Tradition in the New Testament and 2 Thessalonians 2:15

In this second of three related articles on Roman Catholic Tradition, we examine 2 Thess. 2:15. The other two articles examine 1 Cor. 11:2 and 2 Thess. 3:6. The first part of each article is the same because it is relevant to each article. To jump to the analysis of 2 Thess. 2:15, scroll down.

  • 2 Thess. 2:15, "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours." (New American Bible,
  • 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." (NASB)
  • 2 Thess. 2:15, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." (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. 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.

2 Thessalonians 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."

In the New American Bible and the KJV, the verse begins with "therefore." In the NASB it says "so then." This means that we must look at the preceding context to see what Paul was talking about. If we do this, we clearly see that Paul is telling the Thessalonians to stand firm in what they had been taught about the second coming of Christ since that is the context. It is not about Sacred Tradition. Let's take a look.

In 2 Thess. 2:1-3 Paul says, "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand." Obviously, Paul is speaking about the return of Christ. He continues and warns the Thessalonians not to be deceived because the return of Christ won't happen until after the apostasy (v. 3). Paul had already instructed them about this in v. 5. He then speaks of the Man of Lawlessness in v 6-10 and the coming delusion (v. 11-12). Then Paul says that God has chosen them for salvation (v. 13) and called them through the gospel (v. 14). It is after this that Paul then tells the Thessalonians to stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught. He is telling the Thessalonians to stand firm in the teaching of the return of Christ. 


The Tradition being spoken of is the teaching about the second coming of Christ. There is nothing in the text about continuing tradition or oral tradition being passed down from one person to another for 2,000 years. For the Roman Catholic church to lift the issue of tradition out of its context and apply it to its own "Sacred Tradition" is a clear violation of what the verse is saying.



About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.