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Mark 3:4

ESV And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.
NIV Then Jesus asked them, 'Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?' But they remained silent.
NASB And He *said to them, 'Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?' But they kept silent.
CSB Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save life or to kill? " But they were silent.
NLT Then he turned to his critics and asked, 'Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?' But they wouldn’t answer him.
KJV And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

What does Mark 3:4 mean?

This verse reveals a potent use of logic which we can almost pity the Pharisees for experiencing. After God gave Moses the written Law defining how Israel was to interact with God, scribes developed a huge catalogue of oral laws meant to further define what it meant to obey God. The Sabbath is an extremely important sign that the nation of Israelites is following God. For the Pharisees, their additional, strict rules are meant to prevent anyone from coming close to disrespecting God's holy day.

But Jesus challenges the Pharisees' supposed piety. He reminds them the Sabbath is intended for good, not just for personal discipline. Yes, selfish or pointless work is forbidden on the Sabbath, but what about work that directly and significantly benefits someone else? What if it blesses? Surely the sacred rest of the Sabbath would be honored by providing even more rest for an injured man. The Pharisees already understand this, to a point. Their law allows a farmer to untie a donkey and lead him to water (Luke 13:15) or rescue a sheep (Matthew 12:11) on the Sabbath. And the oral law permits a Jew to save someone's life. But their traditions and hard hearts have buried the spirit of the Sabbath under manmade rules.

Jesus exposes their narrow thinking, trying to draw them into a larger view. Is the Sabbath meant for good or harm? The good is healing a man, but by forbidding healing the Pharisees choose harm—in three different ways. They remain silent instead of expressing what they think to be true, they refuse to allow that healing the man may be permitted, and they choose to "kill" by conspiring with the Herodians to destroy Jesus (Mark 3:6).

Logically, then, aren't the Pharisees the ones truly profaning the Sabbath by their attitudes? The silence of these men suggests that Jesus' point is hard to deny, even if they don't accept it.
What is the Gospel?
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