Need help with debunking Protestant interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:15

So, I am a university student who is trying to write a research paper on Martin Luther’s three solas. I started with Sola Scriptura by pointing out the bible verses that talk about tradition being passed down. But as a requirement for my essay, i have to give a counter argument from a Protestant perspective and give a rebuttal of that response as well. I have found a protestant response to 2 Thessalonians 2:15

CLAIM: Paul writes, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us (2 Thess. 2:15). Roman Catholic theologians claim that we need a teaching magisterium to accurately interpret the Bible. Citing this passage, Catholic apologist Tim Staples writes, “When Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he urged Christians there to receive the oral and written Traditions as equally authoritative. This would be expected because both are the word of God.” Is this the case?

RESPONSE: There are a number of reasons for disagreeing with this interpretation:

First, the context for this passage is elevating apostolic teaching over heresy—not tradition over Scripture . This tradition was written in opposition to non-Christian heresy being spread at the time (cf. 2 Thess. 2:2-3).

Second, this passage is not about future, post-apostolic tradition . This doesn’t fit with the Roman Catholic view, which holds that oral tradition was authoritatively passed down throughout church history. Instead, Paul’s “tradition” refers to the teaching of the living apostles. In his first letter, Paul writes, “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:12). While the teaching of the living apostles was inspired, this ended with the apostles in the first-century.

Third, Paul’s tradition was delivered to everyone—not just the leadership of the Church . Paul directs this tradition to the “brethren,” not just the leadership of the church. This doesn’t fit with the Roman Catholic interpretation either.

Fourth, Paul’s “tradition” refers to the gospel—not peripheral doctrines . The nearest antecedent to “tradition” in verse 15 is the gospel message in verse 14 (“It was for this He called you through our gospel …”).

The problem that I am stuck on is the fact, as someone who is new to the Catholic faith, that i am having trouble making a rebuttal against this Protestant interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, can anyone help me with this?

Who ever said anything about Tradition over Scripture?

So if this Tradition debunks heresy, in the same way Scripture does, then it looks like this proves that they are more equally authoritative than meets the eye.

Why not? If Sola Scriptura is true, then where is the evidence in the Bible that apostolic Tradition ended after the last of the original Apostles died? The Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Pope and the bishops in union with him, is illustrated in various places in the New Testament. All of the apostles have the power to bind and loose (Matt. 15:15-18), but only St. Peter—the first Pope—had “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” illustrating his primacy re: teaching and governing in leading the Church (Matthew 16:18-19). We also see the teaching authority of Peter and the apostles affirmed in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and in Acts 2:42. These seem to support the Catholic interpretation of 2 Thessalonians. Apostolic succession is evident in Scripture, like when Matthias was appointed to replace Judas.

Erm…yes it does. Catholics don’t believe Paul was saying this to the leadership of the Church solely, but rather the “brethren” in general. Paul is directing them to hold to Scripture and Tradition as it had been passed down. Passed down by whom? The leadership of the Church, of course!

That doesn’t explain the whole bit about “word of mouth” in the verse from 2 Thessalonians.

Hope that helps!

  1. This is a false argument. A straw man maybe. Catholicism doesn’t put tradition over scripture.

  2. This argument fails to recognize apostolic succession which is made clear in Jesus giving the ‘keys of the kingdom’ to Peter.

  3. I’m not sure what the point is in this argument anyway, but: The letter is addressed to the Thessalonian church. And it would be for the church leaders to read it and disseminate the teachings to the rest.

  4. One would then have to ask, “Is Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians a ‘peripheral doctrine’. And if not, why.”

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The Gospel Paul refers to is only Oral at the time he wrote his letter to the Thesolonians.

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Arguments in contra Catholicism err once they isolate Paul from the seamless garment of the entirety of scripture. Our Lord:

  1. Establishes His Church in Matthew 16
  2. Empowers it in Matthew 18 and
  3. Defines the Church’s mission in Matthew 28:19-20.

Paul was specifically obedient to the Church, traveling to Jerusalem more than once to ensure that his Gospel accorded the twelve (Galatians 2:2), and to have the Church decide questions of doctrine (Acts 15).

No “scriptura” mentioned anywhere in there. In fact, the Holy Spirit was sent to teach the Apostles and to remind them of what Jesus had orally taught them (John 15:26, 16:13).

Examine the prologue to Luke (Luke 1:1-4). We see that Theophilus learned nothing - zip, zero, nada - from Luke’s Gospel. Luke wrote his Gospel only to confirm what Theophilus had already learned via the oral Apostolic Tradition.

Christ did not found His Church on any writing. He did not command the writing of anything. Paul recognized the authority of the Church when he wrote that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Tim 3:15

All New Testament scripture points to the Church as the final and binding authority.


The broader point is, did St Paul live according to and teach ‘Sola Scriptura’? So it is not about one Bible verse but about the whole of his writings and on that, I would argue no, he didn’t.

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Simply put, no one knew that the letters in circulation in the first century were inspired scripture. And, whatever writings there were, were not thought to be scripture - there is zero evidence that any of the NT writers “knew” or even claimed they were writing scripture. In any event, the NT was finally settled 300 years after Paul’s death!

Twisting history, just like twisting scripture, obscures the truth: the man-made assertion that writing is somehow a sole rule is, like BMW, Mercedes, Audi and VW, a German invention, but 1,500 years after Christ!

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I agree with you, po it is just so hard to ‘prove’ that St Paul was a ‘Sola Scriptura’ guy but Protestants will twist any verse and some people fall for it!

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Dan, we can argue against intellect, but we cannot argue against the ego. It demands agreement and will settle for nothing less.

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You hit on a big point that I call “the gap.”

The question to the supporter of Sola Scriptura needs to be: “if you were alive in the year 50, before any NT writings were written or recognized, what would the source of your theology be?” The only source of Christian theology in the early Church was the oral Gospel. Another question could be: “In what year was the oral Gospel superseded by the New Testament writings? When they were written? When they were recognized? And where is that found in Scripture?”


2nd THESSALONIANS 2:15, 3:6 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
. . . .
. . . 6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you
keep away from any brother who is living in idleness
not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

Emphasis mine.

Larger segment for context next post (with link removal and segment edit title so I could fit it in the post, but all Scripture there)


I’ll start with point 2 (for brevity).

Second, this passage is not about future, post-apostolic tradition .

So does that mean the WRITTEN TRADITION (thad’d be Sacred Scripture) is not about the future too?

Or is it OK to pick one and reject the other limb of St. Paul’s admonition to hold fast to written AND oral tradition that you were taught by “us” (“us” here is the Apostles. Thus “Apostolic” Tradition).

Of course someone counseling you to accept one facet of this and reject (or at least “expire” the other portion would be mere . . .(you know what I’m going to say) . . . heresay.

Which brings you back to point 1.

First, the context for this passage is elevating apostolic teaching over heresy


Then this on point 1 (with bolding mine for emphasis) . . . .

First, the context for this passage is elevating apostolic teaching over heresy—not tradition over Scripture

Go back and remind him, that Scripture IS TRADITION! (Written Apostolic Tradition.)

The Bible says so! Denying that would be “heresay”.

Here it is again.

hold to the traditions which you were taught by us,
EITHER by word of mouth or by letter.


The Man of Lawlessness

(Chap. 2) 1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, 12 so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

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.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Request for Prayer

(Chap.3) 1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from evil. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things which we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

Warning against Idleness

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you.

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Fourth, Paul’s “tradition” refers to the gospel—not peripheral doctrines . The nearest antecedent to “tradition” in verse 15 is the gospel message in verse 14 (“It was for this He called you through our gospel …”).

Ask him . . .

“Where is the “ONLY” to this aspect of the Gospel?” (Jesus calling you.)

Repeat it another way for extra clarity . . .

“Why would you think “He called you through our gospel” is the ONLY aspect to authoritative Tradition?”

Before he answers, remind him again that the Bible ITSELF . . . IS Tradition.

“Do you think the Bible ONLY teaches about Jesus “calling you”?”

Ask him if he thinks the books/letters of the Bible are “periphral doctrines”.

If he says yes, then ask WHY he is appealing to the letter to the Thessalonians? (The second letter that is.)

If he says "no. The books of the Bible are NOT “periphral doctrines” ask him . . .

“Where in the Bible is a list of books that belong in the Bible”?

“Where in the Bible is the verse . . . .“In the Bible belongs the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, etc. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, . . . Jude, and Revelation?””

Where is THAT verse.

It is nowhere.

He will come up with a home-made list of WHY books of the Bible belong in there (that “verse” won’t be there either. Remind him those reasons are unBiblical “periphral doctrines” that are made up.)

He will try to deflect to the Old Testament Deuterocanonicals (1st and 2nd Maccabees, etc).

Don’t bite.

Just ask him the same question for the New Testament books. Which Catholics and Protestants agree on.

That “verse” won’t be in the Bible either.

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Unless you heard Jesus in person, the Gospel is a tradition. Unless you wrote the NT letters, the bible itself is a tradition.
“Tradition” means only that which has been handed on.
To deny God’s revealed truth by smearing it with a pejorative use of the word “tradition” strikes me as bigoted at best.

How great the poverty of those who, in desperate opposition to the Church which Christ founded, latch onto a single word and thereby place the entire Gospel and scriptures at risk.

  1. Does not matter what it was teaching against. Paul bound his listeners to tradition, whether written or preached.

  2. That’s an arbitrary condition imposed by the one trying to refute. The passage is very clear that at that time, there is binding tradition. Nothing is said there, or anywhere else that binding tradition is going to end.

  3. I don’t know what he’s getting at. So what? Even today, tradition is for everyone, not just the clergy.

  4. Catholic tradition IS the Gospel, as it is divine revelation.

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Maybe Jesus forgot to mention that these keys would suddenly vanish when the last apostle died…?

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Argument against sola Scriptura: see “Fiddler on the Roof,” and, in particular, the opening number, “Tradition!”

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Straw man , he argues that Catholic put tradition over the Bible , while Catholic elevate
tradition to much , never do they claim that they are above the Bible .

Apostolic succession is true , but …I have to half agree with him .

The modern concept of apostolic succession that apoatoles passed their authority to successors, who then passed the apostolic authority on to their successors, continuing throughout the centuries.

Rather we are successors of the message of the apostoles no the tittles .

Apostolic authority was passed on through the writings of the apostles, not through apostolic succession.

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The other argument is that when Paul says “the traditions which you were taught whether by word or by letter from us,” he was talking about the same “traditions” that would be taught either by word or by letter, rather than different traditions spread, some by word & others by letter.

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Think Chronologically.

Sacred Apostolic Tradition - Words and Acts OF - Jesus and the Apostles - which were first spread by word of mouth - preceded the Written Accounts - aka the New Testament.

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