In the ancient world, first a community experienced meaningful events which became the remembered past and in time it is written down. Some scholars maintained that the traditions dealing with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were preserved in the respective Cananite sanctuaries of Hebron, Beer-sheba and Bethel. When the Israelites conquered Canaan, they appropriated these traditions interpreting them from the key event of God's revelation to Moses. This does not mean that the Israelites remembered nothing of their ancestors since it was Jacob and his sons who migrated to Egypt during a time of famine in Canaan. Further God revealed himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 4:6) implying that Moses was aware of their patriarchal history. We can sum up the process from tradition to Scripture thus: "This sacred history was formed within the bosom of Israel, guided by the Spirit of God. It was sung beside the desert campfires; it was commemorated in the liturgical feasts, such as Passover; it was transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation -- until it was brought together in writing, about the sixth century B.C., when the literary formation of the Pentateuch came to an end." (The New American Bible, "The Pentateuch")

Scripture not only incorporates tradition but is the Inspired word of God. This means that the human author or authors using his/their own abilities and knowledge of tradition were guided by the Spirit of God to write down God's message for mankind. In the case above, God wants us to know that He revealed himself to Abram to lead him away from relatives toward a new land. Of course the authors of the story of Genesis most probably used written sources available to them. We must also be aware that only the original text was inspired and that errors and misunderstanding of the meaning of words inevitably appear in translations of scripture. David Klinghoffer has observed that "Only the Jewish sages claim to possess a key that unlocks the Pentateuchal text at every point where a seeming error points to an esoteric meaning." ( The Discovery of God, p. 45.) In other words, the final interpreter of Scripture is the living tradition who originally wrote the scriptures.

The creation of the New Testament Scriptures went through a similar process accept on a shorter time scale. First the Event, followed by Tradition and finally Scripture. First Christ was born, gathered 12 Apostles, preached, died and rose from the dead. Matthew was a tax collector chosen by Christ as one of his apostles. After the death of Christ, St. Irenaus, tells us that Matthew preached the gospel among the Hebrews and St. Clement further tells us that he did so for fifteen years.

Matthew wrote the gospel sometimes between 50-100 AD after at least 15 years of reflection on the life of Christ. According to scholars, Matthew relied on St. Mark's gospel for his account and on another body of material consisting primarily on the saying of Jesus. He most likely wrote the gospel in Hebrew or Aramaic which we no longer have. Our translations are based on the Greek version. He presents Christ as the "son of David, son of Abraham" and wrote it to convince the Jews that Christ was the Messiah, the Son of God who had come to establish the Kingdom of Heaven by promulgating its laws.

Since the gospel was the product of the living Christian community, any dispute about the meaning of certain passages in this Gospels can only be decided by the living Tradition (Church) established by Christ and headed by the successors of St. Peter, or the Catholic Church. Scripture alone can never be the final arbiter of meaning because it was written within the believing Christian community with its already established way of life and worship. Further, in the last verse of St. John's gospel we read, "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written." (Jn 21:25)

Authorities: Copyright © Lionel Deimel. Used by permission.

We thank you, God, for Scripture,
Those words, inspired, that tell
Of how you made the heavens,
Of how your creatures fell,
Of how you called us often,
Of how you sent your Son,
Who built his Church eternal
And calls us to be one.
We thank you for tradition,
To which your Church is true,
The teachings and the customs
That constantly renew;
The saints who came before us
Have helped to show the way,
As we, their heirs, for others,
Will do the same someday.