The Expository Files.

Stand Fast & Hold the Traditions

2 Thessalonians 2:15


In our vocabulary the word "tradition" has to do with something handed down from one time to another or one generation to another. It is neutral. A tradition can be good or bad.

In the Berkley family, it is traditional for males to have a middle name that begins with the letter "E." My father was Northum E., I am Warren E. and both my sons have middle names beginning with "E." This may seem silly to most folks, and there may be no compelling arguments for it. It is a tradition; something handed down from generation to generation. {The "E " middle name may become useful in the distant future in identifying an inferior genetic line!} Anyway ...

In the New Testament, the word "tradition" also has reference to that which has been passed down. In some contexts, it is clear that some things (doctrines, rituals) passed down by man are contrary to the Word of God, and should be forsaken (see Mark 7:13). The fact something is passed down from one time to another does not mean it must be forsaken. But if it is contrary to the Word of God (whether traditional or contemporary), it should be forsaken (Col. 2:8).

In other contexts, there are traditions we ought to hold and perpetuate. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and said, "Stand fast and hold the traditions," (2 Thess. 2:15). Here, traditions are those ordinances, precepts and teachings transmitted through the apostles of Christ, and intended for all future generations.

Remember what Jesus said to His men when He sent them out after His resurrection? "... teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you," (Matt. 28:20). As an apostle of Christ, Paul taught what Christ commanded, and this body of instruction transmitted through the apostles is now preserved in the New Testament. Our obligation is to learn these instructions, then "stand fast" and "hold" them against all threats and temptations.

In the next chapter, Paul adds this: "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received from us." (2 Thess. 3:6) Not only must I stand fast and hold the traditions (New Testament); I'm also obligated to join with others in the local church to take action against those who rebel and refuse to keep these sacred traditions.

"The apostle's exhortation is a double one: 'Stand firm!' and 'hold to!' He seems to picture a gale, in which they are in danger both of being swept off their feet and of being wrenched from their handhold.

In face of this hurricane force wind, he urges them to stand their ground, planting their feet firmly on terra firma, and to cling on to something solid and secure, clutching hold of it for dear life. Both verbs are present imperatives. Since the storm may rage for a long time, they must keep on standing firm and keep on holding fast.

Moreover, what they are to hold on to is specified. It is the teachings (paradoseis, 'traditions'). Paradosis means truth which, having been received, must be faithfully handed on. In this case it is Paul's own teaching, which he had received from God (cf. 1 Thes. 2:13) and which subsequently, he writes, we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth (his oral instruction when present with them) or by letter (his written instruction when absent). So these paradoseis are not the later 'traditions of the church,' but the original teachings or traditions of the apostles. It is vital to preserve this distinction between the two kinds of tradition. The apostolic traditions are the foundation of Christian faith and life, while subsequent ecclesiastical traditions are the superstructure which 'the church' has erected on it. The primary traditions, to which we should hold fast, are those which the apostles received from Christ (either the historic Christ or the living Spirit of Christ), which they taught the early church by word or letter, and which are now preserved in the New Testament. To 'stand firm and hold to the teachings' means in our case to be ... uncompromisingly loyal to the teaching of Christ and his apostles. This is the road to stability. The only way to resist false teaching is to cling to the true teaching." (The Gospel And The End Of Time, by John Stott, p.#177,178).


 By Warren E. Berkley 
 From Expository Files 3.7; July 1996