The Greek word is paradosis, "a giving over," either by word of mouth or in writing; then that which is given over, i.e. tradition, the teaching that is handed down from one to another. The word does not occur in the Hebrew Old Testament (except in Jeremiah 39 (32):4; 41 (34):2, used in another sense), or in the Septuagint or the Apocrypha (except in 2 Esdras 7:26, used in a different sense), but is found 13 times in the New Testament (Matthew 15:2,3,6; Mark 7:3,5,8,9,13; 1 Corinthians 11:2; Galatians 1:14; Colossians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6).
1. Meaning in Jewish Theology:
The term in the New Testament has apparently three meanings. It means, in Jewish theology, the oral teachings of the elders (distinguished ancestors from Moses on) which were reverenced by the late Jews equally with the written teachings of the Old Testament, and were regarded by them as equally authoritative on matters of belief and conduct. There seem to be three classes of these oral teachings:
(a) some oral laws of Moses (as they supposed) given by the great lawgiver in addition to the written laws;
(b) decisions of various judges which became precedents in judicial matters;
(c) interpretations of great teachers (rabbis) which came to be prized with the same reverence as were the Old Testament Scriptures.
It was against the tradition of the elders in this first sense that Jesus spoke so pointedly to the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3). The Pharisees charged Jesus with transgressing "the tradition of the elders." Jesus turned on them with the question, "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?" He then shows how their hollow traditionalism has fruited into mere ceremonialism and externalism (washing of hands, vessels, saying "Corban" to a suffering parent, i.e. "My property is devoted to God, and therefore I cannot use it to help you," etc.), but He taught that this view of uncleanness was essentially false, since the heart, the seat of the soul, is the source of thought, character and conduct (Mark 7:14).
2. As Used in 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians:
The word is used by Paul when referring to his personal Christian teachings to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica (1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6). In this sense the word in the singular is better translated "instruction," signifying the body of teaching delivered by the apostle to the church at Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:6). But Paul in the other two passages uses it in the plural, meaning the separate instructions which he delivered to the churches at Corinth and Thessalonica.
3. As Used in Colossians:
The word is used by Paul in Colossians 2:8 in a sense apparently different from the two senses above. He warns his readers against the teachings of the false teachers in Colosse, which are "after the tradition of men." Olshausen, Lightfoot, Dargan, in their commentaries in the place cited., maintain that the reference is to the Judaistic character of the false teachers. This may be true, and yet we must see that the word "tradition" has a much broader meaning here than in 1 above. Besides, it is not certain that the false teachings at Colosse are essentially Jewish in character. The phrase "tradition of men" seems to emphasize merely the human, not necessarily Jewish, origin of these false teachings.
The verb paradidomi, "to give over," is also used 5 times to express the impartation of Christian instruction:
Luke 1:2, where eyewitnesses are said to have handed down the things concerning Jesus; 1 Corinthians 11:2,23 and 15:3 referring to the apostle's personal teaching; 2 Peter 2:21, to instruction by some Christian teacher (compare 1 Peter 1:18).
Broadus, Allen, Meyer, commentaries on Matthew 15:2; Swete, Gould, commentaries on Mr (7:3 f); Lightfoot, Meyer, commentaries on Galatians 1:14; Lightfoot, Olshausen, Dargan (American Commentary), commentaries on Colossians 2:8; Milligan, commentary on 1 and 2Th (2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6); Weber, Jewish Theology (Ger., Altsyn. Theol.); Pocock, Porta Mosis, 350-402; Schurer, HJP, II, i, section 25; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, chapter xxxi; Josephus, Ant, XIII, x, 6.
Charles B. Williams