The Problems With Tradition (part 1)

children egg hunting on Easter

Matthew 15:1-20
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides.[d] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”


In Matthew chapter 14, when Jesus and the 12 crossed over to the other side, they came to the land at Gennesaret. Once the people there recognized Him, they sent word throughout the region, brought all who were sick to Him, and begged that they might touch Him, even the fringe of His cloak, that they might be healed.

So here in chapter 15, the Pharisees and Scribes came from Jerusalem to try and trap Jesus with tradition. But Jesus defended Himself by breaking tradition with what it says in the Law and Scriptures. See, the Pharisees often held true to the traditions of their ancestors. But not all of the traditions were Scriptural. And just because people of old (elders) did it or kept to it, doesn’t mean it’s scripturally correct. It just means they did it.

Many churches today hold fast to traditions, and some more than Scripture itself. For example, the RCC (Roman Catholic Church) has many traditions, many of which are seen as heresy to the Protestants. The UMC (United Methodist Church) are often so stuck in their traditions that such are often raised higher than what’s Biblically sound., saying such things as, ‘This is what we’ve always done, and what we’ll always do.’

Jesus was saying, ‘Don’t get caught up in traditions. You need to get back to Scriptural basics…your traditions are in conflict with Scripture.’

The Disciples said that the Pharisees were offended by Jesus’ reply. But Jesus responded that those plants that the Father didn’t plant will be uprooted. In the same way that they were offended, if you dispute denominations’ traditions with scripture, they too will be offended. And if you’re serving there, they’ll work to get rid of you (yes, I have personal experience with this). Elders and churches can get so caught up in their traditions that they don’t realize their heresies and disobediences from the scripture. Amos talks about this too, when he prophesied against Judah. For in the same way, they followed the ways (traditions) of their ancestors, which not only interfered with their worship of God, but even led them away from God and caused them to reject Him, His Laws, and His decrees, and brought them to the point of God’s wrath being turned onto them.

Traditions also quickly become personal…they will begin to mean something, then memories are made. So now, trying to do away with, skipping or flat out breaking tradition becomes a personal battle, rather than a scriptural battle. You want to stick to Scripture, but all too many have done away with it for the sake of their memories in their traditions.  Every time I fought the traditions of a church where I was serving, for the sake of Scripture, I lost. So it’s encouraging for me to see that Jesus shuns their such traditions, too.


  1. What are some traditions that you keep to that are more tradition than they are Biblical?
  2. What are some traditions that you keep to that are more about personal memories and such than they are about worship? 
  3. How do they lead us closer to or astray from the Lord?
  4. One of the arguments I’ll often hear is, “Well, it’s fellowship-based, and that’s scriptural.”  OK, but how does it serve as Worship to Jesus?  Does it, or does it put the focus onto the money gained from it, or the competition during it, or the pagan ritual connected to it?

We as members of the Kingdom of God need to regularly analyze our traditions. Why do we keep to them?  Are they Scripturally based? Do they put and keep the focus on Christ? They may turn out to be more sinful than holy, and if so, we need to be ready to ixnay them for something that glorifies God.

1 Comment

  1. Rev. 2:4-5–“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent”. Jesus is our first love, and we should be aware of any distractions (including “traditions”)that take the focus away from our first love, The Word. Big picture-wise, repent, for Jesus is coming quickly (1 Thess. 4:17, 1 Co. 15:51-52).

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