Revelations from the Word

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The Tradition of the Elders

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, 'Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?' He answered and said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:1-8).

The Pharisees and the Scribes observed the "Tradition of the Elders" which regulated every area of their lives. This was predominant over the commandments of God. For them the "Tradition of the Elders" was a key which explained how they ought to interpret the Scriptures and how they ought to apply them in their daily lives. Therefore it was a commentary on the Scriptures (the written Torah – the Pentateuch) which was also called the 'Oral Torah' and it was transmitted, as its name indicates, orally until the third century of our era, until Rabbi, Judah HaNasi began to write it down so that it does not disappear at the time of the Jewish Diaspora.

So 'Genesis Rabbah' is a Midrash which is a commentary on the Book of Genesis and which made deductions about the thought of God before Creation. According to this commentary, six things were in the mind of God before the Creation of the Earth: "The formation of Israel, the Throne of Glory, the Torah, the Temple of Jerusalem, the coming of the Patriarchs and the Name of the Messiah" (Genesis Rabbah 1:4). This is why Paul who was a Pharisee of the tribe of Benjamin, wrote to the Romans to show that this Midrash was now totally fulfilled, "…my brothers, my parents according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Torah, the service, the promises and the patriarchs and from whom the Messiah (Christ), who is above all things is issued according to the flesh, blessed be God for ever and ever. Amen!" (Romans 9:4-5).

Jesus reminded the Pharisees and the Scribes of the prophetic words, "This people draw near to Me with their mouth and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far away and their fear of Me is a commandment of man" (Isaiah 29:13). Because their fear was a commandment which has come from the Tradition of the Elders, God has poured out on them a spirit of drowsiness; He closed their eyes and put a veil over the understanding of their leaders (Isaiah 29:10 Darby). And because they put this Tradition above the Torah, the revelation of Jesus was for them like the words of a book that is sealed, incomprehensible (Isaiah 29:11). However, God acted miraculously through Jesus by doing signs and miracles to confound the wisdom of men (Isaiah 29:14 Darby). And so the works that Jesus did gave witness to the fact that He was indeed the Messiah of God, the One they were waiting for that they did not recognise (John 10:25). If they had not recognised the Messiah in the person of Jesus, they ought to have recognised Him through His works.