A Muslim from Nigeria tried to add me on facebook the other day. He has been going around online as a troll attacking Christianity. One of his charge against Jesus is that the Bible taught Jesus and His Disciples were thieves. That is, Jesus and disciples stole things from people. In a post titled “CAN WE CALL THIS AUTHORITY STEALING OR WHAT” this is what the individual wrote:
Mathew 12:1- King James Bible
At that time Jesus went on the
sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.
Jesus was reported to also enter a farm that belongs to someone on a Sabbath day to take corn without the knowledge of the owner.
.Bible says that when Jesus was caught plucking corn, he said, have they not read it how David went into the Synagogue on a Sabbath day to eat what does not belongs to him.
My position is that Matthew 12:1 in CONTEXT does not teach Jesus and His disciples were stealing. Here’s my reply (note: while the Muslim troll quoted from the KJV, I’ll be using the NASB):
- To begin with Jesus Himself does not endorse stealing or being a thief.
- Within the book of Matthew, we see Jesus saying to the rich young ruler what God’s rules are: “Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness” (Matthew 19:18).
- Both Mark 10:19 and Luke 18:20 parallels Matthew 19:18 thus reinforcing that Jesus is against stealing.
- Jesus in speaking about Himself contrast Himself against thieves: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Of course, thief is seen in negative light in this verse.
- Some might say that Jesus Himself condemning stealing while Matthew 12:1 records him allegedly stealing is proof of a Bible contradiction. Or at minimum a sin or hypocrisy of Jesus. But we need to see if Matthew 12:1 really is a case of stealing and stealing “without the knowledge of the owner.”
- First reason why we do not think Jesus and His disciples were stealing in Matthew 12:1 is because the word stealing or thief does not appear in the story in Matthew 12:1-7.
- The first reason is not a simple argument from silence. This silence is even more telling since Jesus has enemies who saw this (Matthew 12:2). The issue for the enemies of Jesus, the Pharisees, was not that Jesus and His disciples were stealing; rather it was the timing of when they were doing this, since they were doing this on the Sabbath.
- That the issue is about the Sabbath is reinforced with the fact that Matthew 12:1 is situated in a chapter that focuses on the issue of the Sabbath.
- The details and nature of the Sabbath and whether Jesus violated it will not be the focus of our post since the purpose of the post is about whether or not Jesus and His disciples stole from someone’s field.
- Second reason why we do not think Jesus and His disciples were stealing in Matthew 12:1 is because Old Testament Laws permit what Jesus and His disciples were doing.
- Remember Jesus and His disciples were Jewish and were thus under the Mosaic Law.
- The background for what Jesus and His disciples were doing with the grain of the field is found in Deuteronomy 23:24-25: “When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, then you may eat grapes until you are fully satisfied, but you shall not put any in your basket. 25 When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, then you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not wield a sickle in your neighbor’s standing grain.” Note especially verse 25 is applicable to our situation concerning grains. In light of Deuteronomy 23:25, this makes it unlikely that our Muslim troll can assert that the owner of the field would not know someone practicing gleaning their field.
- In light of Deuteronomy 23:25 one can’t say Jesus and His Disciples were violating God’s laws.
- One might wonder why Deuteronomy 23:24-25 permit people to enter someone’s field to glean the grain but allow the sickle to gather more grain. Leviticus 19:9-10 is very specific of the intent of this law: “‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.” As one can see, the purpose of this law is so that the needy and the stranger can be taken care of.
- Leviticus 19:9-10 is not the only place where the purpose and the intent of the practice is explained. Note what Leviticus 23:22 says “When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” This reinforce the explanation found in Leviticus 19:9-10.
- Note also that in Leviticus 23:22 this practice of allowing people to glean from the field is not the whole field but on the corners of the field. This isn’t wholesale socialism.
- Similar practice is also true with vineyards where grapes are grown. Deuteronomy 24:21 says “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.” This reinforces more that such customs and intent were well known and practiced.
- Rabbinic traditions acknowledges these Old Testament passages. It also see these laws as applicable for travelers. We see this attested in the Rabbinic writing found in m. pe’ah 5:4 of a landowner gleaning from the field with the rabbis of old justifying it since the landowner “was poor at that hour.” See the citation linked here.
- Since the field of grains were allowed explicitly for the poor according to the Bible and for travelers in Rabbinic customs and expectation, we also see Jesus and His disciples satisfied the criteria of gleaning from the fields.
- The bulk of the time in their ministry Jesus and His disciples were traveling spanning various region such as Judea, Galilee and Samaria. This fulfills Rabbinic criteria of gleaning from the field and not “stealing” in Jewish eyes.
- In the chapter before Matthew 12:1 we see Jesus’ disciples were going out preaching in many towns. They were traveling according to the context. Thus we see this criteria of traveling being specifically noted in the context.
- Jesus Himself was also poor and had the right to gleam from the field.
- In Matthew 8:20 Jesus Himself said “Jesus said to him, ‘The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’“
- 2 Corinthians 8:9 says “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.“
Truth be told this complaint about Jesus stems from ignorance.