence, opportunities exist for correcting error. 3. We all learn by tradition, therefore tradition is very accurate.
I think point #1 and #2 are excellent answers to my first question. Thank you. I’m not so sure that point #3 is as strong an argument; e.g., “My mommy taught me to put butter on burns. I know that’s right because she learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother.” Yes, we all learn by tradition, but that doesn’t mean that traditions are always true. However, TTM’s post #8 answers this very well: only Peter’s successors…can determine what the reliable Traditions are.
So those posts answered my first question satisfactorily.
DCDUREL’s post #11 answers my second question.
TTM’s post #10 answers my third question - maybe. I think that by saying that doctrine can’t contradict scriptures, that you mean that are both equally the inspired and infallible Word of God, and that church teaching is no different from Holy Scripture?
This pretty much answers my original three questions. But I have another question that I’ll post as a new thread. Goodbye, and thank you again.

[quote=Alissa]Thank you to each of you who has taken the time to post replies to my questions. I appreciate each post.
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No problem. It’s always good when people ask questions with a sincere heart. :thumbsup:

TTM’s post #10 answers my third question - maybe. I think that by saying that doctrine can’t contradict scriptures, that you mean that are both equally the inspired and infallible Word of God, and that church teaching is no different from Holy Scripture?

Infallibly declared doctrines, you might say, are as good an authority as the Bible itself. Afterall, early Christians took the words of the Apostles as the Word of God. There is no reason why God would withdraw that particular Charism from their successors. Those teachings which do not have the “infallible” status are not to be taken lightly either, since Peter holds the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and has the authority whereby whatever he “bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19) - a rabbinic term for legal authority. The type for Peter’s role in the Heavenly Davidiac Kingdom can be found in the Old Testament, in an Earthly Davidiac Kingdom:

Isiah 22:20-24
"In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father. All the glory of his family will hang on him: its offspring and offshoots-all its lesser vessels, from the bowls to all the jars.

As can be seen here, Eliakim acts as a Prime Minister under the Kingship of David, whereas Peter acts also as a Prime Minister under the Kingship of Jesus. “The keys of the kingdom of heaven” is here paralleled in “the key to the house of David” which, as we can see, represents both succession (Eliakim replaces Shebna) and authority to “bind and loose” (in Peter’s case), or “open and shut” (Eliakim).

The Church teachings vary in kind from the Scriptures, in that the Church can apply the Scriptures to the contemporary age.

God bless,
TTM

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