David Palm is a convert from evangelicalism to Roman
Catholicism. Thankfully, he's one of the few such converts who
does not allow the emotions evoked by such a conversion to determine
everything he says about his former faith. He presents cogent,
meaningful arguments in defense of his new position, which makes
his attempt to defend the Roman Catholic concept of "oral
tradition" all the more valuable, for if this attempt does
not succeed, surely the more emotional appeals are even less helpful.
Does Mr. Palm succeed in showing us a meaningful role for "oral
tradition" in the New Testament. Let's see.
Mr. Palm wrote:
Scripture says that Joseph and Mary returned to Nazareth
after their sojourn in Egypt, "that what was spoken by the
prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'"
(Matt. 2:23). All commentators admit that the phrase "He
shall be called a Nazarene" is not found anywhere in the
Old Testament. Yet Matthew tells us that the Holy Family fulfilled
this prophecy, which had been passed on "by the prophets."
The proposed solutions to explain this verse are
legion. They range from trying to find some word-play on "Nazarene"
in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, to viewing this text
as loosely "fulfilling" a conglomeration of Old Testament
passages that refer to a despised Messiah. The serious grappling
by scholars with the text is admirable, but in the end their solutions
It may be that we should seek resolution in simplicity.
When read in Greek, the introduction to this prophecy differs
from all the other "fulfillment" sayings in Matthew
(for example Matt. 1:22, 2:15, 3:15, and others). Thus, the failed
attempts to locate the Old Testament background to this prophecy,
coupled with this unique introduction, suggest to me that the
simplest solution is probably the correct one: Matthew is drawing
on oral Tradition for this saying. If this is the case, it is
significant that he places this prophecy on the same level as
ones he attributes to specific authors of the Old Testament. This
then would be an example of God's own Word being passed on via
oral Tradition and not through written Scripture.
Mr. Palm is quite correct when he says that it is
difficult to determine the source of the quotation in Matthew
2:23. This is not the only passage that challenges us in regards
to source material. However, to leap from a difficulty in identifying
the Scriptural source to the existence of an undocumented and
mysterious "oral tradition" is hardly the proper method
of getting around a difficulty. It must be remembered that Jewish
writers (including Matthew) felt much freer to engage in conflation
and paraphrastic citation than we in our modern Western world.
While Mr. Palm says that all attempts to identify the *Scriptural*
source of this passage fail, that is simply his own conclusion.
Can he say with certainty that all of the suggested sources could
not, in fact, provide a sufficient basis? And why should we believe
that Mr. Palm's leap into the undocumentable realm of "oral
tradition" is any more solid than any of the suggestions
that have been given for a *Scriptural* source? Can Mr. Palm show
us any historical evidence to substantiate this "oral tradition"
being in existence at this time?
Mr. Palm attempts to provide some biblical basis
for his argument by saying that the introduction to the prophecy
"differs" from others. Unfortunately, he is not clear
as to what he means. Does he mean that it is not word-for-word
identical? This is true, but one could point to almost any of
the introductions and make that statement. Does that make all
of them supportive of the existence of some "oral tradition"?
That would be to argue too much. What is it about this introduction,
Mr. Palm, that supports your thesis? It can't be the use of h'rethen,
since that is used by Matthew in many other places regarding Scriptural
prophecies. It also can't be the phrase dia twn prophetwn, since
that is likewise used elsewhere by the Gospel writers (Luke 18:31).
If anything could be drawn at all from the phrase h'rethen dia
twn prophetwn, it would be that this is indeed a conflated citation,
drawn from the plurality of the prophets rather than from a single
prophet. When drawing from a single prophet Matthew most often
names names (2:17), though at other times he does not (2:15).
If the argument is that Matthew does not elsewhere use the plural
"by the prophets," and that the conjunction of h'rethen
points to "oral tradition," we are left with what can
only be called an artificial argument that presupposes what it
is proven to demonstrate.
Mr. Palm wrote:
Just before launching into a blistering denunciation
of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus delivers this command to the
crowds: "The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so
practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they
do; for they preach, but do not practice" (Matt. 23:2-3).
Although Jesus strongly indicts his opponents of
hypocrisy for not following their own teaching, he nevertheless
insists that the scribes and Pharisees hold a position of legitimate
authority, which he characterizes as sitting "on Moses' seat."
One searches in vain for any reference to this seat of Moses in
the Old Testament. But it was commonly understood in ancient Israel
that there was an authoritative teaching office, passed on by
Moses to successors.
As the first verse of the Mishna tractate Abôte
indicates, the Jews understood that God's revelation, received
by Moses, had been handed down from him in uninterrupted succession,
through Joshua, the elders, the prophets, and the great Sanhedrin
(Acts 15:21). The scribes and Pharisees participated in this authoritative
line and as such their teaching deserved to be respected.
Jesus here draws on oral Tradition to uphold the
legitimacy of this teaching office in Israel. The Catholic Church,
in upholding the legitimacy of both Scripture and Tradition, follows
the example of Jesus himself.
In addition, we see that the structure of the Catholic
Church-with an authoritative teaching office comprised of bishops
who are the direct successors of the apostles-follows the example
of ancient Israel. While there are groups of Christians today
that deny continuity between Israel and the Church, historic orthodox
Christianity has always understood the Church to be a fulfillment
of Israel. This verse about Moses' chair illuminates why we say
that the successor of Peter, when he gives a solemn teaching for
the whole Church, is said to speak ex cathedra or "from the
Whereas under the Old Covenant the administration
of God's people came from the "chair of Moses," Christians
under the New Covenant look to the "chair of Peter"
for direction on questions of faith and morals. But there is a
notable difference between the magisterium under the Old Covenant
and our teachers under the New Covenant. The successors of the
apostles, and especially Peter's successor, have the Holy Spirit
to guide them into all truth, and they have Jesus' promise that
the "gates of hell will not prevail" against the Church
This section presents a tremendously wide-ranging
set of assertions that go FAR beyond what is to be found in the
text of Matthew 23:2. Indeed, that such far-reaching conclusions
can be based upon such a *slim* amount of evidence stretches the
mind just a bit.
First, Mr. Palm says that it was common in ancient
Israel to believe in this position of "Moses' seat."
In reality, the term itself is not common in Jewish writings.
It most likely refers to a seat in the synagogue from which the
law (i.e., the writings of Moses and the prophets) was read. Obviously,
since synagogue worship did not exist prior to the Exile, the
term "ancient Israel" here needs to be limited to the
Secondly, the authority of "Moses' seat"
would have been primarily magisterial, not doctrinal. Lightfoot
notes this by saying, "This is to be understood rather of
the *legislative seat* (or chair), than of the merely *doctrinal:*
and Christ here asserts the authority of the magistrate, and persuadeth
to obey him in lawful things" (Ibid, p. 289). Moses acted
as judge in Israel, and the priesthood maintained that role in
Mr. Palm notes that we do not find this office in
the Old Testament. This is true, as far as the specific name goes.
It is then asserted that Jesus' refusal to overthrow the form
of synagogue worship and teaching is tantamount to a recognition
of extra-biblical binding revelation. The close observer will
note a huge chasm here. The religious situation into which the
Messiah came was hardly identical with the situation under Moses.
Many things were different, and due to occupation, Roman rule,
and many other factors, there were all sorts of things that were
"extra-biblical" that were part and parcel of the Jewish
life of the day. Are we to honestly believe that unless the Lord
Jesus proved a revolutionary in rejecting *every* non-biblical
tradition and practice that this gives us wholesale license for
the addition of such traditions today? Or should we not realize
that in light of Jesus words in Matthew 15 that such traditions
need to be tested by a higher authority (Scripture), and, *if
they do not violate the Word of God,* they can be followed and
practiced? There was nothing against the Scriptures in having
a man read the Scriptures from Moses' seat, or to give judgments
based upon the Law. Why then reject such a tradition? The acceptance
of a tradition that is not contrary to Scripture is not grounds
for the acceptance of others that *are.* And what is more, the
acceptance of a tradition current at the time does not mean that
the Lord Jesus accepted the *claims* made by the Mishnah two hundred
years later regarding the alleged basis of such traditions (i.e.,
those claims regarding Mosaic origin).
Regarding the Mishnaic tractate Aboth, it does indeed
make the claim that Mr. Palm notes. However, are we to gather
from Mr. Palm's citation that he *believes* this claim? It is
hard to believe that he actually does---in fact, unless Mr. Palm
has undergone a recent conversion to Judaism, I can't possibly
see how he could do so. Let's note a few things:
1) The tractate indicates that the Torah was passed
down to such individuals as Shammai and Hillel, yet, as students
of NT backgrounds know, these two set up opposing schools with
different understandings of tradition (should sound familiar!).
Who was, in fact, the true recipient of this alleged oral tradition,
2) Does Mr. Palm believe that the statements recorded
in this tractate reflect oral revelation? Does he agree with Jose
ben Johanan of Jerusalem (Mishnah 5 of tractate Aboth) who says
that you should not speak much with your wife? Is this "oral
tradition" binding and divine in origin? And does he believe
that Rabbi Gamaliel (who is likewise listed as a recipient of
this divine tradition) was providing oral and binding divine revelation
when he said that you should appoint for yourself a teacher so
as to avoid doubt, and that you shouldn't make a habit of tithing
3) The authority of this tractate can be cited to
support the Corban rule of Matthew 15:1-9. In fact, as Lightfoot
discusses in his _Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud
and Hebraica_, (II:226-229), entire Mishnaic tractates are devoted
to such issues. If Mr. Palm accepts the claims of tractate Aboth,
then he is bound to likewise believe that the Lord Jesus erred
in Matthew 15 in subjugating the Corban rule, based, as it is,
upon the same oral tradition, to the higher authority of Scripture.
4) When did this "oral tradition" pass
away? Surely Mr. Palm does not follow it any longer. This presents
him with numerous problems. If he says this tradition has passed
away, is he not admitting that the apostolic oral tradition can
pass away too? Was this tradition infallible? If so, why is it
not infallible today? If it became fallible, does it not follow
that Roman tradition can likewise become fallible?
Next Mr. Palm says that since the Pharisees stood
in this alleged line of succession, their teaching deserved to
be respected. The problem is, however, that the Lord Jesus often
did not respect their teaching. The issue in Matthew 23 was not
respect for the teaching of the Pharisees, but respect for the
authority of the person who sat in Moses' seat. The two are not
necessarily co-extensive, and what is more, there is nothing in
the passage that even begins to suggest that the Lord Jesus is
making reference to the entire idea of extra-biblical tradition,
authority, etc. He is saying to obey the authorities in the synagogue
service. To read into this the acceptance of an entire concept
of oral revelation passed down through some "magisterium"
is to be WAY beyond what is written. Mr. Palm then says, "Jesus
here draws on oral Tradition to uphold the legitimacy of this
teaching office in Israel." This is simply untrue. There
is nothing in the passage that even makes reference to "oral
Tradition." This can only be identified as wishful thinking,
based upon an anachronistic insertion of later developments back
into the text.
Mr. Palm then writes, "This verse about Moses'
chair illuminates why we say that the successor of Peter, when
he gives a solemn teaching for the whole Church, is said to speak
ex cathedra or 'from the chair.' " I do not recall any of
those gathered at Vatican I citing this passage as a basis for
the ex cathedra passage; I'd think the cathedra is in pure reference
to Peter's "seat," and that the idea that the Lord Jesus
is here establishing, or affirming, some authoritative (no, infallible!)
teaching office in the Church by reference to Israel is to try
to find in the text something that no one can possibly believe
was in the mind of the original writer or audience.
Mr. Palm then goes on to assert that under the Old
Covenant God's people came to the chair of Moses. Yet, this assumes
the chair of Moses existed in ancient Israel. It didn't. It came
into existence after the Exile. No parallel exists to the Roman
innovation that came about centuries after Christ. Indeed, a close
examination of the phrase "chair of Peter" will reveal
that in many theologians (such as Cyprian and Augustine) this
referred to *all* of the episcopate, all bishops in their sees,
not merely to the bishop of Rome. The arrogation of this title
to one bishop took a long, long time, and in fact never became
Mr. Palm's attempt to use the chair of Moses suffers
from the same problem as his first attempt: it assumes what it
seeks to prove. It is circular, and does not provide anywhere
near sufficient basis for its conclusions.
Mr. Palm wrote:
1 Corinthians 10:4
Paul shows how Christian sacraments-baptism and the
Eucharist -were prefigured in the Old Testament. He treats baptism
first: "Our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed
through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud
and in the sea" (vv. 1-2). Next he highlights the Eucharist,
prefigured by the manna in the wilderness (v.3; cf. John 6:26-40),
and the water that God provided for Israel: "All drank the
same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural
Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ" (1 Cor.
The Old Testament says nothing about any movement
of the rock that Moses struck to provide water for the Israelites
(Ex. 17:1-7, Num. 20:2-13), but in rabbinic Tradition the rock
actually followed them on their journey through the wilderness
(See Tosefta Sukkah 3:11f.; Pseudo-Philo Biblical Antiquities
10:7). In a further development, another Tradition, given by Philo,
even equates this rock with preexistent Wisdom: "For the
flinty rock is the Wisdom of God, which he marked off highest
and chiefest from his powers, and from which he satisfies the
thirsty souls that love God."
It seems that Paul is drawing on this Tradition,
but he elevates it to even a higher level. Christ himself was
the Rock who provided for the people of Israel, which in turn
makes their rebellion all the more heinous (1 Cor. 10:5ff.). Paul
does not hesitate to draw on stock oral Tradition to illustrate
and enhance his presentation of the gospel. The details provided
in these Traditions preserved under the Old Covenant shed fresh
light on the preparation that God made through Israel for the
building of his Church and on the characteristics of the Christian
Mr. Palm is quite right to point out that Paul was
more than familiar with Jewish traditions and folklore. Since
it seems Paul had been trained in the rabbinic tradition such
is hardly surprising. Paul would certainly have been familiar
with extra-scriptural traditions (please note the continued practiced
of capitalizing "Tradition" on Mr. Palm's part. Mr.
Palm continues to read back into the ancient setting his own modern
ideas of what "Tradition" is supposed to be, and this
is reflected in the capitalization of the term.). Paul was likewise
familiar with other Jewish works of literature, including works
from the intertestamental period, and works that became a part
of the Apocrypha. He was likewise familiar with Greek philosophy
and mythology, and drew upon these sources as well. None of this
is in dispute, of course. The question is, does Paul's familiarity
with such sources mean that they are divinely inspired, authoritative,
Take this passage from 1 Corinthians as an example.
Surely Mr. Palm is not suggesting to us that Pseudo-Philo is providing
us with an inerrant, infallible oral tradition that was passed
down from Moses' day, is he? I note in passing that in reality
the sources indicate that it was a *well,* not a rock, that followed
them in the wilderness. C.K. Barrett cites the same passage from
Philo that Mr. Palm cites, in fuller detail:
The drought of passions seizes upon the soul, until
God sends forth the stream from his strong Wisdom and quenches
with unfailing health the thirst of the soul that had turned from
him. For the flinty rock is the Wisdom of God, which he marked
off highest and chiefest from his powers, and from which he satisfies
the thirsty souls that love God. And when they have been given
water to drink, they are filled also with the manna, the most
generic of substances, for the manna is called 'somewhat', and
that suggests the summum genus. But the primal existence is God,
and next to him is the Word of God.
Barrett then notes:
In Philo's allegorical interpretation of the law,
the miraculous food and drink (or source of drink) are taken to
mean the word and wisdom of God, which themselves are at least
partially hypostatized beings. By adapting these identifications
Paul interprets Christ in terms of the wisdom of Hellenistic Judaism.
This does not mean that he wished to say about Christ all that
Hellenistic Judaism said about wisdom. Indeed his thought is rather
of the work than of the person of Christ, and his primary meaning
is that as wisdom was believed to be the source of understanding,
virtue, and salvation, so in truth was Christ; more than that,
it was Christ himself who, in the form of a rock and in the person
of wisdom, gave life to the people of God, in the past as in the
present (_Harper's New Testament Commentaries, The First Epistle
to the Corinthians_, pp. 222-223).
Now, Mr. Palm asserts that Paul draws from "stock
Tradition." Yes, he does, to a point. So he likewise draws
from the traditions of the Greeks, too. What does this prove?
That the authors of Scripture felt free to draw illustrations
and terminology from all sorts of places. Just as no one would
seriously argue that the use of Greek philosophers means that
such sources are infallible, inspired, or in any sense spiritually
authoritative, so too the mere fact that Paul makes reference
to a Jewish idea that the rock in the wilderness was more than
a mere rock hardly provides a basis for asserting that this is
an inspired and infallible oral tradition that has been passed
down outside of Scripture and is binding upon Christians today.
In fact, if Mr. Palm is defending the partim-partim view of traditional
authority, is he really going to defend the idea that this tradition
goes back to Moses? And if he defends the "material sufficiency"
viewpoint, what does this passage provide him? Surely this "tradition"
is not some Mosaic-interpretation of the Scriptures maintained
within an "Old Testament magisterium." So it is hard
to see how either of the two major viewpoints is aided by this
Mr. Palm writes:
1 Peter 3:19
In his first epistle Peter tells of Christ's journey
to the netherworld during which "he went and preached to
the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God's patience
waited in the days of Noah" (1 Pet. 3:19). There is a growing
scholarly consensus that the interpretive key to this verse is
found in Genesis 6:1-7, in which "the sons of God" cohabited
with "the daughters of men" and produced ghastly offspring.
According to ancient interpretation, these "sons of God"
were actually rebellious angels who sinned by mating with human
It appears likely that this is Peter's view as well.
"For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but
cast them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until judgment .
. . then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial"
(2 Pet. 2:4, 9). Note the close link to Noah and Genesis 6. Compare
too Jude 6, which says that "the angels that did not keep
their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept
by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment
of the great day . . ." These references are evidence that
Peter has this traditional interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 in
mind when he writes of Christ's preaching "to the spirits
Additional background is found in the extra-biblical
book of 1 Enoch. In this work, which was popular both in ancient
Jewish and early Christian circles, the righteous man Enoch (Gen.
5:22-24) goes at God's command to the place where these sinful
angels are imprisoned and proclaims their impending judgment and
punishment for their sin.
The parallel to Peter's epistle is too close to dismiss.
It seems possible that Peter views Enoch as a "type"
of Christ and that in 1 Peter 3:19 he portrays Christ as a "second
Enoch," who goes to the spirit world and proclaims the final
downfall of these evil spirits (compare Col. 2:15). Peter's source
for this analogy is Tradition, not Scripture.
The final sentence of the above presentation has
no logical connection to what has come before. Up to that point
Mr. Palm was simply reciting facts that have been acknowledged
by many (with the exception of the "second Enoch" idea).
However, what is his basis for making the giant leap into this
"Tradition" with a capital T? He has already acknowledged
that Genesis 6 is the source of the nephilim concept, has he not?
So what is being asserted when "Tradition" comes in
here? Is Mr. Palm asserting that this is an oral tradition that
is inspired and infallible? From whence did this tradition arise?
Or is Mr. Palm merely admitting that the inspired writers made
reference to ideas, beliefs, and sources that were current in
their day? Such an assertion is not argued by anyone. But neither
is such an assertion relevant to substantiating the Roman Catholic
concept of tradition, either as separate revelation or as interpretive
Mr. Palm continued:
This example is significant because it highlights
one of the important functions that Tradition still plays for
us. As is all too clear from the divisions within Christendom,
Scripture may be interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes
the Traditions passed on in the Catholic Church provide the interpretive
key to certain passages. This was important in the early Church,
because heretics of all stripes appealed to the Bible in support
of their doctrine.
Is this how Mr. Palm believes "Tradition"
functioned in the Old Testament? Here "Tradition" becomes
the less-defined "interpretive grid." Is Mr. Palm saying
that Peter embraced the book of 1 Enoch as an interpretive tradition
of Genesis? If so, does Mr. Palm likewise accept 1 Enoch as an
interpretive grid, a "Tradition"? I will spare the reader
citations from the book, as 99% of the work would not be accepted
as having any authority interpretively by Roman Catholics or Protestants
alike. But is Mr. Palm saying that in this one instance Peter
depended upon this extra-scriptural, divine, and authoritative
source? Or is he simply stating that Peter is making reference
to a common belief of the day that is also expressed in 1 Enoch,
without making 1 Enoch, or the belief, authoritative?
Mr. Palm continued:
It is simply false to suppose that the early Church
relied on *sola scriptura* to defend Christian orthodoxy. "There
is no reason to infer, . . . " says J.N.D. Kelly in _Early
Christian Doctrines_, "that the primitive Church regarded
the apostolic testimony as confined to written documents emanating
from, or attributed to, the apostles." Rather, the early
Church Fathers argued that the interpretations of the heretics
were not in line with the "rule of faith," that is,
the deposit of Tradition passed on by the apostles to the bishops
of the Catholic Church and preserved through an unbroken lineage.
At this point Mr. Palm goes well beyond the scope
of a discussion of the NT usage of "tradition," and
begins to engage in a good bit of special pleading for his cause.
The ellipses in the quotation remove a little "however"
that points us back to the discussion in Kelly of how often the
early Fathers cited as yet "uncanonized" Scripture,
especially that of Paul. Hence, Kelly has just indicated the high
viewpoint of the written testimony to the apostolic teaching,
and as a counterbalance produces the statement cited. However,
he doesn't stop there. He continues on:
Logically, as it must have done chronologically,
the testimony stood prior to the documents, and it would be more
correct to say that the latter were valued precisely because they
were held to enshrine the former. Admittedly there is no evidence
for beliefs or practices current in the period which were not
vouched for in the books later known as the New Testament. But
there is equally nothing to suggest, and general probability makes
it unlikely, that Christian teachers had these books specifically
in mind on the majority of occasions when they referred to the
apostolic testimony. It is much more plausible that they were
thinking generally of the common body of facts and doctrines,
definite enough in outline though with varying emphases, which
found expression in the Church's day-to-day preaching, liturgical
action and catechetical instruction, just as must as in its formal
documents (pp. 33-34).
Now that is quite different than reading the entire
Roman concept of "Tradition" into Kelly's words as Mr.
Palm does above! Remember, Mr. Palm's "Tradition" includes,
of necessity, purgatory, indulgences, Papal Infallibility, and
a whole plethora of Marian doctrines. Surely Kelly would be the
first to admit that such beliefs were utterly absent from the
Church's instruction and belief at this stage in history. Hence,
to read Mr. Palm's capitalized Tradition back into Kelly's words
is a misuse of a scholarly source, to be sure.
Now I will only mention in passing that Mr. Palm's
reference to the early Father's struggle against the heretics
begs the issue. What was the rule of faith they used to refute
the heretics? Mr. Palm's infallible Roman Tradition? In no way.
The "rule of faith" was far more simple, and was, in
fact, derived from biblical sources, and is fully defendable from
the Scriptures themselves. Hence, the idea that this rule of faith,
this tradition, mentioned by men like Irenaeus, is in fact an
extra-scriptural revelation, holds not the first drop of water.
Mr. Palm provides us with a wonderful example of
this as he continues:
A specific application of this is the doctrine of
the perpetual virginity of Mary. The data of the New Testament
concerning the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus are ambiguous
by themselves, although I would argue that the biblical evidence
leans toward the Catholic interpretation. But we have additional
help in the form of the Traditions preserved in the early Church
which say that Mary remained a virgin and bore no other children
besides Jesus. So Tradition can sometimes serve as arbiter and
interpreter in cases where the meaning of Scripture is unclear.
The student of Church history, having gotten back
up off the floor upon reading that paragraph, has to simply respond,
"Well then who decides from the many conflicting viewpoints
found in the patristic sources what is and what is not Tradition??"
It is well documented (in Kelly as well, no less!) that there
were *many* conflicting viewpoints on this subject in the early
Church. There was no unanimity of opinion, and the idea that one
can trace a real "tradition" to the Apostles through
the maze of differing opinions, and the deafening silence of the
earliest period, requires a bright-eyed optimistic embrace of
Roman authority rather than a critical historical realism.
Mr. Palm says that Tradition can serve as an arbiter
and interpreter in cases where the meaning of Scripture is unclear.
Does that mean that he accepts everything that the early Church
said about Scripture? When interpreting the atonement, does he
use Irenaeus' "ransom to Satan theory" in his studies?
If not, why not? And when "Tradition" takes plain, clear
passages of Scripture, like Luke 1:28, and muddies them up and
imports entire theologies into them that were never a part of
the early Church or the original author's intention, what then?
Is it not painfully clear that what we *really* have is not "Tradition"
at all, but Roman dogmatic authority masquerading under the historical
title? Such is surely the case.
Mr. Palm writes:
Jude relates an altercation between Michael and Satan:
"When the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed
about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling
judgment upon him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you.' " (Jude
As H. Willmering says in _A Catholic Commentary on
Holy Scripture_, "This incident is not mentioned in Scripture,
but may have been a Jewish oral tradition, which is well known
to the readers of this epistle." Some versions of the story
circulating in ancient Judaism depict Satan trying to intervene
as Michael buries the body. Several of the Church Fathers know
of another version in which Moses' body is assumed into heaven
after his death. Jude draws on this oral Tradition to highlight
the incredible arrogance of the heretics he opposes; even Michael
the archangel did not take it on himself to rebuke Satan, and
yet these men have no scruples in reviling celestial beings.
Palm does not note that in reality, this is drawn
from a written source, the Assumption of Moses, the original of
which we do not have, but which is referred to by a number of
This text provides another example of a New Testament
author tapping oral Tradition to expound Christian doctrine-in
this case an issue of behavior. In addition, this text relates
well to a Catholic dogma that troubles many non-Catholics-the
bodily Assumption of Mary. There is no explicit biblical evidence
for Mary's Assumption (although see Rev. 12:1-6), but Jude not
only provides us with a third biblical example of the bodily assumption
of one of God's special servants (see also Gen. 5:24, 2 Kgs. 2:11),
he shows that oral Tradition can be the ground on which belief
in such a dogma may be based.
Again, as in previous examples, Palm confuses the
mere use of common beliefs of the day with the idea that an extra-biblical,
inspired oral tradition exists that is authoritative and infallible.
Just as Jude had no problems in referring to the story of Enoch's
prophecy in the same epistle, here too we have nothing more than
what we would have today if the Bible were being written. If an
apostle today were writing to believers, would he be forced to
*not* make reference to popular works known to his audience? For
example, my pastor often makes reference to Bunyan's _Pilgrim's
Progress_ so as to illustrate various Scriptural truths. One of
my favorite illustrations is from the Interpreter's house. In
his dream, Pilgrim sees a room in which there is a fire at the
base of the wall. A man is busily trying to drown the fire, but
can't put it out. Pilgrim is then shown the other side of the
wall, and there Christ is busily pouring oil through the wall
into the fire, keeping it alive. It is a symbol of the Christian
life, and Christ's pouring of the Holy Spirit into the believer's
life. Now, if a modern apostle were to make reference to this
picture in writing to the church at Phoenix, for example, would
it follow that he intends all of _Pilgrim's Progress_ to be viewed
as canonical? Would it be right to allege that Bunyan was the
recipient of "inspired oral tradition"? Of course not.
In the same way, Mr. Palm errs in trying to substantiate
Roman claims to "Tradition" on the basis of the familiarity
of the Apostles with tradition (small "t"). While I
was not in the room with Mr. Palm and his professor when they
spoke of the NT and tradition (something made mention of earlier
in Mr. Palm's article), I truly doubt that the challenge of the
professor was, "David, show me any place where the apostles
showed any knowledge of extra-biblical literature, tradition,
folklore, or belief." I would imagine the professor said
something like, "David, show me any place where the apostles
identified extra-biblical tradition as divine, inspired, or in
any way infallible." There is a huge difference between those
Mr. Palm concluded:
Nevertheless, I believe that the passages that I
cited demonstrate that the New Testament authors drew on oral
Tradition as they expounded the Christian faith. This fact spells
real trouble for any Christian who asserts that we must find all
of our doctrine in written Scripture. We know that the apostles
did not teach the doctrine of *sola scriptura* explicitly in Scripture,
and we know through their use of oral Tradition that they did
not intend to teach it implicitly by their example either. The
conclusion is that they simply did not hold to a principle of *sola scriptura*-and neither should we.
This is not an argument that flows from what has
been cited; it is where Mr. Palm started, and, not surprisingly,
it is where he finishes. The use of the capitalized Tradition
throughout the article clearly shows that Mr. Palm is engaging
in anachronistic interpretation: the reading back into the biblical
sources of concepts that were not a part of the world or beliefs
of the original writers. What is more, Mr. Palm slips into the
common misrepresentation of sola scriptura that fills Roman Catholic
apologetics works: the idea that sola scriptura, if it is true,
must be normative during times of revelation. Sola scriptura refers
to the functioning church, not to the church being founded and
receiving revelation on a regular basis from living apostles.
There are no living apostles today, and revelation has ceased
(even Rome agrees on this point). The issue *now* is, what is
the infallible rule of faith? Does the Bible teach that that which
is theopneustos ("God-breathed") is sufficient to function
as the regula fidei? Yes, it does. That is the issue.
Mr. Palm concluded:
Catholics need not be shy about this issue. The Protestant
reformers taught that *sola scriptura*-Scripture alone-is our
authority in matters of faith and morals. But this doctrine is
unbiblical. The Catholic Church teaches that Christian doctrine
is *sola Verbum Dei*-from the Word of God alone-and this is what
the Bible actually says about itself. The teaching of the Bible
and of the Church is that God's Word comes to us both through
the writings of the prophets and apostles and through the oral
Traditions that they handed on, and these are preserved by the
Church through the leading of the Holy Spirit. The burden of proof
is on any Christian who believes otherwise.
This is plainly an assertion of the partim-partim
viewpoint of Roman tradition: the idea that there are extra-biblical
inspired and infallible traditions that have been handed down
orally in the Church. Yet, Mr. Palm hasn't provided us with any
examples of this. He has assumed the existence of "Tradition,"
the very thing he needs to show us in detail. Until he does so,
the burden of proof statement at the end of his article should
be referred to him, not to those who refuse to accept as a presupposition
the necessity of Roman authority.