Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
The Request of Two Disciples.
Matth. 8, 19-22.
As Jesus is on the way to the ship or perhaps already in the act of boarding it – for at the end of this shorter section it says: “and when he had entered into a ship, his disciples followed him” – at that moment a scribe comes to him with the request to follow him everywhere. Jesus answers him: The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.
But another of his disciples *) said to him, “Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
*) V. 21: έτερος των μαθητών αυτού.
But how? Another of his disciples? “Another”: this can only be explained in connection with the previous passage. But was the scribe who made the first request a disciple of Jesus? Far from it! At first glance, and even after letting this story affect one a thousand times: one will always have the feeling that those who were to depart here were not yet followers of the Lord and did not stand so close to him that they could be called his disciples. The excuse that the success has been anticipated here and that those two had joined the disciples who are mentioned later (v. 23) as the Lord’s constant followers, is inadmissible here; if it should be more than just an excuse, if it should be justified, then not only should it be said of the second person that he had joined the Lord, but above all of the first person. Because only if the second person, like the first, the scribe, understood himself to be a follower, could he be called “another of his disciples”. Now, however, the sayings that both must hear are of such a nature that they contain a conflict that has a position and opinion of its own, which stands out for itself, that both have stepped back from it. The position is at least calculated to have the sayings always close the narrative, thus standing out in their high and sublime position, the dissonance between the demand for absolute renunciation and limited finitude for itself, and the dissonance is not resolved by the news that the two really understood this demand. Or even if we can concede to the second story that it has a milder ending and that the man’s inclination is already more decisive – let me bury my father “first” – although it is admittedly not said that he really had the courage to leave the realm of the dead, the dissonance towards which the first story is designed is unmistakable.
Since he has misunderstood Matthew, it is clear that he is not the original narrator. He is also not the authentic and original informant for the second story. “The other of the disciples” comes with a proposal and suggestion that could not have come out of thin air, but rather is linked to something that came before. When he says, “let me first (προτων) bury my father,” he must already have been called to follow Jesus, and this call must have just been made to him – but Matthew forgot to mention this assumption, which he did not exclude from Luke – whom he quotes here – because he was only interested in the punchline and could not get to it quickly enough.
Luke also closely connected both stories, but he avoided the inconveniences that Matthew brought about with his later pragmatism. The scribe of Matthew is just someone in Luke (9:57), and the other disciple that Matthew speaks of is just another, namely another in relation to that first someone ( ετερος v. 59), and it is finally understandable that the second asks to be allowed to “first” bury his father, because Jesus had already called him to follow *). However, Matthew changed one thing excellently. According to Luke’s account, Jesus says to the second one, “let the dead bury their dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” But that is too specific, too special for the first moment when Jesus first calls a man to follow him, and is only due to the pragmatism of Luke, who immediately reports on the sending of the seventy and, like them, wants to make the proclamation of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:1, 9) the task of this just recently recruited disciple. Matthew has Jesus answer simply: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
*) v. 59: είπε δε προς έτερον, ‘Ακολούθει μοι.
That Matthew has placed the request of the two men in the wrong place, when he lets it happen on the way from Capernaum to the sea, we do not need to mention, since it has already been shown how this departure from Peter’s house is. Therefore, it is also unnecessary to note here that at the moment when Jesus is about to board the ship, the time is too limited for those requests. “Fortunately,” therefore, Gfrörer says *), “Luke has included the incident.” Why? Schneckenburger seeks to justify this even more specifically by saying **): “The preaching of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:60) was a task that the Lord gave to his twelve only after a longer period of instruction, and then again later, precisely during the last journey, to his seventy. At an earlier time, the severity that would not allow for a small delay requested by the piety of the disciple would not have been compatible with Jesus’ mercy.” But why should the Lord have only demanded the hardest renunciation later from his own? He demanded from those two pairs of brothers at the very first moment of his appearance that they should unconditionally and ruthlessly join him, and they understood the request so precisely and followed it so punctually that they “immediately” left their business and their “father”! Certainly, when Luke makes the proclamation of the kingdom of God the sole task of the man who wanted to bury his father, he has in mind the appointment and sending of the seventy to preach the gospel, and he narrates the calling of some men precisely to make it somewhat understandable to the reader where suddenly seventy disciples come from, but for us, this makes it certain that he has formed the historical context a priori, since those seventy belong to a world that owes its origin to his apriori inferences and tendencies.
**) Heil. Sage II, 19.
***) On the Origin of the First Three Gospels, p. 24-25.
Luke has also closely linked his account with the preceding events. Those men come into contact with the Lord as he has begun the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, already in Samaria and here he was rejected by the inhabitants of a village where he sought lodging. The first man’s proposal, “I will follow you, Lord, wherever you go,” is supposed to be connected on the one hand with the circumstance that the villagers did not receive Jesus, and on the other hand with the fact that the Lord was on a journey – but this connection doesn’t help us at all, and in general, it’s not worth more than that of Matthew, who also places the event during a travel opportunity, since this journey to Jerusalem, which Luke reports, is of a nature that can never be characteristic of an actual journey.
In short, only in Luke’s account does the event have a real connection, but not the true, not the living connection, but only the writerly connection, which is inherently considered to be very unfortunate and deficient, but even in this imperfect form of presentation, it is not missing in Matthew.
The apologist, when making the best of a bad job and accepting criticism at least as far as it serves their interests, and the critic, when still entangled in apologetic interests, both could now eagerly grab and triumphantly exclaim: “So Luke did not create these sayings, since they did not emerge fresh from the current context – therefore, these are sayings of Jesus that have come to him through tradition, who knows by what means.” One sees that the proverb “haste makes waste” is unknown to the apologist. If Luke did not create these punchlines, could not someone else have created them before him? Could they not have come to the third evangelist from the element in which such punchlines live, from tradition, and from the conversation of the community? But even this assumption raises a difficulty. In specific circles, for example, of a society, a city, a state, or even a continent, punchlines arise and spread with extraordinary rapidity, which give a new perspective to some aspect of general conditions, and due to their novelty and striking character, they find general approval. However, as quickly as they spread over the circle to which they belong, they disappear just as quickly. They never live long in tradition. Only if they are written down immediately upon their first emergence or shortly thereafter, do they survive until later, included in the context of a larger historical work, and gain eternity, if they strikingly characterize a historical standpoint.
If this statement is based on the nature of history and historiography and is confirmed by a thousand years of experience, we must therefore once again declare ourselves against the tradition hypothesis here. It follows necessarily that we do not hear in these sayings the literal expressions of Jesus that have been preserved in the tradition of the community for many, many years. Consider how quickly the community spread over the earth from morning to evening, how it grew incrementally by attracting individual masses. Should the scattered adherents in cities and provinces have all heard the same anecdotes so that they would know to whom they were serving as a new Lord, and so that the tradition could arise to which we finally owe the preservation of those anecdotes? How could the community that would overcome the world ever arise from such anecdotal peddling? Not only the Pauline, but all the letters of the New Testament prove instead that the community arose entirely differently, that the members who were won had heard entirely different things, and that the interests of the community in the first century AD, which gave it its origin, were fundamentally different. The essence, the principle of the kingdom of heaven in its pure simplicity, in the definiteness that its contrast to the law and its historical revelation in the suffering and resurrection of the Savior gave it, that and only that was proclaimed to the old world, to which the believers held fast and believed it to be enough as such because it was infinitely much, and the internal dialectic of this principle formed the only and exclusive interest that occupied, united, and even through the divisions and questions that it raised in individual communities, united the entire community.
At that time, only when the community had secured its general principle in dialectic with the law and the view of the suffering, resurrection, and glorification of its Savior was established, the need arose to hear more about the historical empirical circumstances, entanglements, and events of Jesus’ life; but when it arose, the possibility of satisfying it was no longer available. What could Jesus have experienced in his life and during his struggle with the Jewish world? What else but the experiences of the community? What could he speak and present? What else but the self-consciousness of the community? Even if we disregard that the memory of the individual events of Jesus’ life had disappeared, and that the Christian principle, as purely positive, could not grasp the true form of historiography, for the individual could not gain its pure and appropriate representation and mutual interconnection if it was considered as such and in every respect as an appearance of the general, thus exposed to the danger of being excessively expanded, so the general was not recognized in the inner movement of individual events and relationships, but should be viewed immediately at every moment in every detail. Even if we ignore all of this, at that time, when the Gospels were to be written, the true form of historiography had been lost through a series of important revolutions. History had become a collection of anecdotes. In the Roman world, the modern principle of individuality and personality had already been announced and established in the way that was possible then, i.e., in the way of immediacy. The Lord of the world had ascended to the throne in Rome to concentrate and represent all interests, all rights, and the measure of everything in his person. And now that morality and the substantial bond that otherwise made individuals a whole had disappeared, and the power of one person had replaced the moral unity, which should apply to all and instead of all, the atomistic points of others reacted and were forced to regain stability and solidity in their personality, if they did not want to perish completely. The principle of personality had emerged, and history became a biography, and world history became a collection of anecdotes. Suetonius had successors who were worthy of him.
While in Rome, the personality which encompassed the power of the world ascended the throne, the Christian community arose through the tremendous miracle that a person appeared who had drawn the power of heaven into his inner being and had risen in faith as the Promised One, as the Eternal and the One. As the Eternal and Promised One from the beginning, he founded the community, and when his church was founded and later reflection wanted to find out how this work had formed historically and prevailed in the struggle with the world, there was no other history than the history of this One Person who remained the One as he had worked here on earth and continued to work in his servants from the seat of his heavenly glory. The form of the Gospels was thereby unchangeably determined – the main thing was and remained that individual and always individual things were reported if it was only a single aspect of the life of this One in which his heavenly infinity appeared immediately. Apart from the suffering, death, and resurrection, one knew nothing when one wanted to know individual things – and yet one knew enough: the fortunate one who was called to find it found it in the perception, interests, and struggles of the community, for what the community was, experienced, and possessed in its inner being was and had only been through the One, or rather, that was the One.
One may say, whatever we write here is aprioric work, but it will not harm us. We have written it here because previous criticism has given us the right to do so, and the following remarks will prove it.
To the point! “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,” Jesus said, “but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Weisse rightly observed *) that Jesus “would hardly have used such a striking image to express the simple observation that he did not want to be physically bound to a fixed home,” or that he did not have a fixed home. Weisse also reminds us of the sense in which we use the expression “four pegs,” and now leads us to the following explanation. Every person has their four pegs, that is, despite all mobility and freedom from external statutes, a resting place, a certain formula that is supposed to apply to everything again, that should give the final satisfaction and with which one can be comfortable. The letter, i.e. every “fixed form that in any way counts as a letter in life or history,” not just the written letter, is once again solidified by people, even by the freest, until it has become a rigid absolute. Jesus wants to deny that the divine spirit that dwells within him can sink to this bondage, and he denies it precisely before a scribe – Matthew, who created him, was guided by a splendid instinct – because it is the scribe’s characteristic that he does not have the courage to free himself from the misunderstood formulaic system, to throw off the baggage of finiteness and to ruthlessly surrender to the infinity of the idea.
*) II, 57
Now then, if this explanation is correct — and it is — and it finally comes down to the serious question of from which standpoint the saying originated, the answer cannot be doubtful for a moment. Weisse still thinks innocently that the words were spoken by Jesus to a scribe — whom Matthew had just introduced — but he was still innocent and the matter had not yet become so serious that this question could no longer be avoided. If the words had been spoken by Jesus, they would have had the extremely meager meaning that he had no fixed dwelling place and that his followers likewise had to forgo such comforts, and this meaning would also be the only one that it would have to make sense, because the consideration of the empirical person of Jesus, who speaks there, travels around the country and points the man who wants to follow him to his situation, would not only have hindered, thwarted, but also simply made impossible the elevation to a higher sense. But in the community, the saying arose and developed from the self-consciousness of its infinity, without hindrance, the dialectical and revolutionary power of its content, since the personality of Jesus, whose historical situation gave the epigrammatic basis for the actual point, no longer hindered the development of the thought from this standpoint. It is hardly necessary to note that the standpoint which produced the saying did not have the thought in its purity in its consciousness, but only became aware of it from the situation of the person Jesus and as a reflection on it — in a situation that we call the prototype of the idea only according to our understanding.
Also, the second saying: “let the dead bury their own dead” is also correctly explained by Weisse, when he notes that the word “dead” should be understood figuratively not only the first time, but both times *). “What Jesus meant with this saying is nothing else than the spiritually deadening occupation with the dead and decaying **), where there is something alive that demands our sense and our power.” Correct! The sphere which the follower of Jesus should leave is altogether a realm of the dead, where spiritually dead things float back and forth.
*) II, 58.
**) A fortunate world, where the struggle with the newer dead, the apologetics, a struggle that in our time is only possible through dialectical engagement, no longer needs to be fought! But we are now so unlucky and lucky that we can only help the spirit to victory by overcoming the material. But in essence, it has always been so.
But if Weisse still assumes that the saying belongs to the Lord, he must certainly find it “more than doubtful” whether the exalted Master really intended to dissuade the disciple from fulfilling his pious duty with this call. And yet nothing could be less doubtful than that even a momentary return to the dead in an absolute sense should be forbidden – the point of the whole would at least be irretrievably lost if the commission were not an absolute one, and the disciple, instead of Jesus, should unconditionally succumb, should so comfortably settle with both colliding powers. The collision must therefore be preserved in its purity, i.e., Jesus did not speak these words. Firstly, the elevation of the saying into the spiritual realm would have been impossible again if the man to whom it was addressed really had just buried his father. Secondly, Jesus would never have dared, and if he was a true human being, he would never have dared to form a collision of such abstract cruelty that all divine and human commandments would not have been sufficient to persuade a person to violate the family ethic. Even if all the powers in heaven and on earth were to conspire against the power of the family, their alliance would be powerless.
So it comes down again to the fact that the saying was formed in the community and should express, command and illustrate the revolutionary renunciation of a world that appeared as a realm of the dead.
If we were not already elevated by both sayings into a world that is just as different from the real world as it is from the real history of Jesus, we would certainly be alienated from our world, to which the story belongs, if we notice that Luke allows a third person to approach Jesus who is also willing to follow him, but who also has to hear that the kingdom of heaven demands the sacrifice of all other considerations, as he asked the Lord for permission to say goodbye to his family first. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62).
It is no longer a question, as it has sometimes been discussed before, whether the Lord had the opportunity to express the same thought three times in a row, but now the question is whether he ever expressed this thought three times in his life, and whether the punch line of his sayings has been preserved in tradition for many, many years – a question that is already answered if we are shown that the first two sayings do not belong to him. We must not even speak as if the tradition of the community were the artist who develops the punch lines that serve the expression of the same thought, since we can no longer entertain the unclear idea that tradition in its substance could produce certain works. It is rather the writer who tries his skills at tasks of this kind and loves to work out general ideas that have indeed flowed into his life circle in several forms. So these three punch lines are a product of the writer and, in this accumulation, actually a disturbing and distracting surplus, which even Matthew took offense at. Matthew rightly leaves out the third punch line.
Thus, the only remaining question is whether Luke himself created these sayings, or whether he found them at least partially in a written source that he used. Of course, we cannot obtain absolute certainty about this, but it also doesn’t hurt to consider it. It is possible that he received the impetus that led to the elaboration of these points from an earlier written source, or it is possible that his predecessor had already passed on the matter to him in a more specific form, but no one can provide anything substantial against the assertion that Luke created the whole thing. On the contrary, it can even be shown how he arrived at all three points. In the Gospel of Mark, he reads how the first disciples, when they were called by the Lord, left everything behind, and even the sons of Zebedee left their father without further ado and followed the Lord. The courage of recklessness that lies in this decision of the disciples, Luke did not bring to the fore in his presentation at the right place, and where he speaks of the calling of the disciples, he does it confusedly (Lk 5:10-11). He blunts the point that is intended in Mark’s presentation and does not even mention that the followers of Jesus broke away from their families. But what he has neglected here, he has not completely forgotten, rather he carried it around in his head for a long time, turned it over and over, transformed it into general principles, such as the principle that the followers of Jesus must renounce their four stakes, and finally developed these principles into sayings that the Lord directed to men who gave him occasion to do so by putting their limited circumstances – even circumstances that belong to morality – in conflict with the duties of a disciple of Jesus. To further develop the occasion, especially the third (Lk 9:61), the evangelist was brought to reflect on the story of the calling of Elisha *), whose request to bid farewell to his father beforehand could naturally not be granted according to the structure of the evangelical type, and our writer unconsciously drew the deeper meaning that the sayings received from the life element to which he belonged. He may have drawn more meaning from there – especially in the first two sayings – than he knew himself and could fully develop.
*) I Kings 19:20 (LXX) [published as 20:20]: καταφιλήσω τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ ἀκολουθήσω ὀπίσω σου.
Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)
- How Moving Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple to the Beginning of the Gospel of John Rebuked the Gospel of Mark - 2024-02-14 03:33:48 GMT+0000
- The True Tale of How an Eagle, a Lion, a Man, and a Lot of Bull Entered the Church - 2024-01-31 02:28:53 GMT+0000
- Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 7 - 2024-01-28 00:55:08 GMT+0000