Design a site like this with
Get started


Building Biblical Traditions

Photo by Pixabay


In light of calling traditions into question, it is responsible for us to provide a biblical definition for traditions. What follows is a document I had previously written in 2015 and have now adapted for our purposes.

Define Tradition

A tradition or custom is a functional recurring event designed to enable adherence to a specific belief and cause it to be taken up and believed by future generations. The Bible contains three types of traditions: compulsory, elective and illicit. While some traditions and customs are not optional to the Christian, others can be adopted and still others are completely forbidden. Compulsory, elective or illicit, no tradition exists outside of God. All traditions must be rooted in God’s Word and maintain their meaning to all who practice them or be discontinued.

Compulsory Traditions

The first type of traditions are compulsory traditions which include all of those symbols, sacrifices, feasts, and days which God commanded His people to follow; effectively handing them a culture that would instantly separate them from the surrounding nations. Even so, they are all symbols of greater truth and are often called to cease by God in the Old Testament because they have become meaningless to the practitioners. Most of these were fulfilled by Jesus. There are two compulsory traditions in the New Testament: the rite of baptism, and the feast of communion.

Elective Traditions

The second type are elective traditions which are not prescribed by God but are created as and when they are needed to enable adherence to a particular doctrine and are adopted into the general culture as wise and therefore prudent to practice. These are often called spiritual disciplines and are cautioned against when, adding to the scriptures, they are taught as doctrines in and of themselves or, taking away from the scriptures, if they make void a commandment or concept in Scripture.

Illicit Traditions

The third type are illicit traditions which do not have as their basis the love of God and His commandments and are referred to as, “Human traditions,”–not to be confused with elective traditions which find their basis in the scriptures. These traditions are those which the world practices reminding themselves of their own beliefs. Christians have, in the past, attempted to redeem this type of tradition by inserting Christ at the center, to some success, but many find these traditions ill suited to their Christian identity, especially concerning holidays. God warns sternly against this type of tradition making it clear that disciples of Christ are not to engage in them as they teach what is known to be wrong as right. 

Primary Sources

God Encourages Traditions Built Around our Love for Him and for His Commandments

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Deuteronomy 6:4-12

God Warns of Traditions which Invalidate His Commands

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”[a] 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word[b] of God.

Matthew 15:1-6

God Warns Against Customs Devoid of their Meaning

12“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations— I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Isaiah 1:12-15

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,

    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

    I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,

    I will not look upon them.

23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;

    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

24 But let justice roll down like waters,

    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Amos 5:21-24

10Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. 

Malachi 1:10

God Warns Against Adopting Human Traditions 

24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, 25 and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you 27 (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), 28 lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. 29 For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. 30 So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 18:24-30

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”

Jeremiah 10:1-5

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Colossians 2:8

Godly Traditions are to be Adopted 

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.

1 Corinthians 11:1-2
Ammi Ruhama Community Christian Union

%d bloggers like this: