David Palm is a convert from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism. Thankfully, he’s one of the few such converts who does not allow the emotions evoked by such a conversion to determine everything he says about his former faith. He presents cogent, meaningful arguments in defense of his new position, which makes his attempt to defend the Roman Catholic concept of “oral tradition” all the more valuable, for if this attempt does not succeed, surely the more emotional appeals are even less helpful. Does Mr. Palm succeed in showing us a meaningful role for “oral tradition” in the New Testament. Let’s see.
Mr. Palm wrote:
Scripture says that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth after their sojourn in Egypt, “that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.'” (Matt. 2:23). All commentators admit that the phrase “He shall be called a Nazarene” is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. Yet Matthew tells us that the Holy Family fulfilled this prophecy, which had been passed on “by the prophets.”
The proposed solutions to explain this verse are legion. They range from trying to find some word-play on “Nazarene” in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, to viewing this text as loosely “fulfilling” a conglomeration of Old Testament passages that refer to a despised Messiah. The serious grappling by scholars with the text is admirable, but in the end their solutions seem farfetched.
It may be that we should seek resolution in simplicity. When read in Greek, the introduction to this prophecy differs from all the other “fulfillment” sayings in Matthew (for example Matt. 1:22, 2:15, 3:15, and others). Thus, the failed attempts to locate the Old Testament background to this prophecy, coupled with this unique introduction, suggest to me that the simplest solution is probably the correct one: Matthew is drawing on oral Tradition for this saying. If this is the case, it is significant that he places this prophecy on the same level as ones he attributes to specific authors of the Old Testament. This then would be an example of God’s own Word being passed on via oral Tradition and not through written Scripture.
Mr. Palm is quite correct when he says that it is difficult to determine the source of the quotation in Matthew 2:23. This is not the only passage that challenges us in regards to source material. However, to leap from a difficulty in identifying the Scriptural source to the existence of an undocumented and mysterious “oral tradition” is hardly the proper method of getting around a difficulty. It must be remembered that Jewish writers (including Matthew) felt much freer to engage in conflation and paraphrastic citation than we in our modern Western world. While Mr. Palm says that all attempts to identify the *Scriptural* source of this passage fail, that is simply his own conclusion. Can he say with certainty that all of the suggested sources could not, in fact, provide a sufficient basis? And why should we believe that Mr. Palm’s leap into the undocumentable realm of “oral tradition” is any more solid than any of the suggestions that have been given for a *Scriptural* source? Can Mr. Palm show us any historical evidence to substantiate this “oral tradition” being in existence at this time?
Mr. Palm attempts to provide some biblical basis for his argument by saying that the introduction to the prophecy “differs” from others. Unfortunately, he is not clear as to what he means. Does he mean that it is not word-for-word identical? This is true, but one could point to almost any of the introductions and make that statement. Does that make all of them supportive of the existence of some “oral tradition”? That would be to argue too much. What is it about this introduction, Mr. Palm, that supports your thesis? It can’t be the use of h’rethen, since that is used by Matthew in many other places regarding Scriptural prophecies. It also can’t be the phrase dia twn prophetwn, since that is likewise used elsewhere by the Gospel writers (Luke 18:31). If anything could be drawn at all from the phrase h’rethen dia twn prophetwn, it would be that this is indeed a conflated citation, drawn from the plurality of the prophets rather than from a single prophet. When drawing from a single prophet Matthew most often names names (2:17), though at other times he does not (2:15). If the argument is that Matthew does not elsewhere use the plural “by the prophets,” and that the conjunction of h’rethen points to “oral tradition,” we are left with what can only be called an artificial argument that presupposes what it is proven to demonstrate.
Mr. Palm wrote:
Just before launching into a blistering denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus delivers this command to the crowds: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:2-3).
Although Jesus strongly indicts his opponents of hypocrisy for not following their own teaching, he nevertheless insists that the scribes and Pharisees hold a position of legitimate authority, which he characterizes as sitting “on Moses’ seat.” One searches in vain for any reference to this seat of Moses in the Old Testament. But it was commonly understood in ancient Israel that there was an authoritative teaching office, passed on by Moses to successors.
As the first verse of the Mishna tractate Abôte indicates, the Jews understood that God’s revelation, received by Moses, had been handed down from him in uninterrupted succession, through Joshua, the elders, the prophets, and the great Sanhedrin (Acts 15:21). The scribes and Pharisees participated in this authoritative line and as such their teaching deserved to be respected.
Jesus here draws on oral Tradition to uphold the legitimacy of this teaching office in Israel. The Catholic Church, in upholding the legitimacy of both Scripture and Tradition, follows the example of Jesus himself.
In addition, we see that the structure of the Catholic Church-with an authoritative teaching office comprised of bishops who are the direct successors of the apostles-follows the example of ancient Israel. While there are groups of Christians today that deny continuity between Israel and the Church, historic orthodox Christianity has always understood the Church to be a fulfillment of Israel. This verse about Moses’ chair illuminates why we say that the successor of Peter, when he gives a solemn teaching for the whole Church, is said to speak ex cathedra or “from the chair.”
Whereas under the Old Covenant the administration of God’s people came from the “chair of Moses,” Christians under the New Covenant look to the “chair of Peter” for direction on questions of faith and morals. But there is a notable difference between the magisterium under the Old Covenant and our teachers under the New Covenant. The successors of the apostles, and especially Peter’s successor, have the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, and they have Jesus’ promise that the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church (Matt. 16:17-19).
This section presents a tremendously wide-ranging set of assertions that go FAR beyond what is to be found in the text of Matthew 23:2. Indeed, that such far-reaching conclusions can be based upon such a *slim* amount of evidence stretches the mind just a bit.
First, Mr. Palm says that it was common in ancient Israel to believe in this position of “Moses’ seat.” In reality, the term itself is not common in Jewish writings. It most likely refers to a seat in the synagogue from which the law (i.e., the writings of Moses and the prophets) was read. Obviously, since synagogue worship did not exist prior to the Exile, the term “ancient Israel” here needs to be limited to the intertestamental period.
Secondly, the authority of “Moses’ seat” would have been primarily magisterial, not doctrinal. Lightfoot notes this by saying, “This is to be understood rather of the *legislative seat* (or chair), than of the merely *doctrinal:* and Christ here asserts the authority of the magistrate, and persuadeth to obey him in lawful things” (Ibid, p. 289). Moses acted as judge in Israel, and the priesthood maintained that role in the theocracy.
Mr. Palm notes that we do not find this office in the Old Testament. This is true, as far as the specific name goes. It is then asserted that Jesus’ refusal to overthrow the form of synagogue worship and teaching is tantamount to a recognition of extra-biblical binding revelation. The close observer will note a huge chasm here. The religious situation into which the Messiah came was hardly identical with the situation under Moses. Many things were different, and due to occupation, Roman rule, and many other factors, there were all sorts of things that were “extra-biblical” that were part and parcel of the Jewish life of the day. Are we to honestly believe that unless the Lord Jesus proved a revolutionary in rejecting *every* non-biblical tradition and practice that this gives us wholesale license for the addition of such traditions today? Or should we not realize that in light of Jesus words in Matthew 15 that such traditions need to be tested by a higher authority (Scripture), and, *if they do not violate the Word of God,* they can be followed and practiced? There was nothing against the Scriptures in having a man read the Scriptures from Moses’ seat, or to give judgments based upon the Law. Why then reject such a tradition? The acceptance of a tradition that is not contrary to Scripture is not grounds for the acceptance of others that *are.* And what is more, the acceptance of a tradition current at the time does not mean that the Lord Jesus accepted the *claims* made by the Mishnah two hundred years later regarding the alleged basis of such traditions (i.e., those claims regarding Mosaic origin).
Regarding the Mishnaic tractate Aboth, it does indeed make the claim that Mr. Palm notes. However, are we to gather from Mr. Palm’s citation that he *believes* this claim? It is hard to believe that he actually does—in fact, unless Mr. Palm has undergone a recent conversion to Judaism, I can’t possibly see how he could do so. Let’s note a few things:
1) The tractate indicates that the Torah was passed down to such individuals as Shammai and Hillel, yet, as students of NT backgrounds know, these two set up opposing schools with different understandings of tradition (should sound familiar!). Who was, in fact, the true recipient of this alleged oral tradition, then?
2) Does Mr. Palm believe that the statements recorded in this tractate reflect oral revelation? Does he agree with Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem (Mishnah 5 of tractate Aboth) who says that you should not speak much with your wife? Is this “oral tradition” binding and divine in origin? And does he believe that Rabbi Gamaliel (who is likewise listed as a recipient of this divine tradition) was providing oral and binding divine revelation when he said that you should appoint for yourself a teacher so as to avoid doubt, and that you shouldn’t make a habit of tithing by guesswork?
3) The authority of this tractate can be cited to support the Corban rule of Matthew 15:1-9. In fact, as Lightfoot discusses in his _Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica_, (II:226-229), entire Mishnaic tractates are devoted to such issues. If Mr. Palm accepts the claims of tractate Aboth, then he is bound to likewise believe that the Lord Jesus erred in Matthew 15 in subjugating the Corban rule, based, as it is, upon the same oral tradition, to the higher authority of Scripture.
4) When did this “oral tradition” pass away? Surely Mr. Palm does not follow it any longer. This presents him with numerous problems. If he says this tradition has passed away, is he not admitting that the apostolic oral tradition can pass away too? Was this tradition infallible? If so, why is it not infallible today? If it became fallible, does it not follow that Roman tradition can likewise become fallible?
Next Mr. Palm says that since the Pharisees stood in this alleged line of succession, their teaching deserved to be respected. The problem is, however, that the Lord Jesus often did not respect their teaching. The issue in Matthew 23 was not respect for the teaching of the Pharisees, but respect for the authority of the person who sat in Moses’ seat. The two are not necessarily co-extensive, and what is more, there is nothing in the passage that even begins to suggest that the Lord Jesus is making reference to the entire idea of extra-biblical tradition, authority, etc. He is saying to obey the authorities in the synagogue service. To read into this the acceptance of an entire concept of oral revelation passed down through some “magisterium” is to be WAY beyond what is written. Mr. Palm then says, “Jesus here draws on oral Tradition to uphold the legitimacy of this teaching office in Israel.” This is simply untrue. There is nothing in the passage that even makes reference to “oral Tradition.” This can only be identified as wishful thinking, based upon an anachronistic insertion of later developments back into the text.
Mr. Palm then writes, “This verse about Moses’ chair illuminates why we say that the successor of Peter, when he gives a solemn teaching for the whole Church, is said to speak ex cathedra or ‘from the chair.’ ” I do not recall any of those gathered at Vatican I citing this passage as a basis for the ex cathedra passage; I’d think the cathedra is in pure reference to Peter’s “seat,” and that the idea that the Lord Jesus is here establishing, or affirming, some authoritative (no, infallible!) teaching office in the Church by reference to Israel is to try to find in the text something that no one can possibly believe was in the mind of the original writer or audience.
Mr. Palm then goes on to assert that under the Old Covenant God’s people came to the chair of Moses. Yet, this assumes the chair of Moses existed in ancient Israel. It didn’t. It came into existence after the Exile. No parallel exists to the Roman innovation that came about centuries after Christ. Indeed, a close examination of the phrase “chair of Peter” will reveal that in many theologians (such as Cyprian and Augustine) this referred to *all* of the episcopate, all bishops in their sees, not merely to the bishop of Rome. The arrogation of this title to one bishop took a long, long time, and in fact never became universal.
Mr. Palm’s attempt to use the chair of Moses suffers from the same problem as his first attempt: it assumes what it seeks to prove. It is circular, and does not provide anywhere near sufficient basis for its conclusions.
Mr. Palm wrote:
1 Corinthians 10:4
Paul shows how Christian sacraments-baptism and the Eucharist -were prefigured in the Old Testament. He treats baptism first: “Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (vv. 1-2). Next he highlights the Eucharist, prefigured by the manna in the wilderness (v.3; cf. John 6:26-40), and the water that God provided for Israel: “All drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4).
The Old Testament says nothing about any movement of the rock that Moses struck to provide water for the Israelites (Ex. 17:1-7, Num. 20:2-13), but in rabbinic Tradition the rock actually followed them on their journey through the wilderness (See Tosefta Sukkah 3:11f.; Pseudo-Philo Biblical Antiquities 10:7). In a further development, another Tradition, given by Philo, even equates this rock with preexistent Wisdom: “For the flinty rock is the Wisdom of God, which he marked off highest and chiefest from his powers, and from which he satisfies the thirsty souls that love God.”
It seems that Paul is drawing on this Tradition, but he elevates it to even a higher level. Christ himself was the Rock who provided for the people of Israel, which in turn makes their rebellion all the more heinous (1 Cor. 10:5ff.). Paul does not hesitate to draw on stock oral Tradition to illustrate and enhance his presentation of the gospel. The details provided in these Traditions preserved under the Old Covenant shed fresh light on the preparation that God made through Israel for the building of his Church and on the characteristics of the Christian sacraments.
Mr. Palm is quite right to point out that Paul was more than familiar with Jewish traditions and folklore. Since it seems Paul had been trained in the rabbinic tradition such is hardly surprising. Paul would certainly have been familiar with extra-scriptural traditions (please note the continued practiced of capitalizing “Tradition” on Mr. Palm’s part. Mr. Palm continues to read back into the ancient setting his own modern ideas of what “Tradition” is supposed to be, and this is reflected in the capitalization of the term.). Paul was likewise familiar with other Jewish works of literature, including works from the intertestamental period, and works that became a part of the Apocrypha. He was likewise familiar with Greek philosophy and mythology, and drew upon these sources as well. None of this is in dispute, of course. The question is, does Paul’s familiarity with such sources mean that they are divinely inspired, authoritative, and infallible?
Take this passage from 1 Corinthians as an example. Surely Mr. Palm is not suggesting to us that Pseudo-Philo is providing us with an inerrant, infallible oral tradition that was passed down from Moses’ day, is he? I note in passing that in reality the sources indicate that it was a *well,* not a rock, that followed them in the wilderness. C.K. Barrett cites the same passage from Philo that Mr. Palm cites, in fuller detail:
The drought of passions seizes upon the soul, until God sends forth the stream from his strong Wisdom and quenches with unfailing health the thirst of the soul that had turned from him. For the flinty rock is the Wisdom of God, which he marked off highest and chiefest from his powers, and from which he satisfies the thirsty souls that love God. And when they have been given water to drink, they are filled also with the manna, the most generic of substances, for the manna is called ‘somewhat’, and that suggests the summum genus. But the primal existence is God, and next to him is the Word of God.
Barrett then notes:
In Philo’s allegorical interpretation of the law, the miraculous food and drink (or source of drink) are taken to mean the word and wisdom of God, which themselves are at least partially hypostatized beings. By adapting these identifications Paul interprets Christ in terms of the wisdom of Hellenistic Judaism. This does not mean that he wished to say about Christ all that Hellenistic Judaism said about wisdom. Indeed his thought is rather of the work than of the person of Christ, and his primary meaning is that as wisdom was believed to be the source of understanding, virtue, and salvation, so in truth was Christ; more than that, it was Christ himself who, in the form of a rock and in the person of wisdom, gave life to the people of God, in the past as in the present (_Harper’s New Testament Commentaries, The First Epistle to the Corinthians_, pp. 222-223).
Now, Mr. Palm asserts that Paul draws from “stock Tradition.” Yes, he does, to a point. So he likewise draws from the traditions of the Greeks, too. What does this prove? That the authors of Scripture felt free to draw illustrations and terminology from all sorts of places. Just as no one would seriously argue that the use of Greek philosophers means that such sources are infallible, inspired, or in any sense spiritually authoritative, so too the mere fact that Paul makes reference to a Jewish idea that the rock in the wilderness was more than a mere rock hardly provides a basis for asserting that this is an inspired and infallible oral tradition that has been passed down outside of Scripture and is binding upon Christians today. In fact, if Mr. Palm is defending the partim-partim view of traditional authority, is he really going to defend the idea that this tradition goes back to Moses? And if he defends the “material sufficiency” viewpoint, what does this passage provide him? Surely this “tradition” is not some Mosaic-interpretation of the Scriptures maintained within an “Old Testament magisterium.” So it is hard to see how either of the two major viewpoints is aided by this passage.
Mr. Palm writes:
1 Peter 3:19
In his first epistle Peter tells of Christ’s journey to the netherworld during which “he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah” (1 Pet. 3:19). There is a growing scholarly consensus that the interpretive key to this verse is found in Genesis 6:1-7, in which “the sons of God” cohabited with “the daughters of men” and produced ghastly offspring. According to ancient interpretation, these “sons of God” were actually rebellious angels who sinned by mating with human women.
It appears likely that this is Peter’s view as well. “For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until judgment . . . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial” (2 Pet. 2:4, 9). Note the close link to Noah and Genesis 6. Compare too Jude 6, which says that “the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day . . .” These references are evidence that Peter has this traditional interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 in mind when he writes of Christ’s preaching “to the spirits in prison.”
Additional background is found in the extra-biblical book of 1 Enoch. In this work, which was popular both in ancient Jewish and early Christian circles, the righteous man Enoch (Gen. 5:22-24) goes at God’s command to the place where these sinful angels are imprisoned and proclaims their impending judgment and punishment for their sin.
The parallel to Peter’s epistle is too close to dismiss. It seems possible that Peter views Enoch as a “type” of Christ and that in 1 Peter 3:19 he portrays Christ as a “second Enoch,” who goes to the spirit world and proclaims the final downfall of these evil spirits (compare Col. 2:15). Peter’s source for this analogy is Tradition, not Scripture.
The final sentence of the above presentation has no logical connection to what has come before. Up to that point Mr. Palm was simply reciting facts that have been acknowledged by many (with the exception of the “second Enoch” idea). However, what is his basis for making the giant leap into this “Tradition” with a capital T? He has already acknowledged that Genesis 6 is the source of the nephilim concept, has he not? So what is being asserted when “Tradition” comes in here? Is Mr. Palm asserting that this is an oral tradition that is inspired and infallible? From whence did this tradition arise? Or is Mr. Palm merely admitting that the inspired writers made reference to ideas, beliefs, and sources that were current in their day? Such an assertion is not argued by anyone. But neither is such an assertion relevant to substantiating the Roman Catholic concept of tradition, either as separate revelation or as interpretive grid.
Mr. Palm continued:
This example is significant because it highlights one of the important functions that Tradition still plays for us. As is all too clear from the divisions within Christendom, Scripture may be interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes the Traditions passed on in the Catholic Church provide the interpretive key to certain passages. This was important in the early Church, because heretics of all stripes appealed to the Bible in support of their doctrine.
Is this how Mr. Palm believes “Tradition” functioned in the Old Testament? Here “Tradition” becomes the less-defined “interpretive grid.” Is Mr. Palm saying that Peter embraced the book of 1 Enoch as an interpretive tradition of Genesis? If so, does Mr. Palm likewise accept 1 Enoch as an interpretive grid, a “Tradition”? I will spare the reader citations from the book, as 99% of the work would not be accepted as having any authority interpretively by Roman Catholics or Protestants alike. But is Mr. Palm saying that in this one instance Peter depended upon this extra-scriptural, divine, and authoritative source? Or is he simply stating that Peter is making reference to a common belief of the day that is also expressed in 1 Enoch, without making 1 Enoch, or the belief, authoritative?
Mr. Palm continued:
It is simply false to suppose that the early Church relied on *sola scriptura* to defend Christian orthodoxy. “There is no reason to infer, . . . ” says J.N.D. Kelly in _Early Christian Doctrines_, “that the primitive Church regarded the apostolic testimony as confined to written documents emanating from, or attributed to, the apostles.” Rather, the early Church Fathers argued that the interpretations of the heretics were not in line with the “rule of faith,” that is, the deposit of Tradition passed on by the apostles to the bishops of the Catholic Church and preserved through an unbroken lineage.
At this point Mr. Palm goes well beyond the scope of a discussion of the NT usage of “tradition,” and begins to engage in a good bit of special pleading for his cause. The ellipses in the quotation remove a little “however” that points us back to the discussion in Kelly of how often the early Fathers cited as yet “uncanonized” Scripture, especially that of Paul. Hence, Kelly has just indicated the high viewpoint of the written testimony to the apostolic teaching, and as a counterbalance produces the statement cited. However, he doesn’t stop there. He continues on:
Logically, as it must have done chronologically, the testimony stood prior to the documents, and it would be more correct to say that the latter were valued precisely because they were held to enshrine the former. Admittedly there is no evidence for beliefs or practices current in the period which were not vouched for in the books later known as the New Testament. But there is equally nothing to suggest, and general probability makes it unlikely, that Christian teachers had these books specifically in mind on the majority of occasions when they referred to the apostolic testimony. It is much more plausible that they were thinking generally of the common body of facts and doctrines, definite enough in outline though with varying emphases, which found expression in the Church’s day-to-day preaching, liturgical action and catechetical instruction, just as must as in its formal documents (pp. 33-34).
Now that is quite different than reading the entire Roman concept of “Tradition” into Kelly’s words as Mr. Palm does above! Remember, Mr. Palm’s “Tradition” includes, of necessity, purgatory, indulgences, Papal Infallibility, and a whole plethora of Marian doctrines. Surely Kelly would be the first to admit that such beliefs were utterly absent from the Church’s instruction and belief at this stage in history. Hence, to read Mr. Palm’s capitalized Tradition back into Kelly’s words is a misuse of a scholarly source, to be sure.
Now I will only mention in passing that Mr. Palm’s reference to the early Father’s struggle against the heretics begs the issue. What was the rule of faith they used to refute the heretics? Mr. Palm’s infallible Roman Tradition? In no way. The “rule of faith” was far more simple, and was, in fact, derived from biblical sources, and is fully defendable from the Scriptures themselves. Hence, the idea that this rule of faith, this tradition, mentioned by men like Irenaeus, is in fact an extra-scriptural revelation, holds not the first drop of water.
Mr. Palm provides us with a wonderful example of this as he continues:
A specific application of this is the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. The data of the New Testament concerning the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus are ambiguous by themselves, although I would argue that the biblical evidence leans toward the Catholic interpretation. But we have additional help in the form of the Traditions preserved in the early Church which say that Mary remained a virgin and bore no other children besides Jesus. So Tradition can sometimes serve as arbiter and interpreter in cases where the meaning of Scripture is unclear.
The student of Church history, having gotten back up off the floor upon reading that paragraph, has to simply respond, “Well then who decides from the many conflicting viewpoints found in the patristic sources what is and what is not Tradition??” It is well documented (in Kelly as well, no less!) that there were *many* conflicting viewpoints on this subject in the early Church. There was no unanimity of opinion, and the idea that one can trace a real “tradition” to the Apostles through the maze of differing opinions, and the deafening silence of the earliest period, requires a bright-eyed optimistic embrace of Roman authority rather than a critical historical realism.
Mr. Palm says that Tradition can serve as an arbiter and interpreter in cases where the meaning of Scripture is unclear. Does that mean that he accepts everything that the early Church said about Scripture? When interpreting the atonement, does he use Irenaeus’ “ransom to Satan theory” in his studies? If not, why not? And when “Tradition” takes plain, clear passages of Scripture, like Luke 1:28, and muddies them up and imports entire theologies into them that were never a part of the early Church or the original author’s intention, what then? Is it not painfully clear that what we *really* have is not “Tradition” at all, but Roman dogmatic authority masquerading under the historical title? Such is surely the case.
Mr. Palm writes:
Jude relates an altercation between Michael and Satan: “When the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’ ” (Jude 9).
As H. Willmering says in _A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture_, “This incident is not mentioned in Scripture, but may have been a Jewish oral tradition, which is well known to the readers of this epistle.” Some versions of the story circulating in ancient Judaism depict Satan trying to intervene as Michael buries the body. Several of the Church Fathers know of another version in which Moses’ body is assumed into heaven after his death. Jude draws on this oral Tradition to highlight the incredible arrogance of the heretics he opposes; even Michael the archangel did not take it on himself to rebuke Satan, and yet these men have no scruples in reviling celestial beings.
Palm does not note that in reality, this is drawn from a written source, the Assumption of Moses, the original of which we do not have, but which is referred to by a number of sources.
This text provides another example of a New Testament author tapping oral Tradition to expound Christian doctrine-in this case an issue of behavior. In addition, this text relates well to a Catholic dogma that troubles many non-Catholics-the bodily Assumption of Mary. There is no explicit biblical evidence for Mary’s Assumption (although see Rev. 12:1-6), but Jude not only provides us with a third biblical example of the bodily assumption of one of God’s special servants (see also Gen. 5:24, 2 Kgs. 2:11), he shows that oral Tradition can be the ground on which belief in such a dogma may be based.
Again, as in previous examples, Palm confuses the mere use of common beliefs of the day with the idea that an extra-biblical, inspired oral tradition exists that is authoritative and infallible. Just as Jude had no problems in referring to the story of Enoch’s prophecy in the same epistle, here too we have nothing more than what we would have today if the Bible were being written. If an apostle today were writing to believers, would he be forced to *not* make reference to popular works known to his audience? For example, my pastor often makes reference to Bunyan’s _Pilgrim’s Progress_ so as to illustrate various Scriptural truths. One of my favorite illustrations is from the Interpreter’s house. In his dream, Pilgrim sees a room in which there is a fire at the base of the wall. A man is busily trying to drown the fire, but can’t put it out. Pilgrim is then shown the other side of the wall, and there Christ is busily pouring oil through the wall into the fire, keeping it alive. It is a symbol of the Christian life, and Christ’s pouring of the Holy Spirit into the believer’s life. Now, if a modern apostle were to make reference to this picture in writing to the church at Phoenix, for example, would it follow that he intends all of _Pilgrim’s Progress_ to be viewed as canonical? Would it be right to allege that Bunyan was the recipient of “inspired oral tradition”? Of course not.
In the same way, Mr. Palm errs in trying to substantiate Roman claims to “Tradition” on the basis of the familiarity of the Apostles with tradition (small “t”). While I was not in the room with Mr. Palm and his professor when they spoke of the NT and tradition (something made mention of earlier in Mr. Palm’s article), I truly doubt that the challenge of the professor was, “David, show me any place where the apostles showed any knowledge of extra-biblical literature, tradition, folklore, or belief.” I would imagine the professor said something like, “David, show me any place where the apostles identified extra-biblical tradition as divine, inspired, or in any way infallible.” There is a huge difference between those two challenges.
Mr. Palm concluded:
Nevertheless, I believe that the passages that I cited demonstrate that the New Testament authors drew on oral Tradition as they expounded the Christian faith. This fact spells real trouble for any Christian who asserts that we must find all of our doctrine in written Scripture. We know that the apostles did not teach the doctrine of *sola scriptura* explicitly in Scripture, and we know through their use of oral Tradition that they did not intend to teach it implicitly by their example either. The conclusion is that they simply did not hold to a principle of *sola scriptura*-and neither should we.
This is not an argument that flows from what has been cited; it is where Mr. Palm started, and, not surprisingly, it is where he finishes. The use of the capitalized Tradition throughout the article clearly shows that Mr. Palm is engaging in anachronistic interpretation: the reading back into the biblical sources of concepts that were not a part of the world or beliefs of the original writers. What is more, Mr. Palm slips into the common misrepresentation of sola scriptura that fills Roman Catholic apologetics works: the idea that sola scriptura, if it is true, must be normative during times of revelation. Sola scriptura refers to the functioning church, not to the church being founded and receiving revelation on a regular basis from living apostles. There are no living apostles today, and revelation has ceased (even Rome agrees on this point). The issue *now* is, what is the infallible rule of faith? Does the Bible teach that that which is theopneustos (“God-breathed”) is sufficient to function as the regula fidei? Yes, it does. That is the issue.
Mr. Palm concluded:
Catholics need not be shy about this issue. The Protestant reformers taught that *sola scriptura*-Scripture alone-is our authority in matters of faith and morals. But this doctrine is unbiblical. The Catholic Church teaches that Christian doctrine is *sola Verbum Dei*-from the Word of God alone-and this is what the Bible actually says about itself. The teaching of the Bible and of the Church is that God’s Word comes to us both through the writings of the prophets and apostles and through the oral Traditions that they handed on, and these are preserved by the Church through the leading of the Holy Spirit. The burden of proof is on any Christian who believes otherwise.
This is plainly an assertion of the partim-partim viewpoint of Roman tradition: the idea that there are extra-biblical inspired and infallible traditions that have been handed down orally in the Church. Yet, Mr. Palm hasn’t provided us with any examples of this. He has assumed the existence of “Tradition,” the very thing he needs to show us in detail. Until he does so, the burden of proof statement at the end of his article should be referred to him, not to those who refuse to accept as a presupposition the necessity of Roman authority.