Did Jesus Violate the Sabbath?

Irvin Himmel
Temple Terrace, Florida

One Sabbath when Jesus and his disciples were walking through fields of grain, the disciples were hungry and began plucking ears of corn to eat. The Pharisees, eager to find fault with Jesus, made the charge that the disciples were breaking the law.

On another occasion, Jesus healed a man at the pool of Bethesda, telling him to take up his bed and walk. Because it was the Sabbath, the Jews accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by healing on that day, and they charged the healed man with violating the Sabbath by carrying his bed on that day (John 5).

Leroy Garrett, writing in his Restoration Review, Dec., 1971, and defending situation ethics, says, "Legally speaking, Jesus violated Sabbath laws, but it was always for persons that he did so." From this premise he reasons to the conclusion that in certain situations we may "bypass a biblical principle" in order to honor "the law of love."

Were Jesus and his disciples guilty of violating Gods law pertaining to the Sabbath, even technically speaking? If so, Jesus was a transgressor, legally speaking, therefore technically a sinner! John says that "sin is the transgression of the law" (John 3:4), but Peter reminds us that Jesus "did no sin" (1 Pet. 2:22); hence, Jesus was not a transgressor, legally or otherwise!

Jesus replied to the Pharisees who accused his disciples of breaking the law by plucking grain and rubbing it in their hands on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1, 2; Lk. 6:1, 2), by calling attention to the case of David. When David was being pursued by Saul, he went to the house of God and ate the sacred showbread. The law forbade any but priests to eat this bread (Lev. 24:9). David clearly violated divine law. Jesus said David ate that "which was not lawful for him to eat" (Matt. 12:4). But the disciples had not violated divine law. Jesus said they were 11 guiltless." The Pharisees condoned Davids action although it was "not lawful," yet they "condemned the guiltless" by falsely accusing the disciples. Jesus exposed their inconsistency and hypocrisy.

Also, Jesus called attention to the priests who, by the very nature of their duties, worked on the Sabbath day. According to the Jewish interpretations of the Sabbath law, the priests profaned the day, yet even the Pharisees counted them blameless. This case further illustrated their inconsistencies in accusing Christs disciples falsely.

What Gods law pertaining to the Sabbath actually said was one thing; what Jewish tradition said was another. Jesus did not admit that either he or his disciples had violated the divine law of the Sabbath in any sense-legally, technically, or otherwise. The only violation was of man-made interpretations of the Sabbath law.

Jesus laid bare the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and freed his disciples from false methods of observing the Sabbath. He differentiated between true obligations and endless burdensome rules that were of human origin that had perverted the Sabbath law.

Our Lord taught nothing that would authorize us to "bypass a biblical principle" in any situation. True divine principles do not have to be bypassed to honor love, mercy, and the authority of Christ. Jesus broke with the traditions of the elders, but he did not violate Gods law, even technically.

December 14, 1972