"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.X No.XI Pg.12-15
November 1948

Authority In Religion

Early Arceneaux

It is just as essential to be right religiously as it is to be religious. This proposition must be approved by common sense. And it certainly must be accepted as true by every man who believes the Bible is what it claims to be, the authoritative word of God. There runs through the Bible the story of the conflict between genuine, divinely approved religion and counterfeit, humanly approved religion.

When God placed man in the garden of Eden, he spoke to him. He told him what he wanted him to do. He also issued one prohibition. He forbade his eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God thus placed before Adam a reminder that he was under authority. He must let that fruit alone because, and only because God said, "Of it thou mayest not eat." Thus the principle was established in the very beginning that when God speaks, man must hear; when God commands, man must obey.

"And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto Jehovah. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect." (Genesis 4:3-5).

God is no respecter of persons, but he respects character and conduct and respect for his authority. We are very plainly told in the New Testament that Abel's offering was "more excellent" than Cain's and why. It is all summed up in two words... "by faith" — "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect to his gifts: and through it he being dead yet speaketh." (Heb. 11:14). Cain and Abel were both believers in God. In that sense they both had faith. They were both religious. They both offered sacrifice to God. What was the difference? By faith Abel offered." "By faith" modifies offered. His offering was an act of faith. That can mean but one thing. He offered what God had required. He offered by faith. But faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). "By faith" also tells us why his offering was more excellent than Cain's. Then, of course Cain's offering was not by faith. He did not offer the same thing. Abel offered animal sacrifice. But he offered by faith. Therefore God had required the animal sacrifice. Cain offered fruit. He did not offer what God required. Therefore he did not offer by faith. An unauthorized act cannot be done "by faith". If it could, to say an act was done by faith would signify nothing.

In such case there would not have been any difference between the offerings of Cain and Abel. But there was a vast difference. God accepted one and rejected the other. In Cain's case we have the "genesis" of "will worship" and innovation, the beginning of substitution of what man wills, and is pleased to do, instead of what God requires. It is a fearful thing to have one's worship of God rejected.

Man in the beginning knew God. But he forgot God and went into idolatry (Romans 1:18-23). He professed to be wise and became a fool. He substituted human reason for divine revelation. But he was still religious. Paul said to idolaters at Athens, "I perceive ye are very religious" (Acts 17:22). They had Gods many and lords many. They worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator. They had the wrong kind of religion and were without God and without hope in the world (Ephesians 2:11, 12).

Let us look more closely at the significance of this little phrase, "by faith", "By faith Noah prepared an ark" (Heb. 11:7). It so happens we have a very clear exposition of the meaning of this sentence in the account in Genesis of Noah's building the ark. God commanded him to build the ark. Without this command he could not have built it "by faith." He was commanded to build it of gopher wood. He could not have used any other material "by faith" (Gen. 6:14). God also said, "This is how thou shalt build it" (Gen. 6:15). "Plans and specifications" were given. Now Paul says Noah prepared the ark "by faith". But Moses has told us, "Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he." (Gen. 6:22). In this case "by faith" includes complete obedience, and nothing else. The same thought appears in Heb. 11:8, "By faith" Abraham obeyed."

After mankind had gone into idolatry, God called Abraham to be the head of a chosen race. The mission of this race was to preserve the knowledge of the true God in the world and to maintain true religion. It was in response to this call that Abraham "obeyed by faith" to go where Jehovah directed him to go. When God promised Abraham that he would make of him a great nation, Abraham, in spite of apparently insurmountable natural obstacles, believed God. In fulfillment of the promise Isaac was born. "And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him, take now thy sonIsaacand offer him for a burnt offering." (Gen. 22:1, 2). Abraham was in the act of carrying out the command when the angel of the Lord called upon him and said, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, for now I know that thou fearest God (Gen. 22:11, 12). "And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith Jehovah, because thou halt done this thing, and hast not withheld thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:15-18). Have you thought this great gospel promise (Gal. 3:8) was unconditional? If you would like further proof that it was conditional, read what God said to Isaac, "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen. 26:4, 5).

"By faith Abraham offered up Isaac" (Heb. 11:17). He did it only because God commanded him to do it. Do you think he could have sacrificed Isaac "by faith" if God had not commanded him to offer his son? "Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the demons also believe, and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect; and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified and not only by faith." (James 2:19-24).

We come to God by faith. He that cometh to God must believe that God is and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after him. Without faith it is impossible to please him. But, "that which Israel seeketh for, that he obtained not" (Rom. 17:7). "But Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Wherefore (why)? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works." (Rom. 9:30-33) they rejected Christ, they did not obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16); they did not submit to the righteousness of God, but sought to establish their own ('Rom. 10:3), and were lost. Believing in God (Heb. 11:6) is one thing. Coming to God is another thing. But we must come in order to have life (John 5:40). We come by doing every thing the gospel requires as conditions of salvation (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:8-10).

After we come to God for salvation, we must "walk by faith" (2 Cor. 5:7). "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and he was not found, for God translated him: for he hath witness borne to him that before his translation he had been well pleasing unto God" (Heb. 11:5). The testimony borne to him is this: "Enoch walked with God three hundred years; ...and he was not; for God took him" (Gen. 5:21-24).

Fortunately we have a clear and full discussion of our subject by Christ himself. The people "were astonished at his teaching because he taught as one having authority, and not as their scribes" (Matt. 7:28, 29). But the discussion to which I refer is recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Matthew and the seventh chapter of Mark. "And there are gathered together unto him the Pharisees and certain of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of his disciples ate their bread with defiled hands. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands diligently (or, up to the elbow, margin, Revised Version) eat not, holding the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market-place, except they bathe themselves, they eat not; and many other things there are, which they have received to hold, washing of cups, and pots, and brazen vessels). And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with defiled hands? (Mark 7:1-5). His answer, "Why do ye also transgress the commandments of God because of your tradition? For God said, Honor thy father and thy mother... But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is given to God; he shall not honor his father (or his mother). And ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition (Matt. 15:36). "Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men. And he said unto them, Full well do ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition and many such like things do ye" (Mk. 7:8-13). It will greatly assist us in understanding the full force of what is recorded in these passages to have some knowledge of the history and meaning of Jewish tradition. Ages after the time of Moses the tradition arose that when Moses received the law at Mt. Sinai, God also gave him an oral law. This was handed down, so it was contended, from generation to generation by word of mouth. This unwritten law began to be written down at about the time of Christ. Later, "comments, opinions and disputations" upon it were written. The oral law was called the Mishna. The commentary was called the Gemara. The two constitute the Talmud. Jesus referred to it as "the precepts of men" in sharp contrast to the word and commandment of God.

The report of our Lord's miracles seems to have given great uneasiness to the scribes and Pharisees at Jerusalem; and some of them had come in order to watch his conduct, and to seek for matter of accusation against him. But not finding that he, or his disciples, neglected any part of the divine law, they objected to his disregard of "the tradition of the elders." It was pretended by them, and still is by modern Jews, that these traditions were originally received from God by immediate revelation, and were of equal authority with the written law; and that they had been delivered down, by word of mouth, from one to another, through successive generations. Thus the scribes, who were the supposed repositories, and interpreters of them, had the power of altering them, and imposing them on the people, according to their convenience in the same manner as the church of Rome long maintained its usurped authority, by dictating to the whole Western church under similar pretensions; and as it still maintains that usurpation through many populous regions." Whosoever despiseth the washing of hands, is worthy to be excommunicated, he comes to poverty and he will be extirpated out of the world. He that eats bread with unwashen hands, does as bad as if he committed whoredom. R. Aquiba, being in prison, and not having enough water to drink, and to wash his hands, chose to do the latter, saying, "It was better to die with thirst than transgress the traditions of the elders... The religions of old did eat their common food in cleanness... and they were called Pharisees. And this is a matter of the highest sanctity, and the way of the highest religion, that a man separate himself, and go aside from the vulgar; and that he neither touch them, nor eat or drink with them: for such conduceth to the purity of the body from evil works, the purity of the body conduceth to the cleansing of the soul from evil affections, and the sanctity of the soul conduceth to the likeness of God . . . Whosoever hath his seat in the land of Israel, and eateth his common food with cleanness, and speaks the holy language, and recites his phylacteries morning and evening; let him be confident that he shall obtain the life of the world to come" Jewish writers, quoted by Whitby.

All additions to the laws of God are an infringement of his legislative authority; and a presumptuous imputation on his wisdom, as if he had omitted something necessary which man could supply; and, in one way or the other, they always clash with the divine precepts: so that an attachment to human traditions necessarily leads men, in some circumstances, or in some respects, to disobey God; and it is evident that our Lord had expressly taught his disciples to disregard them. Doubtless they, at this time, observed the ceremonial distinction of meats, and other divine appointments. Jesus therefore answered the scribes by asking them, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your traditions?" "e;The words of the scribes are lovely, above the words of the law, and more weighty than the words of the law or the prophets. Quotation in Whitby. — Our Lord then selected one instance, in proof of this charge. The law, delivered from Mt. Sinai, and written on the tables of stone by God himself, contained this command: "Honor thy father and thy mother." (By honor is meant all kind of duty which children owe to their parents.) Beza. (Note, Ex. 20:12) And in the judicial law, he had commanded, that "he who cursed father or mother, should be put to death." (Marg. Ref. g, h.) Now it must be as wicked to do evil to parents, or to withhold the good due to them, as to wish that evil might befall them; especially as the latter might be done in a sudden passion, and the former must be deliberate and habitual. Yet the scribes had decided, by their traditions, that in case a son should say to his parents, however aged, poor, and distressed, that he had vowed to the treasury whatever he could spare, and by which he might have assisted them; and should thus excuse himself from showing respect, gratitude, or kindness to them, leaving them in indigence, whilst he lived in plenty; he must not only not be required, but he ought not to be suffered, to do anything for them: it being, probably, expected from him to put money from time to time into the treasury, (of which the scribes and priests had the charge,) by way of compensation for his omission. Thus, from a vain pretence, they directly repealed God's law, and rendered it of "none effect by their traditions:" and, as this was only one instance out of very many, their traditions must be disregarded and opposed, in order that the law of God might be honored and obeyed. — If a man can answer his parents, when they need any relief, and tell them, I have bound myself with an oath, that I will not do anything to the relief of my father or mother: or, as some understand it, O father, that by which thou shouldest be relieved by me, is a gift already devoted to God, and cannot without impiety be otherwise employed; and by this piety to God I may be profitable... to thee; for God will repay it to me and thee in our needs: he is under obligation not to give it to his father A father, being in want, requires relief from his son; the son answers, that he hath vowed he will not; so that to him it remains not lawful to relieve him; and the Pharisees approve of this practice; that he may thus evacuate his duty to his parent: and though quite contrary to the precept of honoring and relieving them, yet it was by them thought obligatory to the frustrating of that commandment. And many cases are set down, wherein it doth so, in Maimonides and the Rabbins.' Hammond. — The pretence of devoting to God the property thus withheld from the parent, as the occasion of the oath seems implied. — 'A man may be so bound by them,' that is by vows, 'that he cannot, without great sin, do what God by his law required to be done. So that if he made a vow, which laid him under a necessity to violate God's law that he might observe it, his vow must stand, and the law be abrogated.' Jewish cannon from Pocock. — This specimen is sufficient to lead any reflecting person to conclude, that human traditions and the law of God cannot subsist together; but the prevalence of the former must inevitably lead to make void the latter; and this consideration shows the reason of our Lord's most decided opposition to that system of tradition. — Scott's Bible Notes and Practical Observations.

From the viewpoint of these Pharisees and scribes, it was no trivial question they asked. It was a crucial one. They were putting Jesus on the spot as to his attitude toward the whole body of their tradition. They selected the washing of hands as an example. It was washing of hands, not in the ordinary sense, but as a religious rite to remove ceremonial, legal defilement. They did not ask why his disciples transgressed the commandment of God in the law, but why they transgressed the tradition of the elders. They taught however that these traditions had all the force of divine commands. The reply of Christ was an uncompromising condemnation of tradition as making void the word of God, as a rejection, of the commandment of God. They not only required what God had not commanded; but freed men from obligations to what he had commanded.

What command of God did they reject in requiring the washing of hands? Had God said, "'Thou shalt not wash your hands before you eat? No. But he had said, "What thing soever I command you, that shall ye observe to do: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it..." Deut. 12:32. Christ teaches in these passages that there is a conflict between God's word and man's traditions. You cannot be governed by both. He said, quoting Isaiah, "But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:9).

The Jews did what has been done repeatedly by professed followers of Christ; they introduced practices which were not authorized by the word of God. They became fixed customs. Then years or centuries later they began to contend that these practices were authorized by the word of God all the time. Men do not like to admit that their religious practices are without divine authority.

It has been called to your attention that the washing of hands had not been forbidden. But that did not authorize it. God could not very well authorize a practice by saying nothing about it, by his silence. It should also be observed that the washing of hands was, in itself, an entirely harmless, innocent act. But when men made a religious rite out of it, Christ condemned the practice and refused to submit to the man-made law. Yet two of the most popular arguments today in defense of unauthorized religious practices are these:

1. "It is not forbidden. The Bible does not say not to do it."

2. "There is no harm in it. It is an innocent act."

Those who make these arguments certainly have learned nothing from the fierce conflict between Christ and the scribes and Pharisees. What harm was there in the washings (baptizings in the Greek) of cups and pots and brazen vessels or in the taking of a bath? (Mark 7:4)