Shelby G. Floyd

Good morning church! We have a lot to be thankful for. Please introduce yourself to the newest person at Heartland. Baby Millie Mae is here with us today!

Today I speak on the topic, “The Traditions of Men or God.” You might ask, “Does God have traditions?” Yes he does! And he has handed them down to us. Please open your Bible to 2 Thessalonians 2:15: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” The Greek word for traditions is [paradosis]. Therefore, Paul tells the church to hold fast to the traditions they had received and were taught. So we have God’s traditions handed down to us by inspired spokesmen of God.

Now we go to a conversation Jesus had with the scribes and Pharisees: “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition” (Matthew 15:1-3 NKJV)? Jesus then rebuked these people because they followed the traditions of the elders. And their traditions actually violated God’s eternal word. Here traditions is translated from the Greek word [paradosis], the same as in 2 Thessalonians 2:15!

Now we examine our main text in Mark the seventh chapter. At the close of Mark chapter 6, we see that the common people loved and followed Jesus wherever he went. But the scribes and Pharisees are quite different. They were always trying to catch him in something that they could use to condemn him. Why? Because he violated the traditions of the elders!


Once there was a story about a young rabbi who went to work at a synagogue. And he was new on the job. So he had to get acquainted with the people. But he got off to a rocky start! When the congregation had a prayer service, half the congregation would stand, and half the congregation would be seated! And the group standing while praying were saying to those seated “stand up, stand up!” And the ones who were seated while praying, said to the ones who were standing up, “sit down, sit down!”

So the young rabbi had a problem. And he said to himself, what am I going to do? All they do is fight all the time over whether to stand or sit! Someone suggested to him that he go to the nursing home and talk to an old man who was the oldest member of the synagogue congregation. So he took a representative from both groups with him to see the old man. They asked him, “Is it our tradition to stand while we pray?” He said, “That is not our tradition!” They asked, “Is it our tradition to stay seated while we pray?” He said, “That is not our tradition.” The young rabbi then asked him, “What shall I do? All they do is fight all the time.” The old man said, “That is our tradition!”


Sadly, that is the tradition of too many churches! Now Jesus Christ had to deal with situations just like that. And his conversation with the scribes and Pharisees is such an example. In Mark’s account the apostles “gathered together” and shared with Jesus what they were doing, and what they were teaching. But the enemies of Christ also “gathered together.” For in Mark 7:1 the same verb is used to describe the assembling of a delegation of scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem. But they came together to discredit Jesus.

Now we see two groups who have gathered themselves together. One group wants to learn from Jesus, and the other group is made up of adversaries who want to discredit Jesus. When they observed the disciples of Christ doing something not in keeping with their tradition, “they found fault” (Mark 7:2). Their main occupation was “fault finding!” So I ask all of us, “Are we here today to worship God and to learn his word or are we here to be a nit picking, faultfinding type of person?” It all goes back to our attitude of heart!

Now these two opposing groups who came to Jesus, clash together. And what did they clash over? The adversaries saw some of Jesus disciples eating bread with unwashed hands. I think we have become too particular over this washing thing. As a child I do not remember washing my hands often before I ate. We would play all day and eat with “unwashed hands.” Remember when they criticized the disciples, Jesus said to his adversaries, “It is not what goes into your mouth that offends you, it is what comes out” (Mark 7:17-23). And so Jesus did not condemn the disciples for eating bread without washing their hands!

His critics were “fault finders” and that was their tradition to wash their hands before eating bread. How does God’s word describe these traditional fault finders?

  1. “The tradition of the elders” (Mark 7: 3, 5);
  2. “The precepts (commandments) of men (Mark 7:7);
  3. “The traditions of men” (Mark 7:8);
  4. “That you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9); and
  5. “Your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:13).

So do you see how that word tradition was used by those who opposed Jesus? Mark explained it in these words, “For the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). Now if they wanted to wash their hands every time before they ate, that was certainly all right. What made that wrong was when they wanted to bind that action on everyone else. God had not made that a law. It was their law! And the human tendency is to bind our opinions on everyone else!

And according to Mark 7:4 there were many more things which the scribes and Pharisees would do after they washed their hands:

  1. They must wash when they come from the marketplace.
  2. And they must wash cups, pots, copper vessels, and couches.

By the way “wash” [baptisontai] is translated from a form of the Greek word [baptidzo], which means to dip, plunge, and immerse. Baptism is by immersion, not sprinkling water on a person. Therefore when you wash your hands, you do not just sprinkle a little water on them, but you immerse them in a bowl of water. Hence,  even this story upholds the idea that baptism is by immersion and not sprinkling a little water on someone!

Therefore, these “fault finders” became very brave. And they finally asked Jesus this question: “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands” (Mark 7:5)? Again, they are pushing “the tradition of the elders.”


The traditionalists wanted to know why the disciples of Jesus ate bread with unwashed hands. All the scribes and Pharisees wash their hands before they eat bread. Why do you and your disciples break that tradition? So they put Jesus on the spot by firing these questions at him.

Over the years I have noticed that sometimes people will ask you a loaded question. After a little thought you realize that however you answer that question you could be in trouble. So you answer their question by asking them a question! Sometimes the best way to answer a question is by asking a question. And basically that is what Jesus did when he turned the tables on these scribes and Pharisees.

He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do” (Mark 7:6-8).

Jesus basically answered their question when he charged that their doctrine of the traditions and commandments of men made hypocrites out of them all! “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honor Me with their lips. But their heart is far from Me. Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). So their traditions had made hypocrites out of them all!

I have two great granddaughters that love acting in children’s plays. They perform at a little theater for children. Most of them are Disney plays for children. And our Sam Brown does good acting in some adult plays!

What does the word hypocrite mean? The word means one who acts the part of another! Biblically a hypocrite is from the Greek word [hupokrites], and means a “play actor, or pretender.” The scribes and pharisees were hypocrites that were pretending to be someone or something that they were not! So hypocrisy is “playacting!” This all goes back to the Greek and Roman times when a person would act in a play. Jesus therefore condemned the scribes and Pharisees for playing the part of someone they were not.

What are some characteristics of those who play act the hypocrite?

  1. They give lip service to God. So said Isaiah the prophet. Lip service, not heart service!
  2. Their heart is far away from God.
  3. Their worship is vain and empty.
  4. There doctrine or teaching is made up of “the commandments of men.”
  5. They lay aside the commandment of God, and replace it with “the tradition of men.”
  6. And the washing of hands, pitchers, pots, and many other things are examples of “their tradition.”
  7. They were only interested in the external compliance with tradition regardless of whether it conformed to God’s teaching or not.

In fact they were “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:13). Tradition [Grk. Paradosis] is the transmission of teaching from one to another until it becomes a way of life. Thus these traditions of men came to replace the commands of God. Then the next step in apostasy is false worship of the true God.


I remember growing up and attending a fairly large congregation. And we would have about four trays for communion on the Lord’s table, with all of those individual cups and unleavened bread. The men would line up at the back and come down front to the Lord’s table. Preparation to communion was like a beautiful ceremony. There was a beautiful linen cloth that covered the Lord’s table. And it was starched and ironed to perfection. The men presiding would carefully pick it up, fold it solemnly and lay it aside. As a little boy I was impressed by that ceremony. That was our tradition in those days.

But then as the church grew, there were eight or ten trays on the Lord’s table. And then there was no linen cloth covering the communion. And I wondered, what happened to the linen cloth? That was our tradition! So I just thought, there must be a reason for the change of habit. But later while reading some sermons I found out why we had a linen cloth covering the Lord’s table. Years ago there was no air conditioning in our church buildings, so windows were open with fresh air, and the flies would come in. The church covered the Lord’s table to keep the flies away. And that was a good thing. But thankfully “our tradition” did not become a permanent way of life. Traditions are bad when they are made “the law of God.” But suppose some “silly Pharisee” had said, “We have always covered the communion with a linen cloth, and we are going to have it that way always!” Lord deliver us from such people! That is a good example of how people can form silly traditions and bind them on everybody else.

The human tendency has always been to reduce God’s laws to certain external acts which can be obeyed without a true change of heart. About a quarter of a century ago the churches of Christ started singing some new songs. God never handed down any songs or melody, nor did he tell us to sing fast or slow or in between. But there were some who wanted to bind their tradition on everyone else! They only wanted to sing songs that were written in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Some of these people were described as “church clowns!” They wanted to be noticed like a clown, but what they were actually doing was upholding “the traditions of men.” They did not want to sing any new songs. We wonder if they will be able to “sing the new song” that God’s people will sing in heaven (Revelation 14:3).

This is simply another example of how human traditions can lead to false worship. The human tendency has always been to reduce God’s laws to certain external acts which can be obeyed without a true change of heart taking place. For example, when they saw the Pharisees wash their hands before a meal, they took it for granted that they possessed a clean heart, which was not necessarily so. When it was not so, Jesus called it hypocrisy and the outward parading of righteousness:

He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6-7).


Where did the Jewish traditions originate? We did some research and found out that the Jewish rabbis accumulated them over many years. When Jesus walked upon the earth they were among the scribes and Pharisees. But it was not until the third century A.D. that some rabbis produced 613 spoken commandments. The 613 laws are actually listed on the Internet. It would deplete your paper and ink to print all these laws!

Those 613 laws are called the Mitzvot or Mitzvah. We know that a Jewish boy takes his Bar Mitzvah when he is 13 years old. The term “Mitzvah” means command or law. “Bar” means “son.” Therefore “The Bar Mitzvah” means “The Son of the Law.” This law is not God’s law, but “the law of the rabbis.”


In Exodus 20:1-12, we have the 10 Commandments catalogued. Moses received those laws on Mount Sinai by the hand of God. They were on their way to “the promised land.” Therefore by the time of Jesus  the rabbis had multiplied the Decalogue into “the traditions!” And then by the third century A.D. they had 613 commands which became their traditions – the traditions of men called the Mitzvah.


Can you visualize trying to remember all those laws, and then to keep all those traditions? It would be impossible. No one could do that! Now when Jesus came into the world, he realized that for 1500 years the Jewish people have not been able to keep the law. And the apostle Peter reminded his audience in the Council meeting in Acts 15 about this matter. He had those who wanted to bind the Jewish traditions on the Gentiles! Peter said, “Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:10-11).

And our Lord Jesus Christ actually boiled the 10 Commandments down to just two commandments! Surely, we all can keep these two commands:  Jesus said,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Therefore if we keep these two laws to the best of our ability, we will want to keep all the instructions that God expects of us. This is a stark contrast to the Mitzvah. Ask yourself, do I love God with all of my heart—my mind, my emotion, my willpower, and my conscience? Do I love my neighbor the same way?

As we stand and sing a song of encouragement, remember the words of the apostle Peter when he said, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). *

*Copyright © 2023 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon July 30, 2023, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 West Main Street, Greenwood, Indiana 46142



Shelby G. Floyd

The critics of Jesus and his disciples watched him like a hawk to find something to condemn him. It did not take them long before they found the disciples eating their food without going through the ceremonial washing required by “the traditions of the elders” (Mark 7:1-5). They demanded an explanation why they would have the audacity to violate the “traditions of men.”

Jesus defended the actions of the disciples by referring them to the word of God. He had previously rebuked them for adding their man-made traditions to the Sabbath day and thereby making the law of God of no effect (Mark 2:23-3:6). Now on this occasion, 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 but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:6-8).

In making application of Isaiah’s teaching, Jesus explained that they held on to their traditions while letting go of the commands of God. The word of God taught them to honor and take care of their parents in their old age (Exodus 20:12). But by their “traditional trick,” they released themselves from this obligation—thus violating the word of God. This was just one example, because Jesus said, “And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:13).

The divine revelation of the gospel handed down to us by Christ and the apostles is also referred to by the term tradition: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The traditions and commandments of men are not to be blindly followed, but the biblical traditions are to be faithfully followed (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 11:2).

Copyright © 2020 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 45142