Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer
Matth. 13, 51. 52.
Have you understood all this? Jesus asks at the end, and when the disciples had answered in the affirmative, he says to them: “Therefore every scribe who is instructed for the kingdom of heaven is like unto the householder, who out of his treasure bringeth forth things old and new.”
Why? Because the disciples had understood the parables, which is to be doubted even if they did not know how to interpret the parable of the tares? The transition is outrageous, but by no means as strange as the theologians make it by their explanation. “Therefore – this is how de Wette understands the meaning **) – therefore, because I have shown how one must speak in parables.” But the parable of the master of the house must have a very definite relation to the disciples, since it is said that “every” scribe who understands the kingdom of heaven acts like that master of the house. Jesus does not want to compare himself alone, but all those who proclaim the kingdom of heaven, i.e. also the disciples, with the father of the house. It is more correct, therefore, when Neander describes the transition with the words: “by my example you can learn that every scribe is the same, etc.” ***). But even this paraphrase is not entirely correct, since it does not take into account the very point from which the transition proceeds, the circumstance that the disciples declared that they had understood the parables. The fact remains that because they had grasped the meaning of the parables, the scribe is to be like the father of the house; i.e., the incomprehensibility of this transition remains. Only then would it appear to make sense if Jesus were to say that because they now knew how to speak in parables or were able to fulfil their task of instructing the people in parables, it would be clear to them and he could make it clear to them that the scribe of the kingdom of heaven was like the father of the house. But even so conceived – for why should the scribe of the kingdom of heaven be like that father of the house, “because” they now knew how to form parables – even so the transition would be clumsy, all the more clumsy, since Jesus’ previous question and the disciples’ answer had only been about this, and in the disciples’ answer had only been about whether they had understood the parables presented at all, and also nothing had previously led to the conclusion that the parable presentation was intended to train the disciples to become parable poets and to give them guidance for their later teaching activity. Nevertheless, it remains the case that in the parable of the master of the house, when he speaks of the scribes, the evangelist has in mind the disciples as parable writers and lets the passage proceed from a presupposition that he has neither expressed in Jesus’ question and the disciples’ answer, nor in the course of the whole passage, namely, from the presupposition that the disciples were to be instructed in parable writing and that they themselves had finally confessed that they now also knew how to speak in parables. This is where the contradiction comes from, because Matthew suddenly allows this more far-reaching premise to emerge at the end of a passage that originally had a completely different tendency, and as a lever to set it in motion, borrows a question of Jesus, which only refers to the understanding of parables, from the writing of Mark (C. 4, 13.), only changes it superficially and does not dare to rework it from the bottom up *).
**) I, 1, 129.
***) p 138.
*) Mark 4, 13: ουκ οίδατε την παραβολήν ταύτην, και πώς τάς παραβολάς γνώσεσθε; Matth. 13, 51: συνήκατε ταύτα πάντα
We do not know what the old and new in the treasure of the householder mean. Neander and de Wette say that the “variety and diversity of the presentation” should be recommended, but the point of the parable seems to refer more to the content than to the form of the lecture, and furthermore, we do not know why the diversity of the presentation should only be conditioned by the linking of unknown and already familiar, old and new truths. Neander explains himself more clearly to the effect that, just as Jesus “made known to his hearers higher and new truths by means of what was known to them from the environment of life, from nature,” so also the disciples were to arrange their doctrinal lecture – this, too, is not true, for the master of the house soon gives something new, soon something old, but not one thing by means of another, not the one thing in the other. Nor is it possible to think of the “great contrast of Law and Gospel, in the expedient distribution of which the whole business of scholars for the Kingdom of Heaven consists **),” since in none of the preceding parables is there any mention of this contrast, nor is there any example given of how its two sides are to be “expediently distributed.
**) Olshausen, I, 466.
In short, we do not know what the evangelist had in mind when he formed this parable, probably for the simple reason that he did not have anything definite in mind, or at least did not put together and work out the sounds that were buzzing in his head into a clear whole. It may be that he thought of the diversity of the content and of the linking of new truths with the experiences of ordinary life – although in that case it remains the case that he did not skilfully elaborate the parable – but it may also be, and this is the most probable, that with a strange anachronism, which is no longer strange to him, he has the gentleman recommend what only he did and he alone could do. Like that householder, he has shared old things — the parables he found — he has also given new things, formed new parables, and what he has done, he thinks, every scribe of the kingdom of heaven should do.
In any case, his last masterpiece has given us the right to briefly recall what has already been proven to us through the criticism of this section: he himself has the parables by which his writing is richer than the writings of his predecessors and formed first, just as the parable of leaven, as a counterpart to that of the mustard seed, owes its origin to Luke. And Mark? He created his own from free observation! There can be no more talk of a tradition or of the report of a contemporary of Jesus, when we have seen how a parable like that of the tares arose and could arise from the written letter. If the letter could not stand, should it have been possible for tradition or memory? Should the oral discourse of Jesus have been preserved word for word in memory, when the written word took on a new form, a new meaning, in the mind of the one who read it a hundred times? About superstition !
Later, when we examine whether Jesus regarded himself as “the Messiah”, and in this connection deal with the question whether for him the idea of the Kingdom of Heaven existed as a fixed concept of refleration, this superstition will be completely overthrown. Perhaps, however, the theologian will first prove to us that a parable like that of the sower, or of the fruit-bearing field, or the smallest, whichever it may be, could be preserved in memory and tradition.
But before he performs this strange feat, he must – we ask this very much – fetch two witnesses and recite before them the parable of the sower and its interpretation from his head. If he then makes a fool of himself – he who has so often occupied himself with these parables, has perhaps explained them from the lectern twenty times – will he then, in his embarrassment, let the modern weakness of memory take the blame, then let him prove that the ancients possessed a better memory. But he should not rely on the testimony of writers of antiquity who were themselves theologically minded and sentimental admirers of the past and of barbaric conditions!
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