§ 10. The first Sabbath violation

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§. 10 The first Sabbath violation.



1) The pool of Bethesda.


The Lord heals a sick man by His word, who could not have been healed in the pool of Bethesda. If the natural explanation otherwise always knows how to eliminate the appearance of the miracle in the Gospel accounts and thereby goes so far that it does not even allow the possibility of the witnessing of a miracle by eyewitnesses, then the description of the miraculous stirring of that pool, which was always supposed to be caused by an angel, must have been uncomfortable for it, for here it concerns the evangelist himself conveying a very strong, miracle-believing idea. On the other hand, to the believing point of view, which is otherwise very ready to accept miracles, this description of the way in which the water of the pool was from time to time imparted miraculous healing power by an angel, must have seemed objectionable, because it is in no way different from the popular superstition, which regards every striking natural phenomenon as an effect of higher spirits, as soon as it does not know how to explain it by its inner law. Both points of view, that of the natural explanation and that of the faithful contemplation of the Holy Scriptures, must therefore have welcomed the fact that in some of the older manuscripts this offensive description was not found, and so Paulus, Lücke, Tholuck and Olshausen declare it to be spurious and a later insertion *). But is the motive with which the modern devout view decides in favour of the testimonies which do not have this addition, so recent that it could not have had an effect earlier and have led to suspicion against those words? Was it not possible that from a certain point of view of spiritual education doubts could arise about the explanation of the healing power of the pool, so that according to the usual procedure, which is still valid today, one would not want to ascribe to the evangelist a view which one no longer shared? If, however, it is preferably the Alexandrian witnesses who completely omit the description of the miraculous power of the pool, it is very evident from the formation of the ground on which these witnesses stand, and from the arbitrariness with which they also proceed in other matters of this kind **), that they have here exercised their criticism, or rather their after-criticism, on the basis of a certain presupposition. And if we consider that human nature has not suddenly transformed itself in our time, and that it did not just start to determine the object according to its inclinations and desires today, but rather what is a plague in our time had previously been expressed in individual signs in critical questions, we will no longer be unclear about how it happened that particularly on the Alexandrian soil that aspect of our report was viewed with suspicion and rejected as a superstition unworthy of the gospel of the Logos *). The inclination to believe in miracles, which otherwise so readily accepted such traits, was in this case pushed back by the preference with which one sought to keep the image of the Christian logician pure, and this was all the more easily overcome, the more the explanation of the healing power of the water was portrayed in a sensory manner. We do not need to develop in detail what has already been pointed out, that the following narrative itself presupposes every aspect of the description of the miraculous power of the pond; for if the sick man says (V. 7.) that he has no one to bring him into the water when it starts to move, this points to the earlier explanation that a secret power moves the water. Furthermore, the complaint of the sick person that he could never get into the water first, because someone else always came before him, would be incomprehensible if it had not been said beforehand that only he who got into the water first, as soon as it began to move, would be healed. However, the report could not tacitly assume such a miraculous quality of the pond, but had to emphasise it and possibly explain it, i.e. as far as possible. Or if one wanted to be content with the closing words of the third verse, that the sick always waited for the movement of the water, one need only try this economical sparseness for a moment to immediately have the sensation of an intolerable break: After the report had begun such a detailed description of the situation – of course! because he knew that what followed needed and deserved careful preparation – he should suddenly break off halfway and, by saying that the sick were awaiting the movement, give his words a definiteness which would only have seemed to remain if he had not described this movement and its nature in more detail? Therefore, instead of “not taking the liberty of declaring the whole passage unworthy of attention” with Lücke *), we must rather describe it completely and unabridged in the interest of the evangelist himself and his report as absolutely necessary. The explanation cannot be omitted if the account is to be coherent and not belong to the disabled who surround that pool. If we are now forced to give the offensive passage its well-founded place in our Gospel, it still does not justify the conclusion that a disciple of the Lord could not be the author of this Gospel. For it is not essential to a disciple of Jesus that he should immediately have been set apart from all the views of his people, nor is it the way in which the Holy Spirit works that he should violently tear those to whom he communicates himself out of all the conditions of their previous life and thought, even as far as it concerns a more definite knowledge of nature**). At least it would have had to be done by force if the first disciples had been torn out of a popular belief that could only give way to a scientifically mediated education after thousands of years. And finally, in the impossible case that the evangelist did not share a popular belief, of which even Lücke assumes *) that it existed at the time of Jesus and had stealthily forced its way into our Gospel through the Christians of the first times, would it not then have been the evangelist’s duty to do everything to make its intrusion impossible and to reject it forever? Should he not, since in the words of the sick man he still reproduces all the elements of that popular belief and gives the impression that he understands them in the same way as the sick man, have done away with this appearance and given a more educated, intelligible explanation, especially as expected of his later interpreters? Certainly, he would have given it if he had thought as he ought to have thought in the enlightened times of today’s apologists, but could not in his own time.

*) Paul’s Comm. on the Gospel of John, p. 262, calls the explanation given by the addition of the movement of the water a “superstitious” one; Tholuck even assumes (Comm. p. 122) that it is an “apocryphal gloss.

**) Just think of the question of the author of the Apocalypse.

*) The critical arbitrariness of the Gnostics was, of course, only peculiar to them to this high degree, but in individual statements it was not entirely foreign to the other church teachers.

*) Comm. II, p. 17.

**) As is well known, no one in modern times has expressed this principle more often than Neander, and he also credits the fourth evangelist with it several times (e.g., Life of Jesus, p. 334, History of Planting, etc., 1833, p. 324), but why does he now suddenly forget it when he derives that explanation of the miraculous power of the pool of Bethesda from an “old gloffem”?

*) Comm. II, 18. Olshausen, Comm. II, 127, even thinks that the addition came into the text from manuscripts “to the margin of which the owners had added this note from their own observation.” Finally, Paul, who also transfers this popular belief to the time of Jesus, says (Comm. p. 288.): “one must still, in a certain sense, thank those who added the legend to the text.


So far, then, it remains the same that this passage belongs to the author of the Gospel, but in no way does him dishonour, since nothing is taken away from his dignity once he has followed the poetic naturalist, the popular belief. But the matter becomes more dangerous and threatening for him if we go after this popular belief more seriously and ask whether it really existed for the author. It would be inexplicable if it were so, as Josephus then knows nothing of this Pool of Bethesda, nothing of the angel who miraculously set it in motion, reports nothing of it, since he otherwise does not like to conceal the miraculous treasures of his people and also mentions several pools of Jerusalem. Under these circumstances, the testimony of Eusebius to this pool has no more critical value than the testimony of Ambrose to the discovery of the cross or than the scholarship of the people, who have created a sacred geography for themselves out of the evangelical history on the often churned ruins of the holy city and still know how to show that pool without hesitation. The apologist helps himself by supposing that Josephus may have mentioned the miraculous pool under a different name, but the fact that he does not mention its miraculous nature is the height of difficulty. A magical healing power, which daily led shafts of sick people to the pool, must have made this pool strange and important to the Jewish archaeologist, because of the wonderful light which it could impart to the holy city. Nor should it be said that “Josephus had no opportunity to mention the pool; to mention a pool of such excellent and outstanding miraculous power would have been an opportunity for him to mention anything, even the most remote. If Josephus is now so completely silent about this treasure of the holy city, it certainly does not require any wilful doubt to put us into the greatest anxiety about whether such a pool really existed in Jerusalem, i.e. at the same time whether the evangelist had indeed followed an original popular belief or – One will try in vain to cut through this double question by pointing to the speech of the sick man, in which at least the whole miraculous nature of the pool is clearly enough presupposed. The matter only becomes worse; for far from proving the miraculous power of the pond and the popular belief, this speech itself must now be doubted, and the possibility intrudes that it itself, together with the belief in the “miraculous” power of that water which it presupposes, has only arisen from a situation formed later. And this possibility condenses ever more inexorably into reality the more seriously we consider Josephus’ silence and the extraordinary miraculous power of the pond. No other means of resolution remains here than the assumption that the evangelist is following a legend which sought to emphasise a simpler material, which in itself is a miracle, even more by a miraculous contrast. The miraculous word of the Lord heals a sick man whose helplessness had long prevented him from benefiting from the miraculous healing water.


2) The sick man.


The assumption that the evangelist used a material found in legend would not only relieve us of the embarrassing difficulties into which we would fall with regard to his character if the opposite assumption were made: it also frees us from the irresolvable contradictions into which other features of the report enter with all reality. For the world, even in its worst times, is not so depraved; no man is ever so forsaken as the words of the sick man, V. 7, are supposed to imply. He has no one, he complains, who will immediately bring him into the water when it is moved miraculously. But no one? And if he had no one, was there no one to bring him into the healing water? Impossible! But the sick man must have had someone to take care of him, for someone must have carried him to the pond on his bed, which he could only carry himself after he had been healed, and whoever had taken pity on him so kindly every day would also have done him the lesser service of love. The legend could let the sick person speak as he does, in order to contrast the healing power of the Lord with the extreme helplessness, which is all the greater, the more help has always eluded him. In reality, however, this situation is impossible. It is also inconceivable that this helplessness would require for its explanation that the sick at that pond or the friends who took care of them would have been left to themselves. For if it was always only the first who found healing in the water when it began to move, and if it was only up to their or their friends’ power and strength that they gained the lead over others: what terrible, oppressive tumult would we have to imagine at this pond, what crude appearances would have occurred here daily? Under these circumstances, some kind of official supervision would have been ordered long ago, so that it would not be left to the self-help and violence of individuals to gain the lead. And if this supervision, which properly watched over the order of events, had certainly been appointed by the priesthood, how – we must ask again – could Josephus have been unaware of the matter or not have found it noteworthy? But even without the help of the police, the appalling turmoil, which would have plunged the cripples into the pond as even bigger cripples or as crushed people, has been put to rest for us, since it has been shown that this entire sanatorium is the stuff of legend.


Finally, how does the author know, or rather how did Jesus know (v. 6), that the sick man had been afflicted for a long time, namely 38 years? The sick man could not have told the Lord, for there is no room for such a revelation in the discourses he has with him: on the contrary, it is precisely because the Lord knows the duration of his suffering that he turns to him. Therefore, the disciples could not have been moved by idle curiosity to ask the sick man about such things. Nor will the Lord have learned from others how long the sick man had been suffering, for no sooner had he arrived in Jerusalem than he saw him lying by chance at the pool as an unknown person, so that he must have seen with his penetrating gaze, without needing to learn from human information *), how long the sick man’s suffering had lasted. This, it seems, is how the evangelist sees the matter, and this is how he wants us to see it, but we must not, for the Lord alone would have to have chosen such a long-suffering sick person from the mass of others, so that the miraculous healing would appear all the more extraordinary. In the usual way, therefore, the duration of the sick person’s suffering should not have been known, nor can the Lord have known it in a miraculous way: has the author perhaps drawn the definite number from the stock of his imagination? This is not possible either, for if he wanted to make the cure seem all the greater by the duration of the illness, he would have been content with an indefinite and all the more magnifying relation or would have reached for a round, common number. Or if he had intended a deeper intimation by the number, he would have implied the purpose. The number must therefore have been handed down to him by the legend, and the latter, however, could have arrived at this particular number through a spiritual, poetic perception and through a specific purpose, by seeing in it a symbol which the author, if he did not suspect it from the outset, did not need to become aware of. Hengstenberg offers us a helpful hand here; at least he reveals to us the meaning of the symbol which we must now, after the failure of all other attempts at explanation, assume here. The newer Christologist only says: “we regard this sick person as a type of the Jewish people”; namely, how the latter, after 38 years of misery, in which it bore its guilt of sin, took possession of the Promised Land with the celebration of the Passover, one must find a relation to this if the sick person was healed after 38 years of suffering at the time of the Passover *). But the interpreter, who discovers such a beautiful correspondence between the image and the counter-image, will not assume that Jesus came into contact with the sick man by chance and without knowing which treasure of typicality he was touching? From his point of view, Hengstenberg can only allow himself to say, “We contemplate”, if the Lord had intended this contemplation, when he set his eyes on this very sick person among the crowd of others. But we cannot ascribe this intention to the Lord, for if so many speeches and such a serious involvement were connected with this healing, he should at least have revealed in one word the higher purpose he had in mind, indeed he should have shown the hostile people, who condemned him because of this healing, the image of himself in the sick man. It is rather possible that for the view of the congregation the healed man became an image of the general misery or rather for the Jewish coloured view an image of the misery which the holy people had once contracted through their guilt and from which they were freed again by the divine good pleasure. So far, then, the symbolic interpretation can be admitted, but this is also certain: the evangelist has taken the number without being aware of a symbolic reference in it.

*) Nemine indice, as Bengel correctly explains in the context.

*) Christ0logie II, 568.


3) The Sabbath.


Just as the situation with its preconditions could not stand up to criticism, so the transition from the situation to the action will not be able to prove reliable. Jesus asks the sick person: do you want to get well? What has not all been sought and found in this question? Tholuck and Olshausen let the Lord awaken the attention, longing and receptivity of the sick person with the question, Lücke the good will, so that this serves as an “analogy of faith” to the inner point of connection of the miracle. As if the question were more than a creature of pragmatism, since the author, in order to get from the presupposed situation to the matter itself, needed a transition, and how could he form such a transition more easily and simply than by letting the Lord relate to the sick person in the first place? If the Lord had wanted to awaken the confidence of the sick person for the miraculous healing, he would have had to know him, which is not the case according to the report. And then the Lord would have had to relate his question to himself and say: Shall I help you? For the sick man’s wish to be healed is already expressed clearly enough in the fact that, despite years of thwarted attempts, he nevertheless did not lose heart, and rather allowed himself to be brought to the pool again and again.

The healing happened on a Sabbath and resulted in a conflict with the legal anxiety of the people. To mention it in passing – when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he not only rose above the “Pharisaic petty spirit” *) which had surrounded the simple Mosaic law with a multitude of commandments and prohibitions, but he then declared the OT commandment to be one which could not put any barriers against the spirit in its original freedom and movement. With no word, not even with the slightest hint, does the Lord mention rabbinical statutes in his responsibility, he does not say that one must only distinguish the simple law from its later enclosures, but he goes straight for the Mosaic provision and says of this that the spirit with its free activity may and must reach beyond it.

*) As Lücke says, II, 21.


But is it really because of this that the sick man was healed on a Sabbath? Certainly it seems certain enough, since the Lord must justify himself against the accusation of the Jews with a saying that seems to refer only to a conflict with the Sabbath law. As the Father never rests, but works continually, so, says Jesus (v. 17), the image must follow the divine archetype. **) Although this saying seems to presuppose a collision with the Sabbath law, it is not yet beyond doubt that it arose on this occasion and that the sick man was healed on a Sabbath. On the contrary, the opposite case becomes more certain when we consider the historical course by which the Lord’s answer is supposed to have been brought about.

**) When Lücke (II, 23.) says: “Jesus does not want to touch the Sabbath law itself, but only the abuses which the carnal mind of the Jews allowed themselves,” this is the constant apologetic play on the word “carnal,” which cannot be rebuked seriously enough. Was not the law itself “carnal” when it limited creation and divine rest to days and demanded pure unemployment on the Sabbath in imitation of the divine archetype? Must the rabbinical fearfulness be understood only as a carnal corruption of the spiritual law, was it not rather the proliferating growth of the original “flesh?


Jesus heals the sick man and tells him to carry his bed and to appear freely. When the Jews see the healed man carrying his bed and point out to him that he is breaking the Sabbath command, he refers to the commandment of the one who healed him, but when asked by the Jews, he does not know who it was. By chance he meets Jesus again in the temple and only now, when the Lord called out to him: sin no more, lest something worse happen to you, does he know to tell the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. If he did not know Jesus before, if he did not get to know him through the healing, then he could not get to know him even at a second meeting with him without further ado. Something special that opened his eyes did not intervene, for the fact that the Lord warned him of distant sins could not appear to him as something remarkable, something outstanding, since it was a Jewish idea in general that sickness and misery were punishment for sin, so that he too could be warned by anyone else and, if necessary, by himself in that way. The fact that the sick man did not immediately learn who the Savior was is explained in v. 13 by the fact that Jesus withdrew from the crowd that was standing by. Well, then at least some of the bystanders must have known Jesus, for if they were not attentive to the incident or did not speak of the miracle worker, Jesus had hastily withdrawn without purpose or need; thus the healed man could easily have learned from them to whom he owed his recovery. However, even if there were reasons beyond our understanding why he did not know it, afterwards he could not have known it either, since his encounter with Jesus in the temple appears only as a momentary and quickly passing one. Since it was only accidental, the new difficulty arises that Jesus should have left it to chance whether he could call out to the sick man a warning, which, if it was essential and necessary, he should have given immediately after the healing, when he ordered him to stand up and carry the bed. Against the order to carry the bed, even the warning not to sin anymore is the more important thing for the salvation of the soul, and the essential, spiritual thing should have followed so late like an accidental addendum or like an occasional appendix? Since we are not able to recognize anything that looks like history in all of this, the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath also fades into the area in which the other features of this report have their home, into the area of pragmatism. Or shall we, in order to complete the proof, still ask why Jesus hid himself after the healing and afterwards (probably soon after, if the heat of the Jewish investigation for the physician of the sick should not cool down) walks around freely in the temple? Lücke’s statement, that the Lord wanted to avoid similar things, like 6:15 which always had to be feared *), contradicts too much the context, according to which (5:15, 18.) the murderous Jews are by no means inclined to make the Sabbath-breaker their king. We should also ask how the evangelist knows about the two times he touched the hostile Jews or why the Lord does not present Himself as the spiritual Savior and the bodily Savior, as He usually does (Matt. 9:2-3) and as is worthy of Him. No, we do not need to remind you that the sick man had already violated the Sabbath by letting himself be carried on his bed to the pool.

*) Comm, II, 22.


If it therefore only remains to explain how the author came to place the healing of the sick man on a Sabbath, we have to remember that this healing is one of the few points where an agreement with the synoptic reports of the public activity of the Lord is found. Also Matthew (op. cit.) knows about the healing of a paralytic (which seems to be the sick man of the fourth gospel, since he lacks the use of his limbs), who was healed by the Lord on his bed. But if our gospel has only a few points in common with the synoptic reports of the public life of Jesus, then with regard to the facts similar things will have happened to it, what otherwise in the evangelical historiography tends to happen with the speeches of the Lord, namely that, because in the memory the empirical quantity of the occasions was condensed, what in reality lay far apart was heaped together on one point. If we add to this the fact that the fourth evangelist reports only a few miraculous deeds of the Lord, it is no longer conspicuous and it was self-evident that he added the conflict with the Sabbath law to the healing of the paralytic.

What seemed offensive and inexplicable to us until now, is now explained as a necessary consequence of the pragmatism, which had to present itself to the author as natural, if he did not have the hostile Jews immediately at hand and had to lead them to the attack against the Lord first. The healed man himself had to form the middle link and first attract the attention of the Jews by walking freely and publicly before them carrying his bed (v. 9).


But now the evangelist remembers that the Lord did not like to make an appearance with his miraculous deeds and usually withdrew after such a deed; so he surrounds him with a crowd immediately at the healing of the sick man (v. 13) in contradiction to this first condition. The evangelist thought he needed this retreat of Jesus to explain how it came about that the sick man did not know his Savior, and he overlooks the fact that Jesus could not have been completely unknown to the crowd if he thought he had to retreat. But if the sick man should nevertheless tell the Jews who had authorized him to violate the Sabbath, then he had to meet Jesus again, even if it remains inexplicable how he comes to know him as Jesus at the second merely occasional meeting. But if the author was led to assume a twice repeated contact of the sick man with Jesus, then it was necessary for the connection of the individual parts that the words of the Lord belonging together were separated and used on two occasions. The question, finally, why and in what spirit the healed man told the Jews that it was Jesus who had restored him to health, is now answered by the fact that it is completely omitted, and we do not need to agonize over it with the apologists. Only from the plan, according to which the healed man was once the only mediator between the Jews and the Lord, did this report come forth, and as little as the evangelist was concerned about whether the healed man might not appear as a malicious, ungrateful braggart, or whether the more innocent motive of obedience to the authorities might be the reason for the report, so little do we have to worry about this profound question.


4) Jesus’ speech of defense.


There follows a series of sayings of Jesus, all of which are connected to the fact that the Jews wanted to kill Him because He called God His own Father, and thus made Himself equal with God. Jesus wants to appease the murderous zealots by saying (v. 19, 20) that the Son does what he sees the Father do, and that the Father shows him out of love all that he himself does. This beginning of the discourse must already disconcert us, for it only repeats that which had given the Jews so much offence, but does not remove the offence or prove what seemed to the opponents an impossibility. For the kind of aesthetic sense that delights in contrasts without examining their elasticity and durability, it is, however, melodious when Lücke says: “Jesus calmly contrasts the unbelief of the Jews with the decisive self-awareness of his messianic dignity and power” *). That Jesus was able to do this is undeniable, and that he did it otherwise is proven often enough by the Synoptics. But then the Lord’s answer had to be short, compact, decisive, and not, as happens here, lose itself in a rambling argument, which at every moment gave rise to new objections and reflections. If, on the other hand, the Lord, as Lücke states **), had at the same time intended “to correct the false, incoherent ideas of the Jews about the Messiah”, then the speech, if it was not to be spoken in vain, would have to take into account the contrast step by step and let this intention emerge more clearly. But such a thing is not found either, and when the Lord says (v. 20) that the Father would show the Son even greater works than the present hearers had seen, “that they might marvel,” this is the right expression for the turn the speech takes here. They had to marvel at what was now opened to them, and even after this opening the Lord had to call out to them again with justification: do not marvel! (v. 28. ) For so lofty are these sayings, so inaccessible to the presupposed unbelief of the murderous hearers, that only wonder remained for them, but not wonder, which is the beginning, but the enemy of all knowledge, because it dulls the spirit from the beginning.

*) Comm. II, 26.

**) Ibid.


And indeed the Lord *), after having expounded his supreme authority of judgment and the raising of the dead, “is compelled by the obstinate incomprehension of his adversaries to give a different turn to his discourse,” v. 31. For he, says the Lord, does not testify of himself, but it is another who testifies of him. He will not appeal to the testimony of John the Baptist as that of a human being for himself, and he will only invoke it for the sake of the listeners, so that they may believe and be saved. Rather, he had a greater testimony, namely, the works which God had entrusted to him and which he was now carrying out. But again, the Lord must see that he also appeals to this highest testimony in vain, for the inner revelation, the word of the Father inwardly, his unbelieving opponents do not have in them in a lasting way, and so it is not to be wondered at that they also do not believe the testimony which the Scriptures bear of him.

*) As Lücke again correctly explains, ibid, p. 27.

This overview in the present passage reveals a well-meant apologetic, an apologetic that the struggle with doubt and unbelief had to call forth early on, and which even in its outlines is pretty much the same as it still looks in our situation, i.e. it does not move from its place with approaches taken again and again in vain and remains resolved in the same circle. But it must be impossible for us to banish the Lord and his victorious word into this barren circle of tautology; we owe the Lord the confession that we do not recognise the clarity and certainty of his spirit, as well as his sublimity above the antithesis in these windings and in this anxious alternation of approach and relapse. The Lord could not have spoken in such a way that in every sentence he was conscious of the uselessly wasted effort and only lost and entangled himself, as if out of embarrassment, in proofs of which, according to the premise of this speech, he should at the same time know that they would all be of little use. We do not deprive the Lord of anything, but rather free his image from a disturbing course, if we admit that it is only the evangelist who has put together this apologetic edifice. The presupposed situation of a hostile contact of the Lord with the people seemed to him to be the suitable occasion on which words of the Lord, which were originally intended to prove the divinity of his work or which might not have been uttered with this purpose, were spoken. But if it had already happened to him that the Lord’s sayings, which were meant to prove his divine authority and mission when uttered on special occasions, fell into a misguided place in this context, it must have been even more the case with words that originally did not serve this specific purpose at all, but were rather only the pure, unintentional expression of the Lord’s inner power and glory. But if the danger of change is so near, we would only be halfway in the following explanation of these sayings and would still have to fear a hidden enemy if we did not also want to examine the presupposition that these sayings, apart from their position, belong completely to the Lord.


5) The likeness of the Son.


“What the Father doeth, that doeth the Son likewise.” As much as these words are inwardly connected with the preceding ones, “My Father worketh, and so worketh I also,” in that they are only the general expression for them, it is not very probable that they were spoken in succession with them on the same occasion, if they belong to the Lord. The saying, “My Father works, and so do I,” is a self-contained, perfectly complete entity that does not require any additional emphasis to enhance its impact. In itself, it is perfectly clear and has a great lasting effect on the mind; the statement actually loses power when reduced to a general formula. So the Lord has made these reflective observations at another time? This is not yet necessary and is by no means beyond all doubt; at least the dogmatic attitude, which is expressed in the negation (the Son can do nothing of himself) and the corresponding affirmation must make it more probable that a simple, original core has been theoretically worked out by the evangelist. In the Synoptics we find similar sayings which point to the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son, as, for example, Matt. 11:27 ascribes to the Son the perfect vision of the Father and to the Son the same vision of the Son. But the speculative implementation of this relationship, its application to the entire work of salvation, the distinction between the archetype, which is contained in the eternal divine activity, and the after-image in the activity of the Son, the relationship of both sides, which is intelligibly conceived as the teaching of the Father, and finally their deeper union in the love of the Father for the Son: All this unmistakably resembles a later theory which sought to understand the relationship between the Father and the Son, and contradicts the certain immediacy with which the Lord contemplated and expressed His unity with the Father. The simple idea of unity with the Father and that of obedience grew into a dogmatic development in that saying.


6) The raising of the dead and the judgment.


Anyone who does not believe in dogmatic theory in the fourth Gospel must abandon their disbelief when they consider the statement in V. 21-30 carefully, both on its own and in the context of its surroundings. The statement is meant to provide the highest example of how the Father shows the Son everything and how the Son in fact reflects the prototype of his perception. This idea, however, runs through the entire exposition from beginning to end: nevertheless, the transition from the general purpose to the explanatory example, which holds everything together, is such that it cannot have been made by Jesus in reality. It is only a dogmatic bracket, a makeshift and a work of embarrassment that could not have mediated this leap from the general to the most specific individuality in any other way. Any other aspect of the Lord’s redemptive activity could have been cited as an example of how the Son follows the perception of the divine prototype in everything, for the Lord always and in all things demonstrated his obedience to the divine will. However, when the discussion suddenly shifts to the invigorating activity in spiritual creation, judgment, and the resurrection of the dead, the transition had to be made in such a way that the astonishment of the listeners was determined as the purpose (V. 20), and this purpose had to be achieved precisely because of the nature of the transition, as the speech indicates with commendable consistency against its own structure in V. 28. However, this also reveals the intention with which the speech was originally designed and proves the artificiality of the exposition.


But no! Let’s first say, the artificiality of the transition; before we judge the explanation itself, we need to examine it more closely. Corresponding perfectly to its purpose, the speech starts with the general divine archetype and develops the copy according to the individual aspects in which it expresses the archetype, until it concludes with a glance back to the general archetype. The Father, that forms the beginning, awakens the dead and brings them to life (v. 2l.), and his will is accomplished, as in the quickening efficacy, so also in the judgment which the Son executes, for only through this conformity to the will of the Father is it just (v. 30.). The divine archetype, the efficacy of the Father, who awakens the dead and brings them to life, is presupposed to be universal and to embrace the entire development of the spiritual world; but the representation in the after-image proceeds in two acts, each of which is again divided into the two sides of the raising to life and the judgment. The impartation of life, which proceeds from the Son, is at first conceived as such as already takes place in the historical world (νυν εστιν ωρα v. 25.); but it is still a limited one, for only “whom he will” does the Son animate, or rather, since his will is not arbitrary, he who honours him and in him the Father has already passed from death to life in the present through the mediation of the Son. If, therefore, only those who listen to the voice of the Son pass from death to life, the other side is that the unbelievers remain imprisoned in death and are already judged, for they are those whom the Son does not want to revive. But where does the Son get the power and authority to revive and to judge? Therefore, because the Father has given it to the Son to have life in Himself, as He Himself has it in Him, and the Son has the authority of judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Especially this last provision is truly profound and thorough: the judgment, which is carried out in history inwardly and in self-awareness, is carried out by the Lord, because he, as the Son of man, is the completed idea of humanity, and humanity in its historical development can only be judged through its idea.


Do not be surprised – v. 28 says at the transition of the speech to the end, namely to the last judgement – do not be surprised that the Son of Man attributes this power to himself, for the hour is coming in which all in the graves will hear his voice and come forth to the resurrection of life or to judgement. The only explanation appropriate to the course of the discourse, where the aim is ever greater astonishment, is that of which the transition to the end is conceived as the transition to the most astonishing. Do not be surprised, that is the meaning of the transition, do not be surprised at the power which I ascribe to myself, for it will reveal itself even more gloriously, greater and more comprehensively, when the resurrection will prove itself not only inwardly in the historical world of the spirit, but also as the resurrection of the body. The opposite view *), that the Jews should conclude from what is known and common, from the resurrection of the dead already known from the prophetic promise, to that which is more difficult for them to access, to the revival already taking place in the present, this view is already inappropriate because the centre is always missing for this conclusion, namely the concession that Jesus is the one promised by the prophets. The image of the Messiah is rather presented as a free centre in itself and only one feature is added after the other in order to complete the vision of his glory in a progressive increase. In the work of painting, what was already not taken into account at the transition is completely forgotten, namely that this image of Messianic authority was to be held up to the Jews, who did not even recognise that Jesus was the Messiah at all.

*) In Weisse, evang. Gesch. II, 221.


It only takes an overview of this many-faceted dogmatic work to see that it cannot belong to the Lord in this form. Written as it lies before us, we can follow its twists and turns and let ourselves be carried away by its gradual progress, especially since its content has long since become known to us. But spoken to those who were to hear in it for the first time truths hitherto closed to them, it must have been utterly incomprehensible, and instead of drawing the listener along in its progress, it would rather have had to confuse him with its twists and turns and, by plunging him from one astonishment into another, stupefy him. Yes, just read the whole passage, the slower and more deliberately the better, follow its artful concatenation and then still have the heart to claim that it could have been grasped by people who heard it for the first time and, what is more, should have heard it in stubborn unbelief.


If one believes otherwise, one may at least attribute it to the play of the aesthetic impression that others cannot find a spoken word of the Lord here: well! then there are still certain reasons that this speech does not belong to the Lord. “All things are delivered unto me”-that was possible for the Lord to say, and is explicable from the fullness of his self-consciousness; but to regard it in the objective relation of purpose: “the Father hath delivered up judgment unto the Son, that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father”-that is only for later reflection, for which the main features of the heavenly household are already positively given, and which now wants to come to a clarity about the relation of the individual provisions. The Lord could clearly and openly describe himself as the mediator of resurrection and judgment, and he did so, but only because he knew himself to be the promised one. But how far is it now from this simplicity and certainty of self-awareness to the question of the definite side of the Son’s relationship to the Father, in which His quickening power lies, or of the side of His historical appearance, in which His authority to judge is founded. Before these questions could be asked, life and judgment must already have manifested themselves many times in the spiritual world of the congregation, and the personality of the Lord must already have become a free object of reflection. These determinations, that the Son was the mediator of life because it was given to Him to have life in Himself as the Father has it in Him, that He, as the Son of Man, had the authority of judgment, were drawn from the depths of the spirit of the congregation, they were views which brought together the whole fullness of the determinations of the subject matter: but they could only be conveyed through the historical conditions indicated.


Now, when these determinations have been transferred from the Lord’s self-consciousness into their true birthplace, into the spirit of the congregation and into the later believing contemplation, the question still remains whether the distinction of a twofold resurrection and of a judgment on this side and on the other is really pronounced by Jesus. Why not? answers the believing consciousness at once, and we could be reassured by its answer, if it were not determined in such questions less by faith in the Lord than by believing familiarity with the letter of Scripture. Or does the doubting critic believe to discover a contradiction in this speech and says, for example, Gfrörer*), “the common Jewish opinion of the last day and the Last Judgment and the spiritual doctrine of the resurrection, which exclude each other, are directly related to each other, the Lord, who was far above his time, taught only the latter and John added the former from his stock”: even then apologetics is not helpless. No contradiction, it says, is present here; the Last Judgement and the inner-worldly historical judgement do not exclude each other, but the latter is only the completion of the former, and both join together in the continuity of the beginning and the end. Well said! This would be quite good if the question were only whether the thing itself is contradictory, and not rather whether the Lord has made the reflective distinction between a judgment on this side and one on the other.

*) The Sacred and the True p. 56-58.


In this purity we must hold the question if its solution is to arise, for now, we see, it is nothing else than the question whether teachings on the immortality of the soul and on the resurrection fall directly within the sphere of revelation. Empirically, we must answer in the negative, for in the OT, from the standpoint of the Law, no information is given anywhere about immortality and resurrection, and the old depressed conception of the room where the Fathers are gathered creeps like a dark shadow through the light world of the Law. The prophets speak of resurrection and judgement only after this higher certainty had been born in the human breast and in its inner struggles. And when the Lord speaks of judgment and resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels, he does so in no other way than by presupposing these views as certain, long known ones.

It is also in the nature of things that revelation itself cannot directly convey any teachings. As it seizes upon human beings, it grasps them in their present, historical determinacy and, with the demand that they absolutely overcome it, elevates them into its ideal world, which presents itself to them as immediately certain. This world that exists in and of itself is always opposed to the empirically given world, but correspondingly and absolutely parallel in contrast. Thus, the law commands the killing of the inclination to serve nature and demands submission to the divine will, the prophets are raised from the fragmentation of the legal world to the immediate vision of the divine plan, and the savior brings the message that the kingdom of heaven has come for sinners. If the actual self-consciousness has already fought for the direction towards a beyond, in and of itself being world through its internal historical movement, then, of course, the revelation also seizes upon this direction and spreads accordingly. Of course, the law could not attach itself to the old shapeless shadow world of the Hebrews or even relate to it at all, but for the prophetic vision, for which the resurrection was already certain, the divine counsel developed up to the future judgment, and in the kingdom of heaven that came with it, the Lord knew himself to be the only mediator until the completion in the Last Judgment.


For Jesus, in this view, which knew itself to be the same from the present to the consummation of the future and was sure of itself between the two limits, life and death, salvation and damnation were as much a present as a future decision. When he says that he came as a physician to the sick and sinful, but not to the righteous and healthy, it is already in the present that he exercises judgment, accepts sinners, makes them alive and rejects the pride of the righteous. The Lord could then unhesitatingly turn to the other side and speak of the judgment of the last day, without feeling the slightest need of a reflective mediation of this future with the present. Both sides, which are distinguished in the fourth Gospel and are set in relation to each other in such a way that the astonishment about them is foreseen, were so unabashedly united for Jesus’ self-awareness that the thought of astonishment about their relationship could not even arise in him. When, therefore, Gfrörer demands that only the one side, the thought of the present judgment, should be placed in the consciousness of Jesus, he is just as far from the goal as he who would now assert that only the other side, the thought of the future judgment, belongs to the Lord. No, the Lord united both sides in his consciousness, but in that unity into which the reflection on the relationship had not yet penetrated. Only later, when the congregation had already been formed and had felt the double-edged power of the spirit in itself and in its contact with the world, did self-consciousness descend into its inner world, and in it became acquainted with the ground of a judgment which even now decided on life and death. It was only then that the intelligible distinction between a present and a future judgment arose, and it could be called out to the unbelievers: do not be surprised that we speak of a present judgment, for he is already judge now who will also judge once in the consummation of time.

But if in this speech only the thought of the resurrection and the judgment remains as the original material, then it becomes even clearer how little this apologetic fragment belongs into the presupposed historical relationship.

7) The testimony of the Baptist.


The following apologetic argument is only put forward by the Lord in such a way that he spurns it for his own person and sets it back infinitely against another higher one. It is the testimony of the Baptist. Because it is only the testimony of a man, says Jesus, he does not accept it and only brings it to the memory of the Jews, so that they may thereby come to faith and life, for they, as men, could be content with a testimony of their own kind, even in their highest matters, where it concerns the salvation of their souls. Even to the dullest feeling this turn of phrase must give the impression that the voice of the Lord is not to be heard here. This turn of phrase, by which a testimony is only half given, or with averted countenance, as if it were unworthy of acceptance, and yet is excluded, and at the same time again thrust upon others with a defensive hand, is truly not due to the Lord, but belongs only to the apologist, who wants to heap argument upon argument, and give the appearance of abundance, by not needing any of them at all for necessity. Do we say again that this is only the aesthetic indifference of the critic? Then say only that it is worthy of the Lord, nevertheless, to make use of a proof halfway and for the awakening of faith, of which he at the same time says that he may not use it for himself with good reason, because it is deeply beneath his glory.


But could the Lord speak in this way about his relationship with the Baptist*)? Yes, if the preacher of repentance had come forth in his own authority and of his own accord, then the Lord could say that he could not accept his testimony, but then he could not also bring it up for the salvation of others. However, if the Baptist was sent by God, then the divine plan was revealed in his appearance, and faithful contemplation was no longer dealing with just a man, but with the divine will itself – in short, with a divine testimony. In general, however, the Lord would have lapsed into extreme Ostentation if he had wanted to detach the development of the Kingdom of God, which had him as its goal and was the divine omen of his coming, from his own person and only give it a makeshift relationship to others who might thereby be brought to faith. How different it is in the Synoptics, where the Lord refers to the promises of the prophets and does not shy away from describing the Baptist as the Elijah who was to prepare the way for him.

*) As soon as the apologist seriously elevates the pragmatic turns of the evangelist to general principles, the untrue nature of them is immediately apparent, Compare e. g. Tholuck, Comm. See, for example, Tholuck, Comm, p. 127.


8) The testimony of works.


The higher testimony, against which the Lord sets so far above that of John, lies in the works which he performs according to the Father’s command, and which now bear witness to him and his divine mission. After the earlier commentators had tried in vain to give the expression “works” (εργα) a closer definition, one has recently come to the correct understanding that the works are to designate all sides of the Messianic activity of the Lord. They are the totality of the individual determinations which “the work,” το εργον (C. 17, 4) sums up as the whole.

The nature of the abstract brings with it that it does not express the fullness of individual determinations as such, but a strong and healthy abstract can always awaken the view of its inner richness by uniting the actual abundance of the individual to unity. With this abstract, however, we would labour in vain if we wished to connect with it at the same time that vivid view, especially when, as here, it stands isolated and cannot enrich itself from the context. If, when we hear the word “works”, we are to list all the individual aspects of the Lord’s activity one after the other in our thoughts, this is a dead, mechanical linkage, which is always exposed to the danger of counting too many individual things or too few. And now even “the work” is so colourless and bodiless without a more detailed definition that the view dies away completely. In the midst of the vivid ramifications of the Saviour’s activity and out of the abundance of refined self-awareness, this abstract could not emerge, not to mention that it could not be understood by the Jews, who had not yet fully translated the individual pages of this work. The Lord spoke of the purpose of his mission in a more comprehensible, richly pulsating form, and when he referred to his present work, then he could point to living witnesses of his activity, then he said: Report to John what you hear and see, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the poor have the gospel preached to them, or he pointed to the Scriptures where it is written what the Son of Man is; always, at least, he spoke of his work as it was already completed in the present in living form for contemplation, or as a definite goal still awaiting him in the future. The abstraction of the works or of the work as this standing expression could then only come into use when reflection completely overlooked the historical activity of the Lord and made the attempt to summarise it into a whole. Its origin, however, is still revealed to us by the use to which this expression is put in the fourth Gospel: the apologetic interest created it in order to dispel doubts about the Messiahship of the Lord by referring to His “work”, and in such a sense the Lord must also use it here.


9) The testimony of the divine word.


The statement in vv. 37, 38 forms the transition from the preceding to the conclusion, but in this middle it is so wavering, it is so weakly expressed in it, whether it is a new argument or not, that already this character, which blurs into uncertainty, proves the artificiality of the transition. This wandering of thought from one thing to another may be characteristic of a written composition, but in the real life situation of a speaker addressing a crowd with specific needs or deficiencies, words are given a sharper and more penetrating shape. Before, the testimony of the works was spoken of; afterwards, from v. 39 on, the Lord refers to the testimony of the Scriptures; now, in the middle, the testimony of the Father is spoken of. On the one hand, this testimony lies in the works, the completion of which is entrusted to the Son, and on the other hand, it is expressed as a voice of the Father, that is, as a revelation in words. But the definition of this revelation of the Father is so ambiguous that neither the relationship to the works of the Son nor to the holy Scriptures of the OT is expressly emphasised. However, the pure revelation of the inner Word, in which the external mediation should be completely disregarded, cannot be meant either: that would be an idea that would have deserved and demanded a much more definite presentation. It therefore remains only with an echo of the saying to the two sides which include it, and the word of the Father dwelling within, which the unbelieving Jews lack, is itself the echo of the revelation given in the works of the Son and in the Scriptures.


Finally, who would deny the thought that the Scriptures testify of him from the Lord, who knew that the necessity of his suffering was confirmed in them, who recognised in the law and the prophets a continuing prophecy of himself (Matt. 11:13.)? But the development of this view into an apologetic argument, that is something quite different, that is a later turn, and it arose from a need which could only excite the mind later, when the work of salvation had been accomplished and the unbelief of the Jewish world had been decided. In the face of this decided obduracy, the contending congregation was then able to summon Moses as a witness to help and at the same time as the judge of his apostate people. —-


We thus find it confirmed, of which we have already found traces above, that the fourth evangelist puts together sayings in the same way as the Synoptics, which never owe their origin to the same occasion. But we cannot even say that he worked in the same way as the synoptics in this regard. For in the, if we may say so, cyclopean construction of the Synoptics, critical analysis finds the original granite boulders in the form that the divine nature of the Lord had given them. But if we look for the original pieces in the artificial construction of the speeches in the Fourth Gospel, we must attack the building and – it is not our fault and no one accuses us for it – strip it down to the ground before we find here a few foundation stones, which are themselves already very much worked over, as the Lord’s genuine good. In this contrast between the divine nature of the material in the Synoptic accounts and the art of the Fourth Gospel, the latter is not only to be understood as purely human wit and understanding, for it is also not without the testimony of the divine. The divine art of the spirit of the congregation has also collaborated, and as we understand the artful structure of those speeches as the self-understanding that the spirit of the community had mediated from the original words of the Lord in the struggle with the opposition of the world, its view will remain intact for us. Only we must give up trying to find in it nothing but the rock fragments of the Lord’s words or even their immediate structure.



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