Tradition: Old and New
F. F. Bruce. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970. 184 pages.
Here is another in the generally excellent “Contemporary Evangelical Perspectives” series published by Zondervan. Tradition (the word means to “hand on” or “to receive”) is traced in ten chapters as it relates to apostolic teaching, interpretation of the New Testament writings, the canon, and the text. In each case, Bruce carefully reviews the implications of “tradition” as it applies to the subject matter. He points out that in the case of books we relegate to the status of the apocryphal, we do so because they are not in our tradition—even though they were in the tradition of those books which our tradition does accept (Jude, whom we accept as a canonical writer, quotes Enoch as authoritative—p. 130, 131). Similarly, the very text (Greek) of scripture itself, which we invest with authority, also represents a certain tradition. The point, then, is not whether or not we accept tradition; the point is that tradition “must be tested by evidence” (p. 162), evidence which in turn rests “upon the history of our Lord Jesus Christ” (p. 174). But since that very history has already been interpreted as constituting tradition, it would appear that Bruce is left with two options at this point: his argument is circular (and he has eminent company if that is so!), or tradition is somehow self-correcting, at least within limits. However, Bruce doesn’t deal with the criteria of the self-corrective methodology thus required.
Bruce’s book is a thorough examination of the concept of “tradition” and its role in the Christian proclamation, a role which is more pervasive than our easy formularies sometimes recognize.