St. Paul’s Epistles represent an interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel. St. Paul is steeped in the Jewish Scriptures, and the Tradition which interprets those Scriptures. It is the interpretation of the Torah which causes such tremendous conflict between Jesus and the rabbis of the Pharisaic Tradition. Paul follows Jesus in interpreting the Scriptures of Israel and does so by claiming that he and Jesus are in fact the faithful interpreters of the Tradition. It is Jesus who is the fulfillment of the God-inspired Tradition; thus Christianity is faithful to Tradition and the correct interpreter of this tradition. Tradition, like Scripture, is not made holy by being carved into stone, but rather by being interpreted within a community, by being the heart of the community’s relationship to God and the world. Tradition is thus alive and constantly relating to the world, not written in stone and frozen in some past understanding. For St. Paul Tradition is dynamic, creative, vivifying and renewing and keeps people focused on the goal – where God is leading us to, not the past and where we were. Tradition is not the ship’s anchor, but its sail. It consists not of repeating past teachings, but of interpreting God’s Word for the current generation.
When a tradition is handed on unchanged it loses its potency and has little meaning for the present. Some would go so far as to say that an unchanged tradition is dead, it has been killed…a vibrant tradition must be not only a conserving (conservative) force, but also an innovative one. The past tradition needs to be revivified for a new cultural and historical context….The only hope for survival lies in a tradition’s ability to provide a fresh word of hope in a new situation…this dynamic can be described as the interpretation of tradition; what gives a tradition its life is an effective interpretation for a new time and context. The success or failure of such interpretation (or re-interpretation) can result in either the life-giving continuation of the tradition, or its lifeless end… In addition, in a situation of crisis, fraught with uncertainty, entrenchment seems a safe path to walk… To those in the Galatian community, who would revert to the tradition unchanged, Paul emphasizes that this tradition must not be merely mimicked. It cannot be simply passed on unchanged, the community in Galatia needs to hear the word of God’s radically new thing, of God’s revelation in Jesus, of the end of order. For this community Paul ‘defines and defends the radically new in terms drawn from the old’… That is why abandoning the tradition is not an option for him. However, that importance is evident partly in the ability of the tradition to provide a fresh word of hope for a new situation…. He transforms tradition so that it continues in the living world. (Sylvia C. Keesmaat, “Paul and His Story: Exodus and Tradition in Galatia”, Early Christian Interpretation of the Scriptures of Israel)