Mark 7:9-13

AN INIQUITOUS REGULATION

Mk. 7:9-13

He said to them, “You make an excellent job of completely nullifying the command of God in order to observe your own tradition. For Moses said, `Honour your father and your mother.’ And, `He who speaks evil of his father or mother shall certainly die.’ But you say, that, if a man says to his father or mother, `That by which you might have been helped by me is Korban,’–that is to say, God-dedicated–you no longer allow him to do anything for his father and mother, and you thereby render invalid the word of God by your tradition which you hand on. You do many things like that.”

The exact meaning of this passage is very difficult to discover. It hinges on the word Korban (GSN2878) which seems to have undergone two stages of meaning in Jewish usage.

(i) The word meant a gift. It was used to describe something which was specially dedicated to God. A thing which was Korban (GSN2878) was as if it had already been laid upon the altar. That is to say, it was completely set apart from all ordinary purposes and usages and became the property of God. If a man wished to dedicate some of his money or his property to God, he declared it Korban (GSN2878), and thereafter it might never again be used for any ordinary or secular purpose.

It does seem that, even at this stage, the word was capable of very shrewd usage. For instance, a creditor might have a debtor who refused or was unwilling to pay. The creditor might then say, “The debt you owe me is Korban (GSN2878),” that is to say, “The debt you owe me is dedicated to God.” From then on the debtor ceased to be in debt to a fellow-man and began to be in debt to God, which was far more serious. It may well be that the creditor could discharge his part of the matter by making a quite small symbolic payment to the Temple, and then keeping the rest for himself. In any event, to introduce the idea of Korban (GSN2878) into this kind of debt was a kind of religious blackmail transforming a debt owed to man into a debt owed to God.

It does seem that the idea of Korban (GSN2878) was already capable of misuse. If that be the idea behind this, the passage speaks of a man declaring his property Korban (GSN2878), sacred to God, and then when his father or mother in dire need comes to him for help, saying, “I am sorry that I cannot give you any help because nothing that I have is available for you because it is dedicated to God.” The vow was made an excuse to avoid helping a parent in need. The vow which the scribal legalist insisted upon involved breaking one of the ten commandments which are the very law of God.

(ii) There came a time when Korban (GSN2878) became a much more generalized oath. When a person declared anything Korban (GSN2878) he entirely alienated it from the person to whom he was talking. A man might say, “Korban (GSN2878) that by which I might be profited by you,” and, in so doing, he bound himself never to touch, taste, have or handle anything possessed by the person so addressed. Or, he might say, “Korban (GSN2878) that by which you might be profited by me,” and, in so saying, he bound himself never to help or to benefit the person so addressed by anything that belonged to himself. If that be the use here, the passage means that, at some time, perhaps in a fit of anger or rebellion, a man had said to his parents, “Korban (GSN2878) anything by which you may ever be helped by me,” and that afterwards, even if he repented from his rash vow, the scribal legalists declared that it was unbreakable and that he might never again render his parents any assistance.

Whichever be the case–and it is not possible to be certain–this much is sure, that there were cases in which the strict performance of the scribal law made it impossible for a man to carry out the law of the ten commandments.

Jesus was attacking a system which put rules and regulations before the claim of human need. The commandment of God was that the claim of human love should come first; the commandment of the scribes was that the claim of legal rules and regulations should come first. Jesus was quite sure that any regulation which prevented a man from giving help where help was needed was nothing less than a contradiction of the law of God.

We must have a care that we never allow rules to paralyse the claims of love. Nothing that prevents us helping a fellowman can ever be a rule approved by God.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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