The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods






Section V

Jesus accused of heresy in the corn-field

(Mat 12:1-8. Mar 2:23-28. Luk 6:1-5. Joh 7:1)

We first find the Lord again associated with His disciples when He was passing with them through a corn-field in Galilee on the Sabbath-day. This Sabbath was the second of the year 782 (a.d. 29); as we conjecture, the 20th of the month Nisan, or the 23d of April, or the 5th day after the first Passover day of that year.

The Jewish year consisted of several cycles, which were wholly divided from one another, because in each the days were begun to be reckoned afresh. One such cycle began (according to Lev 23:15) with the 16th Nisan, and lasted fifty days, until the Jewish feast of Pentecost. This cycle was the second; it was preceded by a small cycle of days which began with the commencement of the Jewish ecclesiastical year on the 1st Nisan. Now, as in each of these cycles the days were reckoned over again, it naturally followed that the Sabbaths also should be reckoned in like manner. In consequence, the first Sabbath of the first cycle was the first-first, the first of the second or Passover cycle the second-first, the first of the third cycle the third-first, and so on.

We can make this matter of the calendar clear by analogies from our ecclesiastical year. It too has its cycles, in which we count the Sundays over again. We speak, for example, of the first Sunday in Advent; of the first after Epiphany, and so on. We might call the Sunday after Christmas the second-first Sunday of our Church year; but the cycle of this time is too small to stand forward very prominently.

According to Wieseler (Chronol. Synopse, 483), the 6th Nisan of the year 782 was a Sabbath-day; therefore the 13th and 20th Nisan were Sabbath-days likewise. Now, as the 20th Nisan was the first Sabbath of the new or second cycle of the year, it was likewise the second-first Sabbath of the year.1

This date also agrees with the circumstances which are presupposed in our present section. The corn was partially ripe about this time; and the ripe grains could be rubbed out of the ears.2 And then, too, about this time Christ might have again joined His disciples; and it further entirely agrees with the circumstances of the time following the Passover, when we see how the Pharisees are insidiously stealing after Him, both on the highways and byways—how they are even lying in wait for Him in the corn-field through which He is passing with His disciples.

But if Jesus again joined His disciples in Galilee as early as five days after the feast of the Passover, properly so called, it follows that the disciples could not, at the most, have remained longer in Jerusalem than was necessary to satisfy the legal claim of attendance at the feast. Their heart was not with those Jewish-minded celebrants, but with their Master; they therefore soon rejoined Him.

But behind them were walking, in order to watch them, malignant Pharisees. It was come to such a pitch, that even in the field amongst the corn, with His disciples, Christ could no longer be free from the persecutions of His enemies. The hierarchy persecuted Him like an omnipresent inquisition with its hundred eyes. It was the Sabbath-day as He was passing with His disciples through a corn-field which was ripe for the harvest. In consequence of their hurried return on this day, the disciples perhaps had hardly had time to go anywhere to take their regular food; they felt hungry, and they began to pluck off some ears, to rub them in their hands, and to eat the grain. The malignant Pharisees who were skulking after the Lord at once pounced upon this action. It was to them as if in this one act they had seen the disciples reaping, gathering in, and threshing, grinding, and baking. They therefore stepped up to Jesus with the accusation: ‘Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath-day.’ They could not bring forward their reproach on the ground that the disciples were satisfying their hunger by plucking off some ears in a corn-field which did not belong to them, because the Israelite had a right to do this if he were hungry (Deu 23:25). Neither did they urge that the legal harvest had not yet begun. From this it has been concluded, that the time could not have been before the feast-day Sabbath; ‘for till then the wave-offering, through which the corn was blessed, had not been presented to the Lord, and this would have given occasion to the Pharisees for another and better founded reproach.’3 But they distinctly would have the act considered as a desecration of the Sabbath.4

But Jesus takes His disciples under His protection. He first points out to His opposers the rights of hunger, David, He said, went as a hungry fugitive with his followers into the house of God (1 Sam. 215), and satisfied his hunger with the shew-bread, although it was what only the priests had a right to eat. This case was peculiarly striking. Thus did David act, who was the model of Jewish piety. And he who gave him the bread was a distinguished priest. Now, here was not an ordinance of the elders which was violated, but to all outward appearance a distinct command of God (Lev 24:9). And yet there was no real transgression of the law here, otherwise the spirit of revelation would have denounced the deed as a crime. Consequently the right of hunger had set aside that most holy temple-law. But these literalists might still have made our Lord the reply, that it was solely a question of the sabbatical law, the observance of which was of more consequence than any other. Therefore He shows them that holy necessity encroaches still further upon the requirements of the law, since, for example, the priests themselves, by their prescribed labour on the Sabbath, the sacrifices appointed by the law, are obliged to break the Sabbath-day, and yet are blameless (Num 28:9). Thus for them it becomes even a duty to disregard the law of the Sabbath. They are guiltless, because the temple requires this service, because the temple is an ordinance above the Sabbath; therefore Jesus adds in explanation: ‘In this place is One greater than the temple,’ that is, One in whose service such an exemption from the sabbatical law may be with much greater justice permitted. Therefore He again repeats to them the word of the Lord which He has before quoted (Mat 9:13), concerning the superiority of mercy to sacrifice, which He more than once with perfect right applied against them. Thus did He refute these hypocritical champions of the Old Covenant, according to their own premises, from the law itself, from sacred history, and from the prophets. But the case was of such a nature that He could not possibly rest with this appeal to the Old Testament. He behoved to refer them back to the ideal ground of the sabbatical law, in order once for all to justify His perfectly free action concerning the ordinance of the Sabbath. Therefore He first lays down the principle: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’ This is the essential idea of the Sabbath: it is to make man safe in the higher necessity of his life; it is to defend and guard him against a labour and service which would endanger his inner life, and violate generally the higher sanctity and dignity of human life. And because this is the end of the Sabbath, therefore the sabbatical law may not be enforced against pressing necessity, against hunger, or against the desire for relief from suffering, because by that very means would be caused painfulness, discomfort, and destruction of life, a subtle serfdom which would in the end be worse than the gross and open service. By such means, man would be sacrificed in order to preserve the Sabbath. And thus would the Sabbath be destroyed in its most proper object, by turning man’s holiday into a day of torment in a thousand painful observances, and finally into a complete day of starvation and hopeless suffering. The sabbatical law must thus ever be afresh regenerated in the essential idea of the Sabbath in its end, which is, that it should tend to man’s welfare; but this unfettered view is not in any way to abolish it, as hasty exegesis might perhaps be disposed to explain this word. But how can we find the true application of this principle: The Sabbath was made for man?’ On this point Jesus explains Himself in His closing word: ‘The Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.’ If the Sabbath was made for man, it follows that it can be no hindering barrier for the Son of man, the holy Man. For the Son of man wholly lives for men, and therefore is wholly at one with the proper object of the Sabbath. Man’s welfare, which it is the object of the Sabbath to promote in a legal and imperfect manner, the Son of man promotes for him in the perfect form of the mightiest deeds of quickening and healing activity. Therefore also it is not possible that He can ever come into conflict with the spirit of the sabbatical law. Rather it is the very spirit of the Sabbath, the positive vital blessing of the Sabbath, which streams forth from the Sabbath-peace of His heart. And thus He is the Lord of the Sabbath. In Him the Sabbath has its principle, its life-giving power, and its end. In the first place, then, He can therefore never be reproached with profaning the Sabbath. But, secondly, those can never be accused as Sabbath-breakers who, in His spirit, service, and protection, in communion with Him, and in His peace, shall violate a sabbatical requirement which has been devised by men. But, thirdly, they must not be apprehensive lest He might apply that lofty spiritual superiority over legal sabbatical appointments to the end of overturning that ordinance of the Sabbath, which, according to its proper nature, He has set forth as an ordinance of blessing for humanity. But, fourthly, and lastly, we may be quite right in calling those real profaners of the holy Sabbath, who would fain, through their self-devised vexations, turn the seventh day into a day of the heaviest bondage for man.



Our hypothesis in connection with this date has been derived from Scaliger (see Wieseler, p. 229). The writer referred to draws attention to the fact, that according to Lev 23:15, the Jews began a fresh reckoning of weeks with the 16th Nisan. But in the development of this hypothesis he has first made the mistake of deriving the reckoning of the whole of the second cycle upon the supposition that it must have commenced with the second day of the Passover, so that on this account the first week of that cycle must be called the second-first week, and not because it was the first week of the second cycle in the year. He was wrong, then, in deriving the name of the Sabbath only indirectly from the reckoning of the week, so that the second-first Sabbath would require to be paraphrased—the first Sabbath of the second-first week. For as the first week of the said cycle was to be styled directly the second-first week, and the first day of it the second-first day of the year, so, just as directly must the first Sabbath also of this cycle appear as the second-first Sabbath of the year. We preserve, then, from Scaliger’s hypothesis the right principle to start from, but we drop his incorrect application of it. Concerning the other numerous hypotheses in explanation of this passage, see Wieseler, p. 225, &c. [or Greswell’s Dissertations, ii. 300, and briefly in Alford in loc. The author’s view is very similar to that of Grotius, which has already been adopted by some English writers. Wetstein’s opinion, that it was ‘primum sabbatum mensis secundi,’ seems to be the happiest conjecture, and worthy of more consideration than it has received. Besides being a very probable rendering of the word, it brings the event down to the precise time at which Robinson states that the harvest ripens. Beza (Annot. in loc.) thinks it was the last day of the feast: if a weekly Sabbath and a festal Sabbath fell on two consecutive days in the second week of the feast, the term might possibly be applied to the first of these Sabbaths. See further Bengel’s Ordo Temporum, p. 255.—ED.] Wieseler’s own hypothesis is new and interesting. He refers to the Jewish custom of dividing the years into cycles of weeks, that is, into circles of seven years. Now, he conjectures that the first Sabbath of the first year, in such a week of years, was styled the first-first, the first of the second the second-first, and so on. In consequence, by the above date we are to understand the 6th Nisan, or the 9th of April, of the years referred to. But besides that such styling of the day, which would necessitate the constant recollection of the chronology of seven years,6 would not so easily have become popular, we also believe that in the time before Easter there would be no room and no sufficient motive for these events which are described in connection with it. Concerning the lingual significance of the adjective δευτερόπρωτον, see Hitzig’s Ostern und Pfingsten, p. 19, &c.7



1) Concerning the different hypotheses with respect to the second-first Sabbath, see below, Note 1.

2) ʻIt was, however, ears of barley which they plucked off; for wheat does not ripen till a month later, and rye, as it would seem, was not cultivated at all.ʼ—Sepp, Leben Jesu, ii. 329.

3) Sepp, Leben Jesu, ii. p. 330.

4) Sepp, ii. 329: ʻEven stoning was appointed for plucking off ears of corn (on the Sabbath), when it was done with the intention of breaking the law, and not from the pressure of hunger, as was the case here. Maimonides in Shabbath, cap. 7 and 8: vellere spicas eat species messionis.ʼ [And so it was forbidden to walk on the grass, because this is a species of threshing ; and to catch a flea, because this is a kind of hunting. These are among the thirty-nine negative precepts for the observance of the Sabbath. See Jenning's Jewish Antiq., p. 442. ED.]

5) According to 1 Sam. xxi., the priest of the sanctuary who gave him the bread was Ahimelech. St Mark says that the occurrence took place in the days of Abiathar the high priest. As, according to 1 Sam. xxii. 20, Abiathar was a son of Ahimelech, this difficulty may be best explained by an interchange between the two names, or by supposing that the father and son had both names.

6) [Which, however, is shown to be very far from impossible by the system used among the Quakers, and which requires a wider recollection. ED.]

7) [On this Greswell says, It denotes first after the second, and not second after the first. . . . The Sabbath thus designated must be some Sabbath, considered as first, reckoned after something second, not as second, reckoned after something first. ED.]