One of the most challenging questions that every thinking Christian eventually runs into is how to handle the interplay between Scripture and Tradition. Is Tradition equal to Scripture in its authority? Is one dependent upon the other? Is there a difference between their functional/practical authority and their ultimate/definitive authority? How does the Holy Spirit use Scripture and Tradition in the life of the Church? How we answer that question accounts for a large number of the divisions that exist among Christians today, especially between the Catholic and Protestant worlds, and those who stand between them.
The folks over at Credo House, a fascinating ministry geared towards building up more solid theological foundations among Evangelical Protestants, put together a really succinct article explaining five different views of how Scripture and Tradition interact in terms of authority within the Church. I encourage anyone reading this to check out the original article. It’s even got pictures! 🙂 http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/06/five-views-of-traditions-role-in-the-christian-life
The five views they present are the Dual-Source Theory, Prima Scriptura, Regula Fidei, Sola Scriptura, and Nuda Scriptura. I’ll summarize them briefly.
#1 Dual-Source Theory
Scripture and Tradition are two equally infallible sources of authority that come from Jesus and the Apostles. Only the Church, in turn, can interpret them infallibly.
This is generally the prevailing view of the Roman Catholic Church.
#2 Prima Scriptura (Scripture first)
Scripture and Tradition are two infallible sources of authority that come from Jesus and the Apostles. Only the Church, in turn, can interpret them infallibly. Furthermore, the implementation of Tradition can degenerate over time and must be kept in check by Scripture.
This is an alternative view among Roman Catholics.
#3 Regula Fidei (Rule of Faith)
Scripture and Tradition are two infallible sources of authority that come from Jesus and the Apostles. Tradition, however, is an infallible summary of the Gospel as put forth in Scriptures, and thus the Church cannot definitively add to it. In other words, Tradition and Scripture together form a “rule of faith” which sets the standard for correct interpretation.
This is the view among the Eastern Orthodox and some Anglicans.
#4 Sola Scriptura (only Scripture)
Scripture is the infallible source of authority that comes from Jesus and the Apostles. Tradition, then, is a summary of the Gospel as put forth in Scripture which holds authority but not infallibly – it remains subject to Scripture.
This is the view among Classical Protestants.
#5 Nuda Scriptura (naked Scripture)
Scripture is the infallible source of authority that comes from Jesus and the Apostles. All tradition is suspect and man-made.
This is a view typical among Fundamentalists, though is rarely considered a mature Christian perspective.
My comments on all this
Reading that article and going through its categories of layers of interaction between Scripture and Tradition, I was reminded of my slow struggle through understanding sola scriptura and the more Tradition-attentive perspective that I was growing into over several years. A year and a half ago, I wrote an article summarizing where I had arrived on this subject, mostly arguing for the need for Tradition. Two years before that I named my position prima scriptura. As I compare my stance with this article from Credo House, however, it seems that I fit more into the category they call Regula Fidei.
Furthermore, I have learned that the original definition of sola scriptura is a lot more robust than I was previously led to believe. The point is that Scripture alone is infallible, even though it is not the only authority. Tradition is still authoritative in the sola scriptura view, just not infallibly authoritative. And so I’ve realized that where classical Protestantism made their stand is not that far off from where I stand after all. Understanding the regula fidei to include Tradition alongside Scripture is a relatively small step away.
At the same time, this only further highlights the silliness of the anti-tradition mindset as I come to realize just how important Tradition can remain in classical sola scriptura Protestantism. The idea that we can read and believe and obey the Bible without any framework for reading it together is just too unrealistic and naive to take seriously. Everyone uses non-scriptural forms of summarizing the Gospel. Even the mantra “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” is itself a sort of tradition!