Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
The calming of the storm.
Matth. 8, 23 — 27.
After Jesus had given his answer to the requests of those two, he now boards the ship with “his disciples”. He falls asleep and meanwhile a storm arises that threatens the ship. The disciples wake him up, ask him for help, but he rebukes their unbelief, threatens the wind and the sea, and it became completely calm. Then the people were amazed and said: “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”
That Mark reports (C. 4, 38) that Jesus slept on a cushion in the stern of the ship during the storm would hardly be worth mentioning if one had not drawn from this detail the conclusion of the later age of his writing, since such descriptive details are considered the idle addition of a later reviser. Occasionally, however, the reviser adds descriptive details to the account he uses and copies in order to contribute something of his own, but it is not necessary; it happens rarely and, at least possibly, only rarely can it occur – Luke and Matthew, for example, are very sparing in this regard – and such details usually betray themselves as later additions by disrupting the context. However, the usual course of historiography and the fate that the original manuscript experiences at the hands of later pragmatists is more likely to be such that the picturesque features of the original presentation are omitted by subsequent revisers or condensed with more or less success into simple formulas. In place of living vividness, general formulas take its place, which then usually become fixed – just think of the fixed, uniform transitions that Luke and Matthew have put in place of the specific motives that Mark gives. But the evangelical historiography had to lean more and more towards this abstract attitude. The man who first tried to present the life of the Savior in context could not do otherwise; he had to try to satisfy the demand of form as much as possible, i.e., to form specific, motivated transitions and to bring situations, contrasts, and motives of the appearance to life even in the small details within individual narratives – Mark did it. But once it had happened and the story had been introduced to the particular detail of the external appearance, it led to the material interest of the religious consciousness, which turned primarily to the content, so that such descriptive details lost their significance, the importance of form, which the first reviser alone must have felt so vividly, ceased, and only the simple framework of the narrative was retained by later revisers – sometimes (as in the present case) without harm to the context, sometimes, however, to the great detriment of the composition.
The following difference in the portrayal of the three evangelists is important. According to Matthew’s account, it is the people in the boat (οι ανθρωποι) who marvel and exclaim: “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!” But where do these people suddenly come from? Schleiermacher tells us *): “We already have strangers on the boat, if we believe that it went out for fishing.” It seems that Schleiermacher wants to compel us to complete our above remark about the progress of evangelical historiography: we obey. The later religious interest not only simplifies the representation and blurs out descriptive details, but in the case where the earlier representation contradicts its later assumptions, it is inventive in strained interpretations that alter, twist and eventually distort the original material to such an extent that unbiased and pure truth must intervene and free itself as well as the matter from these ghosts. Schleiermacher thinks that the disciples could not have asked, in any case, “What kind of man is this?” Well, is it purely impossible—since they already know what kind of man they are dealing with, if they wake Jesus up in the highest danger and cry out to him, “Lord, save us, we are perishing?” Do they not already know that he can command the storm and the sea when they beseech him for help? Of course! So they cannot marvel afterwards, when the Lord grants their request, in such a way as if they had not even suspected that this man possessed such great power. The contradiction remains and that fishing expedition sails off into the blue. The contradiction remains, initially in a different form, in Matthew’s account. When he says that Jesus got into the boat, he not only knows nothing about an intended fishing trip, but he also knows and says nothing about the interesting circumstance that besides the disciples, “strangers” also followed the Lord into the boat.
*) loc. cit. p. 127.
Only the disciples follow (v. 23), they are the ones who fear when the storm threatens, and they are the ones whom the Lord rebukes for being fearful and of little faith. So where do these strangers come from? Just as Schleiermacher, also in the apologetic interest, took offense at the disciples speaking of the Lord as if he were an unknown person or a stranger, with the words “What sort of man is this *)?”, from whom they did not expect such an exercise of power, and to remove this offense, Matthew has created those people at once, those people whom he strictly wants to distinguish from the disciples. According to Matthew’s later view, it stands that the Lord testified and proclaimed himself as the Messiah from the very beginning and that the disciples knew him as such from the beginning—so how could they speak of their master with this unfamiliarity: what kind of man is this?
*) V. 27: ποταπός εστιν ούτος, ότι. Mark 4, 41: τίς άρα ούτός έστιν, ότι, likewise Luke 8, 25.
Matthew, however, has, if we consider the original structure of the story, forcibly inserted those strangers, and Schleiermacher has been very cruel to his protégé this time, when he sacrificed him to the first Synoptist. According to both Luke and Mark, it is the disciples who become afraid and cry out in amazement, “What kind of man is this?” or rather, “Who is this?” According to their account, Jesus first calms the storm and then scolds the disciples, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” *) And if it immediately says after this, “And they were very afraid,” Luke adds (which Matthew, in turn, has kept alone because he inserted the strangers): “And they were amazed” and said to each other, “Who is this?” If the connection is so tight, are these strangers supposed to suddenly appear and say these words? Matthew, of course, has partly recognized the danger that his assumption poses in this context and has placed the accusation of lack of faith **) after the disciples’ request and only then, after reporting the calming of the storm, followed by the amazement of the people. But it does not help, since he has left the original account so unscathed that the strangers cannot find a place on the boat.
*) So according to Mark 4:40. According to Luke, who forms the middle ground here, namely the transition to Matthew’s view and assumes that the disciples had long since recognized Jesus as the Messiah (Chapter 8, verses): “Where is your faith?”
**) Τί δειλοί ἐστε, ὀλιγόπιστοι; He had to change and soften the accusation here: “Do you still have no faith?”
Now the contradiction that runs through the original account and resolves it as it formed! “Who is this?” the disciples say to each other, that even the winds and the sea obey him! So they still do not know Jesus as the Messiah, the miracle is unexpected to them, and they don’t know how to react in their surprise. Rightly so! If Jesus had not directly announced himself as the Messiah and was only recognized as such by the disciples later, then performing a miracle that would prove that the laws of the universe shrink and submit to his command would have made the disciples tremendously scared and ask “who is this?” This is in order, and even Mark has not been able to hide it in his fundamental view. But it seems as if the disciples already knew their master as the Messiah and as the almighty lord of the universe when they woke him up in danger and sought help from him. Although Mark did not shape their request as precisely as Matthew, who lets them explicitly plead for salvation from the danger – “Lord, save us, we are perishing!” – according to his account, they only draw their master’s attention to the danger they are in – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” – this is also very beautiful and suitable for the assumption that they did not know Jesus as the Messiah yet. But when the Lord rebukes them for being fearful and having no faith after the stilling of the storm, the other assumption is expressed: he has already proven and announced himself as the Messiah so often and so clearly that they should have trusted him without fear, believing that he would grant them the necessary help at the right time. It would be going too far to say that one of the assumptions cancels out the other, and both must destroy each other mutually; rather, the one that agrees with the history, the assumption that the disciples did not immediately know their master as the Messiah, remains valid, and the other, according to which Jesus had clearly revealed himself as the Messiah, that they should have expected the greatest miracles from him, falls before it. With it falls the miracle that would have only existed in its place if the Lord had wanted to awaken a faith that was denied and rejected by his other assurances or the spiritual power of his personality through external force.
And if all the power of heaven and earth were united in one person and could overthrow all laws, they still could not do so if it were demanded of them, unless they wanted to justify an immoral relationship with nature and create the small-minded or rather unbelieving who dare to create a deadly collision with the law and reason of the universe from every individual natural event.
Let us not misunderstand! When we call the desire for an immediate suspension of the laws of nature immoral and unworthy, the evangelical view as such is not accused — but the charge of blasphemy against reason then hits the apologist all the more surely and dangerously. He is only concerned with the curious fact that the Lord commanded calm to the storm and sea among other things, while the evangelical view sees in the miracle the symbol and pledge of the helpful power with which the Lord protects his own in the storms of this world and, if destruction already seems inevitable, rescues them.
This is not the place to elaborate more extensively on the manifold forms in which the view of nature is intertwined with religious consciousness and how this interweaving changes from the lowest stage – from natural religion – up to the Christian religion, but in the change it essentially retains itself. Enough, religious consciousness must hold on to nature – the immediate existence of the spirit – at every stage because the dialectic of its spiritual determinations cannot be mediated through as purely spiritual, and therefore cannot be carried out as mediated recognition and overcoming of nature, but rather, since it should be viewed as finished here, in this massive immediacy, the calm expression of the spiritual is most clearly viewed or the superiority of the Absolute can be most clearly demonstrated. In the Christian community, religious consciousness has come the farthest in developing its content in a rational, i.e., in a general form, but it has not yet come so far that it could completely dispense with that immediate view of its principle in nature. It has not yet developed its content in true spiritual universality, and if it wants to assure itself of its principle in full vitality — to consider only the focal point — it must either view nature as its image and emblem — (I am the bread of life, etc.) — or finally go so far as to take nature as the symbol of its presence in itself for enjoyment, as in the sacrament. Moreover, it is absolutely essential to consider nature when the Christian wants to see in the life of his Lord the image and pledge for the victories that he should gain in the struggles of this world against the resistance of evil. Within the limits of his historical life, Jesus could not have fought all the hostile powers that threaten the believer; as the absolutely and abstractly “sinless” Savior, he certainly did not experience all the inner struggles that the believer has to face. Even when he really enters into conflict with the parties of his time, this seems to be the least satisfying, since this kind of proof is precisely the most personal, incidental affair of Jesus and seems to be accomplished if the scribes and Pharisees are “shut up” and the “woe” is called upon them. Finally, isn’t it always a contradiction to see the settlement of all, even the most general spiritual struggles, unrest and rifts in the historical experiences of a particular personality? In order to fill all these deficiencies and to eliminate these contradictions, the religious consciousness creates the world of miracles – a world in which the eternally identical, universally known and present nature is tamed and restrained, the same nature from which the religious spirit can most easily and understandably form its conflicts and take the symbols of its spiritual deficiencies and struggles. This world of miracles is immediately close to the religious spirit, for it is precisely against the natural barriers and sufferings that he is most sensitive. At the same time, it is distant from him as the world of the Absolute and is considered by him as the divine history, because the universality of the spirit appears in it immediately and proves itself as the unlimited power of the universe. Only here does faith believe to see the Lord in personal tension with evil when he fights death, disease, and the storms of nature with a single word. And only in these struggles does he see the pledge for the world-historical victories of the community, for the Lord who remains calm and unshaken in all these struggles, who sleeps during the storm and walks away from the battlefield without looking back or making a fuss about his actions, is the absolute Lord who stands by his own until the end of world history, until the creation of a new nature.
After all this, it will be understandable to everyone that we do not engage in the paltry question of whether the present account has any historical basis and whether Jesus perhaps once reproached the disciples for their cowardice during a storm. The whole, as it stands, is purely and solely a product of the ideal world of the religious consciousness, “a child of faith.” The idea is Christian—the material, in part, Old Testament. Jehovah also commanded the sea *), Moses did it at God’s command: the Messiah does it in his own divine power. But the idea remains Christian—for Jewish consciousness, the struggle with nature as such has exclusive interest, it is a historical, once and for all settled struggle, which is preserved as a purely past event in memory, while for Christian consciousness it is the symbol for the world-historical struggles of the community and for the victories of their Lord.
*) Psalm 106:9: “He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry; he led them through the depths as through a desert.”
Now the contradictions of the original report become clear. Jesus reproaches the disciples for not having firmly trusted that in his community the waves would not come crashing down on their heads: that was said for the believers who are seized by the storms of the world. To the disciples’ words “Do you not care that we are perishing?” is the faithful expectation of help according to Mark’s account, but it had to pass because the believers had to be taught where to seek help. Finally, at the end, the disciples had to speak as if Jesus, as this miracle worker, had been unknown to them until then, since Mark could not completely suppress and conceal the historical circumstance that the disciples had not recognized the Lord as the Messiah so soon. Matthew, on the other hand, only knows the ideal world, so the conclusion in his predecessor’s account must have been disturbing and annoying to him, and since he could not suppress it as the conclusion—the impression of the miracle on the surroundings is reported, after all—he suddenly brings strangers onto the ship so that in their mouths that amazed exclamation would be less objectionable.
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