I recently purchased The Scriptural Roots of Catholic Teaching by Chantal Epie (New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2002), subtitled, How the Bible Proves the Truth of the Catholic Faith. Sophia Institute Press says this book will give “solid scriptural proof” for a number of distinctly Catholic beliefs, the first being, “God’s revelation comes through the Bible, Tradition, and the Church’s teaching authority.” This is the subject matter of chapter one.
Epie begins by presenting evidence the Gospel was first preached orally. The defenders of Rome begin here, because only by establishing a vague category of unwritten doctrine are they able to bind men’s consciences to non-biblical material. Epie’s solid scriptural proof included John 21:25 and 2 Thes. 2:15. She argues:
“So it appears clearly that there was a considerable part of the Lord’s teachings, later taught in their turn by the Apostles, that were not written down and cannot therefore be found in the Bible. These teachings, however, were faithfully transmitted to the Christian communities” (p.7).
“If we want to be faithful to God’s word, we have to accept both the written revelation and this other part of revelation that was handed down to us by word of mouth and preserved for all generations in the Tradition of the Church” (p.7).
Are John 21:25 and 2 Thes. 2:15 solid scriptural proof for authoritative non-biblical oral tradition? No. With the former, Epie does not provide evidence of any other things Jesus did later handed down via infallible Tradition. Here would be a good time to present extra-Biblical information on any miracle Jesus performed or teaching imparted. Epie must be pressed on her interpretation. If she’s positing the other things Jesus did are contained in Tradition, she needs to define the extent of this extra-Biblical content. John asserts, “…[I]f they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” Exactly how much of this content and depth of detail of this content does the Roman Catholic Church have? Epie’s prooftext demands an extraordinary amount of information. If Scripture + Tradition = a complete rule of faith, one must press Catholic use of this verse to provide that complete rule of faith. It appears that the Catholic position must borrow capital from the Protestant position. Protestants hold a sufficient authority does not need to be exhaustive in every detail. By implication, the Catholic must also adhere to this, unless they can provide the complete content mentioned in John 21:25.
John says earlier, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Note, that of which John wrote was for a purpose: that one may believe Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. He doesn’t say the rest was left as infallible Tradition so that one may believe Jesus is the Christ and Son of God.
The second major prooftext is 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (which ironically, Epie refers to as 2:14). The Catholic assumption is that the unwritten traditions referred to are different than those which are written. Such cannot be proven from this verse. The Catholic must be pressed to prove that both categories contain different information. 2:14 speaks of the Gospel, not doctrines like papal infallibility or indulgences. If these Traditions indeed exist, the act of producing them should be an easy task. Roman Catholics like Epie (whose view strongly implies partim-partim), must be pressed to produce what they claim to have. Further, Note what Paul says in 2:5, after writing on the man of lawlessness, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” The content being told matched that being written.
“As the Bible is the word of God, we can safely conclude that God has warned us that His revelation is to be found not only in Holy Scripture, but also in the Tradition of the Church, transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth, then also in the writings of early Christians such as St. Polycarp, disciple of St. John, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Augustine, etc. Obviously, there can be no contradictions between Holy Scripture and Tradition, as both take their origin from the revelation of the one true God” (p.8).
To quote an old commercial, where’s the beef? She states tradition passed orally generation to generation, and then safely arrived in the writings of the early Christians. She needs to provide at least one example. She can’t warn the people of God to hold traditions she cannot define. Epie should note well the warning issued by Augustine:
“But when He Himself was silent about such things, which of us could say, It is this or that? Or if he venture to say it, how will he prove it? For who could manifest such vanity or recklessness as when saying what he pleased to whom he pleased, even though true, to affirm without any divine authority that it was the very thing which the Lord on that occasion refused to utter? Which of us could do such a thing without incurring the severest charge of rashness, a thing which gets no countenance from prophetic or apostolic authority? For surely if we had read any such thing in the books confirmed by canonical authority, which were written after our Lord’s ascension, it would not have been enough to have read such a statement, had we not also read in the same place that this was actually one of those things which the Lord was then unwilling to tell His disciples, because they were unable to bear them” [Tractate 96].