Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - May 2, 2002 

The Folly of Tradition

By Ernest L. Martin Ph.D., 1984

Read the accompanying Newsletter for May 2002

 

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Nothing is more counterproductive to the discovery of truth (any truth) than the use of tradition in research. Traditional beliefs and their application have been responsible for making the teachings of the Bible take on meanings opposite from those intended. Even the main doctrine of Christianity regarding the substitutionary function of Christ in redemption has been subverted by traditional beliefs. This article shows the role of Christ in salvation and how religious leaders in the past have clouded over His responsibility by the addition of traditional concepts onto biblical themes. Judaism replaced the Law of Moses with tradition. Christianity has done the same.

The use of tradition may or may not be a bad thing. In the New Testament we find that "tradition" is commended in three references (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6 and 1 Corinthians 11:2, translated "ordinances" in the King James Version) and it is condemned in six others (Matthew 15:3, 6; Mark 7:8–9, 13; Colossians 2:8). There is nothing wrong with traditions in themselves as long as they are in compliance with the teachings of the Word of God. 

In the three citations stated by the apostle Paul, he encouraged newly converted Christians to follow the traditions delivered to them because they would aid them to put into practice the principles of the Gospel that Paul was teaching. These traditions related to the manner and times for performing Christian activities. Their application was intended to buttress the requirements of the Christian message, not to take away from it, and especially not to change that message into an opposite meaning. 

But wait! Did not the apostles change or annul the Old Testament laws ordained through Moses? Is it not true that Christian traditions taught by the apostles actually did away with circumcision, Sabbath, holyday keeping, tithing and animal sacrifices as a way to obtain salvation? 

It is not usually understood but even the Old Testament doctrines of circumcision, Sabbath and holyday keeping, etc., have never been (in an actual sense) done away. What has happened for Christians is that they were all fulfilled on our behalf by Christ Jesus. In no way have the teachings of Moses been done away! How could any student of the Bible even consider such a thing when one can read the clear statement of Christ to the contrary.

"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. 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."

All people should understand one point plainly. No one will ever be saved unless the requirements of the law and the prophets are fulfilled perfectly! Also, all legal requirements mentioned in the New Testament must be performed to the dotting of the "i" and the crossing of the "t", or else no one can be saved. Let me be clear about the matter. Even the slightest infringement of either Old or New Testament teachings by people to whom those teachings pertain will result in a person not being saved into the spiritual family of God. Even one transgression is all that is needed to make any person a sinner and that person becomes thoroughly guilty of sinning against all laws and regulations of the Bible (James 2:10). 

The Law of Moses

Christ made it clear that the Law of Moses was not done away—and that includes all the animal sacrificial laws which made up a part of the Mosaic legislation; nor would the Mosaic law ever be abolished for Israel or anyone wishing to join the Old Testament community of God’s people. The laws of circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, tithing, holydays, and animal sacrifices will always remain valid as long as there is a heaven and an earth in existence (Matthew 5:18). 

Since this is the plain teaching of Christ, then why do not all Christian people today fulfill the requirements of that Law in their lives? The fact is, all Christians HAVE kept every part of the Old and New Testament laws—and they have done them perfectly, to the complete satisfaction of God the Father! All demands of the Mosaic Law (and all laws and commandments of God no matter when or to whom they were made) have been FULFILLED by Christ when He lived and died for us some 1900 years ago. All of us have met the requirements of the law by being "in Christ." When Christ kept the law and died on the tree of crucifixion, God the Father reckons each of us as having kept the law precisely and to have died with Christ on the same tree (Colossians 2:11–12; 3:13). We have met the requirements of the Law through our fulfillment of the Law—even paying our own death penalty by having Christ die for us—as a substitute for us. 

The fact of Christ’s substitution is what makes the teaching of Christianity to be Christianity! But strangely, this important biblical teaching of Christ’s substitutionary role is very often misunderstood even by Christians. Some are so oblivious to it that they must attempt to perform the Law of Moses to be saved. This is a hopeless task because no one is capable of keeping the Law in the way that God requires. We need a substitute person to perform the Law of Moses (and all other biblical laws and commandments) for us. We have such a person in Christ Jesus!

This is why Christ came to fulfill the Law for us so that we can be presented to God the Father in the time of judgment as people who have also fulfilled all the Law (all laws and commandments) in a perfect way because we are now "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3–13). This is what being "in Christ" really means! It signifies that we have become a part of Him—to share in His righteousness, His sinlessness, His punishment for sins (by dying on the tree of crucifixion), and sharing in His resurrection and exaltation in heaven (Colossians 2:11–12; 3:1–3). This is what the apostle Paul was showing the people of his time. He was teaching the people that Christ’s righteous deeds are now written onto each of our accounts "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). 

All of Christ’s righteousness has now been given to us and Christ’s death on the tree of crucifixion is now reckoned as fulfilling the requirement of death (Galatians 2:2 1). This is why Christians are now reckoned as being "dead to the law" (Romans 7:4), and as a result of having met all the law’s requirements in Christ we are now "free from the law" (Romans 7:3). There is no longer any part of the Mosaic Law that pertains to us. We are now free in Christ to practice the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit as indicated in Galatians 5:22–23,

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meek-ness, temperance: against such there is no law."

Notice carefully that there is not one ritual or ceremony of Moses which one must now observe to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. These rituals were for people before Christ came to earth, they were only shadows, but the reality was Christ. The "shadows" are now redundant to us because the reality has come to us. We are commanded to do good works (Ephesians 2:8–10), but the doing of those works will not earn us salvation. That was earned for us by Christ and His good works, and by His sacrificial life and death in our stead. 

Most people fail to realize that Christ was fulfilling the sacrificial (ritualistic) laws of the Old Testament when He came to live and die for mankind. All the animal sacrifices ordained by Moses were substitutions for the sinners in Israel. When the morning and evening sacrifices were offered at the Temple, each Israelite was offering the sacrifices in a symbolic way. Though the priests did the sacrificing, they were reckoned as stand-ins for each Israelite. Even the animals being sacrificed were also substitutes for the Israelite offering the sacrifice. This substitutionary principle was central to the Mosaic sacrificial system. It was to point out that there was to come a divine person who would present himself as a sacrificial substitute for Israelites and for the whole world. That person was Christ Jesus! And He performed His sacrificial role perfectly for us. He did it once, not over and over as with animal sacrifices (Hebrews 9:28). The whole ritualistic law has now been fulfilled for us and we are released from doing it! 

It is not necessary to fast on the Mosaic Day of Atonement with the Jews since Christ cleansed all of us from our sins in a spiritual sense; we need not fast every year on Yom Kippur to remind ourselves of those sins. If a Christian does fast in the Old Testament way on that day, then one is acknowledging that Christ has not yet paid for his or her sins! But Christ has paid the penalty for all our sins. He has fulfilled all the Mosaic Law as a substitution for us. 

The Traditions of Early Judaism 

Christ’s teaching that the Mosaic Law was the only Law at the time to keep did not apply to the Judaism that developed prior to the advent of Christ. Pharisaical beliefs were annulling many commandments of Moses and teaching the people that they did not have to obey Moses any longer. The people were instructed to obey the Scribes and Pharisees who were accounted to be the representatives of God. This is true! This was exactly the opinion within Judaism in the two centuries before Christ. The main Jewish authorities began to add an abundance of traditional beliefs to the Mosaic religious society. Their religious system was not "to fulfill" the Law, but to abolish much of it! 

The outcome of their activities destroyed the very essence of Old Testament religion. This is not often realized by people in the world today but it can be shown, in an absolute way, that the Judaism of Christ’s day was not "the religion of Moses." Only in an outward and superficial sense did the Pharisaical ways of the first century (which dominated the society) resemble the teachings of Moses. So many new and contradictory teachings entered the mainstream of Judaic belief that even top Jewish scholars today are honest enough to admit that the Judaism of the Second Temple period had drifted far from observing the written commandments of the Old Testament. Their traditions made void much of the Word of God. This fact is echoed clearly in the statements of Christ and the apostles. Notice what Christ said:

"Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."
  • Matthew 15:6

"For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘He who speaks evil of father and mother let him surely die;’ but ye say ‘If a man tell his father or his mother what ye have gained from me is Corba,
[that is, neglecting one’s parents was proper in order to perform a supposed higher principle of conduct in honor of God], then ye no longer permit him to do anything for his father and mother, thus making VOID the word of God through your tradition which you hand down. And MANY SUCH THINGS YOU DO."

The fact is, Judaism in the time of Christ was rife with numerous new and diverse laws which Moses or the prophets never thought of, to the extent that it can correctly be called a "new religion." Most Jewish authorities in Christ’s day no longer believed in the precise teachings of Moses. Christ said: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me ... BUT YE BELIEVE NOT HIS WRITINGS" (John 5:46–47). 1

Some Scholars Recognize These Points 

One of the finest Jewish scholars of this century was Professor R. Travers Herford. He wrote several books that added new knowledge about the Judaism of Christ’s time. One of them was Talmud and Apocrypha (London: Soncino Press, 1933). He shows that from about the year 160 B.C.E. onwards the religious authorities among the Jews began to make new laws, apart from those of Moses. The custom became so common-place that by the time of Christ a new type of religion, only marginally resembling Mosaicism, had come on the scene in Palestine. In talking about the creation of the new laws, Herford said:

"The teachers ... were quite aware of the extreme gravity of the step they were taking. They intended to modify the written commandment in various ways, and in the course of time actually did so in NUMBERLESS CASES. Yet they had before them the plain injunction (Deuteronomy 4:2): ‘Ye shall not add to the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it; that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.’"

It is almost impossible to believe that religious leaders would be so bold as to do such things, but the Pharisaical leaders did the very thing Moses told them not to do! They intentionally altered the Laws of Moses (making them void), as Herford said, "in numberless cases." They did so because they felt that they had the prophetic spirit of God (as did the prophets of old) and this gave them the right to "modernize" Moses and to bring him up-to-date with the new thinking of the people. In other words, by the second century before Christ, Moses had become "outdated."

"The written Torah was good for the age in which it was given, or in which it was first read; but the written Torah alone could not suffice for later ages."

The Pharisees came to believe that they were endowed with the Spirit of God to inform the people of better and more "modern" ways to worship God and that the common people should obey them even if their teachings went contrary to the commandments of Moses. They considered themselves modern "prophets."

"It is certain that they [the Pharisees] regarded themselves as the successors of the prophets, and that not merely in fact but by right."

In the Talmudic tractate Baba Bathra 12a we read: "Prophecy was taken from the Prophets and was given to the Wise [the Pharisees]." To this remark was added: "and it has not been taken from these Wise men." Herford deduces from this particular reference, among many others in the Talmud,

"The relevance of this passage ... is that the Rabbis [the Pharisees] felt that they had, no less but EVEN MORE than the prophets, DIVINE AUTHORITY for what they taught, and that this was given to them after the time when the prophets ceased to function. It was the way of expressing the belief that the revelation [of God] did not cease with the extinction of prophecy."

In a word, the Pharisees justified their contrary teachings to Moses by stating that they possessed the Spirit of God to state the present will of God to the people! They felt that God was,

"… revealing Himself now as He had revealed Himself to the prophets, and speaking not alone in the words of an ancient text, but in words which came from the heart and conscience of men who felt His hand laid upon them to ‘guide them into all truth’."

This concept gave the Pharisees the opportunity to teach what they wanted—even change the Law of Moses if they saw fit, and in numerous cases they did. They believed, as Herford put it,

"in the continuous progressive revelation of God, and that His authority was made known in the reason and conscience of those who sought to know His will, and not only in the written text of the Torah [the Law of God]."

When some people in early times began to object to this recklessness with the Law, notably the priestly authorities among the Jews, the Pharisees simply said that many of these new laws were really not new because they were the oral laws of Moses and the Prophets which were handed down outside of the written revelation of the Old Testament. These new teachings became known as "the traditions of the fathers." However, the truth is clearly known by scholars today. Those so-called "oral and traditional laws" were no more than manufactured teachings which the Pharisees had legislated themselves. They had no more connection with Moses and the Prophets than the story of "Little Red Riding Hood." In fact, many of them were diametrically opposite from what Moses had taught. This is one of the main reasons Christ criticized the Jewish authorities for the adoption of these supposed traditional laws. They did nothing more than to overthrow the plain words of Scripture. 

Indeed, even with the laws of Moses which they found impossible to change, they would make them void through their interpretations. For example, one could not pass the "bar exam" to be a member of the courts in Judaism unless one could prove in a hundred ways that pork was proper to eat. 2 The excuse for such interpretations centered primarily on the supposition that every person going to law with another had the right for adequate defense. Professional lawyers and judges were not allowed to practice their profession unless they were able to interpret the laws to the benefit of those being defended in court. Showing in court that "pork" could be made a proper food was considered a sure sign of professionalism by those in the law trade. (Some trial lawyers today adopt the similar policies in defending clients.) Christ, however, had some strong words to say on this deliberate procedure to subvert the plain and simple meanings of the Law.

"Woe unto you lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered."

Let me say at this point that I, Ernest L. Martin, am not trying to show how "evil" the Jews were at the time. They were no more "evil" than people within society today, both religious and secular, who promote the same kind of principles. Human opinions have remained the same throughout history no matter if the society has been Jewish or Gentile. But in regard to the Judaism that developed in Palestine in the two hundred years before Christ, we have the judgments of Christ himself on its validity,

"Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, this people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God ye hold the tradition of men ... full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
  • Mark 7:6–9

"Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your own tradition."

  • Matthew 15:3

"Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition."
  • Matthew 15:6

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in."

A proper understanding of these traditions of Judaism makes the criticisms of Christ and the apostles to be understood in a much better light. Truly, there was a great need for reformation within the Judaism of the first century and even Jewish scholars have shown this to be the case. It is to their honor that they have not hidden these things from the eyes of the people but revealed them for scholars of the world to see. Unfortunately, however, the general public, even preachers and students of the Bible, are not aware of this revealing research which has become available. All persons doing research into New Testament times should be aware of these historical facts. I have only been able to skim over very superficially the abundant facts which back up the appraisal I give in this article. 

Tradition and Christianity 

Understand that the same thing that occurred within Judaism in the two hundred years before Christ, happened to the Christian Church as well in the two and three hundred year period after the deaths of the apostles. Christianity today is steeped in traditional beliefs that no more resemble the teachings of the New Testament than what the Scribes and Pharisees said were "Moses’ teachings." Numerous books have been written which show this but people today are usually satisfied with the traditional teachings of the Christian churches and see no need for change. 3

It would take a full article to list the traditional doctrines that developed in various Christian denominations which teach completely opposite directives from what the New Testament commands. For example, the apostle Paul plainly taught that only two or three people were allowed to speak in a tongue during a church service, and then only if there were interpreters to speak plainly what was said—"but if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God" (1 Corinthians 14:28). 

Today, however, we find many church leaders (who claim, like the Pharisees of old, to have the Spirit of God to show the people what the "present" will of God is) not only allow all types of "tongues speaking" in church services—and often there are many speakers who perform indiscriminately without interpreters— but even the ministers themselves participate in violating the teachings of Paul. 

Another point needs addressing which has a contemporary relevance. Paul did not think it proper that women be allowed to speak in church services (1 Corinthians 14:34–37). This restriction was simply stated by the apostle Paul. It has been set aside by many church leaders today, and they claim they have the experience of the Holy Spirit in order to "change" Paul. 

As far as I (Ernest L. Martin) am concerned, it does not bother me in the least for women to speak in church. Women are as competent in an equal way as any male is competent! I have two daughters and one son. All of them have merits and demerits (as does their father), but each one excels the other two in various ways. I am proud of them all and to me each is on an equal basis as far as his or her humanity is concerned. Indeed, my wife is in the same situation. She is intellectually and in other ways superior to me in the various talents God has given her, but I outreach her in areas at which I am proficient. But in matters relating to gender, we are mutually superior and inferior to each other. And that is the way it is with all humans (male or female). We are all superior and inferior to each other. Only Christ, in my judgment, is superior in all things. As far as I am concerned, each of us whether male or female is equal in Christ. And that is what Paul said too (Galatians 3:28). Anyone knows, however, that we are all physically different—the male normally being stronger than the woman (1 Peter 3:7). There are also temperamental differences that both male and female ought to be thankful for. I would hate to have a wife who thought like a man! 

In spite of the fact that both males and females have an equality in Christ (and this should not be forgotten), I am also aware of the plain teaching of Paul that women should remain silent in church services and in no way will I counteract it! I admit that I do not understand precisely why this should be the case (and I am familiar with the theological statements of Genesis 3:16). But even if I do not understand the full reasoning behind the restriction, I do not feel I have the authority to counteract the plain statements of the apostle Paul. Ernest L. Martin did not write the Scripture and the apostle Paul did not consult me when he wrote his command (which he called the commandment of God). In fact, I think I am capable, as are many other people, of offering a hundred different reasons why a woman could legitimately speak in church services—just like the lawyers of Christ’s time could prove a hundred different ways that pork was proper to eat—but I am not confident that any of the hundred reasons could properly change (at least in the eyes of God) the plain statement of the New Testament: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak" (1 Corinthians 14:34). 

We {at ASK} worship God, that is true, but with a concentration upon knowing what the Bible says, not insisting that any distinction in the sexes or social ranks be acknowledged as far as doctrine is concerned. We apply Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male or female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." 

But on the other hand, if we conducted formal church services in the manner described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 (which we have no occasion to do, nor do we intend to do so), I would certainly not want to disobey the plain teaching of Paul, which he said was the command of God. I would not even want to argue the issue. And though I would have to honestly admit that the matter might appear "unreasonable" or "unfair" (at least my insufficiency in knowledge might lead me to think that way), I am not going to be guilty of disobeying a plain command of Paul which he said came directly from God (1 Corinthians 14:37)! I am not going to invent a hundred different "spiritual" reasons to get Paul to mean what he did not say! 

Many ministers today, on the other hand, who hold church services every Sunday or Saturday in the manner spoken of by Paul have already applied their "hundred reasons" just like the lawyers of old, why they feel it is permissible for women to preach in church services today. The main authority that most use to permit it is their insistence that they have the present teaching of the Holy Spirit which counteracts Paul’s explicit command. And to "prove" that their interpretations are correct they can cite many miracles, signs and wonders that accompany the preaching of many women preachers. More importantly in the view of some denominational leaders, many souls have been won to Christ through the preaching of women preachers. To some Christians this is evidence that Paul’s restriction can now be set aside. 

Actually, we at {ASK} do not judge others in what they believe or teach (thankfully) and it is not our responsibility to condemn what others do in their church services, but we do think it wise that people be honest enough to admit that their teachings or activities are not in accordance with the New Testament. 

The fact is, the Scriptures today are often placed on a much lower plane of importance in the eyes of many Christian ministers. They are more prone to accept their present experiences with what they assume is the Holy Spirit as an excuse to change the Word of God from its "antiquated" teaching into the "modern" will of God! This is the exact belief which motivated the Pharisees two hundred year period prior to Christ, using their own authority to change the teaching of the Old Testament. If people wish to use the "Pharisaical method" today, then it appears reasonable that the criticisms of Christ in the first century would equally apply to those using the same Pharisaical principles today. 

As for each of you reading this article, I simply leave the matter of whether this procedure is correct or not to your own judgment. God has not given any of us associated with {ASK} the authority to criticize fellow Christians who wish to change Paul. It is God who is the judge and Christ said it would be His word which will be the standard of judgment in the future (John 12:48). 

Conclusion 

It is my belief that it is better for modern Christians to have more respect for the exact words of Scripture than to take the liberties which are so prevalent today. The belief that signs and miracles associated with ministers (men or women) are proof that the Holy Spirit now allows deviations from the simple words of Scripture does not have good credentials in the opinion of Christ or the apostles. Indeed, Christ gave a strict warning that such signs and wonders are in no way a proof of authenticity (Matthew 7:21–23). Would not Christ be more honored if we all abandon "the folly of tradition"?

Ernest L. Martin

–––––– - ––––––

1 Dr. Martin wrote at this point in the original article a paragraph enclosed by parentheses:

"(I have already written 295 pages of research which clearly shows the historical development of first century Judaism. Within the next three months I hope to supplement this research with some additional information which has recently been made available to the scholarly world. This new work will be a real eye-opener on the state of Judaism in Christ’s time. I am presently [October 1984] preparing the work for publication. The title of this new book will be First Century Judaism Versus the Law of Moses. People will be amazed at what the historical records reveal. Up to now the general public, even those deeply interested in biblical teachings, have been unaware of this evidence. This book, however, will disclose much new material that fully justifies the statements of Christ and the apostles that many of the Jewish authorities in the first century had abandoned the teachings of Moses in favor of a religious system of their own devising. This book provides the historical background to show why it was necessary to introduce New Testament teaching in the first century. It will be seen that Christ and the apostles actually saved Mosaic teaching from oblivion rather than what is commonly taught that they abolished Moses. The information in this book is a "must" for all people wanting to understand the history of New Testament times. It will show why the traditional beliefs which the Jewish rulers in Jerusalem adopted were so wrong, and why they were destructive to the Law of Moses itself!)"

  This book was never written, although the information was distributed throughout several of his books, articles and tapes over the years. The books are Secrets of Golgotha (1996), Restoring the Original Bible (1994/2004), available online at http://www.askelm.com/restoring/index.asp, and The People That History Forgot (1993/2003), available online at http://www.askelm.com/people/index.asp. Of course, Dr. Marin's The Star That Astonished the World (1996.2003) at http://www.askelm.com/star/index.asp, and The Temples That Jerusalem Forgot (2000) also contain much information about 1st century Judaism.  Ed.

2 See Saul Lieberman, Hellenism in Jewish Palestine, Texts and Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Vol. XVIII (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1950). 

3 For example, it has been known by New Testament scholars for the past 150 years that the books of the Old and New Testaments are topsy-turvy in their arrangement and design from what the early manuscripts reveal, but there has not been one attempt to present a version or translation of the Bible in the format maintained by the early manuscripts. All Bible translations and versions follow the traditional Egyptian arrangement of the Old Testament books and the Western (Latin) positioning of the New Testament. Both arrangements are traditional and were developed some two to three hundred years after Christ. In no way do they resemble the original Bible of the ones who canonized the biblical books. This is one of the reasons why people have so much difficulty in comprehending what the messages of the Bible are trying to relate because the books are so out of order from the proper arrangement. (See my new book The Original Bible Restored for the historical facts surrounding this matter.)

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