CLAIM: Paul writes, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us (2 Thess. 2:15). Roman Catholic theologians claim that we need a teaching magisterium to accurately interpret the Bible. Citing this passage, Catholic apologist Tim Staples writes, “When Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he urged Christians there to receive the oral and written Traditions as equally authoritative. This would be expected because both are the word of God.” Is this the case?
RESPONSE: There are a number of reasons for disagreeing with this interpretation:
First, the context for this passage is elevating apostolic teaching over heresy—not tradition over Scripture. This tradition was written in opposition to non-Christian heresy being spread at the time (cf. 2 Thess. 2:2-3).
Second, this passage is not about future, post-apostolic tradition. This doesn’t fit with the Roman Catholic view, which holds that oral tradition was authoritatively passed down throughout church history. Instead, Paul’s “tradition” refers to the teaching of the living apostles. In his first letter, Paul writes, “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:12). While the teaching of the living apostles was inspired, this ended with the apostles in the first-century.
Third, Paul’s tradition was delivered to everyone—not just the leadership of the Church. Paul directs this tradition to the “brethren,” not just the leadership of the church. This doesn’t fit with the Roman Catholic interpretation either.
Fourth, Paul’s “tradition” refers to the gospel—not peripheral doctrines. The nearest antecedent to “tradition” in verse 15 is the gospel message in verse 14 (“It was for this He called you through our gospel…”).