§ 55. The comprehension power of the disciples

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 55.

The comprehension power of the disciples.

1. The report of Matthew.

Matth. 13, 10 – 18.

When the disciples heard the Lord recite the parable of the sower, this way of speaking was very striking to them, and immediately after the Lord had finished the parable, they asked Him why He spoke to the people in parables *). The answer, which Matthew puts into the mouth of the Lord, we have to simplify first.

*) Matth. 13, 10: εν παραβολαις the later abstraction. Jesus had first recited one parable and the disciples could not know if he would recite several more.

First of all it says: to them, the disciples, it is given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them, the multitude, it is not given. For to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because with seeing eyes they do not see, with hearing ears they do not hear and do not understand (vv. 11-13.). When now V. 14. 15 the same remark about the blindness and deafness of the people is repeated, namely in the form of a quotation from the scripture of Isaiah, then we already know what we have to think of such overabundance or tautology: to a saying, which he copies from a foreign writing and which is itself copied from the O.T. *), Matthew adds to the highest superfluity also the Old Testament original. As we remove this disturbing superfluity in thought, so we must also remove the following saying, the blessing of the disciples, since it is no less superfluous and at the same time belongs to a different context. “Blessed,” says v. 16, 17, “blessed are your eyes to see, and your ears to hear. Verily I say unto you, Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” First of all, the disciples had already been praised for their ability to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, so why should their position be praised anew? And why, in addition, praise them for a happiness that is essentially different from their previously praised position? First it was praised that they “recognize” the mysteries, now they are praised blessed because they see something at all, i.e. because only one object is given to their eyes. First they stood opposite the blinded people as the intelligent ones, now as the happy ones, to whom without their help an object of vision is offered, the former righteous and prophets, who have not yet seen what they will see **); finally, before it was said of them that they understand the mysteries of “the kingdom of heaven”, and now they are praised blessed, because they – well, it is clear, because they see the revelation of the divine council in the Redeemer, in the Son of man? The latter saying has its original place in the scripture of Luke. Jesus had said (C. 10, 22.) that no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and to whom the Son wants to reveal it, now Jesus says (v. 23. 24.), making a new beginning of the speech *): blessed are the eyes that see what you (my disciples) see, because I tell you, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see and did not see it, wanted to hear what you hear and did not hear it. The allusion that also here the seeing and hearing of the revelation is spoken of, moved Matthew to place this saying where we find it now.

*) So that the tautology would not become too great, he did not copy the saying (Mark 4, 12.) completely and he gives the words: μηποτε επιστρεψωσιν και αφεθη αυτοις τα αμαρτηματα only in the form of the citation.

**) Calvin says to v. 16 : hoc autem molto splendidius est, quam incredulae turbae praeferri, i.e. In human terms, both stand so far apart that they can never be brought together.

*) That is, the writer wants to turn away from the previous reflection on the dialectic of revelation and direct the view purely and solely to the revelation existing in the Son. Otherwise, however, this new turn is introduced very clumsily when Luke says (v. 23.): “and addressing the disciples in particular, he spoke,” as if, in addition to the seventy who had just returned from their missionary journey, a crowd of people were present and had been addressed beforehand. Luke took the first, indefinite material and the keyword “kings” from the Scripture of Isaiah C. 52, 15; this had escaped Matthew, otherwise he would not have put the “prophets and righteous” in place of Luke’s “kings and prophets”. Matthew also changed the beginning of the saying a bit to adapt it to the new environment, which demanded that the prize of the disciples be more prominent.


The contrast between the disciples and the people thus remains the only content of the speech that belongs to the matter; it is given to the disciples to recognize the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to the people the truth is offered in the cover of the parable “because” they are blind, deaf and without understanding. If we now ask how the parabolic contract and the blindness of the people are connected, Fritzsche **) is surprised that earlier commentators could understand the matter as if Jesus had wanted to hide the truth in the parables more than to clarify it; the disciples would rather have asked *) why Jesus used the clearer form of the parable when he preached to the people. On the other hand, Wilke has already noted **) that the kind of astonishment with which the disciples ask why Jesus speaks to the people in parables can only be explained if they consider the parabolic form to be the one that is more difficult to understand. Furthermore, Jesus could not have regretted that he was not allowed to present the pure light of truth to the people because of their dullness, nor could he have blessed the disciples that they could be given more than the mere parable if he considered the parabolic form to be the clearer one. Finally, under this condition, he would not have feared that the disciples might have missed the meaning of the parable, and there would have been no reason for him to explain it to them. Why else could he have proceeded to the interpretation of the parable immediately after the beatification of the disciples with the words: Hear ye therefore now ***) the meaning of the parable of the sower, if the parable as such was the clearer one? That it is rather the obscurer, the disciples themselves have to confess, when they later ask their master for the interpretation of the parable of the tares (v. 36.), and in the end Jesus has to admit again, when he considers it necessary to “ask” the disciples, whether they (v. 51.) have understood all this.

**) to Matth, p. 452.

*) Ibid. p. 455.

**) p. 201. 205.

***) V. 18: υμεις ουν ακουσατε i.e. you, while I cannot give the people the pure truth.


But the fact that we know how the evangelist looked at the matter does not explain it; the difficulties inherent in it are all the more evident now. If it is given to the disciples to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, why does Jesus explain the parable to them? Precisely because this knowledge is given to them, answers Neander *). But either they must have understood the parable beforehand, or if this was not the case and they still needed a special interpretation, then they did not differ from the people and we do not understand why it was given to them to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. It is indeed so incomprehensible that Calvin must say that there is no reason to be found in them why this “privilege” was granted to them **). 

*) p. 140.

**) Calvin on v. 11: si quis roget, unde hoc dignitatis privilegium apostolis: certe non reperietur in ipsis causa. Calvin, of course, then invokes predestination and arcanum dei consilium; the critic, who views the matter from a more human perspective, appeals to the arbitrariness of the writer.


Matthew does not make anything comprehensible to us. For do we know why Jesus goes on to explain the parable once (vv. 18, 19), since he had just praised the enlightened disciples, had previously extolled their power of knowledge, and since the disciples had only asked him why he spoke to the people in parables? Where so much, where everything is inexplicable, it would be useless to ask why Jesus still recites three parables before the people (v. 24-34), if no one could understand the meaning of them.

Perhaps the original report, which Matthew has deprived of its meaning by combining it with strange elements, will solve the difficulties.


2. The original report.

Mark 4, 10-25.

That the original account is not to be found in Luke’s writing has already been noted and is also evident from the following circumstances. Luke has retained the form of the original account to such an extent that he lets the disciples ask what “this parable,” which Jesus has just recited, “means *),” but later, when Jesus remarks that it is given to them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the others – the verb is missing – in parables **), so that they do not see with their seeing eyes, and when he now introduces the interpretation of the parable without further ado with the words: But the parable is this – we must be surprised that he does not call it conspicuous that he has to give the disciples an explanation which really need not have been necessary for them. Mark, as the first, knew that this transition was unavoidably necessary for the interpretation of the parable, and therefore lets the Lord ask beforehand with astonishment: you do not understand this parable? And how do you want to understand all parables?

*) Luke 8, 9: επηρώτων . . . τίς είη η παραβολή αύτη. Mark 4, 10: ήρώτησαν  . . . . . την παραβολήν.

**) Luke added the phrase “to understand” to the “in parables” statement that was mentioned by the disciples. But understanding should rather be denied to the crowd, even made impossible: iva βλέποντες μη βλέπωσι. Mark writes 4, 11: εν παραβολαίς τα πάντα γίνεται , ίνα….


Luke was not allowed to copy this passage, because he had given the parable of the sower a new relationship and was not allowed to focus too long on the disciples; Matthew, however, was even less allowed to copy it, since he had just written the beatitude of the enlightened disciples and thereby increased the fame of their deep insight; it was also consistent of him that he did not let the disciples ask about the meaning of the parable, but about the reason why Jesus spoke in parables. Both Luke and Matthew, however, only changed half of the original account, namely, they excluded other, essential parts of the original account from their presentation and thus brought about the confusion that we have come to know.

If we now ask about the meaning of the original account, we can grant Wilke that he has understood it most faithfully when he says *) that the parable discourse “originally (i.e. with Mark) had the purpose of being the first rehearsal of a doctrinal discourse written with the disciples in mind for their training, which is why this section is also placed after the election of the disciples. In part, however, this view is not incorrect – for it is supported by the fact that Jesus interprets the parable of the sower so precisely and, according to the interpretation (Mark 4, 21-25), urgently exhorts the disciples to “make use of their abilities in hearing such lectures” **) – however, there are still many aspects of the original account that contradict this interpretation. When Jesus answers the disciples’ question about the meaning of the parable: “it is given to you to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” according to this view of the whole passage, this should mean: “you are given a clearer view of the kingdom of God through the explanation of the parable” ***), and Jesus must have been pleased with the disciples’ question, because they thereby “showed their receptivity and betrayed their thirst for knowledge †)”. But the contrast, that the disciples are given to know the secrets, and the people are presented with all this in parables, so that they do not see with their seeing eyes, this contrast can only be based solely on the presupposition that the people do not understand the parables, but that their meaning is evident to the disciples from the beginning. Without this presupposition the contradiction would be groundless and in fact Jesus himself expresses it when he is surprised (Mark 4, 13.) that the disciples did not understand the parable. Then even Mark presents the matter in such a way that the parable lecture is calculated only for the people: the people are only to hear the truth in this form, “so that” they do not come to knowledge, and only through the coincidental circumstance, unexpected by the Lord himself, that the disciples had not understood the parable, are they also drawn into the matter *). Otherwise, however, the parables are intended for the crowd from the beginning: Jesus wants to teach them (v.2.) and he also teaches them after the dialogue with the disciples by reciting two more parables to them (v. 26-33.). Finally, there would also be a discrepancy in that the parable of the sower has not the slightest relation to the formal intention of Jesus to train the disciples in the understanding of parables or to bring them to the understanding of “the Word”: far from this formal consideration, it is rather meant to describe how the seed of the divine Word, depending on the ground it finds, is appropriated practically and for life and bears fruit. Just as little do the other two parables have to do with that formal tendency that Wilke finds in the report and which he must justify by individual turns of phrase in it.”

*) p. 583.

**) V. 24: βλεπετε τι ακουετε

***) de Wette I, 2, 141.

†) de Wette, ibid. and I, 1, 124.

*) The idea that everything is given to the people in parables, so that they may not come to knowledge (Mark 4, 12. Luke 8, 10.), has also passed into the writing of Matthew. The ἵνα is transferred into the question of the disciples Matth. 13, 10; afterwards, v. 13, in the answer of Jesus, a οτι follows instead of the ἵνα, but the ἵνα occurs again, when Jesus cites the saying of the prophet, and accordingly says W. 15 : μήποτε ίδωσι τοίς οφθαλμοίς.


The original report, too, dissolves through its contradiction – a fate that will be completed when we take a closer look at the individual sides of the contradiction.

The parables should only be presented for the sake of a formal tendency. Jesus therefore exhorts the disciples to make use of their faculties in hearing such a discourse (Mark 4, 21-25.): they should let their light shine, for nothing is hidden that will not be revealed; further: with what measure they measure, it will also be measured to them, i.e. “when they hear, it will still be granted to them,” for whoever has, to him will be given, and whoever does not have, from him will also be taken what he has. Both exhortations are therefore still especially justified *), but both times inappropriately enough, as they themselves do not follow the occasion. If the disciples are first to be exhorted to make use of their gifts of understanding, the justifying proposition that nothing is hidden that will not be revealed does not fit this, since – although the light or the abilities of the disciples are to be the hidden things that will necessarily be revealed – it jumps away from the reflection on the subjective ability and points to the necessity. On the other hand, it is not fitting that this admonition should be presented in the saying that one should not put one’s light under a bushel but on a candlestick, since in this saying the light that one puts on the candlestick oneself is rather considered in relation to others to whom one shines it. A similar discrepancy occurs in the second saying. Its two terms are supposed to be conveyed by the middle element: “if you hear, it will still be given to you,” but in the saying about the measure there can only be talk of a relationship that is brought about by our self-activity, while in the other: “to him who has, it will be given” there is no reflection of self-activity, but rather of an original definiteness, at least of a definiteness that has already been established after the self-acting mediation. Furthermore, in the saying of measure, the antithesis that corresponds to the “he who has not” of the second member is missing, and it should be missing because it is most alien to the occasion and only acquires a meaning when it deals with the moral judgment of others.

*) γαρ V. 22, 25


Luke copied this exhortation to the disciples from Mark and placed it immediately after the interpretation of the parable of the sower; only the saying about the measure he had placed (C. 6, 38.) in a place where it already looks much better than in Mark’ writing **), and thus he had made it possible that (C. 8,18. ) the saying of him that hath, and of him that hath not, and from whom also that which he hath *) is taken, is more fitly connected with the exhortation, “see that ye hear;” for immediately after this exhortation the saying is placed in the sense of reminding the disciples that it depends on the determination of their inner being whether the treasures of truth shall be given them or not. Matthew does not have this exhortation to the disciples according to the interpretation of the first parable. The saying about the measure he developed even better than Luke, the saying about the light he also reworked into a new, better turn of phrase, the saying about the hidden, which will inevitably be revealed, he had applied with the help of Luke (C. 12, 23. Matth. 11, 26. 27. ) to the inexorable spread of the Gospel truth, and no less excellently did he use the saying of him that hath and of him that hath not, to give his reason for the remark that the knowledge of the heavenly mysteries is given to the disciples, but made difficult or impossible to the people. The same saying about the lot of the one who has and the one who does not has found an equally appropriate position in the parable of the talents.

**) There μέτρον καλόν, πεπιεσμένος και σεσαλευμένος και υπέρεκχυνόμενον of Luke, this fullness has arisen from the προστεθήσεται of Mark.

*) Luke writes: και ο δοκει εχειω.. C. 19, 26 he retains the original original form.


In short, even Mark, who is otherwise not at all unskilled in his historical compositions and paintings, could not, with all his efforts, succeed in giving the parable lecture a merely formal tendency, and the speech to the disciples, which was supposed to express and strengthen this tendency, had to be completely unsuccessful. It is a makeshift composition of sayings and aphorisms to which the most distant echoes (light, measure) gave rise.


And looking at the matter itself, on condition that the disciples were to be trained in the understanding of such parables, it is either a useless or a most sought-after cruelty, or a favoured contrast, if the people were bothered and tormented with these erercitia, which were incomprehensible to them and intended for the disciples alone. Jesus could have exercised the disciples in this way much better when he was alone with them. Why before the people when they did not understand the meaning of the parables? Why this terribly cruel and precios side-view of the people, who could not use the erercitations of the disciples, who themselves passed very badly, for their own good? Mark says (C. 4, 33. 34.): “Jesus proclaimed the word before the multitude in many such parables, as far as they could grasp it,” thus substituting that they did understand some things; but this is only a contradiction, to which reason and humanity involuntarily forced him. Finally, when he says: “when Jesus was alone with the disciples, he explained everything to them,” we do not understand why the people were not also given the solution of these riddles, since the salvation of their souls would certainly have been not a little promoted by it.

We say: the salvation of the soul! For it is now clear that parables containing the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are not presented merely for the formal purpose of training the disciples to understand the parables. A man who can form parables, such as these, will not degrade them into exercises of the intellect, but, if he can bear them, will recite them for the purpose that all who hear them may come to know the laws of the kingdom of heaven, and through this knowledge may feel elevated and impelled to join in this order of the heavenly world.

The parables, Mark answers – and this is the other side of the contradiction -, were not only meant to serve the training of the disciples, but the people were also supposed to hear them. Jesus addressed the people when he began the parable lecture, this instruction was therefore intended for him from the beginning, indeed Jesus never spoke to the people except in parables. But he gave the people the truth in this more difficult and darker form, because they were not worthy to hear the pure, unveiled truth, and because they now had to be punished, so that their blindness would be completed and in this completion their downfall.


Terrible! Only in parables did Jesus speak to the people? Only in this form that was difficult to understand? Yes, in a form that the people could not understand? And only for the purpose that they might be lost without salvation and not be able to find the way to salvation? What a teacher! Instead of revealing the heavenly world, he hides it; instead of saving the wretched, he makes them more wretched! But let us leave the sentimentality of these questions! It is not at all the case that the parabolic form conceals the object which is presented in it and makes it difficult to understand; it only conceals it in the way in which every form of parable conceals it, i.e., it shows its image in the parables. It shows its image in the conditions of nature and of ordinary life, that is, in conditions that are immediately near and familiar to the people, and thus facilitates understanding, since it seeks out sensual consciousness in its home, grasps it, and from here raises it to the perception of the parallel, higher world.

As the legislator of the OT, in order not to succumb to the burden of his business, had associated with helpers, so Jesus also called the twelve to help him in healing diseases and in fighting demons; but he had appointed them (Mark 3:14) to preach, Moses also proclaimed the law to his people, after he had called those men who were to assist him in the administration of justice, so now Jesus must too after the call of the twelve to proclaim the laws of the kingdom of God that had come into the world with him. He does this in the parable lecture, which therefore follows immediately after the calling of the apostles. First of all, this discourse must be calculated for the disciples, since they had immediately received the destiny of being messengers of the new world: they must therefore be instructed and, above all, since they are still presumed to be inexperienced, trained and encouraged to correctly understand the teaching of their Master. Thus arose the formal tendency of the parable lecture. If, on the other hand, the truths presented were also important to them and could not serve to exercise the disciples’ powers of reason, if they also concerned the people and had to be heard by them, then the position that was due to the latter was unalterably determined. If the disciples did not understand the parables, the people could understand them even less; if the disciples were given the interpretation because of their special purpose, only the figurative form belonged to the people; if, finally, the disciples were practised, the people were diligently blinded, made obdurate and prevented by the parabolic form from attaining to the knowledge of the truth and to salvation. Thus it came about that even in the primal Gospel, in the only place where it shares a public doctrinal lecture, that fatal view of the contrast between the sublime wisdom of the Lord and the narrow-mindedness of the people, that view which is carried to the highest extreme in the fourth Gospel, forced itself in. This view, which in the first Gospel is on the verge of becoming the distinction between an exoteric and esoteric contract of Jesus, is still expressed in its first abruptness when Mark has the Lord call the crowd “those outside” *).

*) C. 4, 11 : εκεινοις δε τοις εξω. The other two have because they realised that this expression was an anachronism: Luke 8, 10 τοις δε λοιποις. Matth. 13, 11 εκεινοις δε.


Against contradictions and hardships of this kind, it appears to be only an insignificant coincidence when, after the parable of the sower, Mark changes the scene, namely, he has the disciples ask about the meaning of the parable when Jesus was alone with them, i.e., at home, and immediately afterwards presents the matter in such a way that Jesus recited the two following parables before the people and on the same occasion as he had recited the first. Matthew has changed: he lets the Lord give the interpretation of the parable of the sower to the disciples at the place where he himself had presented the parable, and only later, after three more parables had followed, does he make up for the indication that the disciples, having arrived at home, put a question to the Lord, and only here does he add the note that they ask for the interpretation of a parable C. 13, 36. 13, 36. Before we consider and explain another, not unimportant alteration, which he allowed himself, we have to overlook the treasure of parables, which he has stored up on this occasion.


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