In an incident recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matt 12:1, Mark 2:23, Luke 6:1), Jesus and his disciples walk through grain fields on the Sabbath and raise the ire of the Pharisees by plucking the heads of grain. The Wikipedia article on gleaning says:

Jesus and his disciples practiced a form of gleaning as they walked through grain fields breaking off heads of wheat to eat.

Were they practicing gleaning, as described in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Ruth?

2 Answers 2


It depends on your definition of gleaning, and what time of year they were doing it. Gleaning is supposed to be done by the poor after the harvesters have gone through the field and gathered in the harvest. From wikipedia:

According to the Holiness Code and the Deuteronomic Code of the Torah, farmers should leave the corners of their fields unharvested, and they should not attempt to pick up that which was dropped or harvest any left-overs that had been forgotten when they had harvested the majority of a field.[2][3][4] On one of the two occasions that this is mentioned by the Holiness Code, it adds that, in vineyards, some grapes should be left ungathered,[5]

How much is gleaning? Is only a few heads of grain gleaning? Jesus's disciples were definitely not out in the fields with baskets scrounging every last head of grain like Ruth was. They probably didn't even break stride as they walked and plucked a few standing heads of wheat or barley by the roadside. You'd have to be pretty hungry to want to eat more than a few heads of raw unground wheat or barley; it's just not that tasty, especially without salt. Ripe grain's also pretty hard on the teeth to chew.

Was it after the harvest? The scriptures don't say, so there's no way of knowing. The grain was probably ripe, because the Bible says they rubbed the heads in their hands to separate the grains from the stalk and the beard. Was plucking heads of grain before the harvest considered gleaning? We don't know that either. The Bible never actually sets down the rules for gleaning, just the rules that harvesters have to follow so that some produce is left for gleaners. The Pharisees objected not because it was stealing, but because it was "work" on the Sabbath. It's a good chance they did consider it gleaning. They probably would have accused the disciples of stealing too if they thought they weren't entitled to pluck the grain on other days of the week either. Wikipedia assumes too much, there's no way to be definitive; none of the synoptics call it gleaning.


No, the disciples weren't "practicing gleaning, as described in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and Ruth?".

Leviticus and Deuteronomy define specific requirements for land owners:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger …
— Leviticus 19:9–10

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.
— Deuteronomy 24:21

At harvest time, some of the crops should be left behind for the poor to gather for themselves, which is clearly what Ruth was doing:

So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.
— Ruth 2:23

But, this is not what the disciples were doing here:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.
— Matthew 12:1

Now it happened that He went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; and as they went His disciples began to pluck the heads of grain.
— Mark 2:23

Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands.
— Luke 6:1

The disciples are not harvesting crops left for the poor, but something completely different:

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.
— Deuteronomy 23:24–25

This law is not about providing food to the poor at harvest time. Its purpose is to allow people to feed themselves while traveling, which is exactly what the disciples were doing.

They snacked on the food immediately, not taking any of it away with them. And they plucked the grain and separated the chaff by hand, not using harvesting tools.

They were not gleaning.

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