The Danger of Placing Tradition On Top of The Text
I see it over and over again, even I myself, have had to be wary of it. An individual will approach a passage of Scripture to study God’s Word. However, when they approach the text, they overlay long-held traditions on top of the passage. Too often, what ends up happening is that an individual will not lay down their erroneous tradition to submit to the passage, but subtly change the passage’s meaning to fit their tradition. No doubt, we have had our own traditions exposed by the study of God’s Word over the years as well.
In some cases, an individual does not come to false conclusions being driven by malicious intent, but simply because a deeply held tradition has blinded their eyes. Tradition is incredibly dangerous because many approach the Word with traditions they are unwilling to admit they hold to in their lives. As a result, they end up wrongly interpreting the Scripture all the while believing they are rightly understanding the truth because a deeply held unbiblical belief has taken them captive. It can make a command to go right seem like you are actually supposed to go left. Tradition is so powerful it can make a text that says “thou shalt not” morph into “thou shalt” in the eyes of the individual reading the text. What is an example of tradition? How do we avoid falling prey to this issue?
A Prime Example of Tradition
Sometimes as a minister, I will get into conversations with individuals around the subject of predestination. As I am sure you know, this subject can be quite divisive and contentious, making it an adventure to discuss! Yet, it is also a central illustration of how tradition creeps into one’s thinking very quickly. One of the many comments I hear individuals make is something along the lines of “there is no such thing as predestination in the Bible.” Now, there is one major issue with that statement. Namely, predestination is a word that is actually used several times over the entirety of Scripture! Take Ephesians 1:3-6 as an example:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
Notice the explicit use of the term “predestined” in this passage which is also used in a text like Romans 8:29. Whatever we might say about the biblical doctrine of predestination, which is beyond the scope of this article, we can undoubtedly see that it is in fact a biblical concept. In other words, to make the claim that predestination is not in the Bible is to miss the clear and explicit teaching of Scripture. But, that is precisely the point of this article. Tradition is so blinding that it can cause you to miss the very words right in front of your face when you are reading the Scripture.
Christ’s Confrontation of Tradition
In Mark 7, we find an interesting account where the Pharisees and scribes gather together, come to Christ, and ask Him as to why He and His disciples are not following the traditions of the elders. Mark 7:8-9 records some of Christ’s response where He states:
“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. And he said to them, You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” -Mark 7:8-9
The Pharisees were rejecting God’s actual commands in favor of their traditions which they esteemed so highly. Christ, outright rebukes them for falling into this horrific error. Here is where the rubber meets the road. You will either hold to your tradition, or hold to the teaching of Christ in His Word, there is no middle ground. To be sure, if you group up in a family that went to church and faithfully worshipped God, you might, in a sense, label that a tradition but it is not so much a tradition as it is a biblical practice. Whenever I am referencing tradition, I discuss what Christ is talking about. That which you hold to foundationally that causes you to be blinded to and reject the teaching of God. Those things you have believed which result in you going your way instead of submitting to Him.
Ridding Ourselves of Tradition
Every single one of us, myself included, has to make an intentional effort to rightly interpret Scripture so that tradition does not get in the way. How do you ensure you are rightly understanding God’s Word? Primarily, you should be able to work through a passage of Scripture consistently without inserting ideas into the text. No doubt, we should perform systematic theology where we seek to understand what the entirety of God’s Word says and how that impacts every area of theology. Undoubtedly, systematic theology is grounded in expositional work which means you should be able to consistently interpret a text of Scripture and if you can’t then tradition might be an issue. For example, if your theology of predestination will not allow you to simply work through a passage like Romans 8 or 9 without engaging in interpretive gymnastics, then you need to change your theology because tradition is the issue.
We must develop a heart that is willing to lay aside those traditions, even if they are long-standing ones, in light of the truth of Scripture. Our objective must not be to hold onto them like the Pharisees did elevating their traditions above the Word. Instead, we should pray that God would remove the blinders of tradition by soaking us in the truth of Scripture. Every time we come to a text we should be submitting to what it says instead of trying to change it to what we might wish it would say in our flesh and traditions. I pray that God will open every one of our eyes to the blind spots we possess and build us to strength in His Word. May He shine the light of Scripture that we might know the truth and walk in obedience to His commands!