Mk. 7:1-13-The Pharisees question Jesus concerning what they call the "traditions of the elders" (:5). They had many of these practices: “and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe” (:4). Jesus refers to them as the "precepts of men" (:7), and says that the Pharisees had elevated them to the level of "doctrines" (:7) and "the commandment of God" (:9)...and, even allowed them to surpass them in importance (:8). He then gives a specific example in reference to the 5th Commandment...and their teaching concerning "Corban" (this word comes from the Hebrew word for “offering”, cf. Lev. 2:1,4,12,13; 7:13; 9:7,15). Their tradition allowed a man to give money to the Temple that should have been used to support his parents (Ryrie-Evidently, too, he was not really obliged to devote that sum to the temple.). Jesus says that this is their way of getting around the commands of God...by substituting their own teachings.
ḲORBAN (lit. "an offering"):
- A sacrifice of any kind, whether bloody or bloodless; term used by Josephus in the sense also of a vow-offering, or of something devoted to God ("Ant." iv. 4, § 4; "Contra Ap." i. 22; Mark vii. 11). 2. The sacred treasury in which the gifts for the Temple, or the alms-box in which the gifts for the poor, were kept (Josephus, "B. J." ii. 9, § 4; comp. Matt. xxvii. 6).
The term "ḳorban" was frequently used in vows. By saying, "Let my property be to you ḳorban"—that is, a gift consecrated to God—a man could prevent another from deriving any benefit from what he possessed (Ned. i. 4). This, of course, led to great abuses, as, in fact, all inconsiderate vows did, and, therefore, was much opposed by the sages (see Eccl. v. 1-5). Jesus (Mark vii. 11-13; comp. Matt. xv. 5-9) had such a vow in view when he said: "If a man say to his father or mother, That wherewith thou mightest have been profited by me is Ḳorban, ye no longer suffer him to do aught for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition" (Greek). But the charge of hypocrisy, or lip-service, raised against the Pharisees in this connection is entirely unfounded; for pharisaic tradition did actually provide a remedy against rash vows by empowering any sage consulted to dissolve the vow in case it could be shown that it was not made with a full consideration of all its consequences; this very power "to loosen that which is bound" by the Law being declared to be a privilege of the Rabbis, derived from the spirit of the Law while seemingly against the letter ("hetter nedarim"; Ḥag. i. 8).
It is expressly declared, however, by R. Eliezer that if a vow infringes upon the honor due to father or mother, the right procedure is to endeavor to convince him who made it that he failed to consider the consequences sufficiently, and then to dissolve the vow; others, however, dissented, holding that God's honor ought to be considered first (Ned. ix. 1). Against this, R. Meïr declares (Ned. ix. 4) that "wherever a vow is made which infringes the laws of humanity, the vow should be dissolved by the sage." Thus the Mishnaic code shows the instance quoted in the New Testament to be, instead of a reproach of pharisaism, as contended by Oort in "Theol. Tijdschrift," xxxviii., a vindication of the humane spirit prevailing among the Rabbis; possibly Jesus had only the rigorous class of teachers in mind, while his more humane views were those shared by others. See Alms.
Traditions of men
The point of their accusation is telling: Jesus and his disciples had violated the “traditions of the elders” (Mark: “tradition of men”), as if those traditions were now authoritative and could be sinned against. These traditions were still oral in Jesus’ days, but were written down a couple of centuries later. The traditions about washing would be found in the tractate called Yadayim or “Hands” (see Mishnah Yadayim 2:1). What this means is that the traditions of men had been elevated to the status of Scripture, so that one could be guilty of violating them. By the way, the same problem exists today as many groups have their “biblical” views, and to violate them means criticism or expulsion from the group. But some of those views are applications and not what the Bible actually teaches.
Prayer: Lord, please keep me from any traditions, or teachings, or attitudes that do not come from You. As I read Your Word, I see that there are many traditions that are rich and meaningful...but don't let me merely value the form, the shadow, and not the substance. Help me to see the true spirit and intent of what we do...and not just keep the letter of the law. I pray that my worship and service will be pleasing to You...and that I don't just go through the motions.