Monday, February 2, 2009

Corban Discussion

The discussion has gone somewhat astray from the post's original intent, but it has taken an interesting turn as I worked on my next combox entry for it - sufficiently so that I felt it would be better to blog it myself rather than try and cram it into a combox.

Paul Hoffer's post has to do with the relation of Scripture and tradition, and whether the Lord Jesus intended (as Protestants wrongly suppose) to set the two in absolute opposition to each other - so that tradition could never be said to have divine authority.

I disagreed with a couple of his points - as far as I understood them anyway - and said so. Martin seemed to share at least part of my concern.

Jamie then chimed in and nailed part of my objection:

In the combox, you wrote, One aspect that I do need to finish studying is whether it would have made a difference how the Rabbis would have treated the man if he had made this vow specifically to harm his parents.

My understanding is that this is exactly what the situation was.
And that is exactly how I have always understood things, thanks in no small part to the way that the parallel passage in Mt. 15 is translated in most modern versions - for example, the NIV: "'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God" - which reads exactly like it's a thankless and unloving brat who plans to ensure that his parents can't get anything from him.

While looking more closely at this tonight, I turned to the way that the Douay-Rheims handles the passage:
But you say: Whosoever shall say to father or mother, The gift whatsoever proceedeth from me, shall profit thee.
Wow! That's pretty different. But the New Advent page includes some commentary:
The gift, etc... That is, the offering that I shall make to God, shall be instead of that which should be expended for thy profit. This tradition of the Pharisees was calculated to enrich themselves; by exempting children from giving any further assistance to their parents, if they once offered to the temple and the priests, that which should have been the support of their parents. But this was a violation of the law of God, and of nature, which our Saviour here condemns. [emphasis added]
This seems to be the sense in which the Navarre Bible understands it, as well:
In Jesus' time, they were saying that people who contributed to the temple in cash or in kind were absolved from supporting their parents" (p. 142).
And the same is inferred in the JB:
Because property thus made over by vow assumes a sacred character which precludes all claims made by the parents. Such a vow was in fact only a legal fiction involving no sacrifice of ownership; it was no more than a despicable way of escaping the duty of filial piety (note e on Mt. 15:6).
Now in so doing, they were clearly violating - for the sake of the false, human tradition - what God had commanded in the fourth commandment. And this is why I was differing from what I understood Paul to be saying in the post: "...they were following only the written Torah and not the Oral Torah as well!" That seems not to be the case.

Why? Paul says:
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.
But that does not appear to be what Christ is doing (either in Mt. 15 or Mk. 7), because he explicitly identifies what he's doing - contrasting Scripture with their false 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 [emphasis added].
So it seems that it's not the case that they were following only the written law; rather, they were making it void; and it seems that they were doing so specifically in order to keep their own false tradition.

It appears that Paul's case hangs on this:
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.
This, he says (if I understand him rightly), was a part of Oral Tradition, and should have trumped the appeal to the law of Corban. But the issue with this is that Christ does not appeal to an Oral tradition; rather, he contrasts their false tradition with the written law of God - namely, the fourth commandment, and Lev. 20:9. Consequently it seems that the passage does not appear to say what Paul suggests.

It should be said that I think Paul makes a good distinction between the traditions of the elders and the tradition of the particular pharisaic school at hand in the passage. And I think that he makes a solid argument concerning the rabbinic view on the relative significance of different sorts of sins. But that view - even if understood as part of the valid tradition of the elders - does not seem to be in view in this passage, as I've indicated.

Lest anyone (and especially Paul!) get the wrong idea - just because we seem to disagree about this matter doesn't mean that I don't greatly admire his writing and his efforts to defend the Catholic Faith. On the contrary, I think that he does a great job with both, and I apologize if I've misunderstood or misrepresented him above.

[Update: I guess I should clarify that I guess my point, relative to Paul's post, is that I think he and I would agree that Mark 7 cannot be used as evidence against Sacred Tradition, but that it seems we disagree as to whether the passage can actually be used as evidence in favor of it. At any rate, my small brain doesn't see how that could be.]


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi RdP, Please do not think that you ever have to apologize for disagreeing with me on a point. The whole purpose of floating the argument was to get a response and have it critiqued, which you, Martin and Jamie have done. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and criticisms as always.

I am aware of some of the things that has been said about the Korban rule being used as a dodge or as a means for the Pharisees to enrich themselves--a point which many Jewish scholars and commentators who read this text deny. The problem is that the gift was being made to the temple and not to the Pharisees so they derived nothing financially from it. They did not control the temple nor were they of the priestly caste or what we would call Levites. In law, one of theories to test motive is "to follow the money" and if we follow the money here, it does not lead to the Pharisees. Hence, I have tried to stay away from arguments that could be charged as a case premised on latent or residual anti-Semitism. I have thus ascribed a more noble motive to these folks-they refused to loose the vow because such a thing would violate the written commandments in Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy which seems to jive with what some Jewish commentators have written that I have read. saying.

On the other hand, there are whole sections of the Mishnah devoted to vows, the manner in which they were made, etc. and it does appear that a method of disinheritance or disvowal was to use a vow similarly worded.

A humorous example of how a vow like this would come back to bite someone where it counts is at Acts 23:12 where certain Jews took an oath not to eat or drink till they had killed Paul. They were foiled of course by Paul's nephew. One must wonder how they got out of their oath, particularly when it would appear from the chapter preceding Acts 23, they were Saducees based on the fact that they took this oath after Paul preached the resurrection of the dead in the council and as such, they had no Oral Torah that would have allowed foolish oaths or vows to be loosed. Considering that Paul was not even taken into custody by Festus until more than two years later (Acts 24:27), I imagine those guys got rather hungry and thirsty.

Here, I still contend that there is nothing in the either Matthew or Mark which state that Jesus was condemning the Korban rule itself. A careful reading of the text shows that the problem was these Pharisees were not allowing the vow to be loosed. Note that Jesus did not attack the son who made the vow itself. Whether the vow was insincerely made to take revenge on one's parents or was done as a "dodge" or merely was an example of ancient Jewish estate planning charitable giving, it would appear that the son repented and wanted to help his parents and was being prevented from doing so because he was being required to keep his vow as was expressly demanded by Numbers 30:3 and Lev. 27.

Only the precepts of the Oral Torah would have allowed the vow to be loosed by virture of the fact that the Pharisees were all taught that certain commandments took priority over others. Yet here, these Pharisees followed a teaching that was not in accord with the Oral Torah. Jesus was pointing out what commandments took priority in this instance and enumerated the commandments requiring one to honor or support his parents from the Written Torah. That is perhaps, as Jamie noted far better than I, Jesus did not say that they were voiding the Scriptures but the Word of God, which to a Pharisee included both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah.

God bless!

Nick said...

I think you missed PaulH's point.

The point was NOT about appealing to Scripture vs Tradition. The point was via SOLA Scriptura the Pharisees came up with the Corban rule. There are clear teachings in the Torah that if you dedicate or make a vow to God you MUST keep it.

So the Pharisees said, well that means if Bob makes vow to give his inheritance to the Temple, then we MUST do as SCRIPTURE says and keep the vow. If there is no money left for mom and dad then that's too bad, God's vows come first.

This is precisely what Sola Scriptura does, it takes a passage and interprets it how the individual sees fit and either ignores or leaves out the rest. Without realizing it, "traditions of men" have just been created.

The Pharisees were engaging in Sola Scriptura.

Martin T. said...

I had understood the Saducees as the SS crew and the Pharisees as the Scripture/Tradition crew. Perhaps this is the exception.

Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Martin! While they all adhered to the notion of an Oral Torah, the different schools of Pharisees had different views about how closely they interpreted the Written Torah. The School of Shammai was much more stricter in their interpretations than the School of Hillel. And on different occasions, Jesus disagreed with one or the other school's interpretations. On the divorce question, for example that is posed in Mt. 5:31-32, Jesus rebuked the School of Hillel for making it too easy with their interpretation of the Written Torah to get a divorce. It seems that the overriding feature of Jesus' interpretation was that the Written Torah (Scripture) had to be interpreted through love--love of God and love of neighbor.

Nick, thanks for cutting through my verbiage and getting to the point. I write too much like a lawyer.