But it was only what St Paul had already written down!

Continuing with the posts on sola scriptura and canon.   The more well-read Evangelicals realize that St Paul does indeed commend the “traditions” to the Thessalonians and the Corinthians.   He says follow them.  They grant that Paul employed the concept of tradition.  However, they counter, these appeals t0 “tradition” are simply the oral form of what St Paul would later write down. Therefore, they conclude, appeals to a body of Sacred Tradition still binding on the church are meaningless.

Response:

1.  Where is the Scriptural evidence that this “tradition” is merely the oral form of what would later be Scripture?
2.  Assuming their objection is correct, the only way this interpretation makes sense from a sola-scriptura perspective is if what St Paul said is exactly the same thing as what was written down.   A little historical imagination shows how difficult that position.
3.  Even so, that is not how epistolary literature works.  In the 20th century there was a big move in conservative evangelicalism to view the letters of Paul (well, Romans really–the rest were simply extraneous footnotes to Romans) as “the ultimate in systematic theology.”  However, much 20th century biblical studies, in a move surprisingly similar to what the Orthodox church always believed, realized that St Paul’s letters, even Romans, were not exercises in Systematic Theology but were rather “occasional letters:”  He wrote them because people in this or that church were having specific problems.  Therefore, St Paul’s letters are not the horizon of what we can and can’t believe about Tradition and Liturgy.  Rather, they are a particular expression of Tradition to a particular geographical location.   St Paul drew from Tradition and Apostolic Deposit (for the latter, see Jude 3) to write these specific letters.

Conclusion:

In other words, St Paul’s letters reveal how apostolic tradition deals with various (and often messy) problems.  They cannot be reduced to simply synonymous with his oral teaching.  I need to anticipate a few wrong interpretations of what I’ve just said: I am not saying that St Paul’s letters are thus relative in authority to the first century.  Quite the contrary, most American churches have the same problems as the Corinthian church.  The proto-Gnosticism that Paul fought in Colossians is here today in full form.  Paul’s letters reflect and show how apostolic deposit is practiced in the life of the church.  Therefore, they are of utmost urgency and authority for us today.

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