Archive for the ‘2Thessalonians’ Category

2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Responding to "Orthodox"’s Counter-Objections

April 8, 2008

One reader of the blog, “Orthodox,” has provided some counter-objections to the rebuttals I’ve presented so far on the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

I think “Orthodox” is a bit confused, as some of his objections have already been answered in earlier posts. For example, “Orthodox” seems to think that he can use a verse any way he pleases, and it is up to the rest of the world to prove that the verse cannot mean what he says it means.

Thus, his counter-objections turn the matter on his head, as he complains first that:

1) You haven’t established that it is only about “the gospel”, since the immediate context is about things of a wide range of concerns.

a) The short response is that the burden is on those who attempt to use this verse to support their position to show that it does. They cannot, which demonstrates that their reference to this verse is pretextual.

b) The long response is that, not only is the burden not on me (since I’m objecting to an abuse, not trying to make a positive case), but I can actually demonstrate that “the traditions” refers to the gospel, by reference to the immediately preceding verse.

But “Orthodox”‘s confusion about the burden that the abuser faces doesn’t stop there, for his second objection is similar:

2) Even if it did thus limit it, you cannot claim victory without proving the EXACT boundaries of “the gospel”.

a) This counter-objection clearly misses the point that the burden of establishing that usefulness of the verse to the abuser’s position is the abuser, not the objector.

b) This counter-objection is also odd, because – of course – one doesn’t have to know the EXACT boundaries to have useful knowledge. For example, one may not know the EXACT boundaries of Russia, while still recognizing that London, England is not in Russia. If someone was arguing that we have to accept London, England as part of Russia because we don’t know the EXACT boundaries of Russia, we’d laugh.

c) Finally, of course, Orthodox doesn’t explain why I’d have to know the boundaries at all. It should be noted that much of the objection to the abuse of this passage would remain, even if it were stripped from its context, and we had only the word “traditions” and nothing to help us understand what it meant. It would still be the burden on the person who sought to use this text to justify his view of “tradition” to establish that what Paul was referring to was the same thing that the person is referring to. In other words, if someone, let’s call him “O” wants to claim that he is entitled to hold fast to icons because Paul said to hold fast to “traditions” then it is up to O to demonstrate that icons are within the boundaries of “traditions” as the term is used by Paul. If O cannot, then O has used the text in a pretextual manner.

“Orthodox” continues, by demonstrating that his passion for the matter has overwhelmed his reason, for he states:

3) Asking if you can “demonstrate” that an oral tradition was taught to the Thessalonians is the equivilent [sic] of asking to “demonstrate” that Peter wrote 2 Peter. You can’t really do it, and thus you are hypocritical.

a) The demonstration is simple:

2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:


2Pe 3:1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:

That’s one of the easiest challenges of Scriptural demonstration that I’ve ever been presented with. Does anyone think we can expect a sincere and heartfelt apology for “Orthodox”‘s false accusation of hypocrisy?

b) Those challenges are not the equivalent of one another, unless I was asserting as either my argument, or a premise to my argument, that 2 Peter was written by Peter. If I were to assert such a thing, though, the demonstration above would be provided to support it.

“Orthodox” false accusations continue with his next assertion:

4) The question of “can you prove they weren’t the same as what was written down” is classic sophistry. It’s like saying “can you prove you haven’t been beating your wife”. You can’t? Ok, well we’ll leave that question open and assume you may or may not have been beating your wife.

a) Calling it sophistry (whether or not one qualifies it as a “classic” sophistry) doesn’t make it so. Let’s see whether “Orthodox” can substantiate his accusation, or whether this is simply another false accusation.

b) “Orthodox” compares the question to the question “can you prove you haven’t been beating your wife.” This is improper for several reasons:
(i) First of all, of course, the classic sophistry is to ask, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” That’s a sophistry, because the question is loaded: if you answer “yes,” it will be understood that you were beating her before. If you answer, “no,” it will be understood (via a denial of the antecedent fallacy) that you continue to beat her. It’s a sophistry because it is a rhetorical trick to make someone say something they don’t mean. It’s a trick question.
(ii) The present question is neither complex, nor trick. It is simple and straightforward. Can you demonstrate [x]? If you can, you can, and if you cannot, you cannot.
(iii) The comparison question asked by “Orthodox” is also simply and straightforward, though it is on a somewhat inflammatory subject. Detectives ask this question of suspected criminals all the time. “Do you have an alibi?” they may inquire, or perhaps they may phrase it as, “Can you prove you weren’t downtown during the shooting?” If a suspect cannot, a good detective certainly would, as “Orthodox” indicates, “leave that question open and assume you may or may not have been [doing whatever you are suspected of doing].” Indeed, only Clousseau (the detective from the “Pink Panther” movies) or some equally buffoonish detective could be pictured simply taking a suspect’s word for it, that the suspect is innocent.
(iv) Furthermore, the inflammatory nature of the question confuses the issues a bit further. After all, we generally (i.e. when we are not acting as detectives) prefer to assume that someone is innocent until they are proven guilty. Thus, we would expect that the accuser needs to prove that the man WAS beating his wife, and not that the man prove that he wasn’t beating his wife. In other words, the nature of that question carries with it an underlying burden of proof, if it is placed in a criminal context. This confuses the issue, because there is a very different burden of proof here. Recall how the verse gets abused: someone (let’s call him “O”) claims we have to accept “oral tradition,” because this verse says so. We respond by challenging “O” to demonstrate that the verse says so, and if he cannot we don’t accept his supposed proof. The analogy to the wife beating scenario would if “O” were to claim that the bruises on his neighbor’s wife were proof that his wife had been beaten by her husband. We’d ask “O” to demonstrate that the bruises weren’t caused by the wife being in a car crash, particularly if we saw a highly damaged car sitting in her driveway. If “O” couldn’t demonstrate that the husband was the cause of the bruises, we wouldn’t call the neighbor a wife-beater, because “O” couldn’t meet his burden of proof, just as “O” cannot meet his burden of proof with this verse.

“Orthodox” continued by making an interesting comment:

If you make the positive assertion that they may have been identical, it is up to you to establish that assertion, otherwise the assertion fails and there is no need to consider such an unfounded contention.

a) Does “Orthodox” read what “Orthodox” writes? “Positive assertion that they may …”? That something may be is rarely a positive assertion, and it’s not a positive assertion here.

b) Does “Orthodox” remember the context of the discussion? It is the abuser of the text that has made a positive assertion, namely that the text teaches “traditionism” (for lack of a more succinct word). It’s up to the abuser of the text to demonstrate such support. If they cannot, then, as Orthodox puts it: “the assertion fails and there is no need to consider such an unfounded contention.

Next, “Orthodox” shifts gears, and makes a new category of error, this time the error is an allegation of misrepresentation:

5) Discussing a “class of knowledge called Sacred Tradition which is separate from scripture” is a misrepresentation of the opposing view. The claim is that there is one class of knowledge called sacred tradition, of which the written record is a part. This, coincidently, is the exact way that Paul categorises things in 2 Th 2:15. Hold to the “traditions” whether written or oral. Not “hold to the oral traditions and s acred [sic] writings”.

a) It’s not a misrepresentation. Catholics sometimes talk about “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture” as though they were two parallel bodies of knowledge. If “Sacred Tradition” can only mean (to Catholics) a genus that includes Scripture, then the statement would be a bit like “Fruits and Apples.” See, for example, CCC 84 and CCC 97 (in which the genus is “Word of God” and the species are “Sacred Tradition” and “Sacred Scripture”). Furthermore, I’ve personally heard Catholics discuss the matter that way, specifically excluding Scripture from Tradition as being in different categories.

b) The fact that “Orthodox” wants to use different nomenclature,
(i) doesn’t make the Catholics disappear as one category of folks who use the text; and
(ii) doesn’t really make much substantive difference: whether one wants to call the genus classification using the word “traditions” or “word of God” or whatever, the underlying issues are the same. While “Orthodox” is welcome to have the debate over whether the Catholics should lump “Sacred Scripture” in with “Sacred Tradition” in their theology, I leave to “Orthodox.”

c) Ironically, Orthodox himself provides an example of the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 with his comment: “This, coincidently, is the exact way that Paul categorises things in 2 Th 2:15. Hold to the “traditions” whether written or oral. Not “hold to the oral traditions and s acred [sic] writings”.” There a couple of errors here:

(i) The major abuse here is due to the underlying assumption that by “traditions” Paul means what “Orthodox” means by “traditions.” There’s no reason at all to suppose that. “Orthodox” assumes it, but we have no reason to accept his claim.
(ii) A minor abuse here is due to “Orthodox” misreading “our epistle” as though it were a reference to “written traditions” in general (again, basically assuming “Orthodox”‘s definition of “traditions”).
(iii) Another (and still more minor) abuse here is due to “Orthodox” misreading “taught … by word” as thought it were a reference to the class of “oral traditions” rather than to specific things that had been taught by Paul to the Thessalonians (again, underlying that misreading is “Orthodox”‘s assumption that Paul means what “Orthodox” means by “traditions”).

Turning from abuse of the text and false accusations of misrepresentation, “Orthodox” reverts to his previous false accusation of hypocrisy, this time with a different basis. I was hesitant even to include this item, because it has nothing to do with 2 Thessalonians 2:15, but I ask the reader to be patient with me. “Orthodox” contends:

6) Saying you don’t know if Chrysostom wrote this thing is another case of “have you stopped beating your wife”. You have zero reason to think Chrysostom didn’t write it, but you think maybe if some doubt is cast on it, we can devalue the whole thing. Again hypocrisy. What if this reasoning was applied to the scriptures?

a) The historical question of whether Chrysostom wrote the homilies cited is not comparable to the loaded question (at least this time “Orthodox” correctly relates the question) of whether someone has stopped beating his wife. There’s nothing complex or loaded about an historical inquiry as to authorship.

b) And of course, I didn’t even ask that question, I just indicated that I didn’t know.

c) Despite “Orthodox” claim to the contrary, I do have reason to think Chrysostom might not have written it. As I previously told “Orthodox” (link – does he read carefully?), “John Chrysostom’s legacy is muddied by time and various strains of thought all attributed to him, but not necessarily all his own.” (or, for another example, in the post itself to which “Orthodox” was responding, I wrote: “John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. “) Even the Catholic Encyclopedia at “New Advent” admits that “numerous” apocryphal writings are attributed to him (link), and additionally mentions the role of editors in the release of at least some of his homilies. So, authorship of these particular homilies, and – more particularly – these specific words is certainly open to reasonable doubt.

d) “Orthodox”‘s guess as to my reason for mentioning it is mistaken. I mentioned the open question of authorship to avoid dogmatically asserting that it was Chrysostom, and not one of his editors or a pseudo-Chrysostom that abused 2 Thessalonians 2:15. Furthermore, it was important to point out that the second homily from which I quoted was not the same homily, since one wouldn’t necessarily interpret Chysostom in view of what pseudo-Chrysostom wrote, or vice versa. Thus, I cautioned the reader, to soften the force of my own argument.

e) “Orthodox”‘s final comments, “Again hypocrisy. What if this reasoning was applied to the scriptures?” are likewise off the mark. In this case, the charges are more absurd than usual. Far from hypocrisy, the matter was a simply clarification of the record, so that Chyrsostom’s name might be somewhat removed from the stain of the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15, just as one might say that one’s neighbor’s wife’s face was bruised, without dogmatically asserting that it must be the husband that did it. As for the application to Scripture, I simply believe what Scripture says. I don’t treat Scripture like I treat the writings attributed to the church fathers. If 2 Peter says it was written by Peter (and it does), then I believe it. If Scripture says nothing about the authorship of a particular book, I refuse to be dogmatic about that matter myself.

As his next-to-last point, Orthodox makes another faulty comparison on the tangential issue of what the passage attributed to Chrysostom is alleged to teach:

7) You say that what Chrysostom means by tradition is ambiguous, but the issue is that it goes beyond what scripture is, and that is not ambiguous in the context. Your argument is equivalent to saying that scripture lists no canon, therefore we can safely ignore scripture. i.e. hypocrisy.

a) Is it really clear that Chrysostom means something beyond Scripture? I’m not sure. The “in context” comment is bogus, because the alleged statement by Chrysostom is practically devoid of context.

b) Furthermore, if someone is going to cite Chrysostom as supporting their position, it is important to establish what Chrysostom was referring to. Otherwise, the same pretextual quotation abuse that we’ve documented with respect to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 can be made with respect to Chrysostom.

c) Since “Orthodox” pretends to hold to that which was received by all the fathers, it should matter a lot to “Orthodox” what Chrysostom himself meant by what he wrote. It’s much less important for me, though, because I am willing to admit that all the church fathers were men, and consequently fallible and errant.

Finally, Orthodox provides a last argument, finally apparently attempting to return to the text.

8) You say that 2 Th 3:6 is about discipline and not about doctrine, so tradition=discipline. Then you claim that 2 Th 3:15 is about the gospel, and not about discipline, therefore tradition=gospel. So you contradict your own restrictive agenda by which you desperately try and shrink the categories out of existence.

a) Actually, my comment about 2 Thessalonians 3:6 was to relate to the reader Chrysostom’s comments on the verse, not my own. Chrysostom, when considering 2 Thessalonians 3:6, clearly did not have in mind either the Catholic category of “Sacred Tradition” or the category “Orthodox” prefers of something akin to “everything the church uses to convey information.”

b) The verse that we have been discussing, which is about holding fast to the gospel is 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (not 3:15).

c) My only agenda here is to stop the abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that I’ve seen way too often, as well as to expose the fact that it is used as a pretext.


Hopefully, by now it has been demonstrated that there is no rational way to justify the use of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as though it were evidence of the Bible teaching the “traditionist” position with respect to the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.


Index – 2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Stopping its Abuse

April 8, 2008

I’ve provided a number of posts on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that address its abuse by those whom I refer to as “traditionists.”

1. Opening Post

2. Response to Comments by Reginald (Roman Catholic)

3. Additional Clarification

4. Response to Comments by “Orthodox” (Eastern Orthodox)

This post serves as an index post. Accordingly, I will plan to update it from time to time, in the unlikely event that new arguments in defense of the typical misuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 are presented. Eventually I expect to date-bump this post back in time so as to make it fit with my organizational scheme for this blog.


2 Thessalonians 2:15 – Additional Clarification

April 5, 2008

This is the third post in a series on 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (main post) (comment answered – additional examples).

Reginald has provided some additional comments in a new post (link).

Preliminary Clarifications

Before going through Reginald’s comments in detail, I think it would be worthwhile to address a couple matters briefly and generally.

1. I think Reginald may think that I have identified 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as a sort of proof text against Roman Catholicism. That was not my intent, or at least not as such. There are ways in which 2 Thessalonians 2:15 comes into conflict with Roman Catholic dogma, but the point is not to quote 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to criticize tradition, for example. For that I’d turn to other Scriptures. Instead, I’ve brought of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to rebut the use I’ve seen it put to again and again in Catholic apologetics, to suggest that it is a sort of proof text for Catholic positions on tradition.

2. I think Reginald may have taken the position that the “Reasons” and “Impacts” I presented are themselves an attempt to refute the “Catholic position.” Not so. In fact, I’m glad that Reginald can so freely agree with at least some of them. They are the facts that we draw from the text that are then used in the antidotes to the various specific abuses of the text.

With such antidotal use in mind, the focus of the discussion is a little different than the focus would be if I were trying to positively some doctrine from the text. It is important to realize that there is a difference between trying to positively establish a doctrine from a text, and trying to demonstrate that a doctrine cannot be established from a particular text.

To put it another way, just because (as I demonstrate) the verse does not say what fans of “tradition” need or want it to say, does not mean that it is a clear enunciation of the opposing reformation doctrine. Perhaps this is hard to see, so I’ll use an example.

Suppose that someone took the account of Judas’ suicide to be a teaching that one can redeem themselves from serious sins via suicide. There are several doctrines that oppose such a teaching, such as that only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us from sin and that suicide is itself a sin. Nevertheless, an exposition of the “proof texts” for such a teaching would not necessarily find either of those doctrines in the text. A verse that says Judas hanged himself may not actually say that suicide is wrong, nor may they necessarily explain the unique role of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. We’d be surprised if they did.

Hopefully such an example demonstrates why we’d be surprised if the supposed proof texts for the “traditionist” point of view positively demonstrated Sola Scriptura. It would be lovely if they did – and sometimes one may find that happening. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t expect such a thing as a matter of course.

Rebuttal as to Reginald’s Comments on the Specific Examples

1. The First Specific Example

The first specific example was a situation in which someone is trying to say that we need to permit some “tradition,” because this verse says so. I think Reginald may have misunderstood this situation. Frankly, as I went through my concrete examples, I found this kind of abuse with lower frequency than the other two. That is not to say it does not happen.

Searching quickly, one might pick on Sungenis’ argument in a Catholic Answers article (link) in which he argues, defending the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, “… in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul told these same Thessalonians to preserve the oral instruction, along with the written.” Let me be clear: I think Sungenis is really trying to go after the broader issue of Sola Scriptura, even though the argument is part of a defense of the bodily assumption of Mary. Nevertheless, the point is that on this particular debate, Sungenis has brought in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.

We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn’t help Sungenis establish the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption.

Now, Reginald seems to think that the first question (“Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?”)is vague, because (apparently) the term “gospel” is vague. I’ll leave that softball aside for a while. The point of the question was intentionally not to be more specific than the text. Tying back to the “Reasons” and “Impacts” section of the original post, though, I think we had basically agreed that the answer is “the gospel.”

Likewise, Reginald seems to think that the second question (“Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?”) is irrelevant. In the example of Sungenis’ use to support the Bodily Assumption of Mary, the question is plainly not irrelevant. If Sungenis cannot demonstrate that Paul taught the Thessalonians the Bodily Assumption of Mary, then we don’t have any particular reason to think that Paul telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the things that they were taught has any significance to the particular doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Finally, Reginald seems to think that the third question (“Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?”) is also irrelevant. However, for much the same reasons, it is relevant when the verse is brought to bear for support of a particular doctrine, such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

Reginald’s comment, “There is no documentary evidence showing the full content of St. Paul’s preaching in Thessalonica, so he cannot demonstrate that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught there,” seems misplaced. I would not suggest that we could demonstrate (at least not simply from this verse) the negative proposition that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught in Thessalonica. Instead, my point is a rebuttal point, as noted above.

My point is that one cannot point to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to support the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, because no one could demonstrate that Paul was referring to a body of doctrine that included such a doctrine. Even if Paul had simply said, “Hold fast everything you’ve ever been taught,” that wouldn’t establish the Bodily Assumption of Mary unless we could discover somehow that the Bodily Assumption of Mary had been taught to the Thessalonians.

That’s not the same as demonstration from 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that the Bodily Assumption of Mary was NOT taught to the Thessalonians. That’s not what the argument aims to demonstrate and it is critical that Reginald grasp this point. I’m not suggesting that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 disproves the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

2. The Second Specific Example

The second specific example seems to be the most frequent abuse that I’ve seen in a quick informal survey. The second specific example posits the following situation: “someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.”

We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn’t help “traditionists” establish their thesis that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.

Reginald thinks that the first question (“Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or “our epistle” and other “things preached”?”) is irrelevant, but Reginald is mistaken. Reginald’s comment: “nothing in the passage proscribes Sacred Tradition as being the content of the traditions that were preached – traditions whose referents we do not know.” Something in the passage may well proscribe “Sacred Tradition” (indeed, we do know the referents in general terms, even if the precise specifics are not stated), but that is not the point here. The point here is somewhat the opposite: that is it say the point is that nothing in the passage prescribes “Sacred Tradition” as being the content of the traditions that were preached.

Or to put it more generally, nothing in the verse provides a dichotomy between Scripture as a category and non-Scripture as another category. That’s one reason the concrete examples of this specific abuse fail.

Reginald also thinks the second question (“Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?”) is irrelevant. But again, Reginald seems to have misplaced the argument. His comment confirms this fact. Reginald states, “the verse also doesn’t say that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture,” but – of course – that wasn’t the claim. Perhaps it is the case that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture, and perhaps we could even establish that. But that’s not why we asked the second question, just as we did not ask the first question to prove that “Sacred Tradition” is not the content of the traditions that were preached. Instead, the question is raised to demonstrate the the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.

The same goes for the third question (“Does the verse explain anything about the “things preached” beyond that they were the “truth” and “the gospel”?”). Reginald comments, “Question 3 doesn’t exclude Sacred Tradition, which is certainly true and transmits the gospel, so the fact that the verse doesn’t spell things out is irrelevant.” The point, though, is not that “Sacred Tradition” is excluded. The point is to highlight what we know about the content of the “traditions” mentioned by Paul. The content is the “truth” and more specifically “the gospel.” Neither of those categories requires the inclusion of something beyond Scripture. Since that it so, the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.

3. The Third Specific Example

The third specific example is a case in which the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public.

Reginald thinks that the first question (“Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?”) presupposes a mistaken view of Catholic theology. Reginald points out, “Sacred Tradition … isn’t “hidden” from anyone.” I understand his concern.

The problem is that if one makes an investigation of the doctrine of, say, Papal Infallibility, one doesn’t find any positive evidence that anyone believed in the doctrine more than say 150 (or even 50) years before it was enunciated by Vatican I. Some Catholic commentators adopt a theory that essentially the magesterium reveals knowledge about doctrine (such as the doctrine of papal infallibility) progressively – and thus the doctrine of papal infallibility could be said to be – in effect – “hidden” for hundreds and and hundreds of years.

Furthermore, one does find those in the early church (such as Clement of Alexandria) adopting a view of alleged secret traditions (see this letter of Clement’s for example). Undoubtedly this was due to the influence of Gnosticism, but then that’s why Reformed Christians sometimes level charges of tendency towards Gnosticism on Roman Catholicism. After all, if all that the apostles taught is in the public knowledge, then it shouldn’t take a magisterium to provide its contents, just as no magesterium is necessary to provide us with Homer’s Odyssey or Aristotle’s Physics.

But there is no need to be contentious about the question of secrets. Let us suppose that for the particular Roman Catholic in question, we are talking about a supposedly well-known tradition, or about a tradition that has allegedly been held by all Christians everywhere always. Then, perhaps, it would possible to suppose that the first question might be moot.

Proceeding to Question 2 (“Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?”), Reginald claims that this question misleads. Reginald argues that “the fact that the bishop or presbyter(s) of the Thessalonian church taught them oral traditions doesn’t change the fact that oral traditions were taught.” While I agree with Reginald’s flow of thought (who taught the traditions wouldn’t matter to the fact that the traditions were taught), the point was a bit different. The point was that these were not traditions that had been passed down among the religious elite and were finally being revealed to the people, but were traditions that had been given directly to the brethren. Thus, these traditions are not analogous to modern Catholic traditions that are missing from any written record for much of history.

Finally, the most significant question (whether or not questions 1 and 2 were relevant) is the third question (“Does the verse specify that the “things taught” were not things that were committed to writing?”). Reginald – again misplacing the issue – argued irrelevance of the question, “since the verse also does not say that they were written down.” (emphasis in original). The problem, of course, is that the verse does not support the Catholic thesis, not that the verse necessarily refutes the Catholic thesis.

Objection Anticipated

The anticipated objection is that while the verse does not support the Catholic position, it doesn’t refute it either. In fact, while I call this an anticipated objection, one almost sees it expressed in Reginald’s concluding remark

I think that he and I might be able to agree on one thing: 2Th 2:15 is not by itself a foundation for the entire Catholic understanding of what Sacred Tradition is. It doesn’t have to be. But it most certainly does not contradict the fact that God’s revelation has been preserved in Sacred Tradition.

The supposed “fact,” is the thing to be proved. Thus, this sort of objection is an argument that we would typically call “begging the question.” That is to say, it hasn’t been established that there is a class of knowledge called “Sacred Tradition” that is a part of God’s revelation separate from Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 is sometimes quoted as though it did establish such categories, but we have discovered that it does not. We can understand and appreciate how one would apply the modern Catholic categories onto the verse, but when we read the verse itself in context, we have no reason to suppose that it is suggesting the Catholic (or “Orthodox,” for that matter) categories.

Indeed, when we look at the verse itself, we discover that the point of the verse is that the Thessalonians are to hold fast to the gospel. Reginald thinks that the term “gospel” is vague, and like many things its precise boundaries may not be clear. No matter. We can perhaps look to other places where Paul or other Scripture writers explain what the gospel is to get a better sense and clear up the matter. But that can wait for another time – for now it should suffice to have been demonstrated that the verse doesn’t support the Catholic theses for which it is so often quoted, even if it is only neutral with respect to them.

To go back and remind ourselves of the previous analogy, the statement “Judas went and hanged himself,” is not a proof text for a Mormon doctrine of “individual blood atonement” even though it (itself) is not inconsistent with such a doctrine.

A Patristic Example

John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. Among the things attributed to him (whether he wrote it or not, I haven’t seen any compelling case made) is a statement that is frequently used by advocates of the “traditionist” position. Commenting on 2 Thess. 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours,” the person writing under the name Chrysostom states, “Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.”

That’s the entire commentary on the verse. There’s certainly some ambiguity as to what the writer means by “tradition.” Does he mean “Sacred Tradition” or something else?

When we look ahead to the next homily in the collection, we can see attributed to Chrysostom, the following commentary on 2 Thess. 3:6:

Ver. 6. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly and not after the tradition which they received of us.”

That is, it is not we that say these things, but Christ, for that is the meaning of “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”; equivalent to “through Christ.” Showing the fearfulness of the message, he says, through Christ. Christ therefore commanded us in no case to be idle. “That ye withdraw yourselves,” he says, “from every brother.” Tell me not of the rich, tell me not of the poor, tell me not of the holy. This is disorder. “That walks,” he says, that is, lives. “And not after the tradition which they received from me.” Tradition, he says, which is through works. And this he always calls properly tradition.”

If both of those homilies are by the same person, we would tend to view Chrysostom considers “tradition” to refer to how one lives one’s life – to discipline, but not doctrine.

Regardless, however, of what Chrysostom meant (and regardless of whether he actually wrote either or both of the comments), if Chrysostom meant what he is so often quoted for, then Chrysostom is wrong. We have demonstrated that from the text.

The point for which Chrysostom is quoted is normally Specific Abuse 2 from my original article, in which it is argued that something in addition to Scripture is binding on believers today. Since it has already been demonstrated in the original article and again by response to objection above, that the verse does not teach such a thing, it is not necessary for us to resolve the other historical issues, which might bore the reader of this already-long post.


Very briefly, in conclusion, please remember to consider that if someone is citing Scripture as allegedly teaching their doctrine (whether my doctrine or Reginald’s doctrine or Chrysostom’s doctrine) we need to look to Scripture to see if it is so. We need to examine what the Scriptures say, if we are interested in what their author intended for us to know.

As a practical matter, we must hold fast to the gospel, living a life of repentance and faith manifesting itself by love: love for God, love for the brethren, and even love for our enemies.

Thanks be to God who has provided the gospel in Scripture,


2 Thess 2:15 – Comments Answered

April 2, 2008


“Reginald de Piperno” has provided a post that appears to be aimed at objecting to my previous post on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, available here. I appreciate that he read my post and took the time to respond.


As best I understand, RdP grants 1(a) and seems to grant 1(b) although he wants to define “gospel” broadly. RdP makes a claim of apparent self-contradiction, but RdP appears to have overlooked that an area can be defined other ways than by its boundaries. We may not know the precise content of Paul’s preaching that is referenced, but we know the topic and the topic is the gospel.

RdP also appears to grant (2). RdP doesn’t seem to directly engage (3), although he goes on to discuss Impacts (a)-(d).

RdP appears to grant (a)-(b). It’s unclear whether RdP grants (c) … he says he doesn’t see its relevance. Perhaps we should presume he does grant (c), as he doesn’t provide any reason not to accept it. Finally, with respect to impact (d), RdP says that Catholics wouldn’t say it that way … but I suppose that RdP doesn’t directly disagree with (d).

RdP seems to try, in the course of mostly agreeing with what I had written, to insert various contentions that Catholicism does not abuse the text, because (apparently) Catholicism doesn’t disagree with what I had written. However, RdP ends his consideration of the post, with the Impacts, without getting to the three specific abuses. It would be interesting to hear whether RdP would agree that those identified abuses are actually abuses or not.

I’m not overly worried about the inserted dialog provided by RdP. Presumably the underlying concerns expressed in RdP’s dialog may be set aside by reference to several concrete examples of how the verse is put to use by “traditionist” commentators.

Concrete Examples

I provide the following example abuses of the verse. I know that some of these are from fairly popular Catholic sites, so hopefully no one will think I picked only the most obscure or atypical Catholic presentations. In one or two instances, the person may even be a non-Catholic … I was focused more on the content and error than on the person presenting it:

1. “Well for starters, look in your Bible in Thessalonians: [quotation of 2Thes 2:15] This verse is telling you to honor the traditions which have been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.” (Source)

Antidote: No, it’s telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the gospel preached to them by Paul. See “Specific Abuse 3.”

2. “Well I guess if Sola Scriptura is correct then II Thessalonians 2, 14 would be incorrect then. [quotation of 2Thes 2:14/15, depending on your version] We all know that St. Paul is correct though.” (Source)

Antidote: Paul is correct, but 2 Thessalonians 2:14/15 doesn’t indicate that the Thessalonians are to hold to any extra-scriptural doctrine. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

3. “Divine Revelation “By Letter” (2 Thess 2:15): The Bible … The Bible itself does not define what it includes; nor does it claim to contain all that God revealed. Paul affirms that some of what is handed on–the way Jews passed on revelation–was “by letter,” in writing.” (Source)

Antidote: Paul is not distinguishing between Scriptural and oral traditions, but between his preaching and written admonitions. We’re passing over the canon issue for now, and we agree that the Bible does not claim to contain all that God revealed. That sentence is just provided for context. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

4. “2 Thess. 2:15 – the fullness of the Gospel is the apostolic tradition which includes either teaching by word of mouth or by letter. Scripture does not say “letter alone.” The Catholic Church has the fullness of the Christian faith through its rich traditions of Scripture, oral tradition and teaching authority (or Magisterium).” (Source)

Antidote: There’s simply no way to a get a tripartite division from 2 Thess. 2:15, even with the most violent of abuse. Furthermore, Paul does not in any way suggest that Scripture does not itself of itself contain the entirety of the fullness of the Christian faith. Instead, Paul’s direction is specific to the brethren to whom he preached the gospel at Thessalonica. One interesting aspect of this particular explanation is that it appears to recognize the relationship between the gospel and “traditions” mentioned in the verse. If you try to make “the gospel” to broad a category, you are going to run into difficulties in another area: something that may or may not be appreciated by this comment’s author. This comment doesn’t fit neatly into one of the example specific abuses mentioned in my original post.

5. “FACT: There is something in Scripture advocating reliance on both Scripture as well as oral Tradition [citation to 2 Thess 2:15 among other verses]. … the same Scripture which testifies that Christian truth comes to us in two ways: through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (2 Thess 2:15). ” (Source)

Antidote: This one is more subtle. It’s actually not wrong until you understand that the author is suggesting that “oral Tradition” is as reliable as Scripture, and that Paul is speaking of oral Tradition in the abused verse. Of course, the verse says neither of those things, though it is the case that we can and do rely on the preached word and on oral traditions. We do not rely on them as though they were a rule of faith, but then again we are not preached to by apostles. See “Specific Abuse 2.”

6. “This means that Scripture itself is tradition and it is part of the greater category of Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). Both means of transmitting the deposit of faith, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other.” (Source)

Antidote: In fairness, again, this one is rather nuanced. For one thing, the author uses the “cf.” tag, which means we shouldn’t necessarily assume that he’s saying the verse says just what he’s claimed. On the other hand, considering the page as a whole, it seems to be what the author is trying to convey. If so, then he’s abusing the text – because it does not establish the Roman Catholic categories that the article presupposes in much of its discussion. Again, this doesn’t neatly fall into one of the specific examples of abuse mentioned in my original post.

7. “The point, however, is that the things taught – not merely written – are deemed to be of equal authority with the epistle. And it is nothing but question-begging to insist that their content is the same.” (Source)

Antidote: The verse doesn’t say that the things taught are of equal authority with those written. It says that the Thessalonians should hold fast to the Gospel Paul taught, whether he did so by word or epistle. It does not say that Paul was creating general categories (such as the Roman Catholic categories) or that Paul was contrasting all things written with a separate category of all unwritten things. Reading those “traditionist” categories into the verse is question-begging. Furthermore, the question that is raised is not whether what Paul preached was coterminous with what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Instead, the question raised is whether Paul preached some “gospel” that expands beyond the 4-in-1 gospel, the acts of the apostles, and the rest of Scripture. To assert that the “traditions” commended by Paul in anyway exceed the content of Scripture would also be question-begging. This particular comment seems closest to “Specific Abuse 2,” in my original post.

Conclusion / Warnings

As a general caveat, I encourage skeptical readers to click through to the pages linked as “source” material for the quotations provided. Perhaps you will disagree about the way that I’ve quoted the material.

Furthermore, just because the people who made the comments above are (or some of them are or were or called themselves) Catholic, doesn’t make any of their positions “the Catholic position.” That’s not how Catholic theology works. Nevertheless, they are arguments that Catholics try to use to justify acceptance of what are – upon a reasonable inquiry into the historical data – traditions of men.

Tradition Distinguished – Abuse of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Thwarted

April 1, 2008

Those who wish to oppose the doctrine of Sola Scriptura typically run to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as one of the first passages to discuss. As will be demonstrated below, this verse does not support such abuse, and – in fact – demonstrates the eisegetical mindset of those who seek to use it to oppose a doctrine that our only infallible rule of faith is Scripture.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

The usual way this verse is abused is to make a loose claim, such as:

a) See, tradition according to Scripture includes both written and oral components; and

b) See, oral tradition is also as binding as written tradition.

There are several reasons why these are abuses, and there are several reasons why even these abuses are not particularly helpful to those who usually attempt them.

Reasons why such loose statements are abuses of the text or unhelpful to those trying to use them.

1(a). We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is. The significance of this fact will become apparent shortly.

1(b). We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel:

2Th 2:13-15
13But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

2. The “brethren” (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the “traditions” mentioned.

3. The “traditions” mentioned are a combination of the things preached to those brethren and “our epistle” and not between the things preached and Scripture generally.

Impacts of the facts above.

Why are these three/four facts significant to stop abuse of the verse?

A) The verse is not saying to hold anything taught outside of Scripture, as such.
B) The verse is not saying to hold fast to something other than the gospel.
C) The verse is not saying making a general statement about all teachings by every apostle.
D) The verse is not saying that Scripture generally fails to contain the gospel to which Paul required the Thessalonians to hold fast.

Specific Abuse 1
If someone is trying to say that we need to permit some “tradition,” because this verse says so, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if they’ll answer) three questions:

1) Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?

2) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?

3) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?

If the answers are “something else,” “no,” and “no” (as is usally the case) then it should be apparent that their reliance on this verse is completely in appropriate.

Specific Abuse 2
Likewise, if someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if possible) three questions:

1) Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or “our epistle” and other “things preached”?

2) Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?

3) Does the verse explain anything about the “things preached” beyond that they were the “truth” and “the gospel”?

If the answers are “the latter,” “no,” and “no” then it should be apparent that the verse cannot stand for the proposition for which they are attempting to use it.

Specific Abuse 3
Finally, if the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public, we must ask the following questions:

1) Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?

2) Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?

3) Does the verse specify that the “things taught” were not things that were committed to writing?

If the answer is “no,” “brethren,” and “no,” then it should be apparent that the verse is being abused by the person citing it.


As demonstrated above, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 does not defeat Sola Scriptura, nor does it establish the “traditionist” positions. It’s important, of course, to recall that those two things are separate issues. The “traditionist” position that we have to have an infallible magesterium in addition to Scripture is not proved simply by attacking Sola Scriptura. For example, the “traditionist” claims for their tradition are not simply that there is a body of inspired knowledge that is additional to Scripture that was taught by the apostles. Instead, the claim is usually a claim to be able to – in essence – add to the base of inspired knowledge additional infallible teaching that was not the teaching (by word or letter) of Paul to the Thessalonians. In short, to make assertions that 2 Thessalonians 2:15, because it uses the words “traditions” is supportive of a “traditionist” position such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, is simply to demonstrate one’s unfamiliarity with the text, and one’s inability to consider what the text itself has to say.

May God give us wisdom to hold fast to the gospel that Paul preached to the Thessalonians,


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