The next few days we’ll dig a little deeper into Mark 7:1-23:
The Tradition of the Elders
7 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles. 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
9 Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God — 12 then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
17 When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19 since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Today we see Jesus talking about the tradition of the elders. We have talked about this before with the Pharisees but what is happening here is that after the Jews returned from the exile, their failure to keep the covenant was a primary motivation for them. They were determined not to make the same the same mistakes of the past. So, they set up rules and laws that the people had to follow to ensure that they would not break the law.
These new, non-biblical rules became passed down as the traditions of the elders. They weren’t biblical like the law, but they became codified as that tradition.
So, because of passages like this, we have become very wary of tradition. Some churches and people would not affirm historic documents like the Apostle’s Creed because they will not affirm “man made” doctrine or traditions like that. For some believers, the notion of tradition is still something to be aware of.
However, for the tribe that I’m part of, the United Methodist Church, we affirm tradition as one of the ways that God affirms Himself and teaches us. So, how can we (and other) churches put validity into tradition while Jesus clearly condemns it here?
There at two types of tradition. There is what I call “little t” tradition and what I call “big T” Tradition. Little t tradition is normally tied to the things that happen that local community or church. They are individual and vary from place to place. They may be good traditions, they may be bad traditions. But they are local to that place or region or time.
Big T Tradition is the faith handed down to us by our parents and grandparents. The teachings of Wesley, of Calvin, of Luther, of Lewis, of Aquinas, of Francis. This is the faith that has been passed down for thousands of years from the Apostles. The teaching of the Christian church for over 2000 years.
This Tradition, it is very good. It is not perfect, it is not scripture, it doesn’t carry the same weight or authority as scripture, but it has much to teach us about who God is and what we believe as Christians.
This tradition is very good.
So, when you hear talk about tradition, be clear on what the tradition is. Is it “little t” or “big T?” Tradition can teach us so very much. May we have discerning hearts on this, and all things.
Friday we’ll look at Mark 7:1-23 some more.
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