Wednesday: The Precepts of Men

The substitution of the precepts of men for the commandments of God has not ceased. Even among Christians are found institutions and usages that have no better foundation than the traditions of the fathers. Such institutions, resting upon mere human authority, have supplanted those of divine appointment. Men cling to their traditions, and revere their customs, and cherish hatred against those who seek to show them their error. . . . In place of the authority of the so-called fathers of the church, God bids us accept the word of the eternal Father, the Lord of heaven and earth.-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 398.

Image © Lars Justinen from

Image © Lars Justinen from

Read Matthew 15:3-6 but in the context of Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Matthew 19:19, and Ephesians 6:2. What two serious charges does Jesus make against the Pharisees?

When the Pharisees confronted Jesus about the hand washing incident, they expected Him to respond directly to their charge. However, in His unique style, Jesus confronted them with a question that got to the real heart of the issue. Jesus wanted them to know that the problem was not about hand washing or tithe paying but about the elevation of human standards over divine standards. The Pharisees could provide a logical explanation for their stance on hand washing. Undoubtedly, they probably also reasoned that their channeling of resources to the cause of God rather than to their parents was an expression of their unparalleled love for God.

Although the Pharisees may have had logical motives for their actions, God does not expect humans to love Him on their own terms. It was good that they were concerned about discipline and holy living, but that concern should never eclipse the will of God. The Pharisees should have recalled that the 613 laws recorded in the law of Moses were harmonious and not contradictory. None of the laws sought to supplant another. However, their insistence in following the tradition of the elders invalidated the Word of God (Matt. 15:6), at least as far as they themselves were concerned. No doubt, seeing themselves as the protectors of the law, they must have been shocked, even scandalized, by the claim that they were actually violating it, even making it of none effect by the very traditions that they thought were helping people to keep the law better!



Wednesday: The Precepts of Men — 18 Comments

  1. As I understand that love, righteousness, faith, purity and anything else spiritual doesn't originate with humanity; many traditions lose value and validity. Then surrendering and following Christ becomes all important. As Jeremiah 17:9-10 says, I trust God to discern my motives in following traditions and change my dependence on the feeling of 'right-ness' to righteousness through the blood of Jesus.

  2. I would like 2 ask that as the Pharasses were following mostly the Law of Moses wasn't those given by God to Moses?

    • Smangazo, the problem was that the Pharisees were promoting their interpretation of the laws given by Moses. They did not allow people to keep the law according to their own conscience but prescribes how to keep the law.

      We often tend to do the same today. We need to learn to make a distinction between what the Bible actually says and what we think it means. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to interpret the Scriptures to others. He's as willing to talk to them as to us.

    • He who keeps the whole law and yet offend in one point, is guilty of the whole law. James 2:10 Truth and error are so closely regarded that unless you are a student of the word, you may be seduced into committing error. Remember, the battle in the last days, ( of which we now live), is for the mind.

  3. “…God does not expect humans to love Him on their own terms.” As quoted from the lesson this is a critical point. The Pharisees, at least some of them, may have meant well. Those of us who pattern them in some way today (not easy to admit) probably mean well too. Still they missed at least one critical thing. Without dying to self it was impossible to please God and rightly honor his commandments.

    Not only the ‘ultra’ conservative, but also the extreme liberal and all those in-between need to understand that unless there is self-abnegation God’s requirements will not be properly met.

    One group may add to the law to justify themselves that they are good or better than others. Another group will excuse themselves from any counsel which appears even mildly restrictive if it disturbs their pleasure or inconveniences them as they pursue a self-determined course of ease. Both groups point to the letter of the law as they see it.

    Jesus made it clear again and again that love demands more, even the observance of the spirit of the law (Mark 10:21). Here is where self-denial is indispensable, for the Spirit may require us to give up to the point of discomfort, so that God’s purpose might be fulfilled, even the restoration of God's image in us.

    There is a chance one might do more than is required with self-denial; but that is the point. Love does not dwell on the margin, or toe the line. It dares to go further, and still further, not making self an obstacle, a point underscored by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20-24; 27, 28; 38-48).

  4. There is no need to say that we love God. When we live out the rules of love (His commandments), He (God) will know that we love Him. Likewise, in our marriages, it is of paramount importance that we live our faithfulness rather than only declare it.

  5. Let's not judge the pharisees where as maybe our sins are more worse than them but we can use there weakness to correct our ways b4 the end of time. Hygienecally is good to wash hands before eating,but where they got wrong is thet they focused more on the hands and forgot there hearts and this worried Jesus.

  6. We see a lot of the same traditions, and self explanations of the scriptures in our congregations today. Rights of individuals, takes precedence over and above 'thus saith the Lord'' The Scriptures will last forever, and it is still the rule of law for our existence.

  7. I like the two foldness of the question. 1st dealing with men. 2nd dealing with a living heavenly father. Many dealt with the 1st part but did not dealt with the 2nd part, i.e 'children have a right to obey their parents in the Lord'. It did not say if their parents are Christians or not, single or married, or not a good role model. Be careful we are not flying our banner high for the 1st part and bowing our heads for the 2nd part of the question that Jesus asked.

  8. ‘Precepts of men’ verses ‘Commandment of God’.
    But what is the meaning of a precept? I found several meanings, for example;
    a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought, a writ or warrant, a commandment or direction given as a rule of action or conduct, an injunction as to moral conduct; maxim, a procedural directive or rule, an instruction, or order intended as an authoritative rule of action.
    2. a rule that says how people should behave and a command or principle intended especially as a general rule.
    When the elders saw the disciples eating without washing hands, the were worried. The asked about it. Jesus did not say the people should or should not wash their hands.
    He dealt with the 5th commandment. That is; Children should obey their parents in the Lord. This is a very broad commandment. Many Christians disobey their parents and still do not see it as a problem. But is there an age of limitation that a child should attain so as to stop obeying their parents? Throughout the bible we see children are called to obey. Samuel said it is better to obey than to sacrifice. Do we see some of the elderly brethren in church as our parents? Then why not obey if what they say is according to the word of God. Some Christians disobey their parents and God and teach other also to disobey their parents.
    I can remember my child (now an adult) was preparing to go to college. We all live together. myself and dad knew 4 days before she was about to leave for school. We did not stop her but told her whosoever got her enrolled and prepared her for college; (church people) will pay her school fee and take care of her needs while she is at college. We had already told her she was not going to an Adventist College because of different situations.
    But some people say, one of our precepts of our church is; “Adventist education is the best education”. How do others reason such, is it biblical?

    • Sister Marva,
      Something to note is the fifth commandment is more about honoring parents as opposed to exclusive obedience. Obedience is a subset of the requirement and is conditional, applying to children and only as it is fit in the Lord. That said Jesus obeyed His parent (s) until He was 30, and left a good pattern for us.

  9. The Pharisees critizism was not hy-giene, but loss of purification. The concern was they may have touched something or someone that had been defiled or contaminated by a heathen Gentile,and this would be transferred to the food they ate. Jesus had a way of guiding the conversation to make a point about their eternal salvation. He said it is not what goes into the stomach but what comes out of the mouth,(the heart),that really matters.
    When we talk about obediance to God is it out of Love or Fear? Is keeping His laws the evidence of complete Love? We too often forget the most important law. Love God in every possible way and your neighbor as your self.

  10. I want to really believe that not all traditions (of elders, Pharisees, and whoever spiritual leader) were/are bad. Yes, some were very harmful and that is why Jesus corrected them immediately (as in hand-washing, since they distorted the truth). On the other hand, others were/are extremely important because to my opinion are the 'breakdowns' or 'narrow-downs' of the broad "thus saith the Lord." I think the basis of selection as to which fits where in this category is here important.

  11. The time is fast approaching when the ultimate precept of man is going to be globally enforced. Jesus said Mt 10:25 It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
    Are we prepared to receive condemnations of being possessed of a devil because we choose to obey God's commandments? The test will be to continue to stand firm in our belief despite the abuse and charges of heresy. The self-abnegation spoken of previously is not only necessary to obey, but also to endure with patience the consequences of our obedience.

  12. This lesson touches home. I have seen over the years of my ministry, members chewing up members over misguided and misunderstood ideas of the law. Many good people have been castigated by good meaning members. It is the uplifted Christ that is the answer to these issues. If I am looking at Christ, I will not be looking at others to "instruct" them in godliness. The mind is to be stayed on the Christ that loved me so much that He gave us his law that we might be like Him.

  13. I come from first, a Catholic childhood, and then, a Pentecostal conversion while in my twenties. I was in my forties when I embraced Adventist truth, and shedding the teachings of a lifetime was like a great disbursement of clouds over the eyes. The precepts of men blind, confuse, fail to answer all the questions, and change as opinions change. I thank God every day for His truth, and am so grateful to be a small part of a people who cleave to Him, keep His commandments, and who are unwilling to compromise Truth for the philosophies and vain ramblings of mortal men.


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