The Bible tells us of only one inspired (God-breathed) and absolutely trustworthy source of information for the church today. Only this source can infallibly (without error) supply us with doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. And this source is Scripture, itself (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It equips us for every good work. As our ultimate rule of faith, it is more than sufficient. It is God, Himself, speaking to us (Matthew 22:31-32).
However, Catholics have another source, or rule of faith, along with, and supposedly EQUAL TO, the Scriptures. According to the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal…Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit…As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.'" (CCC #80, #81, #82)
So we see that in Catholicism, “Sacred Tradition” is on the same level as the Bible. Therefore, according to the Catholic Church, Tradition must also be infallible, since both it and Scripture are to be honored with the SAME level of “devotion and reverence.”
The Big Question
But how does the Catholic Church define tradition? They speak of small “t” traditions, which are only “disciplines,” like not eating meat on Friday, or observing certain holy days, etc. These can be changed by the Church, if they so desire. But they also have big “T” Traditions, which are the main and binding teachings (doctrines) that allegedly cannot be changed.
But, what about an actual, meaningful definition of Tradition from the Catholic Church? What is it, precisely? What does it consist of? And where can we actually find all of it? Some Catholics will say that Tradition is the “living and growing truth.” Or it is the “common teaching, common life, and common worship of the whole Church.” Still, others say that it is the “sense of the faithful.” The Second Vatican Council says that tradition is “all that she herself [the Catholic Church] is, all that she believes.” (Dei Verbum, 8, 1) Or, maybe it is what former Pope Pius IX arrogantly proclaimed: “I AM TRADITION!” In light of these extremely vague definitions, it seems that Tradition can become anything that the Catholic Church wants it to be. The Catholic concept of Tradition is so broad and so vague that it seems to be a subjective assortment of teachings, practices, historical events, and interpretations of fathers, along with an unknown number of doctrinal "developments.” But, what are the parameters of such a rule of faith? How does one know if he goes beyond the borders of Tradition? And how can the Catholic Church answer these questions without using circular reasoning?
So again, we must ask, “What is it?” Is there an official, unchanging, “infallible” list of Catholic Traditions that we can turn to, so that we can know for sure? No, there isn’t. Interestingly, the Catholic Church claims that only she can authentically interpret this Tradition (CCC #100). Suspiciously convenient, isn't it? But this is simply circular reasoning…like saying, ”It is true, because we SAY so.” In this way, the Catholic Church can force new (and false) doctrines onto the people at will. So, it is just too dangerous to ascribe infallibility to something so vague, so unclear.
Tradition in the Bible
But, tradition (Greek, “paradosis”), according to Scripture, is simply the biblical principles and teachings that were handed down from the apostles to each successive generation. The Bible does use the word in a positive way, but more often in the negative sense. There is good tradition (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 3:6), and there is bad tradition (e.g., Mark 7:1-13; Colossians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18). Acceptable tradition is linked with the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:14-15). Traditions that are acceptable will either be in the Bible, or they will line up with the principles of the Bible; and those that don’t, should be rejected.
The “Oral” and the “Written”
There is a popular response from Catholics who try to defend their Tradition’s “equality” with Scripture. They contend that we don’t have ALL of God’s Word unless we have the “written” (Scripture), and the “oral” (Sacred Tradition), and they quote 2 Thessalonians 2:15, where Paul tells the Thessalonians:
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth, or by letter from us."
Catholics often use this verse in an attempt to show a distinction or a difference between “infallible oral" teachings and "infallible written" teachings, insisting that they are EQUAL and we need BOTH today. According to them, the Bible is not enough as a rule of faith.
First of all, Paul's "distinction" here was NOT to emphasize a difference in content between the two, but rather, to demonstrate the unity of his message in both forms. Here, Paul was addressing the fact that someone (an imposter) had apparently written a letter in Paul’s name to the Thessalonians, saying that they missed the Day of the Lord (2:2), causing the Thessalonian church to be shaken and disturbed. He is now writing to correct that false letter and to bring comfort and strength to the church. So, Paul was basically telling them, "Why are you disturbed by this letter that was supposedly from me? Any true letter from me will agree with the message I already gave to you personally / orally. I wouldn't contradict that message, or give you two different gospels."
So, when Catholics use 2 Thessalonians 2:15 in this way, it is out of context and they are misusing and abusing this verse. It is NOT AT ALL saying that we need two infallible sources today. There is no need for an “infallible” Tradition to supplement the Bible.
Secondly, the Catholic Church claims to have this Tradition (that is supposedly different from Scripture) which Paul said to hold on to. Yet, what infallible information do we have from Paul that is not found in the Scriptures? None. Does the Catholic Church have any infallible statements from Jesus (or any of the apostles), apart from the Bible? No, they don’t. Then why do they claim to have this extrabiblical (i.e., outside of the Bible) Tradition that they say Paul is speaking of, if they can’t tell us what it is? Remember, we don’t have access today to all of the information that Paul taught them.
It is not that God was unable to infallibly preserve all this information, it's just that He chose not to. There may even be other writings that Paul sent them that we don't have access to today. But we don't NEED to know every single thing he told them. We can know the essence of what he taught them by looking to God-breathed Scripture, which we do have available to us. But we can be sure that the things that Paul wrote to them will not contradict the things he spoke to them. This is his whole point. They would be the same basic message, the same Gospel.
But this Catholic argument just begs the question. It's easy to say, "Oh, yeah, that was us back then and that was our tradition, and that was the same church as ours, back in Jesus’ day", etc. It's easy to claim a traditional "link" to the past, but it's another thing to prove the legitimacy of that "link"… especially when it contains teachings that contradict Scripture.
If Catholics want to claim that Paul was speaking of infallible Tradition as something different from Scripture, then they have the responsibility to do three things:
1) Identify exactly what that "Tradition" is,
2) Demonstrate that it is indeed DIFFERENT from Scripture, and
3) Demonstrate that it is Apostolic and infallible...
And she must do this WITHOUT CIRCULAR ARGUMENTS.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. But we don’t see this type of proof from the Catholic Church. In fact, we don't see anything near "extraordinary proof." Remember, any message today claiming to be "Apostolic Tradition" must line up with, and be tested by, Scripture (Mark 7:1-13).
History has shown us that when anything is considered “equal” to Scripture, it will eventually, and inevitably, override Scripture and produce unbiblical doctrines (like the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, Purgatory, indulgences, the Treasury of Merit, etc.). Catholic Tradition supposedly complements the Bible, but has actually steered multitudes away from the pure truth of the Scriptures… perhaps gradually, yet surely.
Long ago, the Lord Jesus Christ showed us that the Pharisees and the scribes were guilty of usurping the authority of Scripture with their own traditions (Matthew 15:1-9). The Catholic Church is guilty of that same error today.