How John “Destroyed” Luke with Lazarus!

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by Neil Godfrey

We have seen how the author of

  • the Gospel of Mark rewrote the tradition about the resurrection appearances in Paul’s letter
  • the Gospel of Matthew polemically rewrote Mark to rebrand the disciples
  • the Gospel of Luke polemically rewrote Matthew and Mark

But they can’t compete the way the author of the Gospel of John put Luke to shame …. according to Bruno Bauer.

In Luke 7:11-17 we read how Jesus just happened to be coming into the village of Nain when he encountered a funeral procession for a young man, but what moved Jesus to compassion was the (presumably supernatural) knowledge that his mother was now without a male to support her. So Jesus stops the procession and yells to the corpse to Rise up!

“Jesus raises the son of the Window of Nain” Matthias Gerung, 1500-1570

No doubt there is in the scholarly literature acknowledgement of the possibility that the author of the Gospel of John had Luke’s little story in mind when he developed his account of the resurrection of Lazarus. But I have just translated Bruno Bauer’s thoughts on how the Lazarus episode in the Gospel of John is a direct rebuff to the comparatively very poor “widow of Nain” anecdote.

Luke has Jesus raise a man who has just died and whose corpse is probably still warm as it is carried to the graveyard? Ha! John will have Jesus do a really serious miracle and raise one who has been dead four days!

The one who allowed the young man of Nain to be revived when he was just being carried to the grave [that is, a reference to Luke 7:11-17] is now ashamed, and the primary evangelist [=Luke] who, in his modesty and caution, contented himself with the revival of a dead man who had just succumbed to illness before his eyes, does not even dare to lift his eyes before the magnitude of the historical master and finisher [that is, John]. The fourth [evangelist] has destroyed him.

That’s my translation of one detail of Bruno Bauer’s much richer discussion of how the author of the Gospel of John mechanically struggled* to work with earlier gospel sources in order to create a “far superior” account of Jesus. You can see the full discussion at The Raising of Lazarus, which is part of my larger project to translate Bauer’s work on the four gospels.

Giovanni di Paolo (Italian, ca. 1420-1482). ‘The Resurrection of Lazarus,’ 1426. tempera and gold leaf on panel. Walters Art Museum (37.489A): Acquired by Henry Walters, 1911.

* One little detail Bauer identifies as a clumsy effort by “John” to out-do Luke is his adding the note that Jesus wept when he saw all the mourning over Lazarus — Bruno Bauer’s analysis has the rest of this story depicting a very angry Jesus who is frustrated over everyone’s lack of faith, so weeping at that moment was quite inappropriate. But it seemed a reasonable place to deposit that one detail the author of John really liked in Luke — Jesus weeping. So there it went — consistency of narrative characterization be damned.


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Neil Godfrey

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