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Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

 Jeremiah 6:16

Oral tradition appears to be the foundation of many written texts. A study of the New Testament helps us to realize that it was at least ten to twenty years after the death of Jesus before any of the Gospels were written. Prior to the writing of the first Gospel, the sermons of the apostles and many of the letters of Paul had been written. Yet during that time, the early Christians clearly knew a great deal about the life and ministry of Jesus. This information was passed on by word of mouth, becoming the traditions upon which the writers of the Gospels ultimately drew. Paul frequently referred to the traditions which he had received and which he passed on to the churches ( 1 Corinthians 11:23-25;  1 Corinthians 15:3-7 ). He also pointed out some things which he had not received from tradition (compare  Galatians 1:11-12 .)

The evidence for ancient oral traditions is even stronger in the Old Testament. The entire collection of the books of the prophets is made up of material which was originally spoken (preached). It generally appears that their sermons were passed on and remembered orally for a considerable period of time before they were ever written. Jeremiah had obviously preached for many years before his sermons were first written. At that time, he employed Baruch the scribe to record his sermons as the prophet dictated them ( Jeremiah 36:1-4 ). Isaiah also appeared to have ordered his disciples to collect his messages for some future time ( Isaiah 8:16 ). This evidence can be multiplied many times.

Since the work of Herman Gunkel in the early part of the twentieth century, most Old Testament scholars have almost universally accepted the idea that many Old Testament texts had a long history of oral transmission before they were ever written. To a contemporary student, such a thought often appears to make such texts suspect. However, anyone who has tried to hurry through a favorite bedtime story with a child will recognize that audiences familiar with a story ensure its accurate transmission.

It appears that the narratives were first used around campfires or in religious rituals. Either type of use is highly structured and deeply tinged with emotions which would guard the accuracy of their use. At the same time, even as a contemporary interpreter will take an old text and apply it to a new situation, these old traditions apparently were frequently retold to apply to the new situations which the people of Israel faced. (A comparative study of 1,2Kings and 1,2Chronicles makes it appear that such may also have been done with written texts as well.)

Oral traditions appear to have had their origin in the life needs of the community of faith. The German term Sitz im Leben (life situation) is normally applied to this. The point is simply that oral traditions arose, were preserved, and were passed on because the life needs of the community were being met. This recognizes that people hold on to those things which are meaningful and meet their life needs. (God used processes which met human needs to preserve His inspired Word.) The verses of Scripture which a person memorizes and treasures are held onto for precisely the same reasons.

Such traditions, then, clearly had their origin in historical situations. The children of Abraham held onto the stories of their ancestors because they heard God speak to them through those events, guiding them in facing similar situations. They also held on to other parts of the story as the basis for their faith that God's promised blessings were ultimately going to be fulfilled for them.

On the other hand, other types of materials were preserved because they aided in the human approach to God in worship. Here again, it was the human need to worship and serve which gave the basis for preserving and passing on material which helped them meet those needs.

These ancient traditions, then, were inspired by God to meet human need in real life experiences. They were preserved and passed on precisely because they had a very specific life setting, helping people to face life as it was with the strength of God to sustain them every day. Such traditions made it easier to understand what God was doing because they could hear Him speak through what He had done in other life situations.

Furthermore, study of these ancient traditions makes it obvious that materials which were used in similar life situations were generally preserved and passed on in similar “literary” forms. The use of common forms or outlines for similar kinds of material made it even easier to maintain the accuracy of transmitting the traditions.

The traditions of Israel and of the early Christians were obviously used by the worshiping communities as a means of maintaining and transmitting their faith. In the Old Testament these were apparently collected and preserved at the various shrines where Israel worshiped. In the New Testament, this was done among the many scattered congregations.

A comparison of  Psalm 14:1 and   Psalm 53:1 can be seen to illustrate this process. The two psalms are almost wholly identical. Yet the name for God in   Psalm 14:1 is Lord (Hebrew, Yahweh ) and in  Psalm 53:1 , God (Hebrew, Elohim  ; compare NAS). It appears from other studies that Yahweh was preferred in Judah and at the Jerusalem Temple while Elohim was preferred in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, possibly at Bethel. It appears that this particular psalm was a favorite among Hebrew worshipers. However, when the kingdom divided, one nation preserved it with one divine name while the other used the tradition to meet their own particular needs with the other name for God. Each worshiping community was inspired to use the same hymn to worship God, but they used it with their own particular name for God. The same types of processes appear to be demonstrable in other instances.

Further, such worshiping communities also appear to have preserved those particular traditions which were most meaningful to them. Thus Jerusalem, the City of David, appears to have had major interests in the Davidic traditions. Bethel, on the other hand, was significantly involved in the life of Jacob. It appears that traditions concerning Jacob had a very special meaning to those who worshiped at Bethel. Paul clearly referred to conflicting traditions and allegiances at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 ). Such conflicts arose as the worshiping community sought to assimilate a variety of traditions into one tradition.

Obviously, in the Old Testament all the traditions of the various worship centers and worshiping communities ultimately were assimilated in Jerusalem. In the ongoing history of the nation, all other shrines ultimately passed away as the nation finally centered its entire worship experience upon the Jerusalem Temple. The New Testament experience was different in that the Christians' worship did not shrink inward to one place but spread outward to many. It was the New Testament itself which became the focal point of New Testament traditions rather than any specific worship center.

Oral traditions were recorded as written traditions at certain critical points in history. This is particularly true in the Old Testament era. It appears that the worshiping communities were generally quite content to use their traditions in predominantly oral form until a crisis arose which threatened their continuity. This contentment with things as they were was probably bolstered by the fact that reading and writing were skills limited primarily to the professional scribes in Old Testament times. Everyone could handle oral tradition, only a few could handle written traditions.

However, when historical crises arose which threatened the continued stability or existence of a worship center or of a worshiping community, then it appears that the traditions were committed to writing lest they be lost. Such situations arose when the nation divided following the reign of Solomon, when the Northern Kingdom fell before Assyria, and when Jerusalem fell under the onslaught of Babylon. At such times, there appear to have been large scale writings of traditions.

It appears that the New Testament traditions were written under the impetus of historical crises, but these were of a different nature. The Gospels were apparently written when those who had known Jesus in person began to die. There appears to have been a fear that the traditions would be lost unless they were recorded for future believers. Other New Testament materials were written to meet the crises of missions and evangelism. More people could read and write by this time. The written materials allowed people to receive the good news who had never heard a Christian preacher. As always, the handling of these materials was done under the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit.

The study of the transmission of these ancient traditions allows us to perceive the human dimension of the transmission of biblical materials as well as come to a deeper understanding of the nature of God's inspiration. The common characteristics of material preserved at specific worship centers allow us to identify many of their interests, concerns, and historical roots. On the other hand, the differences between traditions sometimes give an even greater insight into the basic human issues with which those who transmitted particular traditions were concerned. As an illustration, note that Mark says of the woman who had been plagued by the issue of blood that she had spent all her money on physicians yet had steadily gotten worse ( Mark 5:25-26 ). Luke, on the other hand, left out that bit of a sarcastic criticism of doctors ( Luke 8:43 ). The difference in the way these two writers handled the same tradition reveals Luke's human sympathetic concern with doctors. This adds depth to our understanding of the man who was himself a physician.

This kind of study has left us with both a deeper understanding of the practices by which God has inspired, recorded, and preserved His Word and a greater awareness of the fact that God worked with human beings who had all of the feelings and concerns to which humanity is heir. The biblical traditions are rooted and grounded in the divine meeting of human need. They have their basis in real-life situations and were preserved by a living, worshiping community. This allows these same traditions better to meet present human need in the real-life situations of contemporary communities of faith. See [[Formation And Canon Of Bible]]; Inspiration; Revelation.

Robert L. Cate

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [2]

The body of religious literature contained in the OT is itself largely the deposit of oral tradition. As the result of its progressive canonization, this literature acquired the character of a fixed norm of faith and conduct. But the study devoted to the Scriptures (מִרְרַשׁ, ‘seeking,’ ‘searching’) led to a vast development in the religious traditions of Judaism. On the one hand, through the ceaseless activity of the scribes, the written Law was enriched by a wealth of oral statutes (תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל־פָּה, ‘the Torah that came by mouth’), partly natural expansions of the Law, arising from the force of custom and the new necessities of life, or as legal precedents from the courts of justice, partly definitions, interpretations, or detailed applications of the Law. From their direct bearing on matters of conduct, these new statutes were described as Hǎlâkhôth (from הָלַךְ, ‘go’), that is, rules governing the normal walk of life. But, while the scholastic mind thus busied itself with details of the Law, the imagination of more poetical spirits played around the narrative parts of Scripture, embellishing the history of Israel with a rich garland of legend, allegory, metaphysics, and morals, often grotesque enough, yet ‘full of the strength and glow of faith’ (H. Heine, Jehuda ben Halevy , pt. i. stanza 34). These more imaginative elements of tradition were termed Hăggâdôth (from הִגִּיד, ‘show,’ ‘tell’), that is, lessons of life taught by way of principles and examples, actual or fictitious (less probably, tales or legends as products of the story-telling gift).

The oral character of both these developments of OT literature was long preserved. As late as the Christian era, the traditional Law was known as מִצְוית זְקִנִים, the ‘command of the elders’ (cf. the NT παράδοσις τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, ‘tradition of the elders’), and a distinct prejudice operated against any part of its contents being reduced to writing. After the destruction of the Temple, however, the title Mishna (from שָׁגָה, ‘repeat’), most probably in the sense of ‘study’ or ‘teaching’ (in spite of the δευτέρωσις of the Church Fathers), came to be applied to the oral Law; and various collections were now made by leading scholars like Hillel and Aḳiba, the standard edition being that of Judah ha-Nasi (circa, abouta.d. 200). The Mishna itself is a compilation of Hǎlâkhôth, or formal statutes; but the Gemara, or ‘supplement’ of the Mishna (from גְּמַר, ‘complete’), contains many Hǎggâdôth as well. These were taken over by the Talmuds, especially the Babylonian Talmud, which contains by far the richest treasury of Jewish traditions.

Although originally mere expansions or embellishments of Scripture, the Halakhic traditions in particular acquired an authority and influence equal to those of the Law itself. This principle was explicitly taught in the schools of both Hillel and Shammai, and was accepted by the Pharisees generally, while the conservative Sadducees rejected the claims of tradition in toto (Jos. Ant . XIII. x. 6). Among the more rigid Pharisees, indeed, the oral Law was held to possess an even greater sanctity than the written; for the oral was the ‘perfection’ of the written, and he who knew and followed it was wiser and holier than he who observed merely the written. Thus the idea grew up that the traditional Law also was given to Moses on Sinai, and was delivered by him to Joshua, and by him to the elders, and by them to the prophets, and by them to the men of the Great Synagogue, and thence to the present generation ( Pirḳe Aboth , i. 1 ff.). In later Talmudic tradition, the Law given to Moses was said to cover the whole body of Rabbinic doctrines. Thus the real heart of the Law was buried beneath the dead weight of tradition; and men too often used their zeal for tradition as a means of evading the moral demands of the Law ( Matthew 15:2ff.,  Mark 7:1ff., etc.).

The conflict with traditionalism, which figures so prominently in the Gospels, sinks into insignificance in the rest of the NT. The problem that confronted St. Paul was that of the Law itself, while the other writers were concerned with the weighty matters of Christian faith and life. Only a few faint traces of tradition appear in their writings-mere survivals from the dead past of Judaism. Thus the allusions of St. Stephen to the burial of Jacob and all his children in Sychem, to Moses’ learning ‘in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,’ and to the presence of angels at the giving of the Law ( Acts 7:15 f.,  Acts 7:22;  Acts 7:38;  Acts 7:53) are doubtless drawn from Jewish Hăggâdôth; examples of the same thing are found in St. Paul’s references to the Rock that followed the Israelites ( 1 Corinthians 10:4), to the seducing of Eve by the serpent ( 2 Corinthians 11:3), and to the ministry of angels ( Galatians 3:19; cf.  Hebrews 2:2), while the direct use of Haggadic literature is suggested in such texts as  2 Timothy 3:8f.,  1 Peter 3:19 ff.,  2 Peter 2:4 ff.,  Judges 1:6ff. The influence of Halakhic exegesis is equally evident in the Apostle’s method of argument in  Romans 9:7ff.,  Galatians 4:21ff.,  1 Corinthians 9:9f. (cf.  1 Timothy 5:18).

Literature.-L. Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden , Berlin, 1832; E. Deutsch, The Talmud , in his Literary Remains , London, 1874; H. L. Strack, Einleitung in den Talmud 4, Leipzig, 1908; M. Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud 2, New York, 1903; S. Schechter, article‘Talmud,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 57ff.; W. Bacher, Die Agada der Tannaiten , 2 vols., Strassburg, 1884-90, Die Agada der babylonischen Amoräer , do., 1878, Die Agada der palästinischen Amoräer , 3 vols., do., 1892-99; F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie 2, Leipzig, 1897; E Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]4 i. [do., 1902] 111ff., II. [do., 1907] 381 ff. ( HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).]I. [Edinburgh, 1890] i. 117 ff., 11. [do., 1890] i. 320 ff.); R. T. Herford, Pharisaism , 1912; J. Z. Lauterbach, article‘Oral Law,’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ix. 423 ff.; A. C. Zenos, article‘Tradition,’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ii. 741 f.; H. St. J. Thackeray, Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought , London, 1900.

A. R. Gordon.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [3]

Greek Paradosis , instructions "delivered" ( 1 Corinthians 15:3) as inspired, whether orally or in writing, by the apostles ( 2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6;  2 Thessalonians 3:10). The only oral tradition designed by God to be obligatory on the church in all ages was soon committed to writing in the apostolic age, and recognized as inspired by the churches then having the gift of discerning spirits. Only in three passages ( 1 Corinthians 11:2 margin;  2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6) has tradition a good sense; in ten a bad sense, man's uninspired tradition ( Matthew 15:2-3;  Matthew 15:6;  Mark 7:3;  Mark 7:5;  Mark 7:8-9;  Mark 7:13;  Galatians 1:14;  Colossians 2:8). Jesus charges the Jews with "making the commandment of God of none effect through your tradition." Hilary the deacon says, "a surfeit to carnal sense is human tradition."

Tradition clogs heavenly perceptions. Ρaradosis is one of the only two nouns in 2,000 in the Greek Testament which numerically equals 666, the mark of the beast ( Revelation 13:18). Tradition is the grand corrupter of doctrine, as "wealth" ( Euporia ;  Acts 19:25, the other equivalent of 666) is of practice. Only those words of the apostles for which they claim inspiration (their words afterward embodied in canonical writing) are inspired, not their every spoken word, e.g. Peter's dissimulation ( Galatians 2:11-14). Oral inspiration was needed until the canon of the written word was completed. The apostles' and evangelists' inspiration is attested by their miracles; their New Testament Scriptures had the additional test without which even miracles would be inconclusive ( Deuteronomy 13:1-6), accordance with the existing Old Testament revelation ( Acts 17:11).

When the canon was complete the infallibility was transferred from living men's inspired sayings to the written word, now the sole unerring guide, interpreted by the Holy Spirit; comparison of Scripture with Scripture being the best commentary ( 1 Corinthians 2:12-16;  1 John 2:20;  1 John 2:27;  John 1:33;  John 3:34;  John 15:26;  John 16:13-14). The most ancient and universal tradition is the all-sufficiency of Scripture for salvation, "that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" ( 2 Timothy 3:15-17). The apostles never appeal to human tradition, always to Scripture ( Acts 15:2;  Acts 15:15-17;  Acts 17:11;  Acts 24:14;  1 Corinthians 15:3-4). If tradition must be followed, then we ought to follow that oldest tradition which casts away all tradition not in, or provable by, Scripture.

We receive the Christian Lord's day and infant baptism not on the inherent authority of the fathers, but on their testimony as witnesses of facts which give force to the infiltrations of Scripture. Tradition can authenticate a fact, but not establish a doctrine. Paul's tradition in  2 Thessalonians 2:15 is inspired, and only continued oral in part until the Scripture canon was completed by John; altogether different from Rome's supplementary oral tradition professing to complete the word which is complete, and which we are forbidden to add to, on penalty of God's plagues written therein ( Revelation 22:18). By adding human tradition Rome becomes parent of antichrist. How remarkable it is that from this very chapter ( 2 Thessalonians 2:15), denouncing antichrist, she draws her argument for tradition which fosters antichristianity. Because the apostles' oral word, whenever they claim inspiration, was as trustworthy as the written word, it does not follow that the oral word of those neither apostles nor inspired is as trustworthy as the written word of those who were apostles or inspired.

No tradition of the apostles except their written word can be proved genuine on certain evidence. The danger of even a genuine oral tradition (Which Scarcely Any Of The So-Called Traditions Are) is illustrated in the "saying" that went abroad among the brethren that John should not die, though Jesus had not said this, but "if I will that he tarry until I come, what is that to thee?" ( John 21:22-23). We are no more bound to accept the fathers' interpretation (Which By The Way Is The Reverse Of Unanimous; But Even Suppose It Were So) of Scripture, because we accept the New Testament canon on their testimony, than to accept the Jews' interpretation of the Old Testament because we accept the Old Testament canon on their testimony; if we were, we should be as bound to reject Jesus, with the Jews, as to reject primitive Scripture Christianity with the apostate church.

See the Church of England Articles 6, 8, 20, 22-34, on the due and the undue place of tradition in the church. What were once universal traditions (E.G. The Epistles For Centuries Ascribed To 11 Popes, From Anacletus, A.D. 101, To Victor I, A.D. 192, Now Universally Admitted To Be Spurious) are no longer so regarded. Whately likened tradition to the Russian game a number sit in a circle, the first reads a short story in the ear of his next neighbour, he repeats it orally to the next, and so on; the last writes it as it, reaches him; the amusement is, when read and compared with the original story it is found wholly metamorphosed, and hardly recognizable as the same story.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [4]

 Colossians 2:8   Titus 1:14 , a doctrine, sentiment, or custom not found in the Bible, but transmitted orally from generation to generation from some presumed inspired authority. In patriarchal times, much that was valuable and obligatory was thus preserved. But tradition has long been superseded by the successive and completed revelations of God's will which form the inspired Scriptures, the only perfect and sufficient rule of belief and practice. With this, even before the time of the Savior,  Isaiah 8:20 , all traditions were to be compared, as being of no value if they conflicted with it, added to it, or took from it,  Revelation 22:19 . The Jews had numerous unwritten traditions, which they affirmed to have been delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, and by him transmitted to Joshua, the judges, and the prophets. After their wars with the Romans under Adrian and Severus, in view of their increasing dispersion over the earth, the Jews desired to secure their traditions by committing them to writing. Accordingly Rabbi Judah "the Holy," composed the Mishna, or second law, the most ancient collection of the Hebrew traditions, about A. D. 190-220.

To this text two commentaries were afterwards added: the Gemara of Jerusalem, probably about A. D. 370; and the Gemara of Babylon, A. D. 500; forming, with the Mishna, the Talmud of Jerusalem and that of Babylon. The contents of these voluminous works poorly remunerate the student of the laborious task of reading them. Our Savior severely censured the adherents of such legendary follies in his own day, and reproached them with preferring the traditions of the elders to the law of God itself, and superstitiously adhering to vain observances while they neglected the most important duties,  Matthew 15:1-20   Mark 7:1-13 . The traditions of the Romish church, with less apology than the ancient Jews had before the New Testament was written, are still more in conflict with the word of God, and still more deserving of the Savior's condemnation.

In  2 Thessalonians 2:15   3:6 , "tradition" means inspired instructions from the lips of those who received them from God, and were authorized to dispense them in his name. These apostolic sayings were obligatory only on those who received them as inspired directly from the apostles. Had any of them come down to our times, the only means of endorsing them must be by showing their agreement with the word of God, since inspiration and miracles have ceased.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [5]

In any society traditions develop as beliefs and practices are handed on from one generation to the next. The Jews of Jesus’ day had many traditions. Some of these had been taught in the law of Moses ( Luke 2:27;  Luke 2:41-42), and others had grown up over the centuries ( Luke 1:9). Many of the later traditions had been developed and taught by the scribes and Pharisees, and brought Jesus into conflict with the Jewish religious leaders ( Matthew 23:4-16; see Scribes ; Pharisees ).

Jesus was not opposed to Jewish traditions. In fact, he kept some of them himself ( Luke 4:16;  John 10:22-23). But he was opposed to the teaching of traditions as binding on people. The Jewish leaders taught human traditions as if they were God’s commandments; worse still, they rejected the genuine commandments of God in order to keep their traditions ( Mark 7:7-13; cf.  Colossians 2:8).

The tradition that Christians are to keep is twofold. First, they must keep the teaching passed down from Jesus through the apostles and recorded in the New Testament ( Acts 2:42;  1 Corinthians 11:23;  1 Corinthians 15:3;  2 Timothy 1:13-14;  Judges 1:3; see Gospel ). Second, they must maintain the standard of behaviour demanded by that teaching ( 1 Corinthians 11:1-2;  Philippians 4:9;  2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6; see Obedience ).

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [6]

1: Παράδοσις (Strong'S #3862 — Noun Feminine — paradosis — par-ad'-os-is )

"a handing down or on" (akin to paradidomi, "to hand over, deliver"), denotes "a tradition," and hence, by metonymy, (a) "the teachings of the rabbis," interpretations of the Law, which was thereby made void in practice,  Matthew 15:2,3,6;  Mark 7:3,5,8,9,13;  Galatians 1:14;  Colossians 2:8; (b) of "apostolic teaching,"  1—Corinthians 11:2 , RV, "traditions" (AV, "ordinances"), of instructions concerning the gatherings of believers (instructions of wider scope than ordinances in the limited sense); in  2—Thessalonians 2:15 , of Christian doctrine in general, where the Apostle's use of the word constitutes a denial that what he preached originated with himself, and a claim for its Divine authority (cp. paralambano, "to receive,"  1—Corinthians 11:23;  15:3 ); in  2—Thessalonians 3:6 , it is used of instructions concerning everyday conduct.

King James Dictionary [7]

TRADI'TION, n. L. traditio, from trado, to deliver.

1. Delivery the act of delivering into the hands of another.

A deed takes effect only from the tradition or delivery.

The sale of a movable is completed by simple tradition.

2. The delivery of opinions,doctrines, practices,rites and customs from father to son, or from ancestors to posterity the transmission of any opinions or practice from forefathers to descendants by oral communication, without written memorials. Thus children derive their vernacular language chiefly from tradition. Most of our early notions are received by tradition from our parents. 3. That which is handed down from age to age by oral communication. The Jews pay great regard to tradition in matters of religion, as do the Romanists. Protestants reject the authority of tradition in sacred things, and rely only on the written word. Traditions may be good or bad, true or false.

Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.  2 Thessalonians 2 .

Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your traditions?  Matthew 15 .

Webster's Dictionary [8]

(1): ( n.) The unwritten or oral delivery of information, opinions, doctrines, practices, rites, and customs, from father to son, or from ancestors to posterity; the transmission of any knowledge, opinions, or practice, from forefathers to descendants by oral communication, without written memorials.

(2): ( n.) The act of delivering into the hands of another; delivery.

(3): ( n.) Hence, that which is transmitted orally from father to son, or from ancestors to posterity; knowledge or belief transmitted without the aid of written memorials; custom or practice long observed.

(4): ( n.) An unwritten code of law represented to have been given by God to Moses on Sinai.

(5): ( n.) That body of doctrine and discipline, or any article thereof, supposed to have been put forth by Christ or his apostles, and not committed to writing.

(6): ( v. t.) To transmit by way of tradition; to hand down.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [9]

Tradition.  Judges 6:13. Tradition is usually considered to imply that which was taught by oral instruction, in distinction from that which was committed to writing. At the beginning of the gospel the Christian doctrine was taught orally. Paul refers to "traditions" which he commands to be held fast, being as binding as any commandments delivered in any other way.  2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6. The Jews had really contradicted God's law by their traditions, which they pretended were of equal or even superior authority. For this our Lord reproved them.  Matthew 15:1-9. They attached more importance to their traditionary exposition of the law than to the law itself, calling the latter water, the tradition the wine that must be mingled with it. Their traditions were subsequently collected into the Talmud.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [10]

Among the Jews, they had certain sayings and opinions supposed to be received from the earliest fathers, and handed down from one generation to another, which they called traditions. And in some instances! they were more tenacious to hold and regard them than even the word of God. Our adorable Lord was constant in reproof concerning them, and hence we find in many parts of the gospel his just condemnation of them, (See  Matthew 15:1-39;  Mark 7:1-37 etc.) It were to be devoutly wished that the weakness, and in some instances the wickedness, of traditions had ceased with Jews and Christians. But the trumpery of legends and reliques; and the like; which some have held with equal veneration to the Scriptures, plainly prove that those things, are in common from the folly and corruption of poor fallen nature, both of Jew and Gentile.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [11]

ταράδοσις. This may be described as that which is handed down as oral teaching. It may be from God, as in  2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6; and  1 Corinthians 11:2 (where it is translated 'ordinance'), instruction handed down before the word of God was complete. Or it may be from man, as was the tradition of the elders of Israel, which was strongly denounced by the Lord, and declared to be a subverting of the commandments of God.   Matthew 15:2-6;  Mark 7:3-13;  Galatians 1:14 . In  Colossians 2:8 it is the mere teaching of the moralists, ofwhich much has survived to the present day. What man institutes, man holds to most tenaciously.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [12]

 Mark 7:3,9,13 Colossians 2:8 2 Thessalonians 2:15 3:6 1 Peter 1:18 Acts 15:10 Matthew 15:2-6 Galatians 1:14

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [13]

Something handed down from one generation to another. Thus the Jews pretended that, besides their written law contained in the Old Testament, Moses had delivered an oral law, which had been conveyed down from father to son; and thus the Roman Catholics are said to value particular doctrines, supposed to have descended from the apostolic times by tradition.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [14]

Tradition . See Law (in Nt), § 1 .

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [15]

See Cabbala .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [16]

( Παράδοσις ), Jewish The Jews pretend that, besides their written law contained in the Pentateuch, God delivered to Moses an oral law, which was handed down from generation to generation. The various decisions of the Jewish doctors or priests on points which the law had either left doubtful or passed over in silence were the true sources of their traditions. They did not commit their numerous traditions (which appear to have been a long time in accumulating) to writing before their wars against the Romans under Hadrian and Severus. The Mishna, the Gemara, and perhaps the Masorah were collected by the rabbins of Tiberias and later schools. (See Rabbinism).

Many of their false traditions were in direct opposition to the law of God; hence our Savior often reproached the Pharisees with preferring them to the law itself. He also gives several instances of their superstitious adherence to vain observances, while they neglected essential things ( Matthew 15:2-3;  Mark 7:3-13). The only way in which we can know satisfactorily that any tradition is of divine authority is by its having a place in those writings which are generally acknowledged to be the genuine productions of inspired men. All traditions which have not such authority are without value, and tend greatly to detract and mislead the minds of men ( 2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6).

In this respect, however, a notable division existed among the Jews themselves, which has been transmitted to the modern representatives of the two great parties. The leading tenet of the Sadducees was the negation of the leading tenet of their opponents. As the Pharisees asserted, so the Sadducees denied, that the Israelites were in possession of an oral law transmitted to them by Moses. The manner in which the Pharisees may have gained acceptance for their own view is noticed elsewhere in this work, (See Pharisee); but, for an equitable estimate of the Sadducees, it is proper to bear in mind emphatically how destitute of historical evidence the doctrine was which they denied. That doctrine is, at the, present day, rejected, probably by almost all, if not by all, Christians; and it is, indeed, so foreign to their ideas that the greater number of Christians have never even heard of it, though it is older than Christianity, and has been the support and consolation of the Jews under a series of the most cruel and wicked persecutions to which any nation has ever been exposed during an equal number of centuries. It is likewise now maintained all over the world by those who are called the orthodox Jews.

It is therefore desirable to know the kind of arguments by which, at the present day, in a historical and critical age, the doctrine is defended. For this an opportunity has lately been given by a learned French Jew, grand-rabbi of the circumscription of Colmar (Klein, Le Judaisme, ou la Veriti sur le Talmud [Mulhouse, 1859]), who still asserts as a fact the existence of a Mosaic oral law. To do full justice to his views, the original work should be perused. But it is doing no injustice to-his learning and ability to point out that not one of his arguments has a positive historical value. Thus he relies mainly on the inconceivability (as will be again noticed in this article) that a divine revelation should not have explicitly proclaimed the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, or that it should have promulgated laws left in such an incomplete form and requiring so much explanation, and so many additions as the laws in the Pentateuch. Now arguments of this kind may be sound or unsound; based on reason or illogical; and for many they may have a philosophical or theological value; but they have no pretence to he regarded as historical, inasmuch as the assumed premises, which involve a knowledge of the attributes of the Supreme Being and the manner in which he would be likely to deal with man, are far beyond the limits of historical verification.

The nearest approach to a historical argument is the following (p. 10): "In the first place, nothing proves better the fact of the existence of the tradition than the belief itself in the tradition. An entire nation does not suddenly forget its religious code, its principles, its laws, the daily ceremonies of its worship to such a point that it could easily be persuaded that a new doctrine presented by some impostors is the true and only explanation of its law and has always determined and ruled its application. Holy Writ often represents the Israelites as a stiff-necked people impatient of the religious yoke; and would it not be attributing to them rather an excess of docility, a too great condescension, a blind obedience, to suppose that they suddenly consented to troublesome and rigorous innovations which some persons might have wished to impose on them some fine morning? Such a supposition destroys itself, and we are obliged to acknowledge that the tradition is not a new invention, but that its birth goes back to the origin of the religion; and that, transmitted from father to son as the word of God, it lived in the heart of the people, identified itself with the blood, and was always considered as an inviolable authority." But, if this passage is carefully examined, it will be seen that it does not supply a single fact worthy of being regarded as a proof of a Mosaic oral law. Independent testimony of persons contemporary with Moses that he had transmitted such a law to the Israelites would be historical evidence; the testimony of persons in the next generation as to the existence of such an oral law which their fathers told them came from Moses would have been secondary historical evidence: but the belief of the Israelites on the point twelve hundred years after Moses cannot, in the absence of any intermediate testimony, be deemed evidence of a historical fact.

Moreover, it is a mistake to assume that they who deny a Mosaic oral law; imagine that this oral law was at some one time as one great system introduced suddenly among the Israelites. The real mode of conceiving what occurred is far different. After the return from, the Captivity, there existed probably among the Jews a large body of customs and decisions not contained in the Pentateuch; and these had practical authority over the people long before they were attributed to Moses. The only phenomenon of importance requiring explanation is, not the existence of the customs sanctioned by the oral law, but the belief accepted by a certain portion of the Jews that Moses had divinely revealed those customs as laws to the Israelites. To explain this historically from written records is impossible, from the silence on the subject of the very scanty historical Jewish writings purporting to be written between the return from the Captivity in B.C. 536 and that uncertain period when the canon was finally closed, which probably could not have been very long before the death of Antiochus Epiphanies, B.C. 164. For all this space of time, a period of about three hundred and seventy-two years, a period as long as from the accession of Henry VIII to the present day, we have no Hebrew account, nor, in fact, any contemporary account, of the history of the Jews in Palestine, except what may be contained in the short works entitled Ezra and Nehemiah. The last named of these works does not carry the history much later than one hundred years after the return from the Captivity; so that there is a long and extremely important period of more than two centuries and a half before the heroic rising of the Maccabees during which there is a total absence of contemporary Jewish history. In this dearth of historical materials, it is idle to attempt a positive narration of the circumstances under which the oral law became assigned to Moses as its author. It is amply sufficient if a satisfactory suggestion is made as to how it might have been attributed to Moses; and in this there is not much difficulty for any one who bears in mind how notoriously in ancient times laws of a much later date were attributed to Minos, Lycurgus, Solon, and Numa.

Under this head we may add that it must not be assumed that the Sadducees, because they rejected a Mosaic oral law, rejected likewise all traditions and all decisions in explanation of passages in the Pentateuch. Although they protested against the assertion that such points had been divinely settled by Moses, they probably, in numerous instances, followed practically the same traditions as the Pharisees. (See Sadducee).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

tra - dish´un  : The Greek word is παράδοσις , parádosis , "a giving over," either by word of mouth or in writing; then that which is given over, i.e. tradition, the teaching that is handed down from one to another. The word does not occur in the Hebrew Old Testament (except in   Jeremiah 39 (32):4; 41 (34):2, used in another sense), or in the Septuagint or the Apocrypha (except in 2 Esdras 7:26, used in a different sense), but is found 13 times in the New Testament (  Matthew 15:2 ,  Matthew 15:3 ,  Matthew 15:6;  Mark 7:3 ,  Mark 7:5 ,  Mark 7:8 ,  Mark 7:9 ,  Mark 7:13;  1 Corinthians 11:2;  Galatians 1:14;  Colossians 2:8;  2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6 ).

1. Meaning in Jewish Theology:

The term in the New Testament has apparently three meanings. It means, in Jewish theology, the oral teachings of the elders (distinguished ancestors from Moses on) which were reverenced by the late Jews equally with the written teachings of the Old Testament, and were regarded by them as equally authoritative on matters of belief and conduct. There seem to be three classes of these oral teachings: ( a ) some oral laws of Moses (as they supposed) given by the great lawgiver in addition to the written laws; ( b ) decisions of various judges which became precedents in judicial matters; ( 100 ) interpretations of great teachers (rabbis) which came to be prized with the same reverence as were the Old Testament Scriptures.

It was against the tradition of the elders in this first sense that Jesus spoke so pointedly to the scribes and Pharisees ( Matthew 15:2 f;   Mark 7:3 f). The Pharisees charged Jesus with transgressing "the tradition of the elders." Jesus turned on them with the question, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?" He then shows how their hollow traditionalism has fruited into mere ceremonialism and externalism (washing of hands, vessels, saying "Corban" to a suffering parent, i.e. "My property is devoted to God, and therefore I cannot use it to help you," etc.), but He taught that this view of uncleanness was essentially false, since the heart, the seat of the soul, is the source of thought, character and conduct (  Mark 7:14 f).

2. As Used in 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians:

The word is used by Paul when referring to his personal Christian teachings to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica ( 1 Corinthians 11:2;  2 Thessalonians 2:15;  2 Thessalonians 3:6 ). In this sense the word in the singular is better translated "instruction," signifying the body of teaching delivered by the apostle to the church at Thessalonica ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ). But Paul in the other two passages uses it in the plural, meaning the separate instructions which he delivered to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica.

3. As Used in Colossians:

The word is used by Paul in  Colossians 2:8 in a sense apparently different from the two senses above. He warns his readers against the teachings of the false teachers in Colosse, which are "after the tradition of men." Olshausen, Lightfoot, Dargan, in their commentaries in the place cited., maintain that the reference is to the Judaistic character of the false teachers. This may be true, and yet we must see that the word "tradition" has a much broader meaning here than in 1 above. Besides, it is not certain that the false teachings at Colosse are essentially Jewish in character. The phrase "tradition of men" seems to emphasize merely the human , not necessarily Jewish, origin of these false teachings.

The verb παραδίδωμι , paradı́dōmi , "to give over," is also used 5 times to express the impartation of Christian instruction:   Luke 1:2 , where eyewitnesses are said to have handed down the things concerning Jesus;  1 Corinthians 11:2 ,  1 Corinthians 11:23 and   1 Corinthians 15:3 referring to the apostle's personal teaching;   2 Peter 2:21 , to instruction by some Christian teacher (compare  1 Peter 1:18 ).


Broadus, Allen, Meyer, commentaries on  Matthew 15:2 f; Swete, Gould, commentaries on Mk (  Mark 7:3 f); Lightfoot, Meyer, commentaries on   Galatians 1:14; Lightfoot, Olshausen, Dargan ( American Commentary ), commentaries on  Colossians 2:8; Milligan, commentary on 1 and 2 Thess ( 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and   2 Thessalonians 3:6 ); Weber, Jewish Theology (Ger., Altsyn. Theol .); Pocock, Porta Mosis , 350-402; Schurer, HJP , II, i, section 25; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , II, chapter xxxi; Josephus, Ant. , Xiii , x, 6.