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The Gospel of Mark #18 - The Sin of Traditionalism

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The Gospel of Mark #18:

The Sin of Traditionalism

Text: Mark 7:1-23

Thesis: To learn to differentiate between traditions and the Word of God in order that our

              faith will be in a Lord and not in a list.


(1)   A story is told of a woman who was preparing to bake a ham for the holiday dinner.  As she was cutting 3 inches off of the end of the ham, her daughter asked her why she was doing that.  She responded by saying that her mother had always done it that way.  The daughter then called her grandmother to find out why she had always done it that way.  She likewise said that her mother had always done it that way.  Then, the daughter called her great-grandmother who informed her that the reason was because the baking pan that she used years ago was too small.

(2)   Today, we will talk about traditions and traditionalism.

(3)   Let us note our text:


I.                   The Story:

A.    Some Pharisees and scribes come to question Jesus and His disciples about their failure to observe the tradition of the elders concerning ceremonial washing of hands.

1.      These “are presumably another official fact-finding commission of theologians from Jerusalem, sent to investigate a campaign of healing and preaching that by now must have caused some stir” (Cole 181).

a.       Some commentators speculate that these “watch-dogs” had been with Jesus and His disciples for some time, at least for a period of time to observe some of the miracles including the feeding of the 5000.

b.      Regardless of the length of time, their “commitment to ritual purity made them extremely pious, self-righteous, and goody-goody – obnoxious” (Hughes 1:164).

2.      They could not see who Jesus truly was because they were blinded by their traditionalism.

a.       According to the Mishnah: “Tradition is a fence around the law.”

b.      The Pharisees “accepted the evolving oral law as equally authoritative” (Edwards 208).

c.       Some of their traditions included:

(1)    It is wrong to look in a mirror on the Sabbath day because one might see a gray hair and be tempted to pluck it out; thus, working and committing sin.

(2)    On the Sabbath day, one had to be careful where he/she would spit, because the spit might land on the ground where he/she might scuff it with his/her sandal and would thus be cultivating the soil, which would be working and committing sin.

d.      The particular tradition of which Jesus and His disciples were guilty of violating concerned a ceremonial washing of hands before eating.

(1)    As far as the Old Testament Law was concerned (Exod. 30:19; 40:13), people were commanded to wash their hands and feet prior to entering the Tabernacle.

(2)    However, the Pharisees had added many stipulations to this and had even developed a formula to be followed before one could eat:

“First of all, they would hold out their hands with palms up, tipped slightly downward.  As water was being poured over one hand, the fist of the other hand was used to scrub the palm of the first hand.  Then, with water still being poured over their hands, the other hand would be washed in the same manner.  They would then turn their hands over, and with fingers pointed downward, have fresh water poured over both hands to wash off the defiled water left from the first scrubbing” (Schubert 115).

B.     Jesus responds by quoting Scripture and offering an example of their hypocrisy.

1.      In verses 6-7, He quotes Isaiah 29:13 in order to stress that despite their outward appearance of being godly, inwardly they were far from God.

2.      In verse 8, He boldly asserts that they value their traditions above the Word of God.

3.      In verses 9-13, He backs up His assertion with an example of how they use “Corban” as a loophole to get out of caring for their aged parents.

a.       ‘Corban’ is an Aramaic word that means, “devoted to God.”

b.      According to the 5th commandment of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:12), a person is supposed to honor his/her father and mother.

c.       However, people were going through the formality of “vowing something to God, not that he may give it to God, but in order to prevent some other person from having it” (T. W. Manson).

d.      “The rigidity of the Corban vow was not an isolated instance of scribal manipulation of the law but only one of many instances” (Brooks 117).

C.     Jesus then proceeds to talk about what truly defiles a person.

1.      “The ultimate seat of purity or defilement before God is the heart” (Lane 255).

2.      The list in verses 21-22:

a.       The first 6 items are plural and denote evil acts.

b.      The second 6 items are singular and denote evil attitudes.

II.                The Application:

A.    Traditions, in and of itself, are not necessarily evil.

1.      Paul encourages the Thessalonian Christians to hold fast to the traditions that they had received from him (2 Thess. 2:15 [note: this refers to the body of doctrinal truth handed down from the Apostles to the churches]).

2.      We all have traditions to which we adhere.

B.     However, traditionalism is wrong.

1.      Jaroslav Pelikan said: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

2.      “Traditions become evil when they run counter to God’s purposes expressed in the ethical commands of how to relate to others.  Traditions become dangerous when persons are blind to how they undermine God’s commands.  Traditions become corrupt when people become more devoted to upholding them than obeying God’s direct commands” (Garland 277).

3.      What are some examples for today?

a.       Time of worship services

b.      Order of worship services

c.       Dress for worship services

d.      The use of buildings

e.       Kitchens and gyms

f.       Traditional versus contemporary songs

g.      Bible versions

h.      Doctrinal views based upon what others say

i.        Lifting of hands

C.     Christianity goes straight to the heart.

1.      According to 1 Samuel 16:7, God looks at the heart.

2.      “True holiness is a matter of inward affection and attitude and not just outward actions and associations” (Wiersbe 1:134).


Will you give your heart to Jesus?

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