In this article I would like to present the truths that I learned from a debate between a Baptist minister and an Orthodox priest on the role of Scripture vs. the role of traditions in the salvation of mankind. Man has always wanted to “help” God out in the process of salvation. God claims in His Word that He would provide all that is needed for mankind’s salvation and man needs to receive the gift that God offers, trusting that it is enough, or in other words, living by faith. Once a man begins to live by faith and receives salvation in his life then his lifestyle will change and he will begin to serve the Lord. He does not work toward salvation but he works because of salvation. Mankind has a hard time humbling itself to receive from God so it wants to make up its own rules to help God out. If you notice in all religions other than Biblical Christianity, the emphasis is on doing something to either please God or to get to God’s level. It rests upon man to be good or do something to get God’s attention. The focus is no longer on humbling ourselves and admitting God’s superiority but instead, we raise ourselves up to God so that we can pat ourselves on the back and claim what a good job we have done. That method will never work because we cannot get to God other than the way that He allows us to come to Him. So, this article is a comparison and contrast between what God teaches about salvation in His Word vs. what man teaches about salvation through his traditions.
Jesus mentions the traditions of men in the Gospels
He dealt with people who claimed to be very religious, eagerly seeking after spiritual things, yet they were not ready to humble themselves and receive God’s provision for salvation so they made up a list of all the things a person must do in life to attain salvation. God was removed from the picture and man was placed in the center of attention. Here are the Words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Mark.
And the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. And when they saw some of His disciples eating loaves with unclean hands, that is with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they immerse their hands with the fist, holding the tradition of the elders. And coming from the market, they do not eat without immersing, and there are many other things which they have received to hold, the dippings of cups and pots, and of copper vessels, and of tables. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat loaves with unwashed hands? But He answered and said to them, Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. However, they worship Me in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the dippings of pots and cups. And many other such things you do. And He said to them, Do you do well to set aside the commandment of God, so that you may keep your own tradition? For Moses said, “Honor your father and your mother.” And, “Whoever curses father or mother, let him die the death.” But you say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban! (that is, A gift to God, whatever you may profit by me) and you no longer allow him to do anything toward his father or mother, making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have delivered. And you do many such things. (Mark 7:1-13)
The word that is translated “traditions” in English is the Greek word “paradosis” and it means “precept, teaching, ordinance”. Notice that they do not say according to the “teachings of the Word of God” but instead they specify “the traditions of the elders (men)”. What these people were doing was taking the revealed Word of God (the Old Testament) and setting it aside for the traditions that they made up. In other words, their interpretations of what they think God meant when He gave the teachings of the Bible. Interestingly enough, the “book of traditions” was much larger than the actual Old Testament. They could not keep the clear commands of the Word of God so they made up their own laws that they could keep, kept them, and then bragged about how good they were and how proud God was of them. At the same time, they were living lives very displeasing to God (not obeying the clear teachings of the Bible). In other words, “traditions” say “we do not need the Bible or the Bible is not enough, we need to help God out” or if you like “we know better than God does”. Sounds quite bad when you peel back all of the “fluff” the covers up the essence of the teachings of men or the “religions” of the world (other than Biblical Christianity, of course).
This lifestyle of claiming to please God with your mouth yet being far from Him in your actions was nothing new during the days of Jesus Christ, just like it is nothing new today. During the days of the prophet Isaiah, the people were the same way. Here is what God has to say about “religious” people who are hypocritical, disconnecting their actions and words from the clear teachings of the Bible.
And the Lord said, Because this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the command of men; (Isa 29:13)
They were doing the same thing even then. They set aside the Word of God for the traditions of men and as a result, they became very hypocritical. They claimed to worship and serve God with their words but their actions were very far from pleasing to God. What about you dear friend, maybe you belong to an Evangelical church so you feel that you are safe from the “traditions of men”? So, do you hold to the doctrine of your denomination above the Word of God? If the two come into conflict, which do you favor with? None of us are exempt from falling victims to the “traditions of men” unless we are good students of the Word of God so that we can discern what is good and what is not.
Not only are people who set aside the Word of God for the traditions of men hypocritical toward God, they are also wicked toward one another
Jesus mentions another case when this happens. This is in the Gospel of Matthew.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread. But He answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and mother”; and, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him die by death.” But you say, Whoever says to his father or mother, Whatever you would gain from me, It is a gift to God; and in no way he honors his father or his mother. And you voided the commandment of God by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, “This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” And He called the crowd and said to them, Hear and understand. Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. Then His disciples came and said to Him, Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying? But He answered and said, Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. (Matthew 15:1-14)
Jesus shows them how they sin against God and break His Law by their own laws. They contradict themselves and God and prove this by the way that they take advantage of others. How were they dishonoring God, His Word, and others? The Word of God teaches to honor your father and mother, to serve them as you have the ability because they served you by raising you, giving you food, shelter, and clothing, education etc. How do you repay them once you are old enough to care for yourself? Do you forget about them? Do you avoid them? Do you excuse yourself from helping your parents, claiming to be poor yourself, or claiming to be too busy for them? This is what the people who followed the traditions of men were doing. Their parents were coming to them in need of help. They were people of power and position but because of their greed, they never had “enough” money and they were very stingy with what they had. So, when their parents came to ask for help they would say, “oh, I would love to help you but the money that I have now, I have dedicated it to God so if I give it to you then I would be stealing from God.” Then, once their parents were gone, they would selfishly spend the money on themselves. But, in order to calm their conscious, they would follow their traditions of men and claim to be okay with God even though they were breaking God’s commands by not honoring (helping/serving) their parents. Are you in any way like this? Are you guilty of not helping others, not because you cannot do it, but because you do not want to do it, then calming your conscious by saying that you “may” need the money later anyway etc.? Those who are led by the traditions of men are compared to a blind man leading another blind man. Neither of them knows where they are going and they fall. Those who live by the traditions of men and claim to be obedient to God are blind because the traditions of men are blind. If you follow them, then you will be blind too and fall.
If you follow the Scriptures, then you will be led to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. If you follow the traditions of men then you will never reach God. You will be blind. You will break God’s commands. You will sin against others. Finally, you will fall. Which way are you going? Who is leading you? Which is more important to you, the Bible or commentaries about the Bible? The answer to this question will determine who is leading you.