Rhology tersely responded by citing one passage out of the New Testament, Mark 7:1-13.
When I saw this answer, I decided to ask Rhology a couple questions of my own. I have studied the pericope at Mark 7:1-13 and its parallel at Matthew 15:1-9 and slowly, ever so slowly writing a paper (I promise Jamie Donald, I will get it done in 2009!) on the so-called Korban/Corban/Qorban rule which Protestants like to throw at Catholics time and again when they want to denigrate the Catholic doctrine pertaining to Sacred Tradition. Usually Catholic apologists and commentators do not deal with the actual text, content to rest their argument on the fact that Sacred Tradition is not a tradition of men, but is considered to be as divinely inspired as the written Scriptures and thus is incorporated in the phrase “Word of God.” However, when I really read the passage for the first time for purposes other than devotional reading, I understood the passage a little differently.
You see, while I was in high school, I had met a Coptic Orthodox priest who used word “korban” in a conversation. When I asked him what it meant, he told me that it was the bread that was to be blessed and broken for the Holy Eucharist. He explained to me that the word originally meant “sacrifice.” Thus, I decided to study the issue in more detail. As you will see, the results of my researches yielded some answers that vary a tad from how Protestants see the passage.
Here are my questions, Rhology's answers, and my rebuttals altogether. My questions will be in italics, Rhology’s answers in regular text, and my rebuttals in bold print.
For ease of following along, here is Mark 7:1-13 as it is set out in the Douay-Rheims version of the New Testament:
And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients: And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds. And the Pharisees and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands?
But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain to they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition. For Moses said: Honour thy father and thy mother; and He that shall curse father or mother, dying let him die.
But you say: If a man shall say to his father or mother, Corban, (which is a gift,) whatsoever is from me, shall profit thee. And further you suffer him not to do any thing for his father or mother, making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do. (Emphasis Added).
Here too is the passage from the Mishnah that I am referencing in my questions:
R. Eliezer says: They may open for men the way (to repentance) by reason of the honour due to father and mother. But the Sages forbid it. R. Zadok said: Rather than open the way for a man by reason of the honour due to father and mother, they should open the way for him by reason of the honour due to God; but if so, there could be no vows. But the Sages agree with R. Eliezer that in a matter between a man and his father and mother, the way may be opened to him by reason of the honour due to his father and mother.
Q. 1.A. Which tradition of the elders was Jesus refuting at Mk 7:1-13?
A. The Korban rule. Jesus says it right there in the psg.
R. Sorry, Jesus does not say that the Korban rule was a tradition of the elders. He called it "your tradition" meaning the teaching of that particular group of Pharisees, not a decision arrived at in the Great Sanhedrin of all the different schools. All of the different schools had to agree on an interpretation in order for a teaching to become a Tradition of the Elders. We know that didn't happen because the Mishnah said it didn't.
Further, the Korban rule is scriptural (Lev. 27:28) and not a tradition at all.
The tradition Jesus is actually referring to was the fact that the school these Pharisee belonged to did not teach that vows could be loosed. Take a closer look at the passage, particularly 7:12
Q. 1.B. Can you cite the appropriate passage in the Mishnah, which is the written codification of the Tradition of the Elders, where the tradition that Jesus was refuting is elaborated?
A. No. I don't, however, see why it's relevant - see 1A. Also the Mishna was begun 150+ yrs after the NT events.
R. It is relevant. Although the Mishnah was written 150 years later, it does record the oral tradition of the elders in Jesus' time. If you take a look at the Gemmara (commentary) after Nedarim 9:1 (in error earlier said 64), you would see it records the teachings (another word for tradition) of two different schools of Pharisees arguing this very point. The School of Shammai say vows can not be loosed. The School of Hillel says they can. Both of the Rabbis mentioned there by the way I believe were around when Jesus was conducting His ministry on earth.
Q. 2. Since the OT was the only Scriptures that those Pharisees and scribes would have known, can you tell us if what is written at Numbers 30:1-3, Lev. 27:26-30, and Dt. 23:21-23 figure into how the Pharisees who were there may have understood the inviolability of a Korban vow that is being discussed in that pericope?
A. Num 30 - no.
Lev 27 - no.
Deut 23 - no.
Unless you think that God is unable to distinguish between greater and lesser commandments. And wouldn't be upset with someone for making unwise or sinful vows.
R. Let's test your theory against Scripture to see what it says about the making of unwise vows. First, take a look at Judges 11:29-40 to see how seriously Jews took vows. Despite the fact that human sacrifice was forbidden, a vow had to be kept regardless and Jepthath still had to kill his daughter because that was his vow to offer the first thing that came out of his home (in ancient cultures many times, the animals lived in the house with the people~Jepthath thought it would be one of his animals that would come out first).
If you do not like Judges, look again at Numbers 30:3 "If any man make a vow to the Lord, or bind himself by an oath: he shall not make his word void but shall fulfill all that he promised." Is there anything here that suggests an exception can be made?
Dt. 23:21 "When thou hast made a vow to the Lord thy God, thou shalt not delay to pay it: because the Lord thy God will require it. And if thou delay, it shall be imputed to thee for a sin." Is there anything here that suggests an exception can be made?
Eccl.: 5:3-5 "If thou hast vowed any thing to God, defer not to pay it: for an unfaithful and foolish promise displeaseth him: but whatsoever thou hast vowed, pay it. And it is much better not to vow, than after a vow not to perform the things promised. Give not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin: and say not before the angel: There is no providence: lest God be angry at thy words, and destroy all the works of thy hands." Any exception here for foolish or unfaithful vows?
Proverbs 20:25 "It is ruin to a man to devour holy ones, and after vows to retract." Any exception here?
I could come up with more, particularly in Psalms but these are off the top of my head.
Furthermore, while we now do distinguish degrees of commandments, the ancient Hebrews did not. They treated all 613 commandments listed in the OT as equal. It was not until the Pharisees promulgated one of their traditions of the elders that held that there were greater and lesser commandments. Halachah found in the Oral Torah are generally divide into two categories: Laws in relation to God (bein adam le-Makom) and Laws about relations with other people (bein adam le-chavero). Violations of Commandments involving relations with other people are considered more serious in degree than ones only involving God in the Oral Torah, as one must obtain forgiveness both from the offended party and from God. See, e.g. “Kalot and Chamurot”: Gradation of Sin in Repentance.
Your answer reads into the passage your 20th century presuppositions instead of how a Jew in the 1st century AD would have understood things being talked about in Mk. Isn't that how Protestants are supposed to look at passages?
Q. 3. If you believe that the keeping of the Korban vow was a tradition of the elders that contradicted SCripture, please cite to any passage in the OT which permitted a person to rescind a Korban vow once made?
A. Mark 7:1-13. That's not in the OT, but I trust Jesus' interp over my own (or yours).
R. Yep, I trust Jesus' interpretation too. But one has to also understand what He is talking about. Apparently, you don't.
Of course, Jesus could negate the commandments in the OT; he does so in the very next section concerning the eating of unclean foods. That is not the point. The problem you have is that He is treating the halakhah of the Pharisees as a commandment equal to the written commandments in the OT. Jesus is chiding the Pharisees here because they weren't following their own Tradition of the Elders which required that commandments concerning relationships with people took priority over commandments concerning one's relationship with God alone. Since the commandment to honor one's parents deals with relationships between people, that was supposed to be of more importance than a commandment to honor God alone. That is why Jesus calls them hypocrites (7:6), because they were following only the written Torah and not the Oral Torah as well! He was condemning sola scriptura as a false tradition at least as practiced by the particular school of Pharisees those guys came from.
Q. 4.A. Does the Scriptures tell us which school those Pharisees had come from?
Q. 4.B. Do you believe that it makes a difference which school the Pharisees who were criticizing Jesus were from there in understanding Mk. 7:1-13?
A. - Not that I know of. Nor do I see why it's relevant.
R. It makes all the difference in the world if you are going to understand the passage correctly! Throw away your bible commentary and pick up a history book instead.
Now Rhology asked me a question of his own, “So...Jesus wasn't submitting a tradition to the Word of God there? Help me out here.”
My answer: If we understand tradition of a particular school of Pharisees yes. Again, your problem is that Jesus was treating the Oral Torah (Tradition of the Elders) as the Word of God and saying it trumped what was in the written Torah!
I realize that you have probably never heard this before. I have looked at what Calvinists (and many Catholic) commentators have written on this passage as well as Jewish ones (yes there are Jewish commentaries on the NT). If you can really poke a hole in this, please do. My thoughts above do need to be tested to see if they ring true as opposed to getting a sound bite or two response.
As I asked Rhology, I will ask anyone reading this blog, please give me your thoughts as to where I am reading this passage wrong.