The Tradition of Corban (Mark 7:9-13)

Exodus 21:17 “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Leviticus 20:9 “‘If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.

Deuteronomy 27:16 “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

Corban is an Aramaic word that refers to a sacrifice, oath, or gift to God.  There is a tension between the command to honor one’s parents and the commands to honor oaths, especially to oaths to God.   One could potentially make an oath to the Lord to give a gift to the temple and avoid using the money / property for the care of parents.  It appears that the gift could be given as a “trust” so that the giver could earn an income from the gift, and it was still considered a corban.  There is therefore a benefit as a gift and as an investment, and the giver avoids using the funds to support parents.   This was a potential loophole in the Law that the Pharisees appear to have exploited.

Jesus however sees this as a breaking of the Law and a grave sin.  This word for “transgress” is a fairly rare word in the New Testament, used only here and in Acts 1:25 for the sin of Judas, and once in 2 John 9.  It literally means “go along the side of…”, or “pass over…neglect.”

Jesus calls the Pharisees as hypocritical condemns them by quoting the words of Isaiah:  “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13 is speaking about the corruptness of the people of Israel at the time of Hezekiah.  The people worshiped, but their hearts were corrupt and self seeking.

Usually Evangelical Christians chuckle about the hypocrisy of those “Pharisees.” Contemporary preaching really scores points at the expense of the traditions of the Pharisees.  But is this really fair?  The goal was to keep the Law of God, and to correctly interpret that Law.  How is corban any different than a Christian finding a way around head-covering (1 Cor 11:2-16) or Paul’s command to keep women silent in the church (1 Cor 14:34-35)?   When we find some exegetical warrant to set these things aside, are we not dismissing the commands of God?

23 thoughts on “The Tradition of Corban (Mark 7:9-13)

  1. “When we find some exegetical warrant to set these things aside, are we not dismissing the commands of God?” This is an interesting question. I have never thought about it as dismissing the commands of God but rather seeing that they were part of a cultural context that is not present today. It is interesting to think about it from a different angle.

    Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus came to fulfill the commands of God not to dismiss them. I would like to think we are not part of dismissing something God intended to stay in practice but I do not think we can know that for certain in this life. Some of the practices, traditions, and laws kept are more clear than others in terms of when they are no longer in effect. I do not want to be like the Pharisees and “nullify” the Word of God with my tradition or preferences (Mark 7:13). Jesus changes the way people interact with the law in accordance to laws about what is clean and unclean. He not only address washing laws but also the laws about food cleanliness. In both of these cases he shakes up what everybody thought at the time.

    • when Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, he didn’t mean he was going to enforce it, he meant that he came to complete it. He came to complete it for us as our sacrificial lamb. We can now rest in the finished works of Christ. Nobody keeps the law, not even the Pharisees.

      • Please do not take one verse – that thinking makes Jesus and the Apostles liars -check John 14 & 15, Romans 3& 7, 1John 2:1-6, and 1John 1 and John 3:16 Where is your power from?
        Also, 1Cor. 7:19 Isaiah 48:18 For our happiness are the only words written in stone by our Creator!!! The ten Commandments!!
        The Creator who came down to this sinful place to die for us!! How much do we love Him since He beat death and is God again in Heaven and we wait for Him!! We show our love for Him by our obedience to the 10 Commandments and by how we ‘love one another’. How could you ‘love your neighbor’ and not keep the last 6 Commandments??
        with love from Calgary, Eugene

  2. I have to say that like Anna, “I have never thought about it as dismissing the commands of God but rather seeing that they were part of a cultural context that is not present today.” I do not believe that as God watched over us, he is condemning us for not washing our hands before we eat, or not wearing a head covering in church, or even condemning women for speaking in church. When Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 in saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men,” I believe that Jesus is trying to explain to the Pharisees that God looks upon our hearts. He wants to know that we are loving God and worshiping him with pure hearts; He wants us to give him our all. The question is, do we really love and worship God with all that we have, or are part of our hearts somewhere else? Are we doing all that we can to keep our hearts pure for God or are we more concerned with doing things that make ourselves happy?

    • So true, Crystal. In inductive Bible study, One looks at context, interpretation, and application, among other factors. Scripture is our touchstone and clarification, and meaning is hopefully found within the text itself. If questions still persist then we use tradition (what the church has believed always), reason, and personal experience to shed light on the topic.

      The Bible always says what it means and means what it says. But questions arise as to what it means, to whom it speaks, and when does it speak. If we consider the Levirate Law of Israel (Deut. 25:5-10), it indicated that if a wife was widowed and there were no children, the dead man’s brother was to marry her. And the first male child of their union was considered the deceased’s son to continue his family line. This also provide for the widow who would have been helpless.

      If we look at context, we see that this was during a patriarchal period when women were considered as chattel and very vulnerable. This was a cultural aspect. God addressed it theologically with the Levirate Law. It said what it meant and meant what it said. Our next consideration is application. It applied to people of that day. Does it apply to Christians today. The cultural, socioeconomic needs of God’s people today are different. He met His people where they were at that time. Today He meets us where we are. Does He intend that that that particular Scripture apply to us in our historical context? I believe that the answer to that question is probably no. If my brother passes away leaving no children, do I have a duty to marry his widow and raise up a child for him. I don’t think so.

      I believe that this particular form of analysis can be applied to the different questions raised in this article. With prayerful consideration this can be done without “setting aside the Law of God.”

  3. “Contemporary preaching really scores points at the expense of the traditions of the Pharisees.” This is a widespread practice in sermons today. I hope in using the Pharisees as examples we should recognize our own sin which looks a little different, but when it comes down to it, it is very similar. Self seeking, self righteous, or legalistic people are never found in the church are they? I don’t think Christians should scoff at the Pharisees any more than we should scoff at ourselves. I know this sound harsh but, our country and our churches are really toning down the realities of the Bible and what it teaches.

    I find myself singing in Church but my mind is sometimes elsewhere. Many times my mind is on my own interests instead of worshiping God. Jesus quotes Isaiah “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” I think this verse is very relevant today.

  4. This kind of goes along with what I said in my last post. P. Long said, “Contemporary preaching really scores points at the expense of the traditions of the Pharisees.” Then Jon said, “I hope in using the Pharisees as examples we should recognize our own sin which looks a little different, but when it comes down to it, it is very similar.” How true is that? We need to get the plank out of our own eye before making fun of others for doing the same thing. In my opinion we are probably worse off than the Pharisees because they didn’t know any different. Like it was said in the post, the Pharisee’s goal was to interpret the Law correctly and obey it completely. We have a clear understanding of what we are supposed to do and we completely ignore it. This also brings up the point of Isaiah 29:13 which says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” We have to be the opposite of the Pharisees and what seems to be the entire church of today. We need to bring our worship (our lifestyle) to a whole new level, one that is based on God and not us.

  5. I like what has been pointed out so far about not just trashing on the pharisees for their inconsistencies and loopholes in following God. Of course their lifestyle was hypocritical, but I don’t see it being any different than our own lives. The issue for both the pharisees and us today lies in our hearts. By focusing on keeping all of the laws, interpreting the laws to our benefit, or leaving out some of the laws/rules we don’t agree with is an issue of the heart. I do agree with Anna though, that we do need to seek out the cultural context of the laws of scripture. Not to disregard other laws of scripture, but we should reference them back to Matthew 22:37-40. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” As far as commandments directed toward us, these are without question the two commandments that almost all of Christianity will deem as the two that we should base our lives off of. I agree with this and see the rest of the laws in scripture as something to be careful with, and to compare to what Matthew 22:37-40 says. Our obedience to Christ should come out of our love and devotion for him, not just the laws of scripture.

  6. I believe that we do find “loopholes” and ways around the law to make it say or do what we want it to. But, with what the Pharisee’s were doing they were knowing what they were doing they knew the law and knew that what they were doing was technically keeping the law, but they knew it was also breaking it and that they were sinning in their hearts doing so. It’s kind of like one of the previous posts about watching movies with killing and playing games that are violent. we are sinning in our hearts because our hearts are full of hatred. I feel the Pharisee’s are sinning in their hearts in this way. They aren’t going out and just doing it, but they know what they are doing and they know better.

  7. No, I don’t believe it is fair to be making fun of the way Pharisees skirted around rules without looking at the fact that modern day Christians along with Christians from any period of time do the exact same thing. I do think that exegetical study is important though in the context of commands given. Yes this can lead to misinterpretation but if we fail to look at things within their context and with the meaning of the author to their original audience we are making a mistake.

  8. It seems like if you had to put a theme to all the commands that God has given his people over the ages, it could be boiled down to avoiding separation with God. This is what I think about when reading about Jesus’ opposition to the Pharisees loophole. We know that he isn’t possibly condemning their deviance from the law, because they weren’t breaking it. But to approach this from the viewpoint of God’s purpose of his commands, their “transgression” really comes into focus. Because how much room is there for faith in God when someone assures a security for them self, especially disguised as a gift to God?

    I feel like this is a good way to approach questions of obedience to
    seemingly irrelevant commands. The cultural relevance at the time God would declare commands was unquestionable and demanding. A response often required a demonstration of repentance and continued dedication to God. Is this true about the way we are “interpreting the law” today? If the answer is no, you might have just discovered a modern day loophole.

  9. I would agree with what is being said however, there is one thing that sticks in my mind… I remember hearing OVER and OVER in other posts this one verse, “ALL scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work”. Where are Timothy quoters on this one? Just asking the question…

    And if we pull the cultural relevance card on this topic, who’s to say where and when it gets applied (i.e. Jesus’ parables using farmers and agriculture being thrown out because we live in a more technologically advanced modern society)? I read this passage and I am immediately drawn to Genesis 3 where it says that the woman will strive to be over her husband. Could Paul be attempting to address this ancient sin of the woman by placing safeguards against this? And if so, as we believe scripture to be applicable across borders, cultures and times, what kind of application does this have for us?

  10. I really like what Tuttle began to say in his post. As Christians we do have a very bad view of the Pharisees and the way they behaved. But in reality, they blow us out of the water when it comes to personal holiness, at least in the outward appearance. Even with that, much of their traditions was to keep them inside the law. The oral traditions were a safeguard to keep them inside the law. We, on the other hand, are looking for ways to get out of doing what God wants us to do. We are doing the opposite of the Pharisees yet we condemn the Pharisees as horrible sinners. Yes, the Pharisees were sinners that did not get it, but it is as Tuttle said, we should be convicted of our sins because of the way that Jesus responded to them. How do you think Jesus would respond to the Church today?

    I do believe that as the Church as a whole, we do dodge questionable passages for our time. We avoid and explain away the passages that we would rather just ignore because it is hard for us to accept culturally. We are American Christians rather than Christian Americans. The question is what are we to do with these passages and how do we apply it?

    • Brent Befus, we apply it by being obedient to the command. If the command is for women to where head coverings and keep silent in the churches, then we must obey that command even in our present day cultural context. For no command given to the church by Christ and His apostles was based upon the culture of the day. They are all based upon our Lord’s will for His church. We should not be looking for loopholes to get out of doing what Christ has instructed for his church to do in the congregations.

      • In Corinthians, Paul is talking about the length of a woman’s hair as well as the length of a man’s hair. If a woman has long hair, then, her long hair is her covering. It is a natural not spiritual glory. Not all races have naturally long hair, and in some cases illness is a factor; or whatever the reason for not having long hair. If head coverings is a custom within a particular church then those who do not have naturally long hair, would be required to cover their heads within that church. However,
        1 Corinthians 11:16 also says, ” if any man be contentious, we have no such custom…” It seems people get caught up in rituals regarding the Word of God, instead of embracing the spirit of grace. When Paul spoke concerning women keeping silent in church, he was referring to the married woman as evidenced in the 13th verse of 1 Timothy Chapter 3: Adam was formed then Eve (Husband and Wife) and again in the 15th verse of 1 Timothy, chapter 3: Not withstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith…I most certainly am not looking for loopholes. But I think people hold to the tradition of men just as they did under the law, circumventing God’s will, placing burdens upon people that the Lord Himself does not require for salvation.

  11. So after reading through these posts I LOVE what David said, when he compared our lives today to the pharisees. What he says is so true! I think its good that he is being honest! It’s so true that we live hypocritical lives just like they did. So, David, I appreciated the truth!! lol

  12. I like what Kyle wrote about how we often try to twist scripture around to meet what we think it should say. We must remember that God knows a lotttttt more than we do. We can’t even comprehend Him. We must not try to twist scripture to what we think is right because, let’s face it, our culture and what we know as “right” for the most part is pretty wrong. We have to take scripture in the original context and apply it to our lives. Not try to twist scripture around so that it makes us feel better about what we’re doing and making it fit our lifestyle.

  13. Most of these replies start out with the fact that we also do not live up to the law. What law? If Jesus had not believed that his poiint was not to point out sin, then why is put in the Scriptures? Jesus said that corban was a sin, no matter what we think of it.as being canceled or the fact that this sin and others should have the sin reduced in it’s condemnation because we now do modern sins kin to Corban?

  14. The Pharisees were attacking the disciples for not washing their hands, a tradition that Pharisees clearly view as important. Jesus was trying to show them how hypocritical they were being by condemning people for not upholding a mere tradition while they themselves set up loopholes so that they don’t have to follow the commandments. The Pharisees claim to follow the law and live by the law, yet they really don’t. Jesus wasn’t instructing that everyone should keep the law, in fact, in the very same passage he declared all foods clean. No, his intention was to open the eyes of the Pharisees to see that if they were going to live by the law, they needed to start doing so and stop getting so upset about mere traditions of men.

    • I believe that Jesus strongly condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in relation to Corban, because it was especially wicked. This was not just a case of a hypocritical person who pointed out another’s sin but couldn’t see their own sin. Or the supposed “hypocrisy” of a person who’s mind wandered while singing a hymn. This was about the Jewish leaders, who were supposed to be good examples to the Jewish people, blatantly justifying their breaking of the 5th Commandment, Honor thy father and thy mother. It is implied that it was common knowledge that the Pharisees created an excuse to avoid spending their wealth for the support of their needy, likely elderly, parents so that they could keep the money for themselves. They said, sorry, but I can’t help you, I have sworn an oath dedicating my wealth to the temple. It would have been bad enough if they gave all their money to the temple instead of to the support of their needy parents. But they didn’t. They kept their wealth, and claimed they honored their vow by not spending it on their parents support. Yes, we should not just chuckle at the expense of the Pharisees. We should ask our Lord to show us where we are inconsistent in our Christian walk. But lets not miss why Jesus was so critical of this evil practice. C.W.

  15. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” Western Christianity squirms under such direct instructions. Modern teaching often requires little from us. Any “if you do” is considered narrow, bondage, and law. Yet the passages in I Corinthians 11 and 14 are not extra biblical. It is from scripture. I don’t understand how individuals can look at chapter 11 concerning the head covering and say “It’s a cultural matter!” yet differentiate with the instruction to keep the Lord’s table (communion) in the same chapter and say this is not a cultural issue. Perhaps our hypocricy is not as far removed today as it was with the Pharisees. Should culture dictate the validity of scripture or should scripture direct the trend or direction of culture? Perpahs our modern day “corban” are passages such as I Cor. 11 & 14. Just a thought!

    • Thanks James, I appreciate the comment. I agree things like head covering for women or silencing women in church services are difficult problems with respect to application. But it cuts both ways, some over-apply these passages to silence the voice of women in the church, but others find a way to avoid what is actually commanded.

      This is why reading difficult passages in the proper context is so important.

  16. The conclusion of this issue of head covering is that we as modern day Christians have decided to modernize Bible to fit our society.Interestingly there is no other verse of the bible that teaches men to uncover their head while praying other than the very one that teaches women to cover their head while praying. As we all know men never argue about removing their hat when praying. Paul dealt with this argument in the Corinthian church. 1Cor.11:16 . It is a command not a suggestion.

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