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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: Christ's Authority Over the Sabbath. As Its Lord He Recalled It from Pharisaic Neglect to the Original Purpose of Its Institution by the Creator the Case of the Disciples Who Plucked the Ears of Corn on the Sabbath. The Withered Hand Healed on the Sabbath.

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Chapter XII.—Christ’s Authority Over the Sabbath. As Its Lord He Recalled It from Pharisaic Neglect to the Original Purpose of Its Institution by the Creator the Case of the Disciples Who Plucked the Ears of Corn on the Sabbath. The Withered Hand Healed on the Sabbath.

Concerning the Sabbath also I have this to premise, that this question could not have arisen, if Christ did not publicly proclaim 3853 the Lord of the Sabbath. Nor could there be any discussion about His annulling 3854 the Sabbath, if He had a right 3855 to annul it. Moreover, He would have the right, if He belonged to the rival god; nor would it cause surprise to any one that He did what it was right for Him to do.  Men’s astonishment therefore arose from their opinion that it was improper for Him to proclaim the Creator to be God and yet to impugn His Sabbath. Now, that we may decide these several points first, lest we should be renewing them at every turn to meet each argument of our adversary which rests on some novel institution 3856 of Christ, let this stand as a settled point, that discussion concerning the novel character of each institution ensued on this account, because as nothing was as yet advanced by Christ touching any new deity, so discussion thereon was inadmissible; nor could it be retorted, that from the very novelty of each several institution another deity was clearly enough demonstrated by Christ, inasmuch as it was plain that novelty was not in itself a characteristic to be wondered at in Christ, because it had been foretold by the Creator. And it would have been, of course, but right that a new 3857 god should first be expounded, and his discipline be introduced afterwards; because it would be the god that would impart authority to the discipline, and not the discipline to the god; except that (to be sure) it has happened that Marcion acquired his very perverse opinions not from a master, but his master from his opinion! All other points respecting the Sabbath I thus rule. If Christ interfered with 3858 the Sabbath, He simply acted after the Creator’s example; inasmuch as in the siege of the city of Jericho the carrying around the walls of the ark of the covenant for eight days running, and therefore on a Sabbath-day, actually 3859 annulled the Sabbath, by the Creator’s command—according to the opinion of those who think this of Christ in this passage of St. Luke, in their ignorance that neither Christ nor the Creator violated the Sabbath, as we shall by and by show. And yet the Sabbath was actually then broken 3860 by Joshua, 3861 so that the present charge might be alleged also against Christ. But even if, as being not the Christ of the Jews, He displayed a hatred against the Jews’ most solemn day, He was only professedly following 3862 the Creator, as being His Christ, in this very hatred of the Sabbath; for He exclaims by the mouth of Isaiah: “Your new moons and your Sabbaths my soul hateth.” 3863 Now, in whatever sense these words were spoken, we know that an abrupt defence must, in a subject of this sort, be used in answer to an abrupt challenge. I shall now transfer the discussion to the very matter in which the teaching of Christ seemed to annul the Sabbath. The disciples had been hungry; on that the Sabbath day they had plucked some ears and rubbed them in their hands; by thus preparing their food, they had violated the holy day. Christ excuses them, and became their accomplice in breaking the Sabbath. The Pharisees bring the charge against Him.  Marcion sophistically interprets the stages of the controversy (if I may call in the aid of the truth of my Lord to ridicule his arts), both in the scriptural record and in Christ’s purpose. 3864 For from the Creator’s Scripture, and from the purpose of Christ, there is derived a colourable precedent 3865 —as from the example of David, when he went into the temple on the Sabbath, and provided food by boldly breaking up the shew-bread. 3866 Even he remembered that this privilege (I mean the dispensation from fasting) was allowed to the Sabbath from the very beginning, when the Sabbath-day itself was instituted. For although the Creator had forbidden that the manna should be gathered for two days, He yet permitted it on the one occasion only of the day before the Sabbath, p. 363 in order that the yesterday’s provision of food might free from fasting the feast of the following Sabbath-day. Good reason, therefore, had the Lord for pursuing the same principle in the annulling of the Sabbath (since that is the word which men will use); good reason, too, for expressing the Creator’s will, 3867 when He bestowed the privilege of not fasting on the Sabbath-day. In short, He would have then and there 3868 put an end to the Sabbath, nay, to the Creator Himself, if He had commanded His disciples to fast on the Sabbath-day, contrary to the intention 3869 of the Scripture and of the Creator’s will.  But because He did not directly defend 3870 His disciples, but excuses them; because He interposes human want, as if deprecating censure; because He maintains the honour of the Sabbath as a day which is to be free from gloom rather than from work; 3871 because he puts David and his companions on a level with His own disciples in their fault and their extenuation; because He is pleased to endorse 3872 the Creator’s indulgence: 3873 because He is Himself good according to His example—is He therefore alien from the Creator? Then the Pharisees watch whether He would heal on the Sabbath-day, 3874 that they might accuse Him—surely as a violator of the Sabbath, not as the propounder of a new god; for perhaps I might be content with insisting on all occasions on this one point, that another Christ 3875 is nowhere proclaimed. The Pharisees, however, were in utter error concerning the law of the Sabbath, not observing that its terms were conditional, when it enjoined rest from labour, making certain distinctions of labour. For when it says of the Sabbath-day, “In it thou shalt not do any work of thine,” 3876 by the word thine 3877 it restricts the prohibition to human work—which every one performs in his own employment or business—and not to divine work.  Now the work of healing or preserving is not proper to man, but to God. So again, in the law it says, “Thou shalt not do any manner of work in it,” 3878 except what is to be done for any soul, 3879 that is to say, in the matter of delivering the soul; 3880 because what is God’s work may be done by human agency for the salvation of the soul. By God, however, would that be done which the man Christ was to do, for He was likewise God. 3881 Wishing, therefore, to initiate them into this meaning of the law by the restoration of the withered hand, He requires, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath-days to do good, or not? to save life, or to destroy it?” 3882 In order that He might, whilst allowing that amount of work which He was about to perform for a soul, 3883 remind them what works the law of the Sabbath forbade—even human works; and what it enjoined—even divine works, which might be done for the benefit of any soul, 3884 He was called “Lord of the Sabbath,” 3885 because He maintained 3886 the Sabbath as His own institution. Now, even if He had annulled the Sabbath, He would have had the right to do so, 3887 as being its Lord, (and) still more as He who instituted it. But He did not utterly destroy it, although its Lord, in order that it might henceforth be plain that the Sabbath was not broken 3888 by the Creator, even at the time when the ark was carried around Jericho. For that was really 3889 God’s work, which He commanded Himself, and which He had ordered for the sake of the lives of His servants when exposed to the perils of war. Now, although He has in a certain place expressed an aversion of Sabbaths, by calling them your Sabbaths3890 reckoning them as men’s Sabbaths, not His own, because they were celebrated without the fear of God by a people full of iniquities, and loving God “with the lip, not the heart,” 3891 He has yet put His own Sabbaths (those, that is, which were kept according to His prescription) in a different position; for by the same prophet, in a later passage, 3892 He declared them to be “true, and delightful, and inviolable.” Thus Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath: He kept the law thereof, and both in the former case did a work which was beneficial to the life of His disciples, for He indulged them with the relief of food when they were hungry, and in the present instance cured the withered hand; in each case inp. 364 timating by facts, “I came not to destroy, the law, but to fulfil it,” 3893 although Marcion has gagged 3894 His mouth by this word. 3895 For even in the case before us He fulfilled the law, while interpreting its condition; moreover, He exhibits in a clear light the different kinds of work, while doing what the law excepts from the sacredness of the Sabbath 3896 and while imparting to the Sabbath-day itself, which from the beginning had been consecrated by the benediction of the Father, an additional sanctity by His own beneficent action. For He furnished to this day divine safeguards, 3897 —a course which 3898 His adversary would have pursued for some other days, to avoid honouring the Creator’s Sabbath, and restoring to the Sabbath the works which were proper for it. Since, in like manner, the prophet Elisha on this day restored to life the dead son of the Shunammite woman, 3899 you see, O Pharisee, and you too, O Marcion, how that it was proper employment for the Creator’s Sabbaths of old 3900 to do good, to save life, not to destroy it; how that Christ introduced nothing new, which was not after the example, 3901 the gentleness, the mercy, and the prediction also of the Creator. For in this very example He fulfils 3902 the prophetic announcement of a specific healing: “The weak hands are strengthened,” as were also “the feeble knees” 3903 in the sick of the palsy.





Cur destrueret.




Institutione: or, teaching, perhaps.








Concussum est sabbatum.


Per Jesum.




Isa. i. 14.


This obscure passage runs thus in the original: “Marcion captat status controversiæ (ut aliquid ludam cum mei Domini veritate), scripti et voluntatis.” Status is a technical word in rhetoric. “Est quæstio quæ ex prima causarum conflictione nascitur.” See Cicero, Topic. c. 25, Part. c. 29; and Quinctilian, Instit. Rhetor. iii. 6. (Oehler).


Sumitur color.


Luke 6:1, 1 Sam. 21:2.




Tunc demum.




Non constanter tuebatur.


Non contristandi quam vacandi.


[This adoption of an Americanism is worthy of passing notice.]


Placet illi quia Creator indulsit.


Luke vi. 7.


That is, the Christ of another God.


Ex. xx. 16.


It is impossible to say where Tertullian got this reading.  Perhaps his LXX. copy might have had (in Ex. xx. 10): Οὐ ποιήσεις ἐν αὐτῇ πᾶν ἔργον σου, instead of συ; every clause ending in σου, which follows in that verse.  No critical authority, however, now known warrants such a reading. [It is probably based inferentially on Ex. 20.9, “all thy work.”]


Ex. xii. 16.


The LXX. of the latter clause of Ex. xii. 16 thus runs: πλὴν ὅσα ποιηθήσεται πάσῃ ψυχῇ. Tertullian probably got this reading from this clause, although the Hebrew is to this effect:  “Save that which every man (or, every soul) must eat,” which the Vulgate renders:  “Exceptis his, quæ ad vescendum pertinent.”


Liberandæ animæ: perhaps saving life.


In salutem animæ: or, for saving life.


Luke vi. 9.


Pro anima: or, for a life.


Animæ omni: or, any life.


Luke vi. 5.






Destructum. We have, as has been most convenient, rendered this word by annul, destroy, break.




Isa. 1:13, 14.


Isa. xxix. 13.


Isa. 58:13, Isa. 56:2.


Matt. v. 17.




“Destroy”…It was hardly necessary for Oehler to paraphrase our author’s characteristically strong sentence by, “since Marcion thought that he had gagged,” etc.


In other words, “permits to be done on the Sabbath.”




Quod, not quæ, as if in apposition with præsidia.


See 2 Kings iv. 23.








Isa. xxxv. 3.

Next: Christ's Connection with the Creator Shown. Many Quotations Out of the Old Testament Prophetically Bear on Certain Events of the Life of Jesus--Such as His Ascent to Praying on the Mountain; His Selection of Twelve Apostles; His Changing Simon's Name to Peter, and Gentiles from Tyre and Sidon Resorting to Him.

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