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In the Gospel of John we read:

John 5:6, 8-10: "When Jesus saw [the lame man] lying there... 8Jesus said to him, 'Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.' 9Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. Now it was the Sabbath on that day. 10So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, 'It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet'" (emphasis added).

What law of Moses tells us that this man could not pick up what appears to essentially be his bed?

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    Thus saith the LORD; Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; Jeremiah 17:21.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2021 at 1:01
  • The Jews did not say it was a law of Moses or a 'Torah' law. They just said, It is not lawful. How then can this be disproved since Jeremiah says 'the Lord saith' . . . . ?
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2021 at 1:41
  • @NigelJ - being that strict would suggest that lifting spoon-full of food to the mouth or even lift food from the plate to mouth could be classified as carrying burden on the Sabbath. Much heavier loads are generated by lifting cloths to place them on the body. I think that is the point of Jesus' teaching that such silly, impractical rules were burdensome.
    – Dottard
    Sep 5, 2021 at 2:15
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    @Dottard I think there is more here to be discovered. I am not just being petty. The burden of a man's bedding is far greater than a morsel of food or a garment. And it was not necessary for the man to carry it. Why not collect it on the morrow - on the first day - for now he had the locomotion to do so when he chose ? I believe the Lord had purpose in instructing him to carry his bedding. I think we should see something specific, here. (And up-voted +1, by the way.)
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2021 at 3:20

7 Answers 7

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Jer. and Neh. in their writings mention that it is unlawful to carry a burden on the Sabbath. However, this was an extreme since the man was not carrying his mat to sell it. But, while Neh. mentions the burden related to merchants, Jer. does not.

Thus says the LORD: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. 22 And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. (Jer. 17:21–22, ESV)

 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. (Neh. 13:19, ESV)

By Old Testament standards, it is not clear the healed man was contravening the law, since he did not normally carry mats around for a living; according to the ‘tradition of the elders’ the man was breaking the law, since he was contravening one of the prohibited thirty-nine categories of work to which the law was understood to refer. It is not yet Jesus who is charged with breaking the law (e.g. for healing the man on a Sabbath, as in Mk. 3:1–6), though that will come (v. 18): for the moment, it is the healed man who must face the indignation of the Jews—here referring to the religious authorities in Jerusalem (cf. notes on 1:19). -- Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (pp. 244–245). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.

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    . . . . . but the Lord saith (without any reference to work or earning a living) Bear no burden. This is the word of the Lord.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2021 at 2:07
  • 1
    @ Nigel See edit.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 5, 2021 at 17:29
  • >> '...since the man was not carrying his mat to sell it' Could the mat or pallet itself be considered a 'tool of the trade' given the lame man's beggar status, so even though it wasn't a saleable item simply carrying it (similar to a carpenter with a toolbox) was still an aspect of 'working'?
    – mcalex
    Sep 6, 2021 at 6:13
  • Is a passage in Jeremiah "the Law of Moses"?
    – Robert
    Sep 6, 2021 at 20:41
  • The Jeremiah passage is an application of keeping the Sabbath in the Law of Moses.
    – Perry Webb
    Sep 6, 2021 at 20:59
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There is no such explicit prohibition against carrying such a minor article on the Sabbath in the Torah.

However, we have some other places where there is a prohibition against carrying heavy burdens in the process of earning a living or trading (neither of which the man was doing)

  • Jer 17:21 - This is what the LORD says: Take heed for yourselves; do not carry a load or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day.
  • Neh 13:15 - In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, along with wine, grapes, and figs. All kinds of goods were being brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I warned them against selling food on that day.

The only such Torah law is a very general one about not doing work involved in earning a living such as:

  • Ex 20:8-10 - Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God, on which you must not do any work—neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant or livestock, nor the foreigner within your gates.
  • Ex 23:12 - For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the son of your maidservant may be refreshed, as well as the foreign resident.

However, as noted above, in carrying his mat, the healed man was not guilty of any of these offenses and thus the Jews' accusation was completely baseless. Most of these type of accusation were based upon the made-made expansions of the law which made Sabbath keeping oppressive and burdensome. But these extra laws have little basis in either the Torah or the rest of the OT.

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  • The Jews did not say it was a law of Moses or a 'Torah' law. They just said, It is not lawful. How then can this be disproved since Jeremiah says 'the Lord saith' . . . ?
    – Nigel J
    Sep 5, 2021 at 1:41
  • @NigelJ - I completely agree - BUT the OP's question specifically asks about the source in the law of Moses. See the heading.
    – Dottard
    Sep 5, 2021 at 2:11
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So the general consensus here seems to be the breaking of "the traditions of men," not the breaking of Torah as such. If so, why is no mention made of this in John 5?

If anything, Jesus doubles down when he later explicitly says that he himself is "working" on the Sabbath, just like his God and Father (John 5:17)!

Hence, John rightly says "for this reason they tried all the more to kill him," i.e. because Jesus was "breaking the Sabbath"!

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This is an example of perception and symbolism and how the Jews perceived the man, as they did not know his previous circumstances and were not interested, only to chastise him for not heeding to the law. This man’s pallet was his personal item, not an item for sale, labor or duty.

If for a moment, we can look back at this scene where the man is coming to the temple to worship after being healed, restored, delivered, set free from 38 years of sickness; lying on a mat - burdened with grief and pain perhaps.

The symbolism of this passage represents our burdens that we labor with personally, professionally, emotionally, etc, as the pallet represents the burdens of this man for 38 years. Was he selling it, probably not; was it his occupation, it had been; but on this occasion, it was his testament to the healing that had been given to him.

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    – agarza
    Dec 27, 2021 at 18:25
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In [John 5:8], Only the order: "pick up your mat" violated [Shabbat 94b.1] since the mat was no longer required by the paralyzed man. | The pallet ("krabattos", κράβαττόν) in [John 5:8] did not need to be carried.

"Rabbi שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן לָקִישׁ [Shimon b. Lakish] deems one liable for carrying out an object even when it is carried only for his own sake and not for the sake of the object."

https://www.sefaria.org/Shabbat.94b.1?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&vhe=William_Davidson_Edition_-_Vocalized_Aramaic&lang=bi

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The people in John are referring to the prohibition of "Carrying." It is one of the 39 forbidden acts on the Sabbath. Its parameters are discussed extensively in the Mishnah and Talmud (Shabbat Chapters 1 and 11). It forbids carrying objects from a public domain to a private domain and vice versa and it forbids carrying objects a distance of more than 4 cubits within a public domain. This article has a short summary of the law.

Although the Mishnah was only written down about 200 AD, it existed in oral form long before then. It is this law of "Carrying" that is mentioned in Jeremiah 17 and Nehemia 13. As noted explicitly in the text of Jeremiah 17:22, this was no a new law at the time but something G-d had "commanded your fathers."

The particular law at issue in the story in John is that of a crippled man who is permitted to use a pallet on the Sabbath (before an added Rabbinic stringency) because it has the status of "clothes" for him. See Mishna Shabbat 6:8 and the commentaries thereto. But after the man is cured, the pallet is extraneous and carrying it violates the prohibition of carrying an object in a public domain.

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Would not the clarification come from Mark 2:27-28 - “ 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”.

John 5:26–27 clarifies that, “For as the Father has life in Himself: so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself. And has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man“.

This seems to present that the laws that Yahushua kept, did not keep Him back from keeping and executing the spirit of the Word of God. As man was not made (a slave)to keep the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was (a benefit) made for man.

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