Transgressing The Commandment With Human Tradition

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Matthew 15:1-3 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?

Confusion Reigns When We Add To God’s Word

Two groups of people come to Jesus from Jerusalem. These men are representatives of the Temple and of the High Priest. They are powerful men, sincere in what they believe. One group is called the “Scribes”, men who were trained in the written Law and the oral traditions of Judaism. The “Pharisees” were a religious denomination of Judaism, very strict and conservative. Their name “Pharisee” literally means “separated ones”. They considered themselves to be above reproach in religious service.

These men were bewildered, confused at the ministry of Jesus. They had been observing Jesus’ followers, and noticed that they did not keep certain traditions. Their question to Jesus was:

2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.

What the Scribes and Pharisees are referring to is the oral traditions called the Mishnah. The Mishnah is like a commentary on the Word of God, and the Gemara is a commentary on the Mishnah. The easiest way to understand this is:

The Torah is the WRITTEN Law of God, given to Moses.
The Mishnah is the ORAL Law of God, teachings verbally passed down.
The “Gemara” is the rabbinical commentary on the “Mishnah”.
The Talmud is the Mishnah with the Genara.
There are two Talmuds: The “Babylonian” which dates from 5th Century AD. The “Palestinian” or “Jerusalem”, which is the earlier record.

Are you confused? I admit that I am. Confusion always occurs when we leave the simplicity of the written Word of God and add in other things. My Bible says:

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion,
but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

When humans – even sincere and perhaps good hearted people – begin to add our two cents worth to what God has said, then we bring in confusion. The Christian way of life is one of simplicity, not confusion. We are to live:

2 Corinthians 1:12 … in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have our {way of life} in this world ..

The devil loves to confuse us. He loves to put his twist on things. He did this in the Garden of Eden when he said, “has God really said that when you eat of this tree you shall surely die? (Genesis 3:1). .. “God knows that in the day you eat of this tree you shall be like gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). When humans begin to put their spin on what God has spoken and recorded in His Word, then confusion sets in. The Apostle addressed this in the early Church, saying:

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 .. I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

This danger has always been with us. What has God said? He has given us a written record of what He considers right and true. Do we bind to the writings of the Scripture, or do we allow the oral traditions over the years, or even this day, to take precedent?

Jesus at this point is facing the same dilemma that every Pastor faces in every age. The Scribes and Pharisees are asking “Why aren’t your disciples following the oral traditions like we do?”.

Bible Scholar F.F. Bruce notes, “The ‘elders’ here {that the Scribes and Pharisees are referencing} are not the living rulers of the people, but the past bearers of religious authority, the more remote the more venerable”. Their complaint,

they wash not their hands when they eat bread..

has nothing to do with good hygiene. The Mishnah called for people to observe rigid, extensive rituals for washing before eating. The Jewish Rabbi Jose stated, “He sinneth as much who eateth with unwashen hands, as he that lieth with a harlot”. These things – though the Scribes and Pharisees held to them – were never taught in the written Word of God. The Bible says that:

Exodus 30:18-21 Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. 19 For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: 20 when they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the Lord: 21 so they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations.

The Priests were to ceremonially wash themselves – both hands and feet – before they ministered in their office. This did not apply to those in the congregation. God did say that those who touched anything or anyone who was unclean were to wash, not only hands and feet, but their bodies as well (read Leviticus 15). The written Law of God, however, did not mandate washing of hands before eating.

Jesus Referenced Not The Oral Law
But The Written Law

When Jesus Christ came to this earth He upheld the written Scripture alone to be the Word of God. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:17-19 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) is composed of the Law, the Prophets, and the writings. The Jews called the written Scripture TaNaKh, which is:

Torah – Law
Nevi’im – Prophets
Ketuvim – Writings

The Mishnah was not, to Jesus, a part of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Word of God.

This is why Jesus did not respond to the Scribes and Pharisees question by defending His teachings. Instead Jesus directly asked:

Matthew 15:3 … … Why do ye also transgress the COMMANDMENT OF GOD by your tradition?

The Mishnah is NOT the Commandment of God.
The Commandment of God is the written Word of God,
written Holy Scripture.

Jesus’ ministry on this earth is empowered by three words: “It. Is. Written.” When the devil attacked Jesus, our Lord responded with “It is written” (Matthew 4:4, 6, 7, 10). When Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple, He said “It. Is. Written.” (Matthew 21:13). When Jesus spoke of Judas Iscariot’s betrayal and His crucifixion, He said “It. Is. Written.” (Matthew 26:24). When He spoke of His disciples deserting Him, He said “It. Is. Written.” (Matthew 26:31). When the Scribes and Pharisees attack Him for disregarding the Mishnah, Jesus instead refers to the Torah as the Word of God. Jesus quoted God’s written Word:

Matthew 15:4 For God commanded, saying, Honor thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

The texts Jesus is quoting is from

Exodus 20:12 Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. (see also Deuteronomy 5:16)

Exodus 21:17 … he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 … For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.

God in His written Word, the Holy Scripture, has set out a Law that a person’s parents are to be HONORED. The Scribes and Pharisees were honoring the Mishnah as if it were the Word of God, but were ignoring the Word of God. Jesus quoted them:

Matthew 15:5-6 BUT YE SAY, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; 6 and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

What were the Scribes and Pharisees doing? As parents age, God required that the parents be taken care of by their children. Honor of the parent was not just when the offspring was a child. The parent is supposed to be honored even into old age. This costs money. It costs money to take care of your elderly parents. But God demands that children care for their parents, loving them even when they have moved from home and made a life for themselves.

The Scribes and Pharisees found a loophole in the Mishnah that they often flaunted. They would set aside money as a “gift to God”. As this money was dedicated to God, the money was unavailable to use for their needing and aging parents. Pastor and Author Chuck Swindoll in his book Insights on Matthew 1-15 quotes R.T. France,

This convenient declaration apparently left the property actually still at the disposal of the one who made the vow, but deprived his parents of any right to it … such a pious fraud is in direct conflict with the will of God as expressed in the fifth commandment”.

The action of abandoning your parents who loved you and raised you to adulthood is a horrible thing, worthy of death according to God’s Written Word. This is the problem that we all have when we substitute human tradition and opinion (Mishnah) over the written Word of God (TaNaKh with the New Testament). The question that Children of God must always ask is,

Is What You Believe Backed By Written Scripture,
Or Is It Human Oral Traditions?

When the Scribes and Pharisees ignored the written Word of God an instead elevated the oral tradition of man, they committed a horrible crime. God’s fifth Commandment is a design detail to be so important that to fail to do it is to commit an act as horrendous as murder (Genesis 9:6), kidnapping (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7), bestiality (Leviticus 18:23), child sacrifice (Leviticus 20:2), idolatry (Leviticus 20:27), or sexual sin (Leviticus 18:22; 20:10) does. To dishonor your parents was a capital crime, punishable by death.

Why is dishonor to your parents such a horrible thing? Because a child learns good citizenship and respect for authority in the home first.

The child that rebels against the parent and who is not corrected grows up to riot, to break the laws of the nation, to become an anarchist. The more good citizens a country has, the more stable that country will be. We are seeing the insanity of wandering away from God’s Word playing out in our country today. The moral code of a citizen is established when that person is a child. When children grow up bereft of parents to honor and guide them, they become bad actors later in life.

And confusion abounds in the nation.

It Was Hypocritical Of “Separate Ones” or Pharisees
To Establish Human Laws As Superior To
The Written Word of God

Jesus did not give the Scribes (the Legal scholars) and Pharisees (the Separate Ones) a chance to answer His question, but immediately indicted them as HYPOCRITES:

Matthew 15:7 Ye HYPOCRITES, well did {Isaiah} prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But IN VAIN THEY DO WORSHIP ME, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Word Study Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 when He indicted the Scribes and Pharisees. They, like ancient disobedient Israel, SAID that they loved the Lord, but turned away from His written Word. “In VAIN do they worship Me”. When we reject the Scripture, the written Word of God in order to embrace human opinion and feels, then our worship of God is VAIN. Jesus uses a Greek word μάτην mátēn, {pronounced mat’-ane}, which means “fruitless, unsuccessful, to no purpose”. God is not in the worship service when His Word is not upheld. God will not honor any Church that departs from the Written Word of God for some type of Mishnah, whether it be a Jewish Mishnah or a Gentile Mishnah.

God and God alone is the final Arbiter of Truth. God is our Creator. He is the Maker of every person. He is the Grand Designer of our planet, and all that are on it. It is God Who defines good and evil. When God told Adam,

Genesis 2:16-17 Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

This was an absolute. God decreed this, and had it written into Scripture. Jesus stated:

Matthew 19:17; Mark 10:18 … there is NONE GOOD BUT ONE, that is, GOD

Psalm 25:8 Good and upright is THE LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.

God establishes what is good and what is bad. God knows that we as humans are frail and fallible. He knows that we are born crooked, sinners all. There is not a person among us that can measure up to Who God is. All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are all products of Adam’s OPINION in the Garden of Eden. Knowing God’s Word, Adam rejected His Word in order to follow his own opinion. His failure to the Word of God brought catastrophe upon the human race.

Our God sets the standard, and his standard is clearly presented in the Word of God. I often hear people challenge the Word of God by saying:

Well, Jesus never said that this lifestyle was wrong. He never addressed it at all.”

Then they stand back and say, “The Old Testament was back then. We are in the New Testament, and if Jesus didn’t say it, then it’s not wrong”. What is wrong with this chain of thought and argument? Jesus often referenced the Old Testament as the Word of God, and directed that it be followed. Here’s a big one that I often encounter. People in SEXUAL SIN – be it heterosexual or homosexual sin – often state:

Jesus never addressed what the Old Testament said was sexual sin – so it’s no longer a sin”.

My reply: “Jesus DID address heterosexual as well as homosexual sin. In Matthew 19 Jesus said:

Matthew 19:4-6 Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Jesus quoted the Old Testament Scriptures when He said, “Have you not READ”. It is God Who made man and made woman. It is God Who designed marriage to be one man and one woman. Marriage is not multiple women to one man, nor is it man on man or woman on woman. Marriage is a bond between a man and a woman, the same bond that was from “in the beginning”. This is not popular in our world today, and in many cases the false narratives that the devil pushes have been reinforced by local or national churches that have said, “has God really said that?” Well yes, Jesus has spoken to it, and He speaks to it from “it is written”.

Jesus Now Addresses The MULTITUDES

As Jesus addresses the Scribes and Pharisees I can almost see them, their faces getting redder and redder, their arms crossed, their expressions tight lipped and furious. But Jesus now ignores these sincere men. We read:

Matthew 15:10-11 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: 11 not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

Jesus addresses the “multitudes” because what He has said about the written Word is God is so very important. Too often people focus on the external physical things and say that these “defile a person”. It is possible to eat things that defile your bodies. You can defile your body by eating too much food. You can defile your body by drinking too much alcohol. You can defile your body by putting too much or anything into it. You can literally poison your body by taking in the wrong things, the wrong substances, the wrong stuff.

But what defiles a SOUL? Jesus spoke a PARABLE:

11 {it is} not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

Words come out of your mouth. What you say comes out of your mouth. And what comes out of your mouth comes from inside you, from your soul. When Jesus told this to the multitudes, His disciples – men that loved Jesus – came up the Master and said:

Matthew 15:12-14 … Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? 13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. 14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

Jesus was not going to apologize for telling the truth. Too often, dear friends, those who know the Word of God apologize for telling the truth. But what God has said is true, regardless as to what others may say. What His Written Word states is true for every age. That may offend some, but if you love God it will not offend you. If you love God, you will love His Written Word. You will love his Word more than anything or any one else.

Psalm 119:1-3 Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. 2 Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart. 3 They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways.

The Scribes and Pharisees had ignored the written Word of God for so long and had lived by the Mishnah, that they were hardened in their hearts. They were plants that the Heavenly Father had not planted. If the Father did not plant them, then who planted them? The devil. The darkness. Those who ignore the written Word of God and in preference turn to the various Mishnahs found in humanity are not of God. They are weeds in the garden. They are false plants, left in place by God to try the righteous, produced by the evil one to attempt to draw us away from the path of righteousness.

Now Peter speaks up. “Declare to us this parable”, the parable that our Lord just spoke. He says:

Matthew 15:16-20 {Jesus said} … Are ye also yet without understanding? 17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? 18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. 19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: 20 these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

The reason people do evil things is because of what is in their hearts. I often hear people talk about racism, and specifically systemic racism. What is this? It is what God calls “sin”. How does this become nourished in the heart? Because people have rejected the written Word of God for the various Mishnahs that people have accepted as true. When a person’s mouth is filled with poison, you can be certain that the source of this poison is a defiled heart. Jesus told the Scribes and Pharisees:

Matthew 12:34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.

Solomon warned us to “watch over your heart with all diligence,

For from it flow the springs of life” (New American Standard used for clarity). What we take into our eyes and ears goes into our hearts. When we spend much time in front of televisions or reading books but little time in the written Word of God, we allow our hearts to be filled with fruitless things. It is the written Word of God that blesses us. Jesus said:

Luke 6:45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

Whether your life produces good and godly fruit or bad and useless fruit is determined by what you allow to enter your soul through your eye and ear gates. You can eat bad food, or drink bad things and, in most cases, it will pass from your body within a day or so as waste. But what you feed your hearts will impact your very souls. The great preacher G. Campbell Morgan wrote in his book Searchlights From The Word:

Here, then, we find the test of all human teaching, however well intentioned. If it be not based upon and rooted in the Word of God, or if it depart in any degree from the true intention of that Word, it is without pity to be rooted up. By this test we need ever to try our traditions, customs, habits, rules, regulations. Man is always in danger of destroying the very thing he desires to safeguard, when he adds to the simplest things of the Divine revelation”.

Our nation is in tatters because we have, as a people, turned from the written Word of God to the mishmash of politics and social justice. Our families are in disrepair because we have raised our children to disrespect the written Word of God. We need to heed the Psalmist, who said:

Psalm 119:11 Thy word {o Lord} have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Oh that we would as His Church cling to His written Word, cherishing it above all else. Oh that we would understand that only the written Word of God can pierce even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12).

We must get back to the Bible! May God touch your hearts with His Spirit and His Word. Amen and Amen.

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
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