6. The business of mission, 11:1-12:50

iii] Sabbath conflicts


While walking through a grain field on the Sabbath, Jesus' disciples pick a little grain to sustain themselves. The Pharisees question their action and Jesus responds with some pointed words. Later, when entering the local synagogue, Jesus is confronted by a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees, standing by, ask if it is "lawful to cure on the Sabbath?" Again, Jesus responds with some pointed words, prompting the Pharisees to seek a means to destroy him.


The messiah / Son of Man has full authority over divine law, both its interpretation and application.

God's law purposes the good of humanity - "I desire mercy not sacrifice", ie., grace trumps law.

Human conventions are long cherished and people find it difficult to rationally respond when those conventions are challenged by the gospel of God's grace.


i] Context: See 11:1-19. A chiastic pattern has been observed covering 11:1-12:50 with the Sabbath stories, 11:1-14, sitting at the center. A parallel structure has been observed in 14:1-16:16. The argument is somewhat tenuous, but if true, we are left wondering why Matthew would make this passage a focal point of the narrative section covering chapters eleven and twelve. Is it, as Nolland suggests, that Matthew wants us to see what it means to operate "under the yoke of Jesus, who declares [the disciples] guiltless when they satisfy their hunger on the Sabbath in a manner deemed contrary to the Law by the Pharisees"? "Mercy (v7) will unfold the 'kind yoke'", Luz. On the other hand, the independent structure of chapters 11 and 12, with their separate positive conclusions, 11:25-30, and 12:46-50, supports a traditional chapter division.


ii] Background: Sabbath observance. Like circumcision, Sabbath observance was a matter of national pride, a cherished institution. Biblical law states that a child of God should do no work on the Sabbath. Of course, the question immediately arises, what is work? Rabbinic discussion sought to define work and this produced a myriad of regulations defining work in such a way as to cover a vast array of everyday activities, eg., traveling over 2,000 cubits, aprox. half a mile, was regarded as work. The Pharisees sought to bring greater definition to the issue of work, and at the same time provide avenues to break the law without actually breaking it, eg., boundary extension to allow movement beyond 2,000 cubits. This attention to detail served to remove any chance of accidentally breaking the law.

In the passage before us, Jesus raises two issues which confront the Pharisees' understanding of Sabbath law (applicable to all law??). First, by what authority do the Pharisees make laws about God's law? The messiah / Son of Man certainly has that authority, the Pharisees do not. So, Jesus exercises that authority because the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. Second, what is the intention of God's law? While the Pharisees expend their energy on minutia, Jesus looks behind the regulation in order to establish intent. The divine intention behind the law / Torah is the "good" of God's people; the law is not there to harm, but to bless.


iii] Structure: Sabbath conflicts:

First controversy story - plucking grain on the Sabbath, v1-8:

Setting, v1;

Observation / accusation by the Pharisees, v2;

Explanation 1, v3-4;

Explanation 2, v5-7:

saying + quote (peculiar to Matthew);

grace transcends all institutions and conventions.

saying, v8:

"the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Second controversy story - healing on the Sabbath, v9-14:

Setting, v9;

Question by the Pharisees, v10;

Explanation, v11-12:

Illustrative saying (peculiar to Matthew), v11-12a;

Saying, v12b;

"it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

Healing, v13;

Response of the Pharisees, v14.


iv] Interpretation:

Assuming that these Sabbath controversies weren't created, or better, preserved, to defend the practice of the early church of worshipping on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, rather than the Sabbath, so Beare, then we do have to ask why Matthew bothered, not only recording them, but giving greater weight to the received tradition than either Mark or Luke (Matthew's extras are v5-7, and v11-12a, although without Mark's "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath", which is also missing in Luke). As is always the case, each gospel story reveals something of Jesus' person; in the story before us "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." We also learn something of the Sabbath itself, that "it was a day for honoring God, which meant doing good", Morris. High theology may be Matthew's intention; "the rest and rejoicing symbolized by the Sabbath find fulfillment in the kingdom brought by Jesus", Hagner. Patte links this idea to 11:28-30 in that "Jesus makes the observance of the Sabbath an easy yoke and a light burden." Blomberg suggests that Matthew's intent is to teach that "the fourth commandment itself is fulfilled in [Jesus] and therefore need no longer be observed literally."

These notes proceed on the assumption that the narrative section covering 11:1 to 12:50 serves to illustrate, develop and apply the teachings of the second discourse - mission and martyrdom, 9:35-10:42. In this age, kingdom authority has been transferred from Jesus to his disciples to progress the realization of the kingdom in a world hostile to the gospel. The narrative section covering chapters 11 and 12 serves as a paradigm for mission, providing something of a reason / explanation for the hostility / opposition faced by Christ's emissaries. Patte suggests that chapter 11 implies a failure "to perceive the proper relationship between Jesus' deeds - miracles and attitudes that associate him with rejected sinners - and his message about the kingdom." Patte suggests that a second reason / explanation is provided in chapter 12; "to the Pharisees, Jesus' deeds appear to contradict the will of God as they conceive it. In other words, Jesus and his ministry (and we his emissaries) are rejected because people have a wrong understanding of the will of God and of the way to fulfill it", Patte.

Matthew's selection and placement of the two conflict stories before us serves to reveal that hostility / conflict / opposition to the gospel develops when the truth of the gospel, its grace / mercy, confronts long-held human conventions. This confusion will be further explained in chapter 12, particularly its satanic origins, but Matthew will remind us that in the midst of this mindless hubbub we are family, Christ's family, v46-50.


v] Form:

Both pecicopes are classified as pronouncement / controversy stories, ie., an account of a conversation or incident involving Jesus which ends in a terse saying / pronouncement, here in the context of controversy.


vi] Synoptics:

Luke provides the shortest version of these two Sabbath conflict stories, and Matthew the longest version. Matthew's additions, v5-7, v11-12a, as with Mark's particular addition, 2:27, are fascinating, to say the least. Again, Matthew often agrees with Luke's account rather than Mark - interesting!!!

Text - 12:1

Two Sabbath conflict stories, v1-14: i] Plucking grain on the Sabbath, v1-8. a) Setting.

en + dat. "At [that time]" - Temporal use of the preposition.

dia + gen. "through" - [jesus went] through [the grainfields]. Spacial.

toiV sabbasin (on) dat. "on the Sabbath" - The dative is adverbial, temporal.

tillein (tillw) pres. inf. "[began] to pick" - [and the disciples of him were hungry and began] to pick [heads of grain and to eat]. The infinitive, as with esqiein, "to eat", is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "they began."


b) The Law allows plucking of grain when passing by another man's field, but the Pharisees head for the high moral ground and accuse the disciples of reaping, ie., working on the Sabbath.

idonteV (oJraw) aor. part. "When [the Pharisees] saw this" - [and the pharisees] seeing. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal.

autw/ dat. pro. "to him" - [they said] to him. Dative of indirect object.

o} rel. pro. "what" - [behold, the disciples of you are doing] what. Introducing a headless relative clause, "that / the thing which is not permitted / right / lawful to do on the Sabbath", serving as the object of poiousin, "are doing."

poiein (poiew) pres. inf. "-" - [is not permitted] to do. The infinitive probably serves as the subject of the impersonal verb "is not permitted", with o}, "that which", serving as the accusative subject of the infinitive; "your disciples are doing that which to do on the Sabbath is not permitted." Gleaning by the poor (eating from a field to stave off hunger without collecting a surplus) on the Sabbath is something other than work, but not in the eyes of the Pharisees.

en + dat. "on [the Sabbath]" - on [sabbath]. Temporal use of the preposition.


c) Explanation 1, v3-4. In answer to the Pharisees' criticism, Jesus refers to 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Jesus' argument seems to be a lesser to greater argument - David being the lesser, Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, the greater. Nolland suggests that Jesus is using David as an example of one who interprets the law properly; David looks to the heart of the law, as does Jesus. In presenting his argument, Jesus points out that David, when he and his men were hungry (not starving), entered the tabernacle on the Sabbath and brought out the bread of the presence, either the freshly laid out bread or the bread from the previous Sabbath not yet consumed by the priests, or both, and they ate it. Not only was it the Sabbath when David did his gleaning, but he did his gleaning in the Temple, and ate what was not his by right. Interestingly, the OT account has the priest giving the bread to David, so taking some of the edge off David's actions. Anyway, the point is that the scriptures do not condemn him for his actions. "If those men's hunger set aside a divine regulation without blame, how much more should the hunger of Jesus' disciples set aside a rabbinical rule", Morris.

oJ de "He" - but/and]he. Transitional. Given the following verb eipen, "he said", the article is somewhat redundant (transitional), but the construction is sometimes used in narratives to express demonstrative force.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - [said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

ouk "[have]n't [you read]" - [have you] not [read what david did]. This negation is used in a question expecting the answer "yes". D&A notes that in addressing the Pharisees Jesus says "have you not read", but with the crowd it is "have you not heard" - drawing a distinction between professionals and lay people. The Pharisees had obviously read the passage, but they had not taken in what it was saying, so Green.

oJte "when" - when [he was hungry]. The temporal conjunction introduces a temporal clause, as NIV.

oiJ "-" - [and] the ones [with him]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase met autou, "with him", into a substantive; "those who were with him", ESV.


pwV "-" - how. Here introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what the Pharisees should have read (taken note of), namely that (here manner = "how") David entered the house of God .....

eiV + acc. "-" - [he entered] into. With the eiV prefix verb "to enter into" the preposition is somewhat redundant but is used as a matter of form; "how he went into the house of God."

tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the house] of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive, the house belongs to God, or idiomatic / local, the house where God has chosen to dwell.

thV proqesewV (iV ewV) gen. "[the] consecrated [bread]" - [and ate the bread] of the presence. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, "the show / presented bread = showbread"; "the bread which is is used for presenting to God."

ouk exon (existin) pres. part. "not lawful" - [which is] not being lawful. The present participle with h\n, the imperfect verb to be, forms a periphrastic imperfect, possibly emphasizing aspect - it is always unlawful.

autw/ dat. pro. "for them" - for him. Dative of interest, advantage, or reference / respect.

fagein (fagw) "to do" - to eat. The infinitive is epexegetic, specifying "what is not right for him", namely, eating what by right belonged to the priests.

toiV dat. "-" - [nor] for the ones [with him]. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the prepositional phrase met autou, "with him", into a substantive, dative of interest; "for those who were with him", ESV.

ei mh "but [only]" - except. Introducing an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception.

toiV iJereusin (uV ewV) dat. "for the priests" - for the priests [alone]. Dative of reference / respect.


d) Explanation 2, v5-7 - a Matthean inclusion. It is suggested by some commentators that Matthew includes his own supportive argument at this point, but we could well be dealing with an independent saying of Jesus included to give weight to the passage. Jesus' argument is pointed; priests work on the Sabbath under divine sanction and so clearly the command to do no work is not a blanket command. The command is but a guide to aid the realization of a deeper principle, namely, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice", that which is "greater than the temple." The meizon, "greater thing", namely, divine grace, classifies the action of gleaning grain as participating in a blessing from God rather than breaking a Sabbath command. Allen suggests that v7 is a parenthesis, but it seems better to treat v5-7 in that way. The quote in v7 comes from Hosea 6:6 and has already been used in 9:13.

ouk "[have]n't [you read]" - [have you] not [read]. This negation is used in a question expecting the answer "yes".

en + "in [the law]" - Local, expressing space / sphere.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they would have read in the law, namely "that ......; "how, on the Sabbath the priests ........"

toiV sabbasin (on) dat. "on the Sabbath / on Sabbath duty" - on the sabbaths [the priests in the temple profane / violate the sabbath and are innocent / guiltless]. The dative is adverbial, temporal.


uJmin "you" - [but I say] to you. Dative of indirect object.

oJti "that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Jesus says.

meizon comp. adj. "one greater / something greater" - one greater. The adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb to-be; "a greater one is here." The TNIV has properly read the neuter person of this comparative adjective. The "greater one" is usually identified as Jesus, so Morris, D&A, Nolland, ..... Some commentators (eg., Hagner) give weight to the neuter so proposing that Matthew has in mind the wider ministry of Jesus and his disciples. Luz is surely right when he argues that "what is greater than the temple is mercy, which, in Jesus' interpretation of the will of God, has become the greatest thing" - grace apart from works / law, but without abolishing works / law.

tou iJerou (oV) gen. "than the temple" - of the temple. The genitive is ablative, comparative, as NIV.

w|de adv. "here" - [is] here. This predicate adverb of place is used temporally, so serving to express an example of realized eschatology; "what is here now is greater than the temple", Cassirer.


ei + pluperf. ind. with a]n + aor. ind. "if" - [but] if [you had known what it is, i desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent]. This construction forms a 2nd. class conditional clause where the proposed condition is untrue (an unreal condition); "if, as is not the case, you had known what is (this means) I desire mercy and not sacrifice, then you would not have condemned the guiltless."


e) The punch-line / pronouncement: Jesus, being the messiah / Son of Man, has complete authority to resolve matters of Biblical law, and everything else as well! This he does on the principle of grace. "Jesus alone has authority to interpret the law for his disciples", France.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why Jesus is able to adjudicate on matters of Biblical law / ethics, because as the messiah / Son of Man he has the authority to do so. Quarles thinks it is more explanatory than causal, "the reason for Jesus' innocence in his conduct on the Sabbath."

oJ uiJoV tou anqrwpou "the Son of Man" - See 8:20.

kurioV (oV) "Lord" - [is] lord. Often capitalized, but here just being used in the sense of "master", of one having authority over.

tou sabbatou (on) gen. "of the Sabbath" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination; "over the Sabbath." "Sabbath" as in "Sabbath law."


ii] Healing a withered hand on the Sabbath, v9-14. In this next episode / pericope, Jesus' application of mercy / grace stirs up aggression from the agents of darkness / the children of this age, those who have another view as to what constitutes doing good. For Matthew, this, and the previous incident, serves as a paradigm for doing mission / evangelism. The gospel of grace (the business of rescuing sheep from the pit of sin - probably a bridge too far, but a nice thought!) and its application in the life of the Christian church, inevitably prompts aggression. Note the problems facing the Christian church due to the increasing secularization of Western societies, of the principle of equality overriding the principle of freedom.

a) Setting, v9.

metabaV (metabainw) aor. part. "Going on" - [and] having gone. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "he came"; "he went from there and came into their synagogue."

ekeiqen adv. "from that place" - from there [he came into the synagogue of them]. Adverb of place


b) The Pharisees' question as to the legality of healing someone on the Sabbath, v10.

ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "[a man] with [a shriveled hand]" - [and behold a man] having [a dry hand, and they questioned him asking if it is permissible on the sabbaths to heal]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, introducing a relative clause limiting "man"; "a man who had a shriveled hand." The adjective xhran, "dry, is a little unclear. This is evidenced in the numerous translations offered. Was it "paralyzed", TEV, "deformed", LB, ....?

iJna + subj. "looking for a reason [to accuse / to bring charges against]" - that [they might accuse, reproach]. Introducing a purpose clause; "in order that they might ..."

autou gen. pro. "Jesus" - him. Genitive of direct object after the kata prefix verb "to accuse = bring charges against."

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "they asked [him]" - [thy questioned him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant.

ei "[is it lawful]" - This particle is sometimes used to introduce an indirect question, but rarely a direct question, as here, cf., MHT III, p333; BDF #440.3; Zerwick #401. Given that the adverb h\, "really, indeed", sounds similar to ei, then their question may be rhetorical, "I mean really, do you want to push the idea that it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" See Olmstead.

qerapeusai (qerapeuw) aor. inf. "to heal" - The infinitive may be classified as complementary, completing the sense of the verb "to be right, possible = lawful", or epexegetic, specifying what is "right, possible, lawful", namely, "to heal"

toiV sabbasin (on) dat. "on the Sabbath" - The dative is adverbial, temporal.


c) Explanation, v11-12. First, the saying covering v11-12a is sometimes viewed as a Matthean creation, but is more likely an independent saying of Jesus, or even part of the original tradition included / retained by Matthew to strengthen the theme of mercy / grace - the driving principle of mission. Given that this saying serves as a nice example of a rabbinic debating technique (halakhic logic - here a lesser to greater argument), it is not unreasonable for it to be overlooked / deleted from the received tradition in order to strengthen Jesus' authority to act as he does. As is typical of Jesus, his argument goes to the heart of the law - mercy / grace. If it is right to do kalwV, "good" = "to act beneficially toward", a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more is it right to do "good" to a fellow human being. Few would quibble over helping a sheep in distress, especially in the case of a poor man's sheep, his one and only sheep (e}n can substitute for an indefinite article in both Greek and Aramaic, but is seldom used this way in Matthew, especially when placed after a noun, as here), so what's the quibble over helping a living person?

oJ de "he [said]" - but/and he. Transitional. The conjunction de with the article oJ is usually read as adversative; "but he said to them."

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - [said] to them [what man will there be from you who will have one sheep]. Dative of indirect object.

ean + subj. "if" - if, as may be the case, [this falls into a pit on the sabbath, then will he not grasp it and raise it]. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the proposed condition has the possibility of coming true.

toiV sabbasin (on) "on the Sabbath" - The dative is adverbial, temporal, expressing time.

ex (ek) + gen. "any of [you]" - from [you who will have one sheep]. Here the proposition serves as a partitive genitive; "of you / from among you."

ouci "[will he] not" - Used in a question expecting the answer "yes", with this particular negation serving to emphasizing the "yes"; "indeed, yes he will." Note the use of the future tense for the verb "to take hold of" rather than a deliberative subjunctive. A future tense is sometimes used instead of a subjunctive, especially in Revelation.


Second, in 12b Matthew draws out the logical conclusion of Jesus' lesser to greater argument; w{ste, "therefore", it is right / lawful to act beneficially / kindly / graciously / lovingly [in any situation (a general principle)] on the Sabbath, ie., grace / mercy trumps law.

posw/ dat. pro. "how much more" - [therefore] how great / how much more [valuable is a man]. The dative is adverbial, of measure, "how much more, of comparison, "by how much more."

oun "-" - therefore. Inferential, "how much more then ....", but usually left untranslated. Possibly emphatic; "surely a person is much more valuable than a sheep."

probatou (on) gen. "than a sheep" - The genitive is ablative, of comparison.

w{ste "therefore" - Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.

kalwV adv. "[to do] good" - [it is permissible on the Sabbaths to do] good. Modal adverb, of manner; see above.

toiV sabbasin (on) dat. "on the Sabbath" - The dative is adverbial, temporal.


d) The healing, v13.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb, used here to indicate a step in the narrative.

legei (legw) pres. "he said" - he says. Narrative / historic present, used to signal narrative transition.

tw/ anqrwpw/ (oV) dat. "to the man" - Dative of indirect object.

apekatestaqh (apokaqisthmi) aor. pas. "it was [completely] restored" - [stretch out the hand of you and he stretched out and] it was restored (returned to its original condition) [whole / complete]. The aorist is punctiliar which, with the adjective uJgihV, "whole, healthy", gives the sense "completely restored then and there."

wJV "just as" - like [the other]. Comparative, used to introduce a comparative clause. The clause is somewhat elliptical with the substantive adjective hJ allh, "the other", serving as the subject of an assumed verb to-be, "as the other hand was perfectly whole."


e) The response of the Pharisees, v14. Matthew compares the murderous plotting of the Pharisees with the mercy of Jesus.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point, as NIV.

exelqonteV (exercomai) aor. part. "went out" - having gone out. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to take"; "went out and took counsel."

sumboulion elabon "and plotted" - [the pharisees] took counsel. This construction for "took counsel" = discussed together = "conspired", ESV, is common to Matthew, but not found in Mark or Luke.

kat (kata) + gen. "-" - against [him]. Here expressing opposition.

o{pwV + subj. "how [they might kill Jesus]" - that [they might destroy him]. This construction usually serves to introduce a final clause expressing purpose, but often with a modal touch, expressing manner, "how"; "The Pharisees went away and concocted a scheme to (in order to) kill him", Barclay.


Matthew Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]