The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The disciples picking grain on the sabbath

Matthew 12 records the pharisees rebuking Jesus and his disciples for the disciples picking grain on the sabbath. Some Christians say Jesus never broke the sabbath, but I find Jesus’s response interesting. As part of his defense he says, “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” Jesus seems to be saying that a person could profane the sabbath and still be okay. Did the disciples break, even profane, the sabbath?

In John 5:17f, John states that Pharisee opposition is because Jesus was “breaking” the Sabbath, and Jesus says, he does that because he perceives that God also “works” on the Sabbath, which is the very action forbidden on the Sabbath by the Law.

My conclusion is that arguing that Jesus did not actually “work” or “break” the Law, but only violated incorrect traditional interpretations of the Law, is in tension with the Gospel writers perception of how revolutionary Jesus actually was.

Agreed, however John 5 is not referring to picking grain. Were the disciples’ actions in Matthew 12 breaking the sabbath?

ISTM those acts equally broke the sabbath, in that they were perceived as the non essential “work” expressly outlawed by the sabbath law. In Jesus’ observing precedents that others in the OT had violated such Sabbath rules to meet a human need, he appears to be contending precisely that the disciples actions constituted a time to similarly ‘work’ and thus break the sabbath. For the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

Bob, help out this unsophisticated soul. Try as I might, I can’t figure out what ISTM is shorthand for. “I See The Moon” doesn’t seem to make any sense in the context. :confused:

It seems to me that the best rule to follow regarding sabbath laws is to abide by the spirit of the law, not necessarily by its letter.



ISTM = it seems to me. As always… go with google :ok_hand:

You’re so cute!

You nailed it!

I did? So I did!! Well, wonders will never cease. What’s next for me to achieve after such an accomplishment?


Which OT verse(s) indicate that what the disciples did broke the sabbath?

They clearly broke the Sabbath but in following Jesus they were no longer subject to the Sabbath they were subject to Jesus. Jesus worked on the Sabbath because as he said his Father works on the Sabbath and also Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath.

Penalty for Violating the Sabbath

32 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.

35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.

I don’t see a lot of difference between gathering sticks and picking ears of Corn.

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The explicit sabbath prohibition was doing any ‘work.’ So the dilemma for scribes was delineating what was “work” and when to make exceptions. But as Bowsixtysix illustrates, the explicit and concrete applications of the death penalty suggest that any kind of unnecessary actions that appear to involve any labor were punished, and make stretching definitions difficult here.

Jesus broke it so his followers had to and Jesus was not under the Sabbath & therefore his followers were not under it.

People eat grain. They don’t eat sticks. I’d say that’s a pretty big difference.

Exodus 16:29 seems to prohibit wandering from home on the sabbath, (which the disciples did) but the context seems to limit it to a certain time: when God gave the Israelites manna. What do you think?

The sticks were for enabling what they ate. But the relevant difference is about whether one is better defined as ‘work.’ The Pharisees’ reading that food is to be prepared in advance seems to fit the OT, and makes harvesting on sabbath problematic since it sounds like “work” as much as anything.


Please see my post above your last post.

Yes, this specific about ‘leaving home’ was in the situation of having manna. But the Pharisee critique of the disciples was not for leaving home, but violating the commandment about no work, by harvesting a crop on the sabbath.

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