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Comparative Theology, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

22- Seniority of Tradition



Tradition is every teaching, other than the words of the Holy Bible, that was entrusted to us, by the Apostles and the Fathers. This teaching constitutes subjects that might not be included in the Holy Bible but in no way contradict it.

Our Protestant brethren do not believe in Tradition. They only abide by the Holy Bible. In this way they exclude the heritage which the Church received from the previous generations: the writings of the Apostles and Fathers of the Church, the decisions of the holy councils, the Church Canons and regulations, the Church rituals and the oral Tradition.

Tradition is older than the Holy Bible. It goes back to the time of our father Adam.

The earliest written Law that reached us was written by Moses the Prophet who lived in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. However, Tradition is much older than that. Thousands of years had elapsed before there was any written Law. Who led the thoughts of human beings? Their conscience (the moral law) on one hand, and Tradition, which is entrusted from one generation to the next, on the other.

We will try to give some examples of Tradition that preceded the written law:

(1) In the Book of Genesis it is written that Abel the righteous man brought fat portions of his flock (Gen.4: 4). The Apostle explains this, saying: "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Heb.11: 4). Here, we ask: How did Abel know the idea of offering sacrifices to God? From where did he get that faith? There was no written Law at his time. Undoubtedly, he received this idea through Tradition from his father Adam who had received it from God Himself. This took place fourteen centuries before Moses wrote about sacrifices and burnt offerings.

(2) The same applies to the burnt offerings which were offered by our fathers Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They knew about the idea of sacrifices through Tradition entrusted to them. The same is said about the idea of building altars. After the Flood, our Father Noah "built an altar to the Lord" (Gen.8:20), and our Father Abraham built an altar at the great tree of Moreh (Gen.12: 7). The idea of building altars continued thereafter although there was no Holy Bible at the time to command them to do so. Image: Council of Nicaea icon صورة: أيقونة مجمع نيقية Image: Council of Nicaea icon

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: أيقونة مجمع نيقية

(3) It is written in the Holy Bible that our Father Noah took some of the clean animals and birds and sacrificed a burnt offering on the altar and the Lord smelt the soothing aroma (Gen.8: 20,21). How did Noah know the idea of offering sacrifices of clean animals? He must have taken it directly from the Lord and then entrusted it to the generations after him, before Moses explained the idea of clean animals in the Torah.

(4) In the event of our Father Abraham meeting Melchizedek, it is written that Melchizedek "was the priest of God Most High" (Gen.14: 18). How was this priesthood instituted. Who gave Melchizedek the authority to bless Abram and what law made Abram offer Melchizedek the tenths of everything he had (Gen. 14:20)? Thus Melchizedek was considered greater than Abraham (Heb.7: 6,7).

At that time there was no written Law explaining priesthood, its honour, duties and blessing to others. In the previous chapters of Genesis there is no mention whatsoever of the words 'priest' or 'priesthood'. From where did the knowledge of priesthood come except through Tradition?

(5) In the same episode of Abram's meeting with Melchizedek, we hear that Abram "gave him a tithe of all" (Gen.14: 20). How was it known, at the time of our Father Abraham, that the tenth were to be given to priests, except through Tradition? The Law of tithing had not yet been received in the written Law.

This also applies to our father Jacob: How did he know the idea of giving the tithe when he said to the Lord: "... and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Gen.28: 22)? There is no doubt that he received the Law of tithing through Tradition, from his grandfather Abraham who offered the tithe to Melchizedek without receiving it from a written Law at all. It is obvious that Tradition was the teacher of all human beings before the written Law and remained so thereafter.

(6) We read that when Jacob was fleeing his brother Esau that he saw a ladder extending from earth to heaven, while the angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord talked to him and gave him a promise. The Holy Bible says that Jacob said: "Surely the Lord is in this place... This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" And he called that place Bethel, which means 'House of God'. He took the stone he had placed under his head, set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.

How did our father Jacob know the phrase ‘House of God'? How did he know the idea of consecrating. God’s houses by pouring oil on them since nothing of this sort had been given in a written Law? No explanation can be given except that it was through Tradition.

(7) When God gave the written Law He willed Tradition to remain as well, and we have discussed this issue before here on in other pages. He commanded the fathers, on various occasions, to commend and entrust the teachings to their children. The Lord ordered them to inform their children of the occasion of sacrificing to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb (Ex. 13: 14-16). The Lord also said to the people: "Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren" (Deut.4: 9).

(8) Even in Christianity, we find that some of the writers of the New Testament wrote information about events in the Old Testament which they had received through Tradition. For example, St. Paul the Apostle mentioned the names of the two witches who resisted Moses the Prophet. He said: "Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth" (2Tim.3: 8). We cannot find the names of these two witches either in the Books of Moses or in the rest of the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul must have known these names through Tradition.

(9) The entrustment of Tradition which occurred in the Old Testament recurred in the New Testament but to a lesser extent. A long time elapsed before there was any written gospel or epistle. For a period of approximately twenty years people received the entire faith, the entire story of Christ together with His teachings and His redemption, through Tradition.

(10) The Lord Jesus Christ did not write a gospel Himself nor did He leave a written gospel, yet He was preaching and teaching, leaving His words as spirit and life (John.6: 63) for the people who later spread them. When the Lord began His teaching and preaching, He said to the people: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark.1: 15). There was no written gospel (Good News) but there was preaching of the Good News representing the oral Gospel or the Divine teaching which was taught through entrustment. The same meaning applies to the Lord's words to His disciples: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark. 16: 15). That command was not within the written boundary.

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