Skip to content

Yoder on the Authority of Tradition

“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.


  1. This is a great passage. Thanks for sharing it, Halden.

    Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    You’re welcome!

    Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site