Matthew 12:11 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Matthew 12:11, NIV: He said to them, 'If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?

Matthew 12:11, ESV: He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?

Matthew 12:11, KJV: And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?

Matthew 12:11, NASB: But He said to them, 'What manis there among you whohas a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out?

Matthew 12:11, NLT: And he answered, 'If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn't you work to pull it out? Of course you would.

Matthew 12:11, CSB: He replied to them, "Who among you, if he had a sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn't take hold of it and lift it out?

What does Matthew 12:11 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

A man with a withered, shriveled hand stands before a crowd at the synagogue. Jesus and the disciples are there, along with a group of Pharisees who hope to catch Jesus breaking a command of the law of Moses. As a teacher might ask a class, they have asked Jesus: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

From the perspective of the Pharisees, the correct answer is "no." It has been decided by their ruling body that anything beyond life-saving care qualifies as work. For them, this means it is forbidden by the fourth commandment about not working on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8–10). If Jesus heals this man, they will see it as catching Him in the act of breaking the command. In truth, Jesus would only be breaking their interpretation of the command.

Jesus answers their question with a question of His own: wouldn't you rescue a sheep or other animal if it fell in a hole on the Sabbath?

This question was not mere speculation. Pits were commonly dug as traps for predators, to protect livestock. Sometimes, though, sheep would fall into the pits by accident, perhaps hurting themselves. While some Pharisees would have forbidden the rescue of an animal on the Sabbath, most would not have made this a restriction. Further, most people would act in mercy for the animal instead of leaving it in the pit to suffer.

The point Jesus is leading to is one He has made before in Matthew: How much more valuable are people than animals? If God provides for the birds, He will surely provide for you, because you are far more valuable to Him (Matthew 6:26). If God knows when each sparrow falls, He will surely know when you die because you are more valuable than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29–31).

Jesus' response makes two important points. First, if it's right to show mercy to an animal, how could it be wrong to show mercy to a person? Second, it's clear that God's command about not working on the Sabbath is not aimed at situations like a trapped animal, or some other disaster. Neither is it meant to stop people from doing good.