John Stott (Christ the Controversialist) outlines the following points, arising from Mark 7:1-13:-
1. Scripture is divine, tradition is human. What the Pharisees referred to as ‘the tradition of the elders’, vv3,5, Jesus calls, ‘the precepts of men’, v7, and ‘the tradition of men’, v8. ‘Thus we have our Lord’s own authority for distinguishing between Scripture and tradition as between God’s Word written and all human interpretations and accretions…Therefore as Jesus distinguished between Moses and the elders, so we must distinguish between apostolic tradition (which is Scripture) and ecclesiastical tradition (which is the teaching of the church). We must also say with him that the latter is human, but the former divine.’
2. Scripture is obligatory, tradition is optional. Jesus did not reject all human traditions as harmful, but he put them in a secondary place. We err, not when give some place to such traditions, but when we ‘teach as doctrines the precepts of men’; when we try to enforce on others what God has not prescribed. Some traditions may be harmless; others may be positively helpful. Paul would even allow some Christians to be circumcised under certain circumstances, but he would not permit this to be turned into a rule.
3. Scripture is supreme, tradition is subordinate. The designation of money as ‘Corban’ – dedicated for the service of God in the Temple – was, as a human tradition, subordinate to the divine command to ‘honour your father and your mother’. Three times Jesus speaks of rejecting God’s commands in favour of human tradition, vv8,9,13.
Stott adds that the relation between Scripture and tradition was one of the main issues of the Reformation. Both sides accepted the inspiration and authority of Scripture. But, just as the Pharisses attempted to trace back their traditions to Moses, so the Roman church claimed that theirs went back to Christ. The Council of Trent in 1546 declared, ‘Scripture and tradition are to be received by the Church as of equal authority.’ Consequently, the Roman church did not purge out the unbiblical traditions about the Virgin Mary, the Mass, the Priesthood, purgatory and indulgences.
For ourselves, we must distinguish more clearly between tradition and Scripture. Evangelicals, in the fairly recent past, accepted uncritically, ‘smoke not, drink not, dance not’, as if these had unquestionable biblical authority. We are no more at liberty to impose human traditions on people than the Pharisees were.