Some interpret John 5:18

"Because of this, the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him. Not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

to be the narrator John making claims in which he agrees with the hostile crowd, instead of simply summarizing what the hostile crowd said. On this line of thinking, the Gospel is claiming that Jesus was making himself equal with God. However, it also seems to entail claiming that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath (as described at John 5:1-17) as the narrator states both things in the same sentence.

Yet, there's a similar situation to John 5:1-30 at Matthew 12:9-14. In Matthew, there is a man with a withered hand (in John, it's a lame man), it's the Sabbath (same in John), and Jesus heals the man (same in John). In Matthew, however, when confronted by the Pharisees in the synagogue,

"In order to accuse Jesus, they asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He replied, “If one of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out, and it was restored to full use, just like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus."

unlike in John 5, where in response Jesus instead gives a long explanation of his relationship with the Father, and doesn't explicitly deny either the accusation by the hostile crowd that He broke the Sabbath, or that He was making himself equal with God.

One answer is that Jesus didn't break God's commandment, but merely the Pharisees' laws. Another is that Jesus indeed did break God's commandment, but that this can still be lawful.

How do those who believe Jesus did break God's commandment at John 5:18 understand his "Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" at Matthew 12:12?

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    Does this answer your question? At John 5:18, did Jesus break the Sabbath?
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 6:25
  • Already answered by me. Bec Sabbath is a very least of commands and don't have precedence over more important works. engediresourcecenter.com/2019/06/10/…
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 6:26
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    @Michael16 "Does this answer" No, this question is more specific and involves a conditional. For those who believe He did break the Sabbath, then how do they reconcile? Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 6:27
  • @Michael16 Great! Want to write it up into an answer? I might have a few questions. :) Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 6:29
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    @OneGodtheFather clarifies: "this question is more specific and involves a conditional. For those who believe He did break the Sabbath, then how do they reconcile?". For those that believe this, then either 1) it was the enhanced Pharisees laws that he broke, or 2) it was God's commandment that the broke. The suggested link handles the first case, so this question is really, "For those that believe he broke God's commandment". Given that "sin is the transgression of the law", so it's really "For those that believe he sinned". Are Christians that believe that Jesus sinned actually Christians? Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 12:44

3 Answers 3


From the perspective of some "Jews" the issue was not simply a matter of doing good. One must consider if the action could be reasonably postponed until after the Sabbath. In every Sabbath healing Jesus performed, all of the infirmities were not life threatening and the person had been afflicted for a long period of time. Therefore, Jesus could have waited until after the Sabbath to heal the individual.

This is especially true in the healing described in John 5:

5 And a certain man was there who had been diseased 38 years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that for a long time now he had been diseased, he said to him, Do you want to be made whole? 7 The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. But in the meantime, when I am about to come, another steps down before me. 8 And Jesus said to him, Rise, take up your bed, and walk. 9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked. And that day was the Sabbath day. 10 The Jews therefore said to him who had been healed, It is the Sabbath day; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed. (NMB)

John plainly states the charge of "Sabbath breaking" was only carrying the bed. Regardless of whether carrying the bed was in fact a violation; there is no reason why the man had to remove it on the Sabbath. Once he had the ability to "get around" without assistance, he could have "observed" the Sabbath by leaving his bed in place and removing it when the Sabbath was over.

The description of events does show Jesus could have waited to heal the man. He had been that way for 38-years, so, the Pharisees would reason, one more day was not going to make a difference. Jesus on the other hand does not agree; He sees this as a situation which requires immediate attention: as He will later say:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (10:10)

Jesus actions say, "letting the afflicted wait until sunset, is not the abundant life I came to bring."

However, the "Jews" cannot be right since violating the Sabbath was a sin and Jesus was without sin. Moreover, the instruction Jesus gave was for the man to remove his bed. If correct, Jesus would have also caused the man to sin.

There is a significant difference between the Sabbath healings in John and those described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all of which take place in the synagogue. The Sabbath is not only about prohibiting work:

“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 is a matter of not working and joining with others in a holy convocation. That is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all describe events which take place when people have come together to fulfill the prescribed action on the Sabbath. This is not the case in John, and especially so in John 5, which takes outside the gate and not in the Temple (cf. John 5:14).

  • +1 "so one more day was not going to make a difference." It would make a difference for the man, no? 1 day of continuing in his state is important ...? Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 21:27
  • @OneGodtheFather Good point. Edited to better explain. Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 22:17

There are two reasonable interpretations of this.

One is that John 5:18 is recording the thoughts of the Pharisees. The Pharisees think Jesus is breaking the Sabbath, but in fact he isn't. The absence of punctuation marks in the original language makes this entirely plausible.

The other interpretation (and the one I personally prefer) is that the two statements are showing a key difference in the interpretation of the law. In this interpretation Jesus is indeed breaking the Sabbath according to a strict legalistic interpretation. There are Sabbath rules and Jesus is indeed breaking them according to the letter.

Jesus point in saying "It is lawful to good on the Sabbath" is that there is a higher priority than strict legalistic adherence to the Sabbath. If it is necessary to break the Sabbath rules in order to do good, then you need to break the Sabbath. This is completely different from the interpretation of the Pharisees.

This is like speeding. It's illegal, but if you need to do it in order to save the life of your injured friend then nobody thinks you are wrong to do it. If a hard-hearted cop caught you and took you to court you are technically guilty, but it's not going to be held against you. This is Jesus indicating that the second approach is the one he wants us to follow.

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    +1 " if you need to do it in order to save the life of your injured friend then nobody thinks you are wrong to do it" Right, but you're still breaking the law to do it. Jesus says it's 'lawful to do good'. Is it 'lawful to break the speed limit' in order to do good? I think this is where things are not clear to me. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 18:35
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    I think this is Jesus drawing a distinction between "lawful" and "good". Even if it is not "lawful" to break the speed limit to save a life, it is "good". I'll be honest and say that a lot of Christians who were brought up being told "keep the rules and Jesus will love you" have trouble with this, including me. But this is getting bit off the topic of the question. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 19:15
  • @OnlyTrueGod, the first option must be the correct one. The English translation of this verse needs to employ what is called "scare quote punctuation marks". The two accusations are false accusations being lifted by the Jews against Jesus, therefore the must be proper protection marks to convey this in the English text!
    – Joshua B
    Commented Feb 22 at 16:50

In these last days He speaks to us through His Son.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and can change up the rules.

Sabbath was meant as a rest for the people of Israel who had been working for years under heavy labor under the Egyptians. Part of the reason for the Sabbath was made for the Israelites rest from their labor. They had to learn how to rest. All the shadows associated with that were now becoming coming a reality through Jesus.

Now that Jesus has come He was also considered a rest, A true rest for the people of God.

Come to Me, all you laboring and burdened ones, and I will give you rest; Matthew. 11:28

Jesus is their rest. Moses was up until Jesus and now Moses has been replaced by Jesus.

The Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets were in effect up to the time of John the Baptist; Luke 16:16

The works of Moses are a shadow and a reality of those of Jesus.

Breaking the Sabbath in their eyes was to show them something new has come along. A true rest found in Him alone.

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