“or to do harm.” The Greek word translated “harm” in this context is often translated “evil,” but that translation does not fit well here. It is never lawful to do “evil,” not on the Sabbath or on any other day. Here in Mark, the word “evil” has the same connotation that it does throughout the Old Testament; it refers to something bad or harmful happening. In this case we are helped by the complete verse, where doing “harm” is paralleled to the word “kill.” The Pharisees were so mean-spirited that they would have done “harm” and flogged or executed a criminal on the Sabbath, and they knew it, so they remained silent when Jesus brought it up. But they could not bring themselves to do good on the Sabbath if it meant breaking their Sabbath traditions.
“to save a life or to kill.” In the phrase “to save a life or to kill,” Jesus might have been alluding to the Pharisees' overwhelming desire to keep the law even perhaps to stone someone to death on the Sabbath, yet, they are not willing to save lives on the Sabbath. This is brought out more clearly in the parallel passage which talks about the sheep falling into the pit (cp. Matt. 12:11). The Greek word translated “life” is psuchē (#5590 ψυχή; pronounced psoo-kay’), often translated “soul.” The Greek word has a large number of meanings, including the physical life of a person or animal; an individual person; or attitudes, emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Here it refers to the physical life of the body, which is why most versions translate it “life,” which is accurate in this context. [For a more complete explanation of psuchē, “soul,” see Appendix 7: “Usages of ‘Soul’”].