This page is a continuation of our study of Roman Catholicism, and is based upon the first portion. Please go to Roman Catholicism, I: Authority if you have not already done so. Thanks!
Sections on this Page
- Apostolic Tradition
- Traditions Concerning Scripture
- Traditions Concerning Sacraments
- Traditions Concerning the Church
- Traditions Concerning History
- Traditions Concerning Mary
- Traditions Concerning Saints
- Traditions Concerning Sin
- Traditions Concerning Prayer
- Traditions Concerning Consecration
- Traditions Concerning the Afterlife
- Inconsistency Within Tradition
- Progression of Tradition
The Roman Catholic church holds dearly to what they call Apostolic Tradition. They believe that the Apostles entrusted the church with the Scriptures and “oral teachings,” or traditions1. This belief is justified using verses like 2 Thessalonians 3:6:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us.
Let us examine this assertion.
First, if there is a tradition from the Apostles, there must be proof of its origin. The Roman Catholic church must prove that the traditions that they hold to came down as an oral tradition from the Apostles. So far, no such evidence has been presented.
The one piece of evidence we have from the Apostles is the New Testament. We see within it in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.
The Scriptures themselves say that they are inspired, and they will make the man of God “adequate,” and he will be “equipped for every good work.” Therefore, it can be concluded that there is no good work that can be done that is not authorized in the Scriptures.
It is often said in response to this that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy, the New Testament had not yet been formed. This is only half-true. Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:18, quotes Luke in Luke 10:7 as a “Scripture,” so it is certain that Paul knew of some of what would become the New Testament canon. The Scriptures themselves attest to their own sufficiency.
Some will also say that the Scriptures themselves testify that they do not include all matters of faith, based upon John 20:30-31 and John 21:25:
Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in His name.
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that should be written.
This does affirm that the Scriptures do not contain the information concerning all of the works and deeds of Christ and His Apostles. Yet John states in John 21:25 that the world itself could not contain such information! Surely if the information was too vast for Scripture, no tradition could even contain all of it. The answer to this claim is seen in John 20:31, that the Scriptures are written so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”; what else is necessary concerning the Gospel? No one would say that the Scriptures contain every fact that could be known about Christ or His Apostles; the Scriptures do, however, affirm that within their pages will be found all the information that is necessary for salvation.
The Scriptures do speak of tradition as we saw in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, but what exactly are these traditions? The only sure evidence of Apostolic traditions comes from the Scriptures themselves. There certainly are traditions that we can see in the Scriptures, including the practice of baptism for remission of sins (Acts 2:38), the partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-31), and many other such things. We even see that there are traditions concerning Christ which made it into the Scriptures. John 7:53-8:11 presents the story of Jesus with the adulterous woman. The earliest texts of the New Testament do not contain this section in this location; furthermore, within the structure of the Gospel, it seems to clearly be an addition, for John 7:52 and John 8:12 seem to be connected. Yet few will doubt the authenticity of the story. This narrative, then, represents a tradition concerning Jesus that was made a part of the Scriptures.
Likewise, there is the statement of Paul in Acts 20:35:
“In all things I gave you an example, that so laboring ye ought to help the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
This statement of Jesus is not recorded in any of our Gospel narratives. Does this mean it is not true? By no means! Here is another example of a tradition concerning Jesus that is now part of the Scriptures. The statement is clearly in harmony with the nature of Jesus, so there is no contradiction in the matter.
There is not necessarily a problem with tradition, as long as it is a part of the commandments of God, not the traditions of men, as Christ established in Mark 7:8-9:
“Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
And He said unto them, “Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition.”
The only way to truly examine the claims of apostolic tradition made by the Roman Catholic church is to compare them to the commandments made by the Word of God. Let us do so now.
Traditions Concerning the Scriptures
The Roman Catholic church teaches that the Scriptures were determined by tradition, and that one must read the Scriptures in the context of tradition2. Is this verified by history?
We have already seen above that Paul quoted Luke’s Gospel as Scripture, and surely one would not say that the Scriptures were determined by tradition found within the Scriptures. Furthermore, in 2 Peter 3:15-17, Peter gives his endorsement to the letters of Paul.
Beyond even this, the historical record shows clearly that the vast majority of the New Testament was accepted as authoritative within years of the death of their authors. The “church fathers” of the early second century demonstrate familiarity with twenty of the books of the New Testament; by the end of that century, all but three were agreed upon, and two of those not due to their authoritativeness, but because one of those had no author listed (Hebrews) and the other’s prophecy was too often misused by the heretics (Revelation). Historically, it is clear that no tradition determined Scripture, but the knowledge that the works contained in the New Testament were written by the Apostles and their followers.
The Roman Catholic church also accepts nine apocryphal works of the second century BCE as a part of the Old Testament: Tobit, Judith, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, the extended version of Esther, additions to Daniel, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Baruch3. Are these inspired works, directed by God’s hands?
First of all, it is important to note that the Roman Catholic church did not accept all apocryphal works from this time period; the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament from which all of these books were derived, also included 1 Esdras, Epistle of Jeremiah, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, and the Prayer of Manasseh. Not one of these apocryphal works were ever quoted or clearly referred to in the words of Christ and the writings of the Apostles, despite their familiarity with the Septuagint.
They did not quote or refer to them for good reason. Three of the historical works (Tobit, Judith, and the extended Esther) are historically inconsistent with known facts, as shown below:
Tobit: In Tobit 1:15, the author refers to the change of Assyrian kingship from Shalmaneser to Sennacherib. Let the note from the Roman Catholic church’s authorized English translation of the Bible, the New American Bible, speak for itself:
Sennacherib (705-681 BCE): the son of Sargon (722-705 BCE); neither was descended from Shalmaneser. Inconsistencies such as this point to the fact that Tobit is a religious novel 4.
Even the Roman Catholic authorities admit that this work is “religious fiction!”
Judith: In Judith 1:1, the author refers to Nebuchadnezzar as “king of Assyria,” even though he is always known as the king of Babylon in the Scriptures. There is also Judith 4:1-3:
When the Israelites who dwelt in Judea heard of all that Holofernes, commander in chief of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, had done to the nations, and how he had despoiled all their temples and destroyed them, they were in extreme dread of him, and greatly alarmed for Jerusalem and the temple of the LORD, their God. Now, they had lately returned from exile, and only recently had the people of Judea been gathered together, and the vessels, the altar, and the temple been purified from profanation.
This whole passage is historically inconsistent and anachronistic; we know that Sennacherib king of Assyria threatened Judea under the reign of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32), that later Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon conquered Judea (2 Chronicles 36:6-21), and during the reign of Cyrus I of Persia, the Israelites returned to Judea from their exile (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). These historical inconsistencies point to the fictional nature of this story.
The extended Esther: Esther, when giving an address in Esther chapter E, verse 14, speaks of how one Haman attempted to turn the Persian rule over to the Macedonians. This statement would make a lot of sense about a hundred and twenty-five years after Esther was alive, for at that time the Macedonians overran the Persian Empire. However, at the time of Esther (the era of Xerxes I), Macedonia was a Greek backwater, easily overtaken in Xerxes’ rush to conquer Greece.
1 Maccabees: The final, and most condemning, evidence comes from 1 Maccabees. The author of 1 Maccabees indicates numerous times that there are no prophets in the land, and establishes that there has been the passage of some time since prophets had been in the land (1 Maccabees 4:46, 9:27, 14:41). This indicates that the author of 1 Maccabees did not consider himself a prophet or anyone else of his own day as prophets. How, then, can inspired Scripture be written when no one is being guided by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Peter 1:20)? Since there is no good evidence for the inspiration of any of the authors of these books, along with the numerous inconsistencies within them, we can establish that they are not Scripture. There is profit in reading them to understand intertestamental Judaism, but the works are not at the level of Scripture.
The reading of Scripture in the context of tradition would not be a problem unless the traditions upheld were inconsistent with the Scriptures. As we see and will see, it does appear that the tradition upheld by the Roman Catholic church is inconsistent with the truths of Scripture, thus, we should not attempt to read Scripture in the context of errors.
Finally, many Roman Catholics will argue that the Scriptures are impossible for an individual to understand and to be able upon which to render judgment. On account of this, it is necessary to have someone with authority to interpret the Scriptures to assist in the knowledge of Christ. They appeal to 2 Peter 3:15-16 for their evidence:
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
It should be noted that Peter does not say here that Paul’s writings are impossible to understand, merely that “some parts” are “hard to understand.” We do not see any indication in the New Testament that an “authority” was required for the understanding of Scripture. We do see that elders ought to shepherd the flock and that they must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:1-2), but Paul never declares that the elders are to interpret the Scriptures for the flock or to determine matters of doctrine by themselves. Paul actually commands us to study the Word diligently, as seen in 2 Timothy 2:15:
Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.
Therefore, we can see that in the Scriptures, it is the responsibility of the individual to study the Word of God and to determine the truths of Scripture, and not to just accept what has been taught to them by a superior.
Traditions Concerning the Sacraments
The Roman Catholic church teaches that there are seven “sacraments,” particular actions that are considered holy. These seven are baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony5. The only considerations concerning baptism are that the Roman Catholic church baptizes infants and allows for pouring, as discussed in Baptism. The Eucharist and the difficulties inherent in the doctrine of transubstantiation are addressed in The Lord’s Supper: The Nature of the Emblems: Transubstantiation. Certain aspects of the Holy Orders are mentioned in Positions of Authority: A Hierarchy of Bishops,demonstrating that a hierarchy of bishops was not present in the New Testament church. There is no problem with matrimony, and even though it is not often practiced, there is nothing in the Scriptures against the anointing of the sick. Penance will be discussed below in Traditions Concerning Sin. Let us, then, speak of the final sacrament, confirmation.
Confirmation is the anointing of an individual who has been baptized into the Roman Catholic church yet has not partaken of the Eucharist6. For those baptized as infants, this sacrament is performed at the “age of discretion,” or, if a child is in danger of death, immediately7. Catechumens, or adult converts to Roman Catholicism, receive confirmation immediately after baptism8.
We see no such practice in the Scriptures; however, the Roman Catholic church declares that confirmation today is seen in the “laying on of hands” of the New Testament9. Does the use of “laying on of hands” conform to the sacrament of confirmation?
The laying on of hands in the New Testament is most often seen immediately after baptism as the giving of the Holy Spirit. This was done only by the authority of the Apostles; we see this in Acts 8:14, since Peter and Paul had to come to Samaria to give the recent converts the gift of the Holy Spirit, for such power was not in the hands of Philip. Even though the Roman Catholic church asserts that only a bishop can perform a confirmation10, and that the bishops receive authority from the Apostles, we have shown earlier that this is not the case. Without this authority, there is no transfer of the Holy Spirit in the laying on of hands.
We must also see the natural progression for the need of confirmation. When infants began to be baptized, some seal was required for their faith once they attained the age of maturity. The New Testament teaches that the only seal of Christ and the Holy Spirit is for a believer to be baptized in water for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38); confirmation, therefore, is an addition made necessary by the practice of baptizing infants. We conclude, therefore, that the Scriptures teach that people enter into Christ through baptism and have no need of any such “confirmation”.
Traditions Concerning the Church
The Roman Catholic church has a very institutional view of the church; it even goes so far as to call the church the “mother” of its members11. Is this view consistent with the nature of the church of the New Testament?
In Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, the church is considered to be like a body, with different parts working to the betterment of the whole. This idea is completely inconsistent with the notion that the church is as a mother: how can a body have its origin in itself? The only founder of the church is Christ Jesus, who purchased it with His blood (1 Corinthians 3:11). To assert that the church has any other founder would be blasphemy.
While the New Testament does demonstrate an informal relationship between members of different churches, particularly in the same Roman districts, the New Testament betrays no knowledge of any organization or structure beyond the local congregation. According to the New Testament, one is saved by being in Christ and therefore part of His Church, not being part of His Church and therefore saved (cf. Acts 2:47). There is no New Testament precedent, therefore, for the highly structured and institutional view of the Roman Catholic organization.
Traditions Concerning History
The Roman Catholic church considers its history as the following:
As the First Vatican Council noted, the “Church herself, with her marvelous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission12.”
Does this statement conform to any objective understanding of history?
Time and space would fail if we were to examine every instance wherein the Roman Catholic church acted in a manner most unsuited to a body bearing the name of Christ. Let us consider a few examples:
The Donation of Constantine: This document supposedly came from Constantine, and it ceded the power of the western Roman Empire to the bishop of Rome. This document was officially presented to Pepin, king of France, in 754, and accepted as legitimate13. For the next five hundred years, the pope used this document to effectively control western Europe. In the thirteenth century, scholars within the Roman Catholic church itself proved the document to be a forgery, composed not long before it was presented to Pepin.
The Crusades: Called for by Pope Urban II in 1095 when the Muslims closed Jerusalem to all foreigners, the Crusades have few parallels in bloodiness and savagery. Roman Catholic knights from throughout western Europe traveled to Asia Minor and Israel, sacking and plundering the cities of Eastern Orthodox and Muslims alike, raping women and slaughtering all of the men, all in the name of Christ.
The Fourth Crusade: In 1204, another Crusade was called, this time for Egypt. Assembling in Constantinople, the Crusaders began to get involved with the political intrigues of the Byzantines. Losing patience quickly, the Crusaders turned on Constantinople and conquered the city, killing thousands of the Eastern Orthodox. This action firmly divided the Eastern Orthodox church from the Roman Catholic church.
The Reformation: The excesses of the Roman Catholic church in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries led many to become greatly dissatisfied with the Roman Catholic church. These excesses include popes who had secret affairs, a pope using his position of power to help install his son as ruler of Florence (Alexander VI), and “pope” Julius II, known as the “Warrior Pope,” who was bent on conquering more of the Italian peninsula for his own territory, and lavishly funded such structures as the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome with indulgence money obtained throughout Europe.
Martin Luther’s nailing of the ninety-five theses on the door in Wittenberg began the Reformation, after which ensued bloody conflict for the next century. Much blood was shed throughout Europe due to this division. While no attempt is being made to exonerate the Protestants from the blood that they shed, the actions of the Roman Catholic church to suppress this division did not conform to the pattern established by the First Vatican Council.
There are many, however, who will strive to entirely exonerate the Roman Catholic organization from any of this and will attempt to pin the blame on the secular authorities of the day. Historically, such is a desperate attempt to use a technicality to distort reality: while secular authorities had much to do with the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, it is not as if Rome was unaware of what was going on. Such events occurred with the approval of the Roman Catholic authorities and oftentimes were encouraged by them. Attempting to shift the blame does not change the reality of the matter.
Nevertheless, some will confess the difficulties of these actions, but will say that they are the result of the sins of men, and that the church cannot be blamed for the deeds of men. We must establish that it is not as if we strive to hold the Roman Catholic organization to any other level than it would seem to hold itself: if they recognize that terrible actions have been done in its name to its own shame, they should confess as much without striving to portray its history as consistently excellent. Furthermore, the majority of these and other actions were approved by the popes and the bishops of these time periods, and the Roman Catholic church teaches that ordained individuals cannot be separated from the church14; therefore, the church also cannot be separated from the deeds of those ordained.
The first Crusade, for instance, was called for by the pope, preached in the parishes by the bishops and priests, affirmed by the ruling classes and the soldiery, and performed by the soldiers who were a part of the Roman Catholic church. To say that the Roman Catholic church was not responsible for this would be like saying that the President of the United States declared war on a country, it was affirmed by Congress, and the military affirmed and carried it out, but the United States was not responsible for the war. The Roman Catholic church is surely guilty of many indecent and worldly actions which caused much harm and grief not only to many parts of the world, but also to the One in whose name these deeds were performed, Jesus the Christ. The Roman Catholic church is surely not the paragon of purity that the First Vatican Council has declared.
Traditions Concerning Mary
The Roman Catholic church thinks very highly of Mary, the mother of Jesus; to them, she “illumines” the faith in Christ15. They teach that she was not liable to original sin, having been conceived without sin, and was sinless16, she was a perpetual virgin17, and was assumed at death18. She has special roles concerning the church in the belief system of the Roman Catholic church, as she is deemed to be the mother of the church19, that she aided the early church with prayers and continues to be the main “pray-er” for the church20, and she is the “exemplary realization” of the church21; thus, Mary is often prayed to by Roman Catholics to intercede on their behalf in the presence of Christ22. Finally, the teachings of the Roman Catholic church can be summed up with the following: “she is mother wherever He is Savior and head of the Mystical Body23.” Do these teachings conform to what we see regarding Mary in the New Testament?
In the New Testament, Mary is surely blessed, being the mother of the Son of God (Luke 1:28). She helps to raise Him, and He makes sure that she is taken care of at His death (John 19:26-27). She is nowhere mentioned, however, as being the “mother” of the church, or an intercessor in prayer, or having any role whatsoever in the New Testament church.
Jesus speaks of His mother in Matthew 12:46-50:
While He was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and His brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him.
And one said unto Him, “Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, seeking to speak to Thee.”
But He answered and said unto him that told Him, “Who is My mother? and who are My brethren?”
And He stretched forth His hand towards His disciples, and said, “Behold, My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother.”
Jesus surely respects His mother as the one who bore Him. Nevertheless, He wishes to make it known that only those who do the will of His Father can be considered to be part of the family of Jesus (cf. 1 John 1:1-4). It would be difficult for us to create an entire system of reverence for Mary when the Scriptures remain quite silent on her life, especially in view of what Jesus has said.
She is called a perpetual virgin; the Roman Catholic church thus denies that James and Jude are His brothers, but believes that they are the children of the sister of Mary24. The Scriptures, however, portray a different story. We begin with Matthew 1:24-25:
And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth a Son: and he called His name Jesus.
The significant word in this passage is “until”: until denotes the idea of a change of state. For Matthew to say that Mary was kept a virgin until she bore Christ demonstrates that she was most probably not a virgin after that time.
We have already examined Matthew 12:46-50; let us consider Matthew 13:54-57:
And coming into his own country He taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, “Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?”
And they were offended in Him. But Jesus said unto them, “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house.”
It is contended that the term “brothers” in this passage and also in Matthew 12:46-50 signify cousins, but this makes no sense in the context of the passage. The Nazarenes see Christ teaching, and wonder where He received all of this information; after all, He grew up there and was known to them all. Surely the Nazarenes would know the relationship that Jesus had with James and the rest of His kin, and the combination seen here demonstrates that James, Joseph, Simon, Judas, and some sisters are all the siblings of Christ. Had they been the children of Jesus’ aunt, the Nazarenes would have mentioned this also. Likewise, it is not as if the Greek language is devoid of words to describe the relationship between cousins: if Matthew desired to indicate such a relationship, he would have used suggeneis, not adelphoi. Therefore, the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin is inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture.
Likewise, no Scripture exists that would attest to Mary’s sinlessness. The only individual we are told that was without sin was Christ Himself (Hebrews 4:15).
According to Paul in Romans 3:23:
…for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.
Furthermore, we have Mary’s own witness in Luke 1:47:
“And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
From what has God “saved” Mary? What deliverance will be wrought through her Son? Mary here demonstrates that she also needs a Savior, and therefore had sin like the rest of us.
Mary is called the Mediatrix by the Roman Catholic church; yet the Scriptures establish that only Jesus the Christ functions as Mediator in 1 Timothy 2:5:
For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, Himself man, Christ Jesus.
As sure as we are that there is one God, there thus can only be one mediator, that is, Jesus Christ. Therefore, Mary cannot be a mediatrix. We are also told nothing of prayer toward her, but to pray to the Father, for we have fellowship with Him and His Son (1 John 1:3). We are further told nothing of her death and any assumption that may have taken place; we only know of Enoch and Elijah being taken up (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:1). These views have all been compounded upon traditions entirely foreign to the New Testament.
Therefore, we have seen that the Roman Catholic teachings concerning Mary have little foundation in the Scriptures, and many contradict the teachings of Christ. Finally, we have the witness of Christ in Luke 11:27-28, where we see a woman praising whomever may be His mother:
And it came to pass, as He said these things, a certain woman out of the multitude lifted up her voice, and said unto Him, “Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the breasts which Thou didst suck.”
But He said, “Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”
Therefore, it is evident that while Mary is worthy of honor and praise for bearing the Son of God, she has been given no authority in heaven or on earth and required the death of Jesus for her sins like every other human that has walked on the earth.
Traditions Concerning the Saints
The Roman Catholic church teaches that some of its members who have led very pious lives may be eligible for a process deemed “canonization,” which is the path by which they are determined to be saints after their death. This process involves a thorough examination of the life of the individual, taking into account every good and bad deed performed by him or her. It is also required for this person to have worked miracles, especially after his or her death. If one passes these examinations, one is “beatified,” and later, with more evidence for the person’s sanctity, one is “canonized,” and becomes a “saint,” officially recognized by the Roman Catholic church and given a place in the church calendar and a mass in his or her honor25. Do the Scriptures speak of this process? Who are saints in the New Testament?
In the New Testament, the saints were those who were a part of the Body of Christ, and the term refers to those still living, as seen in Philippians 1:1 and Philippians 4:21:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren that are with me salute you.
There is no mention of any process which the Apostles or anyone else used to determine who were and who were not saints beyond their obedience to the will of God. Paul even calls the brethren in Corinth “saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2), and yet his letter to them is full of rebukes for the many difficulties present within that church!
As to the process of canonization, we have the witness of James in James 4:12:
One only is the Lawgiver and Judge, even He who is able to save and to destroy: but who art thou that judgest thy neighbor?
There is only One who can save, the man Christ Jesus. The church has never been given the authority to determine of its deceased members who can be considered a “saint” and who cannot. This determination can only be made by God.
The Roman Catholic church also believes that these “saints” in Heaven can intercede for the church and its members26. The Roman Catholic church allows for the practice of revering relics, or various body parts or possessions of saints, which are often used to consecrate altars. What do the Scriptures say about such things?
We saw in the discussion of Mary that Christ Jesus is the Mediator, and that we have the opportunity to pray directly to God (1 John 1:9). Why, then, would we need such intercessors if we can petition the Father directly?
Concerning the body parts of various saints, we can remember well the end of the first letter of John, 1 John 5:21:
My little children, guard yourselves from idols.
We know from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 that the flesh is perishable, and that only that which is transformed into incorruptibility will remain; therefore, to revere a piece of a dead man or his possessions would be holding to something which in itself is not holy. What is the difference between a man honoring a statue of a god and a man honoring a piece of a saint? Such provides the honor due to the Creator to the creation, the very thing condemned by Paul in Romans 1:22-23.
Traditions Concerning Sin
The Roman Catholic church teaches that there are two kinds of sins, mortal and venial. Mortal sins “turn men away from God,” while venial sin “allows charity to exist27.” Mortal sins are considered to be those of grave matter, those condemned by the Ten Commandments, and done purposely28. Venial sins are considered to be the “less serious” sins, those either not of grave matter or those of grave matter not done purposely29. This separation of the kinds of sin is based on 1 John 5:16-17:
If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
Does this mean that there are different levels of sin? By no means! No sins are actually being defined here, nor is sin being referred to in any other way than in abstraction. John here is exhorting Christians to ask forgiveness of their sins, as seen also in 1 John 1:9. The only “sin leading to death” is the sin not confessed. Nowhere in the Bible do we see God establishing a hierarchy of sins, that one sin is greater or lesser than another. Sin is simply lawlessness (1 John 3:4), a violation of the will of God; we do not see that one violation is deemed greater than another one. The Bible presents many lists of kinds of sins (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, etc.), and yet nowhere do we see anyone saying that one is greater or lesser than another.
The Roman Catholic church also teaches that it can forgive sins30, and that penance is required because of sin31. This penance is performed as confession to a priest, and this is deemed essential32. After hearing the confession of sin, the Roman Catholic church asserts that it has the right to determine what deeds are necessary for satisfying the sin or sins33. Do we see these practices within the Scriptures?
The Roman Catholics appeal to James 5:16 to defend their sacrament of penance:
Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.
This verse comes before the discussion of how to assist a man who is ill, and that prayer is necessary so that his sins may be forgiven. It is certainly good to confess our sins to one another so that we may be healed; however, we do not see that confession to each other is a requirement for private sins, and public sins are to be confessed only so that all may recognize the change of that individual from his previous course of action. Likewise, the confession of sin is “one to another”; will the priest confess his sins to the parishioner? The Bible does not show that we are to confess sins to any authority or to any one man, nor does it say that the church can forgive any sin, but establishes the following in 1 John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We are to confess our sins to God, and He will forgive us of them. He is the only one having the authority to do so!
Furthermore, the Scriptures provide no requirement in terms of making satisfaction for sin as established by some church hierarchy. It is certainly good and commendable for one to be like Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-9, who, having dined with Christ, promised the following in Luke 19:8:
And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold.”
However, nowhere in the Scriptures is recompense mandated. We are to ask for the forgiveness of our sins from any against whom we have sinned, as we are to forgive any who sin against us (Matthew 18:21-35), but we are never told that more is necessary. When a sin is forgiven, the sin is forgiven: in what other way can the debt be canceled?
Penance for sin is often done in the form of Hail Marys and prayer, but also was done in the form of pilgrimages. As pilgrimages became increasingly difficult because of political tensions in the Middle East, the Roman Catholics began building copies of pilgrimage sites in Italy and western Europe. Today, each parish has a way of pilgrimage called the Way of the Cross, or the Stations of the Cross, a path made in the parish in which one can become closer to Christ. Furthermore, for those who cannot get to the parish, meditation on Christ for a half an hour will suffice34. This is just one example of the many things that the Roman Catholic church has instituted to do what only God can do through His will, the shed blood of His Son on the cross, the forgiveness of sin. According to God, the only way that a sin can surely be forgiven is to repent of it and to “sin no more” (John 8:11). The danger of believing that works that we can do will allow the forgiveness of sin is grave indeed.
Traditions Concerning Prayer
We have already seen the Roman Catholic teachings concerning prayer to Mary and to the saints; furthermore, the Roman Catholic church teaches that prayer can be assisted with the usage of religious art35, all prayer is actually prayer “of the Church36,” that the church was taught to pray to Jesus37, that there should be a prayer rhythm38, and that there are specific places where prayer ought to take place39. Are these ideas in harmony with the Scriptures?
The Scriptures teach us to pray and to do so often (1 Thessalonians 5:17), yet do not show us necessarily how to pray. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4 are good examples, yet it is clear that Christ’s Kingdom has already come (cf. Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2) in the form of the church. We are not told that individual prayer is actually a prayer of the church, for as we have seen above, the church is simply the collective of the individual Christians; we cannot deduce that since a part of the Body is praying, that prayer is a prayer of that Body.
The Scriptures do teach that prayer is to be to the Father, the one who can forgive sins (1 John 1:9), and the one to whom Christ said to pray toward (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2). Praying in a rhythm is not necessarily wrong in itself, but falls dangerously close to the category of the Gentiles in Matthew 6:7-8, who prayed in meaningless repetition. We are told to “pray in secret” in Matthew 6:6-7, and we are to understand that our prayers should always have the singular focus of petitioning God to assist us, and not to pray to be seen by men or to appear outwardly pious. Prayer is not limited to any location.
Many difficulties arrive with the inception of religious art. We see the clear delineation between the physical and spiritual nature of man in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, and we recognize that in Christ, the emphasis is squarely on the spiritual man, for he is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), while no man has seen God (John 1:18). The use of physical objects or art to help bring one closer to a spiritual goal is rather contradictory, and resembles greatly the idolatry of the Jews before the exile and the Gentiles of the time of Christ. John urges us to guard ourselves from idolatry in 1 John 5:21, and we must constantly use spiritual things to guide us on our journey in Christ, striving to avoid confusing the Creator and the creation. Iconography only too often leads to idolatry, despite vehement denials by Roman Catholics.
Traditions Concerning Consecration
The Roman Catholic church teaches that consecration, or the taking of vows of chastity and possibly a vow of poverty, is a noble thing, approved in the church40. This consecration normally leads to what is deemed “religious life,” seen most often in monasteries and convents41. It is required for anyone wishing to serve in the ministry, from the position of the priest to the pope, to take the vow of chastity42. Do we see this in the New Testament?
The New Testament shows us by example that many well-respected Christians had wives. We read the following in 1 Corinthians 9:5:
Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
We see that Cephas is an “elder among elders” in 1 Peter 5:1 and that one of the “brothers of the Lord,” James, was an elder in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-29). These men held positions of authority from which the Roman Catholic church asserts to be descended, yet they had no such vow. In reality, such a vow would entirely invalidate such persons from the position which they would profess, for Paul establishes that bishops are to be married and have children in 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-7! Furthermore, the entire practice of binding chastity is condemned by Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1-3:
But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.
Furthermore, as can be seen in Concerning Observances: Lent, the Roman Catholic church also forbids the eating of meat during the Fridays in Lent.
The “religious life” advocated by the monks and nuns of the Roman Catholic church also includes many who are hermits, living in seclusion to become closer to God, and were approved by the church43. These forms of asceticism are deemed by Paul to be the following, seen in Colossians 2:20-23:
If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances,
“Handle not, nor taste, nor touch”
(all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and severity to the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Such asceticism is of no use to their ultimate aim, to combat the desires of the flesh; this has been only too clearly made evident in the recent priest sex abuse scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic organization. We can see, therefore, that such consecration is not as it is claimed to be before God, and that the “narrower path44” the Roman Catholic church believes these people follow does not concord to that which is established in the New Testament.
Traditions Concerning the Afterlife
The Roman Catholic church teaches that there are three levels in the afterlife: Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell45. Let us examine some of these teachings now.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that those found righteous immediately go to Heaven, and has determined that Paradise and Heaven refer to the same place. Do the Scriptures teach this?
The Scriptures certainly teach that the righteous will go to Heaven, but it seems that this destination is reached after the Judgment (Matthew 25:31-40; Revelation 20:11-21:27). Concerning Paradise, the Scriptures teach that it cannot be Heaven, for Christ promised the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43:
And He said unto him, “Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”
Yet on the third day, after Christ was resurrected, He says to Mary in John 20:17:
Jesus saith to her, “Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”
If Jesus was in Paradise with the thief, yet had not ascended to the Father, and the Father is in Heaven, it seems clear that Paradise is not the same as Heaven.
Some believe that this is refuted by 2 Corinthians 12:2-4:
I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven. And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Regarding such matters, however, we must remember that the ancients saw multiple layers of the “heavens,” including the atmosphere, the universe, and then the Heaven where the Father resides. The phrase “the third heaven” does not necessarily equal “the Heaven where the Father is,” but simply a demonstration of where this man was taken. It could be said that the first heaven is the atmosphere, the second the universe, the third Paradise, and the fourth Heaven, but we cannot be sure. It seems evident, however, that Paradise is not where the Father resides.
The Roman Catholic church also teaches that there is a place called Purgatory, where one goes if one has followed Christ but still has some sins left to cover46. The existence of this location is based on the Councils of Florence and Trent and a reference in 2 Maccabees 12:4647:
Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.
Do we see the existence of Purgatory in the New Testament?
In the New Testament, we see no mention of any such place. We are told that those who follow Christ and obey the will of His Father will go to Heaven, and those who do not, to Hell (Matthew 25:31-33, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Even if we were to accept 2 Maccabees as canonical, it is still a part of the Old Testament; even though the Roman Catholic church denies that the Law was abolished48, it is established Judaic Practices how the Law was fulfilled. Even then, the statement made in Maccabees does not clearly lend itself to the idea of Purgatory as imagined by the Roman Catholic church.
The idea of Purgatory also rests on the idea that one can be purified of his or her sins after death, yet purification can come only through Christ alone (Hebrews 9:15). The saving work was done “once for all” (Hebrews 7:26), and we are found either righteous or not righteous (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). The Scriptures teach nothing of Purgatory.
Inconsistency Within Tradition
The “Apostolic Tradition” of the Roman Catholic Church would span two millennia and would encapsulate the views promoted by all kinds of persons from all kinds of different backgrounds. While the Roman Catholic Church would like to present their tradition as solidly consistent over time, history and recent events prove otherwise.
An ancient example of the tradition conundrum is found within the writings of Irenaeus, “bishop” of Lyons at the end of the second century. He is highly esteemed overall within Roman Catholicism, for he himself appeals to the idea of apostolic tradition in his writings. Oddly, however, he appeals to apostolic tradition to substantiate the idea that the ministry of Christ lasted for about ten years after His baptism, going to some length to explain such, as seen in Against Heresies 2.22.3:
On completing His thirtieth year He suffered, being in fact still a young man, and who had by no means attained to advanced age. Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, even as the Gospel and all the elders testify; those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan. Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. Whom then should we rather believe? Whether such men as these, or Ptolemaeus, who never saw the apostles, and who never even in his dreams attained to the slightest trace of an apostle?
One cannot confuse Irenaeus’ message: Jesus ministered for ten years, and it is based upon apostolic tradition. Only a few years later, however, Clement of Alexandria, who also believed in apostolic tradition, taught that Jesus’ ministry lasted but one year (The Stromata, 1.21). The Roman Catholic Church does not itself teach that Jesus ministered for one year or ten years; on a historical level a ten-year ministry is rendered impossible by the chronological system that can be reconstructed from the Gospels, Acts, and Pauline epistles. Few, if any, believe that Jesus ministered for ten years. We must ask, therefore: if apostolic tradition is supposed to be trustworthy, what shall we do with Irenaeus and his account? His attention to detail cannot be ignored. The best conclusion of the matter is that Irenaeus found little Biblical support for his idea and therefore he attempted to establish it with the “weight” of tradition. How can we trust “tradition” if it is abused so?
Other examples can be seen in more modern times. Despite a long history within the writings of the “church fathers” establishing that the Jews are separated from Christ, the Roman Catholic organization has reached out fraternally to Jews. Vatican II opened up the liturgies to vernacular languages when such had been decried in times before.
It is clear, then, that “Apostolic Tradition” is neither consistent nor uniform, and seems to change whenever it is socially advantageous for the organization.
Progression of Tradition
As we have seen, “Apostolic Tradition” poses many problems. When the above difficulties are brought up, many will say that “the church is continually developing in its traditions, thanks to the continual revelations from God” or “the church has developed in the understanding of its traditions.” Are these valid arguments concerning the changes in the traditions over time?
Let us again examine Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians about tradition in 2 Thessalonians 3:6:
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us.
The Greek word for “received” in this text is in one of the past tenses; therefore, Paul affirms to the Thessalonians that the traditions they are to hold to have already been given. Therefore, if the church or any person attempts to hold fast to the traditions of God, he must find those traditions that are from the Apostles, and no one else.
But is it possible for Christians for 2,000 years to still need to develop in the understanding of that which has already been given? We are told the following by Paul in Ephesians 5:17 and 2 Timothy 2:15:
Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.
The Christian has the responsibility to read the Word of God and understand it, and it appears from these verses that it is not impossible to understand the things of God. We are, in fact, commanded to understand the will of the Lord. If we do not have the understanding but need to “develop in it,” how can Paul command the Ephesians in the first century to understand these things?
The argument that the Roman Catholic church has needed to “develop in understanding of the traditions that have been given” demonstrates, if nothing else, the implicit admission that the traditions used in the first few centuries after the death of Christ are not the same as the traditions now used in the Roman Catholic church. This statement is also an admission that the traditions that were used in the past were not as “developed” as they ought to have been and therefore flawed. It is not difficult see within this argument the reality at hand: the Roman Catholic church has not developed in understanding but has actually strayed from the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its “development of tradition.” Further, if the Roman Catholic church has needed to develop in its understanding over the past 2,000 years, what of the next 2,000, if we are allotted this much time on the Earth? Will the Roman Catholic church still need to “develop in its understanding?” If this is true, then the current teachings of the Roman Catholic church are themselves error-prone and may not reflect the best understanding of the traditions supposedly given to them. If this is the case, is not the Roman Catholic church fallible in its understanding and doctrine, and therefore has not received its doctrines from their supposed source?
We may see that the Christian has no need to fear, for the Hebrew author states in Hebrews 13:8:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and to-day, yea and for ever.
The teachings and traditions that were truly handed down by the Apostles are understandable and have been understood since the first century. There has been no need to add to them or “develop in the understanding” of them since the first century.
We have thus seen that many of the traditions of the Roman Catholic church are not in harmony with the teachings of the Apostles in the Scriptures, and we can thus determine that the traditions of the Roman Catholic church are the traditions of men, and not God. We must strive to follow the Word of God and the Word of God alone. The Scriptures demonstrate that the Roman Catholic organization, along with its traditions, do not represent the New Testament church.
1: Catechism of the Catholic Church, I. 84
2: Ibid., I. 120; I. 113
3: Ibid., I. 120
4: The New American Bible, note on Tobit 1:15, p. 429
5: Catechism of the Catholic Church, II. 1113
6: Ibid., II. 1289
7: Ibid., II. 1307
8: Ibid., II. 1290
9: Ibid., II. 1288
10: Ibid., II. 1318
11. Ibid., I. 757
12. Ibid., I. 812
13: Norman Cantor, The Civilization of the Middle Ages, p. 176
14: Catechism of the Catholic Church, II. 1593
15: Catechism of the Catholic Church, I. 487
16: Ibid., I. 491; I. 722; I. 493
17: Ibid., I. 499
18: Ibid., I. 966
19: Ibid., I. 963
20: Ibid., I. 965; IV. 2679
21: Ibid., I. 967
22: Ibid., IV. 2675
23: Ibid., I. 973
24: Ibid., I. 500
25: Kevin Johnson, Why Do Catholics Do That?, pp. 144-149
26: Catechism of the Catholic Church, IV. 2683
27: Ibid., III. 1855
28: Ibid., III. 1858-1859
29: Ibid., III. 1862
30: Ibid., I. 982
31: Ibid., III. 2042
32: Ibid., II. 1456
33: Ibid., II. 1448
34: Kevin Johnson, Why Do Catholics Do That?, pp. 91-95
35: Catechism of the Catholic Church, IV. 2705
36: Ibid., IV. 2655
37: Ibid., IV. 2665
38: Ibid., IV. 2698
39: Ibid., IV. 2691
40: Ibid., I. 919
41: Ibid., I. 924
42: Ibid., II. 1472
43: Ibid., I. 918
44: Ibid., I. 932
45: Ibid., I. 1022
46: Ibid., I. 1030
47: Ibid., I. 1031-1032