Bible Study

John Bible Study, Day 16: Rule Followers

Today’s passage: John 9:13–34

Focus verse: “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” (John 9:16)

The Pharisees come up often in the four biographies of Jesus, over eighty times altogether. From our present day, we look back two millennia, dismayed at the hypocrisy and closed-mindedness of the Pharisees.

While we might claim we’d never act like they did, we can’t point a finger at them without risking pointing at ourselves too.

To their credit, the Pharisees are a most righteous group—more righteous than most any other, then or now. Their behavior is exemplary, and their adherence to the Law of Moses is unshakable. They are rule followers to the extreme.

Not only do they obey the 613 commands of what to do and what not to do as found in the Torah, they also constructed thousands more rules to guide them in the proper application of the original 613. They had a rule for everything. 

They pursue these statutes with legalistic fervor. If nothing else, we can respect them for their painstaking dedication to following the rules of right behavior.

One of their key laws regards the Sabbath, to keep the seventh day holy and not do any work (Exodus 31:14–15 and Exodus 35:2). As you might expect, many of the rules they created guide them in deciding what counts as work and what doesn’t for their Sabbath observances.

Remember the blind man that Jesus gave sight to? He did this on the Sabbath. The Pharisees aren’t pleased because to them, by healing the man, Jesus worked on their holy day. They condemn him for making someone’s life better. 

In doing so, they elevated God’s Old Testament law and their man-made guidelines above God’s ideal of doing good and helping others. Their hypocrisy appalls us.

Yet without a thought to our own duplicity, we also tend to be rule followers with legalistic fervor to live righteous lives.

Because Jesus doesn’t conform to their righteous ideals, they call him a sinner. Imagine that.

They claim the Son of God—who comes to save his people from their sins—is a sinner. They are so steeped in their religious practices that they can’t see God is present and at work in their midst.

These religious leaders also attack the man Jesus healed. They insult him. They accuse him of being a disciple of Jesus. The man, however, gives a most astute testimony, “If Jesus were not from God, he could do nothing.”

After that bold statement, they throw the once blind man out. Though this could mean they eject him from their meeting, the context suggests they expel him from the synagogue and ban him from their religious community.

Before we condemn the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and being rule followers, we should examine ourselves to determine if we do the same in our own lives, albeit with different focuses.


  1. In what ways might you be closed-minded?
  2. What are your Sabbath practices?
  3. Are you a rule follower? When is this good? When is it bad?
  4. When have you placed man-made rules over helping others?
  5. Do your Sabbath practices cause harm or produce good? How?

Discover more about the Sabbath and helping others in Matthew 12:1–14, Mark 2:27, John 7:22–23, and James 2:14–20. What insights can you glean from these passages?

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

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Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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