Paradosis: Handing On Divine Revelation

Catholic Christians believe that in Jesus Christ the Lord is summed up the entire Revelation of the most high God.

On Divine Revelation, 7, Vatican II
Therefore [it is] Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up...
2 Cor 1:20
For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him (Jesus Christ).
2 Cor 4:5-6
For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ.

The Revelation of Yahweh to His chosen People was given to the Israelites and transmitted from generation to generation for centuries.

Peter defined the process of handing down the Revelation of Yahweh from father to son. The Greek word for this process of handing on the Word of God is paradosis .

1 Pet 1:18-19
... realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on (patroparadotos) by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless and unblemished lamb

The New Testament authors referred frequently to the process of "handing on" the Word of God to His People.

Lk 1:1-2
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down (paredosan) to us.
1 Cor 11:23
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on (paredoka) to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread ...
1 Cor 15:3-4
For I handed on (paredoka) to you as of first importance what I also received ...
2 Tim 2:2
And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust (parathou) to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.

It is Paul who makes the distinction of modes in which the Revelation of God to His People can be handed on.

Paul also called the process of handing on the Word of God "tradition." He then terms two ways in which "traditions" are transmitted, by word, orally, and by letter, written.

2 Thess 2:15
Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions (paradoseis) that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Therefore, Catholic Christians believe that the Bible--written tradition--is not the only source of Revelation. And, Catholic Christians believe, the Bible does not teach that it is the only source of Revelation.

John 20:30
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.
John 21:25
There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.

The official teaching of the Catholic Church reflects Biblical teaching on the whole of Revelation.

On Divine Revelation, 9, 10, Vatican II
Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other ... Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church.

Catholic Christians believe that the Bible affirms that God's way of revealing himself to His People is to choose certain people for these tasks:

Paul defines the New Testament people chosen to hand on the Revelation of the Word of God.

2 Tim 2:2
And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.

Paul also continues to describe who the "faithful people" are who are to hand on the Revelation of God.

The first category of "faithful people" is episcopos, bishop.

1 Tim 3:1-2
This saying is trustworthy: whoever aspires to the office of bishop (episcopes) desires a noble task. Therefore, a bishop (episcopon) must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach.
Tit 1:7-9
For a bishop (episcopon) as God's steward must be blameless, ... holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents.

The second category of "faithful people" is presbyteros, a presbyter, priest, elder.

Tit 1:5-6
Appoint presbyters (presbyterois) in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious.
1 Tim 5:17
Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching.

The third category of "faithful people" is diakonos, deacon.

1 Tim 4:6,13,16
If you will give these instructions to the brothers, you will be a good minister (diakonos) of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching you have followed. ... Until I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching. ... Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.
1 Tim 3:8-9
Similarly, deacons (diakonous) must be dignified, not deceitful, not addicted to drink, not greedy for sordid gain, holding fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

The Bible testifies that the Apostolic Church exercised this teaching authority ("holding fast to the true message ... to refute opponents" (Tit 1:9)) beyond the words and deeds of Jesus Christ.

The Acts of the Apostles records that there were different truths being taught regarding keeping the Mosaic Law. One group represented by Judaizers taught that Gentile Christians must come to the Christian life through keeping the Mosaic Law; the second group represented by Paul taught that Gentile Christians did not need to keep the Mosaic Law. There was also no Scripture regarding the truth of the issue. So they appealed to the authority of the Holy Spirit in council. The Catholic Church has followed this model ever since.

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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: July 22, 2004