§ 50. A sabbath healing


§ 50.

A sabbath healing.

Matth. 12, 9-14.


Whether it should have happened on the same Sabbath, on which they had just been severely treated, or on another, is irrelevant. It is incomprehensible and inappropriate that the Pharisees should expressly put the question to the Lord, whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, when he had entered the synagogue, in which there was also a man with a withered hand. Whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath! They had just heard that the Son of Man was Lord even over the Sabbath, and they had also experienced that Jesus knew how to answer courageously. So why provoke him? Neither historically nor aesthetically probable?

It is quite another thing when Mark (C. 3, 2.) reports that they were watching him to see if he would heal the sick man on the Sabbath, so that they could accuse him. That is right: they want to see how he would behave in this case, but they are careful not to provoke him by a question or to draw attention to the danger and their intentions. This is also reported by Luke (C. 6, 7.). Another time (C. 14, 1-3.) the same evangelist found out – which he and only he succeeded in doing so often – that the Lord was a guest of a Pharisee. This time the man is a leader of the Pharisees – a character that is otherwise unknown to us – and Jesus, as it seems, went into his house of his own accord “to eat bread. Luke, in fact, diligently keeps the matter in abeyance, because he wants to portray the Pharisees as hostile from the start: “they were watching him.” It was the Sabbath day, and behold, there was – (suddenly, we don’t know where he came from) – a man suffering from dropsy in front of him. Jesus then asked the experts in the law and the Pharisees whether it was permitted to heal on the Sabbath. What a question! He has already answered with both words and deeds! So why raise the issue again? One should not say that those present had not heard of the earlier incident, for in the original evangelical view, everything happens only once, everything that happens is known to everyone, and the public, because it is one, is all-knowing. The question is created as a situation and should only serve as a theme for the following speech, or rather just as a heading. Matthew has combined this account of Luke with the report of Mark, for he has overlooked the fact that these Sabbath incidents originally appear – in the writing of Mark – as practical conflicts of the new principle with the positive law and with the legal world, he has furthermore – (compare C. 11, 28 – 30.) – transferred the interest to the theory as such *) and so the Pharisees must now immediately advance with the question whether it is permitted to heal on the Sabbath.

*) Cf. Wilke, 482.


That Matthew had confused two things, the original account of Mark, which Luke reproduces in its place essentially unchanged, and that later narrative of Luke, is also proved in this way. “Who,” Jesus is said to have answered (v. 11. 12.) to that question of the Pharisees, “is there among you, if he have a sheep which shall fall into a pit for him on the sabbath day, that shall not take hold of it, and lift it up? How much better then is a man than a sheep? So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” This is either saying too much or too little. Too much! for the opponents were already beaten when they were reminded that the Sabbath law was broken because of an animal. Too little, insofar as the thought of benevolence in relation to both sides has not been properly prepared e.g. *) “Either not clearly enough described as something to be practiced against humans or, taken in this sense, is so detached from those examples of the benevolence practiced on animals as if it were something else and that no benevolence.” It was enough, when the Lord once (Mark 3.4. Luke 6.9.) asks his opponents: “Is it lawful to do good or evil on the Sabbath? To save a life or to bear the burden of perishing”)?” and the other things (Luke 14:5): “Who is among you whose ox or donkey falls into the well and does not immediately pull it out on the Sabbath day?” Both were enough in themselves each time, and if Luke rightly says that the people could not answer anything to the latter question, Mark, on his part, was allowed to give the Lord, after the former question, immediately a withering glance from the opponents, and to heal the sufferer ***).

*) as Wilke, p. 461 excellently states.

**) Instead of αποκτειναι is also to be read in Mark as in Luke: απολεσαι.

***) The note that the Pharisees (Mark 3, 6.) consulted “with the Herodians”, of which the two others in the parallel passage know nothing, is a later gloss from Mark 12,13. Mark had only written: they consulted against him. Wilke, p. 500.

Now come the critics, if the theologian, if he has heart, could say, now he only “asserts” that Jesus did no miracles! Didn’t he heal a dropsy man on the Sabbath and a man with a withered hand? Isn’t it certain that he healed miraculously, since we still have the sayings that he had to use to counter his opponents on this occasion? And aren’t these sayings so peculiar that they must be genuine? Aye! Aye!


Good theologian, you gain nothing by claiming that criticism is content only to “assert” something – it only proves, but does not “assert”! – You gain nothing by confusing all the categories of the world. Real! Original! Proper! O, and what not everything else!

So now, valiant theologian, the critic asks you to consider again how Matthew has changed the historical situation which he sees written before him by Mark, and the saying which the same writing of Mark has handed down to him, and indeed has changed it very incongruously, and you now dare to think it possible that in oral tradition such things can live unchanged for many, many years? If litera scripta non manet, shall the letter, which is written or preserved in tradition – that is, where? in a thousand heads, and always add, in a thousand hearts, here and there in so variously individualised vessels? – are written or preserved, remain and endure? See, good friend, how the original tale of Mark has become a theme on which later variations have played freely! Or would the saying which Luke C. 14 communicates also have come from tradition? Then at least it would not have to be Luke who reports it, not Luke who so often invites the Lord to breakfast or to the banquet of the Pharisees, not to give him the opportunity to speak out most vehemently against these arch-enemies or to rebuke them about law and tradition. Then Luke would not have to report another healing of the Sabbath and let the Lord answer for it with the saying that everyone unties his ox or donkey from the manger on the Sabbath and leads it to the watering place (C. 13, 15.). 6, 5, that Jesus, on the same day, when he had proved his authority against the Sabbath law, saw a man working “on the Sabbath” (!) and called out to him, “if thou knowest what thou doest, thou art blessed; if thou knowest not, thou art accursed, and a transgressor of the law *).” These are, as I said, variations on the one theme which Mark composed.

*) Cf. Rom. 14, 23.


Mark composed it first! The theologian should thank us and wish himself luck if we prove to him that these reports are pure, later creations, for if they were historical and “credible,” it would be certain that Jesus only shook the Sabbath law, but did not break through this fence. When Jesus refers to the authority of David, it basically only means that in cases of necessity the Sabbath law does not apply; if it may only be violated for the sake of an extraordinary good deed, then it remains as a rule apart from this exception. Weisse **) may have secretly foreseen this danger, or rather he may have been interested in ascribing to the Lord an unconditional exaltation of the Sabbath law, but the fact remains: if the accounts are to be understood as historical, Jesus only conditionally permitted an exception to the rule, even demanded it, but thereby only confirmed the rule even more. If Jesus wanted to negate the law, he would have had to give his statements a more far-reaching direction.

**) l, 484.

Nevertheless, it is true that the reports, as formed by Mark, are based on the premise that the Sabbath law as such no longer has any validity; the individual case and the settlement of this individual case are to be advanced to the generality of all cases and the higher rule that stands above the old law – but this progress, this premise, is only there in itself, and is not really carried out and elaborated. Why? Because the reports are formed only later, when the community had long since come to terms with the law, and its self-awareness, when it was presented in a single figure, in a particular anecdote from the life of its master, of its own accord supplemented the lack of this particularity, added the generality, just as it found the same confirmed at the same time in a single saying of the master.


Those anecdotes only teach us about the self-awareness of the congregation as it was at that time when they were formedif we want to inform ourselves about the position of Jesus, other investigations are needed, to which we first pave the way by examining the evangelical views and, if necessary, dissolving them. The miracle falls, reason, self-awareness triumphs!

Matthew, by the way, already had the need to really transfer the definiteness of the individual (C. 12, 3-8.) to the generality, only he could not quite succeed in his way. Luke, too, had the same need inwardly; he therefore multiplies the individual cases which gave the Lord occasion to declare himself against the Sabbath law: but much of the individual is not the general. Both of them had only considered the individual things formed by Mark, and no longer saw that the generality of the self-awareness of the congregation was at the bottom of it. Mark worked beautifully.


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