Matthew 15:2, Tradition of the elders. These were Jewish traditions or legal regulations not found in the Torah, may of which violated the letter and spirit of the Torah as Yeshua goes on to teach in the next few verses.
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? (Matt 15:2)
Many folks coming to the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith stumble have the same question. They reason that, since the Christian church purports to be anti-Torah and since the Jewish Torah sages purport to be pro-Torah, we need to follow these Jewish elders and scholars, since, ostensibly, they have been faithful to the Torah for all these millennia and we can learn from them and need to follow their example.
On the surface, this seems like a reasonable proposition. The problem is that as one digs below the surface veneer and gets to the truth of the matter, neither of these propositions is correct. In fact, the Jews have veered from the Torah as much as the Christians by their non-biblical traditions. In fact, Christians, in most cases, are better off than the Jews. Why is this? At least a solid Bible-believing Christian has received the basic gospel message of Yeshua the Messiah being the mankind’s Savior and Redeemer. A religious Jew probably has not. Moreover, Christians one the one hand while purporting that the Torah-law was “annulled”, “done away with”, “nailed to the cross” or “fulfilled” actually follow much of the Torah (which they call the moral law [e.g. don’t lie, steal, murder, commit adultery, covet, etc.). They just stumble over the dietary laws, the Sabbath and the biblical feasts and a few other minor Torah laws. These are the facts.
Now let’s address the issue as to why a disciple of Yeshua cannot follow rabbinic tradition lock, stock and barrel, or hook, line and sinker, as they say. If you think that we are to do so, then please give me chapter and verse in Scripture that states that Yeshua or his apostles affirmed ALL of Jewish tradition? You can’t find one, for there are none. On the contrary, Yeshua told the Jewish leaders of his day, “By your traditions, you make of no effect the Word of Elohim” (Mark 7:6–13; Matt 15:3–9), and then in Matthew chapter five, he goes on to elaborate and condemn certain traditions of the elders that had in fact nullified the laws of Elohim. Moreover, Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees at the highest level and was trained by Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel the Great, yet Paul counted the Jewish traditions all as dung (Phil 3:8). Does this bother you and go against your theology? If so, your problem is not with this author, but with Yeshua and Paul—with the Word of Elohim!
Moreover, the very Jewish leadership of the first century who purported, as some suggest, to have the truth that we need to follow, told the disciples to stop preaching the gospel in the name of Yeshua, which they refused to do (Acts 6:33–42). This begs the question: Why should we follow those who hated and still hate Yeshua to this day?
Moreover, Yeshua commanded us to call no man “rabbi” (the literal Hebrew meaning is “my great one”) except himself (Matt 23:8), which the modern Jews do in complete contempt and defiance of Yeshua the Messiah. Go study the life of “Rabbi” Akiba, the father and inventor of modern rabbinic Judaism, and you will discover that because of his hatred for the Christians he invented many unbiblical and anti-Christian rabbinic laws he invented and then incorporated them into modern rabbinic Judaism. Many of these unbiblical, even anti-Torah traditions persist to this day in modern Judaism just to spite the Christians and the gospel message.
Moreover, Yeshua condemned the antecedents to the modern rabbinic Jews nine times in Matthew 23 for their ungodly, unscriptural traditions. Elsewhere he called these same people the sons of the devil, whited sepulchres, serpents and hypocrites. So why should we follow them?
What’s more, Paul and the apostles spent a great deal of time and energy vigorously fighting the non-biblical Jewish oral law or tradition that states that a Gentile male can’t be saved or brought into the covenants of Israel unless they are first circumcised. The Acts chapter 15 council and the whole book of Galatians addresses this non-biblical heresy and tradition of the elders—one that the rabbinic Jews still uphold to this day. Paul exposes the fallacy of this teaching in Romans chapter four and also in the entire book of Galatians.
This is what we have to do. Each of us needs to take off our theological glasses that cause us to view the Bible through this or that tradition of men (be it Christian or Jewish). I’m not against men’s tradition per se. In fact, sometimes man-made traditions as long as they don’t violate Scripture. Sometimes traditions can actually help us to understand the more vague areas of Scripture. What I am against is anything that diminishes or contravenes the written truth or word of Elohim as expressed in his written words, and there is a whole dung or manure wagon load of each in both the Christian and Rabbinic Jewish religions.
If I’m going to submit myself to rabbinic oral tradition, then I may as well go back to the Roman Catholic Church and subscribe to all of their traditions. At least they have the basic gospel message, which is more than the Rabbinic Jews have. I have more chances of coming to faith in Yeshua in the Catholic Church, at least, than in Rabbinic Judaism.
Now, on the other hand, there are some Jewish oral traditions that are very helpful, such as the various elements of the Passover seder that are above and beyond the four basic requirements specified in the Torah. In Yeshua’s last supper, for example, several of the things he did were pure Jewish tradition. They all pointed to him, even though the Jews of the day didn’t realize that these specific traditions pertaining to the seder were prophetic and pointed to the Messiah.
So what is the main point of this brief discussion regarding extra-biblical Jewish religious traditions? Simply this. If a Jewish oral tradition doesn’t violate Scripture, and in fact points us to Messiah and helps us to grow in our faith and to fulfill better the commands of Elohim and in the process brings us into a closer walk with Elohim and Yeshua, then consider incorporating that tradition into your life. If not, throw it onto the manure pile.
As we go through our daily life, we continually have to make judgments about what is right and wrong, true and false, and what we should or should not do. Every day, we’re using our skills of discernment to make choices between good and evil in the process of deciding what to think and do. It’s called making choices in life, and often involves separating the precious from the vile or the wheat from the chaff. Some refer to this as “eating the fish and spitting out the bones.” We make these decisions based on our values, ethics and beliefs.
When it comes to religious tradition, we must exercise the same discernment by using the Word of Elohim as the sole determining factor when deciding what to believe or disbelieve, to keep or throw out. Yeshua called this “judging righteously” (John 7:24). The problem is that most people don’t know the word of Elohim that well, so they rely on the traditions of men as a crutch to help them in this process. This is not only dangerous (you might end up believing an error), but it is wrong and can lead to apostasy! It’s time to roll up our sleeves and find out what the Word of Elohim says. This is what will judge us in the last days at Yeshua’s second coming (e.g. Matt 5:19), and NOT the traditions of men, be they Christian or Jewish.
In conclusion, contrary to the impression I may be giving thus far, I actually have a lot of respect for the Jewish Bible sages. I have studied them extensively and have their writings in my library, and have quoted them in many of my published writings. The same is true of many of the esteemed Christian scholars and theologians. But as I get older and more mature in the word of Elohim, I find myself relying less and less on what men have to say about the Scriptures and more and more on the Scriptures themselves have to say as the Spirit of Elohim leads me into all truth as Yeshua said. So let’s all grow up and become those who feed more on the pure meat of YHVH’s Word and begin relying less on the pre-digested baby food pap that comes from non-believing so-called Bible experts.