Traditions of Men Versus the Word of God

(Matthew 15:1-9)

The scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus asking why the disciples did not observe the tradition of the elders regarding the washing of their hands before eating. Jesus used the opportunity to teach about the traditions of men versus the word of god.

The scribes and Pharisees had many traditions of men, many of which opposed the word of God. In this section we see Jesus describe one of those. The word of God says to honour your father and mother, but the Pharisee’s tradition allowed a person to ignore their father and mother if what they would have done for them was given to God instead. So for the sake of their tradition they made void the word of God. They were clearly wrong as Jesus stated, and in the case of eating with unwashed hands they were wrong too, but we will see that in the next post.

Today the church has many traditions, some of which are good and some not so good. We still have traditions in the church today that make void the word of God. One that occurs every year at Easter is the tradition of not eating red meat on Good Friday at Easter. This is supposed to be out of respect for Christ who gave up his flesh on Good Friday. So what people typically do is eat fish on Good Friday. But nowhere in the bible does it say we are to forgo eating meat on the Friday before the Passover, which is when Jesus was put to death. This practice is a human tradition of the church. They will and do eat prawns, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels, oysters, shark and other seafood rather than red meat. And yet the food laws in the Old Testament clearly state we should eat nothing from the sea that does not have fins and scales. These other forms of seafood do not have fins and scales and so under the food laws are prohibited foods. So for the sake of the church tradition they allow people to break the food laws that were given by God to the people.

The reason God gave the food laws was for our benefit and protection. All of the prohibited foods we know today have some kind of issue. Shellfish are high in cholesterol, oysters in particular are a high cause of food poisoning, shark can be high in heavy metals because it is a scavenger, and so on. Of the meats, pork is also a high bacterial content food and often at the root of salmonella outbreaks. While we are not under the law in the Christian covenant, it does not make sense to ignore the wisdom of God where he has given us instruction for our benefit.

There are other traditions that were delivered to the church that are good and should be followed. Examples are the breaking of bread, anointing with oil, baptism and the laying on of hands. These traditions form part of the way we worship under the New Covenant and are to be practiced and protected. But any tradition that changes or opposes the word of God are to be avoided and removed.

There are many traditions in the church and we must take care to consider when the traditions of men versus the word of God. Such traditions that make void the word of God destroy our worship. When the tradition becomes more important than the word of God, the tradition must go. As Jesus said, quoting Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)

Many traditions that have infiltrated the church today have their roots in pagan and non-Christian religions. Examples are many of the traditions of Christmas and Easter. There is no evidence in the bible for the giving of Easter eggs or setting up Christmas trees. However these practices do have roots in pagan teachings. And yet these traditions have infiltrated the church as though they were meant to suggest some form of worship of Christ. Even the dates of these two supposed Christian events are incorrect (although every so often the date for Easter does align with the Passover).

These traditions take people away from God. They destroy the worship of God when the church rules the tradition to be more important than following the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our challenge is to identify the traditions in our own church and our own life and question whether they are affecting our worship of God. If the tradition is not backed up by scripture then it needs to be tested to see if it is opposed to God in some way, and if so removed.

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11 Replies to “Traditions of Men Versus the Word of God”

  1. Tithing a tradition of men. Clerical/laity division a tradition of men. Both are devastating to the body of Christ.

  2. Am interested to know when or how the practice of the Bible being carried into church at the start of the service and laid on the pulpit began. Would really like to know more about this.
    ps. I am preaching next Sunday in a church where this tradition is still carried on.

    1. Hi Ivor,
      To be honest I have no idea when or why this tradition began. There is no biblical basis for it that I can recall. I could postulate some possibilities, but they would only be wild guesses anyway. Wish I could help more.
      All the best,

  3. Isn’t the Bible oral tradition written down? How do we know which books belong in the Bible except by tradition? Who wrote Mark? How do we know the NT was written in Greek? How do we know the Bible is the inspired Word of God? Doesn’t Joseph Smith and the book of mormon claim the same? Doesn’t islam and the quran claim the same? How would you convert a Martian (who knows all about Joseph smith and the book of mormon, and who knows about mohammed

    and the quran), and prove to him/her/it to believe in the Bible. If it is a rational being, you would be obligated to convert this person….

    yours in Christ,

    1. Hi Anthony.
      You ask some thought provoking questions which I will try to respond to. The issue in the article is when traditions replace the teachings of the Lord. Certainly there are some traditions that are part of the word of the Lord (eg. baptism, breaking bread, etc.) but there are some that have been invented and have no scriptural authority. As to who wrote Mark, it is not important as the value is not in knowing the author but in the words that were written for our benefit. As to whether the NT was written originally in Greek, it is most likely that this was the case as the oldest manuscripts located were all in Greek and that was the common language of the Roman Empire at the time. But again if it was not in Greek it does not matter for it is what was written rather than the language that is important. As for the Bible being the inspired word of God, we believe it to be so for the Bible tells us so. Also the Bible provides a way of life that is unmatched in any other writings. It is certainly the basis of western morality and justice. It is unfathomable for when you read it there is always something new to learn from the words of God. It is the text book of salvation and it teaches us about the ways of God and the methods by which we learn to obey and please him. I do not believe the book of Mormon to be the inspired word of God. I have some thoughts about the Quran but have yet to complete my studies on that book and the subject of Islam, so at this point I cannot comment. As to converting a martian, first get me a martian…! Preaching to a martian would be no different than when the bible and the gospel is first taken to any people who have never heard of Christ. It is not my obligation to convert a martian as the conversion is done by Christ. Christ is the one who brings a person to the knowledge of God, we are just the workers who bring the word to people. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 1:17, his mission was that he was sent to, “…preach the gospel…” not to convert people. Conversion comes from the working of God in a person’s life as Paul also showed in 1 Cor 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” I hope this helps answer you questions….John

  4. I have come to the same conclusion from my studies and I just wanted to point out dependencies by the use of the colon in the Bible. Example with the meats example:

    1 Timothy 4:
    4For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

    5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

    For me, it is that we can eat anything that is sanctified (“set apart for holy purposes”), and we can see that in Leviticus 11 speaks about being holy.
    And there is a distinction in clean and unclean meats from Genesis actually, when Noah was putting animals in the Ark. Keep reading and posting!

    1. You are correct. In the same way the Lord showed Peter that all people are clean and that he should not make distinctions between Jew and Gentile using food as the example when he showed him all manner of unclean animals. Peter’s response in Acts 10:14-15 was:
      14 But Peter said, “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”
      15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has cleansed, you must not call common.”
      When God cleanses a thing or a person, we must not call it/them unclean for, as you have said, it/they are set apart for holy purposes.
      An excellent point and thank you for this insight.

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