§ 12. The effectiveness of the Baptist

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



Second section.

The preparations for Jesus’ public appearance.

§ 12.

The effectiveness of the Baptist.

1. The locality.

In those days, as Matthew has already told us, when Jesus lived in Nazareth, John the Baptist appeared and called his people to repentance, for the kingdom of heaven had come. The evangelist also tells us where the Baptist preached repentance. In the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:2)*).

*) κηρύσσων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τῆς Ἰουδαίας [=3:1]

But how could the following statement, that the crowd of repentant people “went out” to the Baptist and were baptized by him in the Jordan (Mark 3:5-6), be reconciled with this location? The wilderness of Judea is located on the western side of the Dead Sea, but it does not extend far enough above Jerusalem to reach the banks of the Jordan. These two statements are therefore in direct contradiction. And the contradiction remains. Matthew does not conceive of the situation at all as if the Baptist had left the wilderness and gone to the banks of the Jordan; he does not even hint at a change of location. Rather, where the Baptist called for repentance, there the crowd went out to him to confess their sins and be baptized. So, at the very moment when he imagined the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea — and it can only be in the wilderness that the Baptist’s food consisted of locusts and wild honey (Mark 3:4) — at that very moment, he imagines him on the banks of the Jordan. In short, he quickly forgets his first statement.


He does not even remember it later when he says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism (Mark 4:1*). In fact, Jesus is already in the wilderness when he goes out to the Baptist with the others, for the Baptist preaches in the wilderness. But he has long forgotten this location, or even the specific location of the wilderness of Judea, when he relocates the scene to the Jordan. And now it was possible for him to send Jesus from the baptismal site to the wilderness*).

*) Bengel’s explanation, that the evangelist means to “partly transfer” the scene in Mark 4:1 to the location of Mark 3:1, is unnecessary and gives the evangelist a specificity that is foreign to his conception.

The crux of the contradiction lies in the point where the incompatible elements, the wilderness of Judea and the banks of the Jordan, are brought together. The Gospel of Mark, from which Matthew took the basis of the contradiction, teaches us how Matthew arrived at this combination. Mark also reports that John baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance; Jesus came with the crowd of others who were baptized in the Jordan, and after he was baptized, he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness (Mark 1:4-12). So here too is the contradiction that Jesus is led from the wilderness into the wilderness, but the harshness of naming a specific wilderness that does not touch the Jordan as the first location is not present. Mark only says that all of Judea and the people of Jerusalem went out to the Baptist; but that was enough for the reflective Matthew to bring about a total confusion in his account by concluding that it was the wilderness of Judea where the Baptist was located.


Luke also reflected when he used Mark’s account, but his reflection was not directed at a single detail, but rather at the heart of the contradiction, and he attempted to resolve it, or rather to avoid it. He wants to explain how the threefold occurrence – the Baptist’s stay in the wilderness, his activity on the banks of the Jordan, and the fact that Jesus withdrew to the wilderness after his baptism – can be reconciled. So he says (Luke 3:1), that in the wilderness, where the Baptist had stayed until “then” (Luke 1:80), the call of the Lord came to him; as a result, he went “into all the country around the Jordan” (Luke 3:3) and preached *) the baptism of repentance. The crowds flocked to him here, seeking baptism, and Jesus also came here. Now it is clear how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness only after he had returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1).

*) much like Mark κηρυσσων βαπτισμα μετανοιας εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων

How beautiful it all fits together! The apologist goes even further and claims that Luke also harmonizes perfectly with Matthew; he is so incredibly audacious that he asserts **) that Luke rightly names the “wilderness of Judea” that Matthew speaks of, that terrain around the Jordan (η περιχωρος του Ιορδανου), from which it is well known to anyone who picks up a biblical commentary that it can never be, especially if it is called (πασα η περιχωρος του ιορδανου), the wilderness of Judea.

**) Olshausen, bibl. Comm. I, 160

Moving on! Luke has overlooked a contradiction: according to his account, Jesus no longer goes out into the wilderness, but rather meets the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan after he had left the wilderness. However, he has fallen into an even more dangerous contradiction, one that concerns the entire evangelical pragmatism and shows that he was not originally free in his presentation, but rather dependent on a foreign type that he could only partially modify, but for which he had to create complete confusion. What drives him so forcefully to place the Baptist in the wilderness, to the extent that he says he lived in the wilderness until the day of his appearance? It must have been more than just the note from Mark that the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance in the wilderness; it must have been a widespread view that he could not easily free himself from, as opposed to the impression of that note. We still find this view in his Gospel, but in such a contradictory context that it is clear he must have taken it from another scripture, from which he significantly deviated in the same moment. After reporting that John was moved by the divine call to leave the wilderness and go to the banks of the Jordan, Luke adds (Luke 3:4), “as it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord!'” The prophecy is supposed to be fulfilled in the Baptist, in his preaching – but is it not also supposed to be fulfilled in the location of his activity? Should not the harmony of the prophecy and its fulfillment be recognized precisely in the fact that the herald raises his voice in the wilderness? That’s right! Even Luke cannot deny this original form of the view when he has Jesus ask about the Baptist in conversation (Luke 7:24), “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Thus, that prophetic saying is in the wrong place in his account, according to which the Baptist does not preach in the wilderness. He has rather taken it out of a context where the Baptist really preaches in the wilderness, as the prophet has written, i.e., from Mark’s Gospel*).

*) Neander (p. 52) praises Luke’s account because he “distinguishes the various moments in the appearance of John.” This praise did not last long. The other two synoptics do not leave unpunished the demotion they receive.


The contradiction in the last scripture is now explained. Mark lets the Baptist preach in the desert and also in the Jordan, he lets Jesus go into the desert after his baptism, although he is already there when he comes to the Baptist, because he follows an ideal view and is completely absorbed by it, not noticing the contradiction of the individual details in his account. He sees in that verse of Isaiah a prophecy about the Baptist, so he must appear and preach in the desert, even if it contradicts the note that he baptized in the Jordan and Jesus had to be led away from here to get to the desert. Here, the contradiction and confusion are unabashedly sought from the ideal view, while both Luke and Matthew have increased it through improvement attempts and closer determinations, ripped out of their initial innocence and become a mistake of petty pragmatism.

In the prophetic book and in the context from which the saying of the preacher in the wilderness is taken (Is. 40, 3.), the deliverance from Babylon and with it the completion of the theocracy is proclaimed to the people. Under the leadership of Jehovah, the people return through the desert to their homeland. The prophet presents this idea in the form of hearing a voice that rings into the people’s misfortune and orders that the way through the desert be leveled. Before the thought of the completion of the community and the arrival of the Lord, the evangelist loses the connection of the verse to the liberation from the Babylonian captivity, which according to the original meaning of the verse is one and the same with that completion. He sees in the verse the prophecy of Jesus’ arrival, and who can the voice that levels the ways of the Lord be other than the Baptist? According to the original text, “in the wilderness the way of the Lord” is to be prepared; according to the deviating division and translation of the Seventy, the voice of a preacher in the wilderness calls out that one should prepare the way of the Lord: how easy was it to seek in this version of the saying an even more specific relationship to the Baptist and his historical appearance?


It was not a historical note, which would have provided information about the location of John’s activity – otherwise, how would the contradiction, which we already find in Mark’s writing, have arisen – that led people to see a prophecy of John in that prophetic passage. Rather, it was this passage, not because of a meager and otherwise insignificant note, but in conjunction with the idea that linked it to John. In the preacher of the desert, people saw John because he appeared before the Lord in a barren and infertile time, and had to work on wild, uncultivated land without being able to tap into the source of life. He appeared in a spiritual desert and was not yet in possession of creative life force: this view of John was already present in the community when the evangelist discovered the resonance between it and the prophetic passage. This resonance immediately became such an external congruence that the desert of John’s spiritual environment, in which he worked, was transformed into the external location of his activity.

Mark was the first to apply that prophetic verse to the Baptist and place him in the wilderness *). The evidence lies, on the one hand, in the confusions that the other two Evangelists introduced into their accounts, and on the other hand, in the beautiful harmony in which Mark placed prophecy and fulfillment: with him, history was first derived from its prophetic type. However, to return this harmony to its original source, it is necessary to remove an interfering excess that was introduced later into Mark’s text. Specifically, the ordinary text begins the transition to the Baptist with two Old Testament quotations, one from the book of Isaiah and another from the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1). However, several manuscripts, including a very reputable one, introduce the prophecy about the Baptist not with the words “as it is written in the Prophets,” but with “in the Prophet Isaiah,” making it likely that originally only one quotation was read. Moreover, it is not the custom of Mark to cite the Old Testament, so why should he have included several citations at the beginning of his work? Rather, his usual practice suggests that he only incorporated the one quotation that he could weave tightly into his narrative to form a coherent whole. His two successors begin the story of the Baptist only with the one quotation from the book of Isaiah, and the fact that they do not add the quotation from Malachi is evidence enough that they did not read it in Mark’s text. Now if we read “as it is written in the Prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,”‘” then “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, baptizing and preaching,” we can restore the connection and see that it is the original, the only possible, and the Evangelist’s intended context. It is therefore certain that the prophetic verse and the ideal conception of the Baptist’s work made the wilderness the scene of preparation for the salvation work. The citation from Malachi’s prophecy appears only in Jesus’ speech about the Baptist, as reported by Luke (7:27), and Matthew has excluded it from his text (11:10). Since Mark knows nothing about this speech, it was at least desired that the Old Testament prophecies about the Baptist would also be quoted in his account, so the prophecy from Malachi was inserted at the most appropriate point.

*) The idea that the Baptist himself applied the prophecy to himself, as de Wette still assumes (Kurz. ereg. Handb. zum R. T. 1, 1, 32.), is not credible. Only a later reflection, which overlooked and sought to understand the work and character of the Baptist, could have found a prophecy from the Old Testament that characterizes him for the Christian view. But according to the views that the community had of him at the time, he could not have regarded himself in that light. De Wette (a. a. O.) sees it as “proof of his historical fidelity” that Matthew (ch. 3) does not expressly designate the Baptist as the expected Elijah. He could have done so, after all. Fidelity could only be seen in the fact that another writer would have allowed the Baptist to call himself Elijah, but he avoided this error. The synoptics, for example, have shown greater – but always relative – fidelity by not attributing to the Baptist himself the prophecy of the preacher in the wilderness, as the fourth evangelist does (John 1:23).


We cannot determine whether the banks of the Jordan River were the constant location of the Baptist’s ministry if we consider the desert to belong to the world of ideal perception. It would have been easy for the historian who wanted to describe the Baptist’s activity to assume that the only appropriate location for it was the banks of the river “of Palestine”. But isn’t it well-known, the apologist might say, that the land on the banks of the Jordan was barren and unfruitful, and therefore itself the very desert where the Baptist preached and baptized? Quite so! But it would not have to be written that Jesus had to leave this desert in order to enter the wilderness.

We know nothing about the specific locality where the Baptist appeared and worked.

The perception of ideal topography is also demonstrated in the Gospel of Luke. Although he sends the Baptist to the Jordan River after his calling, he allows him to linger in the desert until his public appearance, so he cannot completely dissolve the combination that Mark made. But Luke does even more than his predecessor: the perception of the harsh and uncultivated environment in which the Baptist appeared, as well as his personal character, which corresponded to such an environment and made him capable of rough and unsparing interference in it, has been so firmly impressed into the holy topography that even the birthplace and home of the Baptist have been relocated to the mountainous region to correspond to the man’s character and historical environment in which he appeared (Luke 1:39).


2. The clothing and food of the Baptist.

The clothing and food of the Baptist are worth considering in a separate section, as the Scripture deemed it worthy to mention them, and the absolute value of this note must be illuminated even more by the desperate resistance with which apologetics will defend it against doubt.

John, says Matthew (Ch. 3, 4), had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Mark reports the same (Mark 1, 6). But why not Luke, who could have copied it from the script of his predecessor as well as Matthew did? It’s good that he didn’t copy the note and share it with his Theophilus, for he has taught the apologist a lesson on how to view notes of this kind in the future. Furthermore, he has shown him the original purpose for which this note was intended. Luke has seen quite well that the clothing attributed to the Baptist was intended to identify him as the Elijah who was to come. He now lets the angel Gabriel say to Zacharias that his son would appear in the spirit and power of Elijah. So why the note on the costume if what it is intended to signify is expressed without symbolic detours? Therefore, Luke omits this note.


In the Gospel of Mark, however, it is of the highest importance and cannot be missed. Here it serves to fill out the picture of the personality of the Baptist and to present him in his entire historical pathos, as it appeared to the Christian view. Luke and Matthew show the Baptist proving his zeal in a special sermon, stirring the people from their sin-induced slumber and showing that he had come in the power and spirit of Elijah. Mark has not yet mentioned these speeches, but he has instead assigned to the Baptist the symbol of the Elijah-like and even the clothing of Elijah himself: his description of John’s clothing is taken verbatim from the Old Testament description of Elijah’s clothing *). How could Mark have stumbled upon this passage from the Old Testament to write about the person and work of the Baptist, if it had not already been established that he was the Elijah who was to come? But this had indeed been firmly established for him, as Jesus himself had said (Mark 9:13).

*) 2 Kings 1:8. See Wilke, Der Urevangelist, p. 147.

Now it is certain that the Baptist did not recognize himself as the Elijah who had been prophesied, so it could not have occurred to him to dress himself symbolically as the promised Elijah based on the information from that Old Testament passage. Only Mark has clothed him in that symbolic garment, and we know nothing about his historical costume.

We also do not know what he ate. Mark and, after him, Matthew want to tell us, but unfortunately their testimony on such an important matter is paralyzed by Luke. Not because Luke did not copy the note that John ate locusts and wild honey from the scripture of his predecessor just as Matthew did, but because he betrayed to us the thought from which the note originated. He also speaks of the Baptist’s way of life, namely that he prescribes it in advance through the angel Gabriel: John shall drink neither wine nor strong drink (Luke 1:15); he makes him a Nazirite. But how? A Nazirite? Shouldn’t Mark have given us such an important note if it already existed and was known in the community? But Mark did not yet think that the Baptist had taken the Nazirite vow. He only let him live on locusts and wild honey because he had assigned him the desert as the scene of his activity, and because the same thought that sent the Baptist into the wilderness also determined his way of life. The man who appeared in the meager time, when the “word of God was precious” and revelation was lacking, the man who could not yet impart the power of life and spirit to the barren soil on which he worked, had to renounce wine and stronger food if the evangelical view, in its plastic way, was to simultaneously express the inner determination of his historical character through his external way of life. Mark contented himself with limiting him to the food that the desert offered, but Luke finally makes him a Nazirite.


Therefore, if the Baptist only eats locusts and wild honey or lives as a Nazirite, he only leads this lifestyle in the ideal world in which the evangelical view has placed him. Josephus *) gives no hint from which we could conclude that John led an ascetic or even the life of a Nazirite. But, as Neander **), for example, says, “the example of the Banus shows ***), that some serious-minded men among the Jews withdrew into a wilderness, appeared as teachers of divine wisdom, and that students joined them.” But what does this example help us or how can it even be called an example if Josephus does not give us any hint from which we could conclude that the lifestyle of the Banus and that of John had any similarity? But if it is true that the Baptist made a powerful impact on his time, that his name and his work were equally well known and celebrated in Galilee and Jerusalem (Mark 9:13, 11:32), then he was not a hermit who only incidentally moved individuals to “join” him through his reputation, he was a man of the people who did not shy away from the public and sought to influence his contemporaries through open communication with them. The desert and the ascetic lifestyle only became his attributes when he was contrasted with his greater follower, the giver of life, in the ideal view.

*) in the well-known passage (Antiquities 18, 5.2.), which informs us more precisely about the Baptist than all the evangelical accounts together.

**) ibid. p. 49. 50.

***) Josephus, Life, § 2.


Except for that symbolic image borrowed from the Old Testament and its further elaboration into the realm of food, the Gospel of Mark gives us no indication that would point to a withdrawn and ascetic lifestyle of the Baptist. His note (Mark 2:18) that the disciples of John, like those of the Pharisees, fasted while the disciples of Jesus lived more freely, already proves by the grouping of the parties that he did not want to speak of special ascetic practices of the followers of John. It even proves that nothing was known about a peculiar way of life of the Johannine circle: otherwise, if one wanted to contrast the disciples of the Baptist and Jesus and in them the teachers at the same time, would they have grasped for a peculiarity which only appeared as such in contrast to the free way of life of the followers of Jesus, but was otherwise common to the disciples of John with the followers of tradition, with the Pharisees?

Luke, however (7:33-34), and after him Matthew (11:18-19), let Jesus contrast himself with John in this way, saying: “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” But it is suspicious enough that only the evangelist who already prescribes the life of a Nazirite to the Baptist before his birth knows this form of contrast, making it only probable that he formed it according to his underlying assumption.


3. The Activity of the Baptist according to Matthew’s Account.

Matthew 3, 2. 5-12

In the wilderness of Judea, says Matthew, the Baptist preached and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan went out to him, confessed their sins, and were baptized by him. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

It must give us considerable concern when we notice *) that all the words attributed to the Baptist here later appear in the speeches of Jesus. Jesus also began preaching with the words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). He also scolds the Pharisees as a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34, 23:33) **); he uses the same words to tell the parable of the tree that is cut down and thrown into the fire if it does not bear fruit (Matthew 7:19). Jesus also speaks of the Son of Man who will judge and send his messengers to gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Finally, Jesus says of the Baptist that he is the forerunner who was to come before him.

*) which Weisse draws our attention to, Geschichte des Urchristenthums, vol. 2, p. 6.

**) in Matthew 23:33, they are also addressed as such: πως φυγητε απο της κρισεως της γεεννης


Even before we critically examine these sayings and their relationship to the Baptist’s position, we must state that Jesus could not possibly have been so dependent on the Baptist that he adopted his style of speaking word for word, down to the construction of the sentences. Or does the apologist want to claim the impossible *), that Jesus characterized his world-historical position and task with the same words that the Baptist used to describe his own? First, he would have to claim that both men had such a similar understanding of their task that they could use exactly the same words to describe it. Secondly, he would have to say that the person of Jesus did not represent any progress in history.

*) such as Olshausen, bibl. Comm. I, 196.

However, even before we examine these sayings in themselves, they have already lost their significance as being the Baptist’s words because they are part of a context that identifies them as a later product. They are the only thing the Baptist says about his historical task, indeed about everything that concerns him, including his relationship to the greater successor: that is, his entire substance, everything he is, is contained in this speech. But is it really possible, as a necessary consequence, that he said and delivered everything in order every time people came to him to hear about his world-historical position? Would this speech have become a fixed formula that he used on every occasion? It is impossible; speeches that express the entire essence of a person and are the only thing attributed to them are created on a completely different level; they are the work of a later time that not only summarizes what the person in question gradually developed in their consciousness and expressed in isolated statements on various occasions. Rather, the later time expresses in them its understanding, its thoughts about a historical phenomenon – in short, they are the result of an insight that is only possible when a historical work is completed as such and through its consequences, through its relationship to the later development of history, reveals its entire significance. Moreover, religious consciousness is particularly prone to such anachronisms, and it invests them with its full faith at the same time it creates them, or it creates them because it considers them necessary and natural. The development of history, as it goes through a series of independent and very serious differences, cannot be recognized by religious consciousness because it sees every standpoint of history as related to this determinacy of divine providence and can only think of this relationship as the full consciousness of it in historical persons. Even earlier heroes know the end of the story that they are preparing, they have the full consciousness of the divine purpose that will be carried out in the future, and it is fitting that their historical appearance be illuminated by the light of divine thought, so they express this consciousness in a speech.


The occasion for this speech is always easily found; sometimes, however, it is very unfortunate, as was the case with Matthew this time. He has the Baptist give his speech as a group of Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism. How? Pharisees and Sadducees traveling together so harmoniously? Only a hasty writer could assemble them in this way, who also likes to combine the factions he brings onto the stage into one chorus. We can dismiss the Sadducees immediately, as it contradicted the standpoint of their enlightenment too much to approach the prophet of the people. So the Pharisees remain! They even remain as those who had found the way to escape the impending judgment, for the Baptist addresses them as such *). But Matthew himself lets Jesus accuse them (Matt. 21:31) of not having believed in the Baptist and of remaining stubborn in their unbelief, while the harlots and tax collectors had entered the way of the kingdom of heaven. They did not even want to enter it. If Matthew himself testifies so decisively against them, we do not even need to call on Luke as a witness **), so that we can also hear from him that while the “people” and the tax collectors, but not the Pharisees, accepted John’s baptism (Luke 7:29-30.).

*) So Fritzsche misunderstands the meaning of the speech when he renders it thus (in his commentary on Matthew, p. 125.): quis persuasit vobis, posse vos effugere iram dei venturam? 

**) As we shall see later, we do not need to do so for another reason, namely because Matthew has formed his speech of the Lord (Matt. 21:28-32) from this passage in Luke.


Enough, Matthew himself says that the Pharisees did not go to John’s baptism. And yet he lets them pilgrimage to the Baptist in great numbers (πολλους), with the intention of being baptized? Where does the contradiction come from? Schneckenburger ***) believes that this historical error arose because Matthew was influenced by the account of the Sanhedrin’s mission to the Baptist, which the fourth Gospel reports. Now, this mission is innocent of any guilt in this confusion, as they never saw the Baptist, and Matthew is not familiar with the fourth Gospel, which reported it first.

***) Urspr. d. ersten kan. Ev. p. 45.

Therefore, the contradiction arises because the entire tendency of Matthew’s scripture is focused on portraying the work of salvation in its opposition and struggles with the Jewish parties, especially with the legal pride of the Pharisees. The Lord had to fight with these parties, and he fought with them – as we will see – even in such narratives that were not originally intended for such a battle. So can it surprise us that Matthew also drew John the Baptist into this battle? Even the Baptist had to make them hear the thunder of judgment – thus he is the true precursor of the Lord – and the consciousness of his worth is raised even higher, the more decisive enemies of salvation to whom he confronts it.


Indeed, de Wette admits that the situation is unlikely, but “the unlikelihood is apologetically eliminated – the word ‘offspring of vipers’ is otherwise only used by the Pharisees and scribes *).” This argument, along with the claim that “Luke is less original in this passage” and has made the mistake of directing such a strong term of punishment against the people – all of this would at least be sufficient for a moment if it were true that the term ‘offspring of vipers’ is only directed against the Pharisees in the Gospels. But where else does it occur in the Gospels except in Matthew, who only puts it in the mouth of the Lord twice against the Pharisees?

*) 1, 1, 30

Matthew borrowed the term from Luke and after using it once (in the mouth of the Baptist) against the Pharisees, he sticks to it and allows the Lord to use it against the same people. Matthew proceeds in the same way in this point – but we first hear Weisse before we write out the sentence. 

Weisse is not inclined to assume that one of the two evangelists used the work of the other – we must say: copied, since the speech of the Baptist that Matthew gives, apart from a few interchanged expressions, can be found word for word in the writing of Luke. They would have used a common source – copied – and this would be the collection of sayings of Matthew.


This apostle “opened his work with the compilation of some sayings that, although spoken by Jesus, were spoken with explicit reference to John the Baptist, in order to express the sense and purpose of the activity of this prophetic man, or were understood by the apostle as spoken in this sense *).” Weisse could only take courage in this hypothesis because he assumed **), at the point where the first evangelist attributes to the Lord the sayings that he first attributed to the Baptist, they were actual words of Jesus. However, only Matthew attributes them to both the Baptist and the Lord; wherever they might be expected in the other synoptic accounts of the words of Jesus, they are missing.

Matthew proceeds with the transference of the term “offspring of vipers” in the same way he has treated the other elements of the Baptist’s speech. He either quotes them verbatim from the Lord’s mouth or processes them, as he does beautifully in the parable of the weeds in chapter 13, verse 30, into new speeches of the Lord. In short, he used this speech of the Baptist to bring into the type of the gospel elements which it did not originally contain ***).

*) ev. Gesch. II, 8.

**) Ibid. p. 5.

***) Even the threat that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones, Matthew has excluded twice in his scripture, although there is no lack of similar threats that the Jews would be rejected and the Gentiles accepted. He did not exclude it literally the second time, but he used it to work out a similar threat, which he finds in Luke, more specifically, that Abraham becomes the focal point of the image. In Luke’s scripture, Jesus says (chapter 13, verse 28) that the evildoers will be cast out and will weep and gnash their teeth outside if they saw Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God. “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Matthew brings the parts of the image closer together, indeed, he processes them into a whole, when he lets Jesus say (chapter 8, verses 11-12): “Many will come from east and west and will recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”


The speech of the Baptist is not composed of sayings of the Lord. Although Weisse still refers to the fact that Jesus formed and expressed the contrast between the baptism of John and the baptism of the Spirit. But after the silence of Mark, the Acts of the Apostles (1, 5; 11, 16) is too suspicious a witness because it is too probable, indeed certain, that the author transferred a view already firmly established about the Lord to John or rather presupposed such a simple view of John that it was also shared by the Lord. He proceeded like his successor Matthew, only he did not content himself with one transfer, but transformed the entire speech of the Baptist into sayings of the Lord.

Matthew also did the same with other things: he gave the Baptist a formula that the Gospel type otherwise only attributes to the Lord. He has both Jesus and the Baptist announce their appearance with the exclamation: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But we can free ourselves from the contradiction that both should have formulated their task in the same formula. Matthew, the latest, has only introduced it. According to Mark’s account (1, 14-15), only Jesus announces his arrival with these words, and Luke remains faithful to this type. He does not keep the words of the formula, but he keeps the meaning and their place that they have in the original type. In his predecessor’s account, he reads that Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled,” and the kingdom of God has come. So according to his presentation, the Lord’s first word that he announces is that the fulfillment has come, but he lets him read from the scripture in the synagogue of Nazareth what has come and then adds, “Today this scripture is fulfilled” (Luke 4:21).


Matthew stands alone with his contradiction; he represents the most extreme reflection in the circle of the synoptics. This time, the thought guided him that the revelation always remains the same in its various stages and that the one unchanging kingdom of God has come with both the Baptist and Jesus. Hence the agreement of the proclamation.

We can now state that the only source that Matthew used for the longer speech of the Baptist was the Gospel of Luke. He did not create the speech himself; that is certain, otherwise he would not have come to let people give a speech who he himself says could not have come into this situation. He would not have addressed Pharisees if he had formed the whole thing purely from his view as if they had actually found the way to salvation. He must have found the speech in a context where it was already linked to a specific occasion and held to a crowd of those who were streaming to John’s baptism. He took it from Luke’s Gospel.

And Luke? Where did it come from for him?

4. The activity of the Baptist according to Luke’s account.

The Baptist did not deliver this speech. The person whom Luke has speaking only existed in Christian thought in later times. Not yet in the time of Mark!

In the account of the third gospel, the speech is in perfect context. The crowds flock to the Baptist to be baptized. John receives them roughly at first, and his address is even harsh. “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” As noted, the current interpretation *), according to which the Baptist is supposed to say that they would not escape, takes all the meaning out of the address. Rather, the Baptist acknowledges that they have found the way to salvation if they come to him and seek his baptism. But he does not want to be a preacher of forgiveness in vain, even on an occasion that should fill him with delight, for he sees the crowds before him coming for his baptism, and nothing suggests beforehand that they would not come to him with serious willingness, why else would they have undertaken the long journey without inner drive? – on such an occasion, he still lets his thunder rumble and keeps his opposition to the crowd to such an extent that he rebukes them, as if he were angry that they had found the way to salvation.

*) which also follows De Wette. 1, 1/ 30.


Stop! We don’t need to hear any more to be sure that the Baptist did not speak in this way. He would have been a misanthrope to such an extent. However, the description of Josephus does not show us a character of this terrible kind, on the contrary, a man who spoke to the people’s hearts, far from all preaching of punishment, and who presented them with the task of the Most High when he insisted on the purity of the soul. This idea, that baptism must not be demanded only for individual sins, but that it only has meaning if the soul is cleansed as well as the body, cannot be forced upon the masses, especially if thunder is used to push them back.

Even Jesus – we come to Weisse’s hypothesis – cannot have made any statement about the Baptist that would have had even the slightest resemblance to this untimely thunder. That supposed collection of sayings by the Apostle Matthew will already be exposed as a phantom here, where it is presented to us for the first time. In its original form, the evangelical view did not yet see the Baptist as this personality who had nothing in mind but thunder, punishment, and judgment, but rather as the preacher of repentance who carried out his mission in lowliness and suffering (Mark 9:13). Admittedly, he was considered the promised Elijah, but the parallel was not yet immediately extended to all aspects of his character. Mark still contented himself with the one feature that John wore the prophet’s garment of mourning.


Mark, however, omits – we mention this immediately to lead the investigation to the decisive point – the assumption that the Baptist always had the thunder of judgment in mind, at hand, and in view. Only Luke allows him to receive the people with the threat of “coming wrath” and to speak in a manner that is rooted in the essence of things. Even in the saying that compares the Baptist and the greater follower, the idea of judgment has become the punchline (Luke 3:16-17). The preacher of repentance says, “He who comes after me, and is so much more powerful that I am not worthy to loosen his sandals, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” With fire! That is to say, his effectiveness will be consuming and in its annihilating power will resemble the fire that consumes the chaff. “So here,” Wilke says aptly, “we have a transformation of the Baptist’s speech into a threat. However, this comparison is not suitable if the comparison between himself and the coming one is to be the expression of humility according to the original meaning of the phrase. The Baptist may well use the expression that he is hardly worthy to untie his sandals when he compares himself to someone who will cleanse people with the Holy Spirit instead of water, and who will be greater and more perfect (in the joyful sense) than he is. But how could it be an expression of humility if he is supposed to compare himself, as the milder one, with the stricter and more terrible one? How does John’s assertion that the Messiah will execute judgment fit with the announcement that the Messiah will execute judgment? The Baptist would have had to make his serious reprimands and sermons of punishment analogous to the execution that the Messiah would bring about, in order to make the conclusion a minor majus, but the expression that He is the serious one (with all his severity) and that he can hardly untie the sandals of the coming one and place himself in the lowest possible relationship with him does not fit with this again.”

*) a. a. O. p. 454. 455.


Or, we might add, the Baptist would have to compare his thunder, his lightning, with which he armed himself against the “brood of vipers,” to the even more powerful fire that the Coming One will have at his disposal. But then, would the fearsome thunderer be so infinitely small that he could not be compared to the even more powerful one? However, in Mark’s Gospel, in which the modest explanation of the Baptist about his relationship to the Messiah is first found, there is no mention of the Baptist’s thunder, nor does it say that the Messiah will baptize with fire. Here, the saying only makes sense if the Baptist compares his water baptism to the Messiah’s life-giving and infinitely more effective baptism of the Spirit, or rather, he says he cannot be compared to him at all.

Once it was established that John was the promised Elijah, and both personalities gradually merged in the view that they finally became one, the activity and character of the Baptist could only be thought of as Elijah-like. Just as the Elijah of the Old Testament lived in the zeal of destruction and even commanded the fire from heaven and brought it down on his enemies, so John became the zealot who had to put thunder and lightning at the beginning of his speech when he spoke. Judgment and only judgment, the annihilation of the opposition, now formed his only thought, and even in the work of his successor, he saw eternal fire, the destructive power, as the highest point. This new character of the Baptist, as it formed, was considered historical, and no one could think to ask whether he had been the same in reality. For who in the community knew of any other reality of past history than that which formed in the ideal view? And didn’t the prophecy that speaks of the coming prophet also mention the great day that he precedes, calling it the terrible day and comparing it to the fire that consumes the chaff? (Malachi 3:19) The precursor must always have this day in mind, that is to say, John, the Elijah of the New Testament, must threaten with the fire of the “coming wrath” and frighten a world that is so corrupt that he stands alone in it, just as Elijah did, with the threat of a fearsome future.


The writer who gave shape and form to such a late view is Luke. He knew it because he created the entire scene in which the Baptist delivered such a thundering speech, not to the Pharisees, who had not come for baptism, but to the entire crowd of people. There is certainly a contradiction that the crowd, who came for baptism and thus recognized the divine mission of the Baptist and approached with a repentant attitude, is received in such a way that the Baptist’s address resembled a storm that could have driven them all the way to the end of the world. However, the Evangelist did not notice this contradiction because he wanted to let the voice of Elijah be heard, and he could not find any other occasion for it than the arrival of the crowd.

The Evangelist wanted to put all kinds of threats in the mouth of the Baptist and foreshadow all the revolutions that would be fulfilled in the drama: the Baptist had to not only threaten with eternal judgment but also with the historical judgment that transferred the blessing of Abraham to the nations. “Do not rely on your descent from Abraham,” he said, “because God can raise children of Abraham from these stones.” The Baptist had to speak like this to threaten everything terrible. He could also threaten at the wrong time because the Evangelist forgot that the crowd, when they rushed to baptism, did not think about relying on their descent from Abraham. The Evangelist himself could forget this circumstance because he thought it was natural that a crowd who came with the best intentions and yet was so harshly addressed might silently remember their father Abraham *).

*) Above, where the location was mentioned, we saw how Neander praised Luke. On the following page of his work (p. 53), he had an interest in praising Matthew as well because the harsh words with which the Baptist addressed the people seemed too harsh to him and rather seemed to be directed against the Pharisees. “The comparison of Luke with Matthew,” he said, “makes it possible for us to distinguish what John said to the Pharisees and what he said to others, and we also see how these historical accounts complement each other.” We see only that an insight into the origin of the accounts frees us from this anxious admiration of their conformity, from an admiration that always fears that their subject may be more closely scrutinized than a self-made haze could prove. Can this feeling of self-admiration be certain when the reports are trampled on at the same time they are admired? How can this be called a complement when Luke makes the same speech to the people that Matthew says was directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees? The accounts do not complement each other but exclude each other. Each of the two evangelists only knows about one audience to which the Baptist speaks, but each knows about a different one; a distribution of the speech in different directions is not possible because each of them lets it be directed entirely to the only audience that he knows. Then Neander had to depict the Pharisees in their entire wickedness to make them somewhat ripe for the thunder, and he had to attribute to them the worst intentions with which they came to the baptism – intentions of which Matthew knows nothing since he simply says that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to the baptism. And how anxious Neander must be to explain that the Sadducees came at all and that they went to the baptism in friendly community with the Pharisees!


Luke was the first to shape this section: his authorship is still evident in the anxious precision with which he tries to separate and motivate each section of the speech. “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance,” the Baptist cried out to the people, and now, after the storm of his speech has subsided, they ask, “what shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10), followed by general advice, as well as specific advice for individual groups of people (verses 11-14). In general, those who have two coats should share with those who have none, and those who have food should do likewise. Tax collectors should collect no more than the amount prescribed, and soldiers should not extort money or accuse anyone falsely, but should be content with their wages.


That we do not have the words of the Baptist in these pieces of advice that led the tax collectors to accept the baptism (Luke 7:29) hardly needs to be mentioned. It did not require a Baptist to make the people hear such things. We may not forbid the preacher of repentance from extending his demand for repentance and self-denial to the specific circumstances of life, but this transition to specifics should not be made in such a way that the general, deeper demand for repentance is completely forgotten and the exhortation is limited to the field of ordinary practical life rules. Neander *) indeed sees in those words the demand for a “purification of morals;” but this is something much more general than everything that the Baptist here demands from the people.

*) a. a. O. p. 55.

If the Baptist did not speak these words and could not speak them, it was natural enough how Luke came to form them. He was the first to give the Baptist the thunderbolt in hand and therefore had to feel the distance between this new threatening figure and John, as one used to think of him, and now try to put the fearful figure in a calmer relationship to the people. But if he had once tightened the strings too tightly, it was natural that he now slackened them too much and let them become loose. He also designed the whole thing in such a way that he wanted to depict the relationship of the Baptist to the people on all sides, and therefore he could not let the preacher of repentance appear only as the harsh and repulsive zealot. Finally, if he let the Baptist demand the righteous fruits of repentance, it was appropriate for him to also give him the opportunity to express what they consisted of.


All of these motives were not present for Matthew. He no longer needed to artificially bring forth the sayings in which the historical character of John was revealed and link them to specific occasions because he already had them before him in Luke’s scripture. He only needed one occasion, and once that was formed, he could follow the speech that was meant to interpret the historical substance of the Baptist as a whole. For Matthew’s view, the Elijah-like zeal and threatening wrath had already become the essential characteristics of the Baptist. He had to make this character trait the dominant, the only one, and leave out the section (Luke 3:10-14) where the Baptist gives specific advice to different groups of people. He probably omitted it also because he found these recommendations insignificant and not appropriate to the overall situation, in comparison to what one would expect from the preaching of a thunderer.

Consistent with his habit, as seen in the Sermon on the Mount, where his interest is mainly on the speeches and the characterization of the actors, not on the individual occasions that led to them, he also omits the occasion that would prompt the Baptist to speak about his relationship to the greater successor. He reads the speeches in his sources, what more does he need? Why bother with the occasions that his predecessors had laboriously and often unsuccessfully created just to introduce the speeches? It was right for him to follow his habit in this case too. Luke says (Luke 3:15) that when the Baptist had given his advice, “the people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.” So significant and great did those recommendations for tax collectors and soldiers appear to the people that they believed that the man who spoke in such a way must immediately, since he was in the procession, make the revelation that he was the Messiah. But since the speech did not end that way, and the expected disclosure did not occur, the people showed by their strained expressions that they still missed the right conclusion of the speech. But how could it have been possible for the Baptist to see from the people’s expressions what revelation they were expecting? Could he have thought that, after his recommendations to tax collectors and soldiers, the necessary explanation would follow whether he was the Messiah or not? Where would he get that idea? Those recommendations, although commendable and useful in themselves, were insignificant for the situation and compared to what one would expect from the preaching of a forerunner, and they could not even prompt the people to suspect that the man who taught them might ultimately be the Messiah. Without further ado, Luke only created this occasion to introduce the Baptist’s explanation of his relationship to the Messiah.


The apologetic discovery, “Luke lets us glimpse the gradual transition of the Baptist from preaching repentance to announcing the Messiah” *), is therefore not a discovery in the world of history. But if the apologist even means that Luke shows us how the Baptist first preached only repentance, but later, after a longer activity, progressed to announcing the Messiah, then we simply refer him back to the text. Luke links all the Baptist’s speeches to the one occasion when the crowd rushed out to be baptized, and immediately he sends them to the preacher of repentance as soon as he says that he had appeared. If the apologist still wants to have an additional note, we remind him of the example of Matthew, who can teach him how much value such a note has.

*) Hoffmann, L. I. x. 286.


5. The activity of the Baptist according to the account of Mark.

Now that we have separated everything that is disturbing or damaging to the basic type and found it in the scripture of Mark, we must find it beautiful, purposeful, and almost artistic if we let it act on us in its purity. The preacher of repentance appears and the people flock to him to confess their sins and be baptized. But he is also the precursor of the Messiah: what he is, he must therefore express himself, as he knows it through divine revelation and cannot hide it from the people. He simply says that the infinitely greater one will come after him, who will no longer baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Mark does not think to link this statement to a specific occasion: he, as the first to give these words their current position, indeed to form them, knows all too well that they have too general a meaning to be only a casually brought forth expression. He still knows that these words indicate the entire historical position of the Baptist and are the core of his preaching, and he expresses his awareness sufficiently when he introduces this speech by saying: “So John the Baptist preached (και εκηρυσσεν λεγων)” In his work, it is finally expressed very beautifully for what purpose this speech should serve: it leads the reader involuntarily but surely to the greater one to whom it points, and really brings him there, just as the overall attitude of the Baptist in this simple purity is maintained, that nothing more than the direction towards the coming one is expressed in it. “I have baptized you with water,” (ἐβάπτισα) says the Baptist, and as the reader hears him speak like this, he is immediately carried away in the same moment where he still sees him in the midst of his activity, yes where he himself hears his preaching, so that he immediately stands at the border where the precursor has completed his task and Jesus appears. While the other two hold back the presentation with their disturbing pragmatism and then – admittedly consistently – let the Baptist say, “I baptize you with water” (βαπτισω), the power of the view, which so much contracts the presentation of the activity of the Baptist, that it lets him appear and retreat in the same moment, in the scripture of Mark still in its first originality.


After these proofs, it is hardly necessary to reflect on the earlier view that Mark also made an excerpt from the writings of Matthew and Luke in the discussed case. Nevertheless, we do so to show how much the earlier critical views were also wrong in assuming false ideas about historiography in general. For example, Saunier says *): “Ordinary experience shows that speech does not increase through continued transmission, but rather shortens itself, because only the train of thought as introduced by the speaker and the spirit with which he treated his subject can make a further development possible; but both disappear the further the communicated speech is from its origin.” So many words, so much vagueness, confusion, and errors! All reasoning that starts from the assumption that the biblical historians mechanically made a copy of a given reality is of this kind. However, we can safely ignore this supposed experience as utopian since we have proven that the longer speech of the Baptist was formed later from the shorter one that we find in Mark. This critique assumes that Luke and Matthew were not very far from the origin of the speech they report, so their report is therefore more original. But we have recognized it as the more reflective one. Luke’s speech is supposed to reproduce the original train of thought and spirit with which the Baptist formed it, but it has become certain to us that Luke and Matthew brought elements into a speech that had a completely different train of thought as its basis, which transform its original harmony into an unresolved dissonance. A speech can certainly be expanded later, but this does not necessarily disturb its original structure, as it can be taken up more or less skillfully in the center of its initial train of thought and carried on from there to larger peripheries, depending on the skill of the editor. But Luke did not form the speech of the Baptist in this artistic way; rather, a new interest and a view that did not arise from the original tendency of the speech drove him to his work, and his interest in the new material that he wanted to bring into the original structure of the speech completely obscured the contradiction that now tears the speech apart.

*) a. a, O. p. 44.


The category of the “original” has been understood by the criticism of the evangelical historiography, and also in Saunier’s reasoning, in a way that it was not always grasped in its purity and restricted to the field of historiography, but also used as a criterion of historical credibility with a salto mortale – with a μεταβασις εις αλλο γενος. The term “original” did not only refer to the representation of the historian, which formed the basis of the later ones, but it was called so because it reflected the reality of the events as they were. Nothing has harmed criticism more than this transfer of an aesthetic category into a completely different field, where it must serve the juridical inquisitorium of the apologist and is ousted from its ideal disinterestedness and sacrificed to the necessity of the anxious theologian. As long as this confusion of concepts persists, criticism will not achieve the purity of its completion and will be drawn into the material interests of the apologist.

However, if the investigation and struggle with apologetics is to be brought to an end, we must always ask whether the aesthetically original is also so in the sense that it has arisen directly from the empirical reality it is supposed to represent as an imprint of it. But, with all that is true and all that is love for truth! – we must never allow ourselves to commit the syllogism of laziness, that the aesthetically original is also naked history. In any case, if only the original is complete and carries its own necessity within itself, it will certainly be the imprint of a real history, but this history may sometimes have only played out in the inner life and work of the community – a significance that will remain with the later development of the original if it is not merely a game of caprice.


In the sense that it informs us about the actual views and activities of John the Baptist, the speech attributed to him by Mark is not original. Therefore, what we have not yet examined in our critique of the fourth gospel, namely that John the Baptist pointed to the coming Messiah *), must be denied here, where the question reaches the final stage of seriousness. What should we expect above all if preaching about the coming one was a major concern of John the Baptist? That the Gospels would report to us that he did not separate baptism and the reference to the Messiah, but rather connected them internally. Baptism must have been elevated by him to a baptism for the future one. The Synoptics have not yet dared to enforce this combination: Mark simply puts baptism and testimony about the coming one side by side, while Luke even lets this testimony be brought about only by chance through a false assumption of the people. One can see that there was nothing in the tradition that would have allowed them to combine both elements. They would have done it anyway if it had been possible for them; but they could not. The older type of historical tradition, that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance, was still too firmly established for them, and the idea that John bore witness to the coming one had only just formed-how could both already penetrate and merge into unity? In the Acts of the Apostles, the third evangelist did attempt to unite what was separated in the Gospel, but only attempted: he had not yet succeeded. Paul says here (Acts 19:4) that John administered a baptism of repentance, “telling the people” to believe in the one who would come after him; but is this really a baptism for the coming one? Is it not still separated if the author allows the Apostle Paul to speak in such a way that both aspects of John’s work are only juxtaposed *) ?

*) ibid. p. 21.

*) Only the perspective of the author of the Acts of the Apostles can be learned from this section, not that of the apostle Paul. We do not even learn from this account what the significance of the disciples of John was; we learn as little about their standpoint and preaching as we do about Thomas when we hear about the principles of the Thomas Christians. Indeed, even less! For they existed as a distinct community, and we have precise and reliable information about them. But what do we know about the supposed disciples of John in the apostolic era? Nothing except what a narrative reports to us, which (Acts 19:12) allows the divine power of the Gentile apostle to transfer to his sweat cloths. Yes, it would be different if Paul himself spoke of the Baptist, of the disciples of John, and their beliefs in his letters. But he is silent. Only the author of the Acts of the Apostles knows how to speak of disciples of the Baptist who were so well-instructed in the doctrine of salvation that all Paul needed to say to them was that Jesus was the one whom John had pointed to, so that they could immediately be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and, as Paul laid his hands on them, receive the Holy Spirit. And how indefinite is the part of the narrative that introduces them and acquaints us with them for the first time? Paul, it says (Acts 19:1), came to Ephesus and found “some disciples” (………). What kind of disciples? Only those who already belong to the Christian community! For Paul recognizes that they have progressed so far in their knowledge of salvation that the only question can be whether they have received the Holy Spirit. And yet they are so unfamiliar with the economy of salvation that they have not even heard of “the Holy Spirit.” This contradiction dissolves the whole account. We do not even know if there were disciples of John who formed a special society or were identifiable by special beliefs at that time. However, the account completely falls apart when we see how it is just a replica of a similar account about the activities of Peter. According to the pragmatism of the Acts of the Apostles, which demonstrates a similar miraculous or significant action performed by the Apostle Peter for every such action performed by the Gentile Apostle, Paul cannot be left out if his rival is so full of healing power that the sick are healed just by his shadow falling on them (Acts 5:15). Paul’s healing power must now at least pass into his sweatcloths. If Peter once gives the Samaritans completion and imparts the Holy Spirit through laying on of hands, which they had not yet received after baptism (Acts 8:16-17), then Paul must perform a similar action and also give those the final completion who had lacked it until then. Schneckenburger (on the purpose of the Acts of the Apostles p. 58) now thinks that even if it is so clear that the parallelization is intended, one should not suspect “that the reporter has interwoven unhistorical features into the image of Paul in order to make the image of both apostles similar.” But not even the model, the actions and attributes of Peter are historically established. The healing power of Peter’s shadow is just as unhistorical as the miracle-working power of the sweatcloths of the Gentile Apostle. The effectiveness of Peter among the Samaritans, the assumption that his laying on of hands first invokes the Holy Spirit on believers, while poor deacon Philip could only baptize and preach – all of these are only the concepts of a later time that had made the apostles, especially Peter, into hierarchs and thaumaturges. If Paul is now to impart the power of completion, then there could be no better counterpart to the Samaritans than the disciples of John; for just as the Samaritans were the closest Jewish-related circle to the apostle who had converted the latter in the power of the Holy Spirit and had to receive completion from him, so those who had received John’s baptism were no less close to Christian completion, and Paul now had to acquaint them with the goal and lead them to completion. The Samaritans had already accepted the word of God when Peter came to them to impart the Holy Spirit, so those whom Paul gives the completion must already belong to the community: they are already disciples, and one can only wonder how they could be already, if they have not heard anything about the Holy Spirit. The parallel goes even further. Before Peter comes to the Samaritans, Philip has already preached among them, so also Paul, before he comes into contact with the disciples of John, has a precursor: Aquila and his wife Priscilla had at least one person, Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John, taught about the fulfillment of divine promises in Jesus. A report that reveals itself so clearly as a peioei made cannot, of course, enlighten us about the ideas of the disciples of John and about the standpoint of their master. Indeed, it does not even speak of disciples of John in the sense that it holds them to be a particular, cohesive school or community; it does not even tell us how they came to receive the baptism of John, whether they received it from the Runner himself. It tells us nothing about that — for the simple reason that it knows nothing about it, that it was only concerned with people who had received the baptism of John, that it wanted to introduce people who were so close to salvation that it only took one word and the laying on of Paul’s hands to bring them to completion. Schneckenburger (a. a. O. p. 98) praises the accuracy of the report, Luke “knows” the number of “disciples of John,” he knows that there were a total of twelve (Acts 19:7); but if such numbers are supposed to prove the credibility of a report: poor history, how rich you will be in pennies and how poor in gold!


The account of Josephus still clearly shows us how the water baptism of John came about. According to Josephus, John said that baptism would only be pleasing to God if it were not used to expiate certain sins, but to sanctify the body, provided that the soul had already been purified by righteousness in general. It is clear that the baptism of John had only the Jewish washings and the legal conception of purity as its precondition. By precondition, however, we do not only understand the material to the extent that it gave rise to the development of the new form, but also in the result that is negatively posited: while the legal view sees the purity of the body and the soul as immediately the same and external washing as such purifies body and soul, John took the great step of raising the symbol to consciousness, dissolving the idea of that immediate unity and bringing self-denial and change of mind in general to recognition as the only significance of the symbolic action *). This act is in itself so great and of such infinite scope that it alone sufficed to form and fill a standpoint in the development of religious consciousness. The apologist, however, cannot do without attributing to the consciousness of the Baptist the further definite content that the evangelists have already given him – he must now say *) “the brief account of Josephus itself points to a necessary supplement,” which he finds in the gospel narratives; the appearance of John and his baptism had an internal relationship to the Messiah and his kingdom. However, this relationship and reference of the earlier standpoint to the following one has never taken the form in history as it appears to the religious spirit when, with hasty impatience, it attributes to the preparatory standpoint the consciousness of the purpose it serves. The unity of history remains even when it is no longer thought that the earlier figure pointed with a finger to the following one, but rather through the wonderful power that brings the individual, independent figures into connection. The subordinate standpoint certainly serves the higher one as a basis, but it does not know what the true determination of the future is, when, in what way and form it will come about. The more significant the earlier one is, the more it must strive within itself just to shape itself, to work itself out and to gain recognition – how could it carry out this strenuous struggle with the hard crust of history, which it must break through only for its own sake, how could it even undertake the even more difficult task of developing itself, if it appeared with only the full consciousness of its provisional character, but also knew that it would be made unnecessary in a short time and through this particular person? It would be the most superficial and hollow product in the world. But it is much more connected with the depth, independence and power of a principle that its historical presupposition had developed itself independently with the consciousness of its own justification and with the devoted faith in its particular work. The greatness of the following figure consists precisely in the fact that it recognized itself as the goal of previous history, but this recognition did not come as a tradition, but had to be fought for, by stripping its presuppositions of their independent appearance and relating them to itself as harbingers of itself. The closer the end, the greater and more independent the following, the more independent also the forerunner, because it was precisely the proximity of the completion that gave it a deeper content, which could not be developed without the most intensive limitation. Finally, if the following figure were to find a prepared ground, it would certainly not have found it if its predecessor had only pointed to it: the curiosity of the people could have been aroused for some time at most, but not even for the duration. The thorough processing of a people only takes place when a preparatory principle is exempted for its own sake and, by this detour, which introduces it into the general circulation of life forces, provides the following figure with a thoroughly worked-out foundation.

*) In the same way that we become certain that the evangelical views did not arise as mere imitations of prophetic images, it also becomes evident here that John did not derive the idea of water baptism from prophetic utterances. Just as the evangelical views arose from the inner experiences or postulates of the community and could only come into contact with and actually coincide with the prophetic images because they contained the same idea or category that was already active in the Old Testament self-awareness, but only manifested in a higher manner, John did not spin the idea of his water baptism from prophetic “passages”, but rather his spirit, the historical circumstances, and the living presuppositions inherent in the usual washings completed an idea that the prophets had indeed worked on but not brought to completion. The completion of an idea need not even happen by the author reflecting on all previous attempts and creating the completion through this reflection. It is enough for him to have the same presuppositions before him that prompted his predecessors to their attempts, and to give the idea completion directly through the greater power of his spirit and the more urgent nature of the circumstances. The prophets had indeed already raised the symbolism of the legal purifications to a conscious level and attempted to grasp it in a general way, as when, for example, Ezekiel (chapter 36, verse 25) expresses the expectation that in the time of the end, Jehovah will sprinkle water over his people, or a spring (Zechariah 13, 1) will be opened for all sins and impurities of the people. But if the baptism of John was to be generated only from the vagueness of this figurative view, it would never have arisen. The result that concludes the development of an idea is formed from the inner power of the person who was destined by history to complete the development. The least acceptable assumption is that there was then among the Jews the expectation of a forerunner who was to prepare the old community for the coming of the Messiah through a general cleansing. This view, according to which the Baptist had done nothing more than put on a character mask that had long been made before him, cannot provide a trace of evidence for itself and cannot be thoroughly removed from our heads if we want to finally arrive at a living view of the history of the Christian principle. Characters, along with their historical masks, are always born with the individuals.

*) For example, Neander, in the same work, pages 50-51.


If John had made the preaching about the coming Messiah the center of his work, would the disciples of Jesus have asked, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? *)” Would Jesus have had to say that Elijah had already come? Only the greater one knows that the historical figures, who appeared with the stamp of their own validity and independence, served his work. And later comes the reflection of the religious spirit, which only believes in the unity of history if it already sees the consciousness of the following on the earlier stage.

*) i.e., would Mark have let them ask this question?


As long as we are dealing only with religious consciousness, our only task is to recognize the dialectic that conceals differences in history and replaces them with one content and one consciousness. But when the apologist comes to prevent us from this realization and pronounce a ban on us if we restore reality, we appeal against his condemnation to the seriousness and sublime power of history, which reveals its true unity precisely in allowing preparations to spread so liberally into independent forms and creating great minds that can break even the hardest shell of the works of their predecessors and see the seed of their own work in the core.*)

The baptism of repentance, the transformation of the legal concept of purity, which still inwardly touches on the concept of nature religion, the simplification of the legal commandment, which relates only to individual impurities, into the demand for a conversion of the spirit that should give the soul a new direction once and for all – that alone was the work of the Baptist, a work so great that it certainly made him the immediate forerunner of the Christian principle. But if he neither baptized the Messiah, nor pointed with the self-consciousness of a forerunner, nor even gave the baptized the admonition **) “to believe in the one who is coming,” was his work completely unrelated to messianic expectation? On the contrary, it was related to it in the most living and grandest way possible. The previous erroneous and mechanical view is based on the equally false assumption that the idea of the Messiah as a fixed reflection concept already lived in the Jewish consciousness during the times of the prophets, and therefore also in the centuries before Christ – no! That cannot be called life! – it was petrified. The expectations of the Messiah did not reflect themselves in the Old Testament views until the time immediately preceding the Christian era. Therefore, the historical significance of the Baptist is not only not exhausted, but completely misunderstood in that mindless notion that his work consisted solely of pointing with his finger to an expectation that had been preserved like a mummy for centuries or even millennia. Rather, his emergence falls into the period in which the dissolving and unclarified views of the prophets coalesced into a unity and reflected themselves in the expectation of this particular person, “the” Messiah, an expectation unalterably established in the spirit. The same power of historical movement that created this determination of expectation also brought about the baptism of repentance at the point where it was to serve as a preparation for its fulfillment. Both are the product of the same power, only a soil that had just created the determination of a principle and was still trembling in the aftermath of this wondrous birth was prepared for the preaching of repentance. But both could not yet be brought into a reflected relationship at the same time when they emerged. They could support each other: the crowd seized by a new life force could all the more eagerly flock to a bath in which the spirit shed the dirt of the old and gained the gathering of itself in its innermost being; the preaching of the baptism of repentance could consolidate the specific expectation that it had created in the people. However, the distance between the emergence of two related and interconnected phenomena in history and their explicit unification is infinitely great: this requires a new, higher principle, which finds those phenomena already given, thus enabling it to view them more freely and bring them into a relationship. In the Christian community, baptism was associated with the name of the Anointed One.

*) Compare the insightful discussion of Weisse (1, 263-266.).

**) The latter of which Weisse still assumes based on Acts 19:4.




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Neil Godfrey

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