Must Tradition Conflict With Truth?
MARTIN LUTHER was convinced he was right. The Bible, he felt, supported him. Polish astronomer Copernicus, on the other hand, thought that the traditional belief of the day was wrong.
What belief? That the earth was the center of the universe and everything revolved around it. The truth, Copernicus said, was that the earth itself revolved around the sun. Luther dismissed this, saying: “People give ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon.”—History of Western Philosophy.
TRADITIONAL beliefs have often conflicted with facts, with truth. They can even cause people to do harmful things.
This does not mean, of course, that tradition always conflicts with truth. In fact, the apostle Paul encouraged Christians of his day to keep following the traditions that he handed on to them: “Now I commend you because . . . you are holding fast the traditions just as I handed them on to you.”—1 Corinthians 11:2; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6.
What did Paul mean by “traditions”? Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 1118, points out that the Greek word he used for “tradition,” pa·raʹdo·sis, means something that is “transmitted by word of mouth or in writing.” The English word means “information, doctrines, or practices that have been handed down from parents to children or that have become the established way of thinking or acting.”* Because the traditions the apostle Paul handed on came from a good source, Christians did well to hold fast to them.
Obviously, though, tradition can be true or false, good or bad. British philosopher Bertrand Russell, for example, commends people like Copernicus of the 16th century who had the honesty and courage to question traditional beliefs. They developed a “recognition that what had been believed since ancient times might be false.” Do you also see the wisdom in not blindly following tradition?—Compare Matthew 15:1-9, 14.
What about religious beliefs and customs, then? Can we take for granted that they are correct and harmless? How can we know? What should we do if we find that religious traditions actually do conflict with truth? The next article will examine these questions.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Cover: Jean-Leon Huens © National Geographic Society
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