“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 ESV).
One commentary identifies the function of the traditions referenced here in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and provides us with some important insights…
“’Traditions’ can be either valuable or harmful, depending on whether or not they support God’s Word. Jesus, for example, rebuked the Pharisees on this basis: ‘Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?’ (Matthew 15:3). Paul, on the other hand, encouraged the Thessalonians to keep the traditions they had been taught by him, either verbally or in writing (see also II Thessalonians 3:6).
For the first twenty years or so of the spread of Christianity, each church needed to carefully and accurately remember what they had been taught orally by the apostles or their prophets, pastors, and teachers, for they did not yet have the New Testament in written form. By this time, however, Paul had written down at least some of his teachings, and the New Testament was beginning to take shape.
Eventually, by the time the last apostle died, it would all have been written and circulated among the churches, and there would be no further need for them to be guided by the oral traditions. The corresponding message to us today, therefore, would be to ‘stand fast, and hold the Scriptures which ye have been taught.’” (1)
So Paul the Apostle essentially told the Thessalonian church, “Hold firm to the traditions you received directly from me via letter or spoken word, not in someone else’s epistle or others who claimed to be me.” As another commentator summarizes, “In other words, follow the plain meaning of Paul’s preaching and writing, not some creative distortion of it.” (2)
Thus, this chapter closes much as it opened: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NIV).
As with any institution established by fallible human beings, a traditional religious observance can devolve into something inappropriate if it is detached from a clear Biblical foundation. Therefore, “The traditions we should hold are the great truths which have been handed over to us in the sacred Scriptures.” (3)
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 2 Thessalonians 2:15 https://www.icr.org/bible/2Th/2/15
(2) Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 234 quoted in Craig L. Blomberg The Historical Reliability of the New Testament Copyright © 2016 B&H Academic Nashville, Tennessee p.362.
(3) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 2 Thessalonians 1:6, pg.2057