In the New Testament we read accounts about the criticism that Jesus received from the Pharisees. They criticized Jesus in part because he and his disciples did not follow the Pharisees’ traditions (Matthew 15). It is easy for modern-day Christians to scoff at the traditions of the Pharisees. Yet, modern-day Christians have their own traditions, and those traditions do not necessarily conform to what the Bible teaches.
For example, at one time Christians in the USA were told that each Christian receives a mansion as a heavenly reward. This belief was based on the KJV Bible’s use of the word mansions in John 14:2. Unfortunately, what the word mansion meant in 17th-Century England is not what the word means in the USA.
When the KJV Bible was first published, the word mansion referred to a room within a house. In the USA, the definition of mansion was changed. Instead of referring to a room within a house, the word now referred to a large luxurious house with numerous rooms. So, when Christians in the USA were told that they had mansions waiting for them in Heaven, they believed that each of them would receive a large luxurious house with numerous rooms, which is not what John 14:2 teaches.
Although the mansion-in-Heaven tradition has faded with time, another inaccurate church tradition still continues. It is the claim that Moses parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross it. This tradition is based on an inaccurate translation of the ancient Hebrew name Yam Suph. The literal translation of Yam Suph is Sea of Reeds, which is the translation still used by rabbis.
Rabbi Sam Shor writes, “The parting of the Sea of Reeds left such an indelible mark on the Jewish conscience, that even after the Jewish People had traversed the Sea and had seen the cessation of this supernatural event, they were acutely aware of the presence of G-d, even in the subtle, less obvious miracles that occur each and every day.”
In a research paper published by American Scientific Affiliation (a Christian organization), geologist William Tanner uses both biblical and geological data to explain why the correct translation of Yam Suph is Sea of Reeds instead of Red Sea. Tanner also explains why the Sea of Reeds is not the Red Sea, but instead is another, smaller body of water within Egypt. Tanner concludes his paper with the following commentary:
One of the most interesting aspects of this discussion is not whether “Sea of Reeds” is correct (it is, as is easy to verify), but rather why translators continue to use “Red Sea,” when the manuscripts provide a totally different identification, and when the additional details in the available sources require “Sea of Reeds” and do not permit “Red Sea.” How is it that, in many versions, the correct rendition can be given in footnotes, but not in the main text? How does a scholar justify a deliberate switch? And how does the reader, who has no access to the ancient languages, know which version is correct?
Perhaps the worst tradition found in churches is the one which says, “God would never allow the clergy of my church to teach a false doctrine.” This particular egotistical tradition crept into the universal Church after the end of the apostolic era, and it continues to be promoted by certain parties who have placed their faith in the flesh of the fallible sinners who serve as their clergy.
Again the Bible refutes such a tradition. In Isaiah 55:8, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” It is a mistake for any people to assume that they know exactly what God would do and exactly what God would never do. God chose to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21). God chooses to make certain people deaf, mute and blind for reasons that humans don’t understand (Exodus 4:11). In Romans 9:21, the Apostle Paul writes, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”
The ancient Israelites were God’s chosen people whom he delivered from Egyptian bondage, and yet he permitted their leaders to stray away from the teachings of the written Torah, which resulted in them becoming captives of Babylon. The Pharisees of the First Century C.E. were devoted to their religious beliefs and were certain that God sided with them. Yet, Jesus pointed out that they were violating the written command of God for the sake of their tradition (Matthew 15:1-3).
So, the record of history shows that God would indeed permit members of clergy to march lock-step in groupthink into promoting doctrinal error, whether those clergy be Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Protestant. The claim that one’s own church or denomination is immune from doctrinal error is a false claim based on wishful thinking.
Gone are the days when clergy tried to prevent common people from reading the Bible in their own languages for fear that the latter would discover the doctrinal errors of the former. Thus, Christians are free to read the Bible themselves and not let clergy dictate to them how to interpret what they read. Yet, some Christians give up that freedom, just as some Christians give up their God-given right to pray directly to God in the name of Jesus. The lure of tradition is just too strong for some people to overcome, even if a tradition conflicts with the teaching of the Bible.
The aforementioned traditions are just samples of the traditional teachings found in some churches. Although they are flawed, the aforementioned traditions were given life by clergy and other religious teachers, and ill-informed church members accepted the traditions without question.
That is the trouble with church traditions. They can take root even if they are flawed because clergy and other religious teachers promote the traditions, and clergy and other religious teachers are just as carnal and flawed as the people who sit in church pews. For this reason, one needs to use critical thinking when reading or hearing what clergy and other religious teachers have to say. Christian author James R. White says it best:
We all have our traditions. Yes, even those who claim to “go by the Bible alone” have their traditions, and the more aware we are of our traditions, the more fully we can test them by Scripture. Those who are blind to their own traditions are the least likely to be fully biblical in their beliefs. We all must constantly test our faith by Scripture, and we must pray for a willingness to abandon those beliefs that are found to be contrary to God’s revealed truth.
Shor, S. (2006). Making the most of Miraculous Moments; Celebrating the Gift of G-d’s Incredible Kindness… Timely Torah. Retrieved from http://isralight.org/assets/Text/RSS_yomyerushalayim06.html
Tanner, W.F. (1998). Did Israel Cross the Red Sea? The American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved from http://www.asa3.org/asa/PSCF/1998/PSCF9-98Tanner.html
White, J.R. (1995). The King James Only Controversy. Minneapolis: Bethany House.