Tradition: Biblical Texts (Gospels & Acts)

Study notes 1997
Tags: Tradition; Religious communication; Truth; Christian life; Ministry; Culture
Excerpted from Tradition: Theory & Application

There are fifteen texts in the New Testament that use paradosis and/or paradidomi in reference to tradition. While paradosis consistently refers to a sociological phenomenon, the semantic domain of paradidomi is broader, including the physical act of handing over people (e.g., Mt 26.21) and property (e.g., Mt 25.14), as well as the transmission of tradition (e.g., 1 Cor 11.2). The relevant texts are listed here in biblical order, with tradition-related comments following each entry. Greek terms referring to tradition are supplied in rounded brackets in the course of the text. Texts have been omitted which use paradidomi other than in reference to the transmission of tradition.

Matthew 15.1-11

1     Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying,

2     Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition {paradosis} 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 {paradosis}?

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

5     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 honour not his father or his mother, [he shall be free]. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition {paradosis}.

7     [Ye] hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

8     This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth 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.

10   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.

  • The exercise of Christian liberty sometimes results in violation of human religious tradition. Conversely, observance of human tradition sometimes results in violation of divine commands revealed in scripture.
  • Not all religious traditions are God-honoring. It is quite possible to give the appearance of pleasing God while failing to do so in truth.
  • Religious tradition becomes a spiritual hindrance when it is exalted to the level of a biblical command.

Mark 7.1-13

1     Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.

2     And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.

3     For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash [their] hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition {paradosis} of the elders.

4     And [when they come] from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, [as] the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables.

5     Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition {paradosis} of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

6     He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me.

7     Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.

8     For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

9     And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition {paradosis}.

10   For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:

11   But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, [It is] Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; [he shall be free].

12   And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;

13   Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition {paradosis}, which ye have delivered {paradidomi}: and many such like things do ye.

  • Religious tradition is concerned with external requisites rather than internal reality. It gives great attention to minute detail, and lends itself to acid tests of supposed spirituality.
  • Biblical behavior sometimes disregards tradition, and when it does, it often generates conflict with members of the religious community.
  • The fulfillment of outward religious forms cannot be equated with true godliness; in fact, it is possible to honor religious tradition yet be devoid of a personal, intimate relationship with God. Such hypocrisy is vain. These truths were foreseen in the Old Testament by the prophet Isaiah.
  • Observance of human tradition sometimes constitutes the rejection of a divine command.

Luke 1.1-4

1     Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

2     Even as they delivered {paradidomi} them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

3     It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

4     That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

  • Tradition—in both oral and written forms—has historically been one of the primary means of propagation of the Christian message. Such was the case of Luke’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus. The witness was handed over to him in verbal form by eyewitnesses, and from him in written form to the people of God.

Acts 6.12-14

12   And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon [him], and caught him, and brought [him] to the council,

13   And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

14   For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs {ethos} which Moses delivered {paradidomi} us.

  • Stephen was accused of attempting to change the customs (i.e., laws) which the Jews had practiced since the time of Moses. His preaching and miracles confronted their vain traditions, and they could not resist his power. In self-defense, they resorted to violence in their efforts to silence him. This story illustrates well the conflict between obedience to God and observance of human tradition.

Acts 16.4-5

4     And as they went through the cities, they delivered {paradidomi} them the decrees {dogma} for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

5     And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

  • Following the council at Jerusalem, Paul and Silas visited various cities, handing down to the Gentile converts the resolutions of the council regarding their duty to the Law of Moses. Thus the decrees of the council, which were imposed on the Gentile believers, became traditions that were delivered in order to maintain the unity of the body of Christ at large.