Here is another blog post that is answering another what in the world question you guys asked us last year. Currently, on Sunday mornings, we are doing our What in the World Part 2 series to answer your questions in sermon form, but some of these questions were too short for a whole sermon so we answer the shorter ones in our blog.
Today’s question is as follows, “In Mark 7, what is Corban?” This is an interesting question because the word “corban” in Greek is literally “korban” and only used in Mark 7:11 and nowhere else in the entire New Testament (in Matthew 15:5 he uses the word “doron” meaning “devoted to God” but not the word corban). I think the answer is short, so let me answer the question and then paste the entire section in context so you can understand what you are reading.
When you hear the word “corban,” if you live on the central coast of California, you probably think it sounds like a mediocre winery up by San Luis Obispo, but it’s not. The only reason we know what it means is that Mark defines the term for us as “given to God” in Mark 7:11. Because it is an obscure word Mark did us a favor by defining it.
There is some interesting aspects to the verses where it comes about in Mark 7. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees about their rituals that have been elevated to the place where they take precedence over the realty of living life with God. It comes in the context of the disciples not washing their hands before a meal (I know you think, “Gross, everyone should wash their hands,”) but this type of hand washing had nothing to do with clean hands and had everything to do with ritual focused on false piety. The Pharisees ask Jesus why His disciples eat with “defiled” hands, not dirty or muddy hands.
Throughout the Old Testament God is trying to get His people away from ritual and toward an open heart to what God was doing in the world, in Hosea 6:6 God says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Jesus answers the handwashing question of the Pharisees by going after them and pointing out their own corruption by showing how they have elevated ritual over true relationship with God. He does this by pointing out what they have done with money they claim has been “devoted (or given) to God.” When parents became older and frailer, Israelites were meant to care for them, but the Scribes and Pharisees let children off the hook if they gave a certain amount of money to the temple instead of helping their parents.
Simply saying, “it is corban” would gain them an exemption from helping their parents.
God never intended something good, like generosity to a temple (or a church), to be the impetus for getting anyone out of responsibility for caring for others in need. It reminds us today that God desires relationship and not a ritualistic obedience that has nothing to do with our hearts. We should not be looking for ways to get out of our responsibilities toward others, but living with focused Gospel intentionality because our lives are found in Jesus.
Mark 7:1-13 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “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; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Now you should go on to read the next verses in Mark 7 where Jesus talks about what DOES defile a person.