Sunday, January 16

The 'Jesus the Logician' Project: Luke 13:10-17

This post is part of The 'Jesus the Logician' Project, which is an effort by Joe Carter of The Evangelical Outpost to compile a "comprehensive database outlining the ways in which Jesus used logic in his discourses." (For more details, follow the link given.)

Let's look at the form of reasoning Jesus uses in Luke 13:10-17. In this passage, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath and he heals a woman who, according to the text, has "had a disabling spirit for eighteen years." She is hunched over and unable to straighten up. Jesus sees her, calls her to come to where he is, and pronounces her healed from her disability. He lays his hands on her and immediately she is straightened.

The ruler of the synagogue becomes angry because Jesus has healed on the Sabbath. He directs his comments not so much to Jesus, but rather to all the the people in the synagogue:
There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.
Evidently he understands the fourth commandment, which prohibits any work on the Sabbath, as prohibiting healing because healing is "work", and this is the basis upon which his rebuke rests.

Jesus' response is an a fortiori argument. This means that Jesus establishes that the synagogue leader has already accepted as proper a lesser application of the principle upon which Jesus' action is based, so he ought to accept Jesus' action as proper because it is simply a stronger application of the same principle. Here is what Jesus argues:
Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?

Jewish practice allowed for the care of animals on the Sabbath: an animal could be led to water, although nothing could be carried to it; even the trough could be filled, although a bucket could not be held for an animal to drink from. Jesus argues that if the Jews accepted that it was right to care for animals in this way on the Sabbath, then surely it is right that a woman--and even more, a woman who was a daughter of Abraham--be cared for on the Sabbath. If an animal could be loosed to drink, then this woman ought to be loosed (Jesus uses stronger language than simply "could be loosed".) from her bondage to this "disabling spirit".

It is because the rulers, by allowing for the watering of animals, allowed for the weaker application of the principle that needy beings could be cared for on the Sabbath, but then disallowed the stronger application of the same principle--the healing of needy people--that Jesus called them hypocrites. His audience understood the argument perfectly:
As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

[Here is the Main Index to this project, where you will find all the contributions.]