I noticed something long before I started keeping the Sabbath. One of Jesus’ biggest beef with the Pharisees seemed to be their adding to the law of God. They had all these added rules, laws and traditions that were never recorded in the written Law of Moses.
Because of this and my huge lack of knowledge concerning the actual written Law, I was very confused about which laws were “Jewish” laws and which were God’s laws. But I discovered a remedy to my confusion. It’s called “Read the Bible“. If it’s not in the Bible, then it’s not God’s Law. Pretty simple, really. Yet, I missed it for so long.
What do I mean?
SABBATH KEEPING: Tradition of Man vs. Law of God
For example, did Jesus ever break the Sabbath commandment? No. He was perfect, right? He was the spotless Lamb of God, who obeyed all of God’s Law completely.
Yet, why were the Pharisees giving him grief over the things he was doing on the Sabbath (ie healing the lame, allowing His disciples to pick/eat grain, etc.)? Because he was breaking their Jewish law…not the Law of God. How do I know this? Well, besides the fact that I know Jesus perfectly obeyed his Father’s teachings and instructions, I’ve read the Law of God, and those added rules are not in there.
Exodus 20:8-11 says,
“‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.'”
Leviticus 23:3 says,
“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the LORD.'”
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 says,
“‘Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.'”
So is keeping the Sabbath Day commandment according to these verses a Jewish law (tradition of man) or a law of God? It is the Law of God. Did Jesus obey it? Yes. As followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we? Yes.
But what about the Sabbath rules such as: don’t create anything, don’t walk so many miles, don’t carry anything for long distances, etc.? These are traditions of men! They’re not listed in our Bibles as commands given by YHWH, right? No, these are added Jewish laws.
Before I move on, I need to point out that I used to think Jesus kept laws like the Sabbath because he was Jewish. But as we see, time and time again, while Jesus was physically Jewish, he still broke much of “Jewish law”. So why would he break some Jewish laws, yet keep other laws? The laws he kept were the ones found in the Bible. Those are the laws we as believers and followers of Jesus should also be keeping…not because they are Jewish laws, but because they are the Law of God.
This is why it is so important for us to read and study our Bibles. In order to do the will of the Father, we need to learn what that is. The will of the Father is outlined in the Law of Moses. Jesus taught on it, giving us more insight into it. He also lived it, giving us an earthly example to follow. He is the Word made flesh…the embodiment of the Word of God. When he became flesh, what Word was in existence at that time? (Hint: It was before Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, and Peter wrote anything.)
So why was I so ignorant of or detached from the Old Testament most of my Christian life? Why did I have it stuck in my mind that the Old Testament was primarily for the Jews and the New Testament was for the Christians? I was taught it. Now I’m finding, it was a deception.
DIETARY LAW: Tradition of Man vs Law of God
Here’s another one: Did Jesus ever give permission to eat unclean animals? Oh, I would venture to guess that a *large* majority of Christians will say, “Yes, he did.” And not only that, “Peter saw a vision that specifically told us to kill and eat unclean animals.” But truth be told, No, Jesus did not give us permission to eat unclean animals.
Oh, I know this goes against every fiber of some of your beings who are reading this. But think about it. Jesus was perfect, right? He did his Father’s will…He obeyed every bit of the Law of God (that applied to him, as a non-levitical priest and non-woman). So why would he go against the Father’s will and say what his Father called “detestable” and forbade him to eat, was now not “detestable” for those who follow him? He wouldn’t!
PETER’S VISION (Acts 10)
But what about Peter’s vision? He saw a sheet being lowered down from heaven with unclean animals on it and a voice told him to “Kill and eat”…this happened three times! Peter was perplexed because he never ate an unclean animal…he knew the will of the Father…it is expressly stated in the Law of Moses. He told the Lord this after hearing the command to kill and eat. The voice replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
After a little bit some men came looking for Peter and the Spirit of God told him to go with the men. By the time he went with the men, he had figured out the interpretation of the vision. Acts 10:27-28 says,
“Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him…”
Whoa…stop the presses! Did you catch that? He said, “it is against our law.” Which law is he talking about? He said it was against the law “for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him“. Is that Jewish law (tradition of man) or the Law of God?
Well, how do we know for sure? We read our Bibles! Let me give you a hint…it’s not in there. I checked. But don’t just take my word for it. Open your Bible to Exodus starting at about chapter 20 and read all the way through to the end of Deuteronomy. You won’t find it in there. That’s because it is a tradition of man. Let’s move on with the interpretation of the vision…
“…But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.”
Whoop…did you see that? “…I should not call any *man” impure or unclean.” It doesn’t say, “meat”…it says, “man.” But I thought the vision was about unclean animals. Yes, God used His own law about unclean animals to grab Peter’s attention concerning a tradition of man.
We see evidence of Peter’s tendency to follow this tradition of man in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Chapter 2, verses 11-14 say,
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'”
There, did you see that? By Peter’s drawing back and separating himself from the Gentiles, (the same thing that vision was pointing out was wrong), he was following a Jewish custom. This was not something found in the Law of God…this was a tradition of man incorporated into the Jewish religion. Paul rebuked Peter for this.
Okay, but wait a minute I thought I read somewhere in the gospels that Jesus declared all foods “clean”. Yes, you did. Mark 7:18-19 says,
“‘Are you so dull?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.’ (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)”
I know you’re not going to believe me. but that paranthetical statement added on to the end does not mean all unclean animals are now clean. How do I know this? First, I must confess I was tipped off in a health book I read several years ago written by a Jew that the unclean animals identified in Deuteronomy 14 is not considered “food” to Jews.
Also, think about it. You consider a chicken food, right? How about a turkey? Now, what about a vulture? If someone were to ask you if there were any foods you’d rather not eat, would you even consider listing a vulture? Why not? Because that doesn’t even register on our radar as something we would consume.
This is what the list of unclean animals are in the Law of God. They are labeled “abominations”, “detestable” or “disgusting things”. They are not even considered “food” by God’s standard for His children.
But if this verse doesn’t mean “all unclean animals are now made clean”, what does it mean? For that we need to check the full context of this passage…starting with Mark 7:1-5:
“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?'”
The issue at hand concerns a “tradition of the elders”. Still think this is pertaining to a Law of God? Read your Bible…handwashing before meals is not in there. But if you don’t want to take the time to pull out your Old Testament at the moment (I don’t blame you), just keep reading and see what Jesus has to tell us.
“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’[Isaiah 29:13]
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
“And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[or set up] your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[Exodus 20:12, Deut 5:16] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[Exodus 21:17, Leviticus 20:9] But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.””
Ooooh. That is harsh. But there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. These Pharisees were letting go of the commands of God and holding on to human traditions. They were nullifying the word of God by their handed-down traditions. And…they did many things like that. Ouch! That was a pretty sharp rebuke. Let’s continue…
“Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
Now wait a second – why would Jesus start teaching “nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them” after this little exchange with the Pharisees and their tradition of man?
I propose it is because this tradition taught that if you don’t wash your hands (or cups, pitchers & kettles) before eating, you will become defiled or “unclean”. Seems like a reasonable assumption given the context, doesn’t it?
Also, if he was starting to teach about something having to do with the Law of God (say, eating unclean animals), he would be a HUGE HYPOCRITE. He just got done chewing out the Pharisees for passing down traditions that nullify the word of God, why would he proceed to nullify the word of God with his own teaching? Obviously, he’s not talking about changing the Law of God here.
Let’s keep going…
“After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
So, Jesus is saying just because you don’t wash your hands or your dishes before you eat, this doesn’t make you “unclean”.
“He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.””
What makes a person “unclean” or “defiled” are the evil thoughts that come out of a person’s heart…not dirty hands or dirty dishes.
I know that’s going to burst a lot of people’s bubbles. Many of us have been taught that Jesus usurped his Father’s authority here and did a 180 on the dietary law, but that is so incredibly contrary to Christ’s character. Jesus would never…and never did speak or teach against his Father’s will. He never broke his Father’s commands, and he never taught his disciples to do so either.
So, are the traditions of man bad or wrong? If they nullify the Law of God, yes. If they are considered a part of or equal to the law of God, yes. However, if they are just considered traditions and don’t violate or nullify the Law of God, I personally, don’t see anything wrong with them. Your best bet, however, would be to pray about it and see what God has to tell you.
I will tell you emphatically though, If God’s Law clearly states something contrary to the tradition of man, there is no way He is going to give you the go-ahead to follow your man-made tradition, forsaking His very own Law.
Having said that, we need to do our homework here. We need to dig out our Bibles and figure out what the Law of God really says.
I can tell you it is no where near burdensome compared to the traditions of man (be it Jewish tradition or even Christian tradition). In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What burdens is he talking about here? Those who were “weary and burdened”… I imagine it could have been the burden of sin, but I also think it was the burden of man-made religious tradition.
Jesus said his “yoke is easy”, his “burden is light”. Jesus knew no sin…all he knew was the will of the Father. He lived it, he taught it and he calls to those of us who are weary and burdened to come to him, receive his rest, take his yoke and learn from him.
It’s a life-long process, folks. We’re not expected to get it overnight. We’re not expected to get it perfect every time. Praise God for his grace! It truly is amazing.
First we receive grace through the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, justifying us, giving us access to the throne room of heaven. Then we die to our flesh (also known as being released from the law of sin and death) and live according to the Spirit, following in the footsteps of our earthly example, Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. We seek to do the will of the Father, as Jesus did…and we will be blessed for it.