Matthew 12

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

According to the Pharisees, Jesus' disciples had certainly violated the Sabbath Law. According to Jesus, did they?

  • There are exceptions to every rule, including the Ten Commandments; see also John 7:22-23.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 24, 2020 at 19:17
  • No, @NigelJ, the only helpful thing would be for such self-evident and self-answering questions to not even be asked in the first place. It's like going on Biology.SE, posting a quote from a botanic book saying that the grass is green, and then asking what color is the grass.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:15
  • 1
    @Lucian I disagree. The asking of this question reveals something edifying and enlightening. It's a shame others do not participate in the same way as the above user has done so over the last two months of being on the site.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 19:04
  • @NigelJ: No other site (Physics.SE, History.SE, etc.) allows for this type of basic or rudimentary questions to be asked (except perhaps for Math.SE, because, despite being an utterly incomprehensible foreign tongue to many, mathematics is, unfortunately, mandatory for everyone during the first twelve grades). Why this site does is, frankly, beyond me; last time I checked, neither theology nor hermeneutics are obligatory part of the (modern) school curriculum.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 19:29
  • @NigelJ: I am equally astonished at your perception of (allegedly great spiritual) depth with regards to this (shallow) question. The only (plausible) explanation I can come up with is that the poster was thrown off-balance by Christ's (informal) use of the words not lawful and desecrate; but even if so, the question is still (logically) trivial; for instance, if I were to tell you that Romanian legislation forbids (almost) all citizens to possess fire weapons, and that cops and soldiers therefore "break" the law, wouldn't it be obvious to you that the law itself exempts them from this ?
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 20:09

4 Answers 4


Jesus gives two examples :

  • a case of David and his companions doing something of which he comments 'which was not lawful'

  • a case of Priests doing what he describes as 'desecrating the sabbath'.

Jesus does not argue that it was not unlawful in the first case or not desecration in the second case.

His argument regards 'mercy not sacrifice' and 'the son of man is Lord of the sabbath'

Jesus' words show that the law of ordinances is, within itself, imperfect in that the very setting forth of spiritual things demands that there be an allowance for the priests (in order to enact, in ritual and artifact, a representation of the future everlasting testament) to trespass the proscriptions regarding sabbath observance.

The whole setting forth, therefore, is imperfect. It is but sign and figure and representation. It is not a perfect thing to be followed for its own sake. It is there that faith may lay hold on all that is therein represented and may believe in that to which the types and figures allude.

For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. [Hebrews 10:1, KJV]

And he comments, in conclusion, that the son of man, that is to say The Son - of man (the Son of God come of humanity) is Lord of the sabbath. For the sabbath, itself, is an arbitrary day given that there may be an understanding of the rest that is of faith when one by faith ceases from one's own works and trusts in the living God.

When one does as God did, having ceased all natural labour within the material, substantive creation and one enters into a perpetual rest in spiritual things.

For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. [Hebrews 4:10, KJV]

Technically, yes, the disciples had trespassed an arbitrary day to which signification is attached in the covenant which sets forth the everlasting testament. But they were engaged in serving the requirements of him who is Lord of the sabbath, he who, in his coming, fulfils all that was ever set forth in Israel.

This, the critics should have seen and should not have condemned the guiltless.

  • Technically, yes, the disciples had trespassed - Technically, no, they didn't. Not even according to a basic, literal interpretation of the Jewish scriptures. That the Pharisees, in their deeply misguided zeal (Romans 10:2), have (mis)interpreted a verse in isolation, disregarding the obvious logical exceptions pointed out elsewhere in the sacred writ, is, ultimately, their own problem. (There are other exaggerated rabbinic interpretations of the Torah [Exodus 23:19, 34:26; Deuteronomy 14:21] that unwittingly paint Abraham [Genesis 18:8] as a law-breaker).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 21:52
  • 3
    @Lucian I disagree with your assessment and would far rather you participate on the site properly (with your own questions and answers) than continue to supply critical, adversarial and argumentative comment to those who are asking sensible questions and supplying sensible answers. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 22:11
  • @NigelJ I really like this answer. I started a subreddit at reddit.com/r/BibleVerseCommentary. Can I copy your answer here and share it with the members of my subreddit? Of course, I will attribute the post to your name and hermeneutics.stackexchange.com
    – user35953
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 12:53
  • @TonyChan I prefer not, thank you. I am not in support of reddit.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 16:31
  • 1
    OK. I am not too crazy about Reddit either :)
    – user35953
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 17:40

In the passage you quoted, Jesus said this:

you would not have condemned the innocent. Matt 12:7

According to Jesus, did the disciples break the law? No, because according to Jesus, they were innocent.

Jesus reminded them about David and the priests. What do they have to do with the answer? That’s debatable.

What’s not debatable is that Jesus considered His disciples innocent.

  • Not to argue with you (for I have up-voted you +1) but the disciples could be guilty of - technically- breaking the law yet still be 'innocent' : in the Lord's eyes.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 26, 2020 at 21:57

You are asking whether Jesus agreed that the disciples violated Sabbath?

The answer is No - he didn’t. That would have been impossible. To understand this, you need to understand the relationship between a Rabbi and his followers, that is, disciples.

A Rabbi, a teacher of the Torah (Mosaic Law) had a responsibility to ensure his disciples upheld the Law. Failure would be Dealt with by the Sanhedrin - which is exactly what the Pharisees we’re attempting to enact.

The Pharisees were expecting Jesus to ‘correct’ the disciples - which he didn’t - which proves inconclusively that Jesus didn’t think they were doing wrong.

The issue is the exact issue we have today, and evidenced on this site - it’s all about interpretation. The Pharisees had interpreted the Law in such a manner that it could be kept. The disciples had indeed violated the Sabbath - according to their Oral tradition. ... But .... It’s impossible that Jesus agreed with their interpretation. According to Jesus, there was no violation - we know this by his reaction, by what he did - categorically, even though it isn’t written. Didn’t need to be.


According to Jesus, did His disciples break the Sabbath law at Matthew 12:1?

Matthew 12: (NASB)

12 At that [a]time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.

According to Jesus, They did NOT.

According to the Pharisees picking and rubbing grain to eat is harvesting and threshing.

Exodus 34:21 (NET Bible)

21 “On six days you may labor, but on the seventh day you must rest;[b] even at the time of plowing and of harvest you are to rest.

Their strict interpretation of what constitutes work makes the Sabbath burdensome, whereas it was originally meant to be a joyous, spiritually upbuilding day. Jesus counters their wrong view with examples to show that God never meant for His Sabbath law to be applied that way.

Jesus gave them two examples that you mentioned, about David and his companions that were hungry, ate the consecrated bread yet David and his men were not condemned guilty.

The other example is: 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? What Jesus means is the priest slaughter animals and do other work on the Sabbath yet they are guiltless. Jesus continues and says to them 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.

Again Jesus drawing on the scriptures to make his point tells them. (Hosea 6:6)

Matthew 12:7-8 (NET Bible)

7 If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is lord[c] of the Sabbath.”

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.