Did Jesus Seek the Old Paths?

The old paths said, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”

Jesus said, “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. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” – Mark 7:4-8

The old paths said, “We are not stoning you for any of these [miracles], but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

Jesus said, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” – John 10:22-39

The old paths said, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful (picking some heads of grain and eating them) on the Sabbath.”

Jesus said, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-8 … “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27

The old paths said, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

Jesus said, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”

The old paths said, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” – Luke 13:10-16

The old paths said, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” – John 5:1-18

The old paths said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” – John 9

Luke recounts that Jesus chose not to wash before a dinner hosted by a Pharisee – and his apparently unspoken surprise prompted the Lord to call down six woes upon the proponents of the old paths.

The old paths quoted a lot of seemingly-related scripture and applied it to a given situation in order to attack and demean and refute and destroy what they had decided God didn’t mean. Jesus spoke what God gave Him to say; He spoke scripture, to bring good news to the poor and set the captive free and bring sight to the blind.

The old paths were about law enforcement and self-righteousness and prosecution and persecution. Jesus was the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The old paths were what were originally new paths that God’s people – in defiance that Jeremiah prophesied in that oft-quoted passage – blazed by their “I will not”s. Frustrated by their captivity in Assyria and Baybylon, and their inability to follow God’s law because of their separation from His temple and His presence, they logically interpreted their own supplementary law – and it was intentionally far stricter – far more difficult to comply with – than what God had, in generalities, decreed.

It was commentary, not commandment.

It was tradition, not testament.

It was legalism, not law.

It was nit-picking, not soul-shaping.

It was human logic, not divine love.

It was their word, not God’s word.

And after four hundred and ninety years, the tassel on their garments had become the noose around their necks.

All because they were blind to the fact that the law was underwritten by love, because God is love; that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him; that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ; that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ “

Do those who call us to seek the old paths today see those truths in God’s word? That He is law and love; justice and mercy; severity and kindness? The old paths they call us to follow – are they the paths of scripture only? Or the teachings of men who – not miraculously but logically – came to a perfect understanding of all scripture as law, somewhere between fifty and two hundred years ago and whose teachings must be accepted and followed and unquestioningly obeyed lest hellacious damnation befall the infidel?

Did Jesus seek those old paths? Should we?

14 thoughts on “Did Jesus Seek the Old Paths?

  1. <>“It was human logic, not divine love.”<>Was it over on Patrick’s page that you said something not too long ago about making logic lead wherever we want it to?It’s so sad to see that done w/scripture. I clicked on the link that you provided in the comments to the previous post and skimmed over it. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read all of it…it’s a little bit sickening.But what bothers me the most…is that it DOESN’T seem like logic to me AT ALL! It makes NO sense to me to claim a belief of mine or a preference of mine or a tradition of mine as the word of God Himself. I know that we humans can get set in our ways, where we like for things to be just so. I don’t necessarily like change any more than the next person (see comment on previous post!) but, at the same time, I recognize that my preferences are simply that…my preferences, and nothing more.

  2. I might have said that over at Patrick Mead’s. I know I said something similar in < HREF="http://keithbrenton.blogspot.com/2008/03/his-holy-spirit-part-ix.html" REL="nofollow">Holy Spirit, Part IX<>:“Logic and law, passion and story all have their roles in scripture, interpretation and hermeneutic. But thinking and feeling can both take you exactly where you want scripture to go.”

  3. Keith,I wholeheartedly agree with you on all this but let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. Jesus came to make things new. He restored God’s intenteded order to creation and mankind. He came as a liberator and to set us free from the powers of darkness. He also came to renew, restore, and fulfill the law. So Jesus took the old and made it new. People have taken the new and made it old resulting in a need to return to “old paths” which would mean moving away from all the things we have made it out to be over the last several hundred or even one thousand years, and restoring it to something more original and closer to how it started with the original Jesus’ movement. So the comparison between the “old paths” of the Pharisees” and the “old paths” within Christianity is not a valid comparison. What do you think?

  4. That’s why I asked the question the way I did in the last paragraph, Matt. The old paths of the Pharisees in century one weren’t old enough; they didn’t take into account what God wants FOR us as well as what God wants FROM us. I don’t want to confuse the issue with redefining “new” and “old,” but my sense is that Jesus had no truck with old paths that excised God’s love or promises or providence and expressed only His law.

  5. Ahhh…that’s more like it! 😉In fact, it’s improved! Your header w/the picture of the eye and the title is actually <>centered<> in my IE browser, finally! (It’s been off to the far right, I think, since you put it up there last July!)Not only back, but better than ever!

  6. The tradition of the elders was actually a “new path.” If my memory is right they had this idea that past disobedience brought all sorts of punishments and even a desecration of the temple. The Pharisees believed that if they could get the people to uphold a stricter standard of living that God would do more restoration. They did look to scripture for the answer (just like the “old paths” folks) but they also put tradition on the same or higher level as scripture itself (just like the “old paths” people). The elders made traditions that took the old (priestly cleanliness codes) and wrongly applied them and burdened them on people they were never intended to apply to.Jesus challenged traditions that stood opposed to what God was doing in breaking in with His kingdom. The problem is people lay down the ground rule of “scripture only” and then make all these traditions around that idea that are not scripture at all (things like necessary inference, etc) and then if you don’t fall in line with the surrounding tradition you are guilty of breaking the ground rule. That is highly problematic.What is the answer? The funny thing is we have been preaching the answer for a long time but never really understood how it could address this issue. The answer, in my opinion, is found in autonomous elderships. When elders in a congregation look at scripture, pray about something, and implement a change that many view as “unscriptural” many cry “foul!” but isn’t that the very reason we have autonomous congregations/elderships and a non-denominational structure? Instead we have found ourselves with “autonomous elderships/congregations” that get screamed at if they don’t fall in line with certain doctrines. So we have independent/autonomous elderships on paper and a denominational structure in practice. The “old paths” people end up violating the very structures they hold so dear (which is what Jesus was criticizing the Pharisees for).

  7. Keith,I agree with so much of what you are saying. I do. I am not bound by tradition. I am not locked into what we’ve always done in church. But there is value in example. There is power in pattern. The Hebrew writer says a few things in chapter 13 that give me just a little pause before I throw a fit about something I disagree with or don’t like: (vs 7) Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.(vs 9) Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.(vs 17) Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.When I was a child and learning how to handle a gun, my dad warned me about making sure I cock the gun all the way. For you non-NRA folks that means pull the hammer (cocking mechanism) all the way back till it clicks. If you only pull it back half way, the gun will fire when you take your thumb away and perhaps shoot you in the foot (if you’re lucky). When I disagree with an elder, deacon or preacher, I try always to go to them with my thoughts and questions with my Bible opened and ready. Real growth calls upon us to work together rather than some of us being cemented in the ground and some of us being “half-cocked”.Traditions are fine as long as we recognize them as traditions. They are also unavoidable. If you begin a church today with the underlying goal of “No Traditions” in 50 years people will be doing things the way they developed over that time. They will be comfortable with that status quo. The answer is not to rail against the machine, but rather to strive to define the non-negotiable; what is this machine for and how can we make it work to the maximum efficiency? If I get my tighty-whiteys in a twist because you are trying to move away from tradition, am I any different than you getting your blazing-boxers in a bunch because I am trying to imitate the leaders who spoke the word of God to me? I’d say that neither of us has in mind the unity of God.Peace and love,Tom

  8. Tom, all due respect to your foundation garments – are we to follow our leaders if they don’t follow Christ?“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” ~ < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=53&chapter=11&verse=1&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">1 Corinthians 11:1<>Isn’t the power of the pattern in Whom we follow?(If my underclothing sounded hysterical or overwrought to you, then I don’t think you’ve read some of the folks who < HREF="http://www.seektheoldpaths.com/stop.htm" REL="nofollow">stop<> at nothing to diminish and discredit those who dare to disagree with them.)

  9. I’m sure there are angry, wounded battle warn soldiers on both sides of the issue. I am suggesting that there may be a peace that we haven’t found and can’t understand.Sincerely,Tom

  10. Keith,Thanks for your blog. It saddens me that there are sites out there that only focus on the negative. I happened upon one such site and though I didn’t agree with any of it, it actually helped me find the positive things going on. I find encouragement in the fact they have so much “bad” stuff to write about. That only means there are more and more good things happening in our movement!

  11. Keith,You said: “all due respect to your foundation garments – are we to follow our leaders if they don’t follow Christ?”One thing that I have been speaking against in the somewhat “traditional” church where I attend is being judgmental. Paul spends much time in the first chapter of Romans talking about the many sins that “God gave them over to” because they didn’t choose to obey him or acknowledge him as God, but Paul doesn’t make his point until he gets to the beginning of chapter two. There he says “You therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”As I have said, I think there are many wounded warriors on both sides, my hope is that we can begin to truly follow Christ as you have suggested and “love one another” free of judgments like this. I may not agree with everyone, but I also don’t want to make a blanket statement that any groups of people “don’t follow Christ”. Just a thought,Tom

  12. Tom, did I really do that? Make a blanket statement that any group(s) of people “don’t follow Christ”? If I did, that wasn’t my intention.The issue of judgment is a quandary, because what you quote Paul as saying to the Romans is valid. Yet we are also called to judge (< HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=49&chapter=12&verse=57&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Luke 12:57<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=51&chapter=4&verse=19&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">Acts 4:19<>, < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=53&chapter=10&verse=15&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">1 Corinthians 10:15<> & < HREF="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=53&chapter=11&verse=13&version=31&context=verse" REL="nofollow">11:13<>). The key to it is the two additional words “for yourselves.”We don’t judge others, but we have to judge their actions and words. God will judge them in the end. In the meantime, we are responsible for judging whether the actions we see them perform, the words we hear them say or read them having written … whether those are consistent with what Christ would have us do and say.The plain fact is that quite a number of folks who are trying to follow Christ to the best of their conscience and with all sincerity and concern for others, simply do so with a way of looking at scripture that I don’t find consistent with the nature of God or His Christ.If all scripture is all laws all the time, then we’re not following it and we never will be able to. Can you make law out of the Song of Songs? Or the Revelation to John? Does God intend for you to? Is He waiting for us to mess up on the slightest infraction of some law He has only hinted at in His Word so that He can condemn us to hell? Or is He patient, not willing that any should perish, but that all should have everlasting life?I am sure that there are plenty of battle-weary soldiers, Tom. But a number of them stir up battles where God seems to intend no conflict.I believe He intends for us to be primarily about the business of saving the lost, not condemning the saved. That’s why I hope, by asking a lot of questions, to persuade some folks who could and would be more powerful advocates of the gospel to <>look at the whole God<>: His righteous and just side, yes; but also His loving and merciful side. I’d like to nudge them toward seeing what He wants FOR us as well as FROM us.

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