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The Apostolic Tradition

On Ascension Day, just before Jesus returned to Heaven, he gave this command to his Apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (NRSV, Matthew 28:19,20).

There were, however, now only 11 Apostles, for Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him, had committed suicide.  So, after the Ascension, when the Apostles were waiting in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come to them, Peter said, “…one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (NRSV, Acts 1:21,22).  So they appointed Matthias to be an Apostle in place of Judas because he had been a disciple of Jesus during his Ministry and had been a witness of his Resurrection (Acts 1:15-26).

Handing on the Christian Faith

So when the Apostles, after the first Pentecost, went into the world to plant and build the Church, they didn’t have a New Testament in their hand because it had not yet been written.  They taught what they had heard and seen themselves (Acts 4:20; 5:32).  So St Peter would say, “John and I went to the tomb on Easter Day and found it empty”.  And the people, whom he taught, in their turn would tell others and say, “Peter told us how John and he went to the tomb and found it empty”.  This handing on or delivering of the Christian Faith by the Apostles is called the Apostolic Tradition.  What the Apostles taught and handed on was what they themselves had received from Our Lord, and Our Lord in his turn had received it from God his Father.  So Jesus told his Apostles on Maundy Thursday, “…I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (NRSV, John 15:15; 17:7,8).  And St Paul the Apostle in his turn told the Christians at Corinth, when teaching them about the Eucharist, “...I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…” (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 11:23).

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