Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Corban: The Pharisees and the state

Mark 7:11 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) 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Good News and Crossway

So, what is Corban?
According to Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Corban is "a word applied to a gift or offering in the Temple which declared that gift dedicated to God in a special sense. Once a gift was offered under the special declaration of Corban, it could not be withdrawn or taken back; it was considered totally dedicated for the Temple's special use. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for encouraging the people to make such gifts to the Temple while neglecting their responsibility to care for their parents . . ." (1986, "Corban").

What does it have to do with the Pharisees and the state?

Simply put, the responsibilities of individual Christians are not to be given to the state in exchange for the modern Corban: taxation. A good introduction to this concept is the great article Charity: Biblical and Political, Russell Clinchy, The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Christians have allowed the state to play the role of the Pharisees in Mark, Chapter 7, as we have given it the responsibilities of raising our children and caring for our parents. And, more importantly, we allow the state to tax our neighbors so that the cost of our individual responsibilities are passed onto others. What we call the public good -- the general welfare, is simply theft at the ballot box.

Then we complain that the state does not raise our children or care for our parents in a biblical manner. But that's not the biblical role of the state; raising and caring. The state has a biblical role very similar to that described in the Declaration and Constitution.

While Jesus did not allow the Pharisees to walk away from the biblical commandments, today, through the state, we walk away from the very same.

Vote to raise everyone's taxes and the state educates your children and warehouses your parents. As our children are exposed to the humanist worldview, can we complain? Can we cry foul that our parents lie on bedsores? Especially as we ignore our individual responsibilities and push them off to someone else. Taxation -- Corban -- does not free us from such responsibilities.

The New Testament is directed at the individual. Never does the Bible say that you can shirk your responsibility by relying on the state. Just as giving Corban did not free one from caring for his parents, voting for a tax increase does not free us from the same.

Advocating for a Christian state as a means to correct this simply moves the Christian into the role of a Pharisee. The Christian ends up demanding Corban from neighbors so that he can shirk his biblical responsibility; using the theft of taxation to pay the cost of individual responsibility.

Hiding behind the concept of democracy does not provide proof that our neighbors really wanted to provide us with charity. Yes, if you need help raising and caring, Christian brethren are to be at your side. But, of course, true Christian charity has to be given with a glad heart; a feeling rarely felt when the tax bill is due.

There simply is no biblical means to rationalize the way many Christians seek out the modern Corban. The collective WE is not a biblical standard. Each individual is responsible before God; a responsibility that cannot be given to the state.

note: I'm not immune from this, especially in my past. Yet, today is the best time to start changing for the better - for the biblical.

1 comment:

Shamgar said...

I think your underlying point is good, but I don't think it fits very well with the actual context of this passage.

Corban is actually a little more complex than Nelson's puts forward here. Like many things with the pharisees, what they said and what they were actually doing is not always the same.

The sense of what Jesus is saying here "whatever you would have gained from me is corban" is really a phrase spoken in contempt. It was taken as a kind of oath, and more importantly an oath that could not be broken.

Note that the oath doesn't actually require him to dedicate that money to the temple. The convoluted way the pharisees interpreted this invocation meant that the oath merely prevented the person who said it from using the money to help the people he said it to. The part of the oath that applied was the negation, not the positive implication that it be dedicated to the temple.

This passage is not really about the problem of taking care of parents at all - but by being so I think it gives more force for your argument.

This is really about the evil and wickness of the traditions of the scribes and pharisees. Jesus is here pointing out that while they would not directly endorse not honoring parents, or leaving them uncared for - by their traditions they were doing exactly that.

So the importance of the command, and its valid interpretation as including the care of them, is taken as a given. The fact that the tradition undermined it was a demonstration of just how wicked it was.