How can Catholics Church teach “Sacred Tradition” when Jesus teaches that the Bible is the only authority? And how can the Catholic Church teach that good works play a role in our justification when Paul insists that we’re not justified by works?
Cy: Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellett, your host, delighted to be joined again by Karlo Broussard, apologist here at Catholic Answers, and the author of a wonderful new book, Meeting The Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. I say it’s wonderful in part because it’s the usual lucidity that Karlo gives us, but also because it’s a respectful response to objections that are perfectly legitimate that are raised by our Protestant interlocutors. You said last time there are two different types of objections that might be raised regarding the Bible and Catholics. You want to just review those two real quick and then we’ll-?
Karlo: Sure. Two different kinds of challenges.
Cy: Yeah, right.
Karlo: So, the first kind is sort of the older Protestant challenge that was at the center of the resurgence of the modern Catholic apologetics movement within the area of Catholic Protestant dialogue. Where’s that in the Bible, right? We have scores of Catholic books and responses to that question, giving positive biblical evidence to support a variety of Catholic beliefs and doctrine. However, the challenge that I address in my book is, how can the Catholic church teach X when the Bible says Y? So, it’s an alleged claim. It’s a claim that a particular Catholic belief contradicts the Bible. Unlike the older challenge, where a Catholic wasn’t necessarily required to meet it because it operates on solely scripture, and that’s not a principle we operate on, this challenge demands that a Catholic meet it. Because if we believe anything, it can’t contradict scripture because, along with our Protestant friends, we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. Of course, we believe it based upon the authority of the church, which they don’t, but that’s a whole another podcast, right? A whole another issue. But nevertheless, we do believe it’s the inspired Word of God. So, whatever we believe can’t contradict. So if you, Mr. Protestant, my Protestant friends coming to me and saying, “Hey, you believe something that’s no find God’s word, man. It’s undermining God’s word-”
Cy: You owe them an answer.
Karlo: I owe them an answer in order to show that our particular belief doesn’t contradict scripture, but that it actually coheres with it.
Cy: Here’s the problem, because you’re suggesting that we should follow church traditions, sacred tradition.
Karlo: Amen, and as the catechism of the Catholic church teaches in paragraph 82-
Cy: However, in the seventh chapter of Mark’s gospel, Jesus himself, it is claimed, contradicts you, Karlo. So, the question might be with this way, how can the Catholic church teach that Christians are bound to accept sacred tradition when Jesus teaches in Mark chapter 7, verses 8 through 13 that traditions must be measured by the Word of God, thus making the Bible the only binding authority on Christians?
Karlo: Yeah. So, what the passage that this challenge refers to as mentioned is Mark 8:7-
Karlo: Excuse me, Mark 7:8-13, and there, when you read the narrative, Jesus is condemning a particular tradition of the Pharisees saying how it rejects the commandment of God, and makes a void the Word of God. So, many of our Protestant friends will say, “You see a tradition is being measured by God’s word. So therefore, the conclusion is God’s word in scripture is our sole infallible rule of faith,” right? So, one of the ways in which I respond in the book is to say this, just because Jesus measures a tradition of men, as we’re going to see by sacred scripture, it doesn’t follow that there’s no tradition from God that Christians are bound to accept. So, the first thing we want to point out for our friend is listen. Number one, Jesus is talking about a tradition of men, and Jesus makes that explicit, right, in Mark 7:8, “Your traditions of men.” So, that at least leaves some room for, perhaps, there is a tradition from God, like a sacred, divine tradition that Christians would possibly be bound to follow. Okay? Secondly, not only is he condemning a tradition of man or a tradition of men, he’s condemning a corrupt tradition of men as he makes clear, Jesus does. “It’s a tradition of men,” as he says, “that rejects the commandment of God, nullifies the Word of God.” Okay? So, that’s the heart of the matter, right? So, which commandment? Jesus is clear about this. It’s the fourth commandment of honor your father and your mother. What’s the nature of this tradition of men that’s rejecting the commandment of God? The fourth commandment in particular, nullifying God’s word. Well, Jesus talks about it in verses 10 through 12. He says, “You say, if a man tells his father or his mother, what you have gained from me is Corban, (that is, given to God), then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother.” So, what these first century religious Jewish leaders were saying is that, “Cy, the money you got to set aside to take care of your mother and your father, and by virtue of the fourth commandment, right? If you give that money to the temple, to us as an offering,” that’s Corban means in Hebrew, to an offering, right? A gift offering. “What is offered, then you’re free of your obligation to care for your mother and your father financially and to provide for them.”
Cy: Yeah. Yeah. Right.
Karlo: That’s what Jesus is hammering.
Cy: Because that specifically nullifies the Word of God.
Karlo: That tradition specifically nullifies God’s word and rejects the fourth commandment. So, knowing that Jesus is condemnation specifically involved a tradition that some were using to destroy God’s word, we can see how this Protestant challenge lacks persuasive force. What Jesus is condemning is a specific tradition of men that rejects God’s commandment, nullifies God’s word. It doesn’t follow from that-
Cy: Right. That all traditions of men.
Karlo: … that all traditions of men are bad, right?
Karlo: Nor does it follow that there’s no divine tradition that Christians are bound to accept like Catholics claim.
Cy: Got it.
Karlo: So once you understand actually what’s going on, you discover that this challenge has no persuasive force, and in no way, poses a threat to the Catholic understanding that we accept both sacred scripture and sacred tradition with equal sentiments and devotion, and that sacred tradition is binding in authoritative as well as sacred scripture. So, that would be the first way in which we could meet this challenge, but we can follow up, Cy, with a second way. That is, Paul teaches that there are Apostolic traditions that Christians are required to follow. So, there is evidence in the New Testament that there is a sacred divine tradition, a tradition that is binding on Christians that they must follow, right? So for example, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is the classic text where Paul, in context, is talking about their belief in the truth, to which they were called through the gospel, so that’s the context. He’s talking about the gospel and he says, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us either by word of mouth or by letter.” Now, what’s interesting is within context, Paul gives this instruction, “Cy, hold fast to the traditions, whether by word of mouth,” that’s the oral Apostolic preaching, “or written letter,” right?
Cy: Man, that is really precise.
Karlo: Yeah, but was really cool, Cy, is that these traditions that are embedded in the oral Apostolic preaching, Paul says, “Hold fast to them” because in context, he’s talking about the man of lawlessness and all of the deception that’s going to come, right?
Karlo: He says in verse 14, so he’s telling them, “Hold fast to the traditions,” right? And in verse 14, “So that you can obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The purpose of holding fast to the traditions is for obtaining the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of salvation, and to be protected from the man of lawlessness. So, that’s why. So, notice that this tradition embodied in what is received through word of mouth, through the Apostolic preaching, is binding for the Christian for the sake of their salvation, right?
Cy: Right, right.
Karlo: Just as sacred scripture would be. Here’s another great example. I love 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, verse 6, where Paul says, “Now, we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition.” Keep away from any brother who’s not living in accord with the tradition. What is the implication of that? “That you, Christian, you’re bound to live in accord with the tradition. Because if a brother’s not, then keep away from him,” Paul says.
Cy: Right. Right.
Karlo: So, the implication is that we Christians are bound to live in accord with this tradition, this standard of living, that Paul talks about. What’s interesting is right before that instruction, he says, “In the name of Jesus Christ, keep away, I command you. Now we command you, brethren.” He doesn’t offer it as an opinion. He offers it with Apostolic authority in the name, invoking the name of Jesus, right? So, this is not just some pastoral suggestion like, “Well we have this tradition that is wise, and you would do well to follow it.”
Cy: Right. Yeah. No, no.
Karlo: He’s saying, “Christians, you got to follow it, brother.” So, we see that along with the written word, sacred scripture, the inspired Word of God, we have in the first century, a sacred tradition that’s binding and authoritative on Christians that they must follow. And of course, another example would be 1 Corinthians 11:2, where Saint Paul praises the Corinthians for holding fast to the tradition that he has delivered unto them. The implication being that it’s a good and Holy thing for Christians to hold fast to these traditions that Paul is talking about, right? So, there’s some positive evidence that there is a sacred tradition that’s binding and authoritative on Christians. Now, I don’t go into this detail in the book, but it’s important to note, Cy, that this is the paradigm for Jesus’ church, first century Christianity, right?
Karlo: The paradigm on how to determine God’s revelation, the paradigm on what is our binding authority for us?
Karlo: It’s both scripture and tradition, and nowhere in the New Testament do the apostles or their disciples ever say anything about that paradigm changing. That after the apostles would die, that we would only be looking to sacred scripture as our binding authority in determining what is God’s revelation. Nowhere do we find that.
Karlo: But, that this paradigm, it’s reasonable to conclude that since there’s no evidence suggesting that the paradigm would change, well then, we as Christians today can reasonably conclude that the apostles intended that paradigm of both scripture and tradition to be the paradigm for all generations of Christians, for all Christians to come subsequent to the Apostolic age.
Cy: I feel like you’ve met the Protestant challenge there.
Karlo: Yeah. So, it’s sort of a two counter approach, right?
Karlo: We want to show that the challenge doesn’t have the persuasive force that a Protestant think it does, and show that we’re not contradicting the Bible.
Karlo: We can follow it up with some positive evidence for a sacred tradition that Christians are bound to follow.
Cy: Okay. So, let me give you another one then, because you love Saint Paul so much. You nailed us with all that Saint Paul.
Karlo: And notice, that’s a challenge in the book that comes from the section on scripture and tradition. So, I have a section on church authority and hierarchy, and then a section on scripture and tradition, and that’s one challenge among several that our Protestant friends will pose to us.
Cy: And then, you have a section on salvation.
Karlo: That is correct.
Cy: This one comes from that section.
Karlo: That is right. Yeah.
Cy: All right, Karlo Broussard. How can the Catholic church teach that good works play a role in our justification when Paul, your guy, insists in Romans 3:28 that we’re not justified by works?
Karlo: Particularly, he says, let me back up there, specifically, he says in Romans 3:28, “We are justified by faith, not by works of the law.” That’s what Paul says. Now, some Protestants will take from that and conclude, “Well, our Catholic understanding of works having a role to play in our salvation, in our journey of salvation, contradicts this passage.” Okay? So, how do we work through this? Well, first of all, Cy, one of the things I point out in the book is that if Paul were teaching that works have no relation to our justification in any sense, well then, he would be contradicting James 2:24. In James 2:24, James makes clear that works have some relation to our justification, for he says, “We are justified not by faith alone, but by works.” Okay?
Cy: That’s pretty clear. Okay, but these two things are intention with one of them, even if they don’t contradict one another.
Karlo: That’s right, that’s right. We’re going to see how we can reconcile, but we have to emphasize that James indeed sees works as playing a role in our justification in some sense. Right?
Karlo: We see, for example, in verse 14, “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?” That’s a rhetorical question, the answer is no. Then in verse 17, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” He compares it to a body without its soul. Okay? So obviously, James sees works as having some role to play in our justification. So, how do we reconcile these two apparent contradictory passages of Paul in Romans 3:28 and James 2:24? Well, one way we could possibly reconcile it, as I point out in the book, is that they could possibly be referring to two different stages of justification. Because, the Catholic understanding of justification allows for this sort of response, because we don’t believe justification is just a one time event in the past, but that there are a variety of aspects or dimensions to our justification. There’s that initial motion to be initially put in that movement toward our ultimate in of being rightfully ordered to God. We call that the initial stage of justification, where we initially come into a right relationship with God, rightfully ordered in our relationship with God. But then, there’s an ongoing aspect of our justification in the present, right? Then, there’s a final aspect of our justification where we persevere until the end, we die in friendship with Christ, and we are finally justified, right? Where there’s no longer a possibility to lose our rights status in relationship with God. So from a Catholic perspective, we can say, “Well, maybe they’re referring to two different stages. It seems in the context of Romans chapter 3, Paul’s talking about the initial stage. If they’re talking about the same kind of works, well maybe Paul is saying that works have no role to play in the initial stage. And James is talking about other stages of justification, the ongoing, and possibly, the final stage, and that works do have a role to play for those stages of justification.”
Karlo: That seems a reasonable interpretation because when James is talking about works being necessary for our justification, what does he appeal to? He appeals to Abraham offering Isaac as an example of the work of obedience that he’s talking about. And he says, “Abraham was accounted righteous for that righteous deed,” but that comes later in Abraham’s life after he was initially justified in Genesis 12 and justify it again in Genesis 15. Right?
Cy: Right, right.
Karlo: So, James seems to be talking about works having a role to play in our ongoing process of justification, and Paul seems to be talking about works having no role to play in the initial stage of justification. That’s exactly what the Catholic church teaches. So, that’s one possible way we could reconcile this tension, right?
Karlo: Here’s another way. They’re talking about two different kinds of works. James clearly is referring to works of charity, because at the beginning in verse 15, right around verse 15, he’s talking about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, right? He’s used a couple of examples of corporeal works of mercy, works of love. So, even obedience, right? Abraham offering up his son, Isaac, to God out of obedience. So, he’s talking about works of charity works of love. All right? So if that’s what James is referring to, those are the kinds of works he’s referring to, what kind of works is Paul referring to in Romans chapter 3? That’s where I spell out. I go into great detail, can’t get into much here, but I go into great detail in the book that Paul’s referring to works that belong to the Law of Moses. Like circumcision, kosher laws, ritual washings, precepts governing the offering of sacrifices, and other rules. The key preset that Paul highlights is circumcision. So for example, if you look at the context in Romans 2:28-29, Paul disabuses his audience of the idea that circumcision is necessary for salvation. That’s the whole point of his writings here within the context. He’s trying to tell the Romans, “Hey look, you are not saved by circumcision. Stop going back to the old covenant,” because they were being tempted by some of these new Jewish converts called the Judaizers, right? Who were tempting them to go back to the old covenant, keep the mosaic law, and all of the various precepts that pertain to the law in order to be saved. Paul is saying, “No,” and he disabuse them of that idea in Romans 2:28-29. So, that’s the previous, at the end of the previous chapter, right? That’s what Paul is talking about, and you just keep going in the narrative. You get to Romans 3:28, “We’re justified by faith and not by works of the law.” But then right after that, Cy, in verses 29 through 30, Paul gives us more clarity, more evidence that this is what he’s talking about. These are the kinds of works he’s talking about. Namely, works peculiar, particularly for the Jews. Because in verse 29, he says, “Is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also?” Yes, of the Gentiles also, since God is one, and that’s the basis-
Cy: Yeah, for that.
Karlo: For verse 30, he comes and says, “Okay. Well, God will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith.” In other words, because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, and God is opening up membership in his family to both Jews and Gentiles. Well then the standard, the condition for entry into that covenant to relationship with God, is going to be something that applies to both Jews and Gentiles, as opposed to the old covenant, where you had the conditions for being in relationship with God only for the Jewish people.
Cy: Right, right. Yeah.
Karlo: Because justification, right? Relationship with God is being extended to all peoples now, right? Not being restricted to a particular ethnic group of people, but now being extended to all, well then, there’s something universal. The standard by which we follow in order to enter into that relationship is something that’s going to be universal, namely faith. That’s not something that’s particular only to the Jewish people. That’s something that the Gentiles can have as well by the grace of God. So, that is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Romans and saying, “Hey guys, salvation’s no longer restricted to a particular people and following those particular laws for that particular people at a particular time in history. There’s something new going on here in the new covenant. There is a new way by which we enter into right relationship with God, and that way extends beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people, also to the Gentiles,” and that is, of course, faith. So, that is what Paul is getting at when he says, “We’re justified by faith.” That’s something both-
Cy: Yeah. Not by works of the law.
Karlo: That’s right. We’re no longer justified by that which belonged only to the Jews.
Karlo: We’re now justified by something that can be found among both Jews and Gentiles, because God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, and God wills to save both Jews and Gentiles. So, we have faith now.
Cy: So, the Catholic can confidentially say to the person who says, “Why do you believe that you need works to be saved when Paul says this in Romans chapter 3 that that we’re saved by faith, not by works of the law?” We can say, “Well, the one does not contradict the other at all.”
Karlo: Our belief that works have a role to play in our justification and salvation in no way contradicts Romans 3:28, because either Paul’s talking about the initial stage of justification, which we as Catholic say works don’t have a role to play, or Paul is talking about a different kind of works. Whereas, we’re talking about works of charity. Paul is talking about those works that belonged particularly to the Jewish people. Paul is saying, “Those works are no longer justifying for us.”
Cy: Karlo Broussard, author of Meeting the Protestant challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. Thank you.
Karlo: Hey Cy, [crosstalk 00:23:11] thank you, brother.
Cy: We got more though. One more episode.
Karlo: Amen, let’s do it.
Cy: So, join us next time with Karlo, and we’ll do another episode on answering more objections, and you can get the book. The book’s out, Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. Hey, if you like this podcast, would you give us a like, or maybe even a review where you get the podcast? Whether it’s at the iTunes store or whether it’s in Google Play, or maybe there’s somewhere else that you get the podcast. If you do that, that really helps the podcast grow, and we’ll see you next time, God willing, on Catholic Answers Focus.