§ 73. Divorce

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 73.


Matth. 19, I – 12. Mark 10, 1 – 12.

Now, when Jesus had revealed Himself as the Messiah to the disciples, and since He would soon be known as the Messiah to the whole people, Mark gives Him the opportunity to prove Himself as the new Lawgiver, as the perfecter of the old Law.


But is Mark the original evangelist? The most thorough and brilliant proofs which answer this question in the affirmative do not exist for the theologian, even if he sees them with his own eyes, and he must not acknowledge them, because otherwise, out of his fear of being rid of his wretched questions for once, he would have to renounce a fear in which alone his sense of self consists. He would become free, he would become a man; but as a theologian he must be a servant, he must be inhuman.

Although we know, therefore, that the theologian does not acknowledge evidence and is incapable of acknowledging the simplest truth, or rather because we know that we are not writing for the theologian, that there will soon be no more theology, because we are writing for free men and for those who want to become free, we continue to prove the truth, in itself most minute, but so decisive for the overthrow of theology, that Mark is indeed the original evangelist.

That Luke omitted the question of the Pharisees about divorce, that he only excluded the prohibition of divorce in his writing and introduced it with the affirmation of the eternal truth of the law, which found its end and fulfillment in Jesus (Luke 16:16-18), and what influence this statement had on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, and that Matthew, because he followed both Luke and Mark, has the same statement twice, so that the order of the Gospels is already certain from this, we have already explained in detail above. Now we proceed with the analysis from another angle.

On the journey to Jerusalem, as many people followed him and “he healed them”, those Pharisees came to him with the question about divorce. A magnificent introduction to a discussion about the law in which Jesus, as the new lawgiver, should prove himself by healing the crowds! A magnificent introduction that could only come from the mind of a later theological apologist who always dreams of his Lord’s miraculous powers!


Mark does not say that many crowds followed Jesus – that is something only later writers would consider natural, that their Lord and Master would not lack crowds. Mark writes: the crowds came together to him again! Again! Do you hear? No, the theologian does not hear or see that Jesus previously traveled incognito through Galilee (Mark 9:30) and only stayed briefly in Capernaum to rebuke the disciples for their argument over rank. Mark continues: and as was his custom, he taught them again! Do you hear? Again! Now, as the final decision approached, Jesus gave himself to the people again – again! Again! Do you hear? – and he taught, as was fitting when the Pharisees approached him with a question about the law without further ado.

The theologian does not hear! But the stones will hear and accuse him.

Stones must be awakened from their sleep by the cries of the contradictions that Matthew has created in his thoughtless manner, and if it has not happened yet, it will happen through the terrifying roar of the following formula.


1. The journey to Judea.

Jesus, Matthew tells us, left Galilee and came to the region of Judea on the other side of the Jordan. A wonderful geographer, this Matthew! But an even more marvellous copyist! He knew so little of Palestine that he wrote down that meaningless formula, while he had the writing of Mark open before him. He did not see that Mark, when he writes: and Jesus comes into the region of Judea through the land beyond the Jordan *), strictly and correctly distinguishes both regions and only wants to indicate the route at the same time as the destination of the journey; for trifles of this kind the copyist had no eye and he now introduces us to a Judaa which also lies beyond the Jordan. Woe to the theologian who does not believe in this Judea!

*) Mark 10, 1, έρχεται εις τα όρια της Ιουδαίας δια του πέραν του Ιορδάνου.
Matth. 19, 1, ήλθεν εις τα όρια της Ιουδαίας πέραν του Ιορδάνου.


And woe to the theologian who does not combine his faith in the itinerary as given by Mark and Matthew with faith in the other itinerary as described by Luke. Jesus works in Galilee for six chapters and travels to Jerusalem for nine chapters. What a journey! First, when Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem and begins his journey, he comes (C. 9, 52) to Samaria. What a journey! He finds the opportunity to send out the seventy! (C. 10, 1.) What a journey! How much Jesus negotiates during this journey, more than during His ministry in Galilee! What a journey! How often he is invited to breakfast by Pharisees! What a journey! So long is it, so much has happened since it began, that Luke must at last remind us again that Jesus went through towns and villages teaching and heading for Jerusalem! (C. 13, 22.) Oh, about the wonderful journey! Again so much happens that Luke again finds it necessary to remark that at this moment the Lord is on the way to Jerusalem and travelled through the middle of Samaria and Galilee (!!)! Glorious destiny! Right through the middle of Samaria and Galilee! Right through – after the Lord had long since left Galilee and would have long since passed through Samaria …. yet not a word more about it! Finally, after Luke has filled his bag of notes and created those wonderful resting points of his travel description, he arrives on his journey at the point in the writing of Mark where the Lord says to the disciples: look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and he does not hesitate to write down these words after all his earlier hints that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem (C. 18, 31).


The theologian must not let this journey spoil him: he must believe it! In faith he must follow his Lord on it! Through the midst of Samaria and Galilee! And at the same time – for Matthew also wants to be heard – through Judea beyond the Jordan! Happy journey!


2. The prohibition of divorce.

Matthew, like Mark, tells us that the Pharisees intended to tempt the Lord with their question; but he cannot make us understand how there could have been anything dangerous in this question. It is said that Jesus was still in the territory of Herod Antipas, who had dismissed his wife and could become indignant if Jesus declared himself against the divorce; but this view is based on the assumption that a statement of the Baptist about that deed of Herod had already proved to be very dangerous, from an assumption, therefore, which no longer exists for us, which is nowhere hinted at in the report and which, if we think of the right route, is no longer worth mentioning. Others think of the dispute between the schools of Hillel and Shammai about the right to divorce. But if the masters in Israel disputed the matter, a free word was permitted, and if, in the worst case, Jesus gave offence to one party, he had recourse to the other. Others, like de Wette, combines both explanations and their wisdom would be admirable if nothing and again nothing could ever become something.

The question, in the form in which Matthew gives it, has nothing dangerous about it. If the Pharisees ask whether divorce is permitted in every case, they themselves presuppose it, or at least do not consider it an exaggerated strictness that it should be permitted only in certain cases, and for themselves it could be highly indifferent whether Jesus admitted more or fewer cases than they. In short, the question belongs to the ridiculous questions of that kind which already contain the answer and give it to hand. Matthew has already included in the question the answer that divorce is only permitted in the one case where the woman has broken the marriage through fornication.


And yet the answer of Jesus (v. 4 – 6) is of such a kind that it not only introduces another question, but also – the word is as strange as the matter – another answer.

Jesus asks the Pharisees if they had not read that God, when he created in the beginning, created man as male and female? So, he continues, a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

Is it not clear that this answer presupposes another question? the question that we read in Mark? the question: may a man divorce his wife? Is it not clear that this answer has no exception and is designed from the outset to exclude any exception?

Further: if now the Pharisees (Matth. V. 7 – 8) ask: why then did Moses permit the divorce, if now Jesus continues, Moses did it because of the hardness of heart of the Jews, and if now the Lord assures: from the beginning it was not so: does not this assurance look very impotent, because it had to be unnecessary, if the above proof from the creation story would have had power, and is not this earlier proof accused of impotence by it? And is this powerlessness not even more admitted, if now that fearful clause follows, that (v. 9) in one case divorce is permitted?

Listen to Mark! In the question of the Pharisees he poses the general dilemma: “May a man divorce his wife?” Yes or no? Jesus asks: what did Moses command you? They answer: He has left the man free to give a letter of divorce and to dismiss it, i.e. now Mark has set up the one side of the collision, whereupon he can be sure that the other side wins, which represents the eternal law founded in the plan of creation opposite to the temporal law. Jesus remarks that the commandment of Moses had its reason only in the temporal heartiness of the Jews, from the beginning it was different and the eternal, primordial law must prevail: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder. “With this, all that had to be said is said, the Pharisees are dispatched, the eternal has triumphed, and only afterwards, back home, when the disciples continued to ask about the same matter, Jesus states the positive commandment that divorce is absolutely not allowed.


In various turns, which are taken each time from the specificity of the matter and therefore cannot be called a uniform schema, I have shown how the portrayal of Mark is always and in every case both the original and exposed to the fate of complete dissolution. The sagacity of those brave and honorable people, who can only imagine that faithful discoveries are made so that they have the opportunity to show how far the limits of their wit extend in judging them, have perceived a contradiction in my calling Mark’s portrayal an artistic one and yet claiming that it is dissolved by its inconveniences. However, whoever understands me correctly and knows how to determine the measure of my aesthetic judgment from my critique will know – and I have expressed it clearly enough – that I call Mark’s portrayal artistic and beautiful only in relation to his incredibly clumsy copyists, and otherwise I am of the opinion and have proven that the Christian principle as such is incapable of art, especially the art of portrayal.


In the contemplation of real works of art – of a Homer, Sophocles – it will not occur to the reasonable man to ask whether they prove themselves as correct sources of history, and on the other hand it will be impossible to dissolve them into such a miserable nothingness as the biblical accounts, because they possess real coherence in the ideal world they depict and never contain such inconveniences as are peculiar even to the mode of representation of Mark.

The question of the Pharisees: whether divorce is allowed, contains – less clumsily than the question formed by Matthew – already in itself the answer, at least as a precondition the opinion that divorce is not allowed. But how can the opponents of Jesus think to tempt Jesus with this question, since they themselves start from the premise that divorce is a wrong? However, in this presupposition lies a collision with the Mosaic commandment, a collision which forms the only interest of this passage and is resolved in favor of the eternal law. But – now the other question arises – how do the Pharisees come to form such a collision? Must they not rather presuppose the truth of the Mosaic law without any wavering: and without even the thought of the opposite?

In the Pharisees, Mark speaks, a member of the Christian community who introduces a collision with the Mosaic commandment in this way in order to overthrow it through the idea of the holiness and indissolubility of marriage.

If, by the way, the originality of Mark is recognized and that clause in Matthew’s saying has betrayed itself as a later apologetic, theological, reflective emergency work, then we want to make it clear that the Protestant is guided by it when he swears by the holy scripture. The philosopher will adhere to the concept of marriage. So then both sides have done their duty.


The Protestant must – think of those indications of the travel route! – go even further: he must follow contradictory rules: marry to prove the indissolubility of marriage, and not marry for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The latter is recommended by Jesus to the young man as something noble, as they noticed after that conversation with the Pharisees: if it is so with marriage, then it is better not to marry at all. If the Protestant objects that this commandment was only significant for those times, then we ask him whether the kingdom of heaven, for the sake of which Jesus demands celibacy, was also only something temporal that had significance only for those times? The Protestant should therefore reflect on this while we, as critics, intend to deal with this saying honestly, not Jesuitically.


3. Celibacy.

Matth. 19, 10 -12.

How? So, if Mark has the disciples ask a question after that conversation, and Jesus’ answer is already given by Matthew, because he wants to introduce another topic, does he know, if he now also wants to introduce a corresponding dialogue, to let the disciples say nothing better than that under these circumstances it would be better not to marry? So because marriage is a difficult moral duty, therefore . . . .?

And what does Jesus answer? Does he rebuke the disciples for their low mindset? No! He thinks of something completely different and lets the disciples understand that the eunuchs who have become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven – and not to avoid the difficult duty of marriage – have something quite amazing to signify.

That is, Matthew, who thought he had the opportunity to praise the gift of celibacy, did not know how to bring about this elegance.

He also failed to praise celibacy at the very moment when the sanctity of marriage was mentioned.


The Christian principle contains this contradiction, but in any case it was awkward to condense it so rudely and unconsciously.

Mark only later – in the passage of the rich man – involuntarily brings up this negative direction of the Christian Principle against the family (C. 10, 29). Matthew was in too much of a hurry and did not even think at that moment that in what follows the one who leaves his wife for the sake of the Son of Man and the Gospel will be praised.



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