God's Law or Man's Tradition?
Key Verses: Mark 7:1–8, 14, 15
- Jesus' Enemies Gathered Against Him
- In Mark 6:30, Jesus' apostles "gathered themselves together unto Jesus." The Greek word, sunágontai, is correctly rendered "gathered themselves together."
- In Mark 7:1 the same Greek verb is used to describe the assembling of His adversaries, the Pharisees and scribes who came as a delegation from Jerusalem to discredit Him.
- Two Opposing Ideals Clash
- Jesus taught that the disposition of the heart toward God was the most important matter.
- His enemies believed, on the other hand, in the external compliance with tradition, whether or not it conformed to God's teaching (Mark 7:6, 13).
- Thus, when Jesus' enemies saw that His disciples were eating with unwashed hands, they faulted them, not because of hygienic reasons, but because it was contrary to "the tradition of the elders" ( Mark 7:2, 3).
- What Is Tradition?
- The Greek word for tradition is parádosis, which means transmission from (pará) one to another until something becomes a way of life. Parádosis, as indicated in Matthew 15:2, 3, 6 and Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13 shows that an idea may become accepted without due examination of its correctness as measured against an absolute standard. For instance, a merchant might call a weight of 15 ounces a pound. Soon others adopt it as a pound even though it is still only 15 ounces. Since the new measurement suits the interest of many, it becomes accepted as true.
- In contrast to tradition is "the command of God" (Matt. 15:3, 6) also called "the word of God" (Mark 7:1). Jesus taught that the commandments of God are the standard by which to determine if a tradition is valid and should be followed.
- Human tendency has always been to reduce God's laws to certain external acts which can be obeyed without a true change of heart taking place. When others saw the Pharisees wash their hands before a meal, they took it for granted that they also possessed a clean heart, which was not necessarily so. Jesus called such hypocrisy outward parading of righteousness (6, 5, 16; 13; Mark 7:6).
- How Did the Jewish Traditions Originate?
- These traditions began with a wrong interpretation of Exodus 20:1: "And God spake all these words, saying. . . ." Instead of sticking with the ten written commandments given to Moses as their standard, the rabbis extrapolated 613 "spoken" commandments to be followed as well.
- These "spoken" commandments were codified and strictly adhered to by the Pharisees. The scribes examined both the written Word of God and the traditions, while the Sadducees were the intellectual questioners of their day.
- Jesus, on the other hand, actually reduced the ten written commandments to two (Matt. 22:37–40), which stressed inward devotion as primary.
- He referred to Jewish traditions as being from the elders and not Moses because they were not the inspired Word of God.
- Jesus Used the Example of Corban (Mark 7:9–13) to Illustrate Their Error
- Corban was an offering promised to God. Unfortunately, many used it as a way to avoid filial responsibility. Since the money had already been offered to God, they reasoned it could not be used to support their parents. This tradition contradicted the explicitly written fifth commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother" (Ex. 20:12) and should not have been followed.
- Jesus taught that one who puts God first in his life, following "the first and great commandment" (Matt. 22:37, 38), will then put relatives and possessions in their proper place. The child who loves Jesus above all will certainly use his possessions to care for his parents. Our love of the Lord will thus lead us to fulfill the second great commandment, "love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matt. 22:39).
- Likewise Today, Church Traditions Are Not to Be Followed Blindly
- Since the advent of Christ's church, certain traditions, both good and bad, have developed.
- It behooves every individual to examine them in light of the written Word of God. If they can be supported by it without reducing spiritual life to mere formalism, then they may be observed.
- The rule which Christ set down in Mark 7:8 is relevant today. We must not lay aside the commandment of God in order to hold to the tradition of men. The Scriptures, not church traditions, are to be our final authority.