Jesus breaks religious rules

redXAs we live in an imperfect society we need some rules and laws to combat the worst forms of evil.  Religion has its own sets of rules, but Jesus showed us that if we follow his way, love transcends rules. He was born into a Jewish society which had built up a complex set of rules to moderate and control how people lived their everyday lives. We will see in this article how Jesus broke many of the rules and traditions that religion imposed.

Denouncing Authority

Jesus denounced the religious rulers because they heaped an impossible burden on ordinary people like you and me.  To even attempt to allow all the rules you would have to devote your life, become a pharisee.  The problem was that in keeping to the letter of the law they omitted to do more important things like caring for other people and promoting justice and mercy.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”(Matthew 23:23 NIV)

In denouncing the religious rulers he deliberately set himself against them so he could teach, and demonstrate a better way.

Touching Lepers

A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. (Matthew 8:2-3 NIV)

According to Jewish law, if a person touched someone who was leprous, they would become unclean. Why did Jesus touch this leper?  Jesus realised that this man’s needs were emotional as well as physical.   This man mattered far more than rules and he needed touching! Jesus didn’t disobey rules to be rebellious but to demonstrate that love makes the rule redundant.

Healing on the sabbath

The law said that for one day each week, no work should be done.  This was basically good because it avoided employers exploiting their workers.  But the rules and traditions had made the law difficult to keep.  Jesus pointed out that they were quite willing to save an animal on the sabbath, therefore it was quite reasonable to heal somebody on that day.  This really infuriated the religious rulers who sought to kill him.

And a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

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? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12: 11-13)

Sabbath made for mans benefit

Religious rules, carried to the extreme, can just be plain silly.  To equate picking a few grains of corn with the act of reaping a harvest is ridiculous.  The sabbath day, and the principle of not working that day, was instituted by God for man’s benefit.  The religious teachers had tried to define “work” to the nth degree.  Rules dictated exactly what you could and couldn’t do, but Jesus was quite content to let his disciples break with rules and traditions to satisfy their hunger.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”  —  Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:23-24, 27 NIV)

Talking to Women

In Jesus’s day it wasn’t considered right for a man to speak to a woman who was a stranger and certainly not one of doubtful character and of another ethic race.  But again, Jesus wasn’t going to be tied down to convention when he met a woman at a well in Samaria.  They had quite a discussion which resulted in many of that town believing in him as ‘the Savior of the world’.

The scandal of drinking his blood

The old testament Law forbid the drinking of blood.

For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:14 ESV)

Yet Jesus told his disciples they were to drink his blood.  To the disciples who had been brought up in the Jewish traditions this must have sounded shocking, scandalous and repulsive.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:54 NIV)
But Jesus invites to share his life (blood) with us and this ushers in a new era.  Trying to please God by obeying religious rules has been proven ineffective.  God has intervened in human history and made the way open for all men to be one with God through Jesus Christ.   We can ingest the very life of God into our lives

Other Examples

  • Overturning the money tables at the temple.
  • Eating with “sinners”, people of dubious reputation.
  • Not ritually washing hands before eating.
  • Jesus’ commitment to non-violence
  • Forgiving people’s sins and thus bypassing the temple sacrifices.

Love transcends law

The trouble with laws is that they can only try to do away with negatives.  “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not Steal”, etc.  Love is the opposite to law in that it deals with the positives.  You cannot legislate for love or define degrees of love.  You cannot pass a law that forces people to love.  You cannot define degrees of generosity.

 Why did Jesus break all these rules?

  • The old testament law was not possible for man to keep.
  • Religious rules and traditions only placed burdens upon people.
  • Jesus came to abolish the idea of trying to please God through (any) religion.
  • When religious rules get in the way of mercy, compassion and justice they should be overridden.
  • Jesus didn’t break rules to be rebellious, he broke rules to show that people mattered more than rules.


The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the only way we can share in the life of God.

We all need to ask ourselves honestly, “Do I have any religious rules which get in the way of loving God with all my heart, and my neighbour as myself?” and “What would Jesus have to say about religious rules today?”

See Also:


Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

3 thoughts on “Jesus breaks religious rules”

  1. Thank you posting and THANK YOU for serving the weak and powerless!!

    A few questions, if I may:

    If Jesus broke the laws of His Father who sent Him (no idolatry, do not endanger the lives of others, no adultery, honor the Sabbath, do not bear a grudge nor seek revenge but love your neighbor as yourself, honor God’s appointed times (Passover, Shavuot, Tabernacles, etc)), would Jesus be the righteous lamb of God without blemish who takes away the sin of the whole world? If Jesus broke His Father’s laws, would Jesus be the obedient Son of God or would He be just like the “sons of disobedience” found in Ephesians 2:1-2?

    So what exactly did Jesus break (usually WHILE performing a jaw-dropping MIRACLE)? 🙂

    Here are some hints:
    Mt 15:1-20 also Mark 7:1-23 (these two passage explicitly state what Jesus violated)

    John 5:8-11 Did the healed person really break the divine Sabbath of YHVH by carrying his mat or did he violate a man-made instruction? Jeremiah 17 and Nehemiah 15 talk about carry a “burden” on the Sabbath, like the kind of burden you put on a donkey and almost certainly for the purposes of trade or business. The mat in question was most likely lightweight and made of palm fronds or something similar to keep the dirt off your clothes. It is hardly something that would be considered a burden and is not used to conduct business. But the Pharisees forbade even carrying a jacket over your shoulder on the Sabbath. But, again, it never hurts to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance in such things so that we can be pleasing to our beloved Father as much as possible.

    John 9:13-16 Jesus made mud with His spit and applied it to the blind mans eyes on a Sabbath (thus violating several man-made rules). There is absolutely nothing in the Torah and the Prophets that forbids using your spit on the Sabbath. But the man-made rules of the Pharisees specifically prohibits applying saliva to the eyes on the Sabbath because of its healing power is considered “work”. Jesus also violated the man-made rule against “creating” something on the Sabbath (God rested from His creation of the universe on the 7th day and made that day holy). Although mixing water and dirt to make mud for the purposes of making a house or a wall, is certainly “work” and an act of creation, spitting on the ground and making a tiny quantity of mud because Jesus had compassion for a blind man, is to be praised, not condemned. It is pleasing to God to help and heal others as He heals us and protects us every single minute. And thirdly, the idea of healing someone is considered “work” by the ruling powers of Jesus’ time and thus was prohibited on the Sabbath.

    So, in a sense, the Jewish leaders of His time (and even to this day) were so obsessed with the letter of the divine law of YHVH through Moses (and all the mental gymnastics that went with it) , they became blind to the Spirit of the Law: love, mercy, compassion, joy, and peace that Jesus taught. Jesus, like the Pharisees, taught the Torah, the letter of the Law, but did not lose sight of the end of the law, goal or intention of the letter of the Law, which is the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). And remember Paul fought valiantly against the same man-made doctrines and traditions as Jesus did:

    Mark 7:
    6Jesus answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. 7They worship Me in vain; they teach as doctrine the precepts of men.’ 8You have disregarded the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men.”

    Bottom line: Jesus repeatedly broke the doctrines and traditions of men in plain sight of those men in positions of leadership as a non-verbal rebuke of their blasphemy: elevating man-made rules to the level of divine rules, even though the Torah explicitly forbids such things (Dt 4:2 and Dt. 12:32): “…do NOT add to or take away from what I command you…”

    As an example of elevating a man-made rule to the divine level of YHVH, here is an interesting article on the modern hand washing ritual (see: Matthew 15, Mark 7) that is, I suspect, very similar to the time of Jesus:

    Note that you are ONLY to perform this ritual when eating bread or matzah!
    Also note that the blessing that you recite indicates that it is YHVH that gave this command to wash our hands. The only problem is that this command concerning eating food is NOT found in the Torah (YHVH’s divine Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth)! This is a man-made law that has been elevated to divine status by men. Do you see a problem with this? Does usurping God’s authority spring to mind?

    May YHVH richly bless you and keep you!


  2. George, I love this post. Jesus showed us the overarching importance of treating others like you want to be treated. All other rules pale in comparison. Keith


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