There are some writings that claim to be preserved oral teachings of the apostles. For example, there is the Didache (“Teachings”), dated around 100 AD, which begins,
The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations.
Here are some samples —
Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism
And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 in living water. But if you have not living water, baptize into other water; and if you can not in cold, in warm. But if you have not either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whatever others can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.
Chapter 8. Concerning Fasting and Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer)
But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites; Matthew 6:16 for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week; but fast on the fourth day and the Preparation (Friday). Neither pray as the hypocrites; but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us today our daily (needful) bread, and forgive us our debt as we also forgive our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (or, evil); for Yours is the power and the glory for ever. Thrice in the day thus pray. …
Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day
But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.
Obviously, we don’t obey all these instructions. Many are quite scriptural and very wise. Others make rules where the Bible doesn’t make rules, and seem to be contrary to the heart of the scriptures. Others take good advice and turn it into a command. Despite how very ancient the Didache is, neither Protestant nor Catholic nor Orthodox churches consider it inspired or binding, even though it fills in many blanks: how to conduct a baptism, what to pray before and after communion, when to fast, etc.
There are also the Apostolic Constitutions (ca. 400 AD), which begin —
The apostles and elders to all those who from among the Gentiles have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; grace and peace from Almighty God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied unto you in the acknowledgment of Him.
Sure reads like a Christian Talmud! But it teaches that it is sin to read anything other than scripture or Christian literature —
VI. Abstain from all the heathen books. For what have you to do with such foreign discourses, or laws, or false prophets, which subvert the faith of the unstable? For what defect do you find in the law of God, that you should have recourse to those heathenish fables? For if you have a mind to read history, you have the books of the Kings; if books of wisdom or poetry, you have those of the Prophets, of Job, and the Proverbs, in which you will find greater depth of sagacity than in all the heathen poets and sophisters, because these are the words of the Lord, the only wise God. If you desire something to sing, you have the Psalms; if the origin of things, you have Genesis; if laws and statutes, you have the glorious law of the Lord God. Therefore utterly abstain from all strange and diabolical books. Nay, when you read the law, think not yourself bound to observe the additional precepts; though not all of them, yet some of them. Read those barely for the sake of history, in order to the knowledge of them, and to glorify God that He has delivered you from such great and so many bonds.
Book 1, VI.
The book also urges twice-daily church attendance for both priests and laity.
LIX . When you instruct the people, O bishop, command and exhort them to come constantly to church morning and evening every day, and by no means to forsake it on any account, but to assemble together continually; neither to diminish the Church by withdrawing themselves, and causing the body of Christ to be without its member. For it is not only spoken concerning the priests, but let every one of the laity hearken to it as concerning himself, considering that it is said by the Lord:He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathers not with me scatters abroad.Do not you therefore scatter yourselves abroad, who are the members of Christ, by not assembling together, since you have Christ your head, according to His promise, present, and communicating to you.
Book 2, LIX.
And so, you see, this is clearly not a first century oral tradition preserved in the manner of the oral law.
The Third Century Didascalia Apostolorum or Teaching of the Apostles is a Syriac (Aramaic) document, claiming to reflect apostolic traditions —
1. The apostles therefore appointed: Pray ye towards the east: because,as the lightning which lightens from the east and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of man be:Matthew 24:27 that by this we might know and understand that He will appear from the east suddenly.
2. The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation: because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead and on the first day of the week He arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week He ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week He will appear at last with the angels of heaven.
3. The apostles further appointed: On the fourth day of the week let there be service: because on that day our Lord made the disclosure to them about His trial, and His suffering, and His crucifixion, and His death, and His resurrection; and the disciples were on account of this in sorrow.
4. The apostles further appointed: On the eve of the Sabbath, at the ninth hour, let there be service: because that which had been spoken on the fourth day of the week about the suffering of the Saviour was brought to pass on the same eve; the worlds and creatures trembling, and the luminaries in the heavens being darkened.
5. The apostles further appointed: Let there be elders and deacons, like the Levites; and subdeacons, like those who carried the vessels of the court of the sanctuary of the Lord; and an overseer, who shall likewise be the Guide of all the people, like Aaron, the head and chief of all the priests and Levites of the whole city.
6. The apostles further appointed: Celebrate the day of the Epiphany of our Saviour, which is the chief of the festivals of the Church, on the sixth day of the latter Canun, in the long number of the Greeks.
7. The apostles further appointed: Forty days before the day of the passion of our Saviour fast ye, and then celebrate the day of the passion, and the day of the resurrection: because our Lord Himself also, the Lord of the festival, fasted forty days; and Moses and Elijah, who were endued with this mystery, likewise each fasted forty days, and then were glorified.
8. The apostles further appointed: At the conclusion of all the Scriptures other let the Gospel be read, as being the seal of all the Scriptures; and let the people listen to it standing upon their feet: because it is the Gospel of the redemption of all men.
9. The apostles further appointed: At the completion of fifty days after His resurrection make ye a commemoration of His ascension to His glorious Father.
10. The apostles appointed: That, beside the Old Testament, and the Prophets, and the Gospel, and the Acts (of their exploits), nothing should be read on the pulpit in the church.
Etc. Clearly, this is not really apostolic teaching!
Indeed, many teachings of the early church attributed to apostolic tradition — an oral law of the apostles — is clearly simply not what the apostles taught. It seems that many authors chose to attribute their teachings to the apostles to give them weight, but they confused church tradition with apostolic instruction.
And so, if there is an oral tradition, it wasn’t written down — unless it was written down as scripture.