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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder


Matt 15:1-3 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Also see Mark 7:1-13)

According to most bible scholars, the time was now approaching the third Passover our Lord celebrated during His earthly mission to establish God's will on earth, and the place was in Galilee (Matt. 14:34), near the city of Capernaum. In the lesson text we find scribes and Pharisees, which were from Jerusalem, tempting Jesus with contemptible, derisive questions. Mark says that these leaders of the Jews came from Jerusalem (Mark 7:1), insinuating that that they were, more than likely, sent by higher Jewish authorities to watch, find fault with, and criticize Jesus whenever and wherever possible. Mark's account also tells us that these scribes and Pharisees saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands. The same was true with other meal preparation and food serving items, such as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables (Mark 7:4). In all of these instances, they found fault because the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:2-3) was not followed.

At this point it would be good to discuss the origin, meaning, and effect of "tradition." Webster had a number of definitions, but this one seems to apply to its use in the lesson text: tradition is the handing down orally of stories, beliefs, and customs from generation to generation. Jewish "tradition" was the customary practice of devising standards of behavior based on the personal opinions of "religious" leaders, and establishing them as authoritative law. They were precepts that interpret and expand the written Law of Moses, are considered to be equal to, and are held to be as important as the original law given by God. Collectively, these customs handed down by Jewish elders from generation to generation are known as the Mishnah and later as the Talmud. It contains the interpretations and commentaries of past Jewish religious leaders that serve as required guidelines for observing the Mosaic Law. Without Holy Spirit inspired guidance, these traditions were merely human additions, or interpretations of God's written law.

Continuing with Matthew's account, these faultfinding Jews asked Jesus: Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. From this we know that eating with unwashed hands was not a violation of the written Law of Moses, but was contrary to a law established by Jewish elders, which required the washing of one's hands before sitting down and partaking of a meal. When asked this question by these Jews, Jesus answered with another question: Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? The charge these accusing Jews made against the disciples of Jesus was that they did not obey the tradition of the elders; the charge Jesus makes against them was that they transgressed the commandment of God. Jesus said that Isaiah described such action as hypocritical, saying that they were honoring God through their worship but they were teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (See Isa. 29:13; Matt. 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-7).

As proof of His accusation, Jesus cites an example of traditions being given more authority that that of God. In verses following the lesson text, Jesus quotes to these Jews the essence of God's commandments found in Exodus 20:12 and 21:17, which says: Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death (Vs. 4). This commands all Jews to honor, obey, and reverence their parents; they were not to curse, disobey, or show irreverence toward them. To violate this law of God required the death penalty to be imposed on the guilty party. This law, Jesus tells them, was made of none effect by the tradition of the elders, which said: Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free (Vss. 5-6a). In Mark's account, he says the term "gift" is more nearly described by the well-known word "Corban."

"Corban,"according to traditions established by Jewish elders, was a consecrated gift solemnly dedicated to the Temple of God. It was an avowed pledge of money or property that was specifically declared to be "Corban"to the Lord, and could not be renounced, withdrawn, or taken back at a later date and used for other personal purposes. Once promised for this purpose, it could not be used to fulfill parental obligations when and where they may be needed. Although the children may still be in possession of all their wealth, the traditions of elders allowed children to avoid caring for parents by pledging their gifts to the Temple. A child could be justified without contributing to the need of their parents under these additional laws established by the Jewish elders. The Law of Moses was made ineffectual. One could dishonor his father and his motherin this manner without receiving the punishment of the written law - he shall be free. Jesus told these Jewish leaders that by this,ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition (Vs. 6b).

The traditions of men made void God's commandments during the Jewish dispensation and have entered the Christian dispensation and made havoc of God's New Testament laws of worship and conduct of life that He requires of all men and women of the present world. The lesson text assuredly tells us that mankind is to refer to God's inspired word for all religious doctrine and reject every precept or ordinance that cannot be found within its pages. Any religious organization that is formed and governed by the precepts of men, however "sincere" they may be, rather than those found in His Holy Word is vanity, irreverent, and is to be rejected by all men and women who are searching for God's plan of salvation through Christ Jesus. The hope of salvation cannot be found in such organizations.

The spiritual observance of "religious" holidays cannot be found in God's word. And as some "religious" denominations have done, neither can participating in the Lord's Supper by restricting the partaking of the fruit of the vine to only "religious" leaders, with "non-clergy" members of the church being excluded. Infant sprinkling, worship services on days other than the first day of the week, instrumental worship music, church leadership not under the authority of elders, teaching that baptism is not essential to salvation, etc., are all the inventions that come from the mind of men. Authorization for these "traditions of men" cannot be found in the Holy Spirit-inspired New Testament writings. Not the smallest detail of the spiritual doctrine found in God's word is to be added to or deleted (See Rev. 22:18-19). There are no bodies of men or women - no conventions, assemblies, ecumenical councils, or synods that have scriptural authority to alter the gospel message and doctrine of Christianity. To do so is to reject the authority of God that He established through His Son, Jesus Christ; to do so is to make the commandments of God void and of none effect by the traditions of men.