The word Corban is only found in Mark 7:11. The interpretation is given in the same verse: “devoted to God as a gift.” The word described something to be offered to God or given to the sacred treasury in the temple. If something was “Corban,” it was dedicated and set apart for God’s use.
In the context of Mark 7:1-13, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees about ritual without reality. The Pharisees had asked why the disciples did not wash their hands according to the ritualistic tradition of the elders (Mark 7:5). This hand-washing was not what we think of today with soap and water. It was not for cleanliness; rather, it was a prescribed ritual done as a show of piety.
In answer to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus told them that they had rejected the commandment of God in order to keep their own tradition (Mark 7:6-9). Jesus gives the proof of their corruption of the Law by citing their use of “Corban.” Moses had instructed God’s people to “honor their father and mother” (Exodus 20:12), but the Pharisees negated that command by teaching that they could give money to the temple in lieu of helping their parents in need. Whatever money might have been used to provide for aging parents could be dedicated to the temple treasury instead. Saying, “It is Corban” would exempt a person from his responsibility to his parents. In other words, the Pharisees took a legitimate Corban offering and used it in an illegitimate and devious way to defraud their parents (and enrich themselves). Thus, the Law of God was nullified.
Jesus tells the Pharisees that their misuse of Corban was an evil rationale to avoid doing what they should. God never intended that the good principle of devoting something to the temple should be twisted to dishonor fathers and mothers. Ritual without reality is what the Pharisaic religion was all about. It was also ritual without righteousness and without relationship. Jesus taught that, without a personal relationship with God, ritual profits nothing, and the traditions of man should never usurp the authority of God’s Word.