§ 45. The Doubt of the Baptist

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



Seventh Section.

The Message of the Baptist.

Matthew 11:2-30.


§ 45

The Doubt of the Baptist.

Matthew 11:6.

The account of the message which the Baptist sent to Jesus has neither its home nor the position it deserves in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew did not create the account, nor did he know where to place it. A man who himself brings forth and shapes a new view will, in any case and as far as he is able, provide it with a point of support and a solid, well-founded foundation on which everyone can understand it and which can develop naturally. But he will not put it up in the air. This time, Matthew did just that. As we have already learned, his historical concluding remark at the end of the instruction sermon (Matthew 11:1) leads into the blue; and one may theologically craft, as one wishes *), and give the “works” of Christ, from which John heard in prison and which gave him the occasion for his message, such an abstract meaning that they “do not or at least not exclusively” mean the miracles, but what does the theologian’s anxiety matter to us? – it remains that the works John heard of were primarily the miracles. But if Matthew does not mention anything about miracles in the general introduction to the account of the Baptist’s message, if even the long speech to the apostles has long diverted attention from the preceding accounts of miracles, in short, if Matthew does not tell us anything about the Lord’s extraordinary deeds, then he also does not make it clear to us how the news of “the works” of Jesus happened to reach the Baptist’s prison. Nor will he make us forget the difficulties that a free communication of the prisoner with the rest of the world had to face. Matthew did not know how to break open the doors of the prison with the news of extraordinary miracles.

*) Such as de Wette 1, 1, 106.


In a writing where John has already greeted Jesus as the Messiah before his baptism, a report that presents the Baptist – initially, we must say: at all – as doubting could not arise, could not find a place for the first time. That John, as he appears at the baptism of Jesus, could not doubt.

Why not? – says the theologian, who immediately bends aesthetic criticism in his anxious interest in the material – why shouldn’t the Baptist also be able to doubt? Calvin had indeed said that it would be senseless *) to assume that the Baptist had doubted himself, but since modern times no longer dare to assume that the Baptist had brought up the concerns of his disciples in his question and sent the disciples to convince themselves of the messianic nature of Jesus, the modern theologian must already strive to pile up that senselessness with his arguments until it appears to him and his kind as reason. The unfortunate ones!

*) valde absurdum.


The fourth evangelist must especially trouble the theologian when it comes to explaining the doubt of the Baptist; but shall we ignite the senseless struggle that we have long since pacified? Should we, when the theologian asserts that the views of the spiritual destiny of the Messiah attributed to the Baptist by the fourth evangelist could have become shaky, or that the “earlier explanations of the Baptist regarding the pre-existence of Jesus” were based entirely on the miracle of the baptism and so “in moments of depression in prison, doubts could arise in the Baptist whether he had not then (at the sight of the baptismal miracle) given himself too easily to self-deception *)” — should we still point out the foolishness of the theologian’s views on the character of the Baptist and the letter of the Holy Scripture, committing blasphemy and sacrilege if he refuses to admit a contradiction? We have, however, proven that the messianic views of the Baptist were already a firm theory before he met Jesus according to the fourth evangelist — why should we say again that all doubts were impossible if the promise of the baptismal miracle had been added to this theory and this miracle occurred so punctually? Why say this when the theologian, in his filthy fear, does not listen, does not believe, does not understand? Hoffmann says indeed **): “thus (!) the narratives remain real history, as long as they are not challenged with better reasons.” But what’s the point? Even if “better reasons” come and the dialectic of criticism is complete, the apologist will still resist. He may do it for himself, but time, humanity, and reason will not: they are teachable, not stubborn — they are not theologians and want to have nothing more to do with the arts of theology.

*) Hoffmann, p. 290.

**) p. 297.


But let us remember that the early recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, the messianic theory, and the testimony about Jesus, all of these beautiful things that the first and fourth evangelist praise about the Baptist, belong to later pragmatism. Thus, it is clear – is it not? – that the message of the Baptist really belongs to history? No! First of all – it does not fit into the plan of the first evangelist, and it has come to the author of the same from a work where it stands in a better environment.

That work was written by Luke.

Luke has just told the story of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain and noted at the end that the news of it spread throughout Judea and the surrounding area. Now he can continue in chapter 7, verse 18: “And the disciples of John told him of all these things.” Now, the Baptist, moved by this remarkable news, can send two of his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Luke does not fail to motivate Jesus’ response: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22) – he says in verse 21, “And in that hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.” Here is the context, here the report is first marked – we do not yet want to say: originated.

“And blessed is he who is not offended because of me?” (v. 23) – Jesus gives these words to the disciples of the Baptist as they depart.

Whether Jesus meant this word and in what sense the Baptist posed his question, we will reject momentarily, or we will not allow the recognition that wants to assert itself in doubt to come to the fore.


The riddle is solved. Luke, the first successor of Mark, is also the first to have dared to assume, besides the mere fact of baptism, a personal connection of the Baptist with Jesus as the Messiah and to include it in the type of the Gospel history. But he still has him doubtingly ask whether he is the Messiah. Matthew is bolder, already drawn much more into the train that led the religious category of their completion, and ascribes to the Baptist the knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah even before the baptism; he should therefore actually leave out the story of his message, but he writes it, without noticing the contradiction, following Luke, because he is interested in the statements that Jesus is said to have made on the occasion of the Baptist’s doubting question. Their ultimate peak, at the height of which all historical differences disappear from view and present themselves as a single coherent plane, has been reached by religious reflection in the fourth Gospel: for there, the Baptist is not only the absolute Christologist, but he not only learns through the divine promise through the baptism miracle that this is the Messiah, but he also testifies long afterwards, when Jesus had already worked publicly for a long time, to the glory of him who came from heaven and was given as the bridegroom to the bride. Here, the open, straightforward testimony to this is the last act with which the Baptist exits from history; here, the life of history is killed, here, all differences have disappeared: here, everything is one.

Yes, but the apostle Paul himself says it, Weisse points out *), that the Baptist “at the end of his course” testified about the coming one (Acts 13:25). In prison – this is what Paul means, I mean, when he says: “when he had fulfilled his course” *) – there, John testified about Jesus. “This later recognition” is based on the report of the embassy that John sent from prison to the Lord. “The favorable sounding voice about him from the side of the Baptist followed the answer received from Jesus or testimonies heard elsewhere about him. As we can see, the confidence with which the fourth evangelist cites the testimony of the Baptist about Jesus still impresses Weisse to such an extent that he no longer knows how to help himself and… fabricates. Luke knows nothing in his Gospel that the Baptist gave such a voice about the Lord to the messengers who returned with Jesus’ answer to him or at any other time, and even if he knew more about it in the Acts of the Apostles, we would have every reason to view and examine suspiciously what he suddenly knows more about here. However, it is not even the case that he tells us something new in the Acts of the Apostles, because everything he allows Paul to say at this point is literally copied from the Gospel and an excerpt from the conversation between the Baptist and the people. “Who do you think I am? I am not he **)! But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”: thus, Paul says, John spoke at the end of his career. Nothing but that testimony about the coming one, which the Baptist is said to have pronounced in Luke 3:15, when the people began to think he might be the Messiah. The beginning of the testimony refers only to this occasion reported in the Gospel: I am not the one you think I am.

*) I, 270-272.

*) Acts 13:25: ως δε έπλήρου ο Ιω. τον δρόμον.

**) Luther’s version is correct: I am not the one you take me for.


So the matter would be settled, and the relationship of the four gospels in this regard determined – the theologian may now see what his excellent and ingenious science has to offer him as a replacement for his worn-out ideas! – so far, the matter has been clarified, that Luke is the second in the order of the evangelists, that in his writing the new emerges first, that the Baptist senses the Messiah in the Lord, and that this sensing here, where it first emerges, announces itself in the form of a doubting question. If now all that Matthew and the Fourth know about the relationship of the Baptist to Jesus, if even the baptism of Jesus by John, which Mark reports first, if all this has fallen into the realm of religious historical perception, then the only remaining question is whether that one point that still remains belongs to real history.


First, Luke answers for himself! If he thought the matter through carefully – and we have no reason to doubt that he did, since this story must have given him a great deal of trouble – he would have remembered well that the Baptist was in prison at the moment he heard about the miracles of Jesus – but why does he say nothing to us about it? Because he himself became uncertain and found it questionable that a man who was imprisoned and guarded *) should have been allowed to associate with his disciples as freely as was necessary for this story. Therefore, he wisely leaves the matter hanging. Matthew, on the other hand – whose representation, according to Strauss **) is regarded by Schleiermacher as original based on the meaningless arguments we have already rejected above – had it much easier, as usual. He no longer had to struggle with the birth pangs of this new child of religious reflection. He could proceed more boldly and, without realizing it, work out the contradictions as such. So Matthew says from the beginning: when John “heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples.” Therefore, considering the dangerous note about the Baptist’s condition and the fact that he leaves out Luke’s introduction that his disciples brought him news of the works of Christ, it finally emerges as if the gates of the prison were open for every piece of news and the prisoner had his disciples by his side at all times.

*) a man whom Herod locked up, as Luke 3:20 κατεκλείσεν τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ states.

**) I, 396, 397.


One will have noticed that once we have torn apart the rags of the theologian’s science, we throw them to him as a gift and occupation so that he does not get bored in the new, approaching world. So we also leave him with his immortal and uplifting question as to how a man whom Herod, according to Josephus’ account, held captive out of fear of popular unrest, could interact with his disciples as freely as Luke or even Matthew portrays. The theologian may occupy himself with this question in the meantime, while we proceed to explain the origin of this account.

In the gospel of Luke, as we have maintained, the account has its origin, for it is only here that miracles occur, from which his disciples could have brought news to John. But the miracles! The miracles! The earlier ones, as far as we know them now, have dissolved: the captain of Capernaum, whose servant Jesus had healed only recently (Luke 7:1-10), has become the Canaanite woman; the raising of the youth of Nain, which gives the Lord the right to refer in his reply to the Baptist to his raising of the dead (Luke 7:11-17, 22), will also not have a solid historical basis – at least for now, we can say that much. So where are the miracles that were reported to John and on which Jesus relies? They are no more! Therefore, John’s message is also impossible without them!

After the transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples that Elijah, who was to come, had already come (Mark 9:11-13), and they understood, as Matthew adds (17:13), that Jesus meant John the Baptist. Luke omitted this statement that Jesus made after the transfiguration.


Why? He just worked them into a longer speech by Jesus and created the message of the Baptist as the occasion for this detailed explanation. He could not put a full and explicit testimony into the Baptist’s mouth on this occasion, for he wanted to characterize him in Jesus’ speech as the forerunner, as the greatest prophet and at the same time as the one who is smaller than the smallest in the kingdom of heaven, i.e. as the one who, although very close to the kingdom of heaven, still stands far below the one who is the smallest in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, John could only express doubt about the Lord, but even so, the occasion is still unfortunate and proves to be a late literary product; for if the Baptist, when he heard of the real Messiah, was still so wavering that the Lord had to give him the categorical answer, “blessed is he who is not offended by me,” then the prophet would actually have forfeited the glory and praise that would later be lavishly bestowed upon him. This glory could only have remained unimpaired in the one case if the Baptist had remained the Elijah, the forerunner and greatest prophet that he is in the Gospel of Mark, and had not come into a situation in which he could only be understood ambiguously because of the limitations of the older evangelical type.

Now, if the message of the Baptist belongs to the pragmatism of Luke and the speech that Jesus gives to the people (Luke 7:24 προς τους οχλους) on the occasion of the message is only an explanation of that saying that Mark has preserved for us, then – what? – everything is settled and all is well, right? No! We will now – while the theologian is surely still pondering the difficult question of access to the prison – take a closer look at the speech itself.


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