Much detail was offered about the issue surrounding Christian oral tradition in the parsed essay Roman Catholicism and the Bible - Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia, part 1, part 2 and part 3. Since Ken Johnson has provided some useful tidbits, it seemed helpful to augment the essay with the following information.
Within the book, which covers a variety of subjects and one of them is oral tradition. On p. 6 he notes:
“We can show that the apostles’ disciples taught the same doctrines from generation to generation and document when, who, why, and where the first change in each doctrine was made.
In some cases we can even show that each time someone tried to change doctrine, the church fathers attacked them as heretics. Still, a few centuries later the same ‘heresy’ became official church doctrine. We know the history of the church fathers from their own writings.”
But who were these “church fathers”? (p. 7, 21):
“In order to clearly see the correct doctrine handed down by the Twelve Apostles, we need to know the eye-witnesses of the twelve very well.
We will see that the disciples of the apostles handed down the same doctrines with no additions to them. It wasn't until the late second century and early third centuries AD that things began to change…
the eyewitnesses of the apostles continued to teach the true doctrine of the apostles. In the third and fourth generations non-eyewitnesses of the apostles began to change doctrine and were immediately called heretics.”
Here is the breakdown of the “Eyewitnesses of the Apostles”:
Papias AD 70-155
Clement of Rome AD 90
Ignatius AD 90
Polycarp AD 95-135
Mathetes AD 130
Justin Martyr AD 168
lrenaeus AD 177
And the “Non-Eyewitnesses of the Apostles”:
Theophilus AD 168
Athenagoras AD 177
Caius AD 180
Hippolytus AD 170-206
Turtullian AD 190-210
Lactantius AD 240-320
Commodian AD 240
Origen AD 240
Yictorinus AD 270-303
The aforementioned essay contains many quotations from the church fathers, let us glean some from Ken Johnson’s book.
Against Heresies 3.2:
“Heretics allege truth was delivered not by written documents, but by oral tradition. Without this oral tradition you can't properly interpret the Scriptures.”
Against Heresies 3.3
“The Apostles did not pass down any hidden wisdom, just the Scriptures. If an older written document contradicts the newer written document, we believe the older document.”
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA
“There were no secret doctrines handed down by the Apostles, just the Scriptures. Only heretics say there arc secret doctrines from the Apostles which you must know to correctly understand the Scripture.”
“To be true, a thing must be proven scientifically, by comparison and testing.”
Prescription Against Heretics 1.25-26
“The Apostles did not keep any secret doctrine, but taught every doctrine openly. Only heretics teach a secret gospel letter, or doctrine…The Apostles did not give special information to favorite friends.”
You can also hear a presentation on this topic at this video.
You can listen to a lecture on this topic at Roman Catholicism: Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia.
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