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The Vow of Corban

Reading the Bible can be eye opening, especially when you stumble upon formerly private conversations revealed by Jesus’ disciples.  Every once in a while, I come across a passage that befuddles me, having to rely on commentaries to figure out what I just read.  In my two years of seminary, there is a term that I never learned or came across.  The word Corban means offering to God a sacrifice in order to fulfill a vow.  The passage below provides an example of the vow of Corban in the Bible.

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth, Numbers 30:2.

One day Pharisees and religious leaders began to observe Jesus, looking for something to correct, point out or scrutinize.  These teachers of the law noticed that some of Jesus’ disciples weren’t following ceremonial laws prior to eating.  While under attack, Jesus brings up the concept of the vow of Corban.  Jesus then ties this vow to a commandment, honoring your father and mother.  Sometimes earthly vows contradict the wishes of your parents, the point Jesus makes in the passage below.

But you [Pharisees and scribes] say, ‘If a man tells his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you is Corban, (that is to say, already a gift to God),”’ 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother [since helping them would violate his vow of Corban]; 13 so you nullify the [authority of the] word of God [acting as if it did not apply] because of your tradition which you have handed down [through the elders]. And you do many things such as that,” Mark 7:11-13.

Perhaps, Jesus was eluding to Jephthah’s tragic vow made in Numbers 11:29-40.  Following a victorious battle, the 9th Judge of Israel was in a great mood.  Returning home from a great distance, Jephthah became hungry while traveling through a forest.  This appetite led to a foolish oath, vowing to sacrifice the first creature that greets him.  Unfortunately, hours passed without seeing anything before his own daughter ran out to hug him.  Jephthah kept his word, sacrificing his daughter, dying as a virgin.  To avoid anyone following in the footsteps of Jephthah, its better to honor your parents rather than focus on making Corban vows.

by Jay Mankus

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