Tradition in the New Testament and 1 Cor. 11:2

In this first of three related articles on Roman Catholic Tradition, we examine 1 Cor. 11:2.  The other two articles cover 2 Thess. 2:15 and 2 Thess. 3:6.  The first part of each article is repeated.  For an analysis of 1 Cor. 11:2, scroll down.

  • 1 Cor. 11:2, "I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you." (New American Bible, vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/__PZG.HTM)
  • 1 Cor. 11:2, "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you."   (NASB)
  • 1 Cor. 11:2, "Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you" (KJV)

Background information on the word "tradition" in the New Testament

The word "tradition" is  "παράδοσιν."  It occurs 13 times in the Greek New Testament.  The NASB has 13 occurrences of the word tradition(s) in the New Testament.  The NIV has 11 occurrences.  The KJV has 13.  Following is every occurrence of the word in the New Testament.

  1. Matt. 15:2, "Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
  2. Matt. 15:3, "And He answered and said to them, “And why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"
  3. Matt. 15:6, "he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And thus you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition."
  4. Mark 7:3, "For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders."
  5. Mark 7:5, "And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, 'Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?'"
  6. Mark 7:8, "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."
  7. Mark 7:9, "He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."
  8. Mark 7:13, "thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that."
  9. 1 Cor. 11:2, "Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you."
  10. Gal. 1:14, " and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions."
  11. Col. 2:8, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ."
  12. 2 Thess 2:15, "so then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us."
  13. 2 Thess. 3:6, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us."

Of the 13 occurrences of the word "tradition" in the New Testament, one (Matt 15:3) is where the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples didn't follow the tradition of the elders.  One is a comment by Mark (Mark 7:3) of how the Pharisees washed before eating.  In each of the remaining accounts in Matthew and Mark (six occurrences), Jesus responds to the Pharisees by condemning them for their traditions (Matt 15:3, 6; Mark 7:5, 8, 9, 13) and thus negating the word of God.  This is hugely important because Jesus is telling us that traditions are not to contradict God's word.

This leaves us with five other occurrences.  Of those, Gal. 1:14 is where Paul mentions his ancestral traditions.  He is not referring generically to the traditions of Israel but of the Pharisees. Col. 2:8 is speaking generically of the "traditions of men" as contrasted against the Gospel of Christ. 

This leaves us with three verses (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Thess. 3:6) that use the word tradition, and it is from these three verses that the Roman Catholic Church attempts to support its view that the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church is to be followed.  Let's take a look at the context of the first of these three verses.

1 Cor. 11:2

"Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you."

In 1 Cor. 10, Paul warns the Corinthians to avoid Israel's mistakes and not fall into idolatry.  In verse 14 Paul continues to tell the Corinthians to flee idolatry.  In v. 23 he says that all things are lawful though not profitable; and he tells the Corinthians about the do's and don't's of eating meat sacrificed to idols.  Paul then tells them in 11:2 to hold firmly to the traditions that he delivered to them.  There is no mention in the previous context about any traditions.  He's talking about fleeing from idolatry.  This would be a natural teaching on which the Old Testament is very clear.  So, if this is the tradition spoken of (traditions are from the past), it is concerning what has already been revealed in the Old Testament regarding avoiding idolatry.  But, let's continue.

This brings us to the context that follows verse 2.  In verses 3-16, Paul speaks about headship, head coverings, and prayer.  In verses 17-22 Paul mentions the problem of division and eating the Lord's Supper.  Then in verse 23 he says, "I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you."  He then speaks about Christ instituting the Supper. 

If the Roman Catholic Church wants to say that the tradition being spoken of is not the Old Testament warnings against idolatry, then the only other option we can derive from the context is where Paul is speaking of praying, authority, and head coverings.  Contextually, what else is there?  We cannot simply accept the idea that Paul is referring to Sacred Tradition because the context doesn't warrant it.  It is not proper to read into the word "tradition" the whole concept of Roman Catholic "Sacred Tradition" without contextual warrant.

Conclusion

When Paul tells the Corinthians to hold to the traditions that he delivered to them, there is no mention whatsoever, about any "sacred tradition."  There is no mention about traditions for future new-to-be-revealed doctrines.  Instead, they are the traditions "delivered" in the past; and, from the context, it appears that Paul is either referring to avoiding idolatry, or he is restating the tradition concerning head-coverings, authority, and prayer.  If the Roman Catholic Church wants to deny that these options are contextually relevant, then please tell us what the word of God is "really" saying?  And if it does, is 1 Cor. 11:2 infallibly interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church?

There is no mention whatsoever of any so-called "sacred tradition" that the Roman Catholic Church is supported by this verse.  It just isn't there.

 

 

 

 
 
CARM ison