This material was written several years ago concerning the misuse of the examples of Jesus and the false charges of the Pharisees that Jesus broke the Sabbath.
Controversy About The Sabbath
The reaction to cured man around the pool must have been a sight to behold. Those with infirmities gasping in astonishment, friends and family of the infirm falling over themselves to spread the amazing news throughout the city of Jerusalem. Those whom John identifies as "the Jews" also heard about the miracle but they had no joy for the release of the burden of the once infirm man. John often uses the general term "the Jews" to describe some specific group of Jews identifiable by the context. John often uses the term "the Jews" to refers to the consistent antagonists and adversaries of Jesus, the Pharisees (See e.g., Jn. 1:19, 24; 8:13, 22; 9:13, 18, 22; 18:3, 12). It appears that "the Jews" that confronted the formerly infirm man were indeed Pharisees due to their complaints concerning the Sabbath and their hatred and opposition to Jesus.
When the Pharisees heard that the once infirm man was walking about carrying his pallet they confronted him. "It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed" (Jn. 5:10). The fact that it was the Sabbath was evident. However, the Pharisees' charge that it was unlawful for the cured man to carry his bed was off base. Their charge was not based upon the Law of God as given through Moses, but rather it was based upon their additions to God's Law, their oral traditions.
The Sabbath was given by God to the Jews as a sign between God and the Jews that they would know Jehovah was the Lord their God who sanctified them as his people and that he had delivered them from Egyptian bondage (Ex. 31:13; Lev. 19:3, 30; 20:8; 26:2; Deut. 5:15; Ezk. 20:12, 20). There were certain holy days designated as days of "sabbath rest." These holy days included the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:30-31; 23:27-32), the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:5-8), Pentecost (Lev. 23:16, 21), the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:24-25), and the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34-35). There was also designated in the Law of Moses a "sabbath rest" for the land every seventh year (Lev. 25:2-7) and every fiftieth year, seven sabbaths of years, was to be a "Jubilee" a year of sabbath wherein there was to be rest for the land and liberty for the people (Lev. 25:8-17).
The Sabbath day was a weekly observance of the seventh day of the week. The day was designated as a holy day to the Lord and a day of solemn rest (Ex. 31:15; 35:2; Lev. 23:3). Upon the Sabbath day the Law of Moses stated "you shall not do any work" (Ex. 20:10; 31:14-15; 35:2). Everyone within the Jewish home was forbidden from working including all members of the family, all the servants, the "stranger" who might be visiting in the home and even the animals (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14). The kind of work specifically forbidden in the Pentateuch included ploughing and harvesting (Ex. 34:21), the kindling of fire in the home (Ex. 35:3) and traveling beyond one's home (Ex.16:29). The penalty for violating the Sabbath day was death (Ex. 31:14; 35:2).
The Law also designated certain "positive" duties that were to be performed on the Sabbath in its observance. The twelve loaves of shewbread in the tabernacle were to be replaced every Sabbath by the priests (Lev.24:5-9). Two lambs were to be sacrificed with grain and drink offerings on the Sabbath day in addition to the regular daily burnt offering and drink offering (Num. 28:9-10). Finally, the people were instructed to gather together for a "sacred assembly" (Lev. 23:3).
The applications of the Sabbath prohibition of work throughout the Old Testament help to illustrate the proper observance of the day. While the children of Israel were still in the wilderness, a man found gathering sticks on the Sabbath day was put to death by stoning (Num. 15:32-36). Isaiah condemns the hypocrisy of those who observe the Sabbaths and yet commit iniquity. Likewise, Amos denounced the greedy tradesmen who could not wait for the Sabbath to end so that they could go back to their corrupt schemes (Amos 8:5-6). By their wicked actions they "defiled" the Sabbath (Isa. 1:13; 56:2). God urged the people to "Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isa. 1:13-17; 56:3-8). The people were to turn "from doing your own pleasure on my Holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words" (Isa 58:13). The Sabbath was a holy day to the Lord for the purpose of delightful rest and of doing good. It was not a day for mere ritual or for man's leisure to do evil.
The Lord told Jeremiah to stand in the gates of Jerusalem and preach a warning about their failure to observe the Sabbath. The people were warned to "bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers." If the inhabitants of Jerusalem failed to hear the Lord, he promised to "kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched" (See, Jer. 17:19-27).
In captivity, God told Ezekiel he had given His Sabbaths "that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" yet they had greatly defiled and profaned "My Sabbaths" (Ezk. 20:12-24). This profaning of the Sabbath was due to the evil committed by the people (Ezk. 22:6-12) and the priests who hid "their eyes from My Sabbaths" (Ezk. 22:26). Ezekiel sets forth in his vision of a future temple, the observance of the Sabbath. Then the gateway of the inner court of the temple would be opened on the Sabbath and God's people shall worship before the Lord and the "prince" shall make the offerings (Ezk. 46:1-12).
When the people returned from captivity to Jerusalem, they did not immediately return to the proper observance of the Sabbath. Nehemiah had the people of Jerusalem take an oath not to buy any wares or grain from the people of the land on the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31). However, later he found them profaning the Sabbath by treading the wine presses, bringing in sheaves, loading their donkeys with produce to bring into Jerusalem on the Sabbath to sell. In order to stop this Nehemiah ordered the gates of the city closed before the Sabbath began and did not allow them to be open until after the Sabbath had passed (Neh. 13:15-22).
The Sabbath as set forth in the Law of Moses was given by God to his people as a blessing. The day was for the benefit of all of God's people, whether man, woman or child, free or slave, all were forbidden to work (Deut. 5:14). This freedom or liberty was also to be given to animals weekly and to the land every seven years. The Sabbath was to be viewed as a "delight" and "honorable" when God's people obeyed their Lord and did good (Isa. 58:13).
The Pharisees took the blessing of the Sabbath and turned it into an onerous burden complete with a morass of regulations. In the four hundred years between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament, the Pharisees managed to develop a considerable body of oral traditions concerning the "proper" observance of the Sabbath. The Mishnah, a written compilation of the Pharisees' traditions and religious regulations, was prepared about 200 A.D. Of the sixty-six tractates in the Mishnah, two of the major tractates are on Sabbath regulations. The Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylon Talmud, the Mishnah with further commentary, each contain further extensive comments on Sabbath regulations.
A small sample of the Sabbath regulations of the Pharisees will give evidence of the absurdity to which these regulations were carried. Late on Friday, before the Sabbath day began, no new tasks were to be started lest one possibly forget to stop before the Sabbath. The Sabbath was applied to inanimate objects, for example, wool could not be dyed unless the process was finished before the Sabbath. Nothing could be sold to a Gentile unless it would reach its destination before the Sabbath, nor work given to him
unless one was sure that work was not done on the Sabbath.
Women could not wear headgear or ornaments, nor could they look in a mirror lest they see a grey hair and "work" in pulling it out. One could not wear wooden shoes with nails or only one shoe because walking would be "work." The killing of any kind of vermin or pest such as a flea was strictly forbidden as a "labor." One could not weave two threads together, make a knot, untie a knot, sow two stitches or tear a cloth in order to sow two stitches. It was "sinful" to scatter two seeds lest one sows, or to sweep or break up one clod of dirt lest one is plowing, or to pick one blade of grass lest one was harvesting. To pick a fruit off the ground was considered reaping. To avoid "kindling a fire" food could not be partially cooked before Sabbath; clothes could not be dried by hot air from a stove; cold water was not to be poured on warm; an egg could not be boiled by putting it near any certain kinds of heat. Since one could not "extinguish a fire" the rabbis forbade putting a vessel of water under a lamp since the water would extinguish falling sparks.
The Mishnah discusses at great length what is a forbidden "burden." When one dressed on the Sabbath, they were to not to put on any item that may come off and have to be carried, thus becoming a "burden." The rabbis taught that one could not wear false teeth on the Sabbath for if they fell out and had to be picked up, it would be bearing a burden. No more than a mouthful of an animal's feed could be carried from one place to another; for human, no more than a dried fig; only a mouthful of milk was allowed and honey was limited to what could be placed on a wound. Nothing could be carried from one place to another that might remotely begin a future work or be turned into practical use. Thus, one could not carry enough ink to write two letters or enough wax to fill a hole or a pebble that could be used to kill a bird or a piece of broken pottery that could be used to stir the coals.
The exceptions to these regulations are as interesting. In case of a fire on the Sabbath it was allowed that one might carry out of the house the Scriptures, phylacteries, one day's food, all needed utensils and only the dress necessary. A woman or animal in childbirth could be assisted and circumcision could be performed on the Sabbath. What about medicinal cures or the healing of those ill or injured? It was forbidden to take any action that would involve the healing of the body unless the patient was near death for this would involve "work." Bones were not to be set on the Sabbath, emetics were not to be given, nor was any medical operation to take place.The Pharisees determined that it was forbidden to even put wadding with oil in one's ear for an ear ache because this was "work" and the healing action of the wadding was a "work" (A more detailed listing is provided by Alfred Edersheim, The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, vol. 2, book 5, appendix
Were the Pharisees right in condemning the former infirm man for carrying his bed on the Sabbath? Were they further correct in condemning Jesus for healing on the Sabbath? Some commentators have taken the position that the Pharisees were right that both the infirm man and Jesus were truly violating God's law concerning the Sabbath. These commentators go on to excuse this violation upon the grounds that Jesus by his authority had "a right to declare what might be done, and even dispense with a positive law of the Jews" (Albert Barnes, Notes On The New Testament, Luke and John, page 227).
To assert Jesus violated the Sabbath of God on this occasion or on any other occasion that the Pharisees accused him is to say that Jesus broke the Law and sinned. Yet the Scriptures tell us Jesus was without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 5:8-9; 1 Pet. 2:21-22). Even the Pharisees could not convict him of sin. Jesus later challenged them, after they had accused him of breaking the Sabbath on several occasions, "Which of you convicts me of sin?" (Jn. 8:46). They could not and did not attempt to charge Jesus publicly with breaking the Sabbath. When they did bring "false" charges against Jesus they turned to the charge of blasphemy and not to the breaking of the Sabbath.
Neither the infirm man nor Jesus transgressed God's law concerning the Sabbath. However, they did break the traditions of the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath. Jesus was in constant conflict and controversy with the Pharisees over their traditions. The traditions of the Pharisees had so clouded and distorted God's laws that Jesus charged the Pharisees with transgressing the commandments of God because of their traditions (Mt.15:3), "you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition"(Mk. 7:9).
Jesus taught and demonstrated that the Pharisees had rejected the commandments of God in order that they might keep their traditions and minute regulations concerning the Sabbath. Jesus did not assert his authority as "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:28) in order to justify violating the Sabbath. Jesus' authority as "Lord of the Sabbath" was to clear away the traditions of men and reassert the authority of God's law concerning the Sabbath. Jesus had the authority to properly explain and expound God's law of the Sabbath, its meaning and application.
How did the "Lord of the Sabbath" explain and apply the Sabbath law? The primary principle he set forth was, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:27). God had meant for the Sabbath to free man from his burdens, the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath into an onerous burden for men. Jesus explained that God intended the Sabbath as a day in which his people would do good and help those in need. On one occasion he asked, "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?" (Mk. 3:4). Under God's law it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath and Jesus did so, but under the traditions of the Pharisees Jesus' actions were "unlawful."
Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees the contradictions and hypocrisy in the traditions they so zealously pursued. Jesus noted that the traditions of the Pharisees "allowed" the act of circumcision to be performed upon the Sabbath without breaking the law. Yet the Pharisees angrily accused Jesus of breaking the law because he made a man whole (Jn. 7:22-23). They applied their traditions inconsistently and unjustly. Jesus called one "ruler" a "hypocrite" for protesting that Jesus had broken the Sabbath by healing a woman on the Sabbath. Jesus argued that the Pharisees "allowed" the Jews to loose their animals from their stalls and lead them to water, yet they objected to Jesus loosing a from the bondage of her infirmity (Lk.13:11-17). Likewise, they "allowed" that one could pull his animal out of a pit on the Sabbath but objected to Jesus healing a man with dropsy (Lk.14:1-6). After several confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath, Jesus had so completely refuted their traditions and false accusations that, "they could not answer him again to these things"(Lk. 14:6).
The Pharisees' charge against the cured man "It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed" (Jn. 5:10), was false. Their charge was based upon their oral traditions, not upon the Law of God. Even the cured man understood their charge was unfounded. He answered those who questioned him, "He who made me well said to me, `Take up your bed and walk'" (Jn. 5:11). His explanation pointed back to the one who had performed a miraculous cure upon him. The cured man reasoned quite correctly that the one who cured him had the power of God to perform miracles, therefore he certainly had the authority to command the cured man to pick up his bed and walk on the Sabbath.
Without even considering the miracle performed and the authority it conveyed, the Jews wanted to know "Who is the man who said to you, Take up your bed and walk'?" (Jn. 5:12). They were more interested in finding out who violated their traditions rather than who had performed this miraculous healing. The healed man did not know who had healed him. He did not know who Jesus was when Jesus first approached him and he did not get a chance to find out after he was healed. As soon as the infirm man rose to walk, Jesus quickly disappeared into the crowd.
Apparently, the Jews were not as concerned about the cured man breaking the Sabbath as the one who healed him. Since the man could not tell them who healed him they did not have anything else to say to the cured man. The cured man then went into the temple. With his newly given power and freedom to move about, the temple would be the most obvious place for him to go. This man was likely filled with gratitude towards God for the restoration of his long lost strength to walk and he entered the temple to offer his
thankfulness and praise.
Jesus found the man in the temple. This was the second time Jesus had found the man. The first was beside the pool of Bethesda where the man lay physically infirm, helpless and hopeless. The second time Jesus found the man physically well and still spiritually infirm. While Jesus had healed the physical body of the infirm man, his foremost concern was the man's spiritual condition. This is why Jesus sought out the man the second time. The miraculous healing was to prove Jesus' divine authority, it was not the means to save the man from his sins. Jesus needed to find the cured man a second time in order to provide spiritual healing. This spiritual healing was not miraculous. Jesus simply gave the man a powerful warning concerning his sins. Here Jesus exemplified his mission, "The Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost" (Lk. 19:10).
"See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you" Jesus urged the man (Jn. 5:14). Jesus commanded and warned the man to stop sinning. For the man to continue in sin would bring far worse consequences upon him than the physical infirmity that had plagued him for thirty-eight years. If the man did not stop his sinning, the consequences would be upon his soul for eternity. Years of the agony and frustration of not being able to walk would not begin to compare to an eternity in the agony of the flames of Hell (See, Mt. 5:29-30; 10:28). This lesson had to make a powerful impact upon the once infirm man.
Some say that Jesus' warning implies that the infirm man was in his condition because of his sins (e.g. Albert Barnes). There is no way to know from Jesus' comment whether his condition was the result of some sinful action. Jesus repeatedly rejected the common view of the Jews that physical infirmities or tragic conditions were the result of sin. When Jesus' disciples saw a man born blind, they immediately assumed it was because of sin, either the man's or his parents (Jn. 9:1-2). Jesus denied this false view and said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him" (Jn. 9:3). On another occasion, Jesus commented upon why certain individuals had suffered early deaths. It was not because they "were worse sinners" than anyone else (Lk. 13:1-5). Jesus' comment to the infirm man did not attribute any reason as to why the man had been infirm, it simply warns him to stop sinning or else he would suffer the damnation of hell which would be far worse than not being able to walk.
The man left Jesus and went straight to the Jews, now that he knew who had healed him. He told them that it was Jesus who had healed him. There is no reason to believe that this man was trying to harm Jesus. Why would he try to harm the very one who had made him whole? Nor does it appear that Jesus forbad him from telling who had healed him. The man knew the accusations that he broke the Sabbath were false and he may have told the Jews that Jesus had healed him in order that Jesus might answer them more completely.
John reports that Jesus' healing on the Sabbath was the reason the Jews began to persecute and plot to kill Jesus. This is the first time in the gospel accounts that the conspiracy to Jesus is mentioned. The murderous desire of the Pharisees began with the conflict between their traditions Jesus' exercise of his authority. These Jews refused to recognize and submit to Jesus' authority, thus the conflict between them and Jesus grew as did their hatred. Each time Jesus exercised his authority they watched him to try to entrap him in order to find some reason to put him to death (See, Lk. 6:7-11). Their plot to murder Jesus was only completed when Jesus gave himself to them. Even this proved to be the ultimate proof and exercise of Jesus' authority as Jesus overcame his enemies and death by resurrecting from the dead (Psa. 2; Rom. 1:4).
The Sabbath Controversies Continue
Upon the healing of an infirm man on the Sabbath day in Jerusalem, the Jews falsely accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus eloquently refuted their charges by appealing to the example of the Father and by establishing his own authority as confirmed by divine witnesses. Jesus' controversy with the Jews over the Sabbath did not end with his sermon in Jerusalem. The Sabbath healing of the infirm man was only the first of a set of three events in the life of Jesus commonly called "the Sabbath controversies." The other two events are the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath and Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.
All three of these "controversies" arose from Jesus refusal to observe the man-made Sabbath traditions of the Pharisees. In each case Jesus refuted their human traditions and reestablished the divine purpose and meaning of the Sabbath. By reestablishing God's Sabbath law to the Jews, Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, also laid the foundation for establishing his authority as the Son of God.
The Disciples Pluck Grain On The Sabbath--(Mt. 12:1-8; Mk. 2:23-28; Lk. 6:1-5)
Luke records that on the "second-first Sabbath" Jesus walked through the grainfields and his disciples began picking the waving heads of the ripe grain within their reach (Lk. 6:1). The exact day designated by this word used by Luke is uncertain and subject to several different views. Most commentators believe that this refers to the Sabbath that followed the second day of the Passover. The second day of the Passover was the day from which the seven weeks to Pentecost were reckoned (Lev. 23:10-11, 15-16). The Sabbath following the "second" day of Pentecost would be the "first" Sabbath, thus the "second-first" Sabbath. The general time frame was near the barley and wheat harvest which would place the events at the end of April or the beginning of May. At this point, the Passover feast was completed or nearing completion. Jesus would not have had sufficient time to return to Galilee, therefore he was likely still in or near Jerusalem and the events probably took place in the grainfields somewhere near Jerusalem.
Jesus was out walking on the Sabbath and his disciples were with him. As they walked, Jesus led the group through the ripe grainfields. Although some translations, translate "grain" as "corn," maize or corn was unknown in the ancient world. Thus, the "grain" was not "corn" but likely wheat or barley. Matthew mentions that the disciples were hungry which may have been the reason Jesus picked his course through the grainfields (Mt. 12:1). Mark says that as the disciples walked they began to pick some "heads of grain" (Mk.2:23). Luke adds the detail that they rubbed the grains in their hands, for the purpose of separating the husks from the kernels, and they ate the kernels (Lk. 6:1).
Jesus and his disciples were not alone. Some of the Pharisees were presentand they saw Jesus' disciples picking and eating the grain. The healing of the infirm man at Bethesda on the Sabbath had likely occurred just the previous Sabbath and the conspiracy to murder Jesus had commenced from that event (Jn. 5:16, 18). Likely, the Pharisees present were watching Jesus in order to find something with which they could accuse him, as the gospel writers tell us this was their purpose on many other occasions.
As the Pharisees watched Jesus and his disciples walking through the grainfields, they saw the disciples pick and eat the grain. The Pharisees began to question Jesus' disciples (Lk. 6:2) and Jesus. Mark and Luke indicate the Pharisees asked an accusing question, Matthew suggests they simply made an accusation, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" (Mt. 12:2). It is interesting to note that the gospels record three accusations against Jesus' disciples all of which involve food and the traditions of the Pharisees: plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:2); failing to fast upon certain days (Mt. 9:14); eating without washing hands (Mt. 15:2).
The Pharisees accused the disciples of Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by picking, rubbing and eating some kernels of grain. We have dealt at length with the Sabbath and its proper observance as set forth in the Law. The Pharisees based their accusation upon their rabbinic traditions and not the Law of Moses. The traditions of the Pharisees went to absurd extremes and equated picking food with "reaping" and "working," which the Law did forbid. The rabbinic commentators of the Law said, "He that reapeth corn on the Sabbath, to the quantity of a fig, is guilty; and plucking corn is as reaping" (Mishna, Shabbath 70b). The Talmud says "In case a woman rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is considered as sifting; if she rubs heads of wheat, it is regarded as threshing; if she cleans off the side-adherencies, it is sifting out fruit; if she bruises the ears, it is grinding; if she throws them up in her hand; it is winnowing" (Shabbath, 10a).
While the Law of Moses forbade working and harvesting on the Sabbath (Ex.20:10; 31:14-15; 35:2; 34:21), the Law did not forbid picking and eating food. The Law actually distinguished between picking food to eat immediately and reaping. "When you come into your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor's standing grain" (Deut. 23:24-25). The Pharisees condemned Jesus' disciples upon the very act that the Law permitted.
As with the previous Sabbath controversy, there are those commentators who agree with the Pharisees and say that indeed Jesus' disciples broke the Sabbath. Some commentators assert that although Jesus' disciples were guilty of breaking the law, Jesus justified their actions by appealing to a "higher moral law." An example of this reasoning is given by F.F. Bruce, "The point of Jesus' argument here seems to be that human need takes priority over ceremonial law" (F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 33). Other commentators take the view that Jesus justified his disciples by using his divine authority to waive the requirements of the law. Albert Barnes is an example of this second view, "(Jesus is saying) `I can grant to my disciples a dispensation from those laws. An act which I command or permit them to do it therefore right'" (Albert Barnes, Notes On The New Testament, Matthew and Mark, p. 127). Liberal commentators are quick to make a broad range of modern day applications upon these man-made principles.
Both of these views are wrong because they are based upon the faulty premise that Jesus' disciples had in fact broken God's Sabbath Law. Because the Pharisees made this accusation does not make it true. Jesus did not accept the Pharisees' accusation for he declared that the Pharisees had "condemned the innocent" (Mt. 12:6). Thus, a proper understanding of what Jesus taught must be based upon the premise that Jesus' disciples had not broken God's Sabbath Law. Jesus' response to the Pharisees was not to justify his disciples' unlawful actions, as some commentators suggest. Jesus' response was to refute the false traditions and views of the Pharisees that distorted the Sabbath law of God and "condemned the guiltless."
Those who reason that human need takes priority over God's laws, raise a multitude of questions and open the door for human wisdom to judge when human need sets aside God's law. To argue that human need takes priority over God's laws indites God the Lawgiver as providing a Sabbath law that failed to take human need into account. Jesus refuted this false view by teaching that God made the Sabbath Law for human need, "`The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath'" (Mk. 2:27). Jesus did not refute
God's Sabbath Law, Jesus did refute human traditions which had distorted God's Sabbath to disregard human need.
To argue that Jesus exercised his divine authority to "waive" the Sabbath law is contrary to the context and the rest of scripture. Jesus did not waive the Sabbath law nor grant a special dispensation for his disciples to break the Sabbath. Jesus skillfully and cogently demonstrated from the Law that the Pharisees "condemned the innocent." Jesus' disciples were innocent because they had not broken the Sabbath law, not because Jesus took Sabbath breakers and pronounced them "innocent" by divine fiat. It would be strange
and contradictory for Jesus to continually teach and live in obedience under the Law to the Father and later demand the obedience of his disciples to his authority, while actually condoning his disciples while they flagrantly broke God's Sabbath law.
Jesus answered the false accusation of the Pharisees with five concise arguments. There is some difficulty in determining the exact meaning of Jesus' arguments because they rely upon assumptions that are implied but not stated. Jesus' arguments were for the purpose of showing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, revealing the proper scope of God's Sabbath injunction against work and establishing the authority of Jesus to cast aside human traditions and properly explain the purpose and meaning of God's Law.
In responding to the Pharisees, Jesus drew from two portions of the Hebrew scriptures, that were generally divided into three divisions, the Law, Prophets (the former and the latter) and the Psalms. The example of David is from the former prophets; the example of the work of the priests comes from the Law; the quote from Hosea is drawn from the latter prophets and the inference of man being created before the Sabbath returns to the book of Genesis and the Law.
A brief summary of Jesus' five arguments follows below:
1) The Pharisees are hypocrites in their misapplication of the Sabbath Law--David "did that which was not lawful" by taking and eating the shewbread, yet you excuse his actions and condemn my disciples who are "guiltless."
2) The Pharisees complete prohibition of all work was never intended by God's Sabbath Law--God did not completely prohibit all work on the Sabbath for the Law commands the priests to work in the temple on the Sabbath and they are "guiltless." My work (and my disciples' work) is greater than the temple and my disciples are as guiltless as the priests.
3) The Pharisees misapplied the Sabbath Law by forgetting that the Law of God includes mercy--God desires mercy as well as sacrifice and the keeping of the Sabbath, yet you have excluded mercy from the Sabbath by your traditions.
4) The Pharisees have forgotten the very purpose of the Sabbath--God made the Sabbath for men to ease their burdens, you have turned this purpose with your traditions and made the Sabbath a burden as though man was made for the Sabbath.
5) Jesus has authority to rebuke the Pharisees and explain the true purpose and meaning of the Sabbath--I am Lord of the Sabbath and what I say concerning the Sabbath is true.
Jesus began his response to the Pharisees by using the example of David as he and his men fled from Saul (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Jesus asked them rhetorically, "Have you never read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him?" (Mk. 2:23). Perhaps by beginning with "Have you not read . . ." he was ironically adopting a favorite phrase of the rabbis. Matthew and Luke mention only that David and his men were hungry, Mark includes that David was in need. Of course the Pharisees had read this account, but Jesus was going to open their eyes.
Jesus reminded the Pharisees what David did in the days of Abiathar the high priest (Mk. 2:26). Actually, Ahimelech was high priest when David ate the shewbread and Abiathar (Ahimelech's son) (1 Sam. 21:1-6) was made high priest a short time thereafter (1 Sam. 21:2; 23:9). There are several possibilities as why Abiathar is mentioned rather than Ahimelech. It may be a scribal error in the Old Testament text as the names of Abiathar and Ahimelech are switched in 2 Samuel 8:17 and 1 Chronicles 18:16). Another suggestion is that Abiathar served jointly as high priest with his father Ahimelech for a time. The best suggestion is that Abiathar is mentioned because he was more prominent than his father Ahimelech. The language used allows that David took the shewbread "in the time of Abiathar (who later became) the high priest."
David entered the house of God, the tabernacle, and he took the consecrated shewbread and ate and he gave some of the bread to his companions and they ate also. Jesus says they ate the bread "which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but (lawful) only for the priests (to eat)" (Mt. 12:4). It might also be noted that David took and ate this bread on the Sabbath as the Old Testament text explains that the hot bread had already been put in place of the week old bread David took, which was to be done every Sabbath (1 Sam. 21:6; Lev. 24:8-9).
The shewbread was the sacred bread placed in the Holy Place of the tabernacle and later the temple, upon the table of shewbread. The bread is literally called the "bread of the Presence" in Hebrew. The table the shewbread was placed upon was a wooden table overlaid with gold and four rings of gold through which poles were placed so that the table could be carried (Ex. 25:23-24). The shewbread was prepared by the priests fresh every Sabbath and arranged in two rows of six loaves. At the end of the week the loaves were taken and eaten by the priests and new loaves were put in their place. Only the priests were permitted to eat of the shewbread (Lev.24:9).
Jesus used the example of David breaking the Law because the Jews had elevated David to such a level that they attempted to excuse or justify David's actions, even though clearly wrong (See, Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, bk. 3, p. 57). Jesus did not justify or commend what David did in taking the shewbread. Jesus said David did that "which was not lawful." David's actions were wrong and sinful and his hunger and distress did not justify his actions of taking and eating the consecrated shewbread.
While Jesus said that David was guilty of breaking God's Law in taking and eating the shewbread, Jesus plainly declared that his disciples were "innocent" (Mt. 12:6) in picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. The sum of Jesus's argument to the Pharisees is this: You justify David (who was guilty of breaking God's Law) (Mt. 12:4), but you condemn my disciples (who are innocent and did not break God's Law) (Mt. 12:6). The Pharisees in their hypocrisy would condemn those who were innocent while they would seek to excuse or justify the actions of David which were clearly wrong.
Only Matthew records the second example Jesus used to answer the Pharisees, the work of the priests in the temple on the Sabbath. Jesus asked the Pharisees, "Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?" (Mt. 12:5). Jesus refers to the work commanded under the Law of Moses to be done by the priests on the Sabbath. The Law required the priests to make an burnt offering of two lambs with a grain and drink offering every Sabbath day in addition to the daily burnt offering (Num. 28:9-10). In order to carry out the sacrifices required on the Sabbath the priests serving had to prepare and light the fires of the sacrifices, prepare and slay the animals for sacrifice, bake the shewbread and attend the other duties of the tabernacle and later the temple.
Jesus used the example of the priests to refute the man-made doctrines of the Pharisees that forbid any and all work on the Sabbath. Jesus in irony spoke from the perspective of the Pharisees, "the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless." The Pharisees rightly concluded correctly that the priests were blameless for working on the Sabbath. However, the Pharisees incorrectly reasoned that the priests profaned the Sabbath because they worked, but were justified (Mishnah, `Erubin 10:11-15; Pesahim 6:1-2). God's Law did not forbid any and all work on the Sabbath, contrary to the Pharisees, as the very same Law of God required the priests to work on the Sabbath. Since the work of the priests in the temple was ordained by God, the priests could not have profaned the Sabbath in carrying out such work and thus they were blameless.
Jesus declared, "But I say to you that in this place there is something greater than the temple" (Mt. 12:6). Contrary to some translations, Jesus did not use a masculine pronoun but a neuter to describe, "something greater than the temple." It is still apparent that Jesus was referring to himself and his work. Jesus was greater than the temple in as much as he came to make a new and better avenue of worship to God than the physical structure of the temple (Jn. 4:21-24; Heb. 10:19-22).
Three times Matthew records Jesus making the declaration that he is greater than something or someone from the Old Testament era. Here Jesus declares he is greater than the temple (Mt. 12:6). He also declares that he is greater than the prophet Jonah (Mt. 12:41) and he is greater than king Solomon (Mt. 12:42).
Jesus applies the work of the priests in the temple to the actions of his disciples. Just as the work of the priests on the Sabbath was permitted, yea required by the Law, and the priests were blameless, the picking and eating grain by the disciples to eat was permitted under the Law and the disciples were innocent. Jesus applies the same word "guiltless" to describe the priests working on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:5) as he used to describe his disciples (Mt. 12:7). Robertson indicates that the word means "no real ground against" (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in The New Testament, vol. 1, p. 93).
Jesus moves from his two examples and rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, blind prejudice and lack of mercy that would lead them to condemn men innocent before God for simple act of picking and eating grain. Only Matthew records Jesus' charge "But if you had known what this means, `I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Mt. 12:7). This is the second occasion recorded by Matthew that Jesus uses Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice." The first was in response the criticism of the Pharisees at the feast in the house of Matthew (Mt. 9:13). When the Pharisees had objected that Jesus ate with sinners and publicans, Jesus responded in part with Hosea 6:6. On that occasion, Jesus condemned the merciless attitude of those who refused to help teach and save those in sin.
On this occasion, Jesus condemns the Pharisees zeal for their false interpretations of the Law that caused them to cast aside the weightier matter of mercy that was required by the Law. If the Pharisees truly knew what Jehovah meant when he said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," they would not have falsely condemned the guiltless disciples for picking and eating grain for their nourishment. While God required the Jews to observe rituals, such as sacrifice and the Sabbath, the Jews throughout their history exalted these rituals so that they obscured or even replaced the weightier matters God required goodness, mercy and justice (See, Hos. 6:4-7; Micah 6:6-8). Jesus was not arguing that in order to be merciful, men must reject the Sabbath or God's laws concerning the Sabbath to suit their needs,
but rather men must recognize that God in his mercy made the Sabbath and its laws for the needs of men.
Mark alone adds "And He said to them, `The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath'" (Mk. 2:27). Jesus returned to the Law and the very beginning, man was created on the sixth day before the sabbath rest of God on the seventh day (Gen. 1:26--2:3). The Sabbath day was given by God to the Jews much later upon their exodus from Egypt and slavery. The Sabbath was given by God for the benefit of Jews by providing liberty and rest for all (Deut. 5:14; Isa. 58:13). The rabbis had taken the blessing of the God's Sabbath and turned it into a wretched burden with their endless arguments and rules.
"The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" contrasts the wisdom of the beneficent and merciful Lawgiver with the foolishness of those merciless men who sought to twist and obscure God's laws with their own arcane traditions and rules. The Law of Moses the Pharisees tried to use to condemn Jesus' disciples, mercifully provided that those who hungered could eat their fill of their neighbor's grapes and pluck the heads of their neighbor's standing grain (Deut. 23:24-25).
All of three gospels accounts end with Jesus' conclusion, "For the Son of Man is Lord also (even) (Mt. 12:8) of the Sabbath" (Mk. 2:28; Lk. 6:5). Jesus concludes his response to the accusations of the Pharisees by asserting his authority. Jesus as "the Son of Man" had authority concerning the Sabbath. Jesus was not claiming authority to abrogate God's Sabbath Law. As he plainly stated later, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Mt. 5:17). Jesus was claiming the right to properly interpret and explain the Sabbath.
Jesus Heals A Man With A Withered Hand On The Sabbath--(Mt. 12:9-14; Mk. 3:1-6; Lk. 6:6-11)
The third "Sabbath controversy" arose in a synagogue in Galilee on a subsequent Sabbath. Luke reports the next controversy arose "on another Sabbath" (Lk. 6:6). Matthew writes that Jesus "departed from" the place where the controversy over the disciples plucking grain had arisen (Mt.12:9). Alford says the Greek phrase used by Matthew "departed from" suggests a journey undertaken, possibly from Judea to Galilee (Henry Alford, Alford's Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 125). From Mark's account, it is apparent the next controversy took place in Galilee, very likely in or around Capernaum, for at the conclusion of the event, Mark reports Jesus withdrew to the "lake" followed by a large crowd from Galilee (Mk. 3:7). Jesus went into the nearby synagogue, where Luke mentions Jesus taught (Lk. 6:6).
There in the synagogue was a man with a withered or shriveled hand. Again, only Luke provides the extra detail that it was the right hand that was withered (Lk. 6:6). The text does not specify the cause of the withered hand, nor the amount of time it had been withered. It may have been withered from birth or the hand may have been injured by accident or disease and atrophied by lack of use. (Robertson does say that the Greek implies that he hand had withered subsequent to birth. Robertson, Ibid., vol. 1, p.275). The apocryphal book the Gospel according to the Hebrews says the man with the withered hand was a stonemason who pleaded with Jesus to heal his hand so that he might not have to beg. Whatever the cause, the man's problem was not a hidden internal pain, the man's hand was visibly shriveled and incapacitated.
Also present in the assembly of the synagogue were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, the scribes (Lk. 6:7). All three gospel writers report that these men were present for the purpose to watch Jesus and find some reason to accuse him. Mark and Luke indicate that they were watching him "closely" to see if he would heal on the Sabbath (Mk. 3:2; Lk. 6:7).
Since Jesus had healed the infirm man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath a few weeks previously, the Pharisees had began to watch Jesus and his disciples in order to find some fault they could try to use against him (Jn. 5:16, 18). The Pharisees had unsuccessfully tried to accuse Jesus' disciples (and implicitly accuse Jesus as their master) when the disciples had picked grain on a previous Sabbath. Yet they were still watching and seeking to find something against Jesus directly. Luke tells us Jesus knew their thoughts (Lk. 6:8). He understood why they were present and what their motives were. Whether this knowledge was supernatural or not is not specified.
Jesus commanded the man with the shriveled hand to "Arise and stand here" in front of everyone (Mk. 3:3; Lk. 6:8). Luke says the man got up and stood where Jesus told him (Lk. 6:8). The demonstration of Jesus' power to heal and his right to heal on the Sabbath was to be plainly visible to all present in the synagogue.
Matthew records that those who watched Jesus questioned him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The question was not asked to find the right answer, but in order to try to entrap Jesus. The motive behind the question was wicked and insincere; it was an attempt to deceive Jesus and to get him to heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. Remember, those who sought to accuse Jesus had not witnessed his healing of the infirm man. Possibly they decided that they needed to actually see for themselves Jesus heal on the Sabbath before they could bring an accusation against him.
How would the Jewish rabbis have answered the question, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The general rule they accepted was healing was a "work" that was forbidden on the Sabbath, except when a man's life was in immediate danger. Edersheim recites the some of the exceptions set forth by the rabbis including healing certain afflictions of the ear, throat and angina. Medical attention could be given if one swallowed a sliver of glass, had a splinter in the eye or a thorn. Any external application to the body were forbidden, while internal applications of medicine might be taken. Gargling for a toothache was forbidden, while using a toothbrush to apply a medicant was allowable (Alfred Edersheim, Ibid., bk. 3, p. 60). The prohibitions and exceptions laid down by the rabbis were as arbitrary as they were man-made.
Jesus responded to their question by asking a question in return. Mark and Luke record Jesus' question in response to the Pharisees, "I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" (Lk. 6:9; Mk. 3:4). The answer to this question was clearly provided by God through the prophet Isaiah. The Jew was not to defile the Sabbath by keeping "his hand from doing any evil" (Isa. 56:2; See, vss. 1-6), God demanded good be done on the Sabbath, "to unloose the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free . . . share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh" (Isa. 58:6-7; See, vss. 6-14). Jesus was keeping the Sabbath as God intended, while the Pharisees were engaged in the very evil God had condemned.
While the answer to Jesus' question was clear, it posed a dilemma to the Pharisees. They certainly could not answer that it was lawful to do evil or destroy (kill) a life on the Sabbath? Yet, if they answered that it was lawful to do good and save life on the Sabbath, then they would have answered their own question, ("Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?") and would have no basis to accuse Jesus for doing good and healing on the Sabbath.
Some suggest Jesus' question, was not only to establish the lawfulness of his healing on the Sabbath, but that it was also to reveal the evil and hypocritical motives of the Pharisees. In other words, Jesus was asking the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to do good (and heal a man on the Sabbath) or to do evil (by plotting against me), to save life (by my healing) or to kill a
life (by your conspiracy)?"
Another possible explanation of Jesus' words are that Jesus was arguing that the failure by one to do good within his power, was to do evil. "Is it lawful to do good (and heal on the Sabbath) or to do evil (by refusing to heal), to save life or to kill a life?" Whether this was Jesus' argument, the principle is sound and found elsewhere. As James wrote, "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (Jam. 4:17). Likewise, there will be those condemned on Judgment day because they had opportunity to do good and did not do it (See, Mt. 25:41-46).
Only Matthew records Jesus' next question to the Pharisees. "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?" (Mt. 12:11). Interestingly, Jesus speaks of "one sheep" making the value of that animal greater and all the more precious to its owner.
Apparently there was no answer from the Pharisees on this question, nor was one needed. Jesus' question assumes the answer, not one of them would refuse to pull his sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. The wisdom of Solomon had stated, "A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Prov. 12:10). The rabbis allowed the rescue of one's animals and possessions on the Sabbath in emergencies. Specifically, the rabbis said that one might sustain the life of an animal fallen in a pit by providing it food and water or one might even be allowed under some circumstances to lift an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath (Edersheim, Ibid., bk. 3, p. 61).
Since the Pharisees recognized that one could rescue his animal without violating the Sabbath, Jesus simply applied this same principle to rescuing a suffering man. "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?" Jesus asked (Mt. 12:12). Jesus later answered this question himself, when he says that men are more valuable than the birds of the air or the grass of the field (Mt. 6:26, 30; 10:29, 31).
Again, the Pharisees did not answer and again there was no need for their answer. The answer was evident, a man is of immeasurably more value than a sheep. The Pharisees could not dispute this. Jesus concludes his argument, "Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Mt. 12:13). Since the Pharisees themselves recognized that it was good and lawful to rescue an animal on the Sabbath, and that a man was more valuable than a sheep, then they had to agree that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath and rescue a
Mark reports they remained silent to Jesus' questions and arguments (Mk. 3:4). They could not answer Jesus without losing their argument, losing their accusation against him and betraying their own evil intentions. Luke writes that Jesus looked around at all of them (Lk. 6:10). Mark adds the comment that Jesus looked at them "with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts" (Mk. 3:5). Mark often reports the "looks" of Jesus as if an eyewitness, usually this "eyewitness" account is attributed to Peter (See, Mk. 3:5, 34; 5:37; 9:8; 10:23; 11:11).
Mark's report of Jesus' anger is the only place in the scripture which specifically tells of Jesus being moved with anger, although it is hard to imagine that Jesus was not filled with righteous anger when he cleared the temple of moneychangers or denounced the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus' anger tells us several things. Anger is not necessarily wrong, "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath" (Eph. 4:26). Righteous anger and indignation is good and proper when it is directed toward wickedness and sin (Eph. 5:11). Righteous anger should be mixed and tempered with sorrow towards those it is directed at (Mk. 3:5; Mt. 23:31-37).
This was the third time the Pharisees had sought to falsely accuse Jesus (or his disciples) of breaking the Sabbath. Each time he had plainly refuted their accusations and silenced them. Their envy and hatred of Jesus had blinded them to the obvious. Would they not listen to what he had said? Would they not see the divinely approved miracle he was about to perform sanctioned his Sabbath healing? The Pharisees were waiting and expecting Jesus to perform a miracle so that they could accuse him of breaking the law of God. How strange and contradictory. Jesus saw their faces, he knew their hearts/minds were hardened and set against him. Robertson says that the Greek word "hardened" used by Mark was used to describe a type of marble and callus on fractured bones (Robertson, Ibid., vol. 1, p. 276).
Jesus commanded the man with the withered hand "Stretch out your hand." As the man held out his hand it was completely restored, it was whole again. Matthew adds that the healed hand was as sound as the other hand (Mt.12:13). No deception, no magic formulas or incantations were used by Jesus. The miracle was performed on a hand that was visibly shriveled on a man who stood openly before an entire assembly, some of whom were secretly hostile towards Jesus. There are no indications Jesus even touched the man with the withered hand. Contrary to some commentators, there is nothing this account to suggest Jesus healed the man with the withered hand upon his exercise of faith and obedience. With a simple command to hold out his hand, Jesus healed the withered hand before eyes of all present. They could all see and feel that the once useless hand was now entirely healed and as good as the other hand. No one present could deny that a miracle had been performed.
But the Pharisees were not concerned about the validity of the miracle. The work of God was performed before their eyes and all they could see was that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, contrary to their traditions. Not only had Jesus healed on the Sabbath, but he had refuted and silenced them publicly, preventing them from immediately bringing some accusation against him. Further, what accusation could they bring against Jesus? Yes, he had healed on the Sabbath, but he had done nothing which could be construed as "work?"
All he had done was ask the man to stand before the assembly and stretch out his hand. Not even the Pharisees could find an accusation against one who had merely spoken a word.
Luke writes that the Pharisees "were filled with madness" (Lk. 6:11). Robertson says "madness" here is a rage that is close to insanity, as the word suggests "a lack of sense" (Robertson, Ibid., vol. 2, p. 83). Mark adds that the Pharisees left "immediately" and joined with the Herodians in plotting how to destroy Jesus (Mk. 3:6; See also, 8:15; 12:13; Mt. 22:16). They began to discuss with one another what they could do to Jesus (Lk.6:11). Matthew writes that they left and plotted how they could kill Jesus (Mt. 12:14).
These men showed no concern for the man with the withered hand nor did they have any joy that his hand was restored. They could not contain their hatred toward Jesus to the point they would not even remain in the synagogue but quickly left. They then proceeded to plot evil and murder desecrating the very Sabbath day they feigned to uphold.
The Herodians were a political party of Jews who favored the policies of the Herodian family. When Romans had made the Jews part of the Roman empire, Herod, an Idumeanean (an Edomite), with great cunning had managed to get the Romans to make him "king" over the Jews. And at his death, his descendants continued to rule over various portions of Palestine with the approval of the Romans. Because the Herods were not full-blooded Jews and because of their cruelty and other vices, many Jews hated the Herods and opposed their rule. Some Jews viewed the rule of the Herods favorably. They saw the great building projects, the favor of Rome and influence of Greek and Roman culture as an advantage to the Jews. Those who supported and favored the Herods were called "Herodians." Some of these Herodians favored Herod the Great to such an extent that they even suggested that he was the promised Messiah.
The alliance of the Pharisees with the Herodians against Jesus was unusual as unlikely. The Herodians stood for foreign rule and Gentile influence, the very things the Pharisees supposedly detested. However, the fury of the Pharisees towards Jesus grew so great that they plotted with their political opponents. The Herodians possibly saw the growing crowds and influence of Jesus as a threat to their own political agenda. Together, these two groups planned how to murder Jesus.
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