Gospel According to Mark (Pillar New Testament Commentary) What does the concept and word “Corban” mean in Mark 7:11-13 and Matthew 15:5? James Edwards has a helpful explanation of “Corban” in his commentary on Mark.  This is the story where Jesus tells the Pharisees that their religious traditions have led them away from the commandments of God and have made them hypocrites who worship God in vain.

“Corban, from the Hebrew word for ‘offering,’ was a rabbinic custom derived from the practice of devoting particular goods to the Lord as specified in Lev 27:28 and Num 18:24.  Mishna tractate Nedarim (‘Vows’) develops the general policy of devoting specific goods to the Lord into an elaborate panoply of rulings and regulations.  Corban was similar to the concept of deferred giving.  Today a person may will property to a charity or institution at his or her death, though retaining possession over the property and the proceeds or interest accruing from it until then.”

“In the case of Corban, a person could dedicate goods to God and withdraw them from ordinary use, although retaining control over them himself.  In the example of [Mark 7] v. 11, a son declares his property Corban, which at his death would pass into the possession of the temple.  In the meantime, however, the son retains control over the property – and his control deprives his parents of the support that otherwise would have been derived from the property in their old age.”

“T. W. Manson’s description of the practice is particularly trenchant: ‘A man goes through the formality of vowing something to God, not that he may give it to God, but in order to prevent some other person from having it.’  This was not the end of the matter, however.  Once property had been offered to God, priests discouraged anyone from withdrawing it from Corban in order to return it to human use.  According to Josephus, priests required fifty shekels from a man, and thirty from a woman, to cancel Corban (Ant. 4.73).  The practice of Corban resulted in egregious casuistry by annulling a moral commandment of the Torah [law] (honor of parents) by a ritual practice of the oral tradition (Corban).  A concrete and unambiguous moral good, ‘Honor your father an mother,’ is not simply thereby nullified but actually reversed by forbidding a child to do ‘anything for his father or mother.’”

In other words, the Jewish tradition of Corban – which the Pharisees held to rigorously – actually made a person break the 5th commandment.  The tradition, along with their other traditions, was against the commandment of God.  So Jesus said, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mk. 7:8). 

James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, p. 210-11.

rev shane lems

James Edwards


One comment on “Corban

  1. I’ve always thought Edwards’ commentary on Mark was one of the best…. right up there with R.T. France … solid post!

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