Matthew writes to disciples who believe their principles of biblical interpretation differ radically from those of the Pharisees (5:20; 9:13), and he has a crucial hermeneutical point to make in this narrative (12:7). He uses two of Mark's sabbath controversy stories to illustrate the conflict between Jesus' rest and the Pharisees' rest (11:28). This conflict over the nature of the sabbath further illustrates two entirely different approaches to the law (5:20); because Jesus is himself the embodiment of divine Wisdom, his yoke brings rest (11:28). These Pharisees illustrate the principle that Jesus was "hidden . . . from the wise and learned" (11:25); may we who fancy ourselves wise choose to learn from the humble.
Some culturally conservative churches today interpret the Bible the way the Pharisees in this passage do, building an ever tighter fence around the strictest interpretation of the law to keep from breaking it. Thus, for example, I have known firsthand of some that misconstrue Scripture to condemn all divorced people, women's wearing slacks to church, music relevant to youth, and anything else that violates their tradition. Conservatives can dishonor God's Word through abuse and neglect just as liberals can dishonor it through neglect and rejection. Jesus instead pursued the point of biblical texts in the situation in which they were written (19:8). The principles of God's Word actually demand far more from us than extrapolated rules: they demand the absolute integrity of our hearts before God, summoning us to devote all our actions and thoughts to his glory (5:17-48). Perhaps some Christians take refuge primarily in legal debates because we lack the courage to pursue a genuine relationship with the Father through faith in Jesus Christ. This narrative illustrates various points about biblical interpretation.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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