John Howard Yoder on Authority and Tradition

A blog I read fairly often has been posting quotes from Yoder’s essay on tradition, they’re worth sharing here, plus you might as well check out INHABITATIO DEI.

“We are not talking about ‘the authority of tradition’ as if tradition were a settled reality and we were then to figure out how it works. We are asking how, within the maelstrom of the traditioning process, we can keep our bearings and distinguish between the way the stream should be going and side channels that eddy but lead nowhere. Can we do this by some criterion beyond ourselves? The peculiarity of the term ‘tradition’ is that it points to that criterion beyond itself to which it claims to be a witness. We are therefore doing no violence to the claim of tradition when we test it by its fidelity to that origin. A witness is not being dishonored when we test his fidelity as an interpreter of the events to which he testifies. That is his dignity as witness; he wants to be tested for that.???

–John Howard Yoder, “The Authority of Tradition???, in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame: UNDP, 1984), 77-78. From here.

“What we then find at the heart of our tradition is not some proposition, scriptural or promulgated or otherwise, which we hold to be authoritative and therefore exempted from the relativity of hermeneutical debate by virtue of its inspiredness. What we find at the origin is already a process of reaching back again to the origins, to the earliest memories of the event itself, confident that that testimony, however intimately integrated with the belief of the witnesses, is not a wax nose, and will serve to illuminate and sometimes adjudicate our present path.???

–John Howard Yoder, “The Authority of Tradition???, in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame: UNDP, 1984), 70. From here.

Published by Wess

Teacher, author, Quaker, ​and public theologian. He works at Guilford College, enjoys riding his Triumph Bonneville, and listening to music.

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