The Dilemma of Tradition

Everyone is born into a tradition one way or the other. The practice of tradition was to keep the status quo. Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, spoke of tradition. See 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15.

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

The tradition that which Paul and his co-workers promote, however, was not from man but by the Spirit and the truth of the Gospel of Christ Jesus our Lord. This was not the tradition held by the Jews, though the tradition or truth of the Gospel may be seen through the Old Testament Scripture.

Standing before King Agrippa, Paul, explaining the conviction of his faith, said, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23)

Here is the proof that Paul was telling the truth: Acts 26:23 was a quotation from Isaiah 49:6. But for the purpose of context and clarity, let us see Isaiah 49:1-6.

Listen to Me [Jesus], O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called Me from the womb, from the body of My mother He [God] named My name [cf. Matthew 1:20-21]. He made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand He hid Me; He made Me a polished arrow; in His quiver He hid Me away. And He [God the Father] said to Me [Jesus], “You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” But I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely My right is with the LORD, and My recompense with My God.” And now the LORD says, He who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him; and that Israel might be gathered to Him— for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and My God has become My strength— He [God] says: “It is too light a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make You as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

On the other hand, Paul described the tradition that should be rejected – those which he previously also held; see Galatians 1:13-14.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

The Complete Word Study Bible Dictionary defined “Judaism” as the religious system held by the Jews. Its teachings emanate from the Old Testament Scripture, especially from the Law of Moses as found from Exodus 20 through Deuteronomy, and also from the traditions of elders (Mark 7:3-13), some of which the Lord Jesus condemned. The main emphases of Judaism are circumcision and Sabbath-keeping.

Judaism that was from the Old Testament Scripture, if rightly interpreted and applied, should support the New Testament Scripture – the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles. It was the tradition of elders that Jesus rejected and condemned. See Mark 7:3-8.

(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches. ) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And He said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Washing here was not that of keeping proper hygiene but ceremonial washing, a tradition declaring themselves clean.

Doubtless, circumcision and Sabbath also were important concepts in the Jewish faith. See Genesis 17:1-2,4-7,9-14.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless, that I may make My covenant between Me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”

“Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall My covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”

It is clear that circumcision was the condition or sign binding God’s covenant with Abraham and the Jewish people, even among foreigners seeking to be in covenant with the LORD. Sabbath, on the other hand, was a covenant binding commandment, see Exodus 20:8-11.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Jews were insistent in observing circumcision and Sabbath, yet Jesus made a case that complicated perfect observance of both; see John 7:21-24.

Jesus answered them [the Jews], “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with Me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Paul explained the true essence of circumcision, see Romans 2:25-29.

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

In another letter of Paul, he explained further. See Colossians 2:11-14.

In Him [Christ Jesus] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism [death], in which you were also raised with Him [resurrection] through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.

In Christ, circumcision then is no longer of flesh but a circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29), which requires repentance and the transformation of a person. The Christian man is dead – buried with Christ in baptism – and made alive living a life for the glory of God. Colossians 2:11-12 is no way, as alleged by some, a call for water baptism, specifically that of infant baptism. Paul was calling believers into a new life with Christ Jesus our Lord, so it’s about obedience to the Lord and His Word.

The Jews, by their rejection of Christ Jesus, have corrupted the true teachings of the Old Testament Scripture; hence was rejected and condemned by the Lord. The traditions that they held, Paul said “an empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). That was/is the dilemma of tradition – that is, according to man. Therefore, true Christianity should hold on to Scripture alone, nothing more or less, and with a right interpretation. See 2 Timothy 2:15-16.

Do your [Timothy] best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness

After the ascension of Christ, at the time of the Paul and the other apostles, false teachings have clearly emerged. It was from within the church; see Acts 20:28-30.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

See also 1 John 2:18-21.

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

At the time of Jesus and the early days of Christianity, the opponent of the church was the Judaism but later, it’s the Judaizers. The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defined this sect as the “early converts to Christianity who tried to force believers from non-Jewish backgrounds to adopt Jewish customs as a condition of salvation”. Evidence of this movement within the early church first emerged in A.D. 49, when certain men came from Judea and taught the brethren‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ (See Acts 15:1).

That was the reason why Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him [God] who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)

Again, on his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you [the church] to one Husband [Jesus Christ], to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-4)

Obviously, the enemy of the truth of the Gospel was both from within, as there were from outside the church. In our present time, many call themselves Christians, but it would be interesting to verify if everyone who claims to be of the faith truly has one truth of the Gospel. Especially since, there are a lot of denominations, different claims and interpretation of the Bible. Don’t you think it’s scary that we might have believed the false?

Unlearning Tradition, Relearning Scripture aims to study, learn and teach the absolute truth of the Scripture. It was quite a journey, come to think of the tradition that we previously held. It is traditionally held that Jesus Christ has yet to return, though He repeated hinted that He’s coming in the generation of Jew that crucified Him and of His apostles.

See Matthew 26:63-64.

But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to Him, “I adjure You by the living God, tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

What was that Jesus had said to the high priest? Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders that they would see Him – seated at the right hand of power – come in judgment. The allusion to His coming on the clouds of heaven points to His fulfillment of Daniel 7:13-14.

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Obviously the Scripture spoke of a spiritual kingdom; Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)

Paul, on the other hand, said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

In Matthew 16:27-28, Jesus told His apostles (see Matthew 16:21).

For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what He has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.

A lot of known theologians, checking on their commentaries and writings, confronted by Matthew 16:27-28 and suggested that Jesus must have lost His mind, either due to the pressure of His ministry or His impending death. Let us be truthful. If we insist that Jesus hasn’t return, though His Words did promise to do so, then we are making Jesus to be a liar and not truthful. That was my moment of transition, knowing that Jesus is trustworthy and true.

In Matthew 10:23, Jesus sent out His apostles (Matthew 10:5), telling them their mission, persecution and suffering (Matthew 10:5-22), and the assurance of His return in their generation saying, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

The same claim and promise may be seen in Paul’s and the other New Testament writings of the Bible. But many times we may have simply read through without carefully discerning what truly was written. If the Word of God is clear, should we choose to believe otherwise? To do so, again, is the dilemma of tradition.

Allow me then to challenge you to read your Bibles, thoroughly discerning the truthful teaching of the Scripture. Let Scripture alone reveal the truth, not the commentaries – modern or centuries old traditions that were/are according to men. Jesus Christ and His Scripture alone is infallible and trustworthy. Jesus Christ said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). Let us seek to be sure then that what we have believe were/are the Words of Christ.

Blessings!

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Published by Eric

I am a pastor. In the course of leading Bible studies, I have noticed inconsistencies in the traditional Christian beliefs and teachings. So now I am on a journey of in-depth study of the Scripture. By the grace of God, having been liberated by the truths of the Word of God, now I am doing the ministry independently, teaching the Word of God.

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