Relying on tradition and incomplete knowledge can be devastating

Tradition is the enemy of truth.

People hear things over and over and eventually take them as truth. Instead of searching them out diligently, they accept sayings as Biblical truth. They begin to think they are in the Bible or that God said it. Case in point, the phrase, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" is not in the Bible. Nor is "the Sinner's Prayer". Nor is salvation by "Accepting the Lord." These are the traditions we grew up with in the American millennium era.

Traditions are nothing new. In the Bible days, the Pharisees had many traditions also. For example, tithing cumin and mint was not a biblical law. (Matthew 23:23). Walking no more than 2000 cubits on the Shabbat had not originated in the Law. They were traditions. The latter arouse from a twisting of Joshua 3:4.

Here is where tradition begats laziness and self-satisfaction.

They replied, "Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee." (John 7:52).

This was the Pharisees' contemptuous retort to Nicodemus' attempt to defend Jesus on one point. Their rage and self-satisfaction and scorn was so towering that they forgot that Micah and Jonah and Elisha did come from Galilee, (Micah 1:1, Joshua 19:13, 1 Kings 17:1) and perhaps also Nahum and Hosea had come from Galilee. Rage blinds, as it did to the Pharisees here and on multiple other occasions. Their rage against Jesus blinded them so thoroughly, their self-righteous power-hungry minds were so set against a backwater like Galilee, the Pharisees forgot that prophets do, indeed, come out of Galilee.

Another devastating behavior stemming from tradition that blinds us to the truth is the failure to search the scriptures but instead to think you already know. Behind this wall lies truth. However, the Pharisees had built a wall against it, brick by brick. Each brick was a tradition that eventually blocked their own access to truth.

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In John 7:42 we read their assertion,

Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”

They were correct, but incompletely so. Yes, the scriptures say that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2). Yes, the Pharisees correctly knew Jesus lived in Galilee, the town of Nazareth. But if they had bothered to search their facts even momentarily, they would have discovered that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem. The Romans conducted a census, if you remember, and the census records were available. Romans kept good records. They could have checked the Temple records, Joseph and Mary did all that was required by Law, and they both came from the lineage of David. (Luke 2:22). Or, they could have simply asked Joseph, Mary, or Jesus where He had been born. But they thought they knew, without searching for the facts. This is willful ignorance.

Do you ever settle in the pew and look at the bulletin and see that the sermon is going to be on a passage you're extremely familiar with? Does your heart sink, your mind saying, "Aw, man, I already know this one"? I dare to suggest, that is Pharisee talk. The scriptures speak every time they are delved into. It is our job to search them out, even if we think we already know. It isn't that the scriptures aren't fresh, it's that our eyes get dull.

It's a truism that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, meaning that a small amount of knowledge can delude people into thinking that they are more expert in their field than they actually are. The Pharisees' knowledge was prodigious, but it was head knowledge without love, and combined with tradition, pride, and self-righteousness, they failed at the critical moment to recognize the Messiah they had been waiting for. (2 Timothy 3:7).

Let's be careful not to assume the facts, but search them out. Let's be diligent to investigate. Nicodemus did. Annas didn't. Let's not rest on tradition, assuming it's Biblical. Cleanliness isn't next to Godliness, holiness is. Search the scriptures diligently with fresh, open eyes. Pray to the Spirit to illuminate them to you. It's harder to do the longer you're a Christian to keep fresh eyes on the Bible, but the Spirit is always fresh and will open your mind to the truths in every case. Peter said that Jesus had the words of eternal life. Eternal words never get stale.


  1. Elizabeth,

    I think this post goes hand in hand with your previous post about discernment. While all believers should test all things, and hold fast to that which is good, there are some in the body who are gifted by the Spirit with a deeper measure of discernment.

    When it comes to tradition and incomplete knowledge, discernment should be our best friend. The Apostle Paul commended the church of Berea for being more noble than the others in Thessalonica, for they searched the Scriptures daily to see if the things Paul taught were correct. Daily, checking even a true Apostle as Paul. As you rightly said, we are to keep going back to the word daily, with fresh eyes, to be diligent, relying on the Spirit. Sage advice, in a day like today.

    Tradition has always been a problem with God's people - whether Israel as a nation, as exemplified in the OT, or the church today. Why else would the NT refer to "vain traditions of men" as supplanting the truth? And as you said, the chief problem of the Pharisees was that they thought they knew it all, but in actuality, they were puffed up with a zeal not according to knowledge.

    The sad thing is - and I was going to say this in your post on discernment, but I've hesitated - being a Berean today - having discernment today - costs. It is a painful gift to possess in today's compromised church. Pointing out error in church - even if you do it with complete sweetness and prayerfulness - is met with dismissal at best, derision at worst. Few will commend you for being a Berean except for others who desire to be Bereans themselves.

    I really appreciate this post.


    PS: those who don't rely on tradition, and who won't tolerate error, worldliness, or compromise are told that they "need to grow in love and grace"... an attitude with which I'm sure you're well acquainted, unfortunately.

  2. Each of you have clearly stated what is happening in the Body of Christ. May I point out as a good Berean and a discerning Christian that another error that is making a devastating effect on Christians. The false teaching of the insufficiency of the scriptures. Many are seeking outside the closed canon of the Word of God. Signs, wonders, and emotional experiences to name a few. Today, there are numerous false teachers and false prophets ready to tickle their "itchy ears." Truth be told, many are Bible illiterate.
    Each day, I thank God that he keeps me from deception by his Word through the Illumination of the Holy Spirit. I am so grateful.
    I am grateful to each of you for proclaiming the truth of scripture and the gospel of Jesus Christ, knowing that suffering (especially for the lost) and persecution is promised.
    A fellow bondservant of Christ.

  3. "The false teaching of the insufficiency of the scriptures."

    Yes, Cheri. That's also why we have the church growth movement. They do not believe in the sufficiency of the written word and the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert souls, so they "market" Jesus using worldly methods in order to make Him "appealing" to the world.

    Speak against the fruit of this unbiblical trend, desire holiness in the local assembly, and prepare to be upbraided, called a legalist, Pharisee, and worse by the elders who follow the market driven philosophy.

    Jesus called those who desire truth, holiness, purity, and sound doctrine "His Disciples".



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