Jesus … Lord of the Sabbath

Challah & WineOne of the issues that anti-missionaries will pull out against the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus is that he violated the Torah. They will argue that he did not respect the Torah and did not care about the Laws of Moses (written or Oral). Nothing could be further from the truth. Additionally, this indicates a lack of understanding of what Jesus came to achieve with the entirety of His “Sermon on the Mount.” The text of the sermon itself is transformative in scope and eternity-changing in intention.[1] However, and what is often missed is that the sermon itself is the epitome of Jewish style and thought for what Jesus does in the message is to take primary laws of the Torah and provide the deeper or final meaning. This model of enunciating a law concept and then providing a complete definition of what it means truly to follow it is found in the Mishnah – “Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the men of the Great Synagogue. The latter used to say three things: Be patient in the [the administration of] justice, rear many disciples, rear many disciples and make a fence round the torah (emphasis intended).”[2] This indicates a lack of understanding of what Jesus meant to achieve with His words in Matthew 5:17-20 (please note that verses are from the KJV as it is in the public domain and does not violate copyright law) …

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus loved the Torah. He is the author of Torah given his place as God the Son. He would not disrespect or abdicate responsibility to uphold the Torah. In fact, the whole point of the “Sermon on the Mount” was to show that there was a deeper meaning to the Torah laws than some outward show of obedience, God wants an obedience of the heart. This reality of inward obedience as opposed to outward trappings is personified in the Matthew 12:1-8 description and debate as to whether or not Jesus and His disciples violated the Sabbath …

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

So in this passage did Jesus violate the Sabbath laws? Or is there a deeper message to this passage that Jesus is seeking to teach both His disciples Challah For Shabbatand the Pharisees? Let’s examine the passage at length…. And let’s include the sources about which the Pharisees and Jesus are using for their debate arguments….

It is important to understand when considering this charge is that the Tanakh has very little to say beyond honoring the day with holiness even during the harvest season and not lighting a fire on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8; 34:21; 35:2-3). Therefore, we find in the Talmud as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls, a complete listing of the thirty-nine labors which were prohibited on the Sabbath.[3] Jesus knew those prohibitions but He also knew those exceptions (b.Shabbath 128b) which allowed for the saving of a life or removing an animal from a ditch, regardless of the tendency of the Qumran community to not allow even those exceptions.[4] Ultimately, Jesus responded to the charges with what Mounce called “a normal gambit in rabbinic debate.”[5] And so … let’s examine three quick points of Jesus’ rabbinic gambit (QUICK NOTE: Tzedakah Ministries utilized The Jewish Annotated New Testament as a resource for its Talmudic references in this passage; however, it did confirm the authenticity of its sources as well. FYI — the editors of this translation are not believers in Jesus and therefore have no hidden agenda to prove the Messiahship of Jesus).

  • The Oral Tradition (now known as the Talmud) prohibited anything to do with the actual work of harvesting (i.e., sowing, reaping, etc.) but not plucking (b.Shabb. 72b). Therefore, Jesus won this aspect of the gambit on what might be called a technicality but it serves His ultimate purpose which will be revealed shortly…
  • By now working (i.e., harvesting), the disciples were not guilty of working and their plucking was for the purpose of sustaining their health which was a necessary component of having true Sabbath joy which was allowed both in the Tanakh (i.e., Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures) and in the Oral Tradition with the story of David and his men while fleeing from Saul — 1 Samuel 21 and b.Men 96a. Perhaps another technicality point but again for the point of showing Jesus’ ultimate purpose…
  • Since Jesus is the “Lord of the Sabbath” (v. 8), this is a declaration of both Messianic and divine proclamation. He is the creator of the Sabbath. He is the creator of the Torah and therefore he can define the Sabbath because Jesus as God as the Son originally gave the Sabbath to the people for our pleasure (source for this thought is from The Jewish Annotated New Testament commentary notes) (Exodus 16:29). For as James Crossley points out in regards to the Sabbath, it is “God’s gift to his people,”[6] and so we as believers in Jesus can affirm that He had the right to make this declaration.

Therefore, the anti-missionaries are wrong. Jesus did not violate the Sabbath. He not only knew the Sabbath guidelines of the Torah but he also understood the intricacies of the Oral Tradition. And now you have an understanding of how you can explain to genuinely questioning Jewish people who have been misled about Jesus’ love of Biblical Judaism and his adherence to the Tanakh and Jewish tradition. You know have a beginning place to show that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and believing in Jesus is exceptionally and ultimately the most Jewish thing a Jewish person can do. Shabbat Shalom!

[1] The footnoted portions of this blog were written as a team paper for a Ph.D. seminar at Liberty University. One of the authors of the Ph.D. paper (Downey) was brought to a personal relationship with Messiah Jesus through the concluding section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:24-27) – the parable of the Wise Man and Foolish Man.

[2] m.Avot 1.1. See also, Aaron M. Gale, “Introduction and Annotations of Matthew,” in The Annotated Jewish New Testament: New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation, eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 11.

[3] James G. Crossley, The New Testament and Jewish Law: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2010), 32-36; Robert Mounce, Matthew, In the New International Biblical Commentary: New Testament Series, NT ed. W. Ward Gasque (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 111; b.Shabbath 70a; and Michael Wise et al., The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 68-69.

[4] Mounce, 113-114; Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, in the New International Biblical Commentary: New Testament Series, NT ed. W. Ward Gasque (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), 49-52; Crossley, 36-41; Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered: The First Complete Translation and Interpretation of 50 Key Documents Withheld for Over 35 Years (Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element: 1992), 180, 200-205.

[5] Mounce, 114. See also, Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Jesus (Jerusalem: Gefen Books, 2012), 29-33.

[6] Crossley, 29-30.

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