Matthew 12:4 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Matthew 12:4, NIV: He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread--which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.

Matthew 12:4, ESV: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

Matthew 12:4, KJV: How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?

Matthew 12:4, NASB: how he entered the house of God, and they ate theconsecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?

Matthew 12:4, NLT: He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat.

Matthew 12:4, CSB: how he entered the house of God, and they ate the bread of the Presence--which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests?

What does Matthew 12:4 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

Jesus is answering a charge from some Pharisees that His disciples have broken the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8–11). They are accused of working on the Sabbath. In truth, they were plucking heads of grain and eating them while walking through a field with Jesus (Matthew 12:1–2). Though the Old Testament gives no such detail, the Pharisees insist that this task counts as harvesting, and is therefore work, and is therefore a sin.

Answering the Pharisees with a set of questions was a common practice in debates between rabbis. More than that, Jesus wants to hold the Pharisees accountable. They show a shallow lack of concern for the people under their spiritual care. God's intent is for His laws to be applied fairly, and with good judgment, not in arrogance or carelessness. Over time, men like the Pharisees have added layer after layer of rules on top of God's actual commands. They lived in competitive pride—both with each other and the common people—over their ability to keep those rules.

The Pharisees should be aware of what David did at a specific moment in Israel's history. The story is found in 1 Samuel 21:1–6. David was in a desperate situation and needed food. He came to a priest and asked for bread. The priest only had the holy bread, also known as the bread of the tabernacle. This special bread, in the form of twelve loaves, was presented on each Sabbath day as an offering to the Lord. When the bread was swapped out for a new batch, it was to be eaten by the priests in a holy place (Leviticus 24:5–9). The priest David approached handed over the bread for him and his companions to eat.

The point Jesus is making here is that Israel's revered King David could violate the literal, word-for-word requirements of this Law when the need was great. In this case a life-and-death situation. David was not condemned either for his deception in this moment, or for breaking this temple requirement. Jesus is asking the Pharisees how their restrictive interpretive rule about plucking grains to eat on the Sabbath accounts for that story. His intent is not to dismiss God's law, but to focus on God's actual intent in giving it.

Jesus' larger point will be that the Pharisees' extra rules were not inspired by compassion for God's people.