OriginalChristianity

Not Traditional, Original

T.2 The Jews and Tradition

Christians follow the Bible, and the Bible starts with the five books of the Law, Genesis through Deuteronomy. Those five books are called the Torah to Jews. The rest of the Jewish Bible includes the Prophets also called the Nevi’im, and the Writings also called the Ketuvim. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings combined are called TaNaKH which is an acronym of the first letters of the Jewish names of the sections. These books are the same as the Protestant Old Testament.

Jewish interpretation of the Bible is not literal. While many Jews believe that the Tanakh contains the word of God, they don’t believe that the words just mean what they say. Rather rabbinic teaching says that there are 70 interpretations for every word in Torah and that they’re all right!i

To the Jews this diversity of interpretation means that there are no clear answers as to how to follow the Law so they look beyond the Torah for answers. Thus the reason for the Talmud.

Traditional Jews believe that Moses not only received the written word but be also was given the Oral Law to be handed down from generation to generation. This, in fact, is part of the Talmudii

A verse used to substantiate this claim is Exodus 24:12:

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” (Exo 24:12 ESV)

Judaism teaches that the addition of the word commandment infers that there are commandments not included in the Law (Torah) and this proves the existence of the Oral Torah.iii

The Oral Law, the Talmud, is broken down further into the Mishnah and Gemara. The Mishnah is a collection of Rabbinic interpretations. The Gemara has explanations of the Mishnah. The Talmud is a huge part of Jewish tradition. Furthermore, it was completely oral until about the second century when it was finally written down.

The Jewish Virtual Library says:

“The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life.”.iv

The Jewish Virtual Library gives an example of the limitations of the Law, the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. The Torah says that on the Sabbath it is forbidden to light a fire, go away from one’s dwelling, cut down a tree, plow or harvest. But the Talmud adds to it, rituals for candle lighting, reciting the kiddush (a ceremony of prayer and blessing over wine ) and reading the Torah.

That’s just one example of tradition stemming from interpretation about Law specifics with a view of steering followers into strict adherence of the Law and there are many examples.

The scope of tradition in Judaism is huge. Look at this statement from Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Judaism is the complex phenomenon of a total way of life for the Jewish people, comprising theology, law, and innumerable cultural traditions.”v

Innumerable cultural traditions the above statement says. The Jewish religion is rife with traditions and this appears to have been the situation all along. Remember, traditional Jews place the status of the Talmud as equal to the Torah with the declaration of calling it the oral Torah, and crediting its origin to God and Moses on Mount Sinai.

One such tradition is the Haggadah which is “the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover, including a narrative of the Exodus”. vi. One source puts the origins of the Haggadah to bits in the Mishnah which dates to 220 BC although the Haggadah in its current form took form in the middle ages vii See 1.1 Worship Changes with the Giving of the Law; Part 2 – the Feasts for more details on that tradition. Additionally, there is a Haggadah pdf file online that shows all the steps to the Seder Tradition including readings, songs, what foods to eat in what order, what the different cups of wine mean and so forth. viii

Another set of traditions that were in full force at the time of Jesus concerned the synagogues. The word synagogue doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. The closest thing to synagogue references to are appearances of elders before Ezekiel in Ezekiel 14:1 and 20:1. Yet the synagogue liturgy, as well as items in the design of the physical building, are guided by tradition. There is an order of service, different seating sections including men’s and women’s galleries, and chief seats as well as the tradition of people seated facing Jerusalem. See 1.2 The Synagogue Became a Substitute For The Temple for more details.

Here’s a few more examples of how the Talmud’s instruction form many traditions in Jewish life: tefillin straps must be black, a sukkah must have at least two and a half walls, and all the different Halachic measurements and sizes.”ixTefillin straps are the cubic boxes with black leather straps that Jewish man wear during morning prayer. They can only be made by qualified people and there are strict rules for each phase of their production and certification.x A sukkah is a temporary booth or hut that people sit in during a Jewish festival to provide shade.xi Merriam Webster defines Halacha as “the body of Jewish law supplementing the scriptural law and forming especially the legal part of the Talmud.” Thus the Talmud sets measurements that are legal requirements for Jews.

In Judaism there are edicts. The biblical basis for these is:

If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the LORD will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.  (Deu 17:8-11 ESV)

The above is part of the law, But there is tradition involved here also as Judaism takes the Deuteronomy passage to mean that it has the right to expand upon what is in the Law and pronounce edicts for all future instances of a possible occurrence,. Chabad.org cites the example of the law against eating leavened products on Passover which begins at noon on the fourteenth of Nissan, Rabbis added to hours to this ban for safety and made it an edict, The result is that while the law says not to eat leavened products after noon, one could be guilty of an offense if they ate an hour before noon even though that is not in the law. There is a provision for leniency on violations of edicts as opposed to strict enforcement when in violation of the law.xii

So from the above, we see that throughout history Judaism has maintained that the law as set forth in Genesis through Deuteronomy is insufficient for faith and practice and has thus supplemented it with the Talmud, and traditions that rule Jewish life,

It’s not that everything about the Talmud and Jewish tradition isn’t carefully thought out. There appears to be careful reasoning at every turn. It is a very disciplined approach resulting in a very disciplined lifestyle.

But our interest is to look at it in light of Jesus Christ’s criticism of Jewish tradition, That criticism leveled the charge that in the process of their careful reasoning the Word of God was broken.

In another place Jesus said this:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mar 12:28-31 ESV)

Jesus’ focus was on the application of the love of God in every instance of life.  That requires a flexibility to look at every person and situation and apply the love of God.  Setting edicts for every instance of Jewish life in advance of their occuring has no flexibility and is just legalism.

I talk about an example of this in Did Jesus Really Break God’s Rules by Healing on the Sabbath? As I write in the post there are teachers that say Jesus broke the Law by healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus’ point was that the only thing that was broken was a Jewish tradition.  Jesus pointed out that someone would be penalized for not helping ox out of a ditch even on the Sabbath. Getting a farm animal out of a ditch is hard work, but you were to be penalized for not doing it even on the Sabbath! That means that some kinds of work were not only okay on the Sabbath, but those works were also mandatory!   Jesus taught us that we are more important than livestock so it must be okay for someone to rescue someone by healing them on the Sabbath.

Paul speaks of the importance of this in Romans:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
(Rom 13:9-10 ESV)

In the example of rescuing people or animals on the Sabbath, it is the loving thing to do!  When certain Jews accused Jesus of breaking the Law by healing they were not following the great commandment by loving enough to rescue and heal, instead they were just being legalistic.

While they may have continued to develop throughout the ages, Jewish traditions trace back through history. From the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai Judaism has added traditions that set the stage for how so many things in Jewish life are to be carried out. One example is a Jewish tradition for services that gives specific instructions on rituals including the order of service, the songs, the readings, and how people are to act. It also adds more details than the law gives on how things in daily life are to be handled on everything from worship services to what can be done with your hair .

When we look at Christian traditions we will see how some Christian traditions have followed a similar path of adding to the doctrine of the original apostles and disciples.

Remember that we are charged as believers to follow the tradition handed down from the Apostles. Not all Christian traditions are handed down from the Apostles even though parts of the tradition may be.  Remember Jesus’ charge that for the sake of tradition people have made void the word of God.  We need to be careful to filter out any part of any Christian tradition that negates the Word that Jesus came to fulfill.

i Judaism For Dummies, Rabbi Ted Falcom Ph.D. and David Blatner, John Wiley and Sons Inc, Hoboken NJ, 2013 p.38

ii Ibid, p.39

vii UNDERSTANDING THE ROOTS OF THE HAGGADAH, KATJA VEHLOW, http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/the-haggadah.html

ix What is the “Oral Torah”? By Naftali Silberberg

xii What is the “Oral Torah”? By Naftali Silberberg

For more on Jews and Tradition see LP4000 The Role of Tradition and its Old Testament Influence

January 16th, 2020 Posted by | Tradition | no comments

T.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church

If you go to a Christian church chances are it will be following one or more of many Church Traditions. Some churches advertise themselves as part of a tradition like the Wesleyan tradition, the Reformed Tradition or others.

Some traditions are easy to see. The Catholic church, of course, follows the Catholic tradition. The Baptist Church follows the Baptist tradition. The Presbyterian Church has a Presbyterian tradition, but there is more to it. Presbyterianism is really part of Reformed tradition which traces its roots back to John Calvin, one of the reformers of the Reformation.

It can get complicated. The United Church of Christ traces its start to a June 25, 1957 merger between the Evangelical Reformed Church, and the Congregational Christian Churches, two short-lived traditions of their own. On the United Church of Christ website we read, “The new church embodied the essence of both parents, a complement of freedom with order, of the English and European Reformations with the American Awakenings, of separatism with 20th-century ecumenism, of presbyterian with congregational polities, of neoorthodox with liberal theologies. Two million members joined hands.” i

The above church also traces its roots to other traditions including the German Reformed Church, and Congregationalism. ii

The above example shows that after a while it can be a mess. As a result trying to say that someone is a traditional Christian going to a traditional Christian Church really doesn’t tell you much. Are they Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Southern Baptist? Who knows? Look at this quote that relates to the subject:

“I consider a faithful Southern Baptist, a conservative Anglican, an orthodox Roman Catholic, and an Orthodox Christian all to be “traditional Christians.” Still … whose tradition? What sense does it make to say that Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics are on the same side as “traditional”? From a Catholic perspective, the Baptists are so far gone theologically from tradition that it makes no sense to think of them as “traditional Christians.” And from a Baptist point of view, the Catholics may be “traditional,” but they lost their way when they began adding man-made things to the pure Gospel like the early church had.” iii

Oxford defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.” It does include a definition that may help illustrate the cause of the abundance of different traditions that all call themselves Christian:

“a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures. “iv

A church tradition consists of more than doctrine. It includes the beliefs, but also the practices, the services, the liturgy, the songs, and church government. Everything down to the way they set up the chairs for seating can be part of the tradition. And traditions are constantly changing as the above examples illustrate.

Recapping, a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another.

Is tradition biblical? The answer is yes and no. There is one place in the Bible that tells us to follow a tradition:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2Th 3:6 ESV)

The above verse does give a commandment to walk in accordance with the tradition that has been received from the apostles. So, there is a place where we are supposed to follow tradition, that is, the set of beliefs and customs that were handed down from the original apostles.

We know that this is the same set of beliefs and customs that the original apostles taught because in second Thessalonians chapter 2, which is in the same context as this earlier verse, is the same charge to follow the traditions taught “by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter”.

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Notice that this admonition is not to follow just any tradition, whether they are considered Christian or not. The commandment is to follow the tradition handed down from the apostles.

But the answer to whether to follow traditions is also no. The other places in scripture where tradition is talked about are not favorable. Look at these verses where one tradition is disparaged by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mat 15:1-9 ESV)

This is quite an indictment. The Jewish community had built up quite a number of traditions by the time that Jesus arrived. But Jesus didn’t mince any words about following these traditions, and he did not teach his disciples to follow them either. In this record, the Pharisees and scribes chastised Jesus because he didn’t teach his followers to wash the way the tradition had been set up. Rather, he chastised the Pharisees and scribes because their traditions violated the law of God. He cited the example of the law of honoring your father and mother being not followed because Jewish tradition had established that the offspring of parents could say to their parents that what they would have received from their offspring is given to God and so they didn’t need to honor their parents. Jesus told them that this tradition nullified the word of God! Jesus calls them hypocrites! Then he says that they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God’s. He calls their worship vain because what they’re teaching as truth are really man-made doctrines.

Paul also writes in Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8 ESV)

Jesus talks about the traditions of men above. Paul talks about human tradition. They are both in the context of Judaism and Christianity, living a holy life. I mean, what could be wrong about requiring people to wash their hands before they eat? We teach our kids to do that. The answer is that it is not the word of God. I wash my hands before I eat but I don’t teach that it is a commandment of the Lord according to tradition. It may be some people’s interpretation of the Word of God, but Jesus is saying that it is not righteous to teach man-made commandments as God’s doctrine.

Now my question is how can all the competing traditions that are considered Orthodox all be the traditions of the Apostles that we are supposed to follow? The answer is that they can’t.

In original Christianity, believers were told to follow the tradition of the original apostles and disciples. That is what I want to do and why the motto of this website has been “Not traditional, Original”

Future articles under this heading will take a look at a number of traditions including the oral tradition of the Jews that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 15 above, the Catholic tradition that started right after the gospel of John was written, the Reformed tradition that started with the Reformation, and more.

iThe United Church of Christ Website, https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-united-church-of-christ

iiThe United Church of Christ Website, https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-german-reformed-church , https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_congregationalism

iiiWhat Is ‘Traditional Christianity,’ Anyway?, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/what-is-traditional-christianity-anyway/

ivOxford Dictionary online

January 6th, 2020 Posted by | Tradition | no comments