I have used this traditional Sabbath setting as an example, as it is such a familiar scene, but how are we to view traditions as believers in Y’Shua? Is it good to follow traditions? Some Torah observant followers of Y’Shua condemn all traditions, whether it be Jewish, Christian or something in between. Is this the approach we are to follow?
I want to show you both sides. Traditions are not to be viewed as evil or deceptive in general, although like with so many other things, we are to follow a wise and balanced approach.
Traditions are the glue that keeps families and communities together
Why do people follow traditions? There are certain advantages to it.
If you have not watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof yet, please do. It is delightful and gives you some idea of how important traditions are to the Jewish people. It is the glue that keeps families and communities together. In the film, the traditional way a groom was selected was changed, and this led to the eventual breaking apart of the family. The father could not accept the groom his daughter chose. Had the tradition of choosing a husband for his daughter been followed, everybody would probably have remained together. Please understand, I am not endorsing this tradition, I am merely using it as an example.
Traditions are also to a large extend responsible for the preservation of the Jewish people. Their tradition of hand washing have spared many lives during the black plague, so much so, that they were blamed for being responsible for it.
Consider your own family traditions, everybody celebrates Sabbath in a certain way. People are creatures of habit and traditions do develop over time, even if you have purposefully decided not to follow any traditions. Let us look at what the word “tradition” encompasses for a clearer understanding.
What is a tradition?
tra•di•tion \trə-ˈdi-shən\ noun
[Middle English tradicioun, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French tradicion, from Latin tradition-, traditio action of handing over, tradition — more at TREASON] 14th century
1 a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable 〈the bulk of traditions attributed to the Prophet —J. L. Stewart〉
2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
4 : characteristic manner, method, or style 〈in the best liberal tradition 1〉
From this definition, we understand that traditions can be a pattern of thought, an action or behavior and even a belief or a teaching that is not written down.
We shall now first study passages in the Tanakh (Old Testament) for references to traditions and then study the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament). You would be amazed to see how many references to traditions there are…
Traditions spoken of in the in the Tanakh
When you search for the word “custom” in the Tanakh, you find eight different Hebrew words translated as “custom”. These words have varied meanings which are determined by the context.
Here are some customs spoken of in the Tanakh:
- Jacob wresled with YHVH and He touched the socket of Jacob’s thigh, this resulted in Jacob limping. To this day the sinew of the hip is not eaten (Gen 32:32).
- Jephthah made a vow to YHVH and this vow resulted in the daughters of Israel to commemorate his daughter for four days every year. This became a custom in Israel (Judg 11:39-40)
- There was a custom where a man’s sandal is removed and given to another, this was the manner of attestation in Israel at the time. Here is the reference:
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel.
- In the time of Esther, the Jews made a custom for themselves to celebrate a two-day feast commemorating their victory over their enemies; they called this feast Purim and celebrate it to this day with feasting and sending food parcels to each other according to their tradition (Est 9:26-27).
- In the book of Zechariah, the people came to inquire from the priests as to whether they should still keep the traditional fast days associated with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. In His response via Zechariah, YHVH does not condemn these fast days, instead He promised to turn these fast days into feast days (Zech 8:19).
- The sons of Rechab did not drink wine, own land, sow or planted vineyards. They lived in tents. This was a tradition instituted by their father. YHVH used them as an example of obedience.
13 “Thus says YHVH of hosts, the Elohim of Israel, ‘Go and say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Will you not receive instruction by listening to My words?” declares YHVH. 14 “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, which he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are observed. So they do not drink wine to this day, for they have obeyed their father’s command. But I have spoken to you again and again; yet you have not listened to Me.
We see from these examples in the Tanakh that the Israelites observed many traditions. YHVH did not condemn these traditions. However, there are many references to the customs of the pagan nations around Israel. Israel was told on numerous occasions to stay away from these practices, not to study it, or practice it.
30 ‘Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am YHVH your Elohim.’ ”
We also find another reference to traditions in the book of Isaiah:
13 Then YHVH said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Isaiah taught against the traditions, or commandments of men. Commandment is a more correct rendering of the word as “mitzvah” is used in the original text. Why was the word “mitzvah” used? Y’shua explains it best. We shall see further along in the study how He explains this to us.
What did Y’Shua do?
Y’Shua did not condemn all traditions, in fact He often observed and used traditions to teach people. Here are some examples:
Y’Shua teaches during the feast of Sukkot
During the water libation ceremony that traditionally took place on the first to the seventh day of Sukkot, the priest would go to the pool of Siloam to fill a pitcher with water. This water was poured upon the altar, symbolizing their prayer for rain. Y’Shua was in the Temple when this took place and used this as an opportunity to teach about the Kingdom.
37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Y’Shua stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Y’Shua was not yet glorified.
From this passage we learn that Yeshua and his talmidim, like other Jews, observed at least portions of the Oral Torah and did not utterly reject it as “traditions of men” (see Mk 7:5–13&N)—since the water-drawing ceremony is specified not in the Tanakh but in the Mishna. 2
Later on, during the same feast,we see Y’Shua, yet again, using traditions to teach about the Kingdom.
Traditionally, menorahs were lit in the Temple courts, every night of Sukkot as part of the festive activities. The people would then sing and dance well into the night. It was during one of these lighting ceremonies that Y’Shua taught that He was the true Light of the world.
12 Then Y’shua again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
On both these occasions, we see Y’Shua using these traditions to teach the people about the Kingdom. He did not criticize them for observing these traditions, on the contrary.
Y’Shua in the Temple during Hanukkah
The Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah is a feast that commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over their oppressors, and the subsequent purification and rededication of the Temple in 165BC. The Temple was desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanies in 168BC. This was celebrated as an eight-day feast, but it is not one of YHVHs appointed times. It reminded the people of their deliverance from their enemies, a feast instituted by the people.
Y’Shua once again used this traditional feast to teach the people.
22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Y’Shua was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.
These are all examples of traditions that Y’Shua not only condoned, but used to teach the people.
Other customs or traditions Y’Shua practiced
Going to the synagogue on the Sabbath was traditionally what the Jews did. Y’Shua kept this tradition; He went to the synagogue and taught the people. He was also in the habit to go to the Mount of Olives to pray.
16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
39 And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.
We have seen how Y’Shua observed some traditions and how He used these traditions as a teaching aid. However, there are two references in Scripture to a particular incident where Y’Shua specifically condemned traditions. Why was this treated differently?
Traditions above or instead of commandments
Do you practice traditions that contradict or even invalidate YHVH’s word? We recently celebrated the feast of Yom T’Ruah on the first of the seventh month. Many people celebrate this as “new year’s day,” thus invalidating YHVH’s word that states that the beginning of the year is the month of Aviv, seven months earlier. That is similar to what the Pharisees did in Y’Shua’s time.
There was a custom of purification among the Jews at that time (John 2:6). Y’Shua was questioned, by the Pharisees, because His disciples were not following this tradition of the elders. How did Y’Shua answer them?
3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 7 ‘But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of Elohim, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of Elohim in order to keep your tradition.
See also Matt 15:2-6. The issue here is not the keeping of the traditions, it is about setting aside the commandments of YHVH in order to keep a tradition. It is teaching as doctrines the precepts of men, that is what is wrong here. The Hebrew word “mitzvah” was used in the passage in Isaiah that Y’Shua quoted here.
5184 מִצְוָה (miṣ∙wā(h)): n.fem.; ≡ Str 4687; TWOT 1887b—1. LN 33.323–33.332 command, order, commandment, i.e., an authoritative directive, either written or verbal, given as instruction or prescription to a subordinate (1Sa 13:13; 1Ki 2:43); 2. LN 33.35–33.68 terms, formally, commandment, i.e., the written legal conditions which are binding in a contract (Jer 32:11) 3
13 Then YHVH said, “Because this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Reading this verse in Isaiah, that Y’Shua quoted, made me realize that we can even make YHVH’s commandments into mere traditions of men when we do it as rote routine. We can celebrate YHVH’s Sabbath and feasts and do all His commandments, but we can do it in such a way that it is devoid of spiritual meaning; mere lip service.
Other customs in the time of Y’Shua
40 So they took the body of Y’Shua and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Y’Shua there.
This is a good example for us how a tradition was observed, however, it was not regarded as of more importance than keeping a commandment. This took place on Pesach, also known as the day of preparation. The day before the first day of the Feast of Unleavenend bread, which is a High Sabbath. Although they observed the burial tradition, they completed it before the Sabbath. They did not regard their tradition higher than the Sabbath commandment.
What did Paul teach about traditions?
We find quite a number of other references to traditions in the Apostolic Scriptures. The Greek word “paradosis” is used (also when Y’Shua spoke about tradition in Mark 7:7).
33.239 παράδοσις, εως f: (derivative of παραδίδωμιc ‘to instruct,’ 33.237) the content of traditional instruction—‘teaching, tradition.’ διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταί σου παραβαίνουσιν τὴν παράδοσιν τῶν πρεσβυτέρων; ‘why is it that your disciples disobey the tradition of our ancestors?’ Mt 15:2. 4
On the one hand, we see Paul telling people to hold to the traditions taught by him, but also warning them against the traditions of men. These traditions of men are according to the elementary principles of the world, for the meaning of this refer to “The first part of the end times deception”
1 Corinthians 11:2
2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Messiah.
2 Thessalonians 2:15
15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:6–7
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Master Y’Shua Messiah, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you,
The New Testament speaks of three kinds of “traditions”: 1
(2) “Human traditions,” meaning pagan traditions, Co 2:8;
(3) Jewish traditions, that is, the Oral Torah as set forth by the Pharisees—Sha’ul, at Ga 1:14; and Yeshua, eight times in Mt 15:2–6 and Mk 7:3–13. Some of these Jewish traditions are regarded in the New Testament as bad (Mk 7:5–13&N); but others are, by implication, good (Yn 7:37–39&NN).
It seems clear that in passing on traditions Sha’ul expected them to be observed, so that in a sense he was establishing a kind of Oral Torah for the Messianic congregations. At the same time, he expected the governing principle for the observance of this Oral “Torah as upheld by the Messiah” (9:21) to be love, not legalism, and certainly not the greed that was replacing love when the Corinthians celebrated the Lord’s Supper (vv. 17–22). 5
We have now studied most scriptures pertaining to traditions. Traditions concerning a religious practice are not condemned as a rule, but two very important things regarding the observation of traditions stand out.
Firstly, Traditions are not to be regarded as equal or more important than commandments. Traditions are just that, traditions, nothing more. We can observe traditions and use it as teaching aids to teach others and our children, however, we are to ensure that they know what is commanded and what is tradition.
How do we know if we place our traditions above the commandments of YHVH? A very practical way to determine this is to test it. Change your observance of this tradition for a time. You will be able to determine from your own and your family’s reactions how high a priority this tradition has become. It could be quite interesting…
We have, through experience, learned how careful we ought to be with traditions and children. Traditions are wonderful teaching aids, but we are to make sure our children know the difference between tradition and commandment. By changing or breaking your traditions once in a while and explaining to them that you can do it because it is just a tradition, you ensure they know the difference.
When our children were much younger, we used to observe Shabbat in a very traditional manner. We have since changed the way we observe Shabbat, still observing some traditions, but ensuring that the children know very well what is commanded and what not. They get to choose which tradition we will observe at Shabbat dinner, and I must say the challah always wins hands down!
Secondly, we have seen throughout the history of Israel how easily they are enticed into idol worship. This probably started off with the practicing of customs, which were learned from a neighboring heathen nation. YHVH has warned them many times not to study or observe any pagan practices. There is a lesson in this for us too. Do we know the origin of the traditions we practice? Have we just inherited the traditions we observe or copied it from Judaism without knowing the true origin? Some of the traditions practiced in Judaism originates from Babylonian sun-worship and also from Kabbalism, which is deeply rooted in the occult.
Do you know where the custom to light candles as part of religious observance originates from? Did you know that most traditions that are observed at the feast of Yom T’Ruah has its roots in Babylonian sun worship? We have written an article about it and can be read here: “Yom T’Ruah is not Rosh haShana.” Some have left Christianity with its paganistic traditions of X-mass and Easter, just to exchange it for pagan Jewish traditions. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying every tradition within Christianity or Judaism are pagan, but there sure are some. It is our responsibility to search it out.
We are not to bring any abomination into our houses or before YHVH. That includes customs and rituals as well!
Deuteronomy 7:2626 “You shall not bring an abomination into your house, and like it come under the ban; you shall utterly detest it and you shall utterly abhor it, for it is something banned.
That said, these abominations would include objects that are used in pagan worship rituals like African drums and masks. Coming from South Africa, I know that these are extensively used in their ancestor worship rituals. Do not bring an abomination into your house, and do not use it in your worship of YHVH.
29 “When YHVH your Elohim cuts off before you the nations which you are going in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’ 31 “You shall not behave thus toward YHVH your Elohim, for every abominable act which YHVH hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.
We have also seen that traditions are not just actions, but also the teachings we hear and repeat. If you hear or read an interesting teaching from somebody, be sure to study it for yourself before you share it with another. We are teachers of one another, and we are each responsible for our words, so be wise. People are in many ways similar to the people Paul met in Athens, always wanting to hear something new. Be careful, there is no new thing under the sun, but some teachers, will in order to ensure a following, use Kabballah or new age as their sources. Partaking and sharing their occult ideas is in a way practicing idolatry. You are led away from YHVH by these teachings and by sharing it; you are leading other people away. Be careful!
5 A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
- Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
- Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed.) (Jn 7:37). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 1: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (414). New York: United Bible Societies.
- Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed.) (1 Co 11:2). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.
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