Is the Bible more authoritative than traditions?

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By BibleAsk Team


The question of whether the Bible is more authoritative than traditions is a significant one within Christianity, touching on the very foundation of faith and practice. The Bible itself provides ample guidance on the issue, emphasizing the supremacy of Scripture over human traditions. This essay will explore the biblical basis for the authority of Scripture, examine how traditions can sometimes conflict with biblical teachings, and affirm why the Bible must be regarded as the ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice.

Biblical Basis for the Authority of Scripture

1. Divine Inspiration of Scripture

The Bible asserts its own divine inspiration, claiming that its words are not merely human inventions but are God-breathed. This is foundational for understanding its authority.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV):

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This passage clearly indicates that Scripture originates from God and is therefore inherently authoritative. It is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction, making it the ultimate guide for believers.

2. Enduring Nature of God’s Word

The Bible emphasizes the enduring nature of God’s Word, contrasting it with the fleeting nature of human traditions and opinions.

Isaiah 40:8 (NKJV):

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”

This verse highlights the permanence of Scripture, suggesting that while human traditions may change and fade, the Word of God remains constant and reliable.

Matthew 24:35 (NKJV):

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

The law can’t change because it is an expression of the will of God. “But the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8, NKJV). A change in the moral law is no more possible than a transformation of the character of God, who changes not (Malachi 3:6). The principles of the moral law are as permanent as God is. Jesus Himself underscores the eternal nature of His words, further establishing the Bible’s enduring authority over any human tradition.

The great point of contention between Christ and the Jewish religious leaders at His time was about the traditions by which they interpreted God’s holy law (Mark 1:22, 44; 2:19, 24; 7:1–14; Luke 6:9). Christ made it clear that it was not He but rather they who were destroying the law, making it of none effect by their traditions (Matthew 15:3, 6, 9; Mark 7:13).

Christ declared, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17,18, NKJV). By fulfilling the law Christ simply “filled” it “full” of meaning—by giving men an example of perfect obedience to the will of God, in order that the same law “might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3, 4).

Christ had not come to abolish any part of the Moral law which He Himself had given (Exodus 20:1-17). God will not modify or alter His expressed will. His word will accomplish His good purpose, and prosper (Isaiah 55:11). There can be no change in the divine precepts to bring them into conformity to man’s traditions.

Jesus the great Lawgiver Himself thus reaffirmed the Ten Commandments as binding upon His followers, and announced that anyone who would attempt to cancel them would in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). When Christ spoke of His coming to fulfill the law and the prophets, He was referring to the ceremonial laws of Moses (sacrifices, temple ceremonies, annual sabbath feasts) that pointed to Him as the Messiah (Luke 24:44). These were abolished at the cross (Colossians 2:4-17; Ephesians 2:15).

3. Jesus’ View on Scripture

Jesus frequently referred to the Scriptures as the ultimate authority, often using phrases like “It is written” to settle disputes and clarify teachings.

Matthew 4:4 (NKJV):

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”‘”

Here, Jesus emphasizes reliance on God’s Word for spiritual sustenance, placing Scripture above physical needs and implicitly above human traditions.

John 17:17 (NKJV):

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”

In His high priestly prayer, Jesus identifies God’s Word as the ultimate truth, underscoring its sanctifying power and authority.

Conflict Between Scripture and Tradition

1. Traditions of Men vs. Commandments of God

The Bible frequently warns against elevating human traditions above God’s commandments, which can lead to empty worship and the nullification of God’s Word.

Mark 7:6-9 (NKJV):

“He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors 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—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.’ He said to them, ‘All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.'”

Jesus critiques the Pharisees for prioritizing their traditions over God’s commands, demonstrating how human traditions can lead to a hollow and misguided practice of faith.

2. Nullifying God’s Word

Human traditions can sometimes nullify or contradict God’s Word, leading believers away from true obedience.

Colossians 2:8 (NKJV):

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Paul warns the Colossian church against being led astray by human traditions and philosophies that are not rooted in Christ, emphasizing the need to adhere strictly to the teachings of Scripture.

3. Paul’s View on Tradition

While Paul acknowledges the existence of traditions, he distinguishes between those that align with the gospel and those that do not.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NKJV):

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”

Here, Paul refers to traditions directly derived from apostolic teaching, indicating that these are authoritative only because they originate from the truth of the gospel and are consistent with Scripture.

Why the Bible Must Be the Ultimate Authority

1. Scripture as the Final Arbiter

The Bible often presents itself as the final authority in matters of faith and conduct, a principle that guides believers away from the potentially misleading influence of human traditions.

Acts 17:11 (NKJV):

“These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

The Bereans are commended for verifying teachings against Scripture, illustrating the principle that all doctrines and traditions must be measured against the Bible.

2. Clarity and Sufficiency of Scripture

The Bible is clear and sufficient for teaching the essential truths of the faith, providing all that is necessary for salvation and godly living.

Psalm 119:105 (NKJV):

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

This metaphor indicates that Scripture provides clear guidance for believers, illuminating their path and ensuring they walk in accordance with God’s will.

2 Peter 1:3 (NKJV):

“As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.”

Peter affirms that through the knowledge provided in Scripture, believers have everything they need for life and godliness, reinforcing the sufficiency of God’s Word.

3. Infallibility of Scripture

The Bible’s infallibility means it is without error in its teachings, which is not always true of human traditions.

John 10:35 (NKJV):

“If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken),”

Jesus emphasizes the unbreakable and infallible nature of Scripture, highlighting its authority and reliability.

Practical Implications for Believers

1. Prioritizing Scripture in Personal Life

Believers are encouraged to immerse themselves in the Bible, allowing it to shape their beliefs and actions more than any human tradition.

Joshua 1:8 (NKJV):

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

Meditating on Scripture and observing its commands leads to prosperity and success in a spiritual sense, demonstrating the practical benefits of prioritizing God’s Word.

2. Testing Traditions Against Scripture

All traditions and teachings should be tested against the Bible to ensure they align with God’s revealed truth.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV):

“Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

Paul advises the Thessalonians to test everything, including traditions, and to hold onto what is good, which can only be determined through the lens of Scripture.

3. Scripture as the Foundation of Teaching and Doctrine

Church teachings and doctrines must be firmly grounded in Scripture to maintain their authority and truth.

2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NKJV):

“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

Paul’s charge to Timothy underscores the importance of preaching the Word of God and adhering to sound doctrine, warning against the dangers of teachings that deviate from the truth of Scripture.

Historical Context and the Reformation

1. The Role of Tradition in Church History

Throughout church history, traditions have played a significant role in shaping Christian practice and belief. However, there have been times when these traditions conflicted with biblical teachings, leading to calls for reform.

2. The Reformation and Sola Scriptura

The Protestant Reformation was a pivotal moment in church history that emphasized the authority of Scripture over tradition. The principle of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) was central to the Reformers’ critique of the Roman Catholic Church, which had elevated traditions and papal authority to a level equal to or above that of the Bible.

Martin Luther’s Stand: Martin Luther famously declared at the Diet of Worms in 1521:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

Luther’s stance was that Scripture alone should be the final authority in matters of faith, challenging the traditions and teachings that had strayed from biblical truths.

3. Impact on Modern Christianity

The emphasis on Scripture’s authority continues to influence many Christian denominations today, particularly within Protestantism. The call to return to the Bible as the ultimate guide for faith and practice remains a cornerstone of many evangelical traditions.

Conclusion

The Bible’s authority over traditions is firmly rooted in its divine inspiration, enduring nature, and the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Scripture is presented as the final arbiter in matters of faith and conduct, providing clear and sufficient guidance for believers. Human traditions, while they can have value, must always be tested against the Word of God to ensure they do not lead believers astray.

By prioritizing Scripture, testing traditions, and grounding church teachings in the Bible, Christians can maintain the purity of their faith and ensure their practices align with God’s will. The historical context of the Reformation underscores the importance of this principle, reminding believers of the need to continually return to Scripture as the ultimate authority.

In sum, the Bible’s authority is unparalleled, providing a reliable, infallible, and eternal foundation for Christian faith and practice. Believers are called to hold fast to the Word of God, allowing it to guide and shape every aspect of their lives.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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