§ 29. The first stay of Jesus in Capernaum

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 29.

The first stay of Jesus in Capernaum.

Matthew 8:14-17.

Although Matthew had already said before that Jesus moved to Capernaum, he only mentioned it (Chapter 4, 13), and neither did he take it seriously nor could he explain to us how Jesus came to settle in this city. Now he does say (Chapter 8, 14) that Jesus went into the house of Peter, but the circumstance which led Jesus to Capernaum and to the house of this disciple – his calling – goes much further back.

As for Luke’s account, it has been mentioned several times before, and it needs hardly to be pointed out that in the Gospel of Mark this story of Jesus’ return to the house of Peter has its true context and original origin. *) With the newly recruited disciples, Jesus enters Capernaum (Mark 1:21 εισπορευονται), he enters the synagogue and from there they (the whole group) go to the house of Simon and Andrew; Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law and she waits on them (αυτοις,, the whole company). Matthew no longer needs to look back at Peter’s calling to bring Jesus to his house; he is already at home in Capernaum and therefore speaks in unity (verses 14-15) that Jesus goes into the house of Peter and that the mother-in-law, after he has healed her, waits on him (αυτω). Luke speaks in the plural: she waited on them (avrvtz), by copying this word from Mark, without realizing that he had not yet given the Lord the company of the disciples (Luke 4:39).

*) especially since Wilke has made this relationship between the three accounts so clear once Mark is accepted.


In the evening, Luke continues (v. 40-41), they brought to him all who were sick, and he healed them. And demons also came out of many. Matthew, on the other hand, reports (8:16-17) that in the evening, many demon-possessed people were brought to him, whom he freed from unclean spirits. He also healed all the sick. Matthew changes the order of events because he wants to connect his account to the reflection that Jesus had to heal the sick in order to fulfill the word of Isaiah, “He himself took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Only Mark motivates the whole incident not only historically, but also in his presentation, where the individual details are in perfect harmony. “They brought to Jesus all who were sick and demon-possessed,” he says (1:32), “and he healed all who were sick” (v. 33) and “drove out the demons” (v. 34).


Any thought of a historical basis for this account must immediately disappear when we remember that the occasion for these events is purely fictitious. As we showed above, it is absolutely impossible that Jesus began his work with the calling of the first disciples, and if we imagine the Lord’s activity to be so mechanically determined and regulated that he felt he had to leave Capernaum the next morning because it was his duty to proclaim the gospel in other neighboring places, then we are deluding ourselves. Is it really possible that a teacher could believe that he had done enough even for the near future, if he had given a public lecture and performed a couple of miracles in one place? In the real world, a teacher must take much more time, appear much more freely and liberally, and cannot divide his time so mechanically. If it is in the nature of his task that he must travel to different places, he will not rush from one place to another.

If we are therefore forced to admit the unsuitability of Mark’s presentation, we could perhaps still try to argue that the miracles which Mark places in Jesus’ first stay in Capernaum were performed there later. In vain! They only have their original place and meaning at the place assigned to them by Mark, i.e., at a place that never existed, since Jesus could never have started his work with the calling of the two pairs of brothers in order to come to Capernaum through their mediation. Jesus must heal the demon-possessed immediately as he enters the synagogue, cure Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, and heal many sick people in houses in the evening, so that his connection with Peter and his house, as well as with Capernaum, the center of his Galilean activity, is established and explained from the beginning. Mark no longer knew the historical circumstances under which this connection was formed, so miracles had to take the place of spiritual, gradual mediation. Jesus must now prove himself to the people of Capernaum as a miracle-worker on the first day he comes out in their city, and through a miracle on the woman who entertains guests in Peter’s house, he must open a hospitable house in his new home.


The discrepancy between the accounts of the Synoptics and the fourth Gospel regarding Peter’s hometown has troubled apologists even more than the miracles, or indeed, far more. According to the note found in the Gospel of Mark and followed by the other two Synoptics (Mark 1:29, Luke 4:38, Matthew 8:14), Peter is from Capernaum, whereas the fourth Evangelist calls Bethsaida his hometown (John 1:45). “But,” asks Fritzsche, “could Peter not very well have been born in Bethsaida and later moved to Capernaum?” DeWette agrees and assumes that Peter moved to Capernaum after his marriage, and Grotius even suggests that the house of Peter mentioned by Matthew is actually his mother-in-law’s house. Another example of how history is enriched with notes, but unfortunately with notes that cannot withstand criticism. The fourth Evangelist knows nothing about Peter moving to Capernaum before he met Jesus; on the contrary, he assumes that Peter is still living in Bethsaida even after being called by Jesus. On the other hand, Mark, who is the only one to consider here since his successors only copied his account partially, refers to the house where Jesus stays as “Simon and Andrew’s” house, not Simon’s alone, as Luke and Matthew do. Therefore, Peter owns the house as an inheritance from his father, not as a dowry from his wife, and he has owned and lived in it with his brother since the beginning. If we now read more carefully in the fourth Gospel how Bethsaida is referred to as the city of Andrew and Peter, the contradiction is complete. How it arose is hardly worth asking, and it is unlikely to be answered, as it may have such a chance origin that the light of criticism can no longer illuminate such a deep mystery. It is likely that the matter can be explained as follows: the Evangelist wanted Jesus to find Philip, but one can only find a person if one already knows them somehow, so some mediation was necessary, and the author assumed that Philip was a fellow countryman of Peter and Andrew. So he immediately gives him Bethsaida as his hometown, without considering whether that brotherly pair was actually from there.


It is not inappropriate here to note more precisely the way in which the evangelists view Capernaum as the center of Jesus’ Galilean activity.

As we have already learned, all three Synoptics have Jesus going from Nazareth to be baptized and moving to Capernaum. According to Mark’s account, Jesus stays as a guest in Simon’s house for only one day. When he returns to Capernaum after his first journey, and people hear that he is at home, this house (Mark 2:1) can only be that of Peter, into which he enters with the twelve whom he called after the second outbreak in Capernaum (Mark 3:20). It is not mentioned that he entered another house after his third departure, when he returned to Capernaum after the parable speech and the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, apart from that of Jairus, whose daughter he raised. Rather, he immediately goes to his hometown (πατριδα) of Nazareth after the miracle. Later, shortly before his departure to Jerusalem, he comes to Capernaum once again and is in the same house (εν τη οικια Mark 9:34), which can only be that of Peter in this context.

In short, according to Mark’s account, Jesus stays in Capernaum only as a guest, but if he initially feels it is his duty to stay only a short time in this city, as he must also preach elsewhere, Capernaum immediately appears as the center of his activity after his first journey (Mark 2:1). He only leaves it, as with his two subsequent journeys (Mark 3:6, 3:20-22), because he is forced to do so by his enemies.


The contradiction is undeniable, and we must at least admit that even Mark has not given us a firm and reliable picture of the way of life of Jesus.

Luke cannot be considered in the present question, since he even dealt very disorderly with the statements of his predecessor, namely, three times when Mark says that Jesus returned to Capernaum (Mark 2:1, 3:20, 9:33), he leaves the locality completely undefined (Luke 5:17, 11:15, 9:46). Only after the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 7:1) does he let Jesus enter Capernaum, and when he later lets him return to the near shore after healing the Gadarene demoniac, where Jairus receives him (Luke 8:40), he does not remind us that this synagogue ruler was at home in Capernaum, which circumstance, however, must necessarily be assumed in the narrative of Mark, as well as Matthew (Matthew 9:1).

We can also be brief about Matthew. According to his account, Jesus stays in Peter’s house for only one day, but immediately returns to Capernaum on the following day, after having just left it. This time, too, he only stays in the city for one day, travels around the country from now on, and touches Capernaum only once more and only for a moment (Matthew 17:24-19:1), when he set out on the journey to Jerusalem. So Jesus only stays in Capernaum for two days, and yet this city is called (Matthew 9:1) “his city” ( η ιδια πολις)! A striking proof of how little the evangelists knew about the locality in which Jesus worked, how much they were inclined to make a priori determinations even about this point, and how little they were nevertheless able to work these determinations into the historical narrative in a pure and consistent manner. Matthew finds Capernaum mentioned most frequently in Mark’s scripture, and he immediately makes it “his city,” even though he only allows him to stay there for two days.


But we must not forget to mention that Luke has formed an equal a priori and just as inconsistent as Matthew. According to his account, Jesus slept in Capernaum only twice, and yet he first pronounces the woe over this city, which, having been raised to heaven, is now to be cast down to hell (Luke 10:15), a saying of which Mark knows nothing. He forms a saying that presupposes that Capernaum was particularly favored as a witness to the miraculous deeds of the Messiah, and yet he tells us nothing of the many signs that occurred in this city.

Even Mark shows how little he had an original and coherent view of these relationships by the way he suddenly has Jesus’ relatives, his mother and brothers, appear in Capernaum. He presents it as if they were at home in this city and known to everyone in the crowd (Mark 3:20-21, 32) – but how is that possible, since Jesus himself only came from Nazareth to Capernaum and even then only by chance through the disciples he had found? As a guest, he stayed in this city?

It seems, however, to have been an involuntary – and easily satisfying – need for this type of perception to see Jesus’ relatives immediately as residents of the place where he himself often stayed. Even the fourth evangelist felt this need and satisfied it in his own way without hesitation. Although he considers Judea as the ordinary sphere of Jesus’ activity, he is so dominated by the type of historical view that regards Capernaum as an esteemed venue for the deeds of the Lord that he cannot completely suppress the glory of this city. Immediately after the wedding in Cana, Jesus goes to Capernaum (John 2:12). That royal official whose son is dying comes from this city (4:47), and in the synagogue of Capernaum (6:59) Jesus speaks of the enjoyment of his flesh and blood. The same evangelist, who only lets the Lord stay in Galilee for a very short time, who introduces Jesus as a Nazarene (John 1:46-47), cannot avoid having his mother and brothers, who were guests at the wedding in Cana, also go to Capernaum. It seems that the attention was not to be too scattered and that if Jesus’ relatives were to come into conflict with him, they should be nearby – as in John 7:3.



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