In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus goes into a synagogue where there is a man with a shriveled hand and the Pharisees are watching to see if he will heal on the Sabbath. Jesus then

Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent.

Mark 3:4 (NIV emphasis mine)

Presumably the phrase "to kill" alludes to the fact that they are about to go on the Sabbath plot to kill Jesus (v. 6), but why does Jesus frame his own activity as saving a life? The man has a shriveled hand, but he doesn't seem in any kind of mortal danger. Is this just a hyperbole or is it somehow fitting in describing his action so?

3 Answers 3


Barnes observes in commenting on Mark 3:4 -

It seems to have been a maxim with the Jews that not to do good when we have an opportunity is to do evil; not to save life is to kill or to be guilty of murder. If a man has an opportunity of saving a man's life when he is in danger, and does not do it, he is evidently guilty of his death.

Thus, when Jesus asked the question, to which the Jewish maxim was the obvious and unavoidable answer, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" they remained silent; precisely because to answer would have betrayed their duplicity; the Jews were plotting to kill Jesus. Thus, to answer, "to kill life" would have made them guilty of disregarding the Torah; to answer "to save life" would make them guilty of the death of Jesus whom they wanted to kill for saving life.

By this ingenious question Jesus exposed what happens to people who, though punctilious about keeping the law actually end up breaking the law, in this case the Sabbath.

Jesus' question is a classic case of argument from the greater to the lesser. If the Jews were willing, on the sabbath, to rescue an animal or person from danger and death, surely the lesser act of healing a person would not be a crime on the Sabbath.

Secondly, while the Jews were willing to save an animal from danger and death on the Sabbath, they were quite willing to plan Jesus' death on the Sabbath!

Thus, they remained silent and Jesus was both angry and sad (Mark 3:5). Their silence was also significant. As Matthew Henry observes:

But stubborn infidels, when they can say nothing against the truth, yet will not yield.

Thus, the Jews condemned themselves.


It was a Jewish maximum (and we see the same maximum portrayed throughout the whole Hebrew bible from Genesis to Malachi, and even the New Testament from Matthew to Revelations) that if God fails to exercise His divine power to preserve a person(s) from danger or harm (as repeatedly outlined in the whole story of Job), it is automatically asserted by the Hebrew writers that God is the One who actually brought the evil/harm since He is Sovereign, and is recognized as the Great Preserver of this world and its inhabitants (Psalms 36:6, Psalm 75:3, and Job 7:20, Nehemiah 8)...That is why the book of Job ends with these striking words "therefore it repented the Lord of all the evil which He brought upon Job"---God didn't do squat to Job, it was all the malicious and cruel actions of Satan. But because God is the Great Preserver of man and beast, since He did not protect Job from Satan, it is written as if He actually put all that suffering on Job. And that same principle is repeatedly portrayed throughout the whole bible.

Thus, this is what Jesus is referencing in Mark 3...for Him to fail heal that man when it was well within His power to do so, could be seen by the Jews as if He was doing harm to the man. Thus, as the above said, Jesus Was Indeed exposing the hypocrisy of the Rabbis.

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When Jesus asked the Pharisees, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?", it had nothing to deal with the man with the shriveled hand. Jesus was to expose the conspiracy the Pharisees were planning.

Mark 3:2 & 3:6 had marked their intention and their decision;

2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.

6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The Pharisees did not reply Jesus an answer. Would they really don't know? Surely not for they were the teachers of the law. Obviously doing good and saving life were allowed on the Sabbath, but Jesus' question exposed their evil mind that had put them into an embarrassing situation.

So Jesus was actually asking the Pharisees, on the Sabbath, was it lawful for you doing an evil motive on me? and even wanted to kill me?

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