Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are we closet Marcionites?

I was made to think about something. I wended my way into a Tradition vs. Scripture discussion, and once again it was put forth "Well, what about the Church before the written word, before Paul. . . see, it was the Words of the Apostles - Oral Tradition!"

I've seen that argument many times before. . . and I realized that it's utter bunk. Why? It wasn't as though the Scriptures were not read in the Early Church in 36 AD - they read from Moses and the Prophets. At the end of Luke our Lord describes what the preaching prior to the New Testament would have been - explaining how all that was prophesized in Moses and the Psalms and the Prophets has come to completion in Christ.

Of course there was a written Word - and the Apostles cite it!

So, why don't we bring this up? Why do Lutherans not shout this from the mountains - why do the Papists neglect this? Are we closet Marcionites? Even as we quote from Matthew over and over "All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet" (especially at this time of year), do we end up chopping away the Old Testament?

In our discussions on the written Word, why do we so often forget the Old Testament?


Father Hollywood said...

In fairness, I don't think those who cite tradition as part of the apostolic witness are denying the OT or are Marcionites.

Rather, as St. Paul points out, he received (παρέλαβον)the Words of Institution and also delivered (παρέδωκα) them to his Corinthian readers (1 Cor 11:23ff). Of course, the latter word (paredoka) is often translated as "tradition." St. Paul's reliance on tradition is in no way Marcionism or a denial of the OT - nor should it be seen as somehow belittling the Scriptures he was instrumental in writing.

Even though this may well have been the first time the Words of Institution were recorded in Scripture (AD 55), the Lord's Supper had been conducted presumably at least weekly for more than two decades by this time - always predating the Biblical witness.

I don't have a problem with this gap in time. The Word was preserved by divine providence, by the Holy Spirit, and by the faithful witness of the apostles.

Some skeptics argue that the primitive Christianity before the Scriptures were written was somehow different than afterwards. I think that contention is more like Marcionism.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

My point, though, is that when we talk about the written word we can neglect the OT. I was told that in the Early Church there was only tradition prior to the writing of the NT . . .

But what of these traditions that Paul hands over - are they not all the things that take place in the context of the Old Testament? Are they not expansions and expoundings upon the Old?

In the argumentation that is thrown against the primacy of the Scriptures, the Old Testament never comes up. . . it's a backdoor, a closet Marcionism, where there is this mythical, Scriptureless Church relying only on oral tradition -- rather than relying upon the preaching of the Apostles which opens and unfolds the Old, just like Peter does on Pentecost.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Eric:

I don't think Paul is speaking of the Scriptures when he uses the word "paredoka" in 1 Cor 11. I think he is specifically referring to the Lord's oral revelation of the "New Testament" in His blood, and the oral revelation of the verba through the apostles.

Paul does often speak of the Word of God as Scrip0ure (e.g. 2 Tim 3:16, not to mention his numerous quotations of the OT) - but I think when it comes to the sacraments, the Words of Institution in written form came decades after the sacraments were themselves instituted. Baptisms in the name of the Trinity were happening many years before anyone had a pocket-sized ESV book of Matthew. Hence, prior to that time, the Church was administering sacraments based on a not-yet-scriptural, and yet traditional, Word of God. And I think that is a fair and accurate accounting of the early church. Now, I don't think it is a proper argument to use this indisputable fact as evidence against Scripture occupying a place of authority on par or even below tradition in our era.

I just don't see this anti-OT stuff. In fact, I see a lot of the opposite tack, especially given the spate of recent translations of the LXX into English. There are both Orthodox and Protestant groups that are making the argument that the LXX is the "church's" Old Testament, based on the NT writers' preference for quoting from the Greek.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am not saying that the presence of oral tradition is anti-OT. Not at all, I dispute you not in the slightest.

What I am saying is this - those who wish to place oral tradition above Scripture (normally accompanied with a claim that they have it) act as though there were no Written Word and just oral tradition in the early Church.

Chad Myers said...

@Rev Brown:

So when Paul talks about the Tradition that he gave to the churches in his various epistles, which Tradition is that?

Which translation of the Luther Bible did he hand to them when he left?

When Luke interviewed Mary for the Nativity Narrative, was he just copying from the existing NT Gospels in the Bible he had on his lap?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The tradition is that which He has taught them. The tradition is the faith - and I'll even say this includes the Scriptures, both Old and New.

I don't think he handed them a German bible as German didn't exist yet, but there is debate as to whether or not Luke had written his Gospel by that point.

And as for Luke - no, he interviewed Mary and wrote down the stuff that the Lovers of God needed.

Is there more than what was written - sure! But these are written that we might believe. . . and by believing have life in His Name.

I trust what what is written and recorded for us. . . simple as that. And for 3500 years the Church of God has been a Church centered around the written Word of God - even Christ, when He preached in the synagogue expounded upon His own written Word.

Rev Rydecki said...


I completely agree with all your points.

Speaking of tradition and referring back to a previous thread of comments, I think that Luke 2:41-52 (the Christmas 1 Gospel in the pericope I'm using) would be another witness against the old SV tradition. I mean, if Mary and Joseph only have the Holy One to look after, how on earth do they travel for a whole day without noticing the absence of their only responsibility? But if they have three or four other (screaming) children to keep track of, I, as a father of four (often screaming) children can much better appreciate their confusion. :)

Oh, that's right. Some would argue that they became foster parents of nieces and nephews, just to keep the SV tradition intact.

Oh, well. Merry Christmas!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Rev. R:

I'm not convinced at all.

Our blessed Lord was 12. He was nearly the age that people in that culture began to marry. In their context, he was not a little kid. Even nowadays, 12-year olds are out of their parents' sight quite a bit - and we baby them compared to the first century.

People also traveled in caravans with large numbers of people. It would have been very easy to for Joseph and Mary to have had a miscommunication. Heck, even if they had five children, how would they travel a whole day and not notice that the Son of God is missing? I think the incident is a little more complicated than the Home Alone scenario. :-)

Besides, if that were a smoking gun, I would think that someone would have thought of it before the 20th century.

Just my two cents! Blessed Christmas!

Rev Rydecki said...

Fr. H,

No, no. Reference not intended as a smoking gun. Just circumstantial evidence. Not admissible in a court of law.

¡Feliz Navidad!