How to Interpret the Bible, Conclusion: The Hard-Hearted Need Not Apply, and the Hard-Hearted Example of Cooking on the Sabbath


7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.

8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

~ Mt 12:7-8

I have now published the introduction to this series as a page off of the top menu under Bible Studies.  I have gone through the earlier ones and provided navigational links at the end for ease in traversing back and forth through them as well.

This is the conclusion of the series “How to Interpret the Bible“, so if you have not yet read the introduction, you should do so.   Likewise, we have already covered “Ask God for Help” and “Standard Definitions Don’t Depend on What the Meaning of the Word ‘Is’ Is“.  Part 4, “Pay Attention to Whom Is Being Addressed“, was a special case of “Context, context and context“.  In “How to Interpret the Bible, Part 5: Literal Interpretation Does Not Mean Lack of Symbols or Poetry” it was stressed that taking the Bible literally does not mean that there aren’t different styles of writing within it, but certain sections and the context can guide us easily through this.  In Part 6, I challenged readers to use the smell test to see if what was being presented made sense, was logical and did not contradict the clear passages of Scripture.  Speaking of clear Scripture, Part 7 covered the idea of perspecuity and how the Bible is clear enough on the key doctrines of Christianity.

I want to wrap this up with a very important concept: Many people will not follow these guidelines or anything similar because of the hardness of their hearts.  Some of them will claim to be a part of the Church of God and even to be your brethren!

48 And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them.

49 But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:

50 For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.

51 And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.

52 For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.

Mk 6:48-52

15 And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.

16 And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread.

17 And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?

~ Mk 8:15-17

Why did Pharaoh not let Israel go until ten plagues had decimated Egypt?  Why did Israel sin and complain over and over again?  Why did Jesus’ own disciples not understand what Jesus taught them?  Why did the Pharisees look for reasons to accuse Jesus and have Him killed?

Human beings have a heart problem.  Instead of humbly accepting God’s Law, some human beings will use it as a club to beat others down in order to elevate themselves just like the Pharisees did.  It is not that they don’t understand the principles of biblical understanding, but rather it is they do not want to.

There is one example that illustrates perhaps more than any other just how far people will go to display their self-righteousness and hard-heartedness.  That is the notion that you cannot light a fire on the Sabbath, and they will even criticize others for cooking on the Sabbath as somehow breaking it, even though most of the prep work was likely done the day before.

Fire on the Sabbath

I’m actually going to skim over some points here, but this was already discussed in the article “Keeping the Sabbath, 3: No Fire on the Sabbath, So No Cooking on the Sabbath, Right?”  Here, I wish to present it in light of how to interpret a specific passage using the guidelines I’ve outlined.  Hopefully, the hard heartedness involved will reveal itself to you through this discussion.

35 And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should do them.

2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death.

3 Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.

~ Ex 35:1-3

There are some, including some Orthodox Jews, who claim this means that no fire whatsoever should be made on the Sabbath.  Orthodox Jews even prohibit driving cars because the spark of the spark plug is a fire.  There are some “Christians” who chastise others for cooking or even warming up a crock pot for potluck dinners on the Sabbath day.  Is this really what this is all about?

So, let’s run through the guidelines and determine what this passage really means.

Ask God for Help

Obviously, we must sincerely ask God for help in this endeavor.  I cannot do this for you, and you cannot do this for me.  However, I do pray that those with ears to hear will hear!

Lookup Standard Definitions

In English, it is pretty straight-forward: “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.”  However, what does it mean in Hebrew?

As I pointed out in the fuller article on the topic, the word for “kindle” also means “to glean”, “collect or gather” or even “graze”.  Exodus 22:5 is an excellent example of the latter word usage, so it is not an uncommon meaning.

What does that mean in the “no fire” passage, though?  Simply put, it means to not do any gathering of wood or combustible material on the Sabbath for a fire.  The commonality in these meanings is that something is gathered in order to be consumed.  Think about the man who was stoned for “gathering sticks” on the Sabbath!

Gathering wood is hard work.  It is an obvious breaking of the Sabbath.


However, why is this particular command being given here at this point in time?  Why specifically talk about a fire?

Exodus 35 starts a new narrative within the book.  The Book of Exodus ends with the plans, building and setting up of the Tabernacle, and that portion begins in chapter 35.  A lot of it would be heavy work.  A lot of it would require working with gold and silver, and that requires a fire.

God is telling Moses that the Sabbath day was to be honored even during the construction of the Tabernacle.  Even before one thread of the pattern was laid down to the people, God reminds them that they have six days to work.  They were to specifically refrain from gathering materials to keep the fires used in the construction of the Tabernacle going on the Sabbath day.  Likewise, the context would imply that no gathering of any other material on the Sabbath was acceptable either.

Whom Was Addressed

And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them …

Is This Poetry or Narrative?

This is a straight-forward command, but there do seem to be implications beyond simply lighting a fire.  The context reinforces this idea.

Smell Test

Are there really any other commands in the Bible that seem to prohibit cooking on the Sabbath?  Some say the miracle of the manna also shows cooking was to be done before the Sabbath.

However, does it say, “Do not cook the manna on the Sabbath day?”  Actually, no it doesn’t.

23 He said to them, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. But you can set aside and keep all the leftovers until the next morning.'”

Ex 16:23 (CEB)

If anything is implied about cooking here, it is that manna may have required some preparation in order to not spoil (hence the prohibition to keep it overnight on other days of the week).

What is prohibited in the account?

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather bread, but they found nothing. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to obey my commandments and instructions? 29 Look! The Lord has given you the Sabbath. Therefore, on the sixth day he gives you enough food for two days. Each of you should stay where you are and not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

That’s right!  They were prohibited, once again, from gathering in order to consume on the Sabbath day, even when it meant food.  That means I cannot run out into my garden on the Sabbath day and dig up potatoes for the evening meal.

However, does it make sense that God would prohibit all cooking on the Sabbath?  The ancient Israelites did not have refrigerators.  They could not wrap up food in plastic wrap.  Food prepared the day before would have surely gathered bacteria, so heating it up isn’t just a taste thing but a health thing.

Even animals have to be cared for on the Sabbath.  There is only so much you can do beforehand.  Cows must be milked, or they can develop infections or even stop producing milk altogether.  Apparently, some cows need to be milked three times a day!  Normally, cows are fed while milking, which not only rewards them but helps to calm them down.

Are people of more worth than a cow?

12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good.”

Mt 12:12 (CJB)

So, no, it does not pass the sniff test, either.


Are there clear and unambiguous commands in the Bible against cooking on the Sabbath?  Actually, no, there are none.  Like many other things that people like to go off on wild tangents about, the lack of such a clear Scripture means that they are using eisegesis rather than exegesis.

More to the point, if God felt it were such an issue, He would have been much more clear about it.

Hard Heartedness

Even Jesus’ disciples “gathered” grain stalks on the Sabbath from alongside the road and munched on them.  They were guilty of breaking the commandment, but only if you were being super strict about it all.  Jesus said the Pharisees that condemned them for it had “condemned the guiltless“, which means in His eyes the disciples were not guilty!

The Pharisees were so hard-hearted, in fact, that they tried to forbid Jesus from healing on the Sabbath!  That is why He pointed out that humans are of far more worth than a sheep, who was permitted to be rescued on the Sabbath by the Law!

Or, as Paul wrote:

… Doth God take care for oxen?

1Co 9:9b

What is sad is when people come onto this blog and openly show their hard heartedness.  They don’t like what I write simply because they are too busy condemning the guiltless in order to justify their own self-righteousness.

I cannot imagine the type of parent who would feed their infant cold milk simply because it is “wrong” to heat something up on the Sabbath.  I cannot imagine having to live with someone who proclaims that a feast day should consist of cold cuts and Edam cheese.

I guess it’s far too easy when it isn’t your child with the cholic.  I guess it’s too easy when you drove in your comfortable car to stay in your comfortable hotel room with its convenient refrigerator and some tupperware and plastic wrap to keep the germs at bay instead of having to travel for days upon a camel or mule (or even walking) in the heat of the Middle East without refrigeration or modern conveniences.

Then again, the Pharisees, who also claimed to be more righteous than others, found ways to distort Scripture in order to accuse Jesus, Who never even sinned once, even without these modern conveniences.  I guess if they could kill Him, how much less should we expect people so far removed from the roots of life to find ways to accuse us even when we are guiltless?


From here, you may:

Go back to the Introduction

Go back to Part 7

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