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Did Jesus Break the Sabbath? John 5:18

July 21st, 2010 · 41 Comments · Bible, Christianity, Christology, Gospel of John, Jesus, New Testament, Religion, Theology

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

-John 5:16-18

In a recent post called “The Naughty Lists” a discussion developed about whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath based on John 5:18. My understanding of this verse is that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath traditions (considered on level with the law itself by the Pharisees) and not actually breaking the Law of Moses (the 4th commandment).

What Jesus is doing in this passage is using the Sabbath to teach them something about himself. You cannot separate these verses from the broader theology of John and what John is setting out to do. Jesus is not teaching us about the Sabbath, as we typically hear on these stories of Sabbath healings. Jesus is teaching us something about himself. I can say that with confidence because it is all over this story. Jesus makes the point that God works on the Sabbath (and no one is calling God a law breaker – 5:17), so when Jesus works on the Sabbath he is not breaking the Law of Moses because He and God are the same. So Jesus is not a Law breaker. Jesus point is not about the Sabbath. Jesus is using the Sabbath as an opportunity to teach them something about his identity. We are not called to have faith in the Sabbath but faith in Christ. We often miss the forest for the trees on this one and get all caught up on the Sabbath rather than on the Lord of the Sabbath. Often this point is entirely missed because we are unaware or unconcerned with the broader theology of the Gospel of John that this fits so well into.

Last, I wanted to point out a really good article online that is helpful and brief on this topic that I found really helpful. I went through a dozen commentaries trying to find anything helpful on this phrase but came up empty. So if this interests you, have a read – Is Jesus Breaking the Sabbath?

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41 Comments so far ↓

  • nick gill

    I agree that in John 5, the text is recording the accusation of Jesus’ enemies, not saying that Jesus is a Sabbath-breaker. I don’t think this is the challenging passage for us. Rather, I think Matthew 12:1-8 is far more challenging to our understanding of Jesus’ relationship to the Sabbath. There, Jesus justifies the actions of his disciples (and by extension, his own actions) by pointing to two episodes which were clearly (as admitted by Jesus himself) violations of the letter of Sabbath ordinances.

    It was not lawful for David and his men to eat the shewbread, but they were innocent. Likewise, priests working in the temple on the Sabbath profanes the Sabbath, but they were regarded as innocent. Why?

    Jesus’ answer confounds us, because we are still laboring under a misinterpretation of James 2:10-11, a misinterpretation that tells us that all sin is equal.

    In Matthew 12, Jesus plainly teaches that some commands are greater than others. We don’t like the concept of situational ethics, but there it is: if the situation is that you are a priest who drew the lot to do the morning or evening sacrifice (like Zechariah in Luke 1) on the Sabbath, then Jesus says it is right for you to work on the Sabbath. Notice that Jesus does not say that the priests didn’t actually work. He says they did work, it did profane the Sabbath, but because of the situation, they are innocent. Likewise, because something greater than the temple is present in Matthew 12 (ie, JESUS, see v.6), the disciples are likewise both a) profaning the Sabbath with their work, and b) “guiltless” (12:5; 12:7)

    If one violates the letter of Sabbath ordinance to uphold one of the greatest commands, one is innocent. Shema and Love your neighbor are greater commands than the holiness code and even the “do no work on the Sabbath” commandment. I think exegesis of John 8:1-11 provides confirmation of this interpretation.

    • mattdabbs

      N.T. Wright has a some good information on the Matthew 12 passage in his book Jesus and the Victory of God. He questions addresses the question of why the Pharisees were themselves out in grain fields on the Sabbath to even see this happen. His take is that the Pharisees knew that if Jesus was the Messiah he would certainly maintain a strict interpretation and application of the Law. If they can poke holes in his approach then he could certainly not be the messiah.

      “Hard line Pharisees would naturally want to check him out for orthodoxy, or rather orthopraxy: did this new kingdom-prophet measure up to the standards required? Was he a stickler, as he ought to be, for Israel’s ancestral traditions? Would he, and his movement, lend weight to the revolution, and indeed the correct sort of revolution, if and when it came? The signs were not good. If he had spent the week healing, he might have been expected to stop on the sabbath. But he did not. The fact that he could answer his challengers with a legal argument does not mean that the dispute was about the fine-tuned interpretation of the Torah, such as might have taken place at any time; merely that, as in several other instance, Jesus was claiming that his (eschatologically motivated) kingdom-praxis could not legally be controverted, however unwelcome its symbolic implications might be.

      What, then, about Jesus’ response to the corn-plucking charge? The little story about David and his men eating the holy bread is not simply designed to provide a legal parallel in an essentially legal case. It is hardly surprising that the story does not work too well when read in this fashion. It is designed to provide a kingdom-parallel in an essentially kingdom-case. David, at the time of the story, was on the run from Saul. But he was the true king, and in due time he was vindicated by YHWH. Jesus’ retelling of this story functions like the parable of the prodigal son, inviting his hearers to discover which role they are playing. Jesus and his followers are like David and his motley crew. The Pharisees are like Saul’s servant, Doeg, the Edomite, spying on him and then running off to tell the authorities.”

      I have to run but I will talk more about this when I get a second. But notice Wright’s backing away from viewing Jesus point as being a legal one and more a theological/christological one.

      • nick gill

        Oh, absolutely I agree that Jesus’ primary point is christological – but then I believe most of Jesus’ sayings (as well as a vast portion of the Hebrew Scriptures) are primarily christological.

        But we, who worship in a brotherhood that can obsess over the letter to the point of ignoring both the spirit of the command and the Spirit who inspired it, can hardly afford to ignore the legal implications of such passages, where Jesus’ ethic of compassion is challenged and emerges victorious.

      • mattdabbs

        “PS – what does Torah say about one who teaches another to violate ordinances?”

        Jesus’ command to the man didn’t violate Sabbath regulation as found in any of the OT sections outlining the requirements of the Sabbath (Exodus 20, 23:10-13, 31:12-18, 35:1-3, Lev 23:3, Deut 5, etc.). The man picking up his mat also didn’t violate any of the Sabbath regulations as defined in the Torah. If you can find a passage that I am missing please let me know. You might point out Numbers 15 but what that man was doing was physical, menial labor that should have been done in the days prior. This man wasn’t healed in the days prior and taking up a mat is no where defined as work except by the rabbinical traditions.

        So why did they think Jesus violated the Sabbath? The work cited in violation was the healing as implied/responded to by Jesus in 5:17 when he said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day.” They understood that God worked to heal on the Sabbath.

        Nothing Jesus commanded this man to do would have been seen as a violation of the sabbath.

      • nick gill

        Nothing Jesus commanded this man to do would have been seen as a violation of the sabbath.

        By whom do you mean that it would not have been seen as Sabbath violation?

        I’m not trying to be argumentative, but that’s precisely *what* his command was seen as (5:10).

        • Gene

          I realize it’s been a couple of years, but having looked at situational ethics, I ran across this blog. My thoughts are that this is far trickier than we give credit. We MUST be able to interpret the OT text of what “work” is in order to establish if Jesus was or wasn’t breaking the sabbath. If the OT law says “you shall not do ANY work” – which it does – and Jesus says he’s working, that’s a problem.

        • Matt Dabbs

          Jesus point is he has authority to work on the Sabbath because he is divine.

    • mattdabbs

      But the question remains, how do you define work? People weren’t ordered to stay in bed all day on the Sabbath. People ate and drank on the Sabbath. People put their clothes on on the Sabbath. What is the difference between picking your pants off the floor and picking up your mat? The difference is the rabbis said one was right and the other was wrong. So whose “Law” was Jesus violating…God’s Law or man’s interpretation and further refinement of that Law? If it is the second then Jesus didn’t break the Sabbath. Jesus is saying it is possible to do the work of healing on the Sabbath and not break (or at least be guilty of breaking) the Sabbath.

      • nick gill

        Jesus is saying it is possible to do the work of healing on the Sabbath and not break (or at least be guilty of breaking) the Sabbath.

        That’s precisely what I believe Jesus is saying – that it is possible to break the letter of the Sabbath ordinance (“do no work” – and Jesus defines his own activity – and God’s – as work) – and yet remain innocent (Matt 12:6-7).

        The reason I keep worrying at this concept is because it seems to have huge ramifications for our brotherhood with its passion for doctrine and definitions (is clapping a form of IM, etc). Jesus never, in any of the Gospels, says that the popular definition of work is incorrect. He says, in effect, that their entire paradigm of looking for behaviors to classify as sinful, their passion for looking for reasons to exclude people from the community of faith, is wrong. That’s why Isaiah 1:11-7 and Hosea 6:6 and Micah 6:6-8 are so central to the teaching and practice of Jesus.

        • Jon

          In that case, only Jesus would be allowed to work, seeing he’s “god” in all.

  • Flotsam and jetsam (7/21) « scientia et sapientia

    […] Dabbs has a brief reflection on whether Jesus broke the Sabbath, with a link to a longer article on the […]

  • hank

    I’m gonna be sending this from my phone and so will try to be brief. First, the inspired John cleary recorded that “Jesus had broken the sabbath.” He did not paranthetically explain that it was “only according to the man made traditions of the Pharisees,” but that Jesus did brake it. He could not have written it any more clearly. Second, whether or not God worked on the sabbath, the Jews were commanded not to. And as a man, Jesus was born under the law (not above it), and was just as subject to obey it as was any other Jew. To say that he could work because he was God and did not HAVE to fully obey the law would be akin to saying that Jesus could “steal” something from his neighbor because, as God, it was really his in the first place. Third, Jesus clearly explained that there have been times when an actual law of God was violated and yet the violator was still innocent and guiltless of any wrongdoing.

    I agree with Nick (and T from the naughty list thread), that some of Gods laws supercede certain others. To care for, heal, and just do good to and for your neighbor was always allowable by God even if/when the letter of the sabbath law needed to be broke to do so. Just like a man can eat the shewbread wich was “not lawful” to eat…provided he was in need and an hungered like David and his men were back in the day. There really is no need in my opinion to seek to explain away the plain words and teaching of Jesus in regards to all of this. The scriptures says he broke it and it explains how men are still innocent of guilt in such rare cases.

    • mattdabbs

      I have never said Jesus didn’t have to fully obey the law but you guys are saying that he didn’t fully obey the law. Not just that he didn’t have to but that he didn’t and that it would be an okay thing if he didn’t. Let me ask you the same question I asked T in my previous comment. As defined by the Torah, how did Jesus break the Sabbath in John 5?

      • nick gill

        “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. (Exodus 20:8-10 ESV, emphasis mine)

        But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17 ESV, emphasis mine)

        Torah says, “No work.”
        Jesus says, “I work.”

        Love never takes a day off. Rest is important, but love is more important. Jesus isn’t saying that he didn’t violate the Sabbath – he’s saying it is never a sin to work lovingly.

    • Jon

      Thank you! My thought exactly.

  • Theophilus

    Here are a few quick points I wanted to make, since I need to get back to work on writing my book on Revelation and NT prophecy:

    #1. Matt. 24:20, where Jesus tells His disciples to pray that their flight does not take place on the Sabbath. Looking at Matt. 24:19-20, the Sabbath is mentioned with 3 other things – all of which have to do with impeding one’s ability to flee a city to avoid being destroyed – being pregnant, nursing little babies, and the winter (bad weather). This isn’t because the Jewish Christians would still be obligated to keep the Sabbath, but because the city gates would be closed on the Sabbath. Therefore, it would impede their escape from Jerusalem.

    #2. John 5:18 isn’t just the view of the Pharisees, but of the Apostle John, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, Mueller does not mention several other passages in the Gospels where Jesus openly admits to breaking the Sabbath.

    #3. Matthew 12 makes it clear that “non-divine Jews” could also break the Sabbath under certain circumstances and still be guiltless.

    #4. The Pharisees correctly understood what Jesus’ claims to the Father meant. They understood that Jesus was claiming to be equal to God (which He did teach, and which He was, Philip. 2:6). By Jesus claiming to be the unique Son of the Father, Jesus taught 2 things: that He was equal with God, and that He was submissive to the Father. And that is also how the Pharisees understood it. Jesus’ claim that God was His Father would have in no way implied to the Pharisees that Jesus didn’t abide by His Father’s ways. In context, Jesus had claimed that He was merely doing what His Father showed Him to do (John 5:17).

    • mattdabbs

      I am not at all saying that Jesus didn’t have to “abide by his Father’s ways” or that he was exempt from God’s ways because Jesus was divine.

      One question for any of you guys…how did Jesus, according to the Torah, violate the Sabbath in John 5?

      • nick gill

        I’m not in the John 5 argument 🙂 Like I said, I believe the author is accurately conveying the accusations of Jesus’ enemies rather than making an objective statement about the nature of Jesus’ activities.

        Jesus never sinned. It remains to be proven whether or not, by obeying the higher commands, he ever violated the letter of the lesser commands.

        PS – what does Torah say about one who teaches another to violate ordinances?

  • mattdabbs

    Here is another great quote that explains a few of these things better than I am able. This is from Gerhard Hasel in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Sabbath” (Vol.5, 855)

    “At times Jesus is interpreted to have abrogated or suspended the sabbath commandment on the basis of the controverseis brought about by sabbath healings and other acts. Careful analysis of the respective passages does not seem to give credence to this interpretation. The action of plucking ears of grain on the sabbath by the disciples is particularly important in this matter. Jesus makes a foundational pronouncement at that time in a chiastically structured statement of antithetic parallelism: “The sabbath was made for man and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The disciples’ act of pluching grain infringed against the rabbinic halakhah of minute casuistry in which it was forbidden to reap, thresh, winnow, and grind on the sabbath (Sabb. 7.2). here again rabbinic sabbath halakhah is rejected, as in other sabbath conflicts. Jesus reforms the sabbath and restores it to its rightful place as designed in createion, where the sabbath is made for all mankind and not specifically for Israel, as claimed by normative Judaism (cf. Jub. 2:19-20, See D.3). The subsequent logion, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2:28; Matt 12:8; Luke 6:5), indicates that man-made sabbath halakhah does noot rule the sabbath, but that the Son of Man, not man, is Lord of the sabbath. It was God’s will at creation that the sabbath have the purpose of serving mankind for rest and bring blessings. The Son of Man as Lord determines the true meaning of the sabbath. The sabbath activities of Jesus are neither hurtful provocations nor mere protests against rabbinic legal restrictions, but are part of Jesus’ essential proclamation of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God in which man is taught the orignial meaning of the sabbath as the recurring weekly proleptic “day of the Lord” in which God manifests his healing and saving rulership over man.

    The seven miraculous sabbath healings of Jesus indicate once again that Jesus restores the sabbath to be a benefit for humankind against any distortions of human religious and/or cultic traditions.”

    So let’s break this down. God had an intention for the Sabbath, to be good for mankind. Man turned God’s Law into a burden that was never intended to be laid upon men by making more strict the requirement of the law through the use of rabbinic tradition. Jesus comes on the scene and we would all admit that if anyone understood God’s original intention for something it was Jesus, not the Pharisees. Jesus brings good to mankind on the Sabbath, which falls in line with the original spirit of the sabbath itself but in violation of the man made requirements later added by men. So ultimately Jesus was not violating the Sabbath by definition of the Torah or by God’s original intention of the Sabbath.

    • nick gill

      So ultimately Jesus was not violating the Sabbath by definition of the Torah or by God’s original intention of the Sabbath.

      I agree with the second part, but not with the first, precisely because of the two examples in Matthew 12, and the language Jesus uses. The argument I am (and, I believe, Jesus is) making is that one can “profane the Sabbath” without sinning. If the priests could do it because of Temple work (“Love the Lord your God” outweighing “Do no work on the Sabbath”), the disciples could do it because of Kingdom work.

      Working – even to do good for others – is still working. The argument is about which command is greater: Lev 19:18 or Ex 20:7-11.

      (hmm… I’m noticing as I go along here that, more and more, I think that Jesus, in John 5, *admits* to breaking Ex 20:8-11. The admission even looks like a linchpin in his argument – see 5:17. “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”)

      As Scot McKnight’s thesis goes in Jesus Creed, “Love the Lord your God… by upholding Torah” became “Love the Lord your God… by following Jesus.”

      • mattdabbs

        But wouldn’t Jesus point be that yes he and God are both working and rightly so because they understand the original intention of the Sabbath itself and are not working against the Sabbath, but actually upholding its intention through their healing and redeeming actions? Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath” so how can the “Lord of the Sabbath” by definition violate the very thing he is Lord of? Jesus is restoring the original intention and in doing so is not in violation of anything (other than manmade “add ons”.

        No where in the OT does it say picking up a mat is work but no where does it say picking up sticks is work and yet as the Sabbath rules are applied a man is judged as guilty and killed for it. So how you define work is very important in how you look at this story. One man was trying to advance himself personally through doing manual labor on the Sabbath. The other man was hearing a command from the Lord and obeying it.

      • mattdabbs

        That is what his command was seen as by those who didn’t understand God’s intention for the Sabbath. In other words, they got the Sabbath wrong. Jesus got it right. Hard to say both Jesus got it right and he broke it all in the same breath, right?

      • mattdabbs


        Thanks for making these points. I am really appreciative of yours, Hanks, and T’s comments on this. It is very important to me, not to argue over these things, but to bounce these things off people who love God and respect His Word. So thanks.

      • nick gill

        It isn’t hard to say when you understand what Paul says in 2 Cor, that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.

        I agree that carrying a mat isn’t work by Torah definition. But I can’t argue with Jesus, who says that He Himself *did* work on the Sabbath, and remained innocent.

        Again, the question is about which are the controlling passages. Jesus clearly says that Deut 6, Lev 19:18, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:8, et al, are the controlling passages. The Pharisees (incorrectly) practiced Exodus 20:8-11, et al, as the controlling passage.

        But we can’t argue with Jesus here: He himself said that He worked on the Sabbath, and he said in Matt 12 that the priests do profane the Sabbath.

      • mattdabbs

        Good points…then the questions are,

        Is it lawful for God to work on the Sabbath?
        Rabbis said yes to this.

        Is it lawful for Jesus Christ, Son of God and Lord of the Sabbath to work on the Sabbath?
        Yes – I would contend that Jesus was perfectly within his rights as divine Son of God to heal on the Sabbath not only because, as you pointed out there are deeper guiding principles involved, but also because Jesus was equal with God and no one calls God a law-breaker for working each and every sabbath.

        Is it possible to break the Law and not sin?
        Yes – This has been covered as mentioned about David and the priests.

      • nick gill

        Is it lawful for Jesus Christ, Son of God and Lord of the Sabbath to work on the Sabbath?
        Yes – I would contend that Jesus was perfectly within his rights as divine Son of God to heal on the Sabbath not only because, as you pointed out there are deeper guiding principles involved, but also because Jesus was equal with God and no one calls God a law-breaker for working each and every sabbath.

        Precisely correct, but there’s a lingering danger of which we must be wary.

        Remember the key exchange in Frost/Nixon?

        Frost: Are you really saying the President can do something illegal?
        Nixon: I’m saying that when the President does it, it’s not illegal.

        I believe God Himself is, and defines, Good.
        Therefore, whatever God does is good.

        When we communicate this, though, we must be careful to emphasize God’s consistency – that, unlike Nixon and all the rest of fallen humanity, God doesn’t haphazardly act. We’ve got to be careful that we aren’t presenting an arbitrary, Nixonian image of God. That, I think, is the weakness of the argument from Jesus’ deity: It sounds too much like, “I’m God, so I can do whatever I want.” True, but dangerously petty-sounding unless you’ve already got a deep faith in the utter goodness of God.

      • Stephen

        You said “Working – even to do good for others – is still working. ”

        So it seems that what we need to do is find out what “work” means.

        In the Hebrew, the word for ‘work’ is melakah in Exodus 31:12-17. In Strong’s concordance its H4399 and it means occupation, work or business. In a business one is compensated for their work.

        When we look at what happened in the other six days of this man’s life, his normal ‘work day’ was waiting by the pool. So can carrying a mat after he has been healed be considered work? I don’t think so (but that is my and many other’s interpretation).

        The concept of ‘work’ is something that one does and receives compensation for, i.e. business. Did the man get compensated for carrying his mat? Was there monetary or material gain in carrying his mat? No, that was not the case.

        I also think that work is subjective. Case in point, my wife works at a local hospice. For some of the elderly it takes great effort to just eat and drink. So does that mean these people who make great efforts to drink a glass of water, are they breaking the Sabbath? I don’t think so because food and water are essential to life and there is no monetary gain involved. In the same manner Yeshua brought life to this man and telling him to carry his mat was not work in the sense that it was not too much for him to do and or that it would bring the man material gain.

        Thats my 2 cents.

  • hank

    Matt, I never really took the time to study all of the rules which surrouned the sabbath law given by God to the Jews of Old, because that was a law for them and not for me. However, I do know that the apostle John was inspired to record (in very plain language), that Jesus “had broken the sabbath.” As far as precisely when and where Jesus broke it…we might have to wait and ask him.

    A question for you — when Jesus said that David ate the bread that “was not lawful” for him to eat, did he mean that it was actually “not lawful” for him to eat that bread? If so, why was he guiltless? If not, why did Jesus say those words?

    • mattdabbs


      I love your respect for the Word of God and I really want you to know (and I think already do) that I share that same respect. The Bible says what it means. I wholeheartedly agree. There are times where things are not as straightforward as they seem. There are some things that seem straight forward and yet are not. Otherwise we would read Romans 10:13, “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” and be fine with the sinner’s prayer because “that just what the Bible says.” But on that one none of us would have any trouble saying maybe we need to reference a few more texts to get a fuller understanding of what that means.

      There are several considerations one has to keep in mind including John’s broader theology, linguistics/grammar (including that they didn’t use punctuation, quotations, etc…so telling which things are paranthetical and which are not is not always easy), and context (both of the Gospels as a whole and the immediate context). Some times things that seem easy to understand are not and sometimes things that seem quite difficult are actually pretty easy when looked on from the right angle. So that is where I am coming from on this.

      I am trying to understand all this in light of the rest of scripture in a way that is consistent. For instance, Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “17”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” The word abolish in Matthew 5:17 comes from the same word as the word “broke” in John 5:18 (luo, “to loose” for you Greek nerds). So what this is, is an attempt to reconcile these things. They all ultimately have to fit together and not be inconsistent with each other. That is out of respect for God’s Word not out of pushing for my own agenda or anything else.

      To answer your question, Lev 24:5-9 says that the bread of the presence was reserved for Aaron and his descendants. David and his men ate it. David violated the Torah when he did so and yet scripture (and Jesus) never blame him or call him sinful for doing so. If David was not considered guilty of something expressly forbidden in scripture then Jesus would not be considered guilty either (especially not of breaking the traditions of the Rabbis). In the Matthew 12 example the Pharisees were mad because threshing and grinding (pulling grain and rubbing together with your fingers) was forbidden by the Rabbis as work. The Torah never said called that work.

  • hank

    Matt, I know that you have great respect for the word as well. And I get what you are saing in regards to certain passages needing to be explained in order to be understood correctly. But, even with your Rom. 10:13 example, it still means what it says. I mean, it is true that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. They surely will. Just as will all who believe. But, to say that that equates to some “sinners prayer” is wrong. Just as it is wrong to suggest that it negates the need to repent and or be baptized. Other passages clarify and prove as much. But Rom. 10:13 is still a correct statement.

    But John records in plain language that Jesus had “broken the sabbath”. In the same context, Jesus references other guys in the past who actually violated a law and command of God and were yet not guilty of any wrong. Seems clear that he was comparing their situations to his. If had not actually broken the law, why not rather condemn their pharisaical traditions insted of referring to the David incident? Why not set the record straight? Further, unlike the need for Rom.10:13 to be explained (even though what it says is still true), the words of John would actually be incorrect if Jesus had not broken the sabbath.

    Ultimately, I believe that one of us can be honestly mistaken on this and be equally pleasing to God….I just think that you are the one that’s honestly mistaken bro. And I still look up to and aspire to be more like you in numerous ways. For real.

    • mattdabbs

      Thanks Hank and thanks for sharing here…I know that takes time and lots and lots of thinking. I am being blessed by it. What I was saying from Rom 10:13 was that the statement was true when understood from the correct context and background. I am saying the same thing of John 5:18. It also must be understood from the correct context and background. That context and background are a whole slew of rabbinic traditions of what constituted work that is clearly the background of these passages. In Jesus day the law of the land was that what could and could not be done on the Sabbath was heavily regulated by the Rabbis. Someone was considered to have broken the Sabbath if they walked so many feet, or did too much of any of a number of things. So when it says he broke the Sabbath. That statement is correct. I am in no way saying the BIble is in error here. I am saying it must be understood in context (which includes some things you are pointing out that are very challenging to me) and in light of their cultural understanding/background. In the first century there was a very good understanding of what a good Jew would and would not do on the Sabbath. Jesus didn’t go along with that. So by their definition he broke Sabbath. But he did not violate the Torah in these instances. If you can find a verse in the Torah Jesus is violating by the actions he took on these occasions I am curious to hear it. So with the correct understanding of what John meant by “sabbath”, yes, Jesus broke Sabbath. But I contend he didn’t break the Torah.

      How would you reconcile the Matthew 5 and John 5 verses I mentioned above?

  • Hank


    You asked, “How would you reconcile the Matthew 5 and John 5 verses I mentioned above?” Which verses are you referring to? I will do my best to answer whatever it is you ask.

    But, what about my question(s) to you? If Jesus had not in fact broken the actual Sabbath, but merely the made up traditions of the Pharisees, why would he refer to the account of David actually breaking God’s law and remaining guiltless? If Jesus was merely guilty of breaking their made up traditions, why not set them straight rather than talk about David and the Priests?

    And still, why would John himself record that Jesus had broken the sabbath without any hint of it merely being according to the view of the Pharisees.

    Lastly, if David could break a command of God and be guiltless of any sin, could not Jesus do the same?

  • David,

    Great dialogue on this subject. Often when I read Scripture, I think one has to be careful not to make it more complicated than it needs to be. From my perspective, this story is just another illustration that following the “rules” is not sufficient to be right with God. Obeying God is. And with Jesus’ coming, he introduced the relationship, rather than the law, as the primary factor for on-going righteousness. Jesus shows his oneness with God and that God may direct his followers to act on any day of the week. The audience is the Pharisees, who really needed to learn that it is not by works alone.

    • nick gill

      Interesting, David. But don’t you think part of Paul’s Abraham argument in Romans and Galatians is to show that Jesus did *not* introduce relationship, but rather that covenant relationship actually preceded the law as the primary factor for righteousness?

  • Undercover Brother

    Uh, guys? Jesus DID command the healed man to break the Sabbath:
    “Thus saith the Lord; Take heed to your souls, and TAKE UP NO BURDENS on the sabbath-day, and go not forth through the gates of Jerusalem; and carry forth no burdens out of your houses on the sabbath-day, and ye shall do no work: sanctify the sabbath-day, as I commanded your fathers.” – Jeremiah 17:21-22

    • mattdabbs

      In violating the rules of man, Jesus was setting the Sabbath into its proper place. If Jesus is guilty of violating the Sabbath, so is God. That was his point.

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  • Unison

    I think Jesus was breaking His own law to draw out its true meaning. Why not? He is Lord even of the Sabbath day. He made the law not to kill and look how many times He ordered Joshua to kill. The Lord gave life. Who are we to say He can’t take it back. We know Jesus was breaking this law because His disciples were reaping grain on the Sabbath and the Lord allowed them to do it (see in Matthew 12)

  • Stephen

    Jesus broke the Sabbath and told a man to sin – or did He?

    Situation: Some people say Yeshua/Jesus did away with the Sabbath and even broke it. They present John 5:1-15 & 18 saying Yeshua not only broke the Sabbath by working on it but commanded the man He healed to sin by telling him to carry his mat on the Sabbath; which is against the torah/commandments of God. John 5:18 says the following…

    “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.”

    However is this really the case? Did Yeshua break the Sabbath? Did He really command a person to ‘sin’? Let us look at the scriptures and see what we find.


    Scripture states “in Him (Yeshua) there was no sin” ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21. Sin is the transgression of the commandments, God’s torah, ref. 1 John 4:3. Since that is the case and the Sabbath was a commandment, we can conclude that He observed the Sabbath and did not break it.

    If that is not enough we do see Yeshua observing the Sabbath as He was Lord of the Sabbath ref. Matthew 12:8.

    He observed and healed on the Sabbath ref. Matthew 12:9-12. He concluded that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Never did He rebuke anyone for observing the Sabbath (though He did rebuke the Pharisees for their man-made Sabbath laws) or say that the Sabbath would be done away with.

    In Mark 1:21 Yeshua not only observed the Sabbath in the synagogue but taught on the Sabbath too.

    In Mark 6:2 He again observed and taught on the Sabbath in the synagogue. We also see this in Luke 4:16, 21.

    In all the gospels Yeshua was never accused of breaking the Sabbath or teaching against it. What He was accused of was breaking & rebuking the Pharisees of their man-made traditions that were in addition to the Sabbath commandments of the Lord.

    I think what it comes down to is what the torah says and how it can be interpreted versus the additional walls that the Pharisees and scribes placed around the torah. In the commandments about the Sabbath we see the following.

    Exodus 31:12-17 “You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore it is holy to you…. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest…”

    I think we need to ask, what is ‘work’?

    In the Hebrew, the word for ‘work’ is melakah. In Strong’s concordance its H4399 and it means occupation, work or business. In a business one is compensated for their work.

    When we look at what happened in the other six days of this man’s life, his normal ‘work day’ was waiting by the pool (and I don’t think he was compensated for doing so). So can carrying a mat after he has been healed be considered work? I don’t think so (but that is my interpretation). The concept of ‘work’ is something that one does and receives compensation for, i.e. business. Did the man get compensated for carrying his mat? Was there monetary or material gain in carrying his mat? No, that was not the case.

    I also think that work is subjective. Case in point, my wife works at a local hospice. For some of the elderly it takes great effort/work to just eat and drink. So does that mean these people who make great efforts to drink a glass of water, are they breaking the Sabbath? I don’t think so because food and water are essential to life and there is no monetary gain involved. In the same manner Yeshua brought life to this man and telling him to carry his mat was not work in the sense that it was not too much for him to do and or that it would bring the man material gain.

    I also think Yeshua addressed those that accused Him of breaking the Sabbath later in John 7:21-24 where He compared healing, good works, etc. with other torah observances on the Sabbath.

    “Yeshua answered and said to them ‘I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man received circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance but judge with righteous judgment.'”

    So we see that Yeshua did not break the Sabbath, the man did not by carrying his mat nor did Yeshua command anyone to sin (break a commandment of God.

  • Cyrus A. Ellorin

    I have yet to see from scriptures that Jesus broke the Sabbath command, or else we are hopeless, and he would not have resurrected for having broken one law.
    Before I proceed, let me only cite the following verses which were pronounced by Jesus himself:Luk 16:16 “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it;”; Mat_5:18 “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Joh 5:17 “But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. ”
    With these verses all in the words of Jesus, my comments become irrelevant.

  • Chris Shrock (@ChrisShrock)

    Matt, sorry to be a decade late to the conversation. I’m trying to straighten out my thoughts on this for a devotional on Sunday. Even if no one responds, I’ll leave my thoughts just for the sake of forcing myself to formulate them coherently. Broadly speaking, I agree with Stephen. Here are several considerations:

    1. It isn’t obvious to me that John is committed to Jesus breaking the Sabbath or making himself equal with God in verse 18. The word translated “because” is “oti” which often functions like quotation marks–like this was the formal accusation against Jesus rather than something Jesus actually did.
    a. Notice in v. 16 that John uses two words “doing these things” (touta epoiei) to describe Jesus’ actions when, if he thought Jesus was really breaking the Sabbath, he could have just said one very short word “was breaking” (eluen).
    b. As to making himself equal with God, the whole speech that follows the accusation, v. 19-47, is all about why Jesus is both subordinate to the Father and authoritative over humankind–the Son judges even the dead even though he does nothing of himself (v. 27, 30). There’s no outright claim to equality with God in the speech.
    c. Ultimately, that speech ends with a counter-accusation, that the “Jews” are in opposition to “Moses” (v. 45-47); they are not committed to the Torah. I guess their violation of “Moses” is seeking honor from one another rather than from God (v. 44).

    2. So I don’t think John means to say that Jesus violated the OT Law in a strict sense. I’m not clear on why. Perhaps…
    a. The relevant Sabbath Law was an Oral Tradition rather than the Scripture. But John doesn’t say this.
    b. Jesus was “Lord of the Sabbath” and so wasn’t subject to the Sabbath-keeping aspects of the OT Law. John doesn’t say that either.
    c. The no-working-on-the-Sabbath is smaller in scope than the “Jews” think. Maybe this is because the OT Sabbath Law is just about working to accumulate wealth or maybe there are exceptions for helping neighbors and miracle healing. Something along these lines seems to fit with v. 17, where Jesus justifies his actions by saying that his actions are consistent with the Father’s. Jesus isn’t going to his job in this passage; he’s ridding this poor man of sickness–there’s no law against that in the Torah. And this jives with John 7:22-24, where Jesus likens his healing to a Sabbath circumcision (which is obviously not a true OT Sabbath Law violation). Of course you can be about God’s business on the Sabbath; what you can’t be (if you’re a good Israelite) is about your own business on the Sabbath. The OT Sabbath Law doesn’t apply here.

    3. Looking at the Gospel of John from a broader perspective, the role that faith plays is absolutely huge. By faith, I mean which side you’re on–God’s or the enemy’s. John says he wrote the book in order to record the “signs” that support faith (20:31). Presumably, our faith is based on John’s record of signs because we don’t have the Thomas-style perceptual evidence of John 20:24-29. Had the people in John 6 been responding to the signs with faith, rather than just seeking a meal, Jesus would have been much happier with them (6:26-29). Check out John 3 on this issue as well–Nicodemus is counted among the unfaithful (3:12-16). … That said, in 5:44, 46-47, Jesus is saying that the “Jews” are on the wrong side of this whole thing; they’re counted among the UNfaithful. He puts himself on the side of Moses and the Father though. So … it’s hard to see 5:18 as a claim that Jesus is in an outright violation of the Sabbath, since Jesus claims to be on Moses’ side. Whatever Jesus is up to, it’s consistent with the Torah. Otherwise, the end of chapter 5 makes no sense.

    4. Maybe that messes up a proof-text for those gathering evidence of Jesus’ divinity from John 5:18. To them, I’ll just say that not every verse has to support your particular project, even if I agree with your conclusion. I also haven’t brought in anything from other Gospels. I don’t want to pretend that John is merely repeating Matthew just because the word Sabbath shows up in both texts. If we think that John is divinely inspired, we should trust him to tell the story correctly on his own.

    So that’s my conclusion: Jesus isn’t violating the Sabbath. Jesus is on Moses’ side and God the Father’s side, and we would do well to commit to that side as well.

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