Is tradition good in Jesus's eyes?

By Luke Lancaster





Many Protestant brothers and sisters will claim that tradition is bad. They only accept what has been committed to writing, and reject any teaching passed down orally. Protestants love to point to Matthew 15 and Mark 6, where Jesus rejects some "traditions of men." However, Jesus did not assume that all tradition was bad. Consider Matthew 23 and Luke 16.


In Matthew 23, Jesus speaks about the Jewish tradition of the seat of Moses. He says, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice" (Matt. 23:2-3). This seat or cathedra of Moses indicates the authority of Moses. Whoever teaches while sitting on it teaches authoritatively, and is binding on the people.


Protestant Scripture scholar, D.A. Carson, expands upon this "seat" of Moses. He says that synagogues all had this "stone seat at the front where the authoritative teacher, usually a grammateus ("teacher of the law") sat. Moerover, 'to sit on X's seat' often means 'to succeed X'...[Jesus] gives them [scribes and Pharisees] full authority in all they teach, even if they do not live up to it. Panta hosa [Greek for "everything"] is a strong expression and cannot be limited to 'that teaching of the law that is, in Jesus's view, a faithful interpretation of it'; they cover everything the leaders teach, including the oral tradition as well...Not does the text say their authority rests in their roles but not in their doctrine: on the contrary, verse 3 affirms their doctrine but condemns their practice" (pgs. 471-472).


Jesus did not call this a "tradition of men." He fully endorses it, saying to listen to the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees because they sit on the seat of Moses.


In Luke 16, Jesus speaks about Abraham's bosom, which was a Jewish tradition. He says that a poor man named Lazarus died and "was carried by the angels to Abraham's side" (Luke 16:22). Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says, "Abraham's bosom is indeed found in Jewish tradition" (pgs. 825-826). Jesus never says that this is a false tradition, but accepts it as true and uses it in His parable!


Orally passed on teachings and doctrines are perfectly fine in Jesus's eyes. He condemns traditions which contradict the words of God, but not all traditions contradict the words of God! The seat of Moses and the heavenly bosom of Abraham are two teachings attested too. Protestants cannot claim that all tradition is bad in Jesus's eyes.