Unlocking The Gospels With Tanach: Things New And Old (2)

                   …like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old


We continue our journey through the Gospels. Our goal here is to show how much can be taken out of the New Testament, when it is understood through the Tanach.


And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”[1]

There is a well-known dispute regarding Jesus keeping – or breaking – Shabbat. Much has been said and written on this subject. However, even today, as you are reading about Jesus healing on Shabbat and feeling this almost palpable tension between Him and those who “were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him,[2] are you still wondering whether indeed, Jesus did break Shabbat?

First, we have to make it clear whose definition of breaking Shabbat we have in mind. In today’s Jewish halakhah, treating minor, not life-threatening medical issues on Shabbat is prohibited, but  saving lives on Shabbat is not only permitted, but is also a duty. However, while violation of Shabbat for life-saving healing is an accepted practice today, in the first century this principle had probably not yet been clearly defined. That’s why “the synagogue official” was “indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath”.[3] In this sense, the testimony of the Gospels is significant: for the first time, we see here Jewish Rabbi Yeshua allowing healing on Shabbat.

Of course, Jesus did not break a God-given commandment. However, He did break a contemporary tradition of keeping Shabbat at any cost. The gospels are the only first century source that we have, where healing is permitted and performed on Shabbat. Jesus advocates – perhaps even establishes – the same approach that later, slightly modified, will become normative in Rabbinic Judaism. The more we know about Judaism, the more interesting this dynamic between the teaching of Jesus and first century Judaism becomes!


 And there was a division among them…[4]

As we just have seen, when Jesus was healing on Shabbat, there was almost always tension between Him and the people around him. However, the people around were not always unanimous.  In John 9, after Jesus made mud and healed the blind man on Shabbat, while “Some said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” there were others who said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” Who were these two groups?

First of all, we need to understand that in this particular example, Jesus broke the traditional Jewish Sabbath regulations of his time in several ways. Besides healing on Sabbath, which was regarded as a violation of the Sabbath work laws (unless it was life-or-death situation), Jesus kneaded the clay with his saliva to make (build) mud – and both kneading and building were among the thirty-nine classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath—so He did break the tradition.

Yet we see here two completely different positions regarding His healing. This division probably reflects the difference between the positions of the schools of Shammai and Hillel. The school of Shammai was much stricter and based their rulings on theological principles only (“he broke the law, therefore he is a sinner”); while the school of Hillel also considered the result (“he has done a good thing”).

Hillel and Shammai, two leading sages at the turn of the era, founded two opposing schools of Jewish thought. The debates between these schools were essential in the shaping of Judaism. Jesus was an integral member of the culture he lived in – he influenced it and was influenced by it; therefore many scholars believe that the influence of this division between Hillel and Shammai, can also be found in the NT.



In Leviticus, God commands the laws of kashrut, distinguishing between clean and unclean animals. Most Christians believe that Jesus abrogates these laws and thus declares all the food clean. In particular, the famous saying of Jesus: “There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him,”  in chapter 7 of the Gospel of Mark, has often been understood as complete abolition of any distinction “between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten”. Was it, indeed, the meaning of Jesus’ words? Did Jesus indeed declare pork kosher?

If we read the entire chapter 7 of Mark’s Gospel, we will see that the whole debate between the Pharisees and Jesus here doesn’t concern clean and unclean animals at all! The debate is about ritual purity as taught by the tradition regarding washing the hands. The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

This means two things:  First, the issue here is not observing the Torah (“Law”), but observing the tradition (Oral Torah); second, Jesus is not addressing the question of what may be eaten, He is speaking about whether one may eat without a ritual handwashing. There is not the slightest hint here that the foods in discussion can be anything other than what the Bible allows Jews to eat— kosher foods. In other words, Jesus declared clean all those foods that were given and permitted by God, regardless of ritual hand washing.


The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or JBNT (Jewish Background of the NT) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion) classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsor learning more about the Jewish Background of the New Testament, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com)


If you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books – you can get them from my page:  https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  I also want to let you know that my book with all these Hebrew insights into Torah and into New Testament, is almost ready and will be published and available soon. 

[1] Matt.12:10

[2] Mark 3:1-6

[3] Lk. 13:14

[4] John 9:16

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Rebecca Raymond

    2000 years of church doctrine (mans traditions and teachings) have clouded our eyes to the truth of what scripture truly teaches, BUT only if we allow the cloud to remain over our eyes. The church has made many of the mistakes that the Pharisees/Scribes made in the first centuries. If we will but seek and ask the Lord to show us His truth and the error of many of man’s doctrines, with an open heart and mind, He will be faithful to do just that! Diligently seek and inquire and ask and pray for the true meaning of what our New Testament writers are saying and as Julia teaches, use the bible to interpret the bible. And use the Old Testament to help you understand the New. Theres a continuous thread from beginning to end, unbroken. We just have to have eyes to see, ears to hear and the desire to know and understand more. Its an exciting journey NO DOUBT!
    Why would Yeshua come and change a commandment the Father gave concerning the food laws or Sabbath or the Torah? If He’s unchanging, and we anchor our hope on that, how does it look if He changes His Fathers laws?
    He and the Father are ONE…..John 10:30

  2. Theresa Telesco

    How do you account for the NT account where Peter was given the vision of unclean foods being permissible for consumption?

    1. Angeline Musarurwa

      Theresa, I think this is similar to the passage Julia has just explained. If you read Acts 10:17, Peter himself puzzled over the meaning of the dream. Not once did he think it meant he could eat defiled food. The key lies in Acts 10:27: “You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with a foreigner or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean”, so you see the vision had nothing to do with food but that Peter should not be selective, Jew or gentile, they are all God’s creation.

    2. Noah

      If you read the entire account closely – including the conclusion where Peter goes to Cornelius’ house – its indicated that the meaning of the visions was to demonstrate that Gentiles were not to be considered “unclean.” The use of unclean animals was to emphasize the point.

    3. Lisa

      The vision was not meant to be the food, it was intended that the people, no matter their history, when made clean by God would indeed be clean. If you read on in that chapter it is made clear even by Peters comments, he now understood what God was telling him. This is when he has entered the city and is dealing with the other men.

      According to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 10, Saint Peter had a vision of a vessel (Greek: σκεῦος, skeuos; “a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners”) full of animals being lowered from heaven (Acts 10:11). A voice from heaven told Peter to kill and eat, but since the vessel (or sheet, ὀθόνη, othonē) contained unclean animals, Peter declined. The command was repeated two more times, along with the voice saying, “What God hath made clean, that call not thou common” (verse 15) and then the vessel was taken back to heaven (verse 16).

      At this point in the narrative, messengers sent from Cornelius the Centurion arrive and urge Peter to go with them. He does so, and mentions the vision as he speaks to Cornelius, saying

      “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).

      Peter related the vision again in Acts 11:4-9.

    4. Julia Blum

      Theresa, I agree with Angeline, and Noah, and Lisa here.Yes, for centuries traditional Christianity has interpreted Peter’s vision as God’s permission to abandon a division between clean and unclean animals. However, if we refer to the events that happened right after this vision—to the story of Cornelius —and to the explanation of Peter himself (later, Peter would explain to Cornelius that, even though “it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile…. God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean”) – we would understand that actually, it was God’s commandment to start bringing the Good News to the Gentiles!

  3. Sandra Lee

    Shalom Julia I want to thank for this. So many people misinterpet this. They say that pork is ok to eat which I disagree with they even misinterpet Acts 10 too. So thank you for this.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Sandra, as I just wrote replying to Theresa, for centuries traditional Christianity has interpreted Peter’s vision as God’s permission to abandon a division between clean and unclean animals. However, you are absolutely right: it was God’s commandment to include the Gentiles and had nothing to do with food.