God’s revelation to humankind may be recorded in the Bible but it played out in history. The Bible is a written record of that revelation as God’s self-revelation occurred over the centuries of human existence. The Bible itself has a history since it belongs not to just to the created order, but also is a product of human work – men and women inspired by God wrote the text, edited it and preserved it through time. The Bible did not fall from heaven in its current state, but was written and developed and adopted over many centuries. The Holy Scriptures thus have a human history which can itself be studied. The text of the Scriptures have a context in which they appeared, were preserved and interpreted. The were written by a particular group of people chosen by God for the task, and these inspired authors were part of a chosen people who were inspired to read, interpret and live by the teachings contained in and derived from the Bible. Thus the Bible is part of a particular Tradition, and belongs to that Tradition and to the people whom God chose to live that Tradition – to be shaped by it and to shape it.
“Scripture cannot, in fact, stand alone as a source of authority, for it is always the Scripture of a particular community and always needs interpretation—the inspiration of Scripture cannot be separated from the inspired use of Scripture within the Church.” (John Behr in ABBA: THE TRADITION OF ORTHODOXY IN THE WEST, p 163)
“Scripture exists within Tradition, and by the same token Tradition is nothing else than the way in which Scripture has been understood and lived by the Church in every generation.” (Bishop Kallistos Ware, THE INNER KINGDOM, p 10)
“The Scriptures are not more profound, nor more important than Holy Tradition but… they are one of its forms—the most precious form, both because they are preserved and convenient to make use of. But removed from the stream of Sacred Tradition, the Scriptures cannot be rightly understood through any scientific research. … Men are wrong when they set aside Sacred Tradition and go, as they think, to its source – to the Holy Scriptures. The Church has her origins, not in the Scriptures but in Sacred Tradition. The Church did not possess the New Testament during the first decades of her history. She lived them by Tradition only—the Tradition St. Paul calls upon the faithful to hold. It is a well-known fact that all heresiarchs have always based themselves on the Holy Scriptures, only their interpretation differing.” (ST. SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, p 88)
The Scriptures separated from their particular Tradition – the text removed from its context – will inevitably create a new tradition. This new tradition, separated from its historical context will be limited by the historical conditions and logic of the people who created the new tradition. It will in fact be more human than divine in its inspiration.
So Tradition is the context in which the text of the Scriptures occurred and received their meaning. Tradition and the Scriptures were simultaneously created by a living and organic interaction between the chosen people of God with God’s historical self-revelation as it was unfolding, and then further interaction occurs as it is recorded as the authors and editors of the scripture make sense of what was experienced (things they may not have personally witnessed or experienced but have only heard about). And then again the people of God interact with those written Scriptures as they meditate on them, interpret them, and become shaped by them – this is the unfolding of God’s Revelation and of Tradition. Tradition is thus living, an open rather than closed canon. It is God’s people inspired by the Holy Spirit’s interaction with God’s unfolding revelation, and includes the interpretation and meaning which are derived from this revelation and interaction with it. God’s people inspired by God and co-working with God become co-creators with God of Tradition. Tradition is thus not only about the past, about rules carved in stone, or about how ancient peoples experienced God and the written Scriptures which they had to guide them. Tradition is ongoing and is also our being inspired by the Holy Spirit to understand the past and the Scriptures which carried that received tradition into the present. We in turn are both shaped by and shape that Tradition as we hand it on to the next generation of believers. I have used this metaphor in previous blogs: on the ship of salvation (= the Church), Tradition is not the anchor which holds us to the past, it is the sail which catches the refreshing movement of the Holy Spirit and propels us to the eschaton.
As David Horrell mentions, to interpret the Scriptures is to use them to think with. This is the living interplay and interaction which makes God as self-revealed, Tradition, God’s people and the Scriptures all have an organic unity with one another. They are an inseparable organic and historic unity. “… only a community already formed by the story of the Kingdom of God can begin to read scripture rightly.” (quoted in SOLIDARITY AND DIFFERENCE: A CONTEMPORARY READING OF PAUL’S ETHICS by David Horrell, pp 4, 75)
Next: The Canon of Scriptures