The Traditions of Men

November 16, 2007

I am preparing to teach Mark 7:1-23. Jesus criticises the Pharisees who are ‘setting aside’ (athetein, better, ‘rejecting’, v.9) the law of God to observe their own traditions. This, in essence, is idolatry – setting aside the divine to make way for the creaturely. It is also hypocrisy in view of their profession that they honour God (vv.6-7).

The rabbinic oral tradition was eventually written down as the Mishnah. But where did these traditions come from? James R. Edwards writes: ‘Although the claim cannot be sustained from the OT itself, rabbis promoted the idea that Moses had received two laws on Mt. Sinai, the written Torah and the oral Mishnah. The Mishnah was believed to preserve an unbroken chain of authorized tradition extending from Moses to the “Great Synagogue” of Jesus’ day’, (The Gospel According to Mark, 208).

Does this idea sound familiar?

In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: – orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received – whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”; – in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.

As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paras 76, 82)

Spooky, isn’t it!


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