What Is 'Corban'?
In a confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes over ritualistic hand-washing, Jesus condemned the spiritual blindness that led them to elevate their traditions over the intent of God's law: "'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.'
"And He said to them, 'All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "If a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban'—" (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do'" (Mark 7:6-13).
What is the "Corban" mentioned in this passage, and how does it tie in with Christ's words? According to Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Corban is "a word applied to a gift or offering in the Temple which declared that gift dedicated to God in a special sense. Once a gift was offered under the special declaration of Corban, it could not be withdrawn or taken back; it was considered totally dedicated for the Temple's special use. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for encouraging the people to make such gifts to the Temple while neglecting their responsibility to care for their parents . . ." (1986, "Corban").
The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia adds: "Anything dedicated to the temple by pronouncing the votive word 'Corban' forthwith belonged to the temple, but only ideally; actually it might remain in the possession of him who made the vow. So a son might be justified in not supporting his old parents simply because he designated his property or a part of it as a gift to the temple, that is, as 'Corban.' There was no necessity of fulfilling his vow, yet he was actually prohibited from ever using his property for the support of his parents" (Electronic Database, 1996, Biblesoft, "Corban").
Jesus taught that proclaiming something as Corban as an excuse for refusing to help one's needy parents was a violation of the Fifth Commandment, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exodus 20:12).
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