The Scriptorium

Transgressive Traditions

Not all traditions are bad. Matthew 15.1-9

Matthew 15: True and False Faith (1)

Pray Psalm 12.1, 2.
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases!
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

Sing Psalm 12.1, 2.
(Hamburg: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
Help, Lord! The godly cease to be.
They who believe in Christ are few.
Falsely the wicked confidently
flatter, deceive, and mock Your truth.

Read and meditate on Matthew 15.1-9.

1. To what did the religious leaders object?

2. To what did Jesus object?

When we’re reading Scripture and come across the word “tradition”, we tend automatically to think that’s a bad thing. We shouldn’t be led by tradition. Tradition bad; Scripture good.

However, that’s only partly true. We ought always to be led by Scripture. But Scripture can help us to shape good and reliable traditions, as Paul indicated in 2 Thessalonians 3.6. Tradition is bad either when it goes beyond Scripture (1 Cor. 4.6) or supplants it altogether (Matt. 15.6, 9). Such traditions make a mockery of faith, and turn faith in God into legalism and salvation by works.

This is where the scribes and Pharisees had come to in their practice of “faith”. They were all about control, using traditions to keep people subservient to them – and to preserve their status in the Roman social order (cf. Jn. 11.45-48). They confronted Jesus about what they considered a transgression of their traditions on the part of His disciples. Jesus blew them and their tradition away, rebuking them for embracing traditions of control rather than the Law of love (vv. 1-3). In the process, Jesus exposed another bad tradition, one that allowed religious leaders to avoid caring for their parents – in clear violation of the fifth commandment – in the name of fulfilling some religious duty – which ultimately redounded to their own benefit (vv. 4-6).

Jesus told it like it was: These men were hypocrites (v. 7), living a false faith and deceiving the people who looked to them for leadership.

But this didn’t sneak up on God, as if their hypocrisy could foil His plans. Isaiah had foretold the day when men would teach their own favorite doctrines in place of the commandments of God (vv. 8, 9), all the while espousing their faith in God and desire to honor Him. Sadly, in many ways, that sounds a lot like the day in which we live.

1. What makes someone a hypocrite? What would be some examples of hypocrisy?

2. What are some traditions that Christians observe in our day which are not inherently bad?

3. What should be the role of Scripture in helping us decide which traditions to hold and follow?

Why did they turn things upside down? Because they were afraid that someone might take away their power. They wanted others to be more afraid of them. They themselves had become the lawgivers. The issue of transgressing the traditions of the elders had gotten so inverted that they were insisting that their own commandments be kept even if God’s commandment was violated.
John Chrysostom (344-407), The Gospel of Matthew 51.1

Lord, shelter me in Your Word today as I…

Pray Psalm 12.3-8.
Thank God for His Word, and pray that it may have increasing sway and power in your life, and throughout the world.

Sing Psalm 12.3-8.
Psalm 12.3-8 ((Hamburg: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
Stop, Lord, the lips that utter lies,
all those who speak with boasting tongue!
See how Your holy Word they despise,
while their own praises they have sung.

Rise up, O Lord, and rescue all
Your precious children sore distressed.
Save those who faithfully on You call;
grant them deliv’rance, peace, and rest.

Your words are pure and proven true,
like silver seven times refined;
You will preserve Your Word ever new,
and keep the heart to You inclined.

Proudly the wicked strut and stand;
Your indignation builds on high.
Men may exalt their wicked plans,
but You will judge them by and by.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore