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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

Impeach Sin

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Jesus and Human Tradition
Davi Paes Silva and Liviu Tudoroiu

“And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time” (Daniel 7:25). [Emphasis added.]

Evidently, there are good traditions and human traditions. The traditions that are in harmony with the Word of God will always impact the poor and the needy in a positive way. Traditions that come from the Word of God will not promote laws that will be antisocial in nature, and will neither endorse extortion nor abuse of power. The traditions that are evil in nature usually contradict God’s law, contest His authority as the Creator of the universe, and ultimately incriminate His character.

Human tradition has a powerful mixture of political and religious flavor—and due to this fact, tradition may claim the responsibility of defining what the national identity of so many cultures actually is. Its influence plays a definite role in what the moral compass is or is not in the society of nations.

For obvious reasons, we are inclined to respect human traditions, as they supposedly came from God. Oftentimes we enforce them as if they would have an equal authority with biblical doctrines.

“It is very surprising how small an amount of Scripture proof will suffice to convince a person of something he wants to believe; and what a large amount is required to convince him of a plain truth which he does not relish.”1

It is easy for human nature to think to create another way to heaven. The apostle Paul, one of the most brilliant converted minds of the New Testament, acknowledged that as long as he followed the national tradition, he felt no need of adjusting his “perfection” to match that tradition. But when he met Christ, he realized that his entire effort to meet the satisfaction of the law was incomplete.

What does national tradition often do?

It’s easier to hate your enemies and harder to love them. In the time of Jesus, national tradition fed on hatred against Roman authority to such a degree that anyone who might show sympathy towards the Romans or act on the side of mercy, could be socially ostracized. For any kind act or compassion towards the Romans one would be labeled as a national betrayer.

Oftentimes, hatred was justified and legitimized from the pulpit of the synagogues under a traditional and religious umbrella. Christ would recommend prayer for the persecuting power, while tradition would recommend death to the persecutors. Analyzing the facts, we ask ourselves, does the tradition originate from religion or politics? Or is it maybe a blend of both? Unquestionably, the way of tradition is easy; it is the way of popular current, because it’s natural and human, but walking in the light of Christ is like walking against the current; it’s like walking against yourself, stepping on your own heart. That is why so many—often the majority—prefer to choose the easy way, the way of tradition.

The way of tradition does not call for self-denial and the death of pride. Jesus rejected this dangerous hybrid with repulsion: “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:4–12). [Emphasis added.]

Jesus could have had a very easy life by compromising and accepting the national tradition, but He knew very well the price of such compromise and the end of it. Humanity’s eternal separation from the immaculate universe and the permanent presence of sin—these were the things that Jesus abhorred.

The risk was incommensurable. “Had the head of Christ been touched, the hope of the human race would have perished. Divine wrath would have come upon Christ as it came upon Adam. Christ and the church would have been without hope.”2 Instead, Jesus came from above to share with humanity the will of His Father, which is the condition of entering the kingdom of God, and is contrary to the will of man, often entitled: TRADITION.

“Love your enemies” was the great crime Jesus committed against Jewish tradition. “Love your enemies” was a great crime against Roman tradition, and “Love your enemies” is a great crime against Islamic tradition as well. Loving His enemies brought Christ to the point of crucifixion. The Jews accused Jesus for violating tradition by loving the Romans, by being the Friend of sinners, by eating with the publicans, by visiting their homes, and ultimately, by healing people on the Sabbath day. Such “crimes” were perfectly in accordance with the word of God, but not in accordance with their tradition.

These actions expelled Jesus from the synagogue and from Jewish society. While Jewish tradition will impeach Jesus for being of too great honesty, being of too great sincerity, being the type of a leader that cannot be bribed to accept the demand of national corruption, the same society would join forces with the Romans to remove Jesus from their personal interest. The Romans and the Jewish leaders suddenly became friends and fictitiously invented the final verdict to condemn the Saviour: “Treason against the Roman government was the crime for which Jesus was condemned.”3 Jewish tradition put Jesus on the cross for being the Son of God, under the words: “We have no other king but Caesar,” while the Romans crucified Him for being the king of the Jews. Every time the great Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man,” has been manifested in the character of His followers, history has repeated itself in the same manner of impeaching Christ. A corrupted society cannot stand the perfection and purity of Christ’s character. That is why to give unrepentant sinners the opportunity to dwell in the very presence of God would be torture to them. The presence of Christ in the person of His followers was the hardest rebuke that could be given to a corrupt religious system, designed to awaken the conscience of the individual.

From the time Christ was a child, He was confronted by the wrath of tradition—first in the family, second in the synagogue, third in the Jewish society, and at the end, He was confronted by the “iron” of the Roman Empire. In the book The Desire of Ages, under the chapter “Days of Conflict” the author emphasizes the conflict between Jesus and the partisans of human tradition as follows:

“From its earliest years the Jewish child was surrounded with the requirements of the rabbis. Rigid rules were prescribed for every act, down to the smallest details of life. Under the synagogue teachers the youth were instructed in the countless regulations which as orthodox Israelites they were expected to observe. But Jesus did not interest Himself in these matters. From childhood He acted independently of the rabbinical laws. The Scriptures of the Old Testament were His constant study, and the words ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ were ever upon His lips.

“As the condition of the people began to open to His mind, He saw that the requirements of society and the requirements of God were in constant collision. Men were departing from the word of God, and exalting theories of their own invention. They were observing traditional rites that possessed no virtue.”4

Because of the great influence the rabbis had upon the people, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and His brothers tried to convince Jesus to consider with solemnity the traditions of the rabbis. But His firmness was unshaken. In condemning the traditions that were designed to eliminate the responsibility of respecting the mother and the father with the magic word “Corban,” Jesus really “stepped on the toes” of the Pharisees. “Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” (Mark 7:5–9). [Emphasis added.]

“[The rabbis] knew that no authority could be found in Scripture for their traditions. They realized that in spiritual understanding Jesus was far in advance of them. Yet they were angry because He did not obey their dictates.”5

The position of Christ and its consequences

Christ kept His independence from these human injunctions, while wholeheartedly keeping Himself dependent upon His Father’s will. His life was made very difficult because of their constant pressure to coerce Him to comply with their human traditions, being hunted and misrepresented in most of His public declarations.

After Jesus had begun His ministry, the Jewish rabbis carried out even more severe surveillance upon Him to find a motive to accuse Him for ignoring their traditions. Their phobia was based on the fear of losing their influence upon the people. The fact that Jesus would attract thirsty sinners to the Word of God, showing the inutility of their senseless human traditions, provoked a frenzy among the Pharisees that bordered on insanity.

They could not endure the fact that their fabricated traditions would be ignored. These traditions were their main tools in maintaining their control upon the conscience of people. But the very thing they feared soon became reality. Jesus spoke as no other man had ever spoken. The Bread of life, the Water of life, the Light of the world, the Rock of Ages, and the Good Shepherd was living among the people. He never had a home, never had an army, never traveled more than 300 miles from the place of His birth, yet Jesus changed the entire human destiny. No government, no army, no genius could ever carry out the changes Jesus did in the society of nations.

The accusation against Jesus that He violated the Sabbath does not stand the test of the Bible.

Yes, Jesus may have abolished the traditions of man, those senseless injunctions in the protocol of keeping the Sabbath, but in no case did Jesus nullify the creation of His own work, “the Sabbath of the Lord” (not the sabbath of the Jews).

O Heaven and earth, marvel to see the creature persecuting the Creator! The hypocrisy of the Pharisees went so far as to secretly conspire against the Redeemer and plan to kill the Lamb of God. What a scene for the universe! Just because “The Author of the Sabbath,” the Creator of the planet, in a literal seven-day week did not comply with their man-made traditions, the leaders of His time were determined to overrule Christ, or, if that was not possible, ultimately to destroy Him. “The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus” (Matthew 27:20). [Emphasis added.]

Human tradition suffocated all practical religion, and the meaning of the Sabbath was perceived as merely a day of torture. How deep is the blindness of someone to worship the Sabbath, but not the Creator of the Sabbath? It was like in the time of old when the Israelites worshipped the ark of covenant while violating commandments that were in the ark. “When they looked upon the ark, and did not associate it with God, nor honor His revealed will by obedience to His law, it could avail them little more than a common box. They looked to the ark as the idolatrous nations looked to their gods, as if it possessed in itself the elements of power and salvation. They transgressed the law it contained; for their very worship of the ark led to formalism, hypocrisy, and idolatry.”6 The same thing was repeated in the next generations of Hebrews. They worshiped the “Sabbath” instead of worshiping the Lord of the Sabbath, and that inevitably led the nation to the same results: formalism, hypocrisy and idolatry.

Christ and the Sabbath

Jesus was mingling with the people on the Sabbath. This day of rest, the Sabbath, far away from worldly burdens, just you and Jesus—what an amazing design! Jesus, the special guest in my house on the Sabbath day! While the seventh-day Sabbath was regarded as one of the most sacred religious activities of the nation, the priests and the rulers were hiding their true plans under a “pious religious garment” on the very Sabbath day, hunting for Christ as if for a criminal. As long as He was alive, as long as He offered people comfort, love, and guidance, the Pharisees had no peace. They had to try to destroy Him by miserable and infamous character assassination and false accusations.

If Jesus were indeed guilty of violating the Sabbath day (as they accused Him), and consequently became a casual sinner, Jesus would have failed to qualify to become the Saviour of the world. Such derogation would eternally separate Him from His Father. To accuse Jesus of breaking the fourth commandment of God and at the same time recognize Him as the Saviour of the world, may set the stage for one of the most notorious theological inconsistencies in the Christian world. The very essence of the plan of salvation was based on proving that the law of God can indeed be respected by man, and by demonstrating this fact, the character of God would be vindicated before the entire universe, legitimizing the process of adoption for the human race and re-titling the repentant sinners with new names such as “sons and daughters” of God. The purpose of the daily hardships and temptations in the life of Jesus would convince the sincere Bible reader that the law of God was at stake. One single commandment violated by the hand, foot, eye, thought or conscience, would cause Jesus to forfeit the right to save humanity. But praised be the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, because His life was the best argument speaking in favor of our Heavenly Father, His character, and in support of our salvation.

The early church

Since Christianity claims to uphold values that originate in the Scripture, and since Christian society today chooses the day of the sun, or Sunday as we all call it, to replace the biblical seventh-day Sabbath, an exigent historical inquiry may be demanded for clarification.

We believe that the Scripture of the New Testament was written by faithful people having a custom that is not acknowledged today. All these writers kept the Sabbath as a day of rest. No one single writer of the scripture ever kept Sunday as the day of worshipping God. Isn’t that strange? “And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16).

While we claim our Christian roots are deeply anchored in the Scripture, how come all of a sudden we cannot follow Scripture by respecting the biblical Sabbath? The only true answer to this dilemma can be found only in human tradition.

Different inquiries may lead us to various explanations. Some of them were extremely sincere, some very bold and frank, some answers were very pitiful in nature, regretting the fact that Sundaykeeping may not be biblical—but due to the tradition, we supposedly must keep it as an irreversible process; society cannot turn back to the origins and start all over again. Let us examine a few opinions coming from various theologians on the subject:

Leading Catholic theologians speak up:

“Sunday is founded, not on Scripture, but on tradition, and is distinctly a Catholic institution. As there is no Scripture for the transfer of the day of rest from the last to the first day of the week, Protestants ought to keep their Sabbath on Saturday and thus leave Catholics in full possession of Sunday.”7

“You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.”8

“If Protestants would follow the Bible, they should worship God on the Sabbath Day. In keeping Sunday they are following a law of the Catholic Church.”9

“If you follow the Bible alone there can be no question that you are obliged to keep Saturday holy, since that is the day especially prescribed by Almighty God to be kept holy to the Lord.”10

“Reason and common sense demand the acceptance of one or the other of these alternatives; either Protestantism and the keeping of Saturday or Catholicity and the keeping of Sunday. Compromise is impossible.”11

How do leading Protestant theologians see this issue?

The Anglican theologian: “There is no word, no hint, in the New Testament about abstaining from work on Sunday. . . . Into the rest of Sunday [i.e., Sunday as a day of rest and worship] no divine law enters. . . . The observance of Ash Wednesday or Lent stands on exactly the same footing as the observance of Sunday.”12

The Baptist theologian: “There was and is a commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day; but that Sabbath was not Sunday. It will, however, be said with some show of triumph that the Sabbath was transferred from the seventh day to the first day of the week. . . . Where can the record of such a transaction be found?-—Not in the New Testament, absolutely not. There is no scriptural evidence of the change of the Sabbath institution from the seventh to the first day of the week.

“To me [it] seems unaccountable that Jesus, during three years’ intercourse with His disciples, often conversing with them upon the Sabbath question . . . never alluded to any transference of the day; also that during forty days of His resurrection life, no such thing was intimated.

“Of course, I quite well know that Sunday did come into use in early Christian history as a religious day as we learn from the Christian fathers and other sources. But what a pity that it comes branded with the mark of paganism, and christened with the name of the sun god, when adopted and sanctioned by the papal apostasy, and bequeathed as a sacred legacy to Protestantism!”13

The Church of Christ theologian: “We do not find any direct command from God, or instruction from the risen Christ, or admonition from the early apostles, that the first day is to be substituted for the seventh day Sabbath.” “Let us be clear on this point. Though to the Christian ‘that day, the first day of the week’ is the most memorable of all days . . . there is no command or warrant in the New Testament for observing it as a ‘holy day’. ‘The Roman Church selected the first day of the week in honour of the resurrection of Christ.’ ”14

The Congregationalist theologian: “It is clear that, however rigidly or devoutedly we may spend Sunday, we are not keeping the Sabbath . . . [The] Sabbath was founded on a specific divine command. We can plead no such command for the obligation to observe Sunday. . . . There is not a single sentence in the New Testament to suggest that we incur any penalty by violating the supposed sanctity of Sunday.”15

The Lutheran theologian: “They [the Catholics] allege the Sabbath changed into Sunday, the Lord’s day, contrary to the decalogue, as it appears, neither is there any example more boasted of than the changing of the Sabbath day. Great, they say, is the power and authority of the church, since it dispensed with one of the Ten Commandments.”16

The Methodist theologian: “The people became Christians and were ruled by an emperor named Constantine [a.d. 312–327]. This emperor made Sun-day the Christian Sabbath, because of the blessing of light and heat which came from the sun. So our Sunday is a sunday, isn’t it?”17 

The Presbyterian theologian: “The Sabbath is part of the Decalogue—the Ten Commandments. This alone forever settles the question as to the perpetuity of the institution. . . . Until therefore it can be shown that the whole moral law has been repealed, the Sabbath will stand. . . . The teaching of Christ confirms the perpetuity of the Sabbath.”18 

So, after so many “blank” declarations, I believe there is no need of further evidence to conclude that today the Christian world regards human tradition above the Bible. The Roman Church holds the preeminence—not only before the Protestant churches, but before the entire world. Today the voice of Rome is the ultimate mentoring voice for Christians and non-Christians. Rome is the religious and political capital of the entire world. We do not know if Christ has any place left over as the Commander and Saviour of humanity. But one thing is certain: History will be repeated in the last generation with those poor and insignificant followers of Christ. For tradition, people will persecute again—and innocent children, parents and grandparents will be the object of universal execration.

The following question knocks at the door of our conscience: What shall be our stand on the matter of tradition versus the Word of God? Are we going to persecute in the name of tradition, or suffer persecution for the sake of the Word of God? The Bible warns us: “And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’ sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 10:21, 22).

Conclusion:

I come from a country where respect for the elderly was a must. To travel on the bus and continue to sit down while an old lady was standing beside me was a “no-no.” Our tradition was to respect the elderly. To stand up and offer your seat to an elderly person was a good tradition, a tradition supported by the Holy Scripture as well. To wash your hands before eating was a good tradition, to be hospitable was a good tradition, to maintain the sacredness of family, and to have the decency to preserve your privacy without allowing others to know when you brush your spiritual teeth was a good tradition. So, the list can continue with good human traditions that we gradually lose.

The problem is that the following Bible verse is unique because relates the tradition of respect to parents reflected mandatorily in the fifth commandment and the fourth commandment:

“Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:3).

This is the only Bible verse that shows the connection between two of the most important parts of the law. The fifth commandment teaches us respect for the earthly parents and the fourth commandment teaches us respect for the Heavenly Father. If we do not respect our Heavenly Father by keeping the Sabbath of the Lord, then that is like violating the fifth commandment, disrespecting our parents. This is why God in His wisdom left this extraordinary link or chain in this specific Bible verse—to show the importance of both commandments as equally important and impossible to separate without breaking the chain of the Ten Commandments. This is what we call good biblical tradition.

On the other hand, if you meet people that may ask you money to forgive your sin, you must know that that is a nonbiblical tradition, and together with the apostle Peter we would utter the words of admonishment: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (Acts 8:20).

Or if you may meet people that say that they have come to change the times and the law of God, share with them the apostle’s view on the matter: “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). That is a bad tradition and it is the work of Antichrist. Be ready to respond to the human tradition with the word of God, the only reliable authority.

If you meet someone that tells you that he holds the power of God on earth, acting like God, tell him that this is a bad human tradition, and answer with the word of God: “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8).

Any time when human tradition is forced upon the conscience of people, the wrath of Cain is at work. And following the same pattern in human history you will discover the same human behavior; Cain got upset at God because He could not accept his human tradition. Cain was very upset to the point of even killing his brother. Why? Because Abel obeyed the word of God, but Cain was replacing the command of God with his personal choice of worship. Today we would boldly call it human tradition.

In the last generation and the closer we come to the end of time—which is the end of the suffering and misery of this world—the more we’ll see the spirit of Cain manifested in the children of disobedience. Human tradition took human lives in the past and will repeat its course again before Christ’s return. I pray that the God of all mercy will help us to be firm on our biblical conviction and our firmness to the Word of God as Martin Luther said: “They have already destroyed my honor and reputation. One single thing remains; it is my wretched body: let them take it; they will thus shorten my life by a few hours. But as for my soul, they cannot take that. He who desires to proclaim the Word of Christ to the world must expect death at every moment.”19

References:
1 A.T. Jones: The American Sentinel, August 5, 1897.
2 Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 256.
3 The Desire of Ages, p. 773.
4 Ibid., p. 84. [Emphasis added.]
5 Ibid., p. 85. [Emphasis added.]
6 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 584. [Emphasis added.]
7 Catholic Record, Sept. 17, 1893.
8 Cardinal Gibbons (for many years head of the Catholic Church in America): The Faith of Our Fathers (92d ed., rev.; Baltimore: John Murphy Company), p. 89.
9 Albert Smith (Chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore), replying for the Cardinal in a letter of February 10, 1920.)
10 F. G. Lentz: The Question Box (New York: Christian Press Association, 1900), p. 98.
11 James Cardinal Gibbons: Catholic Mirror, Dec. 23, 1893.
12 Canon Eyton: The Ten Commandments.
13 Dr. Edward T. Hiscox, author of The Baptist Manual (still in print), in a paper read before New York ministers’ conference held Nov.13, 1893.
14 Bible Standard, May, 1916, Auckland, New Zealand.
15 Dr. R. W. Dale in The Ten Commandments  (New York: Eaton & Mains), pp. 127–129.
16 Authored by Philip Melanchthon with approval by Martin Luther, Augsburg Confession of Faith, Art. 28, Par. 9.
17 Sunday School Advocate, Dec. 31, 1921.
18 T. C. Blake, D. D.: Theology Condensed, pp. 474, 475.
19 D’Aubigne, J. Merle: The Life and Times of Martin Luther.