§ 14. The Temptation of Jesus

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 14.

The Temptation of Jesus.


1.  The biblical account.

Then, according to Matthew (Ch. 4:1), Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. “Then” (τοτε): the evangelist sees the matter in such a way that baptism and temptation are connected events. Mark has preceded him in this connection of both events: immediately (ευθεως) after the baptism, according to his account (Mark 1:13), Jesus went into the wilderness, and Luke has maintained the same connection of both events when he says that Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led into the wilderness.

When Matthew says that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit, he has the view that the Lord followed a higher necessity or rather was driven by it, and the driving spirit for him is the divine one. The purpose for which Jesus was led into the wilderness is his temptation by the devil. But if this was directly intended by the divine Spirit that led Jesus, then the difficult and unanswered question arises for the apologetic standpoint, how the divine Spirit could have had such an intention. For God did not need to lead Jesus into temptation if he wanted to know whether he would withstand it, since he could have known that the one whom he had just called his beloved Son would be inaccessible to temptation. Or if one understands the concept of temptation correctly to mean that it is the internal entanglement of the subject with the power of evil, then the divine Spirit would have intended that the Messiah should experience the opposite of his duty as a seductive illusion within him – an intention that can never be attributed directly to the divine Spirit, who always intends only the good and that without dialectical detours through evil. The apologist will therefore appreciate it if we remind him that only Matthew presents the temptation as immediately intended by the Spirit, and if we show him how the evangelist came to this presentation. He is the last, the pragmatic one among the synoptics, and as such he does not want to just copy the information he reads in the writings of his predecessors, but rather explain and put them in their inner context. So he reads at Luke and Mark that the Spirit had driven Jesus into the wilderness, and as Mark says, had even pushed him out (ἐκβάλλει), but that the Lord had been tempted in his solitude, so he concludes, thus this temptation was intended by the divine Spirit when he led Jesus into the wilderness. Luke and Mark still present the matter as if it was just coincidence that the stay in the wilderness gave rise to the temptation. We are far from claiming that Matthew has simply misinterpreted their account, as if they did not also have the view that the temptation was already intended by the Spirit when he led Jesus in such a way that he could be exposed to it: but they did not dare to seriously carry out this reflection and explicitly present the temptation as the direct intention of the Spirit; rather, they keep both things apart to such an extent that the temptation only appears as the indirect consequence of the guidance of the Spirit. Luke did not even dare to present the Holy Spirit as a directly acting subject and as independent of the person of Jesus, he only says that Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1), i.e., the Spirit does not work as a foreign subjectivity, but as the inner driving inspiration of Jesus. Finally, Mark proves his impartiality and originality of his account by placing both the guidance of the Spirit and the temptation side by side, but at the same time separating them so that the latter only follows the former indirectly. “And immediately, he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, and he was there in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan.”


The reports diverge widely regarding when the temptation began and how long it lasted, but their contradiction touches directly on their inconsistencies with Luke’s account. It is remarkable and even disturbing for the flow of the sentence that the aforementioned evangelist speaks in the form of a participle of the consequence of the inspiration that led Jesus into the wilderness before he has said that the Lord is already there:  – και ηγετο εν τω πνευματι εις την ερημον ημερας τεσσαρακοντα πειραζομενος υπο διαβολου. No author who is the first and undisturbed in presenting his perspective can write so confusedly, “He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, forty days long tempted by the devil,” and only later (Luke 4:2) suggest that Jesus is really in the wilderness, saying, “He ate nothing during those days.” If he were the first and relying purely on his perspective, he would do it better; he would write like Mark: “And the Spirit drove him into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.” *) Furthermore, Luke says nothing about the temptations to which Jesus was exposed during these days; on the contrary! he has to let the forty days pass first so that Jesus can hunger and this hunger can provide an opportunity for temptation. It cannot be denied that in Luke’s account, two different perspectives cross each other and mutually interfere at the point where they touch each other. According to one – the indefinite earlier one from which Luke has not yet completely escaped – the diabolic temptation lasted forty days, but it was not yet possible to specify what it consisted of and how the devil sought to carry out his intentions. According to the other perspective, which was later developed, it did not last this long, since it had consisted of individual attacks and a special occasion had to be created for the first emergence of Satan. The hunger that followed the forty-day fast thus became the first opportunity that Satan used for his attacks – but then how could it be said that the temptation lasted forty days? It was very easy, given Luke’s authorial character, which could not yet be completely separated from that of his predecessor (as we have already noted in a striking example *)), and the fact that he found that less precise perspective in the writing of Mark. He was involuntarily drawn into its train and wrote it down verbatim.**)

*) και ην εκει εν τη ερημω ημερας τεσσαρακοντα πειραζομενος υπο του σατανα.

*) Luke 3:3-4

**) It is indisputably certain that the words ημερας τεσσαρακοντα πειραζομενος υπο του διαβολου in the scripture of Luke are authentic, because if the first temptation is related to hunger, it must be said beforehand that Jesus fasted. Luke also says this: και ουκ εφαγεν ουδεν εν ταις ημεραις εκειναις. ‘In those days’ and ‘after the lapse of them’ (και συντελεσθεισων αυτων) can only be said by a writer who has previously spoken of those days and specified that it was a certain number of days. Similarly, it is certain that the words ‘tempted by Satan for forty days’ especially in this extremely clumsy position, cannot possibly originate from a writer who freely writes from his own view and has a completely different understanding of the temptation, its cessation, and therefore its duration. This contradiction is the strongest proof that the words ‘ἡμέρας τεσσεράκοντα πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ διαβόλου = tempted by Satan for forty days’ were read in the Gospel of Luke by the writer of Mark and were only retained by him because he cannot deny the dependence on the scripture of his predecessor under completely different assumptions. Wilke (a.a.O. p. 664) thinks that the words were inserted later from Luke’s scripture into Mark’s, but that contradiction alone will be proof that they are only in Mark’s Gospel. Wilke (op. cit. p. 664.) thinks that the words were rather shifted from the writing of Luke into that of Marcus later, but that contradiction will be proof enough that they are at home in that of Marκ alone. For the necessity of deleting the words και ην εκει εν τη ερημω ημερας τεσσαρακοντα πειραζομενος υπο του σατανα in Mark 1:13, Wilke (in the same reference, p. 664) cites the two consecutive και ην: Mark immediately continues with και ην μετα των θηριων. “Mark’s writing style is not so disconnected and irregular,” says Wilke. But interdum dormitat Homerus, why not Mark? Why not at the moment when it is possible that he is still struggling with the object and has not yet completely overcome the individual determinations of it? Is it not possible then that the individual determinations, 1. for what purpose this stay in the wilderness became for Jesus and 2. what his state was during this time, do not yet present themselves easily and comfortably to him and are now inserted into the narrative with a uniform approach? Wilke also says: in the writing of Mark “one should not seek anything else but the message that Jesus stayed somewhere after his baptism and before he appeared publicly (which happened only after John’s arrest)” (p. 663). But precisely in the writing of Mark, who usually does not leave any part of his account unmotivated, we should expect to be told the purpose for which Jesus was driven into the wilderness. The more violent the way in which the Spirit brought (ἐκβάλλει) Jesus into the wilderness, the more certain we can be that there must have been a special reason for this stay in solitude. Mark cannot mean to say that Jesus stayed in the wilderness for a long, indefinite time; for (C. 1, 9.) Jesus comes from Galilee to the baptism, and he returns to Galilee when the Baptist was arrested. Therefore, Mark had to say necessarily why and how long Jesus had kept himself away from his home, and the two other Synoptics had to be authorized by a statement of his work to set Jesus’ baptism, his temptation and his return to his home after the arrest of the Baptist in such close connection that everything follows one after the other. Otherwise, Mark never leaves such a large gap in the life of the Lord open and indefinite, as he would have done here if those words were to be struck out. Although Wilke says, ‘of John the Baptist himself, before he appeared, it is said (Luke 1:80) that he was in the wilderness until the time of his coming forth. The same is said of Jesus. Is anything else required?’ We require much more, namely nothing more and nothing less than the note of the temptation. Because 1. Wilke must not rely on a note that is only in Luke’s Gospel to determine what can be expected from Mark. 2. The wilderness and the preacher of repentance go well together, but not the wilderness and the one whose presence is so joyful (Mark 2:19) that fasting or penance in his vicinity would be a contradiction; therefore, if he himself withdraws into the wilderness, there must be particularly urgent reasons for it. 3. The Baptist has not yet appeared in Luke 1:80, but Jesus is inaugurated for his public ministry through baptism; so why the withdrawal into the wilderness? It remains that the Gospel of Mark must not be without the note of the temptation.


If now Mark has nothing further to report on the temptation than that it happened at all and lasted forty days, where does Luke get the starting point for the first specific temptation he reports, the fasting? From the Gospel of Mark. The latter ends his account with the words, “And the angels ministered to him.” The Messiah, like Moses, was served by angels, and surely Mark already means for the same purpose for which that angel served Moses (1 Kings 19:5-8), namely for the miraculous preservation of life. But Mark hardly means that the Lord was served by angels every day during his stay in the wilderness and during the temptation. Instead, just as Elijah was strengthened by the miraculous food for a journey of forty days, so the Lord was given the miraculous food by the angels after a struggle he had endured for forty days. On the one hand, therefore, as far as Mark assumes that Jesus fasted during the time of temptation, Luke has cleverly linked his account to it. But in this respect, he has made a mistake by leaving the note of the forty-day temptation standing even after he had made the exhaustion following the forty-day fast the first specific cause of the temptation.


Matthew could calmly observe Luke’s account and discover its internal contradictions. With artistic skill, he reconciled the matter by making the fasting last for forty days and nights, and only after Jesus finally *) becomes hungry does he allow the tempter to approach him.

*) ὕστερον is shifted from the Gospel of Matthew in Luke 4:2.

At the end of the narrative, Matthew also had to make some adjustments. Luke, who was still too preoccupied with forming the three specific temptations, had not yet thought of reconciling them with the conclusion of Mark’s account, which states that the angels ministered to Jesus. The temptations in Luke’s account follow one another in such a way that Satan first tries to use Jesus’ hunger for his purposes, then leads him up a high mountain, and finally takes him to Jerusalem, where he places him on the pinnacle of the temple. Luke had wanted to preserve the unity of place as much as possible, so he still had the second temptation occur outside *) before Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem. But here in the city, he no longer has the opportunity to make use of the ministering of the angels, which only has purpose and meaning in the wilderness, so he forgets it and notes instead at the end that Satan had departed from the Lord for the time being.

*) Bengel says: “He observes no progression in locations.” Similarly, Gfrörer in his work “Heilige Sage I, 115” states, “Finally, the devil brings the Lord to the holiest place of Judaism, the Temple.” However, in this sense of progression, Luke surely did not have the location of the temptations in mind. Unity of place was the main concern for him.


Matthew, since he doesn’t have to create the story anymore, nor does he have to laboriously move the narrative from the wilderness over the mountain to Jerusalem, has the advantage **), that he can boldly and recklessly intervene in the location determinations, arrange the temptations according to their intensity, and finally, as Mark did, connect them to the end of the story. So Satan leads Jesus directly from the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple, from there to that mountain where he shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and here in the open, in solitude, the angels wait for the Lord when the tempter had left him.

**) But Bengel cannot even admit that, since according to his conviction Luke basically knew the matter just as well as Matthaeus, Bengel may therefore only say, eo temporis ordine describit assultus, quo facti sunt.

Now there is no question as to whether the biblical accounts of the temptation of Jesus tell us history! Yes, they want to, they imagine the process as an externally occurring event. But why ask if we, just like them and the earlier community, may understand the temptation of Jesus by Satan as a real event – well understood! an event whose threads Satan guided with wonderful power when he brought Jesus from the wilderness to the pinnacle of the temple and that mountain where all the kingdoms of the world and their glory can be seen? Why ask when we have seen how these accounts owe their origin to the art of writing? But one thing – and that is the main thing – we have not yet seen arise, the note that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness at all, which we already find in the Gospel of Mark. Until we have also established the idea of the story from which the postulate of the fact had to necessarily emerge, in the self-awareness of the community, until then we must still allow the attempt to grasp the accounts historically and have patience with the apologetic explanations.


With the best of intentions, we cannot keep our resolution. The apologist cannot help but provoke and make us impatient. But let us practice more courageously in patience. The believing theologian wants to grasp the core of the report historically, but he is overcome by an insurmountable dread when he has to acknowledge the true core of the narrative, the visible and personal appearance of the devil. However, he is skilled enough to make amends for his disbelief in the biblical text: does he not repent for his unbelief, or does he not give the devil sufficient satisfaction when he makes up for the rudeness with which he expels him from the report by waging a holy war against reason and at least fighting for his existence in general?

So, let’s fight! First, we grant the devil his full right, which is attributed to him by the biblical text. He is indeed a fallen angel, but still an angel who appears visibly as an individual and according to the report, can be recognized outwardly approaching Jesus. Otherwise, the apologists admit that the appearances of angels are perceived in their individual visibility: why should the devil suddenly lose this privilege of his angelic nature? We know why. The devil is not only considered a particular individual, like any other angel, but also the general power of evil. But then, let’s confess that evil in its generality cannot exist at the same time as an individual! Certainly – who denies this? – the general will always bring itself to the determination of the individual, but this individuality is no longer that self-being which still belongs to the immediacy of being, it is no longer the point of an exclusive individuality, but the individuality that carries within itself the determination of the general, i.e., in its actual existence, self-consciousness. However, this self-consciousness is no longer an individual ego, but the generality into which the ego is elevated from its immediacy, in which it appears as an unrestricted majority and has abandoned its punctuality. Finally, evil as pure negativity cannot even bring itself to this existence of universality, i.e., to the fulfillment of self-consciousness; it is only a moment in the development of the spirit, i.e., in that elevation of the ego to its true universality, a moment that is overcome in the completed elevation, in the infinite self-consciousness. It is the dialectical appearance of determination that exists only at the moment of that elevation and experiences its nothingness in the result.


The apologist may well – that is his right – reject this concept of evil “most emphatically, *)” but as long as he cannot help the devil achieve his existence other than by protesting against reason and science, we are allowed to simply reject the protest. This is what is done in the form of law, since the protest does not provide any new evidence, with this statement.

*) such as Neander, p. 100.


Or are these new and important arguments that Hoffmann brings forth? He disputes against Schleiermacher, who famously called the idea of the devil “incoherent,” because it is not comprehensible “how the most outstanding insight could coexist with such heinous wickedness.” Nothing is easier to comprehend, according to Hoffmann *), one just should not “confuse insight as the correct development of intelligence with intelligence itself, which can just as easily waste its power in error.” But if we are to be fair advocates of the devil, we will never speak words that cannot be understood. So tell us, the apologist, how is it possible for intelligence to be developed without passing through error? Understand us correctly: we want to know the idea that has appeared in history and has not announced itself in the appearance of error for centuries before. So, if the devil is supposed to be there to represent error, then we don’t need him, or he is an abstract representative, superfluous since we must recognize a much livelier and more substantive appearance of error in the manifold attempts of history. On the other hand, we ask the apologist to give us an idea of absolute error. We are unable to form one, for error is never without a share of truth that works on it internally until it is resolved, proven to be a mere appearance, and dissolved into the universality of self-consciousness.

*) op cit. p. 317.

With a different turn of reflection, Schleiermacher says, “But if the devil lost even the purest understanding in his fall, it cannot be seen how, through one error of the will, the understanding should be lost forever.” “Unless,” Hoffmann replies, “the action simultaneously sets the disposition and determines a chain of similar actions.” In short, the spirit is always a struggle against a specificity that can only assert itself for a moment and only as a moment within it, for the sake of its universality, which it can never lose except in the state of insanity. And the apologist would not want to make the devil a lunatic in the medical sense, would he?


No! He still has another means for his final desperation. Every advocate who cannot rely on the inner reasons has a trick that he can play to win. But lamenting unbelief is already worn out. Protesting with disgust does not help anymore when it comes to thinking. So prepare the matter so well that it no longer repels! “The ethical worldview of revelation removes all adventurousness from the doctrine of the devil,” says Hoffmann*. Not all! We would not even say that the idea of the devil seems adventurous to us; we have too much respect for what religious consciousness has created. Of course, but that goes without saying. Why does the apologist think that this would impress us? The Hebrew view, when it adopted the dualistic idea of nature religion, had to reconcile it with its determinacy and interests, and the Christian view had to continue this transformation. But what does that mean other than that an idea that in the circle of nature religion embraced both the spiritual and natural opposition was limited in its later modification to the realm of spiritual opposition alone? Does the idea not still remain mere imagination, since, as religious consciousness cannot do otherwise, it makes dialectic, which only appears in the historical mediation of self-consciousness, into an individual subject?

That would be one part of the process.

A new difficulty arises. Not in the biblical account! It can still be reconciled with the assumption of Jesus’ sinlessness that the Savior of humanity was tempted, for the tempting thoughts came from outside, belonged to a foreign subject, and were repulsed as soon as they were expressed. Already here the difficulty begins, since a real temptation, a temptation that would be worth the word, could only exist if those thoughts became real thoughts of Jesus, even if only for a moment of the struggle. But in its terrible seriousness, the difficulty arises when the educated theologian no longer lets the devil appear externally visible; for somehow the interior of Jesus must now be drawn into the development of the event. The process becomes – it may be as it will, or the matter may be held in the indeterminacy that apologetic reasoning can only achieve – an internal one: either —


But let us first hear from the theologian who expressed his disgust most emphatically and whose protest the apologists faithfully repeat, even though it must also apply to their interpretation. Schleiermacher, who was first so shocked when the temptation was made into a process in Jesus’ soul, has tried the ultimate means to cut off all the harmful consequences that would inevitably arise if the biblical account were still understood as a report of a fact in Jesus’ life. He has turned it into a parable. Let us see if he himself is not caught by his own protest.

2.  The Temptation story as a parable.

“If Jesus even entertained such thoughts in the slightest way,” says Schleiermacher*), “he is no longer Christ, and the explanation which regards the temptation as an internal process in Christ himself appears to me as the worst neoteric blasphemy committed against his person.”

*) On the Writings of Luke, p. 54.


Harsh judge, you have pronounced the sentence on yourself!

According to Schleiermacher, the temptation story is a parable that Jesus presented to his disciples. “The three main characters of Christ, for himself and for those who were to promote his kingdom with extraordinary powers through him, are expressed in it.”

Harsh judge!

For now, Jesus would have sinned against himself and committed the worst sin against his person if he had made himself the subject of a parable and taught his disciples the idea that unworthy thoughts could arise in his soul. Jesus could not even create the parable if he did not consider himself capable of such thoughts as those presented as tempting in the parable, for only such a subject can become the person of a parable in which the presented complications are natural and self-understood. For example, in the parable of the sower, it is natural that he sows and the seed falls here and there. But what makes this entire explanation impossible is the fact that no one can make themselves the subject of a parable. Only fictitious characters may serve as the subject of a parable because only they can serve its purpose. These individual characters, a sower, a king, a merchant, give the parable the appearance of reporting an actual event, but an appearance that always dissolves at the end of the parable when it is seen that these individual characters are only representatives of their kind and are already fictitious in their behavior to portray the relations of a higher world. Making a historical person or even the subject presenting the parable would make this transition to the general and to a world above the empirical more difficult or even impossible if they were made the subject of the parable.


Therefore, even Schleiermacher’s explanation cannot do justice to the dogmatic interest, what can we expect from those who make the temptation an event that occurred in the soul of Jesus?


3.  The temptation as an inner event.

As an inner event, the temptation remains, for the apologist, essentially the same as it is presented in the biblical account; it is brought about by Satan and consists of the three attacks that the evangelists report. Only to the extent that the theologian departs from the view of the sacred writers does he no longer assume that the devil appeared externally visible to forcibly take Jesus from the wilderness to the top of the temple and that mountain.

“The most appropriate,” says Olshausen *), “is undoubtedly to locate the incident as a purely spiritual, inner event, into the inner world of the spirit. The temptation consisted of the ψυχη Jesus being exposed to the full influence of the kingdom of darkness.” Hoffmann informs us more precisely about the true course of events **). “In the temptation, the inner vision was raised to the outer, not as if what was only subjectively present had now become objective; rather, a real fact, but a fact of the spirit world, was now seen.” “A psychic seeing really transported Jesus, who remained in the wilderness, to the top of the temple and the high mountain.” “The devil did not act physically, but as a spirit.”

What agony! If we free ourselves from the biblical account and reason, if we do not want to tolerate this senseless torture – do we deserve the apologetic thunder? Well, if that is the case, then let us be thundered and lightning-struck, if only to show that the senselessness is as enormous as it is purposeless.

*) I, 183, 184

**) ibid. p. 327.


First, let us free the account from the terrible torture under which it has been groaning and moaning for so long, until the apologist finally silenced it. The Evangelists know nothing of a spiritual seeing, of Jesus wandering while remaining in the wilderness. Why does Luke not mention the angels waiting on Jesus and bringing him food after the third temptation on the pinnacle of the temple? Because he deemed it inappropriate and unnecessary if Jesus were in the holy city. Why does Matthew include this conclusion that was present in the original account of Mark? Because he has altered the sequence of temptations and placed Jesus in a situation – away from human society – during the third diabolical attack, where the attendance of angels could indeed have been useful. It cannot, therefore, be denied that both Evangelists allow Jesus to be truly and outwardly transported by the miraculous power of the devil *) to the pinnacle of the temple and the high mountain.

Once the account has regained its right and free speech, reason will also be reinstated in its rights, and its business will be just as easy to carry out since it is only a matter of drawing attention to the contradictions in the apologetic argument. We need only restore language to its privilege that words are not just sounds but also signify thoughts. If we read those arguments, it would indeed seem that words signify everything except the thought that everyone has associated with them until now. But with a jolt, the apologist will awaken and be shocked to realize what he has spoken or written in his sleep.

*) As Bengel says: “mirabilis potestas tentatori concessa”. Bengel also acknowledges that the devil appeared to the Lord in an externally visible manner, so he leaves the report unharmed in this respect, even if he dares the wonderful guess: “videtur tentato sub schemate γραμματιως, scribae, apparuisse; quia sγεγραπται, scriptum est, ei ter opponitur.”


“The absolute purity of Jesus, says Olshausen *), in no way allows for the derivation of an impure thought from him.” But if Olshausen also says that the temptation consisted in the fact that Jesus’ soul was exposed to the influence of the realm of darkness, then is not this exposure already the most real possibility of temptation, or a deficiency that cannot be restrained by any force in the guise of indeterminacy, but is driven by its inner dialectic towards specificity and revealed positively in thoughts that recognize it as a deficiency? What need is there for the devil when Jesus’ soul was capable of exposure, from which the tempting thoughts alone could arise? Finally, when Olshausen says, “the temptation of Jesus took place in the depths of his inner life **),” then in this depth of the innermost, the temptation is drawn so far in – but should we really write down words whose tautology is the most absurd thing in the world? – so far into the depth of the innermost that it has become an inner determination of the spirit and the question is only whether it should be established or overcome as this determination.

Hoffmann justifies the possibility of Jesus’ temptation somewhat coarser by asking: “with the high swelling of self-feeling, after the outstanding assurance was given to him in the baptism that he was the Son of God, was it not possible that a frivolous confidence in the already received certainty of victory would have taken hold of him, through which he would have been distracted from waking and praying ***) ?” We are far from making Jesus a character who was ever capable of frivolity in relation to his historical mission, but to the good apologist who rides so high on his words, we may point out that frivolity already contains temptation within it and that it takes only the smallest and most remote opportunity, not of temptation but of instant downfall. If frivolity is not yet the fall itself, then the slightest and most remote thing is enough to drag it into the abyss.

*) l, 183.

**) I, 192.

***) p. 313. 311.


Hoffmann also informs us about how the temptation occurred in detail. He says *) : “The first thought for Jesus when he was hungry had to be (!) that he only needed to exploit his power over nature for the sake of his earthly needs. These thoughts, in which there was nothing evil in themselves, inexplicably became a demand and thus a temptation arose.” In the compendiums of psychology, one may find this machine called human, with its drawers labeled thought, will, etc. In life and reality, however, one does not know this mummy; in reality, the thought itself is what determines, in itself the will, as it translates into the postulate through its own motion.

Now we understand what it means when the apologist declares so emphatically that “a purely internal creation of the stimulus to sin (in Jesus) was beyond the limits of possibility **) :” it means nothing, they are words written for the sake of a dogmatic assumption, but are immediately forgotten when the theologian speaks of the matter itself, when he speaks of temptation. Does not Hoffmann himself say: “since Jesus was a real human being, it goes without saying that after the lasting elevation (after the baptism), a state of emotional weakness ensued, as it always does with strong swells of feeling. Already in this lay temptation in itself.” Enough! The theologian need not say more to acknowledge that the possibility of sin lay in Jesus. At least this much the theologian must say if he wishes to speak about how Jesus could be tempted at all. He has said enough: if there was already temptation in those oscillations of the inner spiritual life in themselves, then the devil is too late, for these same inner oscillations of the spirit drive the in-itself already towards real temptation soon enough.

*) p. 321.

**) Ibid. p. 320.


The other view, which is possible on this standpoint of apologetics, considers the temptation as a series of “facts of Jesus’ inner life,” but does not dare to determine anything more precise about “to what extent and in what way Satan actually collaborated here” to lead Jesus astray. Even less does it believe it has the right to do so, since the temptation story is “only a fragmentary symbolic representation of those facts of his inner life” *).

*) Neander, p. 101.

So this representation should not be a parable, since it contains “historical truth,” even down to the point that Jesus actually withdrew into solitude and fasted when he fell into those struggles that are symbolically depicted in the temptation story. But how should the disciples, how should the Church, if this representation was calculated for their “practical need,” separate the symbolic element from the historical one? Wouldn’t Jesus have caused the greatest misunderstandings and errors through this representation if he spoke as if he were telling a real event from his life and gave no hint at which point he transitioned to the symbolic representation? If it is a bare empirical fact that he went into the wilderness, fasted, and finally hungered, how can one suddenly recognize that the first tempting thought “presented to him” was not presented by the bodily appearing Devil, that he was not led up to the pinnacle of the temple as really as he had really gone into the wilderness before? Who can make this separation in form at all? Who else but the unbelieving apologist who, despite all his insistence on the existence of the Devil, still does not dare to accept a real, bodily appearance of the Devil openly and decisively? Yes, only the half-believing apologist understands this separation, he alone knows that when the Devil leaves the scene, at that moment the symbolic element begins. The disciples of Jesus did not understand this trick yet; when they heard the Lord talk about an appearance of Satan, they were sure that it had really happened just as their Master spoke.


And how incredible does the first temptation become without the belief that Satan tempted Jesus, by a hunger that could have been satisfied by the first root available!

Neander’s explanation still has the same apologetic interest that we have already recognized in his inconsistency as its basis. The temptations, he says *), presented themselves to the Lord “in the form of a vision”. “But,” he immediately adds, “we cannot assume that in him there were such temptations that could have stimulated any germ of self-interest within him, which could have been incited by an external stimulus.” That is a lot! No, it is too much, for a person to think anything under these words, or we would have to see more than a ghost in Jesus. Even “to what extent” the devil collaborated in this, Neander wants to leave undecided, and now we are to believe that visions that formed in Jesus without devilish stimuli, formed in him without having any “point of connection”? Where do they come from? How could they even exist for a moment in Jesus? Where is even the appearance of a struggle, if they did not stand in him as serious visions, contrary to his own being? Neander wants to name the point of connection: “only the sensual weakness, which can exist without self-interest, was common to Jesus and human nature, and from this side a struggle could strike him.” Again, the apologetic half-measure, which can only hold out for a moment through a long-lost psychology and immediately collapses in its weakness when its category is properly carried out. If sensual weakness is to be the point at which a temptation could “connect” with Jesus, then it must be a mental determination – i.e., we must not remain at the earlier rationalistic view, which derived evil from sensuality and from the influences of the latter on the mind. However, sensuality, when it comes to evil and temptation, is not only to be understood mentally, but the determination of the spirit itself, which as such is the impulse of movement in which it develops its power, reigns for a moment and is then overcome by the universality of the spirit. However, it cannot be overcome (or the overcoming does not deserve this name) if it is not actually experienced in the critical moment as the inner, serious determination of the spirit.

*) Neander, p. 85.


4.  The Temptation as an Inner Struggle.

But can Jesus’ dialogue with Satan be interpreted as an inner struggle within the Lord’s soul? Would those three temptations still retain the meaning that could be significant for Jesus if they were seen in the form in which they are reported as historical events? Without hesitation! Only now do they gain the meaning that they would lack if they were to be seen as historical events in the form in which they are reported.

The temptation in the first temptation is neither just the impulse to satisfy sensual needs, nor is the way of satisfying hunger only of interest in relation to sensual needs; rather, this relationship to needs recedes into the background at the moment of temptation, and the point is solely and purely the relationship of the spirit to nature. The temptation lies in the ambiguous power of the spirit to recognize and want everything, in the power whose delusion can lead it to no longer recognize nature as such, but to transform it against its determination and to turn it into a food for the spirit in a malevolent desire. This is “that spiritually intensified sensual pleasure which, driven by spiritual hunger, desires the sensual not for its own sake, but precisely as nourishment for the spirit.”

Spiritual lust is directed against the relationships that are already of a spiritual nature in the second temptation. “Throw yourself down,” that is the tempting voice here, “throw yourself into all dangers, you can dare everything, for no relationship is valid for you and no collision is so difficult that it could harm you. The abyss into which ordinary spirits are shattered when they wantonly venture into it and do not want to go through the laborious mediations by which it ceases to be an abyss, this abyss holds no danger for the high-standing spirit. In the face of the first temptation, the apt response is that the spirit must not create its own nourishment arbitrarily, but must only accept it as given. Equally striking is the answer to the second temptation: the spirit must not create collisions wantonly, i.e., only to prove its superior power in them.


In the first two temptations, evil appears veiled: it still hesitates with the catchword and the seductive appearance that is inherent in the idea of the power of the spirit and can become the most tempting incitement to sin. The progress to the third temptation lies in the fact that evil emerges in its true form and seeks to seduce by showing the abundance of power and glory it commands.

Indeed, such a temptation to the “sin of genius” could not be spared to the Lord. The higher spirit is always exposed to deeper temptations, as thoughts arise in him that are unknown or at least do not approach a lower spirit with this cutting danger. The temptations to which Jesus was exposed had to be the widest-ranging, most daring, and encompass the entire interest of the spirit, its relationship to nature, existing relationships, and the impulse of the spirit towards world domination.

But no time was more suitable or natural for these tempting thoughts to emerge than the time after the baptism, when Jesus had decided on his messianic mission. Was the consciousness of his mission of such infinite scope decided in him at the same moment as the consciousness of the way, even the possibility, of carrying out his mission? Whoever receives the certainty of a mission of such immense scope for the first time must and should feel himself raised to such an extraordinary height in the same moment, where the considerations for all reasonable relationships to which not only the lower spirit but also the idea must submit themselves no longer appear necessary.


However, it should not be assumed that the temptations followed one another rapidly and only took a short time. Rather, each temptation must be preceded by an indefinite agitation of the soul, in which the tempting thought gradually announces itself as a premonition of a possibility and presents itself to the soul in changing forms until it solidifies in the sharpness of its entire danger. It is therefore more than likely that what our Gospels present as a fact completed in a short time was actually a series of inner struggles and took a longer period of time, which is necessary to assume between the baptism of Jesus and his public appearance.

If Jesus really experienced struggles of this kind, there was no reason for him not to speak of them to his disciples. It is always pleasant and one likes to do it with trusted ones whom one loves, to speak with them about inner experiences and to share with them the struggles and mental mediations by which one has come to the decisiveness of a certain standpoint. One believes that by opening up the most hidden aspects of one’s own mind, one gives the best testimony of trust and affection to those who are trusted; on the other hand, one feels driven by an irresistible force to make such disclosures because only by speaking of these transitions does one fully confront their struggles and reveal that they have indeed ceased to be struggles, and that they have become something foreign that is now discarded and done away with. Thus, Jesus may have spoken of the struggles of his temptations – perhaps more than once – but in this case, it was necessary for him to condense what had spread out over a longer period of time into a coherent form and present it as a fact, for which no form was more suitable than the symbolic.


So far, we have followed Weisse’s view *). However, not to the extent that he believes Jesus “should have explained this parable with the intention of providing his disciples with a historical or psychological insight into his states of mind or the course of his moral education. It was also not the character of that time to give such insights.” But if Jesus had become like us in being tempted and had taken the thought of temptation seriously, we do not see why the Lord should not have been driven by the general human feeling that does not rest until the secrets of the soul are uncovered. Indeed, it would be quite appropriate in this case for Jesus to have led the way with the example of boldness and self-assurance, which is unharmed in confessing internal struggles and mediations and which only became possible in his community. After all, according to Weisse’s view, Jesus appears at the beginning as a real human when he is tempted. Why should he suddenly stop being human and not fully experience the nature of humanity? He cannot, because he is not a human being, not a real self-consciousness that experiences the dialectic of the opposition as its own nature, and as we have already seen, he remains, even according to Weisse, the ghost of apologetics. A temptation in which the tempting thoughts remain even “relatively” external is no longer a temptation, a struggle in which the possibility of being different has not even become the “mere internal actuality of the will” is not a struggle, because there is no enemy to be fought inside self-consciousness.

*) II, 18-26

If Weisse’s view falls back on the apologetic circle from this side, it cannot escape the same fate if it describes the temptation story as a parable that Jesus himself told. Weisse suspects that “when telling this parable, Jesus did not immerse himself in the first person; rather, the subject of the parable formed the typical personality of the ‘Son of Man.’ What was told about this personality then had a meaning that, by extending the content drawn from deep moral experience to the universality of the idea, rises just as far above the individuality and contingency of the psychological fact as such as it does above the abstract universality of the merely parabolic.” However, the impossible will never be made possible. The temptation story cannot be a parable that Jesus himself told. Even the Son of Man is not a personality that would be “typical” in the sense that attributes and actions attributed to it could be grasped by Jesus and the disciples with consciousness as an expression of an idea that could be separated and distinguished from this personality. Rather, whatever the Son of Man does, suffers, and experiences, no matter how general it may be, no matter how much it may be the determination of the idea, it will always be the determination, the doing or suffering, that belongs individually to this personality for the consciousness of Jesus and the disciples.


All apologetic arguments are now exhausted, and the only gain to be had from such a significant expenditure of effort, from all these temptations and struggles of human thought, is the unshakable result that the biblical account of the temptation neither narrates a fact from the life of Jesus, nor can it be a symbolic representation that Jesus gave of the struggles within himself. The evangelists, to be sure, want to report a fact from the life of Jesus; but on the one hand, it remains impossible to grasp these reports historically, as they demand, especially since we have seen how they gradually came into being. On the other hand – and this is the final decisive proof – it is only the convention of artistic representation to arrange the life of a hero so that the temptations converge in the one moment before the public appearance and form the decisive struggle that the rest of life follows in the one chosen direction; at most, at the end of life, there may be one more struggle that looks similar to a temptation for this representation. In real life, however, temptations arise in their true significance and danger only when the self-consciousness has already begun the struggle with the hostile powers, comes into direct contact with them, and either gets to know them in their seductive appearance or feels tempted to overcome them in a way that disregards human and moral laws.


It is only a matter of how the view that formed the account came to be.


5.  The Origin of the Temptation Story.

According to Strauss, it arose and was “put together from Old Testament prototypes.” “For, if the most devout of the Hebrews of antiquity, and even the people of Israel themselves, were tempted by God in the earlier view and by the devil in the later one, what was more natural than the idea that Satan would dare to attack the Messiah, the head of all the righteous and the representative and champion of the people of God, more than anyone else *) ?”

However, as has already been noted, and we need only repeat it because it is completely accurate: “the mere idea of the possibility, or even the equally abstract idea of the necessity of such a course of events, would only be called an idea. We would only find that type molded into a real myth if either an incident arose from Jesus’ inner life *) which allowed no other expression than a symbolic one for the thought process of that time, or if a spiritual element of the general world-historical conditions of Christianity were to be depicted, with an expression corresponding to it **) .”

*) L. J. I, 479. 481.

*) Of course, we do not accept this first case, which Weisse had to posit according to the positive nature of his view. If the community were to produce a view, it would necessarily be interested in doing so.

**) Weisse, II, 14, in agreement with Neander, L. J. Ch. p. 93.


That’s right! Only internal movements and experiences of the community could have aroused the interest required for the development of such a significant perspective and could have given it general significance at all. It goes without saying that if the community was to represent its experiences and internal struggles as a struggle of the Savior, they had to be struggles that it had to face as a community, in communion with its principle and only because of its principle with itself and the world. They were struggles in which the self-consciousness of the principle, as it lived in the community, was itself drawn in.

The puzzle is solved. Although Neander says – allow us to transcribe the long sentence – “the mythical interpretation contradicts the content of this narrative, for we do not recognize in it the shining through of a certain circle of ideas that characterizes the environment in which Christianity first developed, as we would expect if it were the spirit of this environment that had invented such a myth, but rather we find in it the spirit of wisdom and prudence, which is in conflict with the dominant ideas and spiritual trends of this time.” Now, precisely this contradiction with its struggles and the victory of the spirit, the triumph of the principle and its self-consciousness, is objectified in this perspective as the struggle and victory of the person in whose form the community could only envision its principle.


Even Weisse cannot divert us from the only path that leads to an explanation of the problem, when he asserts that there is no moment in the Temptation Story that can be recognized as part of the “general world-historical relations” of the community. He says: “In the Temptation Story, it is so exclusively the ethical, belonging to the personality as such, to the will and actions of the individual, that has determined its form and individual character, that in every interpretation that seeks to expand or touch on something more distant, this characteristic peculiarity is completely lost and blurred.” However, the personal is also in this narrative nothing more than the only possible form available to the community when it completes the perception of its interests, experiences, and the self-consciousness of its principle. The personality of religious perception is always also of general significance, namely the substance of the community, and that in the Temptation Story, the ethical forms the climax, comes solely from the fact that in it the ethical power of the community or its principle is viewed in collision with the world conditions.

The Temptation Story portrays the subordination and incorporation of the community into the reason of nature and history. The struggle fought in this matter is the one that the idea of the abstract universality, power, and transcendence of the principle had to lead with the empirical world until victory was won, the reason of the world conditions recognized, and the idea of immediately intervening from the universality of the idea to destroy the opposition abandoned.

A principle of such wide universality as the Christian one, which drew the whole life of the spirit out of previous relations and concentrated it in a faith that was already the inversion of all world relations, if it saw in the life and suffering of the Crucified the revelation of absolute truth – such a principle could not help but have been revolutionized to the innermost core of its ideas, desires, and passions without violent struggles and upheavals, could not have come into contact with reality and history at all, and finally balanced itself. The absolute world of faith was an absolutely inner one, it was for the perception a beyond and, as far as it had previously appeared in empirical appearance, in the sufferings of the Redeemer, it appeared as a contradiction with itself, with its meaning of being the absolute, and with the real world – how could the perception of the Absolute have felt calmly, coolly, and phlegmatically satisfied in these contradictions? Impossible! Those contradictions are in themselves the driving force behind their movement and triggering, or they are already their triggering themselves. If absolute truth appears in lowliness – does the high still apply? If the world of faith is the inner one – does the existing, real world still have validity before it? Just as little as history and the laws of its development can still find recognition if the only principle that applies to perception is a transcendent and so general, so comprehensive one that the laborious mediations of the real historical spirit disappear as null and unnecessary before it!


If we want to know whether the Christian principle really developed as the idea of this upheaval of all reasonable laws, we certainly do not have to look far. The belief in miracles nullified the laws of nature, so that nature no longer remained as such and was only taken as a testimony of the spirit on the detour when it revealed itself and the harmony of its law, but only as this testimony and as a confirmation of the spirit, it was considered when it was robbed of its naturalness and determinacy by force and turned into a game of the spirit. We can see how little the existing conditions of history were valued, how the self-consciousness of the new principle trembled with impatience to see them shattered and how a deadly collision arose between the omnipotence of the principle and the historical conditions in the Book of Revelation. The fact that people finally indulged in the thought that the new principle would soon subject the glory of the world to itself and give its followers the plunder for enjoyment is taught to us by the early development of chiliasm.


Do we need more evidence to convince ourselves that all the struggles and collisions that the temptation story portrays occupied the community to the fullest extent and were very serious and impactful for it? The sobriety and inner security of the principle carried the victory, a victory that the temptation story portrays after the experiences of the community, because they concern the principle itself, were transformed into an event in the life of Jesus. The moment had to come when the community, in danger of plunging into the abyss into which its feverish excitement threatened to throw it, became frightened, regained its composure, and at least allowed the existing, nature, historical circumstances, and the power of the world to remain to the extent that it resigned itself to the sudden overthrow of them and, in faith in the divine omnipotence, which would carry out and decide the fight at the right time, calmed down *).

*) When apologists (such as Neander, p. 105) say that the temptation story is “not a real but true story” in the “form” in which it is transmitted in the Gospels, this is only a flight into an indeterminacy, in which the question of reality is to be cut off. The advantage of the criticism, which traces the account back to its birthplace, in the self-awareness of the community, is that it can also designate and understand the temptation story as a real story. It cannot cut off the question of true reality; it poses and answers that question.

The Old Testament models, the temptations to which the pious were subjected, the passage through the desert during which the people also struggled with temptations, Moses’ forty-day fast, the angel’s visit who brought food to Elijah – all this did not create the biblical account but only served to give a more precise form to a view that had developed independently within the community. The formative self-awareness reached for those models because it seemed natural to it that, according to the unanimous law of history, the experiences of the Messiah had to have the same form in which similar struggles had always taken place; finally, it also reached for these models because it instinctively sensed in them the same thought with which it was occupied in its own representation.


Mark made the first attempt and gathered the simple elements of the narrative. Jesus is tempted for forty days in the wilderness and stays among the animals during this time. As for the latter mention, we may rightfully assume from the outset that no detail is insignificant in such a brief account. If one says that the animals are the natural environment of someone who dwells in the wilderness, one must remember that the decoration of a scene in a freely composed work of art always has an inner relation to the mood, movement, and main purpose of the scene, that it belongs as an attribute to the acting person and reflects its interior. In short, the animals that surround Jesus during the temptation are the symbol of the “passions and desires” *) that seek to intrude into him.

Luke, who developed the elements that Mark provided into specific forms, no longer needs this environment of animals, since the individual attacks of the devil have brought the passions and desires to the fore and transformed them into thoughts. With the same artistic skill, Luke also worked out the meaning that lies in the symbol of the wilderness and the fast to the specific temptations – of course, we add, by means of the struggles of the community providing him with the material. What is fasting as a symbol other than withdrawing from the ordinary entanglement with the nourishing spiritual substance, so that it no longer, as if it understood itself so naturally, and without any special effort of the will, is in unity with the spirit, but is separated as a foreign object, as an object of reflection and free appropriation by the ego, which appears as the empty, which must again unite with its substance through a struggle of will and the effort of a new decision? The true and only suitable place for this struggle of deprivation and the now mediated appropriation is the wilderness because here only is the struggle, the deprivation, and the double possibility of decision serious and urgent. In the solitude, the spirit is separated from the power, enjoyment, and glory of the world, but all the more in tension against the satisfaction that is denied to it, and now the question has become immense: whether it should forcefully absorb the substance within itself to immediately eliminate its deprivations, satisfy itself, and appropriate the world with all its glory, or should it be content with the inner possession of its infinite principle and trust in its silent and gradual working power.


The community has fought through the desert of the world, struggled with diabolical temptations, and in the history that Mark and Luke wrote and that Matthew artistically completed, made a vow to trust only in the inner strength of their principle. We will not answer the obvious question of whether they have always kept this vow in every historical collision among their members, as we will be condemned just for thinking about raising it.



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Neil Godfrey

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