We read in Matthew 12:10-13, that Jesus equates having a withered (ξηράν) hand (χεῖρα) to being trapped in a pit (βόθυνον) :

Matthew 12:10-13 [KJV]

[10] And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him.

[11] And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

[12] How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.

[13] Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

Surely the man with the withered hand was not trapped from living a full life. - Why was Jesus' Pit parable necessary?


Jesus was NOT equating the withered hand with being trapped in a pit. In using the pit story, Jesus is using a simple piece of Rabbinic reasoning, namely:

  • If something is true for a simple case, it is true for the greater case.

Thus, Jesus' logic goes something like this:

  • the simple case is an animal is found trapped on the Sabbath and so should be freed on the Sabbath
  • Humans are greater and more important than animals
  • Therefore, it is lawful to heal a person from their infirmity on the Sabbath.

Benson expresses the problem this way:

Matthew 12:11-13. And he said — That he might show their unreasonableness, and confute them by their own practice: What man — that shall have —

Or, Who, if he have but one sheep, that on the sabbath day shall fall into a pit, and it be in danger of perishing there, will not lay hold on it, &c. —

The stress of the question does not lie on supposing a man to have only one sheep, but on one only falling into a pit; and yet, for the comparatively small value of that one, his not scrupling to undertake the labour of helping it out on the sabbath day. How much then is a man better than a sheep? As if he had said, If the regard you have for the life of your cattle leads you to do servile work on the sabbath, for the preservation of a single sheep, charity should much rather induce you to labour for the preservation of a fellow-creature, though the good office is to be done on the sabbath day. Wherefore it is lawful to do well — To save a beast, much more a man, or to perform any of the lovely acts of mercy and charity on the sabbath day.

The Pulpit commentary is even more pointed:

Verse 11. - Matthew alone on this occasion, but comp. Luke 14:5. And he said unto them. Christ's answer appeals from intellectual and theoretical difficulties to the practical common sense of ordinary morality (cf. Romans 3:5-7). Their own feelings would guide them to help a brute, much more a man. According to the parallel passages, our Lord first set the man in the midst of them, wishing, perhaps, to draw out their sympathy, and only afterwards spoke this verse of censure (see Chrysostom). What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep. One only, and therefore so much the dearer (Meyer). He would feel an interest in it as an animal that he had learned to love; and he would care for it as his property. In Christ's case also there was the love of man as man, and of man as belonging to him (John 10:14; John 1:11). In Luke 14:5 ("a son or an ox") the double thought is distributed over two objects; the man Would love his son, and care for his property in the ox. And if it (this, Revised Version) fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? Lightfoot ('Hor. Hebr.') confirms this from the Jerusalem Talmud and Maimonides.

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