top of page
  • Writer's pictureAriel

Good Tradition and Bad Tradition

It is late November, many are transitioning into a cold winter, and millions around the world are preparing for holidays such as secular "high" holidays such a Christmas and New Years. If you are a regular reader of this blog, or consider yourself Messianic, these holidays and several others are what we call the traditions of man, and therefore foreign to the biblical faith. Messianics, Bible believers, Hebrew Roots, Torah observers, although are not the same collectively, share the strong goal to uphold Holy Scripture, and do away with traditions created by humans.

However, to be intellectually and biblically honest, followers of The Way must be able to properly judge between the commandments of God, good tradition, and bad tradition. There are differences between these three, and everything is not as black and white as it seems. Many with good intentions fail to realize this as most people want to apply simple, rigid, clear-cut rules to every matter. As a result, they make false claims, and become unreliable in scholarship. The truth is, tradition is not inherently evil and unlike those who reject all tradition, Yeshua showed us how traditions can be used to glorify God.

What is the point of tradition? How can we properly discern between good and bad tradition? What are its dangers and positives?


In context of this topic, it is important to keep in mind that tradition is not created to replace Holy Scripture. Tradition is created to complement godly living within the culture it is designed in. Tradition is essentially heritage, valued customs and ideas that are passed down from previous generations. Traditions give us a sense of identity, and help connect us to our families, our communities, and our cultures. Traditions, because they are often established, they can provide a sense of stability in a society that is constantly changing.

However, we do not live in a perfect world (yet), and unfortunately there are bad traditions, or rather doctrines of demons that were passed down and weaponized to ideas that have nothing to do with the Bible. People even defend these traditions because of sentimental value and the illusion that such traditions are reliable because "everyone does them." There are traditions that are flawed because they distort the reality of Holy Scripture. Instead of people remembering Thus saith Adonai, they will remember what their pastor, rabbi, relative, or elder said. Other downsides of traditions include adopting customs and ideologies contrary to Holy Scripture, and having higher regard for traditions than Holy Scripture.

It seems easier to reject all tradition to avoid the confusion, but there is a better way. Consider our great example, Yeshua:

Matthew 12:1-5 One Shabbat during that time, Yeshua was walking through some wheat fields. His talmidim were hungry, so they began picking heads of grain and eating them. On seeing this, the P’rushim said to him, “Look! Your talmidim are violating Shabbat!” But he said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? He entered the House of God and ate the Bread of the Presence!” — which was prohibited, both to him and to his companions; it is permitted only to the cohanim. “Or haven’t you read in the Torah that on Shabbat the cohanim profane Shabbat and yet are blameless?

Shabbat 128a: Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: Bundles that are taken in one hand, it is permitted to move them, as no exertion is involved. However, if they can only be taken in two hands, it is prohibited to move them.

John 7:37-39: Now on the last day of the festival, Hoshana Rabbah, Yeshua stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!” (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who trusted in him were to receive later — the Spirit had not yet been given, because Yeshua had not yet been glorified.)

Mishnah Sukkah 4:9: The tradition of the water libation on the altar are in effect for seven days. [...] Water was drawn from the Pool of Siloam, brought to the Temple, poured on the altar, and blessings were said, thanking Adonai Most High for rain. The waters that truly signified an abundance of rain was in reality Yeshua, and those who believed and obeyed Him would be filled with living water, true healing and salvation.

Matthew 7:12: Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets.

Rabbi Hillel: That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.

These traditions and philosophies of Jewish elders obviously were not rejected by Yeshua, because they were instead used to bring glory to God, or they revealed the true heart of the Torah. Traditions are not mandatory for godly living, or attached to God's commandments like a package deal. However, if traditions are already present in an environment or culture, we must test these traditions by Holy Scripture before writing them off. Traditions that bring glory to God and agree with Holy Scripture are not traditions we should encourage people to stop keeping.

Some may argue that traditions can become idols, and that is why they aren't to be kept, no matter how good they are. I would argue that anything can become an idol, and to avoid that from happening, one must cultivate spiritual maturity, wisdom, and Bible literacy. In wisdom, it is best for a person to familiarize themselves with what the Bible actually teaches before prayerfully adhering to any tradition.

Messianics also must be mindful when addressing the observance of extrabiblical holidays such as Hanukkah and Purim. What is fact from falsehood? What are the good traditions and the bad traditions? How can these holidays glory God in truth? A personal question you may need to ask yourself would be, "Have I made these holidays greater than God's appointed times?" If we all answer these questions honestly and make the appropriate adjustments, we will all be one step closer to walking and rejoicing in total truth. Certainly, this requires more effort. But it is time that we stop partaking of traditions without understanding what they are. Alongside that, it is time that we understand traditions before marking and avoiding them, because traditions can be useful and meaningful.

Traditions are everywhere, from lighting Shabbat candles to watching your favorite holiday movie with family. Traditions are implanted deeply in our lives and share a message about our values. Due to this, it is easy to fall prey to bad traditions that distort doctrine. Fortunately, the Holy Scriptures give us assistance in discerning these practices, so that we are not walking in error. In every holiday (or holy day) season, may we take heed to Apostle John's instruction:

"Dear friends, don’t trust every spirit. On the contrary, test the spirits to see whether they are from God..." (1 John 4:1a)

bottom of page