§ 16. The first appearance and preaching of Jesus in Galilee

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 16.

The first appearance and preaching of Jesus in Galilee.

1. The account of Matthew.

4: 13-17.

When Jesus returned to Galilee, he left Nazareth *) and settled in Capernaum, and from there he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

*) καταλιπων την Ναζαρετ ελθων κατωκησεν εις Καπερναουμ

Most strange! Jesus leaves Nazareth when he returns to Galilee, and the evangelist has not indicated with a single word that Jesus arrived in Nazareth or even went to that city. What writer would write like this if he were purely writing from his own mind and not compiling something? But let’s continue.

How much stranger it becomes when Matthew says that Jesus settled in Capernaum so that the prophecy of Isaiah, “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned,” would be fulfilled. This utterance of the prophet originally refers to the northern provinces of the Jewish land and is based on the conclusion that if a difficult work is accomplished, then a less difficult one can also be accomplished: if those provinces, which can almost be considered as heathen and are called the circle of Gentiles, provinces that until now were always the first prey of the invading enemies, if even these are revived and enlightened in the forthcoming fulfillment, then it is certain that the remaining members of the theocracy will also come to new life. So in what did this prophecy find its fulfillment? When Jesus returned to Galilee to appear there, or when Capernaum became his dwelling place? 

The former seems to be more the Evangelist’s idea, as it is most likely that the mention of Galilee (Γαλιλαια των εθνων) in the prophecy of Isaiah led him to the thought that a prophecy was now being fulfilled. But then he would have had to quote the passage in V. 12 as soon as he mentioned Jesus’ return to Galilee, and he could not have commented so extensively in V. 13 that Jesus left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum. We are therefore forced to attribute to the Evangelist the view that the prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus moved his residence from Nazareth to Capernaum. And that is really his opinion: does he not call Capernaum the city by the sea (παρα-θαλασσης), to bring it into line with the way by the sea in the prophecy (οδός θαλασσης)? Does he not say that Capernaum was located in the district of Zebulon and Naphtali, so that it is correct when the prophecy speaks of the land of these two tribes? But then the fact remains that Capernaum is also important because it is located in Galilee; it remains that Jesus had to move to Capernaum so that the prophecy of the glory of Galilee would be fulfilled. As if Nazareth did not also lie in this province! If one were to leave Galilee, this keyword out of the game and now say that only the mention of the land of Zebulon and Naphtali in the prophetic utterance and the circumstance that Capernaum was located on the border of both districts were responsible for the fact that the evangelist saw the fulfillment of a prophecy in Jesus’ move to Capernaum, then even that does not help, because Nazareth lay in the former tribal territory of Zebulon. Or if one goes so far as to say that Capernaum was so important to the prophet because it was precisely on the border where those two tribal territories touched, then of course we are still surprised by the Evangelist’s micrology that he did not consider the closer location of Nazareth in the tribal territory of Zebulon to be worthy of attention and that Capernaum lay just on the border of both tribal territories in order to link it to an Old Testament prophecy. However, the Evangelist does not see it in such a way that Capernaum is important as a border town, but in his opinion this town is located in both tribal territories. Ὁρίοα – αs will be shown more precisely in C. 15, 22, the Evangelist does not mean abstract borders, but boundaries in the sense in which we use this word for the closed territory itself *). Capernaum is located in two tribal territories, in the land of Zebulon and in the land of Naphtali. But how is that possible, how could Matthew think that! Impossible!  It is written there, and how the Evangelist came to that, he tells us himself. If that prophecy was fulfilled because Capernaum was by the sea, because it was in Galilee, then it was also fulfilled in the fact that it was in the territories of Zebulon and Naphtali. It was so self-evident that when Matthew wrote “Capernaum by the sea,” he did not hesitate for a moment to add, “in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.” But then Capernaum is also important because it was in Galilee. The Lord moved to this city under higher guidance so that the prophecy of the salvation of Galilee would be fulfilled – in short, the evangelist not only does not know that Nazareth was in the ancient territory of Zebulun, but at this moment he forgets what he knew in chapter 2, verse 23, that Nazareth was also a city of Galilee.

*) Those commentaries, geographies, and land charts which make Capernaum a border town between the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali have no better reason for doing so than Matthew. Or rather, they rely on a false explanation of a verse in his text, and he — how does he know that Capernaum was related to those two territories? From a failed combination of the information about Jesus’ residence with a prophetic pronouncement. Certainly not from his accurate knowledge of ancient geography. Even if he can forget for a moment that Nazareth was in Galilee, that it was approximately located in the district encompassed by the former territory of Zebulun, he proves that he was not even precisely familiar with the later division of Palestine, as it was at the time of Jesus. How, then, could he have made such thorough archaeological studies to know where the former boundary between the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali was? No one knew less about it than him. The present evidence may suffice, but he has often betrayed to us how his mental map of the land looked like. Or rather, his map consisted of nothing but the notes that his predecessors provided him, which he pieced together with his pragmatism as it suited him. So, C. 3, S. L. From the note C. 19, later!


So if he knew to which province Nazareth belonged, it was absolutely impossible for him to bring this degree of confusion into his account if he had written freely according to his own view. He had to be so dependent on a foreign scripture — no, on two scriptures at this moment — that he compiled their information without realizing the contradictions into which his pragmatism was getting him involved. Obviously, the crux of the difficulty — if this word is still appropriate — is the note that Jesus left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum; this note presents the matter in such a way that the prophecy of the salvation of Galilee was only fulfilled when Jesus settled in Capernaum after returning from abroad, having left Nazareth. We still have the two scriptures that Matthew used before us: Mark tells him that Jesus, when the Baptist was delivered up, went to Galilee (Mark 1:14); Mark leads Jesus immediately to the Sea of Galilee and to Capernaum (verse 16, 21); but — the question remained — how does Jesus immediately come to this locality? Luke answers: his fellow citizens in Nazareth had not wanted to accept his preaching and had forced him, as is always the fate of the prophets, to try his salvation in foreign lands. Matthew does not take over this whole story from Luke’s scripture, but he does mention the fact itself *) that Jesus of Nazareth turned to Capernaum to explain why the latter city immediately became the center of Jesus’ activity from the beginning. By taking up the note from Mark’s scripture that Jesus went to Galilee, that he comes to the Sea of Galilee and that Capernaum becomes the center of his sphere of activity, this double: “Galilee and the region by the sea” leads him to Isaiah’s prophecy. That was already a mistake that he did not remember that Nazareth was also in Galilee; if he now borrows from Luke’s scripture the remark that Jesus had given up Nazareth as his place of residence when he went to Capernaum: then, of course, the result that the evangelist’s pragmatism leads to, that Nazareth did not lie in Galilee, can no longer be misunderstood.

*) which thus appears twice in his scripture.


2.  The account of Luke.
4: 14-32.

If the mere note that Jesus left Nazareth upon his return to Galilee caused such confusion in the Gospel of Matthew that it cannot be greater, then the magnitude of the confusion reaches its proper infinity when Luke reports in full detail the event that forced Jesus to break with Nazareth upon his first appearance in Galilee.

Luke reworks an account that originally had a completely different position, namely, an event that (Mark 6:1-6) belonged to the later period of Jesus’ stay in Galilee, to explain how Capernaum became the focal point of Jesus’ activity in Galilee from the very beginning. So, what inconveniences must we prepare ourselves for?

Luke wants to report on Jesus’ first appearance in Galilee. If Mark says (Chapter 1, verses 14-15) that the Lord began preaching in Galilee, announcing that the time was fulfilled and the kingdom of God had come, then Luke must also indicate this summary of Jesus’ preaching at the beginning of his account.


He does it. Upon arriving in Nazareth, he tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and, when he stood up to read and was given the book of the prophet Isaiah, it miraculously happened that he found the passage where (Isaiah 61:1) the Messiah speaks of his evangelical mission and proclaims the favorable year of the Lord. Then Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled.” The first appearance of Jesus is to be reported, yes, his first sermon, his first announcement that the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of heaven has come. And yet, Luke says in verse 16 that Jesus “as his custom was,” (κατα το ειωθος αυτω) regularly attended the synagogue in Nazareth, that is, just as he always used the Sabbath gatherings in the synagogue to preach the gospel to the people, he did so this time as well. But his first appearance is to be reported, so how can he have followed a practice that had already become a habit for him, when he announced the fulfillment of the time for the first time? One should not rely on the fact that it is already reported before that “the report about Jesus spread throughout the whole region and he was teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all” (verse 14-15). This does not make things any better, but rather remains the old contradiction. How could it be possible for a writer who has a clear and independent view of the circumstances and the sequence of events to report in one breath that Jesus returned to Galilee and his reputation spread throughout the land? Shouldn’t the writer at least indicate in a few words what Jesus did, what he said, and how his reputation could have arisen at all? So if Jesus followed a habit the first time he appeared in a synagogue on the Sabbath, about which we have learned nothing and which could not have arisen at the first moment of his appearance, it is therefore – to say it again – the same contradiction that arises when his reputation spread everywhere before he had done anything that could have given rise to it.


Anyone who would deny the contradiction would have to deal with the evangelist himself. He felt it very well, because as soon as he can, at the moment when he moves Jesus to Capernaum, he repeats his remark that the Lord taught on the Sabbath (verse 31), that people were astonished at his teaching because it was powerful (verse 32), and he even adds the note again that the reputation of the Lord went out to all the surrounding areas (verse 37). Exactly the same thing that was reported earlier, literally the same thing, because now, when the evangelist reports how Jesus worked in Capernaum, we know where the admiration for Jesus’ teaching came from and how his reputation could spread! What the evangelist put into the air the first time has now fallen to the ground where it belongs and has found a proper foundation.

So the author has brought the same formulas twice, he makes two attempts to report how Jesus’ reputation arose; but he does even more, he lets the Lord even arrive in Galilee twice. First, after the end of the temptation story, he says (verse 14), “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” Why, then, if Galilee is already the scene, the remark that when Jesus is expelled from Nazareth and comes to Capernaum, he comes to “a city in Galilee” (verse 31)? Yes, why, when Jesus comes to Galilee twice, the same remark that Jesus taught, that people were amazed at his teaching, and his reputation spread everywhere? The evangelist lets Jesus arrive in Galilee twice; but we will soon see what prompted him to do so when we have indicated the final contradiction in his presentation.

In the Gospel of Mark (chapter 6, verse 2), Luke read that the Nazarenes, when Jesus once appeared in their synagogue, also wondered where such wonders came from through his hand. Luke retains this consideration of the miracles, indeed he directs them – according to the context of the scripture he used, correctly enough – even closer to the fact that they were directed to the miraculous deeds that had happened in Capernaum. Even more! Luke further elaborates this reflection, which he puts into the Lord’s mouth, deviating from Mark, but appropriately to its point. When the Nazarenes ask, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” he has the Lord reply: “Indeed – but how do you conclude this, Jesus? Indeed, you will throw the proverb at me: Physician, heal yourself: what we have heard of your deeds in Capernaum, do them here in your hometown”; to which Jesus replied that Elijah was only sent to the one widow in Zarephath, even though many others in Israel were suffering, and Elisha only freed the one Naaman, the Syrian, from leprosy, even though there were many lepers in Israel (verses 23-27), so they should not be surprised if he bestowed his blessings on a foreign city.


It is certain: Luke used the account of Mark for this narrative. For his presentation has two points, each of which makes the other superfluous; indeed, the one which he borrows from Mark, or rather copies from mere dependence on the letter, the point that the prophet is not welcome in his homeland, disturbs and interrupts the elaboration of the other, which is based on the thought of unconditional election. This point was already aimed at when Jesus made the proverb “Physician, heal yourself,” that is, “let your blessings come to your own,” the theme of his speech (v. 23). But the elaboration of this theme (vv. 25-27) is delayed and deprived of its connection if the completely different point about the fate of the prophet in his homeland is inserted between the two (v. 24). The former point about the wonderful caprice of the election of grace is the work of Luke, who in general has devoted much effort to the elaboration and presentation of this event, while the other he borrowed from Mark’s gospel, from the same gospel that taught him that Capernaum was the place where the Lord preferred to perform his miracles – in short, in the midst of the diligent elaboration of this pragmatism, Luke does not notice that he has the Lord speak of miracles that he could not have performed yet, as he had only just appeared and could only perform them after he had been rejected by the Nazarenes and had gone to Capernaum. There must have been a very special interest that so vividly occupied the evangelist that he could overlook such a glaring contradiction.


This interest was also very significant for the reader *) of the Gospel of Mark. Although Mark explains how Jesus came to Capernaum – he came there as a guest of the disciples he had just recruited (Mark 1:21, 29) – he does not report how he arrived at the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding area of Capernaum, where he could recruit his disciples. Moreover, in Mark’s Gospel, it is not even explained how this city came to be the scene of the Savior’s deeds, which became the center of Jesus’ activity in later accounts. Actually, Jesus should have gone to Nazareth, and as Luke concludes, only special circumstances – which ones, other than those reported by Mark on a later occasion? – led him to settle in Capernaum. Thus, Luke has indeed explained why Jesus left Nazareth and settled elsewhere, but why in Capernaum specifically? That Luke cannot explain. He only knows that Jesus went to this city, which he knows from Mark’s Gospel, but at this moment, where he is only interested in reporting the move of the Lord, it was not possible for him to copy from the same Gospel that Jesus came to Capernaum as a guest of the recruited disciples **).

*) Not for the “legend,” which Gfrörer attributes this interest to. Heil. Sage, I, 121.

**) When de Wette, in the way Luke presented the incident in Nazareth, sees “evidence that Luke revised the Gospel tradition later than Matthew,” we need not be reminded that when Matthew revised the Gospel of Mark, he also had the Gospel of Luke before him. Matthew 4:13 [corrected from 3:14] καταλιπων την ναζαρετ is just an excerpt from Luke’s account.


But the contradiction is too great! One would almost not believe it possible, and even Wilke*) doubts whether “this passage was really inserted here by Luke.” “Would Luke have the Nazarenes say, when he tells that Jesus returned from the wilderness to Nazareth, that Jesus should do such deeds here as he did in Capernaum? Could the narrator have forgotten this?”

*) Wilke, p. 592.

Why not? He forgot it tremendously, but what extraordinary interests were occupying him! They were absolute interests, for the realization of which he could forget everything else. Was it not a question of the utmost importance why Jesus did not first attempt his healing in Nazareth upon his return to Galilee? Why did he go straight to the Sea of Galilee, which became the center around which all his excursions revolved? Must he not have been previously rejected by the people of Nazareth, and so seriously that in their fury they had already taken him to the edge of the city on the hillside to throw him down, and only the wonderful divine protection had enabled him to pass unharmed through the crowd of his outraged countrymen? (Luke 4:28-30)

And then what an invitation for a writer who sometimes loves a picturesque treatment of details and is not unskilled in using his talent, when he reads in the scripture of his predecessor (Mark 1:14-15) that Jesus appeared in Galilee with the preaching of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven and the fulfillment of time, what an invitation to illustrate this preaching clearly with a single example! Once the Lord is in Nazareth, he must deliver the sermon of fulfillment here, and in order for its content to appear in all its necessity and divine justification, a miraculous coincidence, no! A fortuitous wonder, or rather, the immediate divine providence must guide Jesus’ hand to find the right passage in the holy book that fits this occasion.


The dependence on the Gospel of Mark and the interest in bringing up the incident in Nazareth also explain the fact that Luke portrays Jesus arriving in Galilee twice and achieving the same success. The first time, after his temptation, Jesus returns to Galilee and his reputation spreads throughout the region  *), but we do not know how his reputation could have spread so quickly in the beginning. But Luke knows, and now we know too, because he reads in the Gospel of Mark that the news of Jesus spread throughout the land immediately upon his first appearance in Galilee **). Mark reports earlier that Jesus arrived in Galilee, recruited his first disciples by the sea, went with them to Capernaum, taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath, astonished everyone with his preaching, and finally healed a demonic there. But what does that matter to Luke? He can only bring the Lord to Capernaum from Nazareth, but he still wants to say that the Lord used to teach in the synagogues. And when he wants to describe the impact of this teaching, Mark has given him the keywords or rather whole sentences. The first time, when he says that Jesus “taught in the synagogues,” he only describes the impression in general, that Jesus was praised by everyone ***). But when he brings the Lord back to Galilee for the second time – i.e., as it is now impossible to ignore, taking up the entire account of Mark for the second time – when he says that Jesus came to Capernaum “a city of Galilee,” he repeats verbatim the details already used by Mark. Now he says that people were amazed by his teaching when he preached on the Sabbath *), because his words were powerful, and now he concludes the story of the healing of the demonic in the synagogue of Capernaum with the same words that Mark used in the parallel account, i.e. with the same words that he had already written earlier when he reported that Jesus’ reputation had spread to all places upon his arrival in Galilee **). Now we know how Jesus gained this reputation; before, when we already read the same words, we did not know.

*) Luke 4:14 και φημη εξηλθεν καθ ολης της περιχωρου περι αυτου

**) Mark 1:28 εξηλθεν δε η ακοη αυτου ευθυς εις ολην την περιχωρον της Γαλιλαιας

***) Luke 4:15 δοξαζομενος υπο παντων

*) Luke 4:32  και εξεπλησσοντο επι τη διδαχη αυτου οτι εν εξουσια ην ο λογος αυτου   Mark 1:22 και εξεπλησσοντο επι τη διδαχη αυτου ην γαρ διδασκων αυτους ως εξουσιαν εχων

**)Luke 4:37 και εξεπορευετο ηχος περι αυτου εις παντα τοπον της περιχωρου 


One more consideration, one more outlook remains; perhaps we can free Luke from criticism this time and shed a more favorable light on his pragmatism. Wilke ***) points out to us that “a strange parallelism is found if one puts the passage (the account of the incident in Nazareth) back in its place”, namely after the account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, where it is found in Mark. At the end of this account, Matthew has the remark that the fame of Jesus spread throughout that region †), i.e. a remark that Mark does not include at the parallel place, but which Luke may well have written down before the account of the incident in Nazareth (Luke 4:14). Shouldn’t Luke have placed this account where Mark has it, and closed the story of the daughter of Jairus with the remark that Matthew left out? But then Luke would have written a formula that he borrowed from the first part of Mark’s gospel. How would he have been able to do that if he wasn’t specifically occupied with inserting the story of the incident in Nazareth into this front part of the gospel? But he must have inserted this story here, otherwise, if the great episode in chapter 4, verses 16 to 30, preceded chapter 4, verse 31, how else could he have made this new, striking introduction, saying: Jesus came to Capernaum, “a city in Galilee”? With Matthew, it’s different; when he found the account of the incident in Nazareth after the account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter in Mark, he could look back in Luke’s gospel for the same account, and he could well use a formula that he found there as an introduction to the following account, which seemed fitting to him as a conclusion to the account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

***) Wilke, p. 592.

†) Matthew 9:26
και εξηλθεν η φημη αυτη εις ολην την γην εκεινην


3. The account of Mark.
1: 14-15

After removing all the disturbing additions, nothing remains of the original type that we find in the scripture of Mark, except the note that Jesus appeared with the preaching that the kingdom of God had come.

Mark does not consider the formula that he puts in the mouth of the Lord as one in which he summarily summarized the preaching of Jesus, but rather he considers it as the specific formula with which Jesus announced the arrival of the kingdom of God. He wants to give the words of the Lord himself. However, Weisse has rightly pointed out *)  that Jesus “repeated these words in the form of a formula at the beginning of his career, which we cannot consider probable since summarizing his sermons into specific formulas was undoubtedly not in his spirit.” But if Weisse thinks that “the occasion in Matt. 10:7 is where Jesus spoke this formula literally,” then we remind him of who reports to us that Jesus, during the instruction and sending of the twelve, commanded them to go out and preach: the kingdom of heaven has come. It is Matthew, the pragmatist, who has already put the same formula in the mouth of the Baptist, which the Lord used and which he now also passes on to the disciples. From this standpoint, the formula has become a talisman of the latest reflection that passes from the Baptist to Jesus, from him to the disciples, or it is a means of pragmatism that uses it to clearly bring out the unity and coherence of the sacred history. For is it not clear that the same interest pervades this story if the same formula can be used to express and announce the content of all subsequent standpoints? Mark and Luke know nothing of Jesus prescribing this formula for their preaching, so we don’t even need to ask here whether that occasion, which Weisse speaks of, ever existed, since it is certain before solving this question that Matthew allows the formula, which according to the report of Mark was only the Lord’s own, to be handed down to the disciples from his authority.

*) cf. ibid. i, 315.


In the Gospel of Mark, this formula is not only originally at home, but it is also born here. It is the work of later reflection. The evidence? Mark has the Lord say (1:15), “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” But the gospel is the message of salvation that is revealed in the person and work of the Savior: how can Jesus already say, “believe in the gospel”? He did not speak in this way; Mark, who also has him speak elsewhere (8:35, 10:29) of the gospel and of sacrifice for it, attributes to him words here that could only arise at a later point. Luke and Matthew borrow from his writing the formula of Jesus’ preaching or adapt it to a new form, following him with good faith in his authority, only taking offense at the idea that Jesus should already demand faith in the gospel. Therefore, they omit this invitation and thus proceed in this case just as they do at the two other places where they also eliminate the mention of the gospel.


As noted, Matthew found it significant that Jesus appeared in Galilee in order and according to the divine promise through the prophet. His pragmatism was not particularly well executed, but once he has led us into the realm of reflection, we are allowed to linger there for a moment and ask whether the fact that Jesus was born, raised, and preached in Galilee could be significant in any way. But we don’t even need to ask, for Paulus has already answered aptly when he says *), that a province like Galilee, which was less priestly, lived in the most diverse contact with Gentiles, was the most suitable ground on which to prepare for and carry out the transition to the universality of the Christian principle. Here, where hierarchical interests had less power, where the ceremonial service, because it was more remote, did not have the same restrictive influence as in Judaea, here the barriers of the enclosed Jewish national identity had already been overcome, and the spirit that ultimately toppled the barriers of nationality found the most suitable ground for its work.

*) exeg. Handb. l, 417. Likewise Weisse, I, 243.



The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)