I’ve been reading some blogs that are written by people who believe that Scripture carries greater weight than Tradition. I hold the competing belief: that we would not know what Scripture is except for Tradition telling us. Unfortunately, people who believe those two things have been debating back and forth for a very long time. They quote Scripture verses and historical figures ad infinitum.
Instead of doing that, I thought of different way to approach it. It is very simple and tangible. First let’s lay a bit of groundwork and define “tradition.” Here is what I found on Wikipedia:
“A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes (like lawyer wigs or military officer spurs), but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings. Traditions can persist and evolve for thousands of years—the word “tradition” itself derives from the Latin tradere or traderer literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safekeeping.”
That definitely describes written alphabets and written languages. They have symbolic meaning and have been passed down within groups or societies. The purpose of alphabets and written languages is to transmit or hand over ideas. The fact that I can write this, and you can understand it, is due to a tradition surrounding what constitutes the alphabet and how it works to form words, sentences, paragraphs, complete thoughts, etc.
In order to communicate in a way that others can understand, the tradition must be followed. If I violated the tradition too much, you wouldn’t know what I meant. For example, if you saw a random string of characters like this:
…it would be difficult to know what it meant, or if it meant anything at all. It might be some sort of code, it might mean that the person who wrote it doesn’t understand how to use the tradition, it might mean the person is incapable of using it, it might just mean that their head landed on the keyboard from falling asleep, or it might be a different language with its own tradition. Not following or understanding the tradition creates confusion.
This means that without the tradition of a written alphabet and a written language, Scripture would not exist. After all, Scripture is the written Word of God.
This is a tangible way to understand why tradition precedes Scripture.
Image credit: © Hans Hillewaert via Wikimedia