Did Jesus Break the Sabbath? John 5:18

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.’ 18For this reason 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.”

-John 5:16-18

In a recent post called “The Naughty Lists” a discussion developed about whether or not Jesus broke the Sabbath based on John 5:18. My understanding of this verse is that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath traditions (considered on level with the law itself by the Pharisees) and not actually breaking the Law of Moses (the 4th commandment).

What Jesus is doing in this passage is using the Sabbath to teach them something about himself. You cannot separate these verses from the broader theology of John and what John is setting out to do. Jesus is not teaching us about the Sabbath, as we typically hear on these stories of Sabbath healings. Jesus is teaching us something about himself. I can say that with confidence because it is all over this story. Jesus makes the point that God works on the Sabbath (and no one is calling God a law breaker – 5:17), so when Jesus works on the Sabbath he is not breaking the Law of Moses because He and God are the same. So Jesus is not a Law breaker. Jesus point is not about the Sabbath. Jesus is using the Sabbath as an opportunity to teach them something about his identity. We are not called to have faith in the Sabbath but faith in Christ. We often miss the forest for the trees on this one and get all caught up on the Sabbath rather than on the Lord of the Sabbath. Often this point is entirely missed because we are unaware or unconcerned with the broader theology of the Gospel of John that this fits so well into.

Last, I wanted to point out a really good article online that is helpful and brief on this topic that I found really helpful. I went through a dozen commentaries trying to find anything helpful on this phrase but came up empty. So if this interests you, have a read – Is Jesus Breaking the Sabbath?


Psalm 119 – An Appreciation for God’s Word

Psalm 119 is one of the most interesting psalms in the book of Psalms. Not only do modern translations retain the Hebrew letters to give us a heads up that this is a Hebrew acrostic, the contents of the psalm are fascinating and very worthwhile for us to glean something beneficial from. When you read this psalm, his hunger for God’s Word is unmistakable. He is intensely zealous to read it, digest it, and let its nutrients drive his body to action for the good of God’s people. He makes the connection that knowledge of God and God’s Word should result in obedience. That is a concept that some today seem to have forgotten or have become less worried about. There is also an unmistakable connection between God’s Word and blessing.

Now for your homework. Take out a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of it. On the left side write the heading “Benefits of God’s Word” and on the right side write “Action items.” Once you are ready read the psalm and as you go make a list of these two things under each heading with verse numbers for later reference. So, how does God’s word benefit or bless those who study it (e.g. they are blessed – 119:1, leads to pure ways – 119:9, etc) and what are we expected to do with God’s Word (e.g. hide it in our hearts – 119:11, have it on our lips – 119:13, etc). Feel free to comment here with your lists.

Was the Law Nailed to the Cross?

Colossians 2:14 says, “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” The traditional interpretation of this verse is that the Law of Moses was what was nailed to the cross. Here is how David Lipscomb explained it,

“The whole of the Mosaic law, including the commandments written on stone (2 Cor 3:7), was taken out of the way, nailed to the cross, and is no longer in force as a law in any of its parts…It was taken out of the way when Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross [This is a very graphic way of saying that the obstacle to forgiveness which lay in the law–in the justice of God of which the law is an embodiment–ws removed by the death of Christ. Practically the nails which fastened to the cross the hands and feet of Jesus, and thus slew him, pieced and invalidated the law which pronounced the just condemnation of sinners.” (GAC on Colossians, 281-282).

There are two key words here that are used here and only here in all the New Testament. The first is what the NIV translates “written code.” Witherington and Wright both point out that this word is used in extra-biblical literature to speak of a book in heaven that has in it a record of all our wrong doings. This word is never used of the law in scripture, ever. The second word is “nailed.” This is its only used in the entire New Testament. In no other place do we have anything said about the law being nailed to the cross. Nowhere in this passage does Paul say the law. The word “written code” can also be translated “certificate of debt” which Paul says “stood against us.” Paul is saying that Jesus went to the cross, taking our indebtedness upon himself due to sin that was evidenced by a list of our sins that stood against us and by all rights should keep us from having a relationship with God and keep us out of the covenant community. Jesus took on his role as spiritual accountant by paying off the debt we owed and balancing the books to show our debt was zeroed out through his death on the cross.

Still not convinced? Here are some questions to consider.

  1. If the law was nailed to the cross at the time of Jesus death on the cross why was Peter still keeping kosher laws up through Acts 10, years after Jesus’ death?
  2. Why were Gentiles required to keep commands from the Torah to be part of the covenant community in Acts 15:19-21?
  3. Why were Jews still keeping holy days and the Sabbath even after Jesus’ death? (Acts 13:14,27, 42-44;  16:13; 17:2; 18:4; Col 2:16?)

I am obviously not proposing that we all go back to be followers of the law. I am pointing out that this is the wrong text to use when talking about what happened to the law following the death of Christ.