The Authority of Scripture
May 26, 2019
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ n and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Illumination:
Living God, help us to hear your holy Word with open hearts so that we may truly understand; and, understanding, that we may believe; and, believing, that we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience, seeking your honor and glory in all that we do. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
“I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” Basketball star Kyrie Irving uttered those words two years ago right before saying that the earth was flat. In the last several years, there has been an increase in conspiracy theories. Most notably there has been an increase in people who believe that the earth is flat, like Kyrie Irving, and people who believe that vaccines cause autism.
What is behind the rise in conspiracy theories is a rejection of authority. Flat earthers reject the authority of physicists and NASA. Anti-vaccers reject the authority of the CDC and doctors.
While the rejection of NASA’s authority and the authority of medical personnel is mostly on the fringes, as a culture we reject the authority of the bible. A friend of mine has been teaching a series of classes at the church he pastors. One of the first classes he taught was on the authority of the bible. And in the class, he said things similar to what I say. He said that the bible is authoritative and is God’s word to us, without error in the original manuscripts.
After the class, someone came up to him and asked him how he could be so certain that the bible is authoritative. He pointed out that we have more manuscripts of the bible that are in better condition than we do for any other ancient document. The person responded that didn’t prove the bible was any more authoritative than any other religious text. This person denied the authority of the bible.
In this passage, Jesus tells us that we need to ascribe to the authority of the bible and we need to understand its primary purpose.
The Authority of the Bible
The conflict in this passage revolves around the tension about what has more authority; the traditions of the elders or the Scriptures? The Pharisees and the teachers of the law saw that the disciples weren’t following the traditions of the elders.
Now, it’s not that Jesus is against tradition in general. Tradition isn’t inherently a bad thing. My family had a tradition growing up. Every Christmas, we would go to the late service and then drive around the neighborhood looking at all of the lights.
Here at Murphy Presbyterian Church, we have a tradition of going to the lake every July and have a service there. We have a tradition of having our worship service at 11. Those sorts of tradition allow for stability in a culture. Jesus and the bible aren’t against those types of traditions.
What Jesus is speaking against is placing more authority in tradition than in the bible. The traditions that the Pharisees were referring to had developed over time. They were ways to explain and apply Scripture.
“You can do this on the Sabbath. You can’t do that on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, you can only walk this far.”
“Avoid these people to stay pure. If you come in contact with these people, you need to cleanse yourself like this.”
Over time these traditions came to be more authoritative than Scripture. Jesus gives us two examples of these traditions that had come to be more authoritative than Scripture. The first has to do with washing. That was the inciting incident. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law saw that the disciples were not washing themselves according to the tradition of the elders.
The washing that the elders are talking about is not like the washing we do before we eat. They are talking about ceremonial washing. According to the bible, only priests needed to wash themselves as a sign of ceremonial purity. And they only needed to do that when they would come before God in worship.
Tradition had grown up that everyone needed to purify themselves in washing. When someone came back from the market, they needed to wash themselves ceremonially. Their cups and pots needed to be ceremonially washed. Even their couches needed to be ceremonially washed. Why? Because a Gentile might have touched something and might render them ceremonially unclean.
That was the tradition that had grown up around washing and Gentiles. But bible, the Old Testament, makes clear that Israel and then the Jews were to be a light to the Gentiles. Isaiah 42 says “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind”.
Israel was supposed to be a shining city on a hill. It was supposed to be a nation where God’s glory and majesty were seen by everyone. And all the nations were supposed to stream to Israel to hear the good news. But the tradition about being ceremonially pure prevented that from happening. If coming into contact with a Gentile rendered someone ceremonially unclean and ceremonial cleanness was required of all people, then the Jews wouldn’t want to interact with Gentiles.
The tradition of ceremonially washing had become more authoritative than the bible. The Jews were more concerned with their tradition that said everyone needed to ceremonially clean than actually following the bible.
The second example that Jesus gives us of tradition being more authoritative than the bible is found in verses 9-13. Jesus talks about something called Corban. In the bible, God’s claim supersedes everything else. If God has a claim on something, it is his.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law had found a loophole. In the Old Testament there is something known as a kinsman redeemer. A kinsman redeemer was someone who could help a family member in hardship. If parents are in a financial hardship, the oldest adult son is the kinsman redeemer. That is a way children were to honor their parents.
The idea of Corban developed. Corban is essentially deferred giving to God. Tradition developed that someone could give their land or their money to God as Corban. Someone could declare their property was Corban and therefore couldn’t be used to redeem their parents. The tradition had become more authoritative than the bible.
Jesus says it’s not just these two areas where tradition has become more authoritative than the bible. He says “you do many things like that”. This is a prevalent issue.
What does Jesus say about that? Verse 8 “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions”. Do you see what Jesus is saying? Jesus is saying that the bible is supposed to be authoritative; the bible is supposed to have the final say.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus frequently says “it is written”. He has an incredibly high view of the bible. The bible for Jesus is our authority. All other traditions must be in line with and submit to the bible.
In Matthew 5, Jesus says “until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law”. Maybe you remember the old King James translation of it. The King James says “not a jot, not a tittle”. A jot is the smallest letter in Hebrew. It is a yod. In Greek it’s an iota, a small little letter. A tittle is a part of the letter. Jesus is saying very clearly that the bible, even in the smallest letter and smallest part of a letter, is authoritative.
It’s easy for us to look and see that the Roman Catholic Church makes tradition more authoritative than the bible. That was a big reason as to why the Reformation began in the 1500s. The Catholic Church had developed a tradition around indulgences. If someone sinned, they could come and buy an indulgence so their sin was atoned for. Or someone could buy an indulgence and get time removed from a loved one in purgatory. Tradition had become more important than the bible.
Are there areas where we do that? Are there areas in your life where tradition is more important than what the bible says? Are there areas in our worship where we put tradition above the bible?
If you follow Jesus, then you should have the same view of the bible that Jesus has. The bible should be authoritative for you just as it is for Jesus.
Maybe you’re wondering, “What if the bible says something that goes against my traditions? What if it says something against my political, social, or spiritual traditions? What then?” The bible will say things that challenge your traditions. If you’re a liberal, you will read things that challenge your liberal traditions. If you’re a conservative, you will read things that will challenge your conservative traditions.
And if you follow Jesus, you will let the bible challenge your beliefs and correct you. The bible will be authoritative to you in all you say and do.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Can’t I just follow Jesus and not have to worry about the parts of the bible I don’t like? Do I really need to let the bible be authoritative to follow Jesus?” The answer is yes. To follow Jesus means to believe what he believes and hold authoritative what he holds authoritative. So you can’t follow Jesus and not believe the bible to be authoritative.
The Primary Purpose of the Bible
Once you recognize the authority of the bible, you will see the primary purpose of the bible. In verses six and seven, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah 29. Isaiah writes, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” The primary purpose of the bible is to reveal God’s saving activity and for us to respond in love.
So often we read the bible as a how-to manual. We read the bible and think, “I need to do this, I need to do that and then God will accept me”. And then where the bible isn’t completely clear on something like how to Sabbath, we create rules and regulations. Then those rules and regulations become traditions which have more authority than the bible. Reading the bible like this makes it a how-to manual on saving ourselves.
The other way to read the bible, the way we’re supposed to read it, is about God. The bible is the story of God redeeming his people for his pleasure. The very first words of the bible are “in the beginning God”. This is God’s story. And then when Adam and Eve disobey and sin enters the world, the bible is still the story of God. God promises Eve that she will have a seed who through whom God redeems his people. The rest of the bible is the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan. It is about him and the salvation found only in him.
When we recognize that the bible is about God and that we’re supposed to read it as his story everything changes. It reveals that we are completely and utterly unable to be our own savior. We’ll see all the little ways that we sin; that sin is not just an abnormality but who we are. We will taste just how repulsive our sin it is. Our sin will become like a cup of coffee filled with grounds, bitter and disgusting.
But it will also reveal the sweetness of God’s salvation. We will read from Genesis to Revelation how God is redeeming his people. We will see that the Old Testament is how God is preparing his people for the redemption found in him and that the New Testament is the result of that redemption. We’ll see the place where God redeems his people is at the cross. On the cross, Jesus, God-incarnate, died so that all who would believe – past, present, and future – wouldn’t die in their sin; that they would be redeemed out of it. That is the primary purpose of the bible, to reveal God’s saving activity. And when we understand that, the salvation found in Christ becomes sweeter than honey; it becomes more intoxicating that wine.
It is when we see the primary purpose of the bible that we then respond in love. We will not longer honor God with our lips; our worship will no longer be in vain. We will love God will all our heart, with all our strength, and with all our mind.
We will no longer go through the motions in worship. We will come into worship and when we sing songs of praise and adoration, our hearts will be filled with adoration for God. We will adore God because we know who he is and how he has redeemed us. We will willingly confess our sin. We won’t do it just because I have it in the bulletin. We’ll do it because we love God. We’ll confess saying, “Lord, I love you. But not everything I’ve done this week, or today, or even this hour has shown my love. Lord, help me to love you in all I say, do, and think”.
Our hearts will be near God and so we will want everything we say, do, and think to reveal that. And so we’ll go to the bible to learn his ways, to see how it is people who love God live. The bible will become authoritative to us.
And as we read, those passage that we once questioned their authoritativeness will be the passages that correct us. We will read them and say, “Oh my. Lord, my tradition of thinking like this has caused me to sin. Lord, forgive me. Cause me to live in closer accordance with your word.” The passages that once offended us will be guides to us.
I hope you’re seeing there is this wonderful cyclical nature to this. We start off saying the bible is authoritative. So we read it. And as we read it, we see the purpose of the bible; God’s saving activity. That will cause us to love him more. This will cause us to make the bible more authoritative.
As someone who follows Jesus, the bible will be authoritative; even the parts that challenge us. But because it is authoritative, we will read it and see the primary purpose of the bible is to show God’s saving activity. And as we see that, we will respond in love.