§ 74. The rich man

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 74.

The rich man.

Mark 10, 17 – 31.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replied, “No one is good except God alone,” when someone fell at his feet and begged, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This phrase already leads in the introduction the same turn of phrase that is made in this section in various forms and should recommend to the believer the necessity of elevating to a final abstract unity. The reading in Matthew 19:17, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One is the Good,” while not completely meaningless, is a later gloss that is prompted by Matthew having put the strangely tautological question in the man’s mouth: “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”


1. The dispatch of the rich man.

If you, Jesus continues after those words, want to enter into life, keep the commandments! Which ones? asks the rich man; – how terribly clumsy, as if the man did not know them! As if the progress should not be made from the commandments known to him to the commandments still unknown to him! – Jesus now enumerates the commandments, at the end also the commandment: love your neighbor as yourself, to which the young man replies: I have observed all these from my youth. What do I still lack?” and Jesus gives him to consider: if you want to be perfect, go and sell what is yours and give it to the poor. (Matth. 19, 16 – 22.)


Matthew wanted to leave nothing untried to prove to theologians that he was not the first creator of this narrative. As it has already been noted, how ridiculous the question of the adult man is, and we also point out in passing how foreign the commandment of neighborly love is in this context, where only the commandments of the Decalogue are supposed to be listed as the well-known catechism commandments. Matthew could not resist adding a fragment from that pericope of the highest commandment here. Furthermore, as Wilke has already noted very well, but theologians do not want to hear it, and yet these are truths that are revealed at first glance and are almost accessible to the mere mechanics of aesthetic judgment – how weak and absolute is the weight that is placed on the commandments when it is said: “keep the commandments if you want to enter life!” Now, where the old commandments are only to be mentioned initially after the question of the rich man, so that what is lacking even for the most obedient servant of them is indicated, where this lack is supposed to be the decisive factor for recognition, it would be appropriate to describe the commandments as the absolute?

And when the rich man asks, “What still do I lack?”, does he not already know what will be revealed to him by Jesus – that there is still something missing? And when Jesus finally says, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, etc.”, is it not too much that the commandment is presented as rigidly dogmatic and positive, while in Mark, who knows nothing of that formula, that demand only appears in its true audacity as a stroke of genius, which in fact and on the contrary rather meets and destroys the confidence of the legal spirit in its positive fulfillment of duty?


Thus it is beautiful and artistic and correct, as Mark – as the first – has presented the matter, that Jesus first speaks of the commandments – “you know the commandments: you shall not, etc.” – and then only when the rich man remarks, “I have observed all this from my youth,” makes him aware of it with a painfully loving look:  One thing you still lack, go, sell and follow me and – what the other two have left out – take the cross!

Luke C. 18, 18-23 is faithful to Mark.


2. The rich and the kingdom of heaven.

After the rich man had sadly left – as demanded by the contrast of Christian belief and as was necessary for the following sayings to be written – Jesus remarked: “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were greatly dismayed and asked who then can be saved, to which Jesus replied, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” – (but not with God alone! Contrast in Mark) – “For man it is impossible” – (of course, after that contrast, Mark writes: “But”) – “but for God, all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26)

That “again” of Matthew is only explicable from the scripture of Mark. Jesus remarks: how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven, etc. The disciples are amazed, but Jesus takes “again” and says – (we are inclined to concede to Wilke that the words τεκνα ———- εισελθειν must be struck out, although they can also be taken as a deliberate, painful resumption of the assurance: “how difficult”) – it is easier for a camel … Again, the disciples are even more shaken – this is the correct progression – they speak to one another: and who can be saved? from which follows that reference to divine omnipotence. Luke has squeezed the sentences together even more, and blurred the nuances of the original report – rightly, if he wanted to contract it – to such an extent that he also suppressed that “again”. (Luke 18:24-27.)


Once again! – perhaps we succeed in taking away all theological misunderstandings – when we say: Mark has worked beautifully and artistically! we are by no means inclined to offend art and beauty, just as little as we feel urged to violate the Christian principle – which Philipp. 3, 8 expressly declares everything but one to be filth, dung, ererement (σκυβαλα, Vulg. stercora) – and to ascribe to it, as the newer Christians do, an inclination to beauty and art which it abhors. Only in relation to the compilation of Matthew did Mark work beautifully, but in itself his work must fall apart again. The disciples marvel at the fact that a rich man will hardly enter the kingdom of heaven, and shaken, they ask: who can be saved? As if there were only rich people in the world, as if they themselves belonged to the rich, as if they had not, when they joined the Lord unconditionally, renounced all the treasures of the world. The Evangelist intended to conclude with a reflection on the divine power and grace in order to somewhat soften the bold statement he had made in the narrative itself, by juxtaposing it with another extreme, that of divine power and grace. In doing so, he forgot about the position of the disciples and also wanted to give us an opportunity to take a side glance at the fourth Gospel.


3 Nicodemus.

After we had fully analyzed in our critique of the fourth gospel the account of the conversation with Nicodemus in all its details, we remarked that we were not allowed to dissolve the core of the account. The character of the evangelist prevented us from doing so, since his imagination was anything but creative and “his reflection is only a weak, albeit excessively proliferating, parasitic growth that can cover a trunk but cannot form one.”

This trunk this time was the synoptic account of the rich man. Matthew may have made This trunk was this time the synoptic account of the rich man. Perhaps Matthew made this man a youth – strangely enough – because he reads in Mark that he appeals to his youth – perhaps also because he stands as Jesus looks at the man so lovingly and painfully. Luke made the man a “ruler,” and the fourth called this “ruler” Nicodemus. Just as in the original account the man addresses Jesus as “good teacher,” the first word of Nicodemus is also that word that Jesus is a teacher sent by God – but twisted into a thousandfold clumsiness. Just as Jesus rebukes the rich man for his address, it is also a rebuke, but twisted into senselessness, as Jesus’ first word to Nicodemus. Just as the rich man hears what he must do to enter life, so does Nicodemus hear what must happen to him if he wants to see the Kingdom of God. There Jesus speaks of the impossibility of a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven, so here – but degraded to absurdity – Nicodemus of the impossibility of his coming to see the kingdom of heaven after Jesus’ demand. Finally, just as Jesus flees to the idea of incomprehensible omnipotence there, in the conversation to the fact that the Spirit of God works even if one does not know how it works.

Once the Fourth Gospel reaches this boundary of the synoptic account (John 3:8), it is also at the limit of Nicodemus’ understanding, and the author allows himself to ascend even higher into more elevated realms.


4.The reward of sacrifice.

hat is said later in the synoptic report about the reward of sacrifice on the occasion of a remark of Peter by Jesus, could not be used by the fourth, since he wanted to involve the Lord only with Nicodemus, not with the disciples in a conversation and since, on the other hand, he had already explained sufficiently enough in the rebirth the higher potency of the renunciation of earthly possessions.

According to the above, Peter took the opportunity to ask: “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27). A brave haggling over the reward, after complete renunciation was commanded and everything concerning the soul and salvation was left to the grace and omnipotence of God! Even the answer gives rise to a thousandfold offense. First, it is said that those who have followed Jesus will sit on twelve thrones in the regeneration, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and then it is said of him who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or fields for the sake of Jesus’ name, that he will receive a hundredfold – what? – and inherit eternal life. It would be a heavy duty to renounce if one knows that one will soon sit on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel. It is a beautiful transition when first the eternal divine ruling power – thus the infinite – is promised and afterward only the hundredfold compensation. It is a great lack when first not only something so glorious but also something quite specific is promised, and afterward, one does not know what one will receive a hundredfold. And that is not called coherence when first – you who have followed me – are addressed to the disciples and afterward – whoever leaves – to everyone, as if everyone and the twelve disciples were the same.


Matthew has first formed Peter’s reward-seeking question. Mark lets the disciple somewhat more timidly and shamefully merely remark: “We have left everything and followed you”, from which Jesus – but in such a way that it applies to all his followers – remarks that “there can be no question of leaving and giving up” *), since one – listen to the exact distinction not observed by Matthew! – what one has given up, one will receive a hundredfold in this life and will inherit eternal life in the age to come. Matthew caused the enormous confusion by borrowing from Luke C. 22, 20 the document which endows the Twelve with the thrones of the Kingdom of Heaven and with jurisdiction over the twelve tribes of Israel, and interpolating it here. He also brought the dogmatic expression palingenesia only in that saying. Luke in the parallel passage faithfully followed the Mark, only that he says vaguely that in this life the abandoned would be restored in many ways.

*) as Wilke aptly renders the meaning, p. 228.

While the account in Mark differs advantageously from the work of Matthew, Peter’s reminder that they have left everything is still very affected, as it stands in disgusting contrast to the behavior of the rich man. The contrast and the preciousness of “See, we have left everything” is pretentious. The sentence “whoever leaves this and that will receive this and that, houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children, or fields, a hundredfold in return” is the abstract work of the love of religion for contrasts and opposites. Specifically, this abstract implementation of the contrast is supposed to indicate the incommensurability of the reward.

In order to finally give them all their due, we must acknowledge that Matthew, in giving voice to Peter’s desire for reward, has brought to light the correct religious consequence of the original report.


5 The first and the last.

Matth. 19, 30. – 20, 16.

The parable of the laborers who, although hired at different times of the day and in some cases even at very late times, all receive the same wages “from the last”, which was agreed upon with the “first”, the first hired, this parable, as the teaching of which Matthew sets up the sentence: the last will be the first and the first the last, was first explained by Wilke in the whole sharpness of its meaning.

The parable does not want to teach equality “in” the kingdom of heaven, not the inadmissibility of a difference in degree, but, on the contrary, the absolute contrast that the Lord of the kingdom of heaven establishes at will.

The position of the first and the last is really reversed in the parable. The parable is the pure realization of the view of absolute volition, which is peculiar to the religious principle in its perfection, i.e. in its absolute separation from the natural conditions as well as from the morality of the people’s life, of the state, of the family. It is an apt expression of the revolution that must occur when the religious principle has withdrawn from all living, moral and definite content of the human spirit. Then indeterminacy reigns, pure arbitrariness. “Is it not lawful for me to do to my own what I will?” Matth. 20, 15.

The demand of the first, that their reward should be increased according to the measure by which the last are measured, is not acknowledged. The last are rather arbitrarily placed as the absolute, solely recognized ones before whom the first stand as the most rightful and rejected.

“The last receive, through the generosity of the distributor, the surplus that the first do not receive, despite believing they have the most founded claims to it. The happiness that is understood by that surplus” *).

*) Wilke, p. 371-373.


However, there was no reason at this time for the Christian principle to bring forth one of its most terrible lightning bolts and thunders. When the disciples, who had just received the most brilliant promises for leaving everything behind, were still standing there alone, it was not the time to preach a sermon whose evidence is thunder. Only because the topic of God’s grace was just mentioned, did Matthew believe he had the right to insert this parable, which speaks of the gift of salvation in a completely different context. The theme that Matthew used to develop the parable was borrowed from Luke, who, in a better context, namely after a sermon against the supposed claims of the Jews, formed the saying about the first and the last. In the Gospel of Mark 10:31, a later hand inserted this saying from Matthew’s account.

One should not say that the equalizing principle of Christianity brought freedom into the world. In the hands of religion, the truest principles – here that of universal equality – are always perverted and turned into their opposite – the idea of equality into that of arbitrary favoritism, the idea of spiritual equality into the idea of a privilege determined by nature, the idea of the spirit into that of an adventurous, thus unnatural nature. The true principles, in their religious form, because they blaspheme and reject mediation, are absolute error. As long as Christianity ruled, only feudalism prevailed; when peoples began to develop morally for the first time – towards the end of the Middle Ages – Christianity received its first dangerous blow, and a free people, real freedom and equality, and the overthrow of feudal privileges only became possible when the religious principle was properly valued in the French Revolution.


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