What is Corban?

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QUESTION: What is the tradition of corban that Jesus roundly condemned? How did it nullify God's law?

ANSWER: Mark 7 is the only place in the King James Bible where Jesus comments about Corban. He discussed this topic as part of his response to some self-righteous religious leaders who criticized his disciples for failing to ceremonially wash their hands before eating.

Jesus offers the following criticism of Corban among when Jews when He states, "For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'The one who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'If a man shall say to his father or mother, "Whatever benefit you might receive from me is corban" (that is, set aside as a gift to God), he is not obligated to help his parents.' " (Mark 7:11 - 12, HBFV).

Jesus was condemning the general practice of the Pharisees of bypassing God's laws and substituting them with their own traditions through Corban. The case you cite is one of the many the Lord denounced. According to Strong's Concordance #G2878, the word is of Hebrew - Aramaic origin and means a votive offering or a gift consecrated to the funding of the temple. Thayer's Greek Definitions states that Corban is a gift offered to God through the temple's sacred treasury.

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Why study Hebrew and Greek?

The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge (TSK) states that the practice of Corban was common among the Jews. The Pharisees would release, by their own authority, a child from supporting his parents. Amazingly, according to the TSK, these religious leaders would deem it sacrilege if such a person afterwards decided to go ahead and support those who gave birth to him!

Easton's Bible Dictionary states that a person could not reclaim anything designated as Corban. Jesus hated this practice of the Pharisees, as their traditions in this area nullified God's commandment that children should honor their parents. Their man-made teaching of Corban gave people an excuse for not helping their father or mother. It also, at the same time, offered them the opportunity to use such designated good for their own selfish use.

God instituted the fifth commandment for the explicit purpose of honoring one's parents (Exodus 20:12). Unfortunately, human beings have consistently tampered with his instructions and this is one case. One of the ways to honor parents is by giving them financial support when in need, especially when they are in old age.

Children were obliged to adhere to the law whether they loved their parents or not. However, with the permission of the Pharisees, they could circumvent part of the law by dedicating money meant for the parents to the temple through Corban. This is one example of how the Eternal's laws were made "of no effect" and overridden by religious tradition.

Sadly, the practice of Corban is alive and well in some modern Christian groups who encourage members to place a higher priority on the "needs" of the church above their God-given responsibility to their parents and family. Some organizations have been known to regularly pressure their members to give such large amounts of money "for the sake of the gospel" that it leaves little if any support remaining to aid their needy parents. Whether in the ancient world or in modern times, the Bible clearly condemns the greedy spirit of Corban.

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References
Easton's Bible Dictionary
Holy Bible, a Faithful Version
Strong's Concordance
Thayer's Greek Definitions


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