FAQ: Tradition and Scripture
Do Orthodox Christians place tradition above or equal to Scripture?
The Church sees the Scriptures as inspired and authoritative Holy Tradition: the Word of God. The key here is to see how the word "tradition" is used in the New Testament, which condemns the tradition of men but calls us to follow apostolic or holy tradition.
TRADITION OF MEN
First of all, Jesus warned against holding to the "tradition of men" and "your tradition" in the strongest possible terms (see mark 7:6-16). All Christians agree: The Bible says no to the tradition of men.
Secondly, Saint Paul warns in Colossians 2:8: "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." Here again, the phrase "tradition of men" stands out, which the Church condemns.
In distinction to the tradition of men, the Bible calls us to obey tradition which has God as its source. In II Thessalonians 2:15, Saint Paul writes, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." In contrast to man's tradition, apostolic tradition is our foundation in the Church.
Further, in II Thessalonians 3:6 we read, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us." Here again, we are dealing with Apostolic tradition, the tradition which God planted in the Church. Thus the Church is "the pillar and ground (or support) of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15).
All true tradition comes from the same source: the Holy Spirit in the Church. The same One who inspired holy Scripture prompted the on-location teaching of the Apostles, whether written or oral (II Thes. 2:15). Further, it was on the basis of Church tradition that the Biblical canon was determined.
Definition. Tradition is giving our ancestors a vote. It is walking in the "path of righteousness for His name's sake" (Psalm 23:3). Or, as Jeremiah writes, living by holy tradition is a call from God Himself. "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16).
Thus, there are two kinds of tradition: that of God and that of men. It is to the former that the Church is singularly committed.