Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
Transition to the Sermon on the Mount.
1. The account of Matthew.
Matthew does not mention that after the calling of the four fishermen, Jesus went to Capernaum, preached and healed there. According to his account, Jesus immediately travels throughout Galilee after calling the first four disciples, preaching and healing every disease among the people. As a result, all the sick are brought to him after his fame had spread throughout Syria. Matthew lists the various ailments of the sick people, and Jesus heals them. Many crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the region beyond the Jordan follow him.
The description is very comprehensive, with the words “whole, all” used in every case, so we see a very general presentation before us. Suddenly, however, the narrative becomes specific when Matthew says: “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them” — the Sermon on the Mount.
This is inconsistent. The crowds have been around Jesus for a long time, he is teaching them and healing their sick; how can he only now, upon seeing them, go up on the mountain? He has already seen them for some time. Fritzsche’s explanation: “When he saw them once, he went up on the mountain” *), is not acceptable to the narrative, as it would be far too complicated and even tedious. Matthew knows nothing of this “once,” nor does he need it, as it is much easier for him to dive headfirst from the general into the specific. He needs no transition, he forgets the expansion of the general when it suits him, and it immediately shrinks to a single detail. Then he can say, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain.”
*) Matthäus p. 197. Hanc turbam aliquando conspicatus montem petiit. = (Matthew p. 197. Having seen this crowd at some point, he went up the mountain.)
However, we cannot follow this leap into the individual, since we cannot forget that the crowds did not just come to Jesus at that moment, but had long been around him, so he would have had to climb the mountain long before, if the sight of the crowds was a reason to do so. We must say that an event that falls from the sky is no longer an event for us and for this world, and the sermon that Jesus delivered on the mountain can never – to put it cautiously – have been delivered on this occasion.
This is also difficult: Matthew does not say that the crowd followed the Lord to the mountain; only the disciples are reported to have approached him, and he delivered the following sermon to them. But at the end (7: 28-29), it says that after Jesus finished his speech, the people were amazed by his teachings because he preached with authority, unlike the scribes. But where did the people suddenly come from? We do not know. And where did the disciples come from, to whom the speech is addressed according to chapter 5, verse 1? We do not know either, because the expression “his disciples” cannot possibly only refer to the four who have been called so far. So, for this speech, we lack nothing less than a not insignificant detail in the real world, the occasion and the audience, because even if the people are mentioned suddenly at the end, we do not know how they could have heard the speech, as the Lord withdrew to the mountain in front of them.
We know where all these necessary details for a speech come from if we open the Gospel of Mark. Here we read that Jesus once, after having worked for some time under opposition, withdrew with his disciples to the Sea of Galilee. A great multitude came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon when they heard about his deeds. Jesus healed them, but wanted to avoid the large crowds, so he had a boat prepared and eventually went up to the mountain, where he called only those whom he designated as his permanent companions and apostles at that moment (Mark 3:7-14). Here, the ascent of the mountain makes sense, as Jesus wants to avoid the crowd, and, as Mark reports, he has an even more specific reason, he wants to avoid complete exhaustion, as the sick come to touch him and be healed by him.
In Matthew’s account, the retreat to the mountain makes no sense, as it is not even said that Jesus was exhausted or could have been while healing. Nothing is indicated in this regard since the evangelist rushes to the speech and can’t introduce it soon enough.
However, his entire interest is focused on the speech. He reads in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus immediately appeared as a teacher in public (in Capernaum) after calling the fishermen (Mark 1:21). This note is too dull for him, and he wants to convey a speech himself to provide a clear example of how powerfully Jesus taught, and when he has delivered the speech, he does not forget, like Mark, to note that the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching because he taught with authority and not like the scribes (Mark 1:22). He literally repeats his predecessor’s remark.
In the general description of Jesus’ activities, Matthew first makes the insignificant change that he substitutes Decapolis for Idumea, then adds the remark, “his reputation spread throughout all Syria,” instead of the phrase “those from the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon came to him,” because he wants to bring up Mark 1:28. But the most significant change is that he maintains the depiction in the broadest generality, which becomes even more extensive but also less specific since this description is intended to make us more familiar with Jesus’ activities. Jesus teaches, heals, heals everything, all illnesses that are important to the evangelist—in short, we have a compendium of everything that belonged to Jesus’ activities before us. This is the abstraction of the later view, for which everything was already finished at the beginning, Jesus’ recognition was generally grounded, and his activities encompassed everything that they could encompass.
One part of the difficulties is solved. However, everything will become clear when we see how Matthew came to link the Sermon on the Mount to that miraculous activity of Jesus. He received this combination from Luke.
2. The account of Luke.
Chapter 6, 17-20.
Only Luke knows something about a Sermon on the Mount. Not Mark. After the account of the fishing expedition of Peter, Luke took up the Gospel of Mark again at the point where he had left it, and he follows it until that turning point where the hostile attitude of the Pharisees awakens. He also tells that Jesus (6: 12) went up the mountain to pray and after a night spent in prayer, he chose twelve from his disciples to be apostles. With them, he descended to the plain and – but the evangelist does not think of a proper construction of sentences or connection of words – suddenly a large crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea (v. 17) and Jerusalem and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases – one does not see what this multitude is all about – the evangelist does not say how, where – enough, he is satisfied that they are here, he wants nothing more, and after briefly saying that the whole crowd sought to touch Jesus because power was coming from him and healing them all, he reports that Jesus lifted up his eyes to his disciples and gave them the sermon, which is held here in the plain. Jesus gave this speech to his disciples, and yet it says at the end (7: 1): when he had finished saying all this to the people (εις τας ακοας του λαου), he went on, and so on.
How beautiful, how vivid is this motivation of the sermon, Jesus spends the night in prayer before choosing the twelve disciples, and so on. And yet nothing could be less vivid, more confused and laboriously compiled. Jesus ascends the mountain to pray, but only Luke knows this intention, for whom it is a standing formula that he prayed. We do not learn why Jesus chose the disciples at this particular time, but as we will see with Mark, the calling of the apostles has a very specific motive. Mark motivated Jesus’ ascent of the mountain by saying that Jesus wanted to avoid the crowds of people; in Luke’s account, Jesus finds the crowd of people below in the plain when he descends from the mountain. But now, of course, we cannot find out where this crowd suddenly came from, and even the evangelist cannot even manage to incorporate the note of the people’s presence into his account. But it is clear why he rearranged Mark’s account: he wants to have an audience before which the following sermon could be delivered, but he had to report on the calling of the apostles beforehand because Mark compels him to do so, and because it is appropriate for Jesus to proclaim the general principles of the Kingdom of Heaven to the newly chosen officers after such an important act. But at the end, he notes that Jesus gave this speech to the people; he forgets that it was addressed to the disciples – naturally, why should he have bothered to gather the crowd around the Lord, and did not the principles presented in the speech apply to everyone? Hence this contradiction regarding the audience, a contradiction that is natural and original only in Luke’s scripture because the selection of the narrower circle of disciples comes first here, a contradiction that Matthew faithfully copied even though he did not report on the calling of the twelve beforehand. Matthew was not yet allowed to report on this here, for it was still too early at this point, but he could certainly insert the speech at the beginning of his historical account, especially since his interest was focused on the Lord’s speeches in general and it was important for him to proclaim the general principles that should apply in the new economy right from the beginning.
*) See this reference, for example, in Schneckenburger, Beiträge zur Eint, ins N. T. p. 17.
The contradiction regarding the audience is explained *), Matthew was dependent on Luke. But if both Gospel writers contradict each other regarding where the speech was held, that is also explained. According to Mark, Jesus can only move the selection of the apostles to the mountain; the crowd, according to Mark again, can only be found in the plain. So when the purpose for which he climbed the mountain is fulfilled, Jesus must descend to the plain if he wants to find the people whose presence will give him a reason for his speech. However, Matthew cannot report on the selection of the apostles yet, but he still writes according to Mark that Jesus climbed a mountain when he was surrounded by crowds from all neighboring countries: so what else can Jesus do on the mountain except give the speech that only became the Sermon on the Mount through Matthew **)?
*) and we do not need the tortured harmonics of Frische’s, Matthew p. 201: “Jesus addressed the disciples following his prayer, but there were people listening in from afar, I suppose.”
**) The only thought that can keep us going through such a lengthy, but in itself very insignificant work and give it its only value, is that we ourselves become free and moral people when we see how the contradictions in the Gospels arose and no longer waste our time with half-truths, deceive our minds, and mistreat the Gospels. A truly apologetic half-truth, a theological juste milieu, is the harmonistic reconciliation of the contradiction that Bengel undertakes. “Jesus prayed on the mountain, that is, on the upper part of it, and appointed the apostles” – but does Matthew say a word about it? – afterwards he came to the middle region of the mountain where is it written? he himself descended, encountered the people who were climbing up and here in the middle region — —- —- Oh, what agony!
Luke differs from Mark by providing larger speeches of the Lord and selecting historical occasions for them. At the very beginning of his account of Jesus’ public ministry, he expanded the saying about the fulfillment of time in this way and gave a detailed account of how Jesus appeared as a teacher in Nazareth. Therefore, he does not need to present Jesus more extensively as a teacher here at the beginning and is satisfied with copying Mark’s account of Jesus’ appearance in the synagogue of Capernaum with the note of the powerful impression of his teaching. He waits until the apostles are chosen to let the Lord teach the laws of the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew has an even greater interest in presenting the Lord as a teacher and preacher. He cannot wait until the apostles are chosen, he wants to show immediately at the beginning of his account how powerful Jesus’ speech was. Therefore, he is silent about the Lord’s appearance in Capernaum and hastens to include the great speech that he finds in Luke, in order to give a solid basis for Mark’s note on the powerful impression of Jesus’ teaching (Mark 1:22).
Luke was the first to link this speech to this particular occasion, but he created the occasion himself by placing the crowd that surrounded Jesus before he climbed the mountain, listening to the Lord in the plain when he descended from the mountain.
He formed the occasion very unfortunately because the crowd surrounded Jesus and “tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all” (Luke 6:19), so where does the “peace and quiet” *) necessary for the delivery of the sermon come from?
*) Wilke, p. 585.
3. The Mountain.
If we do not know the occasion on which this sermon was delivered, we know even less about which mountain it was delivered on. Matthew was the one who first referred to it as the Sermon on the Mount. Nevertheless, if we still ask which mountain it is, we do so with the awareness that we are dealing with a concept. However, it is worth looking at it more closely, since it is an evangelical category and we should never treat categories superficially. “The mountain,” this specific, individual mountain, is something very general, since it is mentioned several times in very different historical contexts, more often by Matthew than by the other Evangelists. “The mountain” makes Jesus’ sermon, which we will get to know soon, the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1) and is originally the mountain on which Jesus chose the Twelve (Mark 3:13, Luke 6:12). “The mountain” is also where the Transfiguration takes place according to Luke (9:28), while Mark and Matthew speak only of “a high mountain” (Mark 9:2, Matt. 17:2). According to Matthew (16:29), the second feeding of the multitude took place “on the mountain,” although he and Mark say nothing about the first feeding, nor does Luke, who only reports one feeding that he knows of. However, the fourth Evangelist tells us that Jesus climbed “the mountain” and sat down there when he fed the crowd (John 6: 3, 5). Finally, Matthew alone reports that the apostles went “to the mountain” when the angel (28:8) summoned them to Galilee, where they would see the risen Jesus (28:16).
“The mountain!” How strange! Always in the most different situations, “the mountain!” Matthew, who uses this category more often than the others, tells us what kind of mountain it is, where it is located, and what its characteristics are. For him, at least, it is certain that it is the mountain that is the necessary and appropriate stage for great, far-reaching events, the basis for the great. Or should we still prove it in detail to the apologist? Should we ask how Matthew, if he had a specific geographical understanding, could simply say (5, 1) “Jesus went up to the mountain,” after previously saying only: “Jesus traveled throughout Galilee”? Is there only “the mountain” in “all of Galilee”? Should we ask which “mountain” it is where the second feeding occurred, and how Matthew came to know about a mountain that the other two knew nothing about, just as they knew nothing about “the mountain” on which the disciples saw the risen one again?
Furthermore, where does “the mountain” come from, where, according to Luke’s account, the Transfiguration took place, the mountain that Matthew knows as little about as Mark.
And we would like to see the mountain on which Jesus (after climbing it alone) can sit down and arrange and direct the feeding of the people who lay in the grass in the valley (John 6:10)!
The apologist’s excuse *), that “the mountain” το ορος is the mountain range, which they try to apply in Matthew 5:1, is even cut off at the only place where it seems applicable, Mark 3:13, i.e., at the place where we first see the mountain in an apparently understandable historical context. Because even this context is a pure fabrication **) and the mountain from which it was appropriate for the twelve to be called is not a mountain range with its wide branches, canyons, forests, and countless elevations, but a mountain that tapers properly to a single elevation, namely the one height on which such a sublime and significant action must take place.
*) de Wette, I, 1, 50.
**) as Wilke, p. 574, has clearly shown.
The mountain is always a specific one, meaning that it corresponds to the ideal height of the event that takes place on it. It is the mountain where revelations, transfigurations, and legislation have been at home since the time of Abraham and Moses.
What did Matthew care so much about – he was not a modern apologist who alone knows the torment of this great world question – where the mountain was located on which the Lord proclaimed the laws of the new economy? To him, it was the mountain on which words had to be spoken that were of infinite importance and were spoken to be spread far and wide and heard by the whole world. Matthew does not even say that the crowd followed the Lord when he descended from the mountain where he gave the sermon they heard – as it eventually turns out (chapter 7, verse 28) – but he cannot say it because Mark does not dictate it to him and even forbids it, but why would he care about such trivialities that would not add or detract from his report and whose omission would only bring death to apologetics as long as he can let the Lord preach? And if he wants to say, as Luke commands him, that the people heard the sermon, he says it without worrying about how they could hear it. If the sermon contained words of life for the people, they would have heard them no matter how it happened.
Gfrörer says *), the mountain received this degree of fame in the legend from the feeding that took place on it. But Mark knows nothing yet of this locality of the feeding story. Gfrörer, of course, relies on the testimony of the fourth evangelist. But – shall we say it again? – we would like to see the mountain on which and so on. Art, to be sure, knows how to show us mountains on whose summit Jesus stands and is visible while the people are standing in the plain a few spans below. From such a mountain, the painter can make the Lord speak down to the people or give him any other relationship to the people. But such mountains do not exist in the real world. Nature is not Raphael and has quite different laws of spatiality than the ideal view of the evangelists.
*) Heil. Sage. l. 199.
4. The task of criticism.
As we now move on to the critical examination of the structure, composition, and inner character of the Sermon on the Mount in order to discover its origin, we must first gain insight into the nature of our task, to the extent possible and necessary before the examination itself.
Despite having the same beginning, the same ending, and coinciding points of contact, the speeches which the two synoptics convey are very different. Matthew’s is much longer and thus contains elements which would cause the individual parts of the sermon that Luke conveys to fall apart if one were to attempt to bring them together. Many of these elements are unique to Matthew’s writings alone, while Luke has included many of them as sayings of Jesus spoken on other occasions. Similarly, Matthew doesn’t include some parts of Luke’s sermon, but presents them as sayings of Jesus on other occasions.
From this fact, the task of criticism has emerged, or rather, criticism must explain this fact.
The difficulties arising from the evangelical accounts of location, time, occasion, and audience are for us a thing of the past, as we have seen how they originated and that the occasion on which the speech was supposed to have been delivered never existed and purely arose from the pragmatism of Luke and Matthew. Our task is therefore simplified and the difficulties that concern those points, as well as views that seek to solve them in other ways, can no longer hinder or occupy us. For example, Strauss says: “Jesus spoke to the assembled people in general (!), but with special (!) reference to his disciples, for we have no reason to doubt that a specific solemn act of speech underlies all this” – we have shown that none of this can be the case.
*) I, 640.
All opinions that consider the sermon as one that was spoken at a specific occasion or even at a certain one that has long been resolved have lost all claims to consideration. At least the point where they seek the difficulty falls far short of where it really lies, and we have to grasp and solve it. At the highest peak of difficulty, the standpoint on which those views are based disappears, and it is completely dissolved when we solve the difficulty in its most acute form.
For Neander, for example, the Sermon on the Mount is “an example of a connected exhortation speech **). “The two versions of this speech in Matthew and Luke, he says, certainly stem from different traditions and different listeners. In Matthew, we have the speech more complete, more precise” ***).
Paulus explains this precision by the fact that one of the listeners, “perhaps Matthew himself, who as a tax collector could not be inexperienced in writing,” wrote down the speech shortly afterwards. “The record from which Luke drew or extracted had not grasped the context without many gaps.” On the other hand, the greater extent of the speech in Matthew may be explained by the fact that “related thoughts” were added later *).
**) ibid. p. 145.
***) Ibid. p. 148.
It is important to note “related in meaning”! Later on, when discussing the issue itself, it will be important to understand how this category is defined. The apologist has the question of coherence in mind. Similarly, Neander says, “the Greek editor of the underlying document from Matthew had inserted many related sayings of Christ that had been spoken on other occasions within these organically connected utterances.”
It must be related in order to avoid breaking the coherence.
Schleiermacher also tells us, when Paulus explained the accuracy of the speech in Matthew so well, how the brevity of the speech in the writing of Luke arose. “Our informant seems to have had a less favorable place to hear from, so he did not hear everything and lost the context here and there; and he may have come to record it later, when he had already forgotten some things.” **)
**) Ibid, p. 89. Now only the apologetics remain with their “they could tell the truth,” when the favor of circumstance, an unfavorable place, etc., is so important!
Moreover, in this context of little significance, at least unexpected for everyone, Schleiermacher adds the other possibility: “He may have inadvertently included some analogous (!) things from other sayings of Christ.”
Even Schleiermacher does not dare to favor his favorite against Matthew this time, when he assigns such an unfavorable place to the informant, whose work Luke is copying here. So let us not be surprised when Tholuck calls “the speech, as it appears – in the Gospel of Matthew – original in all its parts.” It is “more orderly” than that of Luke. “The sayings scattered back and forth by Luke and also by Mark are presented in it in a coherent and Christ-like way.” *)
*) Interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. 1833. p. 22.
However, Tholuck takes a step back. The speech in Matthew is only an “excerpt.” “For this latter reason, we will also not be offended if the connection is less apparent here and there” **).
**) Ibid. p. 23.
No! we will pay close attention to whether this praised connection really exists. “Even if it is less apparent!” As if there is only a connection where it is apparent! Listen to the apologist! He has a purpose! He means, as he should, we should be satisfied with the assumption of connection even if it is not apparent. Even if it is not——–o, the best connection is there in itself! The thunder of the apologist over the critic, the thunderbolt and lightning and curse and perished over the critic if he does not acquiesce in the silent recognition of the connection or call the apologetic evidence of the connection failed in stubborn disbelief!
No, we now forget the result of the above criticism: we now set ourselves the task of determining from the Sermon on the Mount itself, through the internal criticism of its components,
- whether it is held as a whole by Jesus,
- whether its connection is really so extraordinary,
- whether Luke is rightly inferior to Matthew.
We start the matter from scratch, or rather from the bottom, we take the subordinate standpoint of the apologist and see if reason can feel at home here.
But we go further. The apologist resists the possibility that individual sayings of Jesus, which arose on different occasions, have been united into a whole in the Sermon on the Mount. The mere idea of such a possibility appears to Schleiermacher as “impermissible, at least unsupported by anything” *).
*) Schleiermacher, ibid. p. 90. De Wette (1, 1, 48.) also considers “the representation in Matthew to be original and that in Luke to be derived and erroneous.” Matthew did not compose the speech he provided from sayings made at different times and on other occasions. “Only an expansion of the speech by Matthew” can be admitted.
Weisse was the first to show that this idea is not only supported by much evidence, but that it is not just an idea, but more, that it is a reality.
On this higher standpoint of historical criticism, the first question is now the relationship between Luke and Matthew, until the question reaches its highest point and becomes the question of whether we actually read the words of the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. Weisse does not yet reach this final point in his investigation. He leaves an unexamined positive standing. The first and third Synoptics have used here, as elsewhere, the “collection of sayings of the Apostle Matthew” which was written in Hebrew. “These pieces borrowed from such an authentic scripture are in every respect to be regarded as authentic, reliable and unadulterated as the reports of Mark” **).
**) ev. Gesch. II, 3.
But both differ greatly from each other in the parallel sayings! How does this reconcile with this praise?
The first and third evangelist, Weisse replies, “did not draw on each other, as both did in relation to Mark, but both independently from each other from the common source. Luke used it less completely than the Gospel that bears its name.” The first evangelist has shown “greater fidelity” in reproducing the collection of sayings of Matthew, and his presentation is “more original” compared to that of Luke **).
*) ev. Gesch. ll, 4.
**) p. 28.
But not only is Luke’s account less complete, but in most parts – we must immediately add the scattered parallels to the speech that Matthew provides – fundamentally different.
Furthermore: so far it has been shown to us that in all parts where Matthew does not have agreement with Mark, but only with Luke, he is dependent on the latter. Now has he completely disassociated himself from Luke? Now, at this moment, where he borrowed the occasion for this speech from him?
If the differences in their presentation of the speech sections, which we are now turning to critique, are essential, then one of them must have proceeded independently and creatively in this presentation. But if one, why not both? Both! This is at least possible.
Our task is set!
- Is the account of the first synoptist the more original?
- Did the first evangelist use the writing of Luke for his account of the Sermon on the Mount?
- If so, where did Luke get his material from, and do we still have sayings of Jesus before us in these speech sections?
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