Information, doctrines, or practices that have been handed down from parents to children or that have become the established way of thinking or acting. The Greek word pa·raʹdo·sis means, literally, “a thing given beside” and hence “that which is transmitted by word of mouth or in writing.” (1Co 11:2, Int) The word as used in the Christian Greek Scriptures is applied to traditions that were proper or acceptable aspects of true worship, as well as to those that were in error or were followed or viewed in a way that made them harmful and objectionable.
Over the centuries the Jews acquired many traditions. These included ways of dress and handling social matters such as weddings and burials. (Joh 2:1, 2; 19:40) Also, some aspects of Jewish worship in the first century C.E. were customary or traditional, like using wine in the Passover meal and celebrating the rededication of the temple. (Lu 22:14-18; Joh 10:22) Jesus and his apostles did not object to such, though they knew that those things were not required by the Law. When the synagogue became a common place of Jewish worship, it was custom or tradition to worship there each Sabbath. Luke says that Jesus also attended, “according to his custom.”—Lu 4:16.
Disapproved Traditions. The Jewish religious leaders, though, had added to the written Word many verbal traditions that they viewed as indispensable to true worship. Paul (Saul), as a Pharisee before his conversion to Christianity, was unusually zealous to follow the traditions of Judaism. These would, of course, include the unobjectionable ones as well as the bad ones. But by following the “commands of men as doctrines,” he was led to be a persecutor of Christians. (Mt 15:9) For instance, they ‘did not eat unless they washed their hands up to the elbow, holding fast the tradition of the men of former times.’ (Mr 7:3) Among those men, this practice was not for hygienic purposes, but it was a ceremonious ritual that supposedly had religious merit. (See WASHING OF HANDS.) Christ showed that they had no basis for criticizing his disciples for not following that and other unnecessary “commands of men.” (Mt 15:1, 2, 7-11; Mr 7:4-8; Isa 29:13) Furthermore, by their tradition regarding “corban” (a gift dedicated to God) the religious leaders had made God’s Word invalid, overstepping the commandment of God.—Ex 20:12; 21:17; Mt 15:3-6; Mr 7:9-15; see CORBAN.
Neither Jesus nor his disciples ever quoted oral Jewish tradition to support their teachings but, rather, appealed to the written Word of God. (Mt 4:4-10; Ro 15:4; 2Ti 3:15-17) Once the Christian congregation was established, observance of the unscriptural Jewish traditions amounted to a “fruitless form of conduct” that Jewish persons had ‘received by tradition from their forefathers [Gr., pa·tro·pa·ra·doʹtou, “given along from fathers”].’ (1Pe 1:18) Upon becoming Christians, those Jews abandoned such traditions. When some false teachers in Colossae urged taking up that form of worship, Paul warned against “the philosophy and empty deception according to the tradition of men.” Evidently he meant, especially, the traditions of Judaism.—Col 2:8, 13-17.
Christian Traditions. Viewing tradition in the sense of guidelines handed down orally or by example, the information that the apostle Paul received directly from Jesus could properly be passed on to the Christian congregations as acceptable Christian tradition. This was so, for example, regarding the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal. (1Co 11:2, 23) The teachings and example set by the apostles constituted valid tradition. Thus, Paul, who had personally toiled with his hands so as not to be a financial burden on his brothers (Ac 18:3; 20:34; 1Co 9:15; 1Th 2:9), could urge the Thessalonian Christians “to withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition [pa·raʹdo·sin]” they had received. One who would not work was plainly not following the fine example or tradition of the apostles.—2Th 3:6-11.
The “traditions” that are necessary for worship of God that is clean and undefiled were in time included as part of the inspired Scriptures. Hence, the traditions or precepts that were transmitted by Jesus and the apostles and that were vital for life were not left in oral form to be distorted by the passage of time but were accurately recorded in the Bible for the benefit of Christians living at later periods.—Joh 20:30, 31; Re 22:18.