Monday, June 21, 2021

Anonymous Asks (150)

“Why did the Lord condemn Corban?”

The word korban comes from Hebrew transliterated into Greek, and has most likely made it untranslated into English by way of the 1611 KJV. The gospel of Mark tells us it means an offering, or “given to God”. Of course there is nothing wrong with the practice of giving things to God, and Jesus did not condemn the practice of Corban in any broad, general sense.

It was what the Jewish religious leaders had done with Corban that was the problem. As Jesus put it in quoting Isaiah, the Pharisees were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. They had substituted their own tradition for the command of God, and in doing so were “making void the word of God”.

Here is exactly what the Lord 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.”

A Kind of ‘Twofer’

What the Pharisees were promoting was the practice of taking money that would normally have gone for the upkeep of aging parents and dedicating it to God by declaring it a holy offering. What resulted was a kind of ‘twofer’, where the temple treasury got Mom and Dad’s retirement money, while the child who designated their upkeep as Corban got to cut his own expenses in half. Everybody benefited … except Mom and Dad, who, assuming they were devout, were hardly in a position to complain about their livelihood going to God instead of to them.

Some commentators believe the system had become so decadent that it was not even necessary for the designated money to make it into the temple treasury, and that some hard-hearted children used the Corban funds to make business investments or for their own purposes. That would even be worse, because there would not have even been the pretense of giving to God, but rather hypocrisy all around. Either way, it was the tradition of the Pharisees that enabled the practice and corrupted God’s people.

What the Lord is condemning about the Corban practice is its: (1) boldfaced hypocrisy (v6); and (2) voiding of the Old Testament commandment to honor mother and father (v10‑12).

What can Christians learn from this very Jewish story in Mark’s gospel? Well, the Lord’s reaction strongly suggests this kind of self-interested religious maneuvering is something to be avoided unless you want his condemnation. So then, believers should not be hypocrites, and we should care for our aging parents. These things are vitally important both in testimony to the world and in walking blamelessly before God. We could also add that the passage teaches us Old Testament principles have broader applications than just their original context. Both the Pharisees and the children were expected to understand that honoring father and mother means paying their bills when they can’t, not just treating them respectfully while you are living under their roof.

A Broader Principle

Speaking of broader applications, there is another principle being taught here about giving which may be equally important, and that is that you cannot give to God what belongs to someone else. If you do, it’s not really “your” offering. It’s theirs, and you are robbing them to give it in your own name.

David understood this when he refused Araunah’s offer of oxen, sledges and yokes to be used in sacrifice. He replied, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” A sacrifice is not really a sacrifice unless it costs the person doing the offering. Moreover, taking it from others may be a form of theft.

The principle applies even to things like time and energy. Paul teaches that the interests of married Christians are divided. They want to please the Lord, but they also feel pressure to please their spouses. This feeling is not wrong in itself. It is necessary and good to be devoted to our partners. It is even acceptable in marriage to take what belongs to the partner and give it to the Lord, though only “for a limited time” and only provided both partners agree, so that the sacrifice of time spent in prayer becomes a voluntary gift to God from both husband and wife. But the point is that for a married believer to take anything that by right belongs to his wife, or for a believing wife to take anything that by right belongs to her husband and unilaterally offer it to God is wrong. It is not his or hers to give.

The Corban principle is broadly applicable (other practical applications may be found herehere and here) and important for Christians to grasp, especially those with significant family obligations. It is always easier to give when giving doesn’t hurt.

It’s also not much of a gift.

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