§ 21. The righteousness of hypocrites

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1




The righteousness of hypocrites.

Matthew 6:1-18.

A new section that is self-contained. Once again, a parallel is drawn between the righteousness of hypocrites and that of believers, and at three points – giving alms, praying, and fasting – this contrast is illustrated.

This section begins, if we follow the reading of some manuscripts, with the general admonition not to perform “righteousness” before people in order to be seen by them. This way of introducing the topic would correspond to the author’s method of introducing the dialectic between the old and new law with a general remark. However, a completely different idea is explored here than before. The discourse is directed against external activity and against the boasting that makes the externality of such activity count before people. Previously, the dialectic was carried out between the idea and its limited, positive formulation in the Old Testament law. Now, pure, abstract Pharisaism is fought against, previously the simple, traditional law.


The author is well aware that there is no direct connection between the two parts of the discourse – the form and elaboration of the contrast is different – and he does not even think of connecting the two sections with a transitional particle. However, for him there is a connection in the sense that the thought of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy is close at hand when the law in general is mentioned, as he himself demonstrated when he inserted the mention of the Pharisees and scribes in the wrong place in the previous section (Ch. 5, 20).

So, the connection only lies in this resonance, that if one of these strings is touched, the other also begins to ring in the mind of the evangelist. In the saying about oaths, this resonance had caused the confusion (Ch. 5, 34-36), which we have already resolved.

In any case, the connection should not be understood as Tholuck understands it: “after the Redeemer has shown the extent of the fulfillment of the law that comes to his disciples, he shows here first and foremost the way in which it is practiced with regard to those three types of good works to which the pride of Pharisaic piety is particularly attached: almsgiving, prayer, fasting *).” If this transition is more than a blind spot, then the Lord should not have already spoken so thoroughly about the way the new law is to be carried out beforehand, and he would have to choose the examples of how the law is to be practiced from the previous section in this new section.

*) a. a. O. p. 345.


1. Giving Alms and Fasting.

Matthew 6:1–4, 16–18.

Whoever gives alms and fasts should do it for themselves and in secret, if they want to gain the heavenly reward that will be given publicly in the future. Otherwise, if they do it for the sake of human praise, they have already received their reward and achieved what they wanted.

The hypocrites, who else are they but the Pharisees, of whom it is already said in the earlier Gospel (Mark 12:38–40) that they seek the appearance of piety, walk in their robes, and pray much for show? Do we now have before us in Matthew’s detailed discourse the original polemic of Jesus against the Pharisees? But why only in the Gospel of Matthew, the latest one? Why don’t we find this discourse in the Gospel of Luke? Why didn’t he include the Lord’s Prayer in a context where he also argued against the hypocrites?

We should not see these polemics as the words of Jesus that have come to us by chance, who knows how. This is the place where we must eradicate one of the prejudices that have made it impossible to fully understand the historical accounts of the Gospels. We will not even talk about the fact that Gospel passages that contain references to Palestinian conditions, whether in collisions or in speeches, are considered as historical reports. This prejudice falls away by the following reflection. But to conclude from the local references of such passages that they had meaning only for Jewish Christians or even only for Palestinians, or to see these passages as evidence that the scripture to which they belong was written by a Jewish Christian, perhaps even in Palestine, is a prejudice that can be no greater or more harmful for the critic.


Why, then, does Mark not have as many of Jesus’ speeches against the Pharisees, why does the apostle Paul, who also dealt with Jewish Christians, not fight more vigorously against the school he once belonged to, and why does the Gospel of Luke lack the polemic against Pharisaic hypocrisy that we read in the present section?

The answer given by Paul is strange. He says that the Sermon on the Mount in Luke is an “excerpt from a complete, unwritten essay.” This excerpt was already made by a Palestinian Christian before Luke, who wanted to provide an “extract for all Christians to read” and therefore excluded everything “anti-Pharisaic” and what “related to specific Palestinian circumstances.” What self-denial!

The person whose essay Luke transcribed, according to Schleiermacher *), “may have made his recording (of the Sermon on the Mount) initially for someone whom he believed might find some things incomprehensible (!) and insignificant, as the polemic against the Pharisees might seem to a Gentile Christian.”

*) a. a. O. p. 89.

And if one were, we answer, the most fervent Gentile Christian, had never seen Palestine or a Jewish Christian, if he wrote a gospel, he could weave a thousand references to the Pharisees into it and add Palestinian local colors that were known to everyone to his historical painting. Such colors become categories in the end – Pharisees and scribes are still standing categories for us – and are applied most diligently and in relationships that have nothing to do with the historical originals. This type of representation and historiography is therefore abstract and reveals itself through this abstract attitude as the later and less original. It is manufactured and artistic work.


So, once again, Matthew has freely worked. In order to have Jesus fight against hypocrisy, he has him argue against those who were already regarded as hypocrites.

What kind of tradition must one have in mind to believe that such a diligently crafted exposition as the sections on giving alms and fasting had vegetated as an actual speech by Jesus in the memory of the listeners and those who had heard them again from the first listeners? Just look seriously at the sentences once: this exchange of command, exhortation, description of the opposition, reflection, and prohibition – this should have been in the head for years and not rather owe its origin to the pen?

Matthew worked freely: he used a prayer, which he reads in the Gospel of Luke in a completely different context, to further fill out the present section.

2. The Prayer.

Matt. 6:5-13. Luke 11:1-4.

First, Matthew follows the original direction of the section he created by having the Lord command that people should not pray like the hypocrites in front of others, but in secret, because God sees in secret (verses 5-6).

There follows a punchline (verses 7-8) that is connected to the previous only by the fact that prayer is also mentioned. “And when you pray,” it says, “do not babble like the pagans, for they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The Evangelist does not reflect on the fact that this punchline actually goes further than was necessary if the much babbling during prayer was to be proven useless, and that it brings forth the appearance in its boldness that prayer is not necessary at all. Instead, he has the Lord continue: “Thus – ουτως – you should pray” (verse 9), and then follows the prayer that we also read in the Gospel of Luke 11:2-4.


“So shall you pray!” that is, at the same time, the formula of true prayer *) or rather, since the previous discussion was not about the content of the prayer but only about speaking too much, the formula of prayer as such should be conveyed to the believers. The fixed prayer formula! But what a surplus! The statement about speaking too much during prayer is fully concluded with its point in verse 8. Why add a new point, a point against an enemy who has already been defeated and is a dead enemy? And what a disruptive surplus! Now it seems, or rather it is so: a literally fixed formula should be given, which the believers should use to avoid the danger of speaking too much. That is the meaning that lies in the context as Matthew has constructed it, but a meaning that Jesus could never have intended if he really conveyed this prayer to his followers. This view, that a formula should be fixed, is never formed at the point where a principle is born and expresses itself with its first originality, but later, when it has become a positive and external power for consciousness with its expression.

It is of no use to deny the context as Matthew has constructed it **); it is also useless to seek help from Luke! Neander agrees with Schleiermacher when he asserts: “In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, this prayer is only inserted by someone who possessed only the formula without the information where and when it was first conveyed.” “The pragmatic context in Luke 11:1 is, however, very natural.” *) But what does it help Neander to say: “Certainly (!) Christ did not want to give the disciples a formula to repeat in their prayers,” when Luke explicitly says that the disciples asked Jesus once to teach them to pray, just as John had taught his disciples to pray, and now Jesus immediately fulfills their request and says, “When you pray, say!” It can only be a stubborn apologetic interest to deny that the prayer of the Lord should be conveyed not only as “a formula in their prayers,” but as the only prayer formula. So it remains with an interpretation that we also find in Matthew, but which we cannot share.

*) Bengel: ουτως, his verbis, hac sententia.

**) such as Calvin very naively protests against this context. He is content to remark on ουτως: quamquam (!) non jubet Christus suos conceptis verbis orare, sed tantum ostendit, quorsum vota omnia precesque reflerri deceat. Even Friztche, in his book on Matthew, p. 263-264, has not grasped the context sharply enough when he says: e Matthaei mente Jesus vituperata gentilium loguacitate concisarum precum ponere decrevit exemplum. Not an example, but a formula!

*) Schleiermacher, p. 173. Neander, p. 235. 236.


Before we ask whether Luke actually reports excellently on the occasion on which this prayer was taught, we must allow the apologist to speak up for Matthew. Tholuck does so. He wants to defend both evangelists. “Is there anything violent,” he says **), “or is there any compulsion in assuming that the disciples, having presented a prayer that Jesus had set forth before the people ****) as an example of how to pray without using vain repetitions ***), which really did not have the character of a formula in our context ***), did not regard it as a special formula †) designated for them, and therefore later asked for a special formula for themselves ††), ignoring the type of a true prayer †††)?”

**) ibid. p. 378. 379.

***) So only as an example, which is set aside when the idea that it was supposed to explain is grasped? No! As a formula!

*****) But Matthew says in the historical introduction to the sermon that it was addressed to the disciples.

†) Really not?

††) Then they had their ears elsewhere when the Lord said, “When you pray!” προσεύχεσθε! προσεύχεσθε υμείς!

†††) Is it still an example?


This is very violent! Just as violent as this whole reasoning is anxious and precarious! Wouldn’t the Lord have had to give them a strict reprimand for being very inattentive and handling his words very carelessly? Shouldn’t they have doubted whether this instruction to pray, when Jesus gave it to the people, also applied to them? What reprimand would they have deserved if they thought they needed something special, a particular formula?

“And if one were to find it completely unlikely that everyone would have fallen into such a misunderstanding,” Tholuck continues to argue, “could it not have been one or the other? But Luke only speaks of one of the disciples.”

All, all are innocent! Even the one Luke speaks of is innocent; no one has ever come up with such a ridiculous misunderstanding. Because when this one, who asks Jesus for a prayer formula in Luke’s script, appeared for this purpose, the Sermon on the Mount was not yet written, and Matthew had not yet included this prayer in the Sermon on the Mount from Luke’s script. But this one is also innocent because he never existed, never asked the Lord for a prayer, and is only a product of pragmatism, as Luke needed him to bring the Lord to words and give him cause to share this prayer.

So it is: the occasion that Luke speaks of is manufactured and very unfortunate. On the journey to Jerusalem (Luke 10:38), when Jesus was somewhere praying (Luke 11:1) – but only in Luke’s script is Jesus’ prayer this stereotypical formula – one of the disciples spoke to him when he stopped, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples to pray.” How pragmatism teaches! Where else could Luke have gotten this news about John but from his own pragmatism? If they really had to lag behind John’s disciples in this regard, should the apostles have only noticed and felt this lack now, when they were leaving Galilee?


Schleiermacher, of course, knows how to appease us: earlier, when Jesus was in Galilee and when he performed the prayer (!) at the “usual prayer times”, he was always “found in multitudinous surroundings and the disciples could not immediately, when he stopped, take the opportunity to ask him for a formula, which they at the same time (!) wanted as a brief epitome of his religious views, but then also as something peculiar to his school (!) and unknown outside of it *)”.

*) a. a. O. p. 172.

But Luke himself reports often enough that “the Lord was with the disciples in solitude,” and, according to his account, Jesus prays in the solitude to which he has withdrawn with the disciples, as in Luke 6:12, 9:18, and 28! And always, constantly, when he traveled with the disciples in the country or even when he was in Capernaum, the crowd could not have besieged him. Finally, what does Schleiermacher read into the disciples’ desire **)? They want to learn to pray, but they do not ask for a symbol that would distinguish them as members of a school or church from other communities.

**) and Neander attributes this to him when he says, p. 236-237, Jesus “used this opportunity – the disciples’ request – to summarize the essence of Christianity in a few words in the form of a prayer!” As Schleiermacher simply refers to the disciple’s question, Neander refers to Jesus’ words: “When you pray, say!”

It was right for Matthew not to care in the slightest about the occasion on which, according to Luke, the Lord’s Prayer was supposed to have originated, to let it fall calmly and to insert the prayer into his Sermon on the Mount. He acted more sensibly than the apologists who usually value such features of evangelical pragmatism differently. The occasion that Matthew created when he lets the Lord recite the prayer so that the disciples could use it as a formula and avoid the danger of too much babbling is not particularly well constructed, but we cannot expect the evangelist to conduct critical investigations into whether it was in the spirit of the Lord to prescribe a standing prayer formula and whether it was the time to prescribe positive formulas of any kind when the new principle had not yet formed a church community during the lifetime of Jesus. Enough, Matthew finds the prayer recommended as a formula in the scripture of Luke and, as such, lets Jesus recite it in the Sermon on the Mount.


If it is certain that Jesus did not prescribe this prayer as a fixed formula for his disciples, the question still remains whether he even communicated it to them. But what do we mean by “communicated”? It would still be a prescribed formula! Did he, therefore, use it with them repeatedly, and did the habit of it stick in their memory? Again, a formula! Why ask these questions, since it was not in the spirit of Jesus to prescribe formulas, as formulas as the positive form of devotion only develop in the existing community! This prayer also developed in the community. We say in the community because we cannot determine how much influence Luke had in the development of the prayer that he first communicates. Mark knows nothing about the whole affair.

This prayer has developed from the simple and general religious categories that the community inherited with the Old Testament, and only one request, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” is purely in line with Christian self-awareness. If we have to follow the authority of some respected manuscripts, which do not include the closing of the prayer in Matt. 6:13, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen!” this is evidence that the prayer gradually developed in the community. This is the same evidence that is already established in the fact that in Luke’s account, the two petitions, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and “Deliver us from evil,” are still missing and are only added by Matthew.


After the conclusion of the prayer, Matthew suddenly returns to a single part of the prayer, attempting to give the best possible coherence. When it says before (V. 12): “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” the speech continues in verse 14-15 as a justification: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It is already inappropriate that in this justification, the point that immediately precedes it, verse 13, which had already led the thought in a different direction, is skipped over. Moreover, this relationship between the sentences should appear even more inappropriate to us when we see that in verse 12, the equality of the relationship – “as we also have forgiven” – was the main idea, while in the justification of this idea in verse 14-15, the behavior of people is made a condition for the same behavior from God. Only the resonance of the word “forgiveness” has led the evangelist to include this saying here. He has taken it from the scripture of Mark (Mark 11:25-26).

Furthermore, Matthew must not be distracted from his theme, the warning against hypocrisy. He even resists the temptation to add the saying about the power of prayer that follows the prayer instruction in the scripture of Luke – later he makes up for this omission in chapter 7 verse 7. He returns to the theme once more (chapter 5:16-18) only to suddenly switch to a new subject in verse 10.


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Neil Godfrey

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