§ 64. The divine commandment and the statutes of men

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 64.

The divine commandment and the statutes of men.

Matth. 15,1-20.

Once again it was the way of life of the disciples – the fact that they did not wash their hands before meals – which must have given the Pharisees and scribes cause to attack Jesus Himself. “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?” with these words they hold the Master responsible for the behaviour of his disciples. Jesus, on the other hand, asks them why they, on their part, transgress the commandment of God for the sake of the tradition of the elders and shows them by example how they subordinated the duties commanded by law to the demands of the hierarchy. They were the hypocrites of whom Isaiah had spoken when he said: “This people draws near to me with its mouth and with its lips it honours me, but its heart is far from me; but in vain do they serve me, setting up doctrines which are nothing but the commandments of men. And he called the people unto him, and said unto them, Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which goeth out of the mouth defileth a man.


Then came his disciples unto him, and said, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended when they heard the word? But he answered, Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they are blind guides of the blind, but if one blind man guides another, both fall into the pit. Peter answered and said unto him, Interpret this parable unto us. Jesus gives the interpretation, setting forth one from another, how all things that enter into the mouth go into the belly, and passes out into the sewer. But that which goes out of the mouth, he continues, comes out of the heart, and that defiles the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, thievery, false witness, blasphemy. But eating with unwashed hands does not defile a man.

It is not difficult to dissolve this report to such an extent that the foreign and disturbing elements it contains are separated from it and the original report emerges in its true form from this chemical process.

If the disciples, v. 12, know nothing more to say to the Lord than that the Pharisees were angry about the word – it is not known which word: whether the saying about tradition or about that which really defiles man is meant – they are so familiar with the latter saying about true defilement that they are only interested in what kind of impression it made on the opponents. They thus indicate that they themselves have understood the saying. But this is contradicted when Peter asks the Lord afterwards (v. 15) to interpret “this” parable. But which one? This one? Immediately before went the saying of the blind guide, further back the saying of the plant which the heavenly Father has not planted: “this” parable must therefore be one of the two sayings, and yet it is the saying of that which goes in and out of the mouth? Indeed, says Fritzsche, for one must certainly note and hold that this parable still occupied Peter inwardly and that it is generally the most important in the context *). But where does Fritzsche get such exact information about what was going on in Peter’s mind at that moment, and is it really because of this that the two sayings (v. 13.14.), over which Peter’s question easily disregards itself, were so unimportant? How, finally, can Peter, if he wants to answer, raise the question about the meaning of that long-delayed saying, after (v. 12) a new interest had arisen and Jesus had continued this new turn of interest and conversation, i.e. had distracted even further from that saying? Nothing new must have occurred between that saying about the defilement and the question about its meaning. So it is in the writing of Mark: there Jesus, after having dispatched the Pharisees, calls the people, tells them what really defiles man, and now when he had gone away and arrived at home, “the disciples” – not Peter – ask him about the meaning of the parable (Mark 7,14-17.). Matthew not only interrupted the connection, but completely dissolved it: he borrowed the saying about the blind guide from Luke (C. 6, 39.), and only formed the one about the plant at this moment.

*) to Matth, p. 515.


We want to put less emphasis on the fact that in the writing of Matthew the explanation of the saying that the disciples wanted to have interpreted is much better worked out – the contrast of that which enters the human being “from the outside” and does not even enter the heart, and of that which rises from the heart “from the inside” is pure and sharp, not to mention the point that the processing of the food that finally enters the stomach and the sewer is called a cleansing of the same (Mark 7, 18-23.) – but in this Matthew has been extraordinarily careful, that at the close of the discourse, when that which defiles a man is mentioned, he lets the Lord say: “but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” Matthew wanted to refer back to the occasion, but wrongly and to the great detriment of the saying about what really defiles, which went far beyond the limited occasion and not only overturned the tradition of the Pharisees but the dietary laws of the OT in general. If nothing that enters the mouth defiles the human being, and thus the legal regulations of the OT no longer apply, what need is there to say that washing the hands before the meal is not necessary for the purity of the human being? This trailing remark is not only superfluous, but disturbing, indeed it destroys the whole sense of the preceding argument.

The original account is finally fully restored when we remove Jesus’ speech against the Pharisees from the structure that Matthew has given it and return it to its true arrangement. Matthew (Ch. 15:3-9) has placed the specific aspect of the opponents disregarding the law for the sake of tradition, as it shows in their theory of vows, before the general aspect that Isaiah had prophesied excellently about them. Mark, on the other hand, has organized it better, and we find in him (Ch. 7:6-13) the original structure of the speech when he moves from the general to the specific and indicates with the closing words, “and you do many other things like these,” that much more specific things could be listed and that the one cited should only serve as an example. Furthermore, “the words ‘you hypocrites, Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you,’ fit much better if they are still allowed to question how he was right, and thus move from the general to the specific about them, rather than following after the specific proof has been given *).” Wille has also drawn attention to another corruption of the original: in Marcus (Ch. 7:21-22), it says that “evil thoughts, adultery, fornication, murder, etc.” come forth from the heart of man. Thus, thoughts are presented as the general and principle of the specific things that are enumerated later. However, Matthew has omitted the article and added thoughts to the specific things as if they were also just one of the specific things. **)

*) Wilke, p. 577.

**) The words Mark 7, 2 – 4, which we currently read between και ιδοντες τινας των μαθητων αυτου κοιναις χερσιν (τουτ εστιν ανιπτοις is also unnoticed) εσθιοντας αρτους and επερωτωσιν αυτον read, explains Wilke p. 673. 674 rightly for a later insertion, likewise the words v. 8: βαπτισμους —- ποιειτε. But it is difficult to understand the words v. 13: και παρομοια τοιαυτα πολλα ποιειτε [overnight?]. Wilke does them an injustice when he explains them according to these interpolations, since they have the meaning: and so you also abrogate divine commandments for the sake of tradition; the later interpolator only misunderstood them, related them to the different kinds of purifications, mentioned these other purifications from this point of view in D. 3. 4. 8, and interpolated the misunderstood words in v. 8.

By the way, Mark presupposes that the Pharisees at a banquet catch the disciples violating the tradition and immediately hold the Lord responsible; similar to C. 2, 16. Matthew left this presupposition unnoticed, Luke changed it and used it as an occasion for a new speech of Jesus C. 11, 37. 38.

What Jesus says against the Pharisees – if we now consider the speech itself – cannot be misunderstood, since the dialectic of Pharisaic consciousness is carried out very simply and clearly. But as for the second passage, the saying about purity, several interests came together which distracted the commentators from the correct understanding of it. We would do Matthew an injustice if we were to blame his inappropriate conclusion of the discourse for the fact that the theologians have very often misinterpreted that saying, for if he had also restricted Jesus’ polemic less and had not mentioned eating with unwashed hands again after Jesus’ discourse had moved on to a much more comprehensive dialectic, the hermits would still have lost their way. The abstracted apologist is shocked when he hears that Jesus, in a single word, overthrows the positive law; the critical apologist, on the other hand, wants to see unity and coherence in Scripture, and when he now remembers that in the first congregation there was a lively dispute about the Mosaic dietary laws, he must not admit that Jesus had already decided this matter long ago.


Even “the question,” “whether Jesus at the same time declares himself against the Mosaic Laws on food” de Wette *) calls “unseemly,” because the context of the speech does not lead to it and, moreover, it is clear from Matth. 15, 20 that Jesus is only thinking of eating with unwashed hands when he says in v. 11 that what enters the mouth does not defile. But what is the point of referring to the “context” here, when the saying about what really defiles follows a strongly marked paragraph, when Jesus, before he recites it, calls the people, leaves the Pharisees standing, and afterwards, when he explains the saying, does not mention the scribes and their tradition with a single word? So something new comes with the saying, so Mark made a paragraph, the saying has a general interest, therefore the people must hear it, even if they are not allowed to understand it because of the limited and petty pragmatism of the evangelical view, it deals with the Old Testament dietary law in general, therefore the Pharisees and their tradition are no longer remembered.

*) I, 1, 136.


And as to eating with unwashed hands, it is true that Matthew writes at the beginning (v. 11), “Not that which enters into the mouth defileth a man;” but not to mention that even in this form the saying is quite general, and deals with that which enters into the mouth at all: does not Matthew himself write afterwards (v. 17), “All that enters into the mouth goes into the belly?” Does he not conceal the general interest which is now involved? Is it speaking only of the food that a washed hand brings to the mouth, and not rather of all the food that enters the belly? What senseless torture is needed if one is to deny this general interest! “Nothing (says Mark 7:15), nothing that comes into a man from without can defile him.”

“But that which comes from within, from the heart, that defiles him:” so it is also wrong when Fritzsche asserts *) that Jesus does not by any means want to deny that food defiles man, but only to say that evil thoughts defile him much more. On the contrary, the possibility of defilement through food is denied outright, and that which comes from within alone is called the defiling thing.

But what work awaits us when now the pure apologist comes and oils the dialectic of the saying with his thick unctuousness, wants to lather the thundering movement of negation and blunt the sharp edges and cutting edges with his blunt thoughts. But let us not call the struggle with this unfortunate one work, only patience is needed! A few remarks in between will suffice for now.

*) to Matth. p. 513: nec negat omnino cibos hominem polluere, sed prava animi consilia multo inquinare magis.


“In Matth. 15, 11, says Olsenhausen *), it must already have seemed difficult to the apostles that Christ’s declaration that what enters the mouth does not defile – so in fact it was not so? – was a contrast to them with the OT, which teaches the difference between clean and unclean food. Since Christ acknowledges the “divinity” of the Old Testament, he also had to see something significant in the dietary laws – but also positively valid forever and for all eternity? – something significant. Now that these were something completely empty and arbitrary, the Saviour in his explanation of the words does not want that they should be regarded as positive regulations, as which the law alone knows them? And did the disciples take offence at the dialectic of the saying, because it seemed to them antinomian? Did they not only ask about the meaning, which they had not grasped? Did they say: Jesus, according to his other views of the “divinity” of the OT, must also see something significant in those commandments? Jesus does not speak as if he were trying to make an apologetic point or to whisper something edifying to the disciples about the “significance” of the Mosaic laws of food. He only emphasizes the contrast between the external and internal and points out that food as something external can never touch or defile the internal; in doing so, he does not necessarily overturn the law concerning food – he simply states that external things cannot defile a person internally.

*) l, 502.

What a terrible foolishness! Are we to lose our minds and contemplate how Jesus still claimed that the external can externally defile? Are we to imagine him as a man who gave instructions for the kitchen, or as a man for whom a person was worth no more than a piece of clothing? For we can only imagine that a piece of clothing, for example, could be externally defiled by something external. We put an end to this foolishness, this madness, these blasphemies of apologetics by remembering that the assumption of natural religion that the natural can affect and defile the spirit is still the basis of the law and its conception of purity. Freedom from nature was only assured to the contemplative mind in the Christian community, and this assurance, for which Paul still had to challenge Peter, is presented and justified in the present section in such a way as to confront the disciples for the first time with a statement from Jesus when they are fighting against the legalistic rules of the Pharisees.

*) The author takes the liberty of referring to his presentation of the religion of O.T. I, 252-258.


But a saying that even Matthew could not copy correctly from Mark’s scripture, whose point he dulled, whose universality he restricted in copying, such a saying – let the theologian just consider its construction! – could not come to Mark from the tradition or memory of an eyewitness. But what did the original evangelist need for the elaboration of this section more than the certainty of their freedom from natural determinations, which the community had already won in its first internal struggles, and the conviction that the principles of the self-consciousness of the community had already been expressed and sanctified by its Lord? A saying of this kind cannot enlighten us about Jesus’ views.

The occasion, by the way, which gave the Lord the opportunity to present this saying, after he had overthrown the statutes of men, is, as Wilke has found, modelled on that narrative of the zeal of Elijah, who also had to contend with false teachers (1 Kings 18:18, 21). “The parallel lies especially in the fact that Jesus rejects the false teachers, they approach God only with their mouths, and put their own human word in the place of God’s word, similar to the servants of Baal (who worshipped a self-made God).”



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