Archive for the ‘Written Tradition’ Category

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,


%d bloggers like this: