The Nullifying Power of Tradition

Jesus came first for his own people. For thousands of years his coming had been destined, prepared, foretold. No other nation had prophecies concerning the Messiah like Israel did; no other nation had the Scriptures of truth as Israel did.

Why, then, when Jesus arrived on the scene, did the religious leaders not recognize him as their Savior and Deliverer?

When Jesus finally came in the power of signs and wonders as never before seen, his own people rejected him. Why? Mark tells us.

1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and
2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed.
3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.
4 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.)
5 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 ‘unclean’ hands?”
–MARK 7:1–5 NIV

The Pharisees diligently studied the Scriptures (John 5:39). But they also kept their own traditions.

There’s nothing wrong with tradition per se, but observing human rules had become more important to them than obeying in love and faith the simple word of God. They chose their traditions over what God had originally said. Jesus told them, “‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (v. 8 NIV).

Just as no one can serve two masters, no one can hold on to two things at once. Unless a tradition is based accurately on God’s word, we cannot observe it and still honor God’s commands.

God honors His word, not human tradition or interpretation of that word. When tradition and the word diverge, we cannot follow both!

God’s word is powerful, but Jesus told the religious leaders something astonishing:

[Y]ou are nullifying and making void and of no effect [the authority of] the Word of God through your tradition, which you [in turn] hand on. And many things of this kind you are doing.”
–MARK 7:13 AMPC

Jesus said that the all-powerful word of God is…

  • Nullified—cancelled, zeroed out
  • Made void—empty
  • Made of no effect—rendered powerless

…because of tradition.

This nullifying power refers not only to the written Scriptures, but the prophetic word revealed to our hearts or to the corporate church by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4 NKJV).

If elevating tradition as primary makes God’s revealed word ineffective, then obviously the word is supposed to have an effect—it was designed to do something, to change things.

Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword” (KJV), but tradition makes it more like a butter knife. As powerful as God’s word is, it is rendered powerless if not honored over tradition.

If how you interpret any portion of Scripture bring no practical effect to bless you, change you, or make you more like Christ, that interpretation is worthless. Perhaps its power has been nullified by tradition.

Paul advises on this matter:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
–Colossians 2:8 NIV

Paul warned Timothy to beware those who hold to a “form of godliness but deny its power”:

They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power. Stay away from people like these!
–2 Timothy 3:5 TPT

Because the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time chose their traditions over Jesus, the Word made flesh, their Messiah’s coming availed them nothing.

How could Jesus benefit them if they did not acknowledge him for who he was? Because they rejected him, they received the consequences—desolation (Luke 13:35). It’s no wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).

Today, the Church also substitutes tradition for the word written or revealed. We hold to doctrinal positions and denominational rules and procedures. But do we obey the simple statements of Scripture?

Do we hear and heed the prophetic Spirit that would apply the Scriptures to our present situation? Do our worship gatherings even allow the Spirit to speak through prophecy? (1 Cor. 14:1,4,24-25,29-31,39).

Paul explains how he presented the gospel:

4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,
5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.
–1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NIV

Many religious traditions are fine. But when they replace and nullify God’s word, we must decide which we will follow.

The true gospel is attended by the Spirit’s power. Let’s not deny it, but embrace and promote it, for this gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).

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