Scriptures were more important
than tradition to Apostolic Fathers

A conservative, bible believing perspective!

God's providence gave us the 27 book New Testament Canon, not the church. God, not men decided the canon. This providence does not mean that church leaders were inspired in their selecting the canon, only that God had his eye on the scriptures the whole time and brought about His will to form the Bible we see today!

Scriptures were more important

than tradition to Apostolic Fathers

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Scriptures were more important than tradition to Apostolic Fathers



  1. Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders love to follow their man-made rules and doctrine, especially when it directly contradicts the New Testament. If the Bible says baptize by immersion (Acts 8:36), they sprinkle, If the Bible says Bishops MUST be married with children (1 Tim 3), they pass a man-made law enforcing celibacy. They also love adding doctrines absent from the Bible like the perpetual virgin state of Mary, praying to Mary, the assumption of Mary etc.
  2. Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders feel they are above the Bible... and it shows.
  3. Some Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders actually try to use Irenaeus as an example of an early Christian leader who put church tradition over the Bible, but they are simply deceiving you again! Irenaeus actually teaches the exact opposite!
  4. In this essay we will document how Irenaeus and Augustine felt about the supremacy of the Bible over church tradition.


A. Discussion:

Irenaeus discusses how tradition of the most ancient churches should be respected. He uses Rome as an example of a church whose tradition should be followed. But Irenaeus says more than Roman Catholics might like to hear. Irenaeus says that the foundation of the church at Rome, is not solely Peter, as Roman Catholics teach, but both Peter and Paul! Equal credit and authority is granted Peter and Paul as regarding the church at Rome. Irenaeus himself said:

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say, ] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. [2 Tim 4:21]" (Irenaeus, book 3, Chapter III.-A Refutation of the Heretics, from the Fact That, in the Various Churches, a Perpetual Succession of Bishops Was Kept Up.)

Most importantly is what Irenaeus says next in the following chapter. Here Irenaeus discusses ancient tradition of the apostles vs. the present possession of the scriptures. He says that since we have the writings of the apostles, we need not rely upon tradition. This is most unsettling to Roman Catholics who fight "sola scriptura" (using the Bible only). Irenaeus said:

"Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?" (Irenaeus, book 3, Chapter IV.-The Truth is to Be Found Nowhere Else But in the Catholic Church, the Sole Depository of Apostolical Doctrine. Heresies are of Recent Formation, and Cannot Trace Their Origin Up to the Apostles)

Augustine also taught that every Christian in the pews how to study the scriptures. This is not what the leaders as Roman Catholics would expect to hear. They would have expected Augustine to have the young bible students merely listen to the interpretation of the priests. see, Augustine, Book 2, Chapter 9.-How We Should Proceed in Studying Scripture


B. James Bernstein, Orthodox leader, gives a silly defense of man-made church tradition:

  1. James Bernstein, Orthodox preacher, speaking about the time when he believed the Bible was above man-made church tradition says, "And I had rejected the idea that this Tradition enables us properly and fully to understand the Bible. Let me illustrate this point with an experience I had recently. I decided to build a shed behind my house. In preparation, I studied a book on carpentry that has "everything" in it. It's full of pictures and diagrams, enough so that "even a kid could follow its instructions." It explains itself, I was told. But, simple as it claimed to be, the more I read it, the more questions I had and the more confused I became. Disgusted at not being able to understand something that seemed so simple, I came to the conclusion that the book needed interpretation. Without help, I just couldn't put it into practice. What I needed was someone with expertise who could explain the manual to me. Fortunately, I had a friend who was able to show me how the project should be completed. He knows because of oral tradition. An experienced carpenter taught him, and he in turn taught me. Written and oral tradition together got the job done." (Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?, Fr. James Bernstein, Orthodox churchman, 1994, p 18)
  2. In the illustration, the "carpentry manual" represents the Bible and the carpenter represents a minister for a church.
  3. First, we find offensive the idea that God was unable to write the Bible in such a way, so as to be easily understood. Bernstein mocks the Bible by saying he became more confused, the more he read it and ended up being "disgusted" at himself, but really at God for God's inability to write something clear to understand. This type of attitude towards the Bible is common among both Catholics and Orthodox. Although you may feel we are being unfair, we assure you that both groups flat out teach that the Bible is totally not understandable by the common man, no matter how hard he try. Like Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics and Orthodox need the guidance of "God's organization" to interpret the Bible.
  4. In case you hadn't noticed, a part of what James Bernstein in this illustration was true, with one big problem... it doesn't represent the reality of the Orthodox church. You see his whole point is to defend tradition. If you want to build a shed, and get the help of a carpenter and the end result is a shed, then the carpenter has merely reinforced what was in the book. But the Orthodox start with the Bible and through their church leaders (carpenters) end up building, not a shed, but a two car garage. Here the carpenters CHANGED the original plan.
  5. You see, there are countless doctrines practiced by both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church that directly contradict the Bible. If I had gave a blueprint for a shed to a carpenter and he built me a two car garage, I would not pay him, he changed what I wanted.
  6. If church tradition only reinforced and taught that which was in the Bible, then we would have no complaint. If church tradition merely added things where the Bible was silent, we would object, since the Bible is all-sufficient. But when man-made church tradition teaches things directly contradictory to the Bible, we violently object.


C. James Bernstein, Orthodox leader, tells us why he joined the Orthodox church.

1.      The orthodox view of tradition trumping scripture

a.       "I needed to humble myself and come into union with the Church that produced the New Testament, and let her guide me into a proper understanding of Holy Scripture. After carefully exploring various church bodies, I finally realized that, contrary to the beliefs of many modern Christians, the Church which produced the Bible is not dead. The Orthodox Church today has direct and clear historical continuity with the Church of the Apostles, and it preserves intact both the Scriptures and the Holy Tradition which enables us to interpret them properly. Once I understood this, I converted to Orthodoxy and began to experience the fullness of Christianity in a way I never had before." (Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament?, Fr. James Bernstein, Orthodox churchman, 1994, p 21)

2.      Refutation of James Bernstein (Orthodox):

a.       Bernstein's little advertising campaign for his Orthodox church is fine with us, except we hear exactly the same reasoning from the Roman Catholic church.

b.      Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches claim to be, "the Church which produced the Bible" ... "Church that produced the New Testament". Which one is the one true church? How can Bernstein be sure when both make the same claim?

c.       In fact the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Kingdom hall, (Jehovah's Witnesses, Watchtower) churches all claim to be God's exclusive organization to correctly interpret the scriptures. Or as Bernstein put it "guide me into a proper understanding of Holy Scripture". Which one is the one true church? How can Bernstein be sure when all three make the same claim?

d.      Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches claim "direct and clear historical continuity with the Church of the Apostles". Which one is the one true church? How can Bernstein be sure when both make the same claim?

e.      In conclusion, Bernstein is just lazy. Instead of studying the Bible for himself and seeing the clear doctrine contained therein, he just throws the towel in and lets another man's personal interpretation determine what he believes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to clearly see baptism in the Bible was exclusively by immersion, but this is just too hard for Bernstein, he would rather let someone else do all the work on his behalf. In fact Catholics, Orthodox and Jehovah's Witnesses are cut from the same cloth. All three don't think the Bible can be understood apart from "God's organization" as all three say.


D. Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, makes a shocking and outrageous statement:

Discussing how doctrine varies from church to church Zell says: "The Bible says once someone accepts Christ, he can never lose his salvation. ... The Bible says it is possible to fall away from grace." "The Bible says deviant sex is a perversion. ... The Bible says deviant sex is morally acceptable." "The Bible says Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. ... The Bible says Jesus Christ is a created being." "The Bible says . . . Wait a minute!" "How can so many contradictory statements be based on the teachings of one book? How can intelligent and sensible people read basically the same Old and New Testament text, yet arrive at such opposite conclusions? Is there any other book, ancient or modern, which has prompted such a vast and often incompatible array of interpretations and dogmas? Why can't anyone agree on what the Bible really teaches?" (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 1)

Refutation of Raymond L. Zell (Orthodox):

  1. First and foremost, we find it shocking and outrageous, that Zell trashes the Bible saying it is the most poorly written and most difficult book to understand on earth . Zell, for example, says the scripture is unclear in labeling deviant sex being a sin. He implies that God is so stupid, that God could not clearly express Himself in print. Oh yes, but what the Orthodox church leaders say in their booklets is so much clearer than the Bible! Even worse, Zell goes on to say only Orthodox church leaders are able to clearly express truth to the average "pew-dweller" and you really don't need the Bible at all! Such statements anger the true Christian because non-believers pick up on his statements and use them to trash the Bible as a useless book that cannot be understood by anyone, leading to atheism. The devil loves people like Raymond L. Zell, because he leads people away from the Bible to his apostate, false doctrine filled, church.
  2. So after throwing out the Bible into the garbage can as a source of doctrinal truth, Zell, tells us that man-made church tradition of the Orthodox church is the only reliable roadmap to truth. Forget the Bible, just trust the church tradition!
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  3. So lets run with this. Ok! No Bible. Only church tradition... Lets reword what Zell said. Before we do, remember both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches both claim to be God's exclusive organization for truth and tradition. Both claim to be the apostolic church. Yet they teach many very different things, have different liturgy, cast innumerable anathema's upon the other's "saints", severed communion with each other over "filioque", (whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son ). Orthodox priests can be married but Catholic priests cannot. Actually married men can become Orthodox priests, but they never rise higher rank than mere priest. However single Orthodox priests are forbidden to marry like Catholics. If an orthodox priest is widowed, he is forbidden to remarry. Under no conditions is a Catholic priest allowed to be married in the Western/Latin/Roman rites, but in other Catholic rites married men can become priests like orthodox. And the list goes on.
  4. So relying on "apostolic tradition" is not a reliable method of attaining unity because the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches fight each other on doctrine all the time!

Zell Said

We reply:

"Wait a minute! How can so many contradictory statements be based on the teachings of the Bible?" Zell

"Wait a minute! How can so many contradictory statements be based upon apostolic tradition?" Christians

"Wait a minute! How can intelligent and sensible people read basically the same Bible, yet arrive at such opposite conclusions?" Zell

"Wait a minute! How can intelligent and sensible people claim to be the apostolic church, yet arrive at such opposite conclusions?" Christians

I just laugh when Roman Catholics and Orthodox both claim their church has the authority to determine doctrine and that the Protestants are divided into many factions. Of course, the Orthodox claim they, not the Roman Catholic church are the one true apostolic church and depict the Roman Catholics "falling away" in 1054 AD. Roman Catholics use the same chart but have the Orthodox "falling away" from them. But the point remains, that Roman Catholics claim they are the apostolic church based upon tradition and Orthodox claim they are the apostolic church based upon tradition. Let me quote an Orthodox Father named Raymond L. Zell, in his booklet called, "Scripture and tradition." Pg. 2: "Wait a minute! How can so many contradictory statements be based upon" apostolic tradition? "How can intelligent and sensible people" claim to be the apostolic church, "yet arrive at such opposite conclusions?" What utter deception! The only source of unity is the Bible.



"Tradition? Isn't that something the Catholics came up with to impose a system of non-biblical, authoritarian dogmas upon people so that they wouldn't read the Bible for themselves?" (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 7)


Undoubtedly some of the most harsh language in all Scripture directed toward this aspect of tradition can be found coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself in Matthew 15:3-9. He calls the Pharisees "hypocrites" for nullifying the commandments of God through their phony traditions, and then goes on to castigate them by quoting Isaiah's prophecy, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." What Christian in his or her right mind would want to be involved with something that received such harsh treatment from our Lord Himself! (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 8)


Colossians 2:8

1 Corinthians 11:2

2 Thessalonians 2:15

2 Thessalonians 3:6

2 Timothy 2:2


Christians actually agree that we must maintain the oral tradition of the apostles. We are not opposed to apostolic tradition of the first century church. But that is where the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are in big trouble. The vast majority of their "church traditions" began long after the apostles died. Mariolatry, Christmas, Easter, celibacy of bishops directly contradicts 1 Tim 3, sprinkling in place of immersion contradicts the very meaning of the Greek word Baptism, which means immersion and the example of Jesus and the Eunuch in Acts 8 being immersed. (Steve Rudd)


After listing several of the heretics of the first 300 years after the apostles, Zell makes a statement that displays his dismal understanding of the subject he talks about: "do you know one thing they all had in common? Just like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses of our day, they all claimed adamantly that these misbegotten views were the true teaching of Scripture!" (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 13) Neither Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses claim to use the Bible alone. Mormons hate the Bible and openly claiming it is corrupt and that the book of Mormon is the only true guide. JW's like Roman Catholics and Orthodox believes in salvation by church organization and that the common Jehovah's Witness cannot understand the Bible without the organization interpreting the Bible for them. Zell doesn't know that Orthodox and Jehovah's Witnesses both view the Bible the same way. Further, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and JW's all have creeds that replace the Bible in authority. It is irrefutable that the JW's are a replica of Catholic and Orthodox churches. In the case of JW's it is the Watchtower magazine, which they believe is inspired by the Holy Spirit. This kind of incredible error would go undetected by most of his people in the pews, but to informed Christians, it underscores that Zell has no idea what he is talking about. In fact these kind of outrageously wrong statements are made by both Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders all the time.



Saint Jerome wrote that "ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." Saint Athanasius called those who neglect the Scriptures "worthy of utmost condemnation And Saint John Chrysostom said that not knowing the Scriptures is "the cause of all evils."



"Councils and Creeds. As the Church grew and matured, the need often arose for local, regional, and even ecumenical-universal-gatherings of orthodox pastors, bishops, theologians, and godly leaders, to establish true biblical and historical doctrine in answer to heretical claims of the day. They gathered to decide, again with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what the Bible really taught about those issues. And to make sure that their decisions were really biblical, they made extreme efforts to follow the consistent teaching of the godly faithful who had gone before. (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 16)


When you stop to think about it, isn't it not only logical, but even a matter of piety, to believe that the same Holy Spirit who guided the writers of Scripture should also guide the Church in the development of her worship? The Church's liturgical and prayer life is a powerful element of Holy Tradition. (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 17)


G. K. Chesterton defined tradition as "giving your ancestors a vote." (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 18)


Continuing Tradition. Also included under the banner of tradition could be mentioned, with varying degrees of importance and universality: the decisions of later councils, canon law, and finally the iconographic tradition of the Church. In fact, one of the most exciting things about tradition is that it never stops or remains static. Tradition is the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. We do not simply observe tradition, we enter into it, are swept up by it, and in the process become a part of its ebb and flow. (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 18)


For early Christians, there was no false dichotomy such as we see today between the Bible and Holy Tradition. (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 19)


It was never an "either/or" option. Both Scripture and Holy Tradition were received as having been given to the Church by God Himself, the source of all wisdom, through the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 19)


Thank God, there is still time for a return to the balanced and Spirit-filled understanding of the Holy Scriptures, as guided by the light of Holy Tradition. (Scripture and Tradition, Raymond L. Zell, Orthodox churchman, 1995, p 20)


 By Steve Rudd: Contact the author for comments, input or corrections.


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