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Truth or tradition


This is a phrase that has been heavily thumped to us by churches, ministries, denominations, pastors and the like. The warning and pleading to take hold of truth and discard tradition. You’ve now got books, sermons, documentaries and websites that all use this phrase as their title and label. What does this all mean? What is the message behind this phrase? How are we to respond to it all?

Pontius Pilate said it very well when he asked Jesus “What is truth?” (Joh 18:38). No matter which Christian you speak with, nearly all of them will claim to know the truth. No one would dare admit that the doctrines they adhere to are merely traditions! Well, what does this all mean and how are we to accurately know whether we have truth or tradition – or both?

Let’s start with the subject of tradition:

The word tradition in the Greek (παραδοσις) means:
Handing down or over – Friberg Lexicon
Teachings handed down from one group or generation to another – UBS Lexicon
The transmission of legends and doctrines – Liddell-Scott Lexicon
A giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing – Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

When we think of the word tradition, we immediately think of the Pharisees and scribes of the 1st century in the NT and consequently perceive tradition in a negative/bad way. Let’s explore:

Mark 7:1 – 13
This passage highlights a tradition that was observed by the Pharisees and all the Jews (v1, 3). It was the washing of hands before eating and that of cups, pitchers, copper vessels and couches (v3, 5). This doctrine/practice was passed down to the Jews from the elders [i.e. leaders/older generation] (v3).

In 1st century Judaism, it became known as “the tradition of the elders.” These were a series of rules that were orally communicated and later written in a book called the Talmud. It was these traditions that many Jews observed and many contended against when others broke them (v5).

Q: Was the tradition of “washing” a bad thing?
A: No, but it became a bad thing for several reasons:

1) All of these traditions were doctrines and commandments of men (v7).
2) These people observed, more ferociously, the traditions of their elders over the commandments of God (v8).

Once such example Jesus raised was the 5th commandment (v10) and the breaking God’s law was the penalty of death. To escape this penalty, the elders cleverly conceived a doctrine called “the use of Corban” (v11 – 12).

A.T. Robertson in his Word pictures of the NT writes…

“They dodged this command of God about the penalty for dishonoring one’s father or mother by the use Corban. All one had to do to evade one’s duty to father or mother was to say Corban or Gift (Gr. doron) with the idea of using the money for God. By an angry oath of refusal to help one’s parents, the oath or vow was binding. By this magic word one set himself free from obedience to the fifth commandment.”

By observing their traditions, they were removing the authority of God’s word from the lives of the people (v13). Apparently, according to Jesus, they held onto many man-made traditions that was causing them to do this (v13).

It is clear, that many of the traditions held be the Jews in this time were man-made, not God-made! Yet, it was these very same Jews who zealously sought to kill Jesus!

Consider Saul, who later became Paul:

Galatians 1:13 – 14
Paul, describing his former conduct, highlights how passionate he was for the tradition of his peers (v14). He believed all his education in the Talmud was his way of getting closer to God…

“educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God…” – Act 22:3

Yet, when it came time, Paul persecuted, murdered and tried to destroy the church (v13). Man-made traditions rob us from the authority and power that the Scriptures can unleash in our life! We are called to be on guard lest we fall captive to the seduction of man-made traditions!

“see no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men…” – Col 2:8

Not all tradition is bad though. The NT does speak of a tradition that Paul handed down to many churches.

1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15
The traditions Paul taught and delivered were Christian doctrines, rooted in the Scriptures! Sound doctrine founded in the bible and taught into the church needs to be preserved and handed down!

Not all tradition is bad; man-made tradition is highly dangerous; God-made tradition is good and beneficial. 1st century, apostolic Christianity that Paul terms tradition is, I would term truthful tradition, not heretical tradition.

Let’s look at the subject of truth:

The word truth in the Greek (αληθειας) means:
What has certainty and validity; true-to-facts statements – Friberg Lexicon
What is real and sure – UBS Lexicon

Truth are those doctrines that can surely be validated with the Scriptures and consequently know for sure that what we’re being taught is real, factual and correct. Starting with Jesus, then later Peter, John and Paul – these all taught doctrines that were truthful. Let’s explore some doctrines:

Romans 1:25
One example of a truthful doctrine is the worship and service given to our Creator God. Notice the underlying monotheism Paul conveys here: the Creator (singular verb) God is unipersonal (Mar 12:28 – 29). Our Creator (YHWH, the Father) is the one whom we need to worship and serve as God – all else are creations!

Ephesians 1:13
Another example of a truthful doctrine is the gospel. The NT gospel is called the word of truth. Yet not any gospel (see Gal 1) but the correct gospel!

A well known Christian tract entitled “What is the Gospel” published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1980 stated “Jesus came to do 3 days work: to die, be buried and raised up” and that “He came not primarily to preach the Gospel … but He came rather that there might be a Gospel to preach.”

According to Billy Graham, Jesus did not coming preaching the gospel! Yet the biblical data shows otherwise.

“Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matt 4:17
“Jesus went about all Galilee…preaching the gospel of the kingdom…” – Matt 4:23

Paul himself continued preaching the same gospel that Jesus started.

“preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning our Lord Jesus Christ…” – Act 28:31

The right gospel is the imminent coming of the kingdom of God and the things concerning Jesus, the Messiah! The evangelical gospel, which is primarily centered on the crucifixion, is only the latter 50% of the gospel.

1 John 4:2 – 3, 6
Look at how abrasive John is with informing his audience about the concepts of truth. The Spirit of God is synonymous with the spirit of truth (v2, 6); the spirit of the antichrist with the spirit of error (v3, 6).

Another example of a truthful doctrine is the reality of the person of Jesus Christ. To John, the truth regarding Jesus was the fact that he was/is a physical human being (v2). To deny/reject this was to openly lie and oppose the certainty and validity of God’s human Messiah (v3).

Yet the belief in the Catholic/Protestant/Evangelical circles regarding Jesus is that God the Son incarnated himself, taking upon himself the 2nd nature of humanity – and hence the dual nature doctrine and the often used term the god-man.

Yet we know that it was the God of the OT who said:

“God is not a man that He should lie, or a son of man that He should repent…” – Num 23:19
“the gods have become like men [speaking of Paul/Barnabas] and have come down to us…” – Act 14:11

God cannot become a man; man cannot become God. Yet the doctrine of the Trinity believes so!

The NT data is full of examples of doctrines that the apostles taught that were Scripturally sound and hence truthful. These teachings Peter, John and Paul continually exhorted the church to teach and pass down to every generation.

Man-made tradition is bad, dangerous and has to be rid of – for it opposes the God’s written word. Sound doctrine rooted in the Scriptures are God-made traditions that need to preserved and passed down.

Listen to John’s wonderful heart toward others who embraced the truth:

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” – 3 Joh 1:4

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4 Responses to “Truth or tradition”

  1. on 18 Jun 2011 at 8:07 amXavier


    Sound doctrine rooted in the Scriptures are God-made traditions that need to preserved and passed down.

    Very well said. There are some “trasditions” that are sound in biblical truth and just because their referred to as “traditions” does not mean their somehow bad. Just like the word “doctrine” which, as you well know, is a label they throw at us all the time. Yet, the “doctrine of love” based on falsehood is sooo prevalent nowadays.

    But love, as it’s popularly known, can be deceptive. This can only be found out when we experience a sensation we equate with love but on hindsight we realize that it wasn’t love at all. In other words, love can also be faked, fabricated. This happens more often than not because we so thirst and hunger for love that we go head first, blind, like a runner in the dark.


    And when it comes to truth…well…

    In today’s world the very concept of ‘truth’ itself is being dismissed by many who are caught up in ‘post-modern’ thinking. This is the mindset that holds ‘truth’ as being only a construction created by one’s culture or the individual so that, what may be true for one is not true for another. Thus, truth is relative. This means that words are not fixed but a function of interpretation, so that each person can construct his own meanings.


  2. on 18 Jun 2011 at 8:49 amSteve

    Amen. Doctrines according to the bible (not our opinions) are good, beneficial and spiritually healthy to our lives.

    It is quite sad though the whole “truth is relative” sensation. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised with the world, but how about when it creeps into the church? When private interpretations are forced onto the biblical texts? Undoubtedly the post modern spirit has influenced many Christians then!

    The whole Sola Scriptura notion can really just become cliched if we really don’t let the Bible speak for itself.

    Good observation.

  3. on 18 Jun 2011 at 3:31 pmXavier


    When private interpretations are forced onto the biblical texts?

    Something we all have to be weary of bro.

  4. on 13 Feb 2016 at 10:49 pmArch

    I totally love this! Ours was never quite the same every year etehir, nor has it been since we have turned into out own little family of 5. But I am thankful for the freedom to keep some things the same and to change things up according to what is important to our family that year. Thanks for sharing those memories!


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