“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
The closing verses of 2 Thessalonians chapter two offer an encouragement to stand firm in the face of affliction. Nevertheless, the use of the word “traditions” (or “ordinances” as it appears in some translations) may seem troublesome. For some, the idea of a “religious tradition” may summon the image of a centuries-old observance with little or no relevance to modern-day life. Others may be encouraged to participate in various traditions with little understanding of the origin or significance behind them.
These concerns are understandable, for the concept of a “traditional belief” may sometimes represent a human-oriented observance that serves to nullify or circumvent the Word of God. Jesus identified the negative aspect of such observances in addressing the religious leadership of His day: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Matthew 7:9). The issue was that some of those religious leaders prioritized their traditional observances above the Word of God. If a conflict subsequently developed between them, the need to adhere to these human-oriented traditions ultimately took priority.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a traditional observance, it is certainly wrong to allow such observances to take precedence over God’s Word. In view of this, Jesus rightly identified and condemned this practice.
This brings us to Paul the Apostle’s use of the word “tradition” here in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. In considering this passage, we should first note that Jesus’ teachings were primarily transmitted via the spoken word in the days prior to the establishment of the New Testament canon of Scripture. Thus, these teachings formed the oral tradition that God’s commissioned representatives (such as Paul the Apostle) used in helping to establish the first century church.
Unlike the first century religious leaders who built their traditions upon a human interpretation of what it meant to follow the Scriptures, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 refers to the verbal instruction that Paul had earlier delivered to the Thessalonians as an Apostle of Christ. Therefore, those traditions represented the Word of God in spoken form to the church at Thessalonica. This also explains why Paul encouraged the Christian community at Thessalonica to “…remain faithful and follow closely what we taught you in person and by our letters” (CEV).
We’ll continue our look at this subject by considering the meaning and implication of the traditions mentioned in this passage next.