§ 25. A look back at the fourth Gospel

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 25.

A look back at the fourth Gospel.

It must be a reconciling look.

And a look, if it is only heartfelt and sincere, is enough.

We are not yet in a position to judge the relationship between the historical material of the synoptic Gospels and the fourth Gospel, even as far as we have come to know the former. This particularly concerns the question of why the fourth Gospel lacks a prehistory, a question whose sufficient and satisfying answer has not yet been given, if we were to infer only indirectly from its content whether it excludes or presupposes it. We need clear indications as to whether it consciously excludes or assumes the holy prehistory, or whether it does so unconsciously. To gain this final certainty of judgment, we must have achieved certainty through the complete comparison as to whether the fourth evangelist was familiar with one or more writings of the synoptic circle. So, for now, let’s leave this for later!


One point, and a point of comprehensive importance, we can already shed light on. In our criticism of the fourth Gospel, we have shown that the speeches it attributes to the Lord (as well as to the Baptist and other persons) are the free literary work of the author. Despite this result, we acknowledged that reflection also played a role in the synoptic presentation of Jesus’ speeches, but we said that the subjectivity of the means through which they passed is here most abolished since they passed through the general spirit of the community. We thus still left the appearance that we possess in the synoptic presentation the speeches of Jesus in their historical originality, and we had to leave this appearance standing, as only later investigation could show us in what sense to understand that category of the original. Now we can make the first accounting.

The contrast has now become rational. The speeches of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels are not any less the product of later reflection than those reported in the fourth. Nonetheless, the contrast remains, but as an inner one, as a contrast in one and the same line of development of one and the same principle. Both are free literary works: the circle of teaching development that the Synoptics created and the one in which the fourth Evangelist leads us. Both are the reflection of the same principle, but we find its original reflection in the synoptic writings, and its later work in the presentation of the fourth. The Synoptics took the principle in its simple universality, which it had found in the community up to their time, and they give us its religious reflection, which expresses itself positively in individual sentences, sayings, gnomic and parabolic forms, and they only differ in that Matthew, the latest, tries to set the positive determinations more freely in flow and bring them into a kind of systematic connection, although he cannot completely break away from the standpoint of his predecessors since he inserts positive sentences he finds or creates and elaborates new sentences himself that have no inner connection with the initiated context.


The reflection of the fourth gospel stands opposed to the original and religious reflection and its positive nature. Its assumption is no longer the simple generality of the principle as it is immediately given in the life and faith of the community, but the universality as it has contracted into the simplicity of the essence and seeks to fathom the inner necessity of the individual determinations in this world of essence and their eternal presuppositions.

At least this much we had to express here in order to give the fourth evangelist the satisfaction which the criticism of the synoptic gospels has given him. We can now proceed with a lighter heart, since the previous tension between the two circles of the evangelical view has diminished, and we are given the certainty that we are dealing with free humanity and works of self-consciousness in both circles – a certainty that we may hope and expect will be even more comprehensively confirmed in the following part of the investigation and bring about the final reckoning.


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)