Friday, August 06, 2010

Why Mark 7 is an Inadequate Rebuttal of Catholic Tradition

There's a particular group on Facebook that I joined recently that was set up to educate people about the Word of God; the Sacred Scriptures. Over three million people have joined this group and while it is pleasing to see so many people wanting to learn more about the Bible and share their love of Our Lord and Saviour, it is unfortunate that there are also many there who reject Catholicism with a militant ardency.

In a discussion concerning Tradition last night, one user (let's call him "Dan") used Mark 7, verses seven and nine to dismiss the validity of Tradition in the Catholic Church.

"And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men... And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition." - Mark 7:7, 9

Dan has cherry-picked scripture - let me begin by saying that - and in doing so has used these verses out of context and has failed to read Mark 7 in context.

The tradition that Jesus opposes in this instance is the ritual washing of hands before meals:

"And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients: And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds. And the Pharisees and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands?" - Mark 7:1-5

Christ has only admonished this tradition of hand washing (not tradition all together) and tells the Pharisees that nothing entering a man (i.e. food) can defile him, but only that which comes from a man that can do so (Mark 7:15). Jesus tells us of the things from within that defile a man as we read in verses 21 and 22:

"For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness."

"All these evil things come from within, and defile a man" - Mark 7:23

Fundamentalists like Dan see verses like Mark 7:7 and Mark 7:9 and determine that anything termed or defined as "tradition" is to be shunned. This is not so, at least, not all traditions should be shunned as Christ demonstrated in Mark 7. There is a distinction between man made traditions which make void God's word and traditions which are handed to us by Jesus himself and the Apostles (i.e. Apostolic Tradition; "paradosis", Greek for "a handing down tradition"). Or else why, knowing this, would an eminent authority such as St. Paul encourage communities reading his letters to abide by tradition(s) (instruction, be they oral or written):

"Now I praise you, brethren, that in all things you are mindful of me: and keep my ordinances as I have delivered them to you." - 1 Corinthians 11:2

"The things which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, these do ye, and the God of peace shall be with you." - Philippians 4:9

"Remember you not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" - 2 Thessalonians 2:5

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle." - 2 Thessalonians 2:14

"And we charge you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly, and not according to the tradition which they have received of us." - 2 Thessalonians 3:6

"And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also." - 2 Timothy 2:2

"But continue thou in those things which thou hast learned, and which have been committed to thee: knowing of whom thou hast learned them" - 2 Timothy 3:14

"Okay," the fundamentalist will say, "so what traditions was Paul talking about then? Worshipping Mary? Going to priest to have sins forgiven?" You get the picture. Firstly, you should clarify what the Catholic practice actually is, how and why it's done (e.g. praying through Mary is not worshipping her, nor is having a statue of her and praying infront of it idolatry, etc. - more information on that here) and inform them that there are things that even "Bible Christians" do today that are tradition:

- Many Christians wear a crucifix around their neck; where does scripture tell us to do that?
- Altar Calls; where does scripture tells us to do those?
- Baptism by Immersion only; where does scripture tell us that this is the only valid method of baptism?
- Christmas; all Christians celebrate the birth of Christ but where does it tell us in scripture that we must celebrate his birth on December 25?
- Sola Scriptura ("Scripture Alone"); where does scripture tell us that the Bible is the sole source of authority?

Now these traditions might be acceptable even in Protestant circles, but they are just that: traditions! If the anti-Catholic truly believes that all traditions should be shunned, then these would have to be rejected as well.

So how do we determine which traditions were genuinely handed on by the apostles and which were not? Thankfully this has already been determined for us by the Church, to which Christ gave the authority to bind and loose; this authority was entrusted to St. Peter (Matthew 16:18-19) and the Church, as we know, is the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The power of the Holy Spirit ensures that the Church never teaches error; this is the promise Christ gave to his disciples:

"But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you." - John 16:13

"He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me." - Luke 10:16

The voice of the Church is the voice of Christ, and it echoes through all generations and to all nations.

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The Catholic Church today believes and practices the same as what the very early Christians did (mostly because the first Christians were Catholic). Would you like to learn more about what the early Christians taught and believed? If the answer is 'yes', then read up on a bunch of fellows known as the "Early Church Fathers". Here are a couple of websites to get you started:


  1. I am a convert, and my introduction to Catholicism was through the early desert fathers. How ironic it was when I joined the church and found out that most cradle Catholics do not know their own heritage.

  2. Elizabeth, yes, it's almost disturbing that cradle Catholics know so little about their own faith; they're missing out on so much!

    How could ANYONE ignore 2000 years of history?


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