9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
(Mark 7:9-13 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, we saw the Pharisees take Jesus to task for His disciples not keeping the oral traditions of washing their hands before eating. This was not about proper hygiene, but about maintaining ceremonial cleanliness (not following the Pharisee’s rules).
As a quick reminder from yesterday, the Pharisees believed that Moses gave two sets of commands from God: The first was the written Law (the first five books of the Old Testament), given to Aaron and the priests, and the second was the oral law, given to Joshua and the elders. The Pharisees held both of these in equally high esteem.
The Pharisees’ focus seemed to be on Moses more than God. In fact, they called themselves “disciples of Moses” (John 9:28) and not children of God. As we learned yesterday, Jesus focused only on God’s Law and rejected the oral traditions of the Pharisees.
Jesus ended yesterday’s passage (vv. 6-8) by quoting Isaiah 29:13 to condemn the Pharisees’ teaching their oral tradition as God’s Word. Jesus then told the Pharisees that they had abandoned God’s Word in favor of their oral traditions.
As we pick up the story today, Jesus uses a glaring example to show how their oral tradition is in direct conflict with God’s written Law given through Moses.
In verse 10, Jesus quotes God’s 5th commandment to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and the consequences of not obeying this command (Exodus 21:17). God’s command was not optional, nor was it trivial – obedience was a matter of life and death!
In verse 11, Jesus cites the Pharisees’ misuse of the principle of corban to deny help to their parents and thus invalidate the fifth commandment to honor their parents.
In short, “corban” (Hebrew, “qorban“) means “an offering to God”. This Hebrew word was used over 80 times in the Old Testament, in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel. This word depicts an offering of an unblemished animal that shows the love and devotion of the one presenting the gift. This outward gift reflects the inward heart of the giver.
The Pharisees had turned the principle of corban around to mean “consecrated” (reserved for God) and “forbidden” (no one else could use it). What God intended as a means for His people to present a blessing to Himself from the hearts of His people, the Pharisees turned into a form of a curse against one another, even children against their parents.
The Pharisees’ practice of corban did not require immediate delivery of the gift to God; the giver could use the gift in the intervening time. For example, if the parents were in dire need of assistance (like needing a new roof on their house) but were unable to afford it, they would ask their children for help. The children could declare their spare funds “corban” (reserved for God) and thus deny their request.
In verse 12, Jesus turned the tables on the Pharisees and held them accountable for their teachings and the peoples’ subsequent behavior, just as the Pharisees had tried to hold Jesus accountable for His disciples not keeping themselves ceremonially clean.
In verse 13, Jesus tells the Pharisees that in this one example alone, they are nullifying God’s Word by following their oral traditions. Jesus indicated that this was just one example of many that He could cite of how the Pharisees were putting their oral traditions before God’s Law.
As we look at today’s passage, do we use so-called “rules” to disobey God’s Law? Do we put rules before love? Or do we put love before rules, as Jesus demonstrated in His own life?
May we never use one Scripture passage to invalidate another; God’s Word is true, and it is consistent. May we live in love from the heart, not just to look good on the outside by following a set of rules.