Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Scripture and Tradition: A Lutheran/Orthodox Joint Statement

4th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
27 May - 4 June 1987, Crete/ Greece


1. The divine revelation in the Old and in the New Testament of the saving intervention of God (oikonomia), consummated in the person of Jesus Christ, is communicated to the world through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This saving intervention of God through the Son in the Holy Spirit is the essence of the "euangelion" of salvation.

2. The word of God made known to the prophets is revealed to us through the incarnation, the life and teaching, the passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of his Spirit at Pentecost. By all this Jesus Christ accomplished and secured the unity of the testaments and the continuity of the once and for all offering of his body and blood for our salvation and his abiding presence with us to the end of the ages. Therefore, the "euangelion" of salvation, to which holy scriptures bears witness, is not simply speech from or about God but the hypostatic Word of God incarnate. This "euangelion" of Jesus Christ, which by the operation of the Holy Spirit is communicated to us by the church to the end of the ages, is the holy Tradition.

3. The holy Tradition is the authentic expression of divine revelation in the living experience of the church, the body of the Word incarnate. The church in its sacraments and spiritual life transmits this "euangelion" of our salvation through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, apostolic faith is not only a matter of proclamation but an incarnate faith (Heb. 11:1,; enhypostatos pistis, Maximus Confessor, Quaestiones 25, PG 90, 336D) in the church.

4. This "euangelion"of salvation is the content of the holy Tradition, preserved, confessed and transmitted in scripture, in the lives of the saints in all ages, and in the conciliar tradition of the church.

5. The Orthodox and the Lutheran churches have the same Bible, comprising the Old and New Testament, but the following ten books of the Old Testament have varying degrees of authority in our churches: Judith, 1 Ezra, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. In the future we will have to discuss the problem of the canon in more detail.

6. The same triune God is revealed in the Old and in fullness in the New Testament. The Old Testament contains God's unconditional promise of salvation, and the New Testament contains its fulfilment in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Both Testaments reveal God's judgment of the sin inside and outside God's people and God's saving grace in Christ. Holy scripture, being the work of the Holy Spirit in holy Tradition, has as criterion for its true understanding Jesus Christ himself in the life and teaching of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

7. The revelation of God, even as contained in scripture, transcends all verbal expressions. It is hidden from all creatures, especially from sinful human beings (palaios anthropos). Its true meaning is revealed only through the Holy Spirit in the living experience of salvation, which is accomplished in the church through the Christian life. This catholic experience of salvation in the church is at the same time the only authentic expression of the true understanding of the word of God.

8. The holy Tradition as ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in the church expresses itself in the church's whole life. The decisions of the ecumenical councils and local synods of the church, the teaching of the holy fathers and liturgical texts and rites are especially important and authoritative expressions of this manifold action of the Holy Spirit. However, not every synod claiming to be orthodox, not every teaching of an ecclesiastical writer, not all rites are expressions of the holy Tradition, if they are not accepted by the whole church. They may be only human traditions, lacking the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is why the problem of the criteria for determination of the presence of the holy Tradition in the traditions of the churches is of great importance and needs further study.

9. Therefore, those church decisions which have been received by the catholic church as true expressions of the intent of the holy scripture can be considered authentic criteria of the church's faith and its confession (cf. Vincent of LĂ©rins, Commonitorium, 2,3; PL 50, 640). The church's doctrinal definitions which confess the holy Trinity and God's saving act in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit are guidelines for defending truth against falsehood. Proclaiming, confessing and living in Christ, the church communicates the mystery of God's revelation. The church's doctrinal statements are rooted in its whole spiritual life and at the same time are shaped by it. As St. Basil affirmed about holy scripture and holy Tradition: "... regarding the true faith, both of these have the same value" (St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, XXVII, 66, PG 32, 188A). In another place St Basil argued for the formula "the glory is common to the Father and to the Son" (he doxa koine Patri kai Hyio) first on the basis of some of the fathers; then he continued: "But it is not sufficient for us that it is a tradition of the fathers. For even they followed the intent (boulema) of the scriptures because they have used as principles the testimonies of the scriptures as mentioned shortly before (St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, VII,16; PG 32,96).

10. The function of holy scriptures is to serve the authenticity of the church's living experience in safeguarding the holy Tradition from all attempts to falsify the true faith (cf. Heb. 4:12, etc.), not to undermine the authority of the church, the body of Christ.

11. Regarding the relation of scripture and Tradition, for centuries there seemed to have been a deep difference between Orthodox and Lutheran teaching. Orthodox hear with satisfaction the affirmation of the Lutheran theologians that the formula "sola scriptura" was always intended to point to God's revelation, God's saving act through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to the holy Tradition of the church, as expressed in this paper, against human traditions that darken the authentic teaching in the church.

12. Pointing to scripture is pointing to the "euangelion" of salvation, to Christ and therefore to the holy Tradition which is the life of the church, to act as criterion of its authenticity and so to stress the church's unity and catholicity for the joyful common praise of the triune God.

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