The Bible or Tradition—Which Is Man’s Guide?
Long ago a man of understanding said that when there is no vision the people perish. To avoid the dire results of lacking spiritual vision man needs a sure guide. This article will help you choose the right guide—the guide your life depends on.
“THY word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Those words are found in the Bible, a Book that not only contains God’s Word but is God’s Word. That Word is an inspired lamp. It lights our paths.—Ps. 119:105, RS.
But some say that tradition is a lamp that provides equal light, if not greater light than God’s written Word. Especially true is this of the Roman Catholic Church. The traditions of the Roman Catholic Church are placed alongside and, in actual practice, above God’s written Word, for the church’s mountain of tradition has all but extinguished the inspired lamp of the Bible to its flock.
“No—The Bible is NOT Our Sole Guide!” “The Early Christians Never Saw the Bible!” These are titles of advertisements sponsored by the Knights of Columbus organization that have recently appeared in a number of magazines and newspapers. Designed to persuade people to accept tradition, these advertisements say:
“The Savior did not command us to read anything, but he did command us to hear his church.” “We do not agree with the modern theory that the Bible is the one and only source of religious truth.” “The Bible is not—and was not intended to be—the sole source of Christian teaching and belief.” “Early century Christians never saw the complete Bible. It was 400 years after Christ died before the books of the Bible were assembled into their present form. And it was 1400 years before printing was invented and the mass distribution of the Scriptures became possible. If Christ had intended the Bible to be the sole guide to His teaching, would He have allowed this delay?”
Do these Knights of Columbus’ statements prove that the Bible is not man’s sole guide and that tradition is a necessary lamp?
“SEARCH THE SCRIPTURES”
What was Jesus’ attitude toward the written Word, the holy Scriptures? From the Knights of Columbus’ advertisement it would appear that Jesus never told anyone about the importance of studying the Scriptures. Yet, according to the Catholic Douay Bible, Jesus told the Jews in Jerusalem: “Search the scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting; and the same are they that give testimony of me.” (John 5:39, Dy) “Search the scriptures,” said Jesus.
Though Jesus told the Jews to search the Scriptures, the Jews spent their time following tradition. By Jesus’ time the Jews had accumulated a large mass of traditions. When a question had to be settled, did Jesus appeal to these traditions? Never! Always Jesus appealed to God’s written Word as being final and authoritative. In Jesus’ day the complete Bible was the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, from the first book of Moses to the prophecy of Malachi. Jesus made these a light to his path. When the question came up: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every kind of grounds?” Jesus appealed to Genesis chapter two as the final answer on the subject. When the Devil tried to break Jesus’ integrity with tempting offers, Jesus turned the tempter back by appeal to the written Word, saying three times, “It is written.”—Matt. 19:3-8; 4:1-10, NW.
How do errors, mistakes and misunderstandings come about? By not doing as Jesus did, by not searching the Scriptures. To a group of tradition-following religious leaders the Son of God said: “Did you never read this scripture?” One group of religious leaders were all mixed up about the doctrine of the resurrection. Why were they completely in error and teaching error to their followers? Said Jesus to the clerics: “You are mistaken, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. As regards the resurrection of the dead did you not read what was spoken to you by God?” Thus Jesus stressed the vital importance of reading and following the Scriptures.—Mark 12:10; Matt. 22:29, 31, NW.
NO MODERN THEORY
When the Son of God ignored tradition, indeed condemned it, and made the written Word his sole guide, he set an example for all Christians. Said the apostle Peter: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Pet. 2:21, NW) For a Christian to “follow his steps closely,” he must make the Bible his sole guide. When the Knights of Columbus say this view of the Bible is a “modern theory,” they again fall into error. It is neither “modern,” in the sense of being a recent view, nor a “theory.” It is Christ’s teaching.
After his resurrection Jesus continued to show his opposition to tradition. Of one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, the Bible says: “And commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” Yes, Jesus went to “all the Scriptures,” never tradition. To a group of his disciples the resurrected Jesus said: “‘These are my words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all the things written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and Psalms about me must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”—Luke 24:27, 44, 45, NW.
That it is to the Scriptures that Christians must look for guidance and not to tradition, Jesus also showed after he ascended into heaven. At the proper time God gave Jesus the Revelation. Christ, through his angel, gave the Revelation to his apostle John. Warning against any addition to the written Word of God, Jesus said: “I am bearing witness to everyone that hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll.” Following tradition, tradition that often conflicts with the Scriptures, is adding to the written Word.—Rev. 22:18, NW.
The apostles of Christ never followed tradition; they went by the written Word. Take, for example, Peter. At the temple in Jerusalem Peter quoted the writings of Moses and referred to the prophets “from Samuel on and those in succession.” (Acts 3:22-25, NW) Never did Peter say that tradition was the lamp to guide our paths. It was of the written Word Peter said: “We have the prophetic word made more firm, and you are doing well in paying attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” (2 Pet. 1:19, NW) The Bible is this lamp, not tradition.
EARLY CHRISTIANS HAD COMPLETE BIBLE
According to the Knights of Columbus’ advertisements the early Christians did not have the complete Bible. They use this as an argument to support the Catholic Church’s use of tradition. Yet what the early Christians had of God’s written Word was complete—in the sense that they had all that was necessary for salvation. Timothy had read the Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, from his youth. Though he did not have all the Bible books that we have today, he had all that was necessary for God’s approval. Wrote the apostle Paul to Timothy: “From infancy you have known the holy writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.”—2 Tim. 3:15, NW.
When the Knights of Columbus say that the early Christians “never saw the complete Bible,” they are using specious reasoning. It sounds good. But, really, what is complete? To the early Christians all the writings that had been written up to any specific time constituted the complete Bible. Though the Bible canon kept growing until the apostle John finished his writing about A.D. 98, yet whatever had been written under God’s spirit up to any particular time was all that was necessary.
What of the Knights of Columbus’ statement that it was 400 years after Christ died before the books of the Bible were assembled in their present form? Again they are wrong. By A.D. 98 the writing of the so-called “New Testament” or Greek Scriptures was complete. These books were brought together in the second century—long before the development of the Roman Catholic Church, which dates from the time of the launching of fusion religion by the Roman emperor Constantine in the fourth century. Says The Encyclopædia Britannica: “It is certain that by the end of the 2nd century a collection of apostolic documents is generally recognized as authoritative Scripture.”
Say the Knights of Columbus: “It was 1400 years before printing was invented and the mass distribution of the Scriptures became possible.” Again their attempt to belittle the lamplike importance of the Scriptures is deceptive. For what difference does it make whether the early Christians had printed Bibles or manuscript copies? Both are the written Word of God. The early Christians were Bible publishers. On this Bible scholar Goodspeed writes:
“In the Middle Ages publication as a business practically disappeared. The copying of manuscripts was still carried on to some extent in the Scriptoriums of some convents and palaces, but for the most part it was single copies that were made, and there seems to have been none of the old wholesale production; copies were not from dictation, as they had been in the ancient book factories.”—Christianity Goes to Press.
WRITTEN WORD COMPLETELY EQUIPS US
The more we search the Scriptures the clearer it becomes that God’s written Word completely equips the Christian. True, the Knights of Columbus, in their advertising, quote with great frequency the conclusion of the gospel of John. But does that support the view that nonscriptural tradition is necessary? Let us see.
John said in his conclusion: “There are, in fact, many other things also which Jesus did, which, if ever they were written in full detail, I suppose, the world itself could not contain the scrolls written.”—John 21:25, NW.
The apostle’s words certainly do not mean that Jesus authorized a body of unrecorded Christian traditions. No, what John meant is this: that there were many other things that Jesus did and many other words that he uttered that would not be put down in writing. There are at least two obvious reasons for this: (1) It would not be practical because of quantity to write down every word Jesus spoke and (2) it would not be necessary. As John explained: “To be sure, Jesus performed many other signs also before the disciples which are not written down in this scroll. But these have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, because of believing, you may have life by means of his name.”—John 20:30, 31, NW.
How clear it is, then! The things that are vital for us to know are written down. The things that we need to know, all the things we need to know in order to “believe that Jesus is the Christ” and to gain everlasting life by means of his name—“these have been written down.”
In fact, we are warned to be on guard against nonscriptural traditions. Said the apostle Paul: “Look out: perhaps there may be some man that will carry you off as his prey through the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.”—Col. 2:8, NW.
Christ Jesus was so thoroughly opposed to nonscriptural tradition that he would never allow his teachings to be carried down unrecorded. Jesus asked the religious leaders of his day: “Why is it you also overstep the commandment of God because of your tradition?” Then Jesus explained the effect of this tradition: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.” (Matt. 15:1-6, NW) Since Jesus warned against nonscriptural tradition, certainly he would not use such a method for handing down vital truths.
Let God’s written Word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. It will do the job completely, with no need for nonscriptural tradition: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Tim. 3:16, 17, NW.