It is a foundation of our faith to believe that God gave Moses an oral explanation of the Torah along with the written text. This oral tradition is now essentially preserved in the Talmud and Midrashim. Just as we depend on tradition for the accepted text, vocalization, and translation of the Torah, so must we depend on tradition for its interpretation. The Written Torah cannot be understood without the oral tradition. Hence, if anything, the Oral Torah is the more important of the two. Since the Written Torah appears largely defective unless supplemented by the oral tradition, a denial of the Oral Torah necessarily leads to the denial of the divine origin of the written text as well…by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
I. The Word of God is Transferred Orally
Mark 13:31 - heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ Word will not pass away. But Jesus never says anything about His Word being entirely committed to a book. Also, it took 400 years to compile the Bible, and another 1,000 years to invent the printing press. How was the Word of God communicated? Orally, by the bishops of the Church, with the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit
Luke 10:16 - He who hears you (not “who reads your writings”), hears me. The oral word passes from Jesus to the apostles to their successors by the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit. This succession has been preserved in the Holy Catholic Church
1 Cor. 15:1,11 - faith comes from what is “preached” (not read). For non-Catholics to argue that oral tradition once existed but exists no longer, they must prove this from Scripture. But no where does Scripture say oral tradition died with the apostles. To the contrary, Scripture says the oral word abides forever.
II. Learning through Oral Apostolic Tradition
Matt. 15:3 - Jesus condemns human traditions that void God’s word. Some Protestants use this verse to condemn all tradition. But this verse has nothing to do with the tradition we must obey that was handed down to us from the apostles. (Here, the Pharisees, in their human tradition, gave goods to the temple to avoid taking care of their parents, and this voids God’s law of honoring one’s father and mother.)
Mark 7:9 - this is the same as Matt. 15:3 - there is a distinction between human tradition (that we should reject) and apostolic tradition (that we must accept).
1 Cor. 11:2 - Paul commends the faithful for maintaining the apostolic tradition that they have received. The oral word is preserved and protected by the Spirit
1 Thess. 4:2 – Paul again refers the Thessalonians to the instructions they already had received, which is the oral apostolic tradition
III. Examples of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ Reliance on Oral Tradition
Matt. 2:23 - the prophecy “He shall be a Nazarene” is oral tradition. It is not found in the Old Testament. This demonstrates that the apostles relied upon oral tradition and taught by oral tradition.
Matt 23:2 - Jesus relies on the oral tradition of acknowledging Moses’ seat of authority (which passed from Moses to Joshua to the Sanhedrin). This is not recorded in the Old Testament
Acts 20:35 - Paul relies on the oral tradition of the apostles for this statement (“it is better to give than to receive”) of Jesus. It is not recorded in the Gospels
1 Cor. 10:4 - Paul relies on the oral tradition of the rock following Moses. It is not recorded in the Old Testament. See Exodus 17:1-17 and Num. 20:2-13.
Heb. 11:37 - the author of Hebrews relies on the oral tradition of the martyrs being sawed in two. This is not recorded in the Old Testament.
Jude 9 - Jude relies on the oral tradition of the Archangel Michael’s dispute with satan over Moses’ body. This is not found in the Old Testament.
Jude 14-15 - Jude relies on the oral tradition of Enoch’s prophecy which is not recorded in the Old Testament.