Mark 7:9-13 – The Tradition of Corban


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.  [edit – based on Luke’s comments below!] In Matthew 15:2-3, Jesus uses the word parabainw (παραβαίνω), “break the commandment of God.”   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 (in a variant text).  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.  These people were trying to do exactly what God wanted them to, which is something admirable even if (from our post-cross, post-Pauline) view it was legalism.

How is corban any different than a modern 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 reason to set these things aside, are we not dismissing the commands of God in favor of a more “modern” practice?

What are the rules evangelicals create which Jesus would have condemned as corban?