Matthew 15 English Standard Version

1Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition [παράδοσις] of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”a 6he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

Jesus clearly distinguished the commandments of God and the commandments of men. The latter belongs to untrustworthy human tradition. Yet Paul wrote in

2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions [παράδοσις] that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Was Paul not aware of this negative connotation associated with the word παράδοσις? Why didn't he use another synonym?

  • Are you saying that you do not see the difference between the traditions and the commandments of the Scribes and Pharisees : and the apostolic teaching and instructions (which then, rightfully, became traditional amongst Christian believers) of the Apostles of Jesus Christ ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 11, 2020 at 15:30
  • Perhaps "The Commandments" ( Ha-Diberot, הַדִּבְּרוֹת) would have been a better synonym regarding unchanging ordinances, instead of the term traditions which are changing habits. Aug 11, 2020 at 17:15
  • The traditions taught by the apostles refer specifically to the transmission of the precepts of God by the apostles as opposed to the transmission of man-made additions to those precepts taught by the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. Aug 11, 2020 at 21:18
  • this negative connotation associated with the word παράδοσις - As far as I can tell, it is with its human or Pharisaic origins that the aforementioned negative connotation is being associated with.
    – Lucian
    Aug 12, 2020 at 1:02

1 Answer 1


If you will pardon the appalling self reference, translating παράδοσις as "tradition" is traditional. It is not a reasonable translation but in English, it does not have the same connotations as in Greek.

Thayer puts it this way:

2. a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i. e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc. (see παραδίδωμι, 4); hence, equivalent to instruction

BDAG says this:

2 the content of instruction that has been handed down, tradition, of teachings, commandments, narratives et al.

Thus, Paul condemns or commends "tradition" depending on its content and its origin. Paul regularly commends good tradition and Jesus condemns bad tradition.

Jesus specifically condemns the tradition of "Corban" (Matt 15) that exquisitely excused a man from supporting his aged parents under the pretense of piety. Paul commend the tradition he passed on to the churches he established.

Thus, there is nothing wrong with tradition - it depends on whether the tradition/instruction is good or bad, and whether it accords with the law of God.

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