The Church Fathers on 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Those who hold to sola scriptura carefully avoid any mention of 2 Thess. 2:15, where the apostle Paul does no less than command the faithful to hold fast to the oral teachings of the Apostles, and not just the written word:

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.

This is a clear repudiation to the sola scriptura delusion that the fullness of the faith is found within the pages of Holy Writ.  When this verse is pointed out to them, the reactions are typical, made up on the spot (or copy pasted from the internet) rationalizations that ignore the plain words (so much for scripture interprets itself!) and torture both grammar and logic.

More importantly, it is a view of scripture as young and recent as sola scriptura itself.  It is a reading of scripture that again requires us to believe that the Holy Spirit mislead the Church for 1500 years plus, until it was made clear on some internet website.  Among the fanciful readings of this verse I’ve heard include:

  • Yes, the verse says that, but now all teachings have been put to writing, so it does not bind us
  • Because the verse uses the word or, we do not have to follow the oral traditions (this one is a grammar trainwreck)
  • What this verse means is that if an oral tradition is relied on, it is to be tested against written scripture to validate it (how you get that from this simple verse is beyond me)

This last one was sort of trotted out today with this comment from a protestant who is wrestling with this verse as in an intractable battle.   The idea that the Apostle could mean what he says is truly unthinkable to him.  This was his exegesis:

What he is saying here, is that ALL of our New Covenant traditions (especially the Gospel) will be the same, whether you receive it by word of mouth or by the epistles. So since we have the epistles, then if someone comes to you with new revelation or ordinances, then you have the Sword of Truth (Bible) to defend against heresies. 

To point out the obvious, if all traditions will be the same regardless of how they are received, there is no need to enjoin following both modes of reception.  In fact, it would hold that to avoid the problem of “new revelation or ordinances” it would be mindful for the Apostle to limit us to written sources, which he explicitly does not do.  The verse is notably absent of this “test the oral against the written” command, which one would expect to be very important if this verse means what it is claimed to mean by the above writer.  Finally, whether he realizes it or not, he has limited the word epistle, meaning letter, to those letters received and canonized into scripture.  It would follow then that no letter written by an Apostle to a local church was intended to be followed by that Church, unless 300 years later it was canonized.  Even a new Back to the Future movie can’t fix this exegetical mess!

No the simple truth is that the Apostle means exactly what he says.  There is no need to think too hard on it.  Just follow the scripture – that’s your belief right?

The Church fathers engaged in no such sophistry in discussing this verse.  It really is a plain, simple, and self-explanatory verse.  The tortured reaction to it – all modernist – is for one simply reason.  It obliterates sola scriptura and the vain authority of the individual mind.

St. John Chrysostom

Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.

Citation: John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Second Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. Tweed & J. A. Broadus (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Vol. 13, p. 390). New York: Christian Literature Company.

St. Basil the Great

In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form “with the Spirit” has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. “I praise you,” it is said, “that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you;” and “Hold fast the traditions which ye have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle.”2 One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time.

Citation:  Basil of Caesarea. (1895). The Book of Saint Basil on the Spirit. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, pp. 44–45). New York: Christian Literature Company.

St. John Damascene

And Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, writes that the Apostles handed down a great many things unwritten: ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast: and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle’; and to the Corinthians: ‘Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you.’

Citation:  John Damascene. (1958). Writings. (H. Dressler, Ed., F. H. Chase Jr., Trans.) (Vol. 37, p. 373). Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, but if a person wishes to offer their private opinion or urge that “the Holy Spirit explained it to me this way”, please have a little more behind them than the vanity of their own mind.   Think carefully about on what basis you seek to confront and contradict these Holy Men, lest you show hubris of a worrisome degree.  The idea that a new truth has suddenly been discovered, is more likely to be delusion.  And as with every delusion, one should take a very serious look at what the source of that delusion is.

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