When Jesus walked to Bethany on the Sabbath, didn't this amount to working on the Sabbath and, therefore, breaking the Torah/Law?

Email Received:

In your Good Thursday commentary, you point out how Jesus' entry into Jerusalem before Passover could not have been on the Sabbath (Saturday). Since Exodus 23:12 and Deuteronomy 5:14 forbid work to be done on the Sabbath by donkeys and other animals, then Jesus would have been breaking the Sabbath by causing the donkeys to work on that day. That makes sense to me.

However, John 12:1 shows Jesus arriving at Bethany; and the next day (John 12:12), on Palm Sunday, was His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. So if Jesus walked to Bethany the day before that (Saturday), then He walked some distance on the Sabbath. Wouldn't Jesus have been breaking the Torah/Law by walking/working on the Sabbath, just as animals would have?

Ted's Response:

I do not find anywhere in the books of the written Law (the Torah and the Prophets) that a person's walking over a certain distance constituted "work" that was forbidden on the Sabbath. Acts 1:12 mentions a "Sabbath's day walk," which was a manmade rabbinical restriction.

The Pharisees and Sadducees berated Jesus for healing on the Sabbath and His disciples for picking grain and eating it on the Sabbath, and He rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for this. However, they never were seen to admonish anyone for walking too far on the Sabbath, nor did Jesus speak against walking beyond a certain distance on the Sabbath.

Exodus 16:4-10 describes God's provision of manna to the Israelites. They could collect it on the first six days of the week, with twice the normal amount being collected on the sixth day (16:22). On the seventh day, the Sabbath, they were not to collect any manna but were to eat half of what they had collected on the previous day (16:23-26). Yet, on that day, some went out to collect some manna, and they were scolded by Moses for doing so (16:27,28). He reminded them that they were not to go out on that day, meaning that they were not to go and do the work of searching and collecting manna.

This might be construed as some as a prohibition on walking during the Sabbath. However, it merely was a ban on working to find and collect manna, since this was one type of many types of work that could be done on the other days of the week but was forbidden on the Sabbath. Yet, on that day they could go to the tabernacle (or, many years later, the temple in Jerusalem), which would involve walking.

In two places, a distance of 2,000 cubits (about 3,000 feet or 1,000 yards) is mentioned. In Numbers 35:5, the Levites were given common-lands or pasturelands for their herds of animals extending 2,000 cubits from their towns. In Joshua 3:3,4, the Israelites were told to keep at least a distance of 2,000 cubits between themselves and the ark when they followed it, which could have been on any day of the week. But there is nothing about the Sabbath in these passages, nor that 2,000 cubits was the furthest distance someone could walk on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees and Sadducees had their own man-made laws and rules that they demanded others to follow. Jesus spoke a great deal against being bound by the "oral" law, but He advocated obedience to the "written" law (Torah and Prophets). The "oral" law indicated that a Sabbath day's walk (Acts 1:12) was 2,000 cubits or about 3,000 feet; however, this was a manmade rule, not a regulation ordained by God for the Sabbath, whether in the Ten Commandments or in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:1Ė23:33, 24:7) or anywhere else.

Jesus declared Himself "Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8). Then He proceeded to heal in the synagogue on the Sabbath, which appalled the Pharisees (12:9-14). So Jesus was condemned by the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath, but He implied that their thinking about this issue was in error and that doing such a thing was acceptable, especially since it involved helping someone.

As far as a donkey walking along and carrying a person, such as Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11), it would not have been the act of walking that would have been considered to be work for the donkey. Rather, it would have been carrying a person on its back that would have been work, and Jesus would not have allowed a donkey to work on the Sabbath by carrying Him into Jerusalem.

I find no stipulation in the written law against walking further than a specified distance on the Sabbath. Presumably, then, Jesus would not have considered it a violation of the law to walk more than the distance that the Pharisees considered to be a "Sabbath day's walk." Therefore, it would have been permissible for Him to walk to Bethany on that day, even if it was more than the distance permitted on the Sabbath according to the manmade oral law.

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