But it is noteworthy that, except for the words of the institution of the Lord’s supper themselves, Paul does not in any of his epistles quote the exact words of any of the sayings of Jesus as we now have them in the Gospels. Nor does he mention a single event in the life of Jesus – again except for the institution of the Lord’s supper – between his birth and his death on the cross. From the writings of Paul we would not be able to know that Jesus ever taught in parables and proverbs or that he performed miracles or that he was born of a virgin. For that information we are dependent on the oral tradition of the early Christian communities as this was eventually deposited in the Gospels, all of which in their present form at any rate, probably appeared later than most or all of the epistles of Paul.
Everyone must acknowledge, therefore, that Christian tradition had precedence, chronologically and even logically, over Christian Scripture; for there was a tradition of the church before there was ever a New Testament, or any individual book of the New Testament. By the time the materials of the oral tradition found their way into written form they had passed through the life and experience of the church, which laid claim to the presence of the Holy Spirit of God, the selfsame Spirit that the disciples had seen descending upon Jesus at his baptism and upon the earliest believers on the fiftieth day after Easter, in the miracle of Pentecost. It was to the action of that Spirit that Christians attributed the composition of the books of the “New Testament,” as they began to call it, and before that of the “Old Testament,” as they referred to the Hebrew Bible. Because the narrative of the sayings of Jesus and of the events of his life and ministry had come down to the evangelists and compilers in this context, anyone who seeks to interpret one or another saying or story from the narrative must always ask not only about its place in the life and teachings of Jesus, but also about its function within the remembering community (p. 10).
Catholic: The church has authority equal to that of Scripture since it determined what was Scripture to begin with.
Evangelical: The church didn’t “determine” what was to be Scripture, rather itrecognized what was, in fact, already Scripture by recognizing its divine inspiration and connection to early eyewitnesses, namely the Apostles.
But Pelikan’s pre-authority argument is more like this:
The church has authority equal to and greater than Scripture (“Christian tradition had precedence, chronologically and even logically, over Christian Scripture”) because it set the precedent for what was to be included in the Gospels and what was not. It doesn’t have authority because it determined (or recognized) the canon of Scripture (post-authority). It’s authority is much more foundational than that: it has authority because it determined the very contents of the Gospels themselves (pre-authority) that were later to become part of the canon! The “remembering community” decided what was or was not worth remembering about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and our Gospels (and whole NT) are what they are for precisely that reason.
I am actually not sure what to make of this argument. I find it compelling but something in me balks at it and wants to find ways to root out problems with it. I don’t think Anglicans would take this line of reasoning. This seems like a very Catholic or Orthodox line to take because it elevates the authority of tradition to be either on par or greater than that of Scripture, and that would set a precedent for that ongoing tradition to continue to determine what is taught by the Holy Spirit of God, much like the Catholics and Orthodox do, but Anglicans do not.