May We Not Transgress the Bible by Our Traditions

Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,
‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not
wash their hands when they eat bread.’ He answered and said to them, ‘Why
do you also transgress the commandments of God because of your tradition?

— Matthew 15:1-3 —

The Pharisees confronted Jesus concerning His disciples. They did not wash their hands! Parents often emphasize the importance of washing hands to their kids, but this is a different washing—this is a ceremonial washing. It had nothing to do with cleanliness and was a tradition of the elders, not a commandment of God. Yet, the Pharisees were zealous for this tradition, saying Jesus’ disciples “transgress” the tradition of the elders. His disciples violated the tradition of the elders!

Jesus turned the question back on the Pharisees—their zeal for the traditions of their elders had caused them to transgress Gods law. His point is not that traditions are inherently wrong. They are not. Many things we do in life are based in tradition, and that’s fine. Places we go, celebrations we partake in, clothing we wear, food we eat, the list could go on and on. And that is fine.

However, when traditions associated with religious things are required or are used to supplant God’s law, there is a problem. Jesus gave an example of what He meant. God’s law commands, “Honor your father and mother” and “He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death” (Matthew 15:1; Exodus 20;12; 21:17; Leviticus 19:3; 20:9; etc.). But the Pharisees taught that if you told your parents any benefit or profit they would have received would be given as a gift to God, it released you from your responsibility to meet your parents needs in their old age.

The justification may have been something like this: as great as it is to serve your parents, God is greater than your parents. So, surely devoting what your parents might have received from you to God is a good thing, a higher purpose, right? NO! It is disobedience. God commanded that we care for our parents (1 Timothy 5:4, 8). Thus, Jesus revealed the Pharisees and those who followed their teaching violated and nullified God’s commandments by their tradition (Matthew 15:6).

They were hypocrites. A hypocrite is

“a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion; a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings” (

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day claimed to love and serve God, but they imposed teachings and practices on the people which set aside God’s law in favour of their own. Anytime God’s will is supplanted by man’s will, there is a huge problem. And if those doing so declare devotion to God, they are, by definition, hypocrites.

The Lord cited the prophet Isaiah concerning them:

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9; cf. Isaiah 29:13)

This statement was true about the people in Isaiah’s day who gave lip service to Jehovah God but made sacrifices to the false gods of the pagans. It was true of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who claimed to serve God, but they served themselves by exalting their traditions. And it is also true of people today who declare their love for the Lord and His word, but do whatever they think or want to do, ,and called it “service to God.”

Serving God is more than saying we serve Him. Our heart must be engaged, and must be tuned to obey what God says—not just part, but all. Any worship we offer to God without a heart of devotion to Him and His will is vanity. May we serve Him sincerely and fully.

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