Traditions: the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, norms, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice; a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting; a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.
We all have traditions in our lives, well at least I believe that it’s a truism for all of us. Those traditions, or customs, have shaped our lives. My complete set of traditions would be very different than yours, unless of course you were raised in my immediate family. Traditions link ourselves to others and help us to form together as a unit, or group. But traditions can also serve to make us rigid and apply said traditions to sets of circumstances where they don’t belong. And, just like the Christian traditions that we have, the Jewish culture and faith is also steeped in traditions.
It is with that viewpoint that I would like to frame my response to a study of Galatians 1. Now, I’m all about giving others the benefit of the doubt in my life. And, I will usually do so until my trust is broken with these individuals. That said, there’s been plenty of times when I’ve been disappointed, or let down, by placing my trust in those individuals who would lead me astray. And, perhaps others did not have an ulterior motive, or evil intent, when they applied their set of norms to any set of circumstances in my life. But, Satan, our main enemy, can use those good intentions to muddy the waters and send us into situations where we make our Christian witness null and void by us insisting that others follow our norms to enable them to achieve success. And, that’s what I think the enemy did here.
I would like to believe that the early Jewish converts to Christianity felt that since Jesus was of the Jewish faith, and sprung from a strong Jewish tradition, that Jesus would want these new Gentile Christians to follow a certain path and adhere to certain religious traditions within the Jewish faith, such as circumcision, and dietary laws. I would like to think that they didn’t consider that placing Gentile Christians under their laws and traditions would make life as a Christian untenable, or negate what God sent Jesus to accomplish. The Jewish people themselves had a very difficult time with their own laws and customs, and that’s because in addition to the Ten Commandments that God gave to the Israelites, the laws in the Old Testament number 613! One source I consulted stated that those 613 commandments consisted of 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments, that’s a staggering amount! I simply cannot fathom trying to remember and follow over 600 commandments each and every day. And since, a large majority of the Jewish community received their instruction from the rabbinic tradition, they did not actually study the scriptures themselves. What instruction they received was then human interpretation of the Old Testament.
I know that when I only rely on interpretation, I have not grasped the intent of what the original author (God in this case) meant to say. That’s probably the biggest reason that I still remember what one of my favorite teaching Pastors (Brad Powell, NorthRidge Church, Plymouth, MI) said time and time again – and that was something like this: “Don’t take my word for it, go to the Scriptures and make sure that what I say lines up with the Word of God.” It is a very important thing for us to remember, if we rely on others to tell us just what God wants us to do, then we can very easily get caught up in doing the very same thing that the Judiazers did to Gentile Christians – whether we do it on purpose or not. Either way, we could unwittingly become a tool of the enemy in leading others away from the Gospel.
We must take the time to read, and pray over God’s Word. We must ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in those beliefs. And, while I do like to consult information that other people who are Biblical experts and respected Christians have to say, I always have to remember that their interpretation is just that, an interpretation. I must always search out the scriptures to gain the understanding that God wants me to have. And, when I point out something in the scripture and summarize it, perhaps the best thing I can say to others is exactly what my Pastor told us: Don’t take my word for it, go to the scriptures and make sure that what I am saying lines up with the Word of God.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, ESV)