Dave Armstrong lists four verses that “confound Protestants” under the subtitle of “The Binding Authority of Tradition, According to St. Paul,” beginning on page 37 of The Catholic Verses. They are:
1 Corinthians 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.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
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.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
There is a tremendous amount of literature on the subject of “tradition” in the New Testament, and a very large portion of it would challenge the rather simplistic assumptions Mr. Armstrong presents in his discussion. He writes, “Catholics believe that there is such a thing as a binding, authoritative Sacred Tradition and that it is explicitly indicated in the Bible (notably in the above passages).” So, we here have Armstrong wedding himself to these passages as “explicitly” presenting Rome’s full-blown (capital “S” capital “T”) Sacred Tradition. But given the hesitation of many a Roman Catholic scholar, it is quite possible Mr. Armstrong has over-reached himself just a bit. The mere presence of the term “tradition” is hardly sufficient to establish the position enunciated by Armstrong. How a Protestant is “confounded” by these passages is difficult to determine, at least, if meaningful exegesis of the text is the standard. And the first thing to note about Armstrong’s work at this point should have a rather familiar ring to it if you have been following the Dave Hunt series: there is no meaningful exegesis offered to substantiate these grand claims by Armstrong. Examine pp. 38-40 for yourself, and you will find no discussion of grammar, lexicography, syntax, or anything else relevant to meaningful exegesis. Instead, Armstrong depends upon secondary sources, and even then, the conclusions offered by secondary sources. He quotes Thomas More, but then focuses upon John Calvin, evidently seeking, it seems to me, to prejudice the reader through the use of quotations using language that was common in the day but is considered harsh and even non-Christian today. Indeed, one can judge the character of the discussion by noting these telling words: “Be that as it may, it is scarcely possible to discuss that issue constructively , because (in my opinion) Protestants are so afraid that any serious discussion of Tradition will cast doubt on sola Scriptura and lead to undesired ‘Catholic’ consequences.” I’m sorry, but such rhetoric detracts from the work, at least for any serious minded reader. Armstrong moves into a dialogue after this that again offers nothing in reference to exegesis of the texts themselves, and in fact has only a marginal connection to the issue of the meaning of “tradition” in the Pauline corpus. How one leaps from para,dosij in Paul to Sacred Tradition as defined by modern Rome is left unanswered.
Now what was particularly odd, I thought, is the fact that immediately after this section Armstrong goes into his Matthew 23 discussion (pp. 43-53, arguably his most strenuous effort at what comes closest to what can be identified as textually-based exegesis), which he had sent to me prior to the publication of the book. He cites my comments from The Roman Catholic Controversy in this section rather extensively. So, I wondered if he would attempt to respond to the exegesis of 2 Thessaloninans 2:15 that I offered in the same work. I would expect that at least the substance of that section would have to be refuted for Armstrong to feel he had at all proven his case. But no effort at all is put forth to respond to the exegesis of the passage provided in TRCC. The fact that this is a present command, that the tradition referred to had already been delivered, in fulness, to the entirety of the church at Thessalonica, is not noted. (This observation would require the RC apologist to trace the content of his alleged oral tradition back to Thessalonica, and, as they well know, that cannot be done for the major elements of that alleged tradition as Rome has defined it). The immediate context of the passage and its relevance directly to the gospel (and hence to the content of the “tradition” delivered by Paul) is likewise ignored. In essence, nothing presented in regards to the meaning of 2 Thess. 2:15 in context is addressed by Armstrong. It is hard to believe Armstrong has read the comments on pp. 99-101 of TRCC but he hasn’t read pp. 95-98.
Now, if the standard of being “confounded” involves presenting a compelling, exegetically sound, contextually derived interpretation of a passage resulting in a clear vindication of the Roman Catholic reading (though, how Dave Armstrong, a private Catholic, could actually know the “official” Roman understanding of a passage without engaging in “private interpretation” is difficult to say anyway), then we need to re-work the sub-title to “91 Bible Passages that Confound Protestants.”
Next we will look at Armstrong’s handling of the passages he presents regarding Penance.