New International Version Matthew 12:

1At 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. 5Or 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. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Did Jesus claim that he had the authority to break the Sabbath if necessary? What did he mean by being the Lord of the Sabbath? Note that the question is NOT whether he had broken the Sabbath or his disciples had broken the Sabbath. These questions were asked before. The question is this: How are we to interpret what he meant by being the Lord of the Sabbath?


7 Answers 7


Jesus is beginning to introduce a new covenantal approach to all things. No longer is the Sabbath to be understood in a ‘do this or you will die’ paradigm where the law was ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.

Jesus is the new arbiter, the one who would be judge and the one through whom they could be pardoned.

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27,8

Jesus is showing that he is superior to the law and its requirements -actually fulfilling the purpose of the law with his holy life and subsequent death as the ultimate, unblemished Lamb.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” Matt 5:17

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life… John 6:35

Jesus is not ‘clumsily breaking the Sabbath‘, he is recasting its purpose. Now no longer will 24 hours be their time of rest, but their rest, both physical and spiritual, would be wholly in him! Their source of life, their ‘daily bread’ is also upgraded to a person, not just a physical substance.

This was too much for their minds to comprehend, hence their silly cries of blasphemy when he seemed to invalidate their sacred, and now outdated, beliefs. They knew of the One to come, but when he did finally arrive, they recognised him not.

Jesus being “Lord of the Sabbath”, was a new way of looking at their whole life, their whole reason for being. What had made them God’s people was getting a makeover, a brand new focus. No longer was it true by keeping a few laws with sacrifices for cleansing; Jesus is the focus as he reveals the plan God has for salvation and it is by and through him and him only!

The other shocking revelation was the authority Jesus was parading in front of the leaders - not in private, but publicly humiliating them, by his wonderous miracles - even to forgiving sins.

When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man Matt 9:8

It was all too much!

  • I think Jesus's point was that the Sabbath was never meant to keep you from eating, or healing those suffering and not that he was introducing some new idea.
    – Austin
    Jul 22, 2021 at 7:38
  • Agreed, that was certainly part of his meaning in reprimanding the Pharisees for their burdensome rules. The Q was framed in another manner so my answer looked at that aspect.
    – Steve
    Jul 22, 2021 at 7:46

Short answer No. Jesus never broke the sabbath, if he broke the sabbath he would have sinned and if he told other to do so he would be a false prophet (Deut 13:1-5).

Same account as Matthew 12:1-14 are also found in Mark 2:23-28 & Luke 6:1-10 to get more clarity in this specifik incident.

The Sabbath allows doing good and to deal with urgencies (hunger, sickness, poverty etc). Further down of Matthew chapter 12 vers 11 Jesus ask;

“If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?”

Then why would it be wrong for Jesus to heal someone?

Jesus said, “Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12).

Also in Luke chapter 13 Jesus heals and the Pharisees accuse Jesus for commiting sin

“You hypocrites!” the Lord replied, “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it to water? Luke 13:15

The Pharisees falsely accuse Jesus for breaking the Sabbath while healing the sick which they call work but they themselves water their livestock on Sabbath and the accusation for allowing his disciples to pluck off grain, which they saw as harvesting (work).

So now when the breaking part is solved let's look at the Lord of the Sabbath.

For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8)

If we instead goes to Mark 2:27-28

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

The sabbath was MADE for man “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3)

It is Jesus in Genesis 2 take makes the sabbath

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Gen 2:2-3)

He is the prime example how to walk it out!

  • "if he broke the sabbath he would have sinned". Not necessarily. As he pointed out in the original quotation, Matthew 12:5: "the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent". So it is possible to break the sabbath without sinning, and in this case Jesus actually is a priest: Hebrews 5:6. Jul 6, 2021 at 19:49
  • @ray Jesus wasn’t a priest yet! He was made high priest at his exaltation.
    – Steve
    Jul 6, 2021 at 23:15
  • @user48152 said "He was made high priest at his exaltation.". Is there a BH.SE item about this? If not, there should be. I've just looked elsewhere and found many different conflicting answers, going all the way back to Melchizedek being an incarnation of Jesus. Jul 7, 2021 at 1:25
  • 3
    @RayButterworth Do you stil not understand!? Its a rhetorical question, the priest did NOT violate the Sabbath. By the measurements of the Pharisees they did violate the Sabbath. Ray show me where in the Law do they violate it? It's the 39 Melachot that makes the Priest, Yeshua and his disciples violate the Sabbath. Even David might have avoid violation, Hosea 6:6 I desire mercy, not sacrifice. sacrifice the priest eats the bread, mercy David and his consecrated (holy) men eats of it. 3x times in 1 Sam 22:10, 13, 15 mentions that Ahimelech inquires of God before giving them the showbread. Jul 7, 2021 at 10:40

Did Jesus claim that he had the authority to break the Sabbath if necessary?

Jesus did not "break the Sabbath": he affirmed that, as the Son of Man, he was the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:8).

All the rest ("if he broke the sabbath, then ...") is not hermeneutics but misguided apologetics ...


Did Jesus claim that he had the authority to break the Sabbath in Matthew 12:8?

Jesus did not have the authority to break the Sabbath. It was a Rabbinic restriction, not a commandment from God.

For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Mt12:8 NASB

Lord of the Sabbath: Jesus applies this expression to himself (Mark 2:28; Luke 6:5), indicating that the Sabbath was at his disposal for doing the work commanded by his heavenly Father. (Compare Joh 5:19; 10:37, 38.) On the Sabbath, Jesus performed some of his most outstanding miracles, which included healing the sick. (Luke 13:10-13; John 5:5-9; 9:1-14)

Rabbinic Sabbath Restrictions.

The Sabbath was originally intended to be a joyous, spiritually upbuilding time. But in their zeal to distinguish themselves from the Gentiles as much as possible, the Jewish religious leaders, especially after the return from Babylonian exile, gradually made it a burdensome thing by greatly increasing the Sabbath restrictions to 39, with innumerable lesser restrictions.

These, when compiled, filled two large volumes. For example, catching a flea was forbidden as hunting. A sufferer could not be given relief unless death threatened. A bone could not be set, nor a sprain bandaged. The true purpose of the Sabbath was made void by these Jewish religious leaders, for they made the people slaves to tradition, instead of having the Sabbath serve men to the honor of God. (Matthew 15:3, 6; 23:2-4; Mark 2:27) When Jesus’ disciples picked grain and rubbed it in their hands to eat, they evidently were accused on two counts, namely, harvesting and threshing on the Sabbath. (Luke 6:1, 2)

  • The Shabbat tractate with its 39 Melachot was written after the destruction of the second Temple in 70AD (Rabbinic Judaism also dates to this period) but may have reflected less codified rules
    – Henry
    Jul 7, 2021 at 15:36
  • Leviticus 25:6 NASB 6 All of you shall have the Sabbath produce of the land as food; for yourself, your male and female slaves, and your hired worker and your foreign resident, those who live as strangers among you. Extract from Matthew Pooles' commentary In like manner thou shalt deal, i.e. thou shalt not prune nor dress them, nor gather and appropriate to thy own use what they shall produce, but shalt leave them to the poor. Jul 8, 2021 at 7:20

There are several things going on here in Matt 12:1-8 that should be carefully separated.

1. Disciples Actions

The disciples were accused of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus made it clear that they were not breaking the Sabbath by providing for essential needs - food and satisfying valid hunger in this case.

2. Accusations of Pharisees

The accusing Pharisees should have been aware of this and Jesus turned the tables on them showing how they had turned the Sabbath celebration of God's creative and saving works into a drudgery that had become a burden. Thus, instead of enjoying the divine fellowship of the sabbath, the Pharisees had made it a legalistic opportunity to display piety.

This is the real crux of the problem here - the Pharisees had made the sabbath about themselves rather than God!!

3. Jesus was the Focus

Finally, Jesus alludes directly to Isa 58:13, 14 (see below) and then claims a remarkable thing, effectively saying, "I am Lord of the Sabbath". That is, the focus of the Sabbath celebration should be about Jesus and not the legalistic practice and yourselves as specifically alluded to in Isa 58. In Isa 58 (below) the Sabbath is called, "My [LORD's] holy day", and the LORD's holy day".

Thus, Jesus is NOT claiming authority to break the Sabbath, He was encouraging people to celebrate its true focus - to delight in the Lord of the Sabbath - Jesus Himself!

APPENDIX - Allusion to Isaiah 58:13, 14.

When Jesus said in Matt 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5 that He was "Lord of the Sabbath" He appears to allude to quoted passage below.

Isa 58:13, 14 - If you turn your foot from breaking the Sabbath, from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the LORD’s holy day honorable, if you honor it by not going your own way or seeking your own pleasure or speaking idle words, then you will delight yourself in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your father Jacob.”

  • +1 Amen did not think of Isaiah 58. Jul 7, 2021 at 10:46
  • In Matthew 12:1-8, Jesus speaks of himself (and of King David before him, BTW) suspending the priestly rules on the sabbath in case of necessity. Isaiah 58:13, on the other hand, speaks of not "doing as you please on My holy day". An abyss ... Jul 7, 2021 at 13:45

The Issue of Authority
The two primary uses of κύριος, kyrios, rendered Lord, describe possession and authority:1

❶ one who is in charge by virtue of possession, owner
❷ one who is a position of authority, lord, master

The kyrios has possession of and authority over the Sabbath. If there still is Lord of the Sabbath, then it is only because the Sabbath still exists. Due to its nature, if that Lord broke or ended the Sabbath, then He who was, no longer is, Lord of the Sabbath.2

This issue of authority is at the heart of the accusation the Pharisees bring to Jesus:

1 At that time did Jesus go on the sabbaths through the corn, and his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck ears, and to eat, 2 and the Pharisees having seen, said to him, `Lo, thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do on a sabbath.' (Matthew 12 YLT)

The Pharisees bringing to Jesus a claim of unlawful acts by His disciples indicates an accusation centered on authority: Jesus should rebuke and act to prevent the disciples' unlawful actions.

The accusation comes on a particular Sabbath, yet Matthew begins by stating the actions of Jesus and His disciples were done on the plural Sabbaths. This literary device implies the actions were permitted to happen on more than one Sabbath. Perhaps the Pharisees did not speak up or see other occurrences, but Matthew knows they were repeated. In this way, the severity of the issue is magnified. Jesus, as the rabbi leading the disciples not only did not correct His disciples; He permitted them to repeat their actions.

Regardless of any previous actions, a situation in which the Pharisees bypass the disciples and bring their accusation to their rabbi leader points to an issue of authority required in keeping the Sabbath holy:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20 ESV)

At the time this Commandment was given, the Israelites were gathering manna, and had already started to observe the Sabbath (cf. Exodus 16).3Sabbath instructions based on the manna could be narrowly understood as applying only to an individual. This new command formally codifies a "corporate" responsibility. For example, now a father is violating the Sabbath if someone else in their house tried to gather manna. The disciples were neither sons, daughters, or servants, but the accusation speaks to the intent of corporate responsibility implicit in the commandment, and when Jesus claims to be Lord of the Sabbath, He effectively acknowledges His responsibility.

But first, Jesus responded by citing two examples both which speak to the issue of authority:

3 And he said to them, Did ye not read what David did, when he was hungry, himself and those with him -- 4 how he went into the house of God, and the loaves of the presentation did eat, which it is not lawful to him to eat, nor to those with him, except to the priests alone? 5 `Or did ye not read in the Law, that on the sabbaths the priests in the temple do profane the sabbath, and are blameless? (Matthew 12 YLT)

It was the High Priest who broke the Levitical Law (cf. Leviticus 24:5-9), not the Sabbath by giving David the Bread of the Presence. By citing this example Jesus implies He has authority to allow the disciples to satisfy their hunger as did the High Priest who believed the bread would feed those who were hungry.4

Jesus also claims the disciples picking grains to satisfy their hunger is no different from priests who are required to offer sacrifices (cf. Numbers 28:9-10) which profane, βεβηλόω the Sabbath. βεβηλόω is "to cause something highly revered to become identified with the commonplace."5Eating is also present in this example since the priests receive a portion of the sacrifices. In other words, the Law allows the Sabbath to become "common place" when the priests' will satisfy their hunger by working in the Temple.

It is at this point Jesus makes the Lord of the Sabbath statement:

6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12 ESV)

Jesus cites the Greek understanding of Hosea 6:6 which is the Scriptural answer to the Pharisees accusations. They allege Jesus did not uphold the intent of the Law regarding the Sabbath. If the prophets are considered Law, Jesus upheld the Law by showing mercy. The disciples were hungry; allowing them to eat was an act of mercy. The same type of exception the High Priest made with David, and the same exception the LORD makes by giving the priests a portion of a sacrifice.

Given the issue of authority inherent to the Pharisees accusation, there are two other Sabbath related commands in the Mosaic Law to consider:

12 And the LORD said to Moses, 13 “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” (Exodus 31 ESV)

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12 ESV)

Just as the LORD was "refreshed" on the seventh day, the Sabbath is to allow others to be "refreshed" נָפַשׁ. Someone who must go hungry is not refreshed, and Jesus, who did not pick grains Himself, was upholding the Mosaic Law on the Sabbath which calls for others to be refreshed. Moreover, it is the "corporate" responsibility to ensure others are refreshed.

Therefore, the Lord of Sabbath is neither breaking the Sabbath or altering it. Regardless of the Pharisees intent, Matthew presents Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath with the authority to settle a question of the relative importance of two potentially conflicting laws: should acts of mercy take precedence even on the Sabbath?

The Exercise of Authority
The Sabbath day in question continues by describing Jesus exercising His authority:

9 And having departed thence, he went to their synagogue, 10 and lo, there was a man having the hand withered, and they questioned him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbaths?" that they might accuse him. 11 And he said to them, "What man shall be of you, who shall have one sheep, and if this may fall on the sabbaths into a ditch, will not lay hold on it and raise [it]? 12 How much better, therefore, is a man than a sheep? -- so that it is lawful on the sabbaths to do good." 13 Then saith he to the man, `Stretch forth thy hand,' and he stretched [it] forth, and it was restored whole as the other. (Matthew 12 YLT)

It is important not to overlook how Matthew is purposeful to describe actions which demonstrate Jesus observed the Levitical Law regarding the Sabbath:

“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places. (Leviticus 23:3 ESV)

Observing the Sabbath requires a holy convocation, מִקְרָא. Abstaining from work but failing to attend the מִקְרָא would be unlawful, and Jesus ensured He and His disciples were in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In terms of practical instruction, Leviticus could be understood: do no work on the Sabbath so you are able to join in the holy convocation. There is no mention of corporate responsibility, but it would be reasonable to assert that is intended. That is, Matthew describes Jesus upholding both the letter and the spirit of the Levitical Law.

As with the introduction, the plural Sabbaths was used. Here it is spoken by Jesus meaning He is giving instruction which has both immediate and future application:

Introduction: Sabbaths, meaning this and previous Sabbaths
Accusation:   Made on this particular Sabbath
Synagogue:    Sabbaths, meaning this and all future Sabbaths

As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus could simply repeat His earlier defense applying kal v’chomer to the "mercy exception." After all, if it is merciful to allow someone to satisfy their hunger, how much more merciful to heal? However, Jesus takes a different approach by reasoning from the oral tradition. Tractate Shabbat 117b, 5-6 discusses saving an animal which fell into a pit. In this discussion between the rabbis, some discuss the issue of suffering of living beings; some say it cannot be rescued if it can be fed; some say it can be rescued if it is to be sacrificed. Those knowledgeable of the oral law and of the earlier accusation would recognize Jesus is both answering the Pharisees question while continuing to respond to the earlier accusation.

The oral tradition agrees suffering of any living being must be considered. It also argues rescue should wait if the animal may be fed, and an animal may be rescued on the Sabbath in order to be sacrificed. These are the same type of examples Jesus used to respond to the Pharisees accusation. In addition, the oral tradition acknowledges the existence of baraitas, oral traditions which fall outside the Mishnah. Effectively Jesus agrees with the oral tradition on a "macro" level but implies there are two issues with the Pharisees. The first is their hypocrisy; they understand and apply the "mercy exception" to animals, but first accuse and then question Him on the Sabbath use of mercy. The second is their failure to apply the Mosaic Law which is to ensure others are refreshed. If getting off of work brings refreshment, how much more is the man who is healed refreshed?

Jesus demonstrated the type of authority Lord of the Sabbath has. He showed a perfect understanding of, and issues which arise when attempting to adhere to the Law. Jesus did not break the Sabbath, which, as others note, would have been a sin. Nor did Jesus eliminate or change the Sabbath, for to do so would strip Him of His title of Lord of the Sabbath and render His teachings on future Sabbaths void.6

A claim to be Lord of the Sabbath, is tantamount to a claim of divinity. If the Lord of the Sabbath has the authority to determine what is and is not permitted when He is present on the earth, then the Lord of the Sabbath must be the one who originally gave the various Laws concerning the Sabbath. He is the one who required rest and outlawed gathering manna; He is the one who required a father to take responsibility for others; He is the one who wanted others to be refreshed; He is the one who required a holy convocation.

He is the one who decreed mercy had legal precedence over sacrifice.

1. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, p. 577
2. The lord of anything ceases to be lord if that which he was lord over no longer exists. For example, there is no longer lord of the Roman Empire (i.e. Caesar) since the Roman Empire came to an end.
3. The events with the manna begin on the 15th day of the second month (cf. Exodus 16:1). The Israelites arrived at Sinai in the 3rd month (cf. Exodus 19:1) which means they had observed at least 2 Sabbaths before receiving the Ten Commandments.
4. The specific day on which David received the Bread is not stated. Since the Bread of the Presence was changed on the Sabbath, the implication is event took place on the Sabbath. In this case the High Priest exercised his authority on the Sabbath.
5. Danker, p. 173
6. This would mean Jesus lied when He said His words would not pass away (cf. Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33)

  • +1 This is an excellent overview of various questions related to Jewish understanding of the Sabbath. Jun 10, 2022 at 0:55

“Lord” and “Lordship” here means that the one who is Lord is not under subjection of that over which He is Lord and over which He has the lordship, but rather vice versa.

Here the Lord Jesus Christ asserts that He is not under subjection of Sabbath, but on the contrary, the Sabbath law of keeping oneself from usual works in order to devote attention to God is under His subjection.

Since no angel no man can claim this authority and since above angels and men is only God, then Christ is God along with the Father sharing the same authority with Him.

What can be clearer and easier?

Your Answer

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