Tradition and the Interpretation of Scripture

From a discussion regarding tradition, and the Protestant lack of an infallible interpreter:

The problem in my mind with positing Scripture and tradition as equal is than in practicality it’s impossible. If the traditions of the church are the only infallible interpreter of the Scripture, then in reality the traditions become supreme- Scripture can only say what traditions permit them to say. Beside that, there has always been the problem- which tradition? The witness of the church has never been unified; there were divisions right back to the writing of 1 Corinthians.

I think we see this discussion play out right here in our own circles though, in our own way. There is often a tension in our discussions between what someone believes Scripture teaches and what certain authorities or creeds seem to say Scripture teaches. We fear the “me and my Bible only” approach of much of the evangelical world, and in reaction to that sometimes I think we erect a tradition that is every bit as infallible in our minds as the pope is to the Catholic. Certainly we as believers should be conscious of our place in a larger whole. But the problem of picking a tradition to follow is inevitable, even within the Reformed / Presbyterian world. As uncomfortable as this makes a lot of people, there are lots of fault lines even within our tradition, lots of discussions and disagreements that go right back to the beginning of the Reformation.

Really, for me I think the unavoidable conclusion is that we must rely on the Spirit of God to guide us. He is the infallible interpreter we all seek. And I am not just being trite. There is no other option. It’s the Holy Spirit, or it’s just “Me and my Bible”, whether I clothe that in appeal to some human authority or not. Because if I say I adhere to the Reformed creeds and that they are my ultimate interpreter, well, I have chosen those creeds, as opposed to the Lutheran, Orthodox or Anabaptist traditions. If I appeal to Scottish Covenanter tradition, or German Reformed, or Dutch Calvinist- again, I have chosen that tradition, just as much as the Catholic chooses to adhere to the Pope. They want some external witness to that authority, so they cite apostolic succession, but we all know just how problematic that is.

So, we have to depend on the Spirit of God, and we have to know how the Spirit works. He works through the churches, through the community of God’s people, and He also works individually within our hearts and minds. We look to the witness of history, of the faithful community of God’s people interpreting Scripture in the past and in the present, and we also strive to understand the Scriptures ourselves, guided by the Spirit of God ourselves, as we seek to be faithful to the internal illumination of that Spirit.

I know how tempting it is to have some external authority, to look at some established body of knowledge- whether it be the Pope, the Church, the Reformed Creeds, or the latest celebrity writer and say that’s my authority. It would be easier. But God has called us to maturity. He has poured His Spirit out on His churches, and called us to come to knowledge. So we work and strive to know the Scriptures; we listen to the understanding of the community of which we are a part; and we trust God to bring us to perfection. If God wanted to establish an infallible interpreter, He could have done so, and then testified to that infallible interpreter with signs and wonders. This is what Judas (not Iscariot) asked in John 14:22- “How do you manifest yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus’ answer is that the internal work of the Spirit, which prepares a place for the indwelling of the Trinity in the believer, is all the manifestation that we require.

Jesus also told His disciples in John 7:17 that the one who is committed to do the will of God will know whether the doctrine is true or not. So we have to commit ourselves to follow the Scripture, to do the will of God. We will be informed and aided by the community in which He has placed us, but that community is never infallible. But if we commit ourselves to obedience to God then He will reveal the truth, over time, to us. It might not satisfy Judas’ desire to prove the truth of the doctrine to the world, to manifest it to everyone else, but Jesus will do that when He comes again. Until then, we are to rely on the Comforter, working through the believing community and in ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Tradition and the Interpretation of Scripture

  1. Coupled with the promise of the Holy Spirit in this manifestation, was the promise to bring to the Apostles' memory what Jesus had taught, so that they could give us the New Testament. No matter what the path, it always leads back to me and my Bible. My Bible also tells me to listen to others and seek the communion of the saints.

  2. A gift for you….truth.
    The true Gospel is now delivered to you from the wilderness Rev 12:6 as a witness Matt 24:14.
    Our heavenly Father will NOT put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. Sin doesn't scare God! He created it Isa 45:7 to teach us all the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22 for our eternal placement in his coming kingdom. Throwing a child of his into a hell fire has never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Anyone preaching a hell fire for any child of God has been deceived into teaching lies. The whole world has been believing in a god of hate murder and revenge (The devil Rev 12:9). The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 here

    God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet like unto Moses Num 12:3 and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17. Those professing themselves to be Christians would be wise to hear all Acts 3:23 BEFORE making any judgment. The proof of what I tell you is in the hearing.

    Prove ALL things 1 Thes 5:21. Satan has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9 until now. Turn your heart to the children of God for a better placement Ezek 37:26 in God's world Rev 21.

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