§ 52. Refusal of a sign

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 52.

Refusal of a sign.

Matth. 12, 39 – 45.

Whether Schleiermacher or de Wette is right, when the former *) finds it more natural how Luke puts together the demand for a sign and the accusation that Jesus is in league with the devil, and the latter **) gives preference to Matthew’s portrayal, since “the demand for a sign is caused only by Jesus’ assertion that he works through the Holy Spirit” – (thus, by a statement that has long been drowned out in the noise of the preceding verses V. 33-37) – Mark has decided that neither of them is right.

*) p. 175.

**) I, 1, 119.

1. The sign of Jonah.

Matth. 12, 39 – 42.

In verse 39, Jesus rebukes the evil and adulterous generation which demands a sign, saying, “No sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Then, in verse 40, it is explained, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Without transition, it is added (verse 41-42), “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, someone greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, someone greater than Solomon is here.”


Now see how the theologian is already twisting and writhing, clenching his fist, and threatening these sayings, who are shouting something wildly, that they had better observe the laws of harmony, or beware that one of them, if he will not comply, must be strangled. They do not want to obey – the theologian is not a wizard, he lacks the magic formula – so it is time to strangle! Only the sign of Jonah shall be given to this generation? Yes! And what does it consist of? In the resurrection? But that is precisely the most tremendous miracle. And did Jonah tell the people of Nineveh his adventure with the whale and bring them to repentance through this story? Not at all! The Lord himself says that the preaching of the prophet – Jonah is called “the prophet” from the outset – had this effect, and the people of Nineveh are therefore set above the miracle-seeking generation because they had been moved to repentance by the preaching of a man who was otherwise distinguished by nothing*), so the preaching of the man had the same significance for them as Solomon’s wisdom had for the queen of the South.

*) Correct Calvin on v. 41: Jonas apud Ninevitas nullo titulo splendebat, sed homo extraneus poterat explodi.


But Jesus did perform miracles, and the resurrection, which he promises at the same moment as a sign, is also a miracle and a very powerful one at that, – well, says Neander, Jesus also speaks of his miracles in this whole speech. “We are by no means speaking here merely of the teaching of Christ, but of the whole of his appearance, which is more than the appearance of Solomon and Jonah.” But what a mist and smoke of words the theologian wraps himself in, in order to be able to look down from his lofty standpoint on those who think here first of the doctrine. We would think that when Jonah’s appearance in Nineveh is spoken of, when the journey of the queen of the south to Solomon is mentioned, Jonah and Solomon are taken into consideration for the sake of what they carried in the scope of their spirit and made known through the word; for this reason and for no other, v. 41 “the preaching of Jonah” is called “the preaching of Solomon”. 41 “the preaching of Jonah” and v. 42 “the wisdom of Solomon” are expressly and only thought of – what else are we to think of, then, if we are not to think “merely of doctrine” out of pure nobility, how should the appearance of Solomon and Jonah have oozed their inner being other than through “doctrine”? But it is only the theologian’s own harm if he regards doctrine so contemptuously, as if it were not the proper manifestation of the Spirit, or as if the appearance of Solomon and Jonah had something quite apart from wisdom and preaching to the foreign queen and to the Ninevites. It is his pity, for he misjudges the saying, its power, he surveys the great significance that language has for the appearance of great men, and yet in all the world he does not arrive at the miracles he would like to achieve by means of this saying. Or, in the end, are the miracles to be the only thing that must be added before a personality can become greater than Solomon and Jonah were? To be sure, Jesus compares his “appearance” with that of Solomon and Jonah, but only in so far as the appearance of those men was interpreted by themselves in their wisdom and preaching, and was wholly placed in this manifestation of the spirit, i.e. in so far as the teaching of those men revealed the extent of their spirit. Now when Jesus says of himself: here is more than Solomon, more than Jonas, does he then refer to his miracles, inasmuch as “to the whole of his appearance as a sign belonged also in particular his miracles? *)” Then he would have been smaller than those men! Jonah makes great effort to persuade the Ninevites to repentance by the power of his word, Solomon had only asked God for wisdom and through it won the recognition of his contemporaries, as all Scripture tells us, and what these men acquired with difficulty, Jesus wants to win especially through miracles and by pointing to his miracles, that is, in one fell swoop, in a way that is otherwise not available to the poor children of men in this world?

*) Neander p. 205.


Lift yourself up from me, theologian, for it is written: here is more than Jonah, more than Solomon, i.e. the Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, the queen of the south came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but you did not believe my words, my speeches, and yet these words are the expression and utterance of a personality whose spiritual scope is infinite, while Jonah and Solomon were still limited personalities. But it shall remain so, only the sign of Jonah shall be given to you, you shall not see any other sign than this my person and its, albeit infinite, expression in the word. So where are the miracles “in particular”?

We are probably not overreaching ourselves in words when we express the hope that people will finally stop scolding philosophy in prefaces and from the rooftops. You have played this game long enough, gentlemen, but now it has come to an end, since philosophy is coming to protect the Scriptures, for which you have hitherto fought, against your abusive protection and to save the letter against yourselves. You want to drive us out of the State, you provoke the government against us, you conjure up heaven and hell against us, and behold! O behold! judgment has come upon you: we drive you out of theTemple – not with the rope, not with passion, no, in all peace of mind, by freeing the letter from your hands, which wanted to strangle it, and let it bear witness against you! He drives you out of the temple! The stones of the temple cry out and accuse you! Flee! Flee!


Matthew did not create the saying himself, not originally, because he has distorted it to an extent that is impossible with a fresh, original structure. Only in verse 39 does it say that only the sign of the prophet Jonah shall be given to this evil generation, and this sign is (verse 41) Jesus’ three-day stay in the heart of the earth, an extraordinary sign, and yet that “adulterous” generation should be ashamed by the example of the people of Nineveh, who believed the preaching of the prophet without miracles. Impossible! But possible in the way that Matthew – think of chapter 4, verses 13-14! – knows how to squeeze Old Testament types into a literary work that was already developed before him. 

He wrote out Luke, but transformed one sentence of the saying with the same construction into a reference to the Old Testament type of the resurrection of Jesus. Luke C. 11, 29 – 32 says: “This generation is wicked: a sign is required of it, and no sign shall be given unto it, save the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so shall the Son of Man be to this generation” – this is the saying about the Queen of the South and the Ninevites. Here is the connection, here is everything clear: as Jonah stood before the Ninevites without a sign and had to wait and see whether they would be moved to repentance by his sermon and be delivered from their sin, so the Son of Man stands before this generation and although he is more than Jonah, this generation still wants a sign and will therefore be condemned by the Ninevites who thought quite differently.


Matthew, however, because he did not have to create that speech and could let his thoughts wander to the remotest, remembered that Jesus rose on the third day (Mark 10, 34.), that and the similarity of Jesus’ stay in the earth – for the evangelist it was a similarity – with the fate of Jonah, who (Jon. 2, 1.) “was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish,” these two echoes induced him to substitute his explanation of the sign of Jesus for that of Luke, and so little did he notice the tremendous contradiction which now enters into the speech that he retained the construction of the original saying *).

*) Luk 11, 30 καθώς γαρ εγένετο Ιωνάς σημείον τοϊς Νινευίταις, ούτως έσται ο υιός του ανθρώπου τη γενεά ταύτη. Matth. 12, 40 ώσπερ γαρ ήν Ιωνάς εν τη . . . . ούτως έσται ο υιός τ. άνθρ. εν τη …….

As long as the critics accepted this saying, as Luke formed it, for a real saying of Jesus, they could, however, entertain the opinion that with its help they could repel the idea that Jesus had been a miracle-worker. But it is formed by Luke on a standpoint on which the demand of sensual certainty asserted itself against the proclamation of the Gospel and was to be pacified by the reference to the pure view of the personality of Jesus and to the power of his teaching – so there is a contradiction in the fact that a saying which arose from a later collision is put into the mouth of the Lord in a context where he really performed so many miracles.

In its original form the saying did not yet have this general meaning; there it was rather intended to reject the Pharisees, who, in order to tempt the Lord, demanded of him a sign from heaven, simply without any reference to the general. “What, saith Jesus, does this generation ask for a sign? Verily I say unto you, there shall no sign be given unto this generation. Then Jesus left them standing.” Mark 8, 11-13. Luke immediately confused this single definite collision with a later one, which only the church experienced, and accordingly formed that discourse which takes into account a more general interest; Matthew, at last, put the excellent train of thought of this discourse into boundless confusion, by making, after his manner, the story of Jonah a type of the resurrection of Jesus.



2. The return of cast out demons.

Matth. 12, 43-45.

With a very definite transition, as if the best connection were present, with the formula “but if” (οταν δε) Jesus begins to describe how an unclean spirit, when it has gone out from a man, wanders about in desolate places, seeks in vain for a resting-place, decides to return, and when it finds the man remiss, takes seven other spirits with it, who are even more evil than he, and with them enters again into his first place. With the same man it will then be worse afterwards than it was before. “So, Jesus concludes, will it be with this wicked generation.”

But if this generation was wicked and evil, how can it be compared with a man who for a time was free from demoniac spirits, and whose inward parts were “swept and adorned” during the absence of the evil spirits? Could this a priori evil race be merely warned against “laxity”? And if it were to happen, why all of a sudden in this image, which was taken from the demonic conditions?

Matthew got this saying from Luke. Luke does not have it in the answer of Jesus to the demand for a sign, but as the end of the speech of defence against the accusation of the alliance with the devil (C. 11, 24-26.). It is impossible to determine what the saying here is about – this most important matter – for it follows after the saying (v. 23.), which itself was already out of all connection with the occasion, after the saying: “he that is not with me is against me.” Luke also omits the conclusion which Matthew formed: “so shall it be with this evil generation,” so we do not even know for certain – a great pity! – whether the saying is meant to be a mere description of demonic conditions or figurative. But if Luke had already strayed far from the occasion with v. 23 and allowed himself to go even further and be tempted to work out and write down the saying about the return of the evil spirit on the off-chance, are we to torment ourselves for two millennia in order not to find a connection, but to present it to ourselves and others?


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