Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Response to Turretinfan on 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Turretinfan takes to task those whom he says "abuse" 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle (NKJV).
He says that these people - and Catholics are included - make "loose claims" about this verse: that it means there are written and oral components to tradition, and that the oral tradition is as binding as the written one found in Scripture.

Turretinfan says that the "loose claims" made by Catholics about this verse from 2 Thessalonians constitute an "abuse." Why? He offers a few reasons.

First, he says "We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is" (emphasis in original). He goes on to say that he'll have more to say about this point later, but wait a minute. Nothing about our claims contradict this at all! Clearly St. Paul is speaking in general terms. So how exactly have we "abused" the verse with what we say, when nothing we say about it suggests that we do know the "precise content" of the traditions in view?

We don't, and we haven't abused this passage, either.

He continues with his second point: "We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel." Well, we know this but only if we take a very broad understanding of "gospel". Just for starters, if we take any sort of limited or specific sense of "gospel" to be in view, then it would seem that Turretinfan has contradicted himself, since he just conceded that we do not know precisely the content of the traditions in view here. Secondly, it seems clear that what is in view is not the gospel as a whole per se, but rather the gospel as composed of multiple things: hence the Apostle's use of traditions (plural) rather than tradition (singular). What is in view, then, are the traditions of which the gospel is composed, not the gospel itself per se as a unit. They were told that they were to hold fast to the traditions that they had been taught. Again, this is in no way contrary to what Catholics say about this verse, and nothing here (or anywhere else in the Bible) demands that the traditions of the gospel are to be found only in the Bible.

Moving on, he says: "The "brethren" (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the "traditions" mentioned." Okay, but once again this proves nothing about the Catholic view one way or another. The epistle is addressed to the church at Thessalonica and not merely to her bishop. The Christians there are responsible nevertheless to hold to the things that they have been taught - whether in Paul's letter to them or in what he (or, presumably, their bishop and/or presbyters) have taught them. This does not contradict the Catholic view. The point is: no matter whether I/we taught a thing to you personally, or whether you read something in my letter, hold to it.

Now Turretinfan wants to suggest, apparently, that the fact that the written part in view is St. Paul's own epistle to them (presumably 1 Thessalonians) means that this sets some sort of scope for what the content of the spoken traditions must have been. But that just doesn't follow at all.

Here's an example by way of analogy: "Eat fruit every day - whether apples or oranges." But Turretinfan's reading would seem to leave us with something like this: "Eat fruit every day - whether apples or apples." Now I'll grant you that this is not an exact parallel, but at the very least it ought to be clear that when you're talking about a general class, and two different sets from that class are mentioned, there is no good reason at all to assume that the two sets are coextensive (i.e., that the traditions received by word are the same as those meant by what was received by epistle: apples and apples). In other words: it's question-begging.

Let us continue. Turretinfan makes some observations:
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.
With regard to A: not in those words, certainly, but neither is it limited to only those things taught within Scripture. 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. Indeed, it's not just question-begging: it would be redundant.

With regard to B: of course not. I may be mistaken, though, but there appears to be some equivocation here: either that, or Turretinfan might be contradicting himself. As we saw, he concedes that we don't know the content of the traditions that St. Paul mentions. In some broad sense we could say they were "the gospel," but only in a sense that emphasizes the constituent parts of the gospel (rather than in a sense that emphasizes the gospel as a "unit"). But we don't know what those constituent parts are in the present context, as he has conceded, and it is (once again) purely question-begging if we say that those constituent parts must be found exclusively in Scripture.

With regard to C: I'm not sure what the relevance of this is supposed to be. Paul's preaching was not different from the other apostles'. Our point is that 2Thess. 2:15 establishes that traditions passed along orally were equally authoritative with the written word.

With regard to D: This is a fairly loaded way to put things, but it appears that Turretinfan's post is primarily addressed to his fellow Protestants. Certainly this is not how we Catholics would put it, and clearly that is not the point of Catholic interpretation of this verse. Rather, we say that that Scripture is one way in which divine revelation has been been transmitted, and Sacred Tradition is the other way (cf. CCC 80-83).

In summary: I don't think Turretinfan has made his case against the Catholic understanding of this passage.

In closing I ought to mention an earlier post I did on this subject. The author in question there is the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen, a prominent Reformed apologist. In my opinion Dr. Bahnsen's attempt at addressing this passage fails in ways similar to Turretinfan's does.

[2008-04-04: minor corrections in the antepenultimate paragraph, in keeping with the suggestions made by Martin in the comments. Thank you, Martin]


Mike Burgess said...

See TF's latest post in response. As Picard was wont to say, "Engage."

Anonymous said...

..." Rather, we say that that Scripture is one part of divine revelation, and Sacred Tradition is the other part...."

Would it not be better to say the Deposit of Faith is Tradition of which Sacred Scripture is a part?

Protestants like to create a false dichotomy between the oral and written Tradition.


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

Thank you for visiting.

What the CCC says in 81 is what I'd like to say (and is practically what you said), but I didn't - so consider this to be my correction of it. :-)

"Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Holy Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit."

Thanks for bringing that to my attention.



Reginald de Piperno said...

Mike - heh. :-)