Written Ought to Inform Unwritten Tradition
I place infallible authority in the apostles since they were with Christ during His earthly ministry and or were specifically selected by Him after He rose from the grave (Paul). I also include into this category those who were closely connected to an apostle, most likely had apostolic approval and wrote with the intention of conveying what was necessary for faith and practice in part or in whole or bearing witness to the works of God. Some examples of such people are John Mark or Luke.
Both those of Eastern Orthodox and Protestant persuasion trace authority back to the apostles after Jesus Christ. I am committed to the idea that the closer one is to the source, the better. In the case of the writings of the apostles and ones closely connected to them, that is as close to the source as we can get. Since we no longer have the apostles here with us, it seems sensible to look towards their writings to know what God requires of us.
Written tradition leaves much less room for error than Unwritten tradition. In the very beginning, oral tradition was extremely beneficial and acceptable for an oral culture because 1) There was a smaller group and the information did not circulate to nearly as many churches as it did later. 2) The apostles were still alive to correct misconceptions- and they did. 3) The information was fairly fresh since it was closer to the event.
After some of the apostles died and information spread, it was necessary to write the accounts down and preserve key letters. Before, misconceptions and false messages could be corrected. Once the apostles were gone or spread more sparsely, this became more difficult. Misunderstandings and false beliefs are evident throughout the New testament (specifically Ephesians, 1 Corinthians and Romans) and can even be seen when the writings themselves are traced through the manuscript tradition. Although, the mistakes in the manuscript tradition are more minor in my opinion. Little mistakes can be seen down the line. These mistakes came about even in the possession of the church.
With writings however, we have the apostolic word itself preserved more or less as it was written and are able to look back down the line of manuscripts and isolate where the mistakes arose and make the necessary corrections. We have a document that is around 99% reliable. The same can not be said for the EO's use of oral tradition.
Still, pointing out that one system might better preserve God’s truth misses something. A reliable document does not and can not convey infallible authority. This is where active involvement of the Holy Spirit comes in. It is the Holy Spirit that gives authority to the words of the apostles. It is the Holy Spirit who tells us that what we are reading is God’s word, who fills us with Himself and conforms us to the image of God.
I hold the apostolic word to be authoritative. There is reason to think the apostolic word is authoritative because the Holy Spirit convicts me of such and without probable reason to doubt this is actually the case, I am justified in believing it. The writings of the apostles and those directly connected (even speaking on their behalf at times) are a given when it comes to authority. It is up to the Eastern Orthodox to make a case as to why the Church should also be seen in this light or why an infallible Church is needed to interpret infallible documents.
The Eastern Orthodox church’s idea of Tradition consists of the Seven Councils, the Creed, the Liturgy, prayers, calendar, icons, and even the lives of the Saints. So, what do I mean by “oral or unwritten tradition”? I mean that element used in these forms of tradition that was passed down by means other than Scripture, but are supposed to be traced back to the apostles. This includes what was passed down later by word of mouth or gathered later (apart from the criteria already mentioned) by word of mouth and put into writing. I believe these parts of tradition to be authoritative as normative and binding only so far as they line up with what Scripture makes out to be normative and binding either explicitly or what can be gained through a set principle within.
Personally, I view some of the parts of tradition mentioned as highly valuable for faith and practice. I am however opposed to the idea that they are normative or binding in their use for all people at all times if they are not something that Scripture points as necessary. If however, the Eastern Orthodox Church can be shown to be infallible, then I will have to adjust my view of what God requires of His people.