Is "oral tradition" an unverifiable source?

Oftentimes when talking with Protestants they think the appeal to “oral tradition” can as an excuse to invent doctrines. But this isn’t the case as THIS BLOG POST shows. Do you agree or disagree with it?

Of course oral traditions are valid-regardless of whether or not they can be easily supported or verified by Scripture which, itself, tells us in 2 Thess 2:15 to hold fast to the traditions/teachings whether written or unwritten, and in John 21:25 that not everything Jesus said or did was recorded. The Church was given the “deposit of faith” before a word of the New Testament was written. It’s the Church’s role to receive, protect, defend and proclaim the truths of the gospel. She’s the authority here on earth, as guided by the ultimate authority, God the Holy Spirit. From the Catechism:

**76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

  • orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received - whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”;33

  • in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.34

113 2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (". . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church"81).**

The Bible itself was oral tradition before it was written down.

The prologue to Luke (Luke 1:1-4) testifies as to the verity of the oral tradition. “Theophilus” learned exactly nothing from Luke’s Gospel - it was written to verify what he had already learned via oral Apostolic preaching.

Paul’s preaching to the Bereans (Acts 17:10-13) revealed the efficacy and illumination of oral preaching tradition, as the Bereans - students of scripture - completely missed Jesus of Nazareth as their Savior, despite thorough knowledge of the scriptures.

1,200+ years after the fact, Paul’s mention of Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:8-10) as opposing Moses testifies to the efficacy of the oral tradition, as neither man was mentioned anywhere in the OT. Paul learned this from someone, probably Gamaliel, not something.

As well, Protestant’s reject the concept of Christ’s Church, which was given the power of binding and loosing (Matthew 16:18, 18:18, John 20:23) We cannot omit this from our arguments. The bible cannot bind or loose - only the Apostolic Church can do that. Binding and loosing is not to invent, but to secure that which has been revealed.

Bible-based organizations project - as they must project - their failings onto the Catholic Church to “justify” their separation. In fact, is there anything they obsess over more than the issue of justification? A misbehaving child first justifies their disobedience.

Demanding verification, at some point, is a sin against the first theological virtue of faith.

That’s putting the cart before the horse.

The problem with oral traditions is they can be embellished upon. One person hears something and when they tell their kids details may be changed to make the story more interesting, have a different impact, or the person forgot the original details. Example could be someone like Robin Hood. Could there have been a man named Robin who helped the poor by fighting tyranny in his own country? Sure but it may have been through legal actions or who knows what. Point is oral is not the best method of passing information along.

If you never were Catholic and just go by the bible, mainly the gospels, it’s very understandable why they would attack tradition. Jesus had such harsh words for the Jews about their traditions that it leads you to believe all tradition is garbage. Just avoiding it all together looks like a good idea from a bible Christian POV.

Until, of course, you start digging into history and find out how much you are actually already relying on Catholic tradition. Which books are in the NT? Catholic tradition. Who wrote the gospel of “Mark” and how do we know since it doesn’t say so anywhere- Catholic Tradition? Christmas day? Catholic tradition.

They do seek like a verifiable library of tradition at times, and of course we cant provide that. Pretty much everything has already been defined dogmatically so not sure what the problem is, tbh.

Umm few problems. I do believe many biblical scholars agree that the gospels were not written by the authors given to them let alone in the time period of Jesus’s life. Jesus also followed traditions because he was raised in them. He even instructs some of those he healed to go to the temple and give their offerings. Someone who had harsh words probably wouldn’t do that. Not going to get into holidays. Also there are a lot of books that were not put in the bible let alone the Catholic version of it.

And he also referred to the “seat of Moses” which is tradition as it was no where else recorded in scripture. Something Protestants miss.

But he did have harsh words about tradition - man made stuff they were putting above God’s word:

Matthew 15:3-6New International Version (NIV)

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’[a] and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’** 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.**

Exactly. There exists a “gold standard” gospel that was only orally delivered, and not written. Paul says, “If we or an angel from heaven preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Paul preached, did not write, the gospel to which all other gospels were to be compared. This gold standard gospel was strictly delivered orally and the only way to know it, was by remembering it, that is, Tradition. The gospel begins with Tradition.

Try telling that to some Indigenous cultures whose oral tradition has been solid and active for thousands of years.

Of course you’re right. Which makes some scholars question the veracity of the Gospels, since they are simply written down oral tradition about what Jesus said and did. Perhaps the Gospels got embellished upon also. We do know they differ in various details from one another.

To this you might reply, well, the Holy Spirit preserved the oral tradition so the Gospels are not corrupt after all. Indeed. You’ve hit upon the crux of the matter. If the Holy Spirit inspired the evangelists to begin with, why could He not preserve the oral tradition as well?

Regarding oral, true, perhaps oral is not the best method of passing information along. In which case, it makes you wonder why Jesus used only the oral method. And why the apostles preached so much, and only wrote as kind of an after thought, as a secondary replacement for their actual presence. You wonder again why John said he would rather be face to face with his spiritual children than have to write?

But think about it. When very few people knew how to read, and writing materials were scarce and expensive, how could a written source possibly be a means of transmitting the Gospel to the world? A living, preaching Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, of which Jesus is the head, was the only possible way.

What if not one but 12 and hundreds are told, are able to verify with each other, are given the authority by the source to correct error and verify facts?

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