Now I praise you because you remember me in everything, and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. 1 Corinthians 11:2 NASB
Traditions – There is little doubt that the mixed assembly in Corinth had a lot of problems. Internal strife, immorality among the members, dissention and struggles with proper order are the subjects of much of Paul’s instruction to this group. But in spite of Paul’s concerns and stern correction, he can still say, “I praise you.” Why? Because this motley crew has held on to the paradoseis, the traditions delivered to them. Now what do you suppose that means?
The word paradosis (tradition) is used negatively in Mark 7:3 and 7:8 as a description of what men have added to Torah. Yeshua rejects such additions. But the word is used positively in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 1 Corinthians 11:2 as proper instruction handed down by Yeshua Himself. Obviously, there is a place for correct tradition.
But what is Paul talking about? The word itself implies that the traditions do not originate with Paul. Traditions are old. They have been in practice and have been part of the beliefs of the community for a long time. Paul is simply acknowledging that he passed them on to the Corinthians and they have been following them. That means Paul learned them from someone else. Where did they come from? Paul gives us a clue when he defends himself before Agrippa. “I have lived as Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion” (Acts 26:5). The verb is aorist active indicative. Paul doesn’t say that he used to be a Pharisee. He says that he still is a Pharisee. His life has always been governed by the strict code of the sect of the Pharisees. Notice that he refers to “our religion.” Actually, the Greek uses the word threskeia which means “form of worship,” indicating mostly the observable rituals and practices. Paul is saying, in essence, that he still holds to the Jewish form of life in daily expression and in worship. These are the traditions. They were passed on to him by his instructors and he is passing them on to his pupils.
It is simply too much of a stretch to claim that the “traditions” that Paul references began with Yeshua. Barely twenty years have passed since the resurrection, hardly enough time to establish traditions, especially since the assemblies of Messianic believers were still in their infancy. Furthermore, Paul’s comments to Timothy also indicate that the history of the “good news” and the associated practice in the community has a much older origin. It is reasonable to conclude that Paul’s remark refers to the centuries of Jewish practice and rituals. Christian practices and rituals separate from Judaism had not been developed when Paul wrote this letter. In fact, it took another 150 years for Christianity to create its own traditions.
Finally, we should note that the word paradoseis is derived from a Greek word that means “gift.” Traditions are gifts to the faithful. Why are they gifts? They aren’t earned. They are personal invitations. They don’t depend on personal righteousness. They come from previous experience with God and are delivered without charge to those who have joined the community. They carry only one obligation – pass them on to the next ones. Paul fully intended that the Corinthian believers continue the legacy of the traditions, but something happened. Somewhere between Corinth and the Vatican, these traditions were lost or replaced. Knowing how that happened is crucial if we ever want to find the lost gift.
Topical Index: tradition, paradosis, 1 Corinthians 11:2, Acts 26:5, Act 24