How do we decide how to apply the Word of God?
Some traditions today say that wearing bright clothing is sinful. Even the use of buttons is considered sinful by some traditions.
Other traditions say that drinking coffee or tea is transgressing God’s commands.
Still others say that the eating of pork is a violation of God’s Word.
How do we decide how to apply God’s Word correctly?
Phillip Chidavaenzi says in a December 18, 2016, article in the Standard, “Many pastors are now incorporating their ideas and opinions into the gospel, but God isn’t under any obligation to honour your opinions. He only honours His word.”
There are many traditions in Christianity today that are deeply ingrained. Christians have been influenced by our culture, our schools, our press, and our movies.
How do we decide which traditions are good and which traditions are bad?
The Lord Jesus raises the need for us to examine our traditions in light of Scripture in Mark 7:1-16.
The religious leaders of Israel had a tradition that it was sin to eat without washing your hands “in a special way.” SIN.
In The Bible Knowledge Commentary, John Grassmick commented, “These interpretations, designed to regulate every aspect of Jewish life, were considered as binding as the written Law…” (“Mark,” pp. 132-33). William Lane points out that the issue here was much bigger than washing hands, saying, “The eating of bread without proper concern for the removal of ritual defilement was merely the immediate occasion for this confrontation. Its ultimate occasion was Jesus’ evident disregard for the whole structure of oral tradition…” (The Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans, p. 245).
They spoke of “the tradition of the elders” (v 5). The Lord Jesus denounced their teaching as “the tradition of men” (v 8) and “your tradition” (v 9). They elevated their tradition to the level of a commandment from God. But there is no such hand washing commandment anywhere in the Scriptures.
This was something that the Jewish rabbis came up with over time. They studied the OT and came up with a list of hundreds of traditions that are not found in the OT. These were what they thought were reasonable applications of the OT.
We must take great care with applications. We must take great care that our applications do not actually contradict God’s commandments.
Jesus does not directly address the actions of the disciples until verses 14-16. He is here clearly defending their actions. But His point is that it is the words and actions of the Pharisees and scribes that are wrong.
The Lord quotes from Isaiah. R. T. France comments, “Jesus’ immediate concern will be with the theme of the second half of the Isaiah quotation, that rules and regulations based on merely human authority do not provide the sort of response which God requires of his people” (The Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans, p. 285).
Isaiah rebuked the Jews of his generation for honoring God with their lips, yet having hearts that were far from God. They did worship God. But their worship was “in vain.” Vain worship is empty worship. To take God’s name in vain is to use it in an empty way. To worship God with your words, while your heart is a million miles away, is vain worship.
Isaiah said that the reason their hearts were far from God and their worship was in vain was because they taught as doctrine the commandments of men. The very issue that the Pharisees approached Jesus about, handwashing, was a prime example.
Jesus was saying that what Isaiah wrote 750 years before applied directly to the people confronting Him. They too taught as doctrine man-made rules.
They charged that Jesus and His disciples were laying aside the traditions of the elders and implicitly the commandment of God. The Lord powerfully turned the tables on them, saying that they “[laid] aside the commandment of God” (v 8).
France makes this excellent point: “What comes from God has the authoritative character of entolē [commandment], which requires obedience; what comes from human authority is merely paradosis [tradition], which may or may not be of value in itself, but cannot have the same mandatory character” (p. 285).
The Lord goes on to give an example in verses 9-13.
In verse 9, the Lord uses a different verb to explain that they rejected the commandment of God that they might “keep [their] tradition.”
Jesus then gave an example of how their traditions inadvertently rejected the fifth commandment!
Brooks comments, “Jesus accused the scribes of overthrowing a law of primary importance (the law to honor parents by caring for them in their old age) in order to observe one of secondary importance (the law of performing vows). Such a thing often results from extreme legalism” (Mark, Broadman & Holman, p. 116).
The Jews had come up with a tradition which said that if you dedicated money to give to God, then you must pay it even if your aging parents needed that money.
In Jewish tradition, if you vowed to give a certain amount of money for the temple, then that pledged gift superseded all other obligations, including taking care of your elderly parents in need.
That particular tradition actually rejected God’s command to honor your mother and father. In verse 13 the Greek literally says, “thus making void [or nullifying] the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down.”
Religious traditions can lay aside (v 8), reject (v 9), and nullify (v 13) God’s Word.
If a tradition contradicts the Word of God, then it is bad and should be rejected.
The end of verse 13 is especially damning: “And many such things you do.” Assuming the majority of manuscripts are correct, this is the second time (first = v 8) that the Lord said this.
Legalism may have good intentions. But it is laying aside, rejecting, and nullifying God’s commands.
When the Lord Jesus spoke of defilement in verses 14-16, He was talking about moral defilement. John Grassmick says that “A person is defiled morally by what he thinks in his heart even though he may scrupulously observe outward purity rituals. So, Jesus contradicted the Rabbinic view by stating that sin proceeds from within and not from without (cf. Jer. 17:9–10)” (“Mark” in BKC, p. 134).
The Pharisees and scribes were very concerned about ceremonial defilement. Yet they were defiled by their self-righteous words and actions.
The disciples did nothing wrong by eating bread without first ceremonially washing their hands.
William Lane concisely summarizes Jesus’ point: “Jesus sets in radical opposition material purity and moral purity” (Mark, p. 254).
Many Evangelicals today will read a passage like Mark 7:1-16 and recognize that the Pharisees and scribes were being legalistic about requiring hand washing before meals as a religious practice. Yet those same Evangelicals cannot recognize when they do the same thing by following some of their own traditions. Can we? Can we recognize when our traditions lead us to violate the Word of God?
I will have four follow-up blogs that illustrate popular modern traditions that nullify God’s Word.