Truth Versus Tradition
John 17:15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
God’s Word is truth. In life, one must eventually choose what he holds to be the standard for what is and what is not truth when it comes to the things of God. I choose God’s Word, the Bible (as originally written). Everyone eventually makes a choice. Choose wisely.
God has magnified His word even above His name.
Psalms 138:2 I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy loving kindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.
Tradition, on the other hand, is usually presented in a negative light in the Scriptures.
Mark 7:1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders.
4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.
5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?
6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.
9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.
10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:
11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.
It isn’t that all traditions are wrong; certainly they are not, but they should never be held up as equal to or above the authority of the Scriptures. The Pharisees and Scribes that Jesus confronted in Mark 7 were holding their traditions in higher esteem than the Scriptures. The washing of pots and such referred to was not a matter of sanitary wisdom. The frequent washings were ceremonial, part of their religious practice. Even though there was nothing about this practice that was contrary to anything in God’s Word, the mere fact that they ascribed importance to it while not so much so to certain things written in the Scriptures, was cause for Jesus to identify them as hypocrites. They also had traditions that were directly contrary to the Scriptures. Either way, when the commandments of men are taught for doctrine, the authority of God’s Word is diminished in the hearts of men.
Jesus viewed holding traditions above God’s Word as a serious offense, a matter of honoring God with the lips while the heart is far from Him. When the commandments of men are taught for doctrine, the “worship” of God is in vain.
Why is it then that many Christians today who can so easily see the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes for the evil that it was, think it is no big deal when they do precisely the same thing? Are there certain things in God’s Word that we can legitimately view as relatively unimportant so it is OK if a long-standing tradition contradicts it? The traditions of the Pharisees and Scribes should not be held on a higher level of importance than God’s Word, but it’s OK if OUR’S are? Choose wisely. Agree with Jesus on this matter. Every time tradition is knowingly chosen over the Truth, God’s Word, it says something, a whole lot of something, about the heart of the individual making that choice.
On what day of the week was Jesus Christ crucified? Someone out there is saying, “What difference does it make?” Unbelievers who say this, really don’t care, and they have their own set of problems. I’m not addressing them at this point. I am addressing Christians who would make this statement. If it really doesn’t make much difference to you, then it should be easy to give up your tradition in light of what God’s Word says, shouldn’t it? Unfortunately, for many, the “it” of “What difference does it make?” is being leveled at God’s Word, not at their tradition that they do not want to give up.
What does God’s Word say about when Jesus was crucified? It doesn’t take a scholar to read Matthew 12:40.
Matthew 12:40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
“Day” can be used of a point in time or an age or even a part of a day, but three days and three nights refers to three 24-hour periods. Even if we were to count any part of a day as a day and any part of a night as a night, there are not three days and three nights between “Good Friday” afternoon and “Easter Sunday” morning. Whatever day it was when Jesus died and whatever day it was when he arose, it cannot possibly be what many churches promote. Is there no one in any of these churches who has ever read Matthew 12:40 or do they simply value their tradition more highly than the Word of God?
Our good friend, Bishop Pillai, a wonderful Christian man who was raised in India as a devout Hindu, told us that this had been a favorite criticism of Christians among his former Hindu friends. “Why should we listen to them about spiritual truths? They can’t even count to three.”
[Proving what day of the week Jesus died is not the point of this article, but since I brought it up, I'll digress a little by giving you some clues to point you in the right direction. The Friday idea likely comes from Mark 15 (and the similar record in Luke 23).
Mark 15:42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath,
The "Good Friday" tradition is apparently based on the assumption that the "Sabbath" referred to here is the weekly Saturday Sabbath, but the record clearly says that the day Jesus died was "the preparation." This refers to the day before Passover. It was the day the Children of Israel killed their Passover lambs and prepared them for their Passover holiday meals. (How appropriate that the timing of Jesus Christ's death, who is our Passover, 1 Corinthians 5:7, precisely coincided with this event.) The Sabbath of Mark 15:42 refers to the Passover Sabbath, not the weekly Sabbath as is also indicated in the Gospel of John.
John 19:31 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Jesus Christ was crucified on a Wednesday afternoon, the day before Passover (occurring on Thursday that year). 72 hours later puts his resurrection on Saturday afternoon. When Mary arrived at the tomb, she did not watch him get up. She found an empty tomb. It had been empty since Saturday afternoon.]
As the “Christmas” season approaches, should not we as Christians at least try to separate between Truth and those traditions that so clearly violate God’s Word? The angels did not sing. The wise men were not kings. We don’t know how many there were. Their gifts were of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but we don’t know how many individual gifts there were. The wise men did not arrive the night of Jesus’ birth. They arrived when Jesus was approaching two years old. They visited the family at the house where they were staying and never were at “the manger.” Jesus was not, of course, born in December. These are things that should be evident to even a casual reader of the records. Why then, do so many Christian churches continue to promote these false doctrines? It cannot possibly be a lack of scholarship. Unfortunately, the only other explanation is that it is a matter of heart, not valuing God’s Word above their traditions. I wish there were some other explanation, but I can’t think of one, and the truth is that when we elevate our traditions to the level of God’s Word or even above, we are doing exactly what Jesus confronted the Pharisees and Scribes for doing.
Let’s distinguish in practical application between traditions that are simply fun, and traditions that are ungodly. Every year at Thanksgiving time, it is the tradition in our family that I cook the turkey outdoors on our charcoal grill. The results are scrumptious. Everyone enjoys it. My wife appreciates having the oven space available for other things. There is nothing in God’s Word about who should cook the turkey. We don’t present the practice to anyone as a doctrine having some spiritual significance, equating it somehow with the written Scriptures. It’s just a nice tradition. No problem.
Let’s take another example that could be taken as a little more touchy. We buy a huge “Christmas tree” each year. I like lights, lots of lights: some flicker, others bubble, others fade from one color to the next. I like to think that the finished product is a true work of art. It isn’t, of course, but it is really pretty. And that’s why I do it. It is our traditional very pretty tree. There is no more significance ascribed to it than that. I am aware of the record in Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 10:1 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
6 Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.
It is obvious from God’s Word that our modern “Christmas tree” has its roots in pagan custom. If we put one up only because it is pretty and ascribe no spiritual significance to the thing, no problem. If we try to claim that the “real” reason for the tree is some spiritual whatever, then we are liars, contradicting God’s Word. A number of ministers have fallen into a trap. They mean well. They are trying to help their congregations, but while their members are doing the tree only as a matter of culture and because it is pretty (no problem), their ministers are ascribing some spiritual significance to it that contradicts God’s Word (big problem).
Let’s be honest about these traditions, OK? Let’s hold only to those traditions that do not contradict God’s written Word, and not try to spiritualize traditions that are innocent as long as we do not make a doctrine of them, falsely ascribing spiritual associations with them.