Faith Check 10 – Reliability of Oral Tradition

Reliability of Oral Tradition

In the modern world, oral means of communication are deemed inherently unreliable as we’ve all heard of the game of telephone where a phrase is whispered around a circle and it comes out nothing like the original.

But scholars have shown that in the ancient world, and to this day in some places, oral traditions were memorized and passed down to multiple generations without alteration.1

When the apostles went out to teach the Faith, they did not whisper it in secret, but proclaimed it publicly to the multitudes.  Oral tradition was the normative means of passing on the faith, as St. Paul’s says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

There is no evidence that a widespread change in belief took place among the early Christians.  Quite the opposite, at the end of the second century St. Irenaeus wrote that while the Church had spread over the entire known world, the Faith had been maintained in tact everywhere,2 something only attributable to the Holy Spirit.

1 –  e.g., . Kenneth Bailey, “Informal, Controlled, Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels” Asia Journal of Theology, 5.1

2 –  Against Heresies 1:10:2 [ca. A.D. 180]

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