I think Jesus did defend David in Matthew 12:4


In reference to Christian Situation Ethics by Dan Gatlin:

"The example of David. Jesus responded by pointing out what David did when he was fleeing from Saul (I Samuel 21). The bread that David requested had been offered in the tabernacle and was only for the priests to eat (Leviticus 24:5-9). Jesus clearly states that the showbread that David took “was not lawful for him to eat” (Matthew 12:4). To assume that Jesus was defending David is just that, an assumption."

I think it is an assumption based on reading the verses at face value and in context. Jesus is at least saying that David was not condemned for these actions.

"Jesus’ point is very simple: the Pharisees would never have condemned David when he broke the law"

To me, this statement seems like a far bigger assumption. It seems that the Pharisees may well have condemned David when the evidence was presented. Yet Jesus shocks them by identifying this example with innocence.

"but they readily condemned the disciples though they did not break the law."

This I feel is true.

I don't believe in situation ethics overriding God's word, but I do believe in exegeting the Bible properly. I believe that Jesus Christ has all authority in my life, is the fulfillment of the law, and the embodiment of truth.


Thank you for taking the time to write about your concerns. You create an interesting dilemma. You claim that the article written by Dan Gatlin contains an error because of two incorrect assumptions. Yet you counter it with your own assumptions with no supporting evidence beyond expressing your opinion. At least Dan backed up his statement by pointing out that Jesus said, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?" (Matthew 12:3-4). Taking Jesus for his word, Jesus stated that it wasn't lawful for David to eat the showbread. That statement is further supported by the law, which states, "And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of the LORD made by fire, by a perpetual statute" (Leviticus 24:9). There is no assumption being made. Jesus and the law both state that what David did was unlawful. Many assume Jesus was defending David, but no defense of David is offered. Jesus simply puts forth the fact that David did something wrong. It was something that God chose not to punish at that time, but it still violated the law.

The analysis as to why Jesus brought up this example is based on an assumption because we do not have a record of Jesus' explanation.

Brother Gatlin assumes that Jesus brought up this example because the Pharisees held double standards: they would excuse the great hero David because he was hungry, but they couldn't find it in their hearts to excuse lowly men of their time who were also hungry. Unstated is the fact that the disciples had not violated the law. "When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor's standing grain" (Deuteronomy 23:25). Jesus never stated that the disciples had broken the law, but he did point out that David had broken the law.

You assume that the Pharisees would have condemned David if given a chance. Thus, the Pharisees would have done what God chose not to do -- to hold David accountable. You state that Jesus identifies this with innocence, but this is incorrect. Jesus stated clearly that David did what was unlawful; thus, he was not innocent in the matter. To have Jesus declare that David was innocent would be stating that God permits the breaking of His laws in certain situations -- the very foundation of the situation ethics concept.

Ignoring your incorrect assignment of innocence, the interesting thing is that either view would come to the same conclusion: the Pharisees lacked mercy. Brother Gatlin sees it as a lack of mercy toward the disciples. You see it as a lack of mercy toward David and the disciples.

Personally, I'm inclined to think brother Gatlin has a more accurate view. We know the Pharisees held David in high regard. Those following Jesus cried out, "Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:9-10). It was that idolizing of David that made Jesus' question in Matthew 22:42-45 difficult to answer.

Perhaps the Pharisees were the bitter type who would condemn even their hero David, but I don't find evidence of that in the Gospels. However, I do find evidence of their holding double standards. The prayer of the Pharisee shows this: "God, I thank You that I am not like other men -- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector" (Luke 18:11). Jesus described them as men who "bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4).

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