Church History Series 1, Post 4: Tradition As Scriptural Interpretation

Review of Early Normative Christian Biblical Interpretation

In the NT, Jesus is already interpreted.  The point is not to find the “historical Jesus” but Jesus “according to the Scriptures [OT].”  We cannot separate Scripture and Tradition.  If “Scripture” (OT and NT) were the sole authority, then how did we obtain the canon we have?  If tradition is understood in a general, vague sense, or as the “thing” we could call “Christianity,” then what criterion allows us to choose between Gnostic texts and canonical texts?

Tradition is a verb.  Tradition has an interpretive relationship with the Scriptures.  As St. Paul put it: “I traditioned to you as of first importance, what I also received:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures [1 Cor 15:3-4].”  This tradition, or traditioning, rather, is what distinguished Christianity from Judaism on the one hand and Gnosticism on the other.

Rule of Faith

The Rule of Faith was explicitly stated by the second century, but it operates as an assumption behind the writings of Ss. Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr.  This is:

One God, the Father

One Lord, Jesus the Christ (who is human and divine)


One Holy Spirit  (The One who guides Scriptural Interpretation and resides fully within the Church)


Importance of Christ for Early Christian Biblical Interpretation

Christ opens the Scriptures to their meaning

The Scriptures everywhere speak of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen

The hypothesis that Jesus is human and divine is part of the Rule of Faith

The Rule of Faith became codified in the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed and its details were further articulated in the Seven Ecumenical Councils.  The concern for hypothesis and how the Scriptures speak “Christ” will continue to be at play in the ongoing articulation of Christian theology.

I am indebted to Fr. John Behr for the material presented here. Those wishing to investigate early Christian interpretation more thoroughly are encouraged to read John Behr, Formation of Christian Theology,Vol 1, The Way to Nicea (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001).  Another useful text is John Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity (Louiseville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).

5 Responses

  1. loki

    This is how we understand “Tradition” too. However we distinguish the difference between this Tradition and the “Sacred Tradition” of the RCC in that it also includes Apostolic Succession as another source of Divine Revelation. As in a “different Gospel”, this is a “different Tradition”, and is a source of the Marian dogmatics and others included in the last centuries. We tend to use a small “t” to differentiate without any intent to minimize the importance of the misunderstood “T”. Sometimes we use the word “custom” when talking to RCC people to make sure we are not talking past each other. They know what is meant.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I am thankful to have a thoughtful Roman Catholic reader!

    Apostolic succession is certainly important. I suppose the point I’d make here is that it is something that exists in an interpretive relationship with Scripture, teaching and traditioning that encounter with the Crucified and Risen One. After all, Gnostics had their successions (like the Manichaean had their elect). One can always have a succession of error, since private interpreation is not the only possible error, which is why an apostolic succession is so important.

    Glad to have you on board.

  3. loki

    Not a RCC member. To the contrary, the use of Apostolic Succession in the context of the RCC is something I strongly disagree with, which includes sacerdotalism. Sorry, I thought I was clear, but may not have been. You may call me “Reformed Catholic”, or Confessional Lutheran. Thanks, and peace.

Comments are closed.