§ 11. The feeding of the people and the church


§. 11 The feeding of the people and the church.



1) The nearness of the passover.


Apologetics, which devotes itself to the service of the letter, has almost nowhere so much to do and so much business as is presented to it in the passage to which we are now passing; for no sooner has it got over one difficulty than, before it can breathe, it is engaged in a new struggle with another. Criticism now does the most unselfish kindness to the direction that opposes it most stubbornly, in that it not only makes the difficulties disappear for a moment in the exegetical fog, but solves them for ever by explaining how they arose; thus it seizes here, as always, the opportunity to gather fiery coals on the head of its opponent. It is only a pity that the latter at the same time becomes too much disgruntled to give room to the feeling of gratitude, since he cannot be freed from the torment of those difficulties without having many a hearty joy of little traits,that serve him as amusing resting points on the field of impulses.


For example, the apologist is immediately pleased with the remark (V. 4.) that at the time when the miracle of the feeding and the following conversation took place, the feast of the Passover was near. From this “it is explained, says Lücke*), that there were just crowds of people wandering about in the land.” But if this remark, as de Wette also says **), “seems to explain why those houses of the people were on the move,” then the evangelist also appears to regard the gathering of the crowds of people around the Lord quite differently from the Synoptics. Only by an accidental circumstance does he set the masses in motion, at least for a reason that lay outside the personality of the Lord, whereas the Synoptics tie the multitudes to the Saviour by an inner bond of need. Matthew (15:30) has the multitude of the sick flock to the Lord so that he may heal them, and when Mark says (6:34) that the Lord felt compassion for the multitude because they resembled the herd without shepherds, and that he taught them many things, he is at the same time saying that the multitude, feeling spiritually helpless, flocked to the Lord to seek counsel from him.

*) Comm. II, 72.

**) Kurz. Ex. of Ev. John p .77.

But it is not so bad, one might object, that our evangelist leads the multitudes to the Lord only by the nearness of the Passover; for he does not mean to explain the presence of the multitudes in general, but only the great number of the multitude; that a multitude of the people followed the Lord at all, he sufficiently explains (v. 2) by the impression which the miraculous healing of the sick had made on the people. Thus the proximity of the Passover feast is mentioned only to explain, at least “in part, the wandering of great crowds”. *) But even this more limited purpose of the time is as disturbing as it is striking. Or is the escort of the crowd not sufficiently and completely explained in relation to the size of the crowd, when it already says in v. 2: a “great crowd” followed the Lord, because they had seen his signs on the sick? Why is it necessary to mention the proximity of the Passover in order to explain the presence of large crowds? The evangelist would have brought the most harmful excess into his narrative if the mention of the time of the Passover really served that purpose; for now he would not have trusted the Lord’s activity and its impression on the masses to have so much power that it alone could gather the multitude around the Lord. The first reason would have been weakened by the second, or actually annulled, even to the point of contradiction with the inwardly more coherent view of the synoptic accounts.

*) Lücke, Comm. 11, 5.


But even if the evangelist may have at least partly connected this pragmatic purpose with this timing – it is not impossible for him to have had such an intention, which would destroy the immediate surroundings of his narrative – we cannot go so far as to attribute to him the unconsciousness that he only noticed the proximity of the Passover feast in order to explain the gathering of a large crowd of people. He must have had another purpose and the apologists will agree with us if they really care about the honour of their protégé. How, namely, if the determination of time had grown together more with what follows than with what precedes? But let us not ask! It is so; the time is not directly connected with the remark that many people have come together, but the crowd is already quietly assembled, the report has already turned away from it in v. 3, because it is sure of it, it has already drawn the reader’s attention to the situation of the Lord, and only now, as it wants to develop the relationship of Jesus to the crowd, does it notice the proximity of the feast of the Passover. So this remark may still refer to the preceding in silence, but its actual direction is turned forward to the following, and in this direction it is supposed to point out how what Jesus did and said is internally connected with the approaching feast. The miraculous feeding, however, is so intimately connected with the following conversation – intimately, let us say, according to the Evangelist’s view – the enjoyment to which the Lord offers his flesh and blood is so much the pinnacle to which the bodily feeding of the people rises, that the near feast of the Passover must necessarily also be related to the content of this conversation. In the enjoyment of his person, the Lord wants to establish the higher image of the legal Passover feast, for his person, whose highest significance is revealed in his sacrifice unto death, is the eternal, heavenly archetype of the Passover lamb. And when could the Lord speak more appropriately of the higher sacrifice of his body and its appropriation than at the moment when the people were preparing to celebrate the Passover sacrifice? Now, if this connection sheds significant light on the following conversation, namely that it is already certain from the outset that the evangelist had the idea of the Lord’s Supper in mind and that he already portrays the Lord as instituting and calling for a celebration here, which the Synoptics only derive from the last Passover evening of the Lord, then the following part of the report also lends an explanatory light to the time determination. For if the criticism of the following conversation will teach us that it could not have been held by the Lord either in the present form or on the presupposed occasion, then that determination of the time proves to be one that was made and pragmatically deduced from the content of the conversation, which seemed to necessarily follow the miracle of the feeding.


2) The introduction to the feeding of the people.


The passages of sacred Scripture which, on closer examination, might cause some offence, usually betray by their torn and distorted appearance the struggle which apologetics has fought with them – it is always a struggle to the death, even if it is the word of sacred Scripture which its patrons kill – or they resemble the proof of that biblical manuscript on which the curious hands have gone to and fro until the distinguishing sign about which one argued has been obliterated. Only criticism brings back peace by allowing the Scriptures to say again freely and unhindered what they want to say.

As soon as Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw the people approaching him, he thought of where he should take bread to feed them *). But did the crowd come to him to be filled, or did he have nothing else to give them, so that he could only think of bread? On the contrary, the crowd was said to have come to him because they had seen samples of his healing power, and according to this, as Matthew says, sick people of all kinds were brought to him so that he might heal them. The Lord, as the same synoptist reports, by no means evaded this expectation; indeed, according to the account of Mark, he gave the people the gift of his teaching before he fed them bodily. And both times, where the synoptics report the feeding, which was repeated afterwards, they give as the reason for the miraculous help, that the people had once been around the Lord beyond the time when they needed new food, and the other time even for three days. There the thought of help was obvious, but in the account of the fourth evangelist it comes before all need and without need. We now ask, is this still an explanation of the evangelical account, when Lücke says *): “the deviation of John lies, as it seems to me, only in the abbreviation of the narrative, which omits the instruction of the people before the feeding”? If the narrative, in the sense in which the apologist thinks, namely, consciously omits something, then it would still have to leave room for the addition, but it rather completely excludes even a moment that could be devoted to another thought. No sooner does Jesus see the crowd pouring in than he thinks of the feeding and, as outcome also shows, with the intention of having it happen immediately **).

*) Correct Bengel: veniente populo jam providit Jesus cibum.

*) Comm. II, 73. Likewise Calvin: omittit Evangelista, quod alir tres referunt.

**) Tholuck, Comm. p. 131 says that the evangelist “draws the narrative together.” But the only one who draws together an account is the one who briefly and summarily reports what lies between the extreme endpoints. Krabbe (Lectures on the Life of Jesus. 1839, p. 365.) regards the account of the fourth evangelist with that of the synoptists as agreeing from the outset, and knows nothing at all of a difference. We mention the latter book only to remark that it can give us no occasion for consideration. It only repeats the old apologetic turns of phrase and differs from the writings of Lücke and Olshausen only in that it presents the apologetic inventions as dogma, whereas those men still had a feeling of difficulty. However, apologetics has indeed come full circle in history! Either it can only maintain its old, decaying supports for as long as possible and present them to the criticism as the pillars of the Church, until it dies from the historical weakness of age, or – and this now seems to be its most compelling argument – it must fight and push back against criticism with external force. But in so doing, as all history teaches, it will only hasten its fall, for spiritual power is only strengthened by external pressure and by the hardships of life, driven and transfigured to ever brighter self-confidence.


The individual features of the report are so arranged and the parts of the plot so placed in relation to each other that the miracle is the only goal from which they are derived. This is also the aim of the question Jesus asks Philip. Where shall we buy bread? Jesus, as the evangelist remarks in between, only spoke to his disciple to test him, for he himself knew quite well what he wanted to do. The question here could only be that the Lord wanted to see whether Philip expected a miraculous feeding through his power the moment he thought of the present crowd. And in this sense, as soon as he looked at the matter intelligently, since no sign of need or distress had yet been given, he must have passed the challenge poorly enough. It has also been asked why the question was addressed to Philip in particular, and the answer has been found in the fact that this disciple, as he also appears elsewhere (14:8-9), “held to the outward appearance and was not quick to believe. **). But as soon as he is interested in a different contrast (e.g. in the scene at Jacob’s well in Samaria), the author portrays all the disciples as being sensual and rational to the utmost degree. The fact that this time one individual must stand out is only a trait that arose from the striving for clarity and was also necessary because the roles in the present scene are distributed in a more definite way, in that one more disciple, Andrew, stands out in order to point out the small supply that could still be found for the need (vv. 8-9). Otherwise, the turn of phrase is essentially the same as our author loves to use in order to make the Lord’s majesty stand out against his surroundings. Here it was the perplexity of the sensual mind, against which the image of the wonderful certainty with which the Lord immediately has counsel and help ready in time of need, should stand out all the brighter. But it is not even necessary for us to remember how no need had yet appeared when Philip was called upon to seek help: even without this, we can say without hesitation that this complacent reflection on sensual thrift and narrow-mindedness was foreign to the Lord and that it was only created by a consciousness that loves movement in exaggerated contrasts.

*) Thus Lücke, Comm. II. 73S.

**) de Wette, too, therefore finds this circumstance “fitting” (short. Explanation p. 78.). Bengel assumes somewhat more prosaically: fortasse Philippus rem alimentariam curabat inter discipulos.


Incidentally, there is something very striking in the relationship between this preference for the depiction of the miracle and the way it is viewed in the following discussion about the bread of heaven. For here the attention is drawn so much to the spiritual living bread that the bread of heaven, with which the fathers were fed in the wilderness, is not only relegated to the background, but is also contrasted with the spiritual bread, which is by no means truly heavenly. With the manna, however, the bread that Jesus gave to the people must also recede as if in a world that has been pushed back and over which the spirit has risen far above in its quest for the true food. This contradiction is the old one that is inherent in the idea of miracles in general and which we have already learned about above.


3) The desire of the people.


The miraculous feeding made such a strong impression on the people that they acknowledged the Lord as the promised prophet, i.e. as the Messiah. But Jesus withdrew into solitude because he realised that they wanted to make him a king by force” This is again one of the features in which one admires the “great care” with which “John recorded everything that increased the hatred of the Jewish world and helped to bring about the last great catastrophe” *). That Jesus withdrew after the miracle is also reported by the Synoptics and is in the nature of things, because he did not want a tumultuous, external recognition, but only that of faith: but in the present case it is already difficult to explain what purpose an instantaneous withdrawal should serve in the presupposed excitement of the people, when several thousands had been witnesses of the expected and now proven Messianic glory. At least the Lord should not have come forward again the next day, for now those people had to worry him anew with their intentions.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 79.

But do they really worry him, do they really prove that the Lord had seen correctly on the previous day when he feared that they wanted to make him king? Surely they would have conceived such a far-reaching plan only in the highest excitement which the sign evoked: but now the Lord says, v. 26, not because they had seen signs, but had become full, only for this reason did they seek him out. However, the mere feeling of a full stomach would not have brought them to confess that Jesus was the Messiah and to adopt that extraordinary plan, and we cannot degrade thousands of Jews to the point of saying that their expectation of the Messiah was based solely on the natural feeling of hunger. Therefore, if they sought the Lord for the sake of satiety, it is also certain that they did not want to make him king the day before in the midst of their faith. Let us not speak of the instability of the masses, it does not go so far as to reveal itself overnight without anything decisive intervening. Jesus also does not indicate anything that might have made the crowd change their minds or even that they had different thoughts today than yesterday. Instead, he simply says that the sensation of being satisfied drives them to him, but he does not mention anything about them wanting to make him king, which would have been worth mentioning and even required a rebuke. In short, both contradict each other: either the Jews did not merely feel the natural well-being of satisfied hunger when they thought of Jesus, or they did not plan in higher desire to make the Lord king. Of course, both sides of the contradiction throw a detrimental light on each other, and the fact that the contradiction exists at all makes them both suspicious; but it is at least possible that one side – we will begin with the first, and consider the second later – could really exist in itself, that is, that the Jews wanted to make the Lord king after the feeding. But it is just this first side of the contradiction that is least lasting, since it appears from the outset only as a pragmatic explanation of the writer, while the second is nevertheless given as the express word of the Lord. The author created this pragmatic hyperbole: it seemed natural to him that this time, when the Lord always withdrew after a miracle, there was the most urgent reason to do so, since people had seen a miracle and in the midst of their enthusiasm could go to the extreme, to declare the Lord as the Messiah and proclaim him. And the evangelist concludes that they had indeed wanted to do so when Jesus withdrew.


4) Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.


In the sentence: the disciples “wished to receive him into the ship,” when Jesus approached them across the lake and made himself known to them, the ἤθελον should never have been rendered in such a way that it signified more than the actual desire, namely, at the willingness of the actual action. At least the arbitrariness, which is master of all meanings, should not have been thrown beyond the sacred Scriptures, which once had to be accustomed to such treatment, to the classical writers also. Because everywhere in these writings where an action is connected that requires overcoming or against which one has previously resisted, it is only said that one is now willing to perform the action, but whether it has actually been carried out only becomes apparent from the context and is by no means inherent in the word itself. Therefore, in our account, it is said that they immediately wanted to take Jesus into the boat, but whether they actually did so is not stated in the word θελειν itself *). Since it is said in our report that they landed at the very moment when the disciples, having overcome their fear of the Lord, whom they at first thought to be a ghost, wanted to receive their Master into the ship, this is obviously meant to say that it was now too late and no longer necessary to really receive him into the ship. The interest why the word, which only signifies the decision to do an act, was also given the meaning of the actual deed, is clear enough, since, according to the account of Matthew and Mark, Jesus was really taken into the ship: but the contradiction cannot be removed. All the less can it be removed, since the circumstance of whether Jesus was taken into the ship or not does not stand alone in the accounts, but is conditioned by other circumstances: in the Synoptic account Jesus meets the disciples far from the shore, according to the account of the fourth evangelist at the moment when they are about to land. But the detail with which the evangelist emphasises that Jesus did not need to get into the ship seems to reveal very clearly that he was guided by a specific intention in his account. The miracle and the sublimity above the finite mediations appear greater when the Lord catches up with the disciples on the shore beyond and is now so close to land that he no longer needs the boat.

*) As nevertheless de Wette still maintains, c. Explanation p. 79.


However, the contradiction goes even further: as the disciples had traveled 25 or 30 stadia, Jesus is said to have come near their boat. 25 or 30 stadia! This would mean that the disciples were still in the midst of their distress and would also be in line with Josephus’ statement that the sea was 40 stadia wide. And yet, the disciples were said to have immediately landed as soon as they recognized the Lord, which supposedly happened upon his first greeting. In any case, it is an irreconcilable contradiction that the same scene is relocated 25-30 stadia away from the departure point and then again placed close to the shore where they had been sailing. The vagueness that leaves five stadia open and the overall calculation that counts from the departure point and thus still so far from the destination, assumes a great distance from the opposite shore, and yet the disciples were said to be so close to the landing place that it was not worth the effort to take Jesus into the boat when he approached them. This contradiction can only be resolved if we admit that in the mind of the author, two things crossed each other: the power of the actual presuppositions of the basic material and the transformed view for which the miracle had become quantitatively greater.


The report carefully states the circumstance by which Jesus’ miraculous walking on water became an event that not only happened for the disciples’ perception but must also have become known to the people through the simplest deduction *). The people knew (V. 22) that there had been only one boat available for the Lord and his disciples, yet they also knew that the disciples had crossed alone. Now, by chance, the people get means of passage on other ships arriving from nearby Tiberias, and over in Capernaum they find the Lord, where under the given conditions it was actually a superfluous question how he had come here, for how else but by miraculous means had it been possible? Whoever says *): “the miracle is nowhere emphasized and the question of the people about how Jesus crossed the sea is not used to make the miracle valid” or even: “the Johannine account falls short of the synoptic accounts in terms of the miraculous and superstitious”, demands coarseness/heavy-handedness from a writer who has already lost his way so many times by his finger-pointing, before he should ascribe to him the interest in a miracle. After all the individual circumstances that must have caused confusion for the people and led to the miraculous event, is not the miracle empirically certain for the reader? Does not the conclusion, when the reader draws it himself and must follow the people based on the assumptions, gain even greater power and impact? Certainly the author would have weakened everything, if he had gone further and allowed the relation to the miracle to stand out even more starkly or glaringly, if not in substance, of course, but at least weakened the impression.

*) Augustine, tractatus in Joann. ev. XXV, 8: insinuatum est illis tam magnum miraculum. Calvin: Hic Evangelista circumstantias refert, under conjicere posset turba, divinum fuisse Christi trajectum.

*) Like de Wette p. 80.


The pragmatism aimed at the general recognition and confirmation of the miracle has thus gone as far as it could if it were not to betray the subjective intention too much. But the author has not succeeded completely, if we look at the context intelligently, as is our duty. The whole thing is based on the assumption that only one ship, the ship of the Lord and his disciples, stood on the other shore. But the multitude that followed the Lord on his passage, because they had seen his miracles on the sick on this side in Galilee (vv. 1-2.), surely they also followed him by ship, so that on the following day their boats had to be ready to bring them back to this side? On foot, as Matthew assures (14:13), but of which the fourth evangelist knows nothing, will not all of them, among whom there were many users and owners of boats, have gone round the lake? Or, if the last point is that by chance ships came from Tiberias to bring the people back, could not just as by chance a single one have come from there beforehand, which could give the Lord an opportunity to cross over? All this only proves how the author, in momentary forgetfulness of the starting point, created the contradiction that only one ship stood on the shore beyond, in order to make the crowd guess the miracle that brought the Lord back to this side and to testify to it by their question.


5) The sensual desire of the people.


In answer to the question of the people, when he had returned to this shore, Jesus answered that they did not seek him because they had seen signs, but because they had been filled with the loaves. But why were these people able to seek the Lord again, if it was not because they had experienced his divine power in the miraculous feeding? We do not want to mention that the multitude should have acknowledged the Lord as the “promised” prophet because of the sign; but if they were only concerned about satiety, they could have stayed at home, for that the five thousand Galileans all lived in the most helpless poverty is not mentioned, and according to the report of the Synoptics, the lack which the miracle remedied was only brought about immediately by the fact that the thousands had stayed with the Lord longer than planned. The reproach is therefore so highly exaggerated and presupposes such an unbelievably base motive in the people that it must have caused the apologists enough trouble. They do help themselves, but only in such a way that they make the words into nothing, that they do not let the evangelist say what he says, that they let him say the opposite of what he says so strongly, so definitely. If, for example, Lücke *) thinks that the words: not because you have seen signs, but because you have become full, you seek me, should be understood comparatively, i.e., that this motive is stronger than the other. But he must answer for this to the evangelist, who, after all, lets the Lord say it as clearly as possible, so that that the crowd is not being drawn to him by the signs themselves. Or does Lücke**) say: “the crowd consisted of people of different kinds and directions”: well, then the Lord would have done very wrong if he had attacked all without distinction so harshly, although it was not his custom to extinguish the smouldering wick. Or does the same commentator go so far as to say: “Jesus himself had noticed a certain trust in him and his power in the predominant sensual appetite with which they had come to him, and had considered it possible and necessary to stimulate this germ of spiritual life, which the people themselves were not aware of *), then he has to deal with the Lord himself. For the Lord virtually strikes down this “desire to eat”, he does not take it up again in a formative way, he does not want to have anything to do with it, but says: “Away with your low desires!” and with one stroke he wants to lift the crowd into an absolutely different realm where it can procure imperishable food. Now, if this contention of the joy of natural satiety and of the commandment to seek imperishable food appears in all its purity, it also remains with its impossibility, and it is again only the author who formed it, in order to be able to pass from the rejected and limited lust of the multitude directed at the belly to the following conversation of the true food of the spirit.

*) Comm. II, 90. Likewise Calvin: neque tamen negari potest, quin miraculum respexerint; imo prius narravit Evangelista, siguis fuisse commotos sequendum Christum. Sed quia miraculis abutebantur in alienum finem, merito illis expro brat, quod majorem ventris quam signorum respectum habeant

**) Ibid. p. 91.

*) Lücke speaks quite differently, ibid. p. 89. Here he says, “the crowd was only aware of their amazement at the signs they saw. As if the Lord did not miss this astonishment! The astonishment as such has not only to do with the desire to see.


6) The imperishable food.


The Jews understand the word of the Lord about the imperishable food, which they are to receive, to the extent that they understand that it is to be obtained from the works of God, i.e. from works that are in accordance with the divine will. They are therefore much more understanding than the disciples, who earlier (4:33) had understood the word of their Master about His food in such a sensual way. But how is this consistent with the assumption that for the masses to whom the conversation was addressed, the Lord was only valuable for their stomach? Apparently so little that Lücke feels compelled to assume that it was “the more educated and receptive” who understood the Lord so bravely, that the crowd as such was “probably not able to understand Jesus’ figurative speech in the same way” *). So the evangelist always has to please his embarrassed apologists by saying, or rather meaning, the opposite of what he actually says. But everything is so coherent according to the structure of the conversation, everything follows one after the other, that it is always the same people, the same mass to whom the Lord addresses his speech, and who now respond more or less appropriately depending on whether the evangelist wants to continue the conversation without causing offense or introducing new contrasts. Now he lets the conversation flow without interruption because he is about to move on to a new contrast, which will occupy him for a longer period of time.

*) Comm. II, 93.


We have already noted that the figurative words of the Lord are too meager and limited in their interpretation when they are given the position that they originate from a real relationship with a sensory substrate and are spoken with a contemptuous glance at sensory relationships that are legitimate or indifferent to the spirit. The figurative view and way of speaking are essential to the spirit because its peculiar world has its reflection in the natural world and is reflected in a concrete way. But when the spirit uses this reflection for its representation, it is not so noble as to have nothing more important to do than to ridicule the reflection in its insignificance and contemptibility. Instead, it is confident that its reflection will only be taken as a reflection. Or viewed aesthetically: The point of the image is destroyed, corrupted, and the striking meaning is pushed down into flatness, if the natural image is rejected with great seriousness as inappropriate for the spirit. In the language of our evangelist, however, we have seen sufficiently how he does not allow any content to work through its inner, original power, but only believes to have fully developed it when he has separated it from its opposite. The Lord’s figurative words gave him ample opportunity for this movement in opposites, which he also used diligently, but only with the success that he weakened the power of those sayings as much as possible.


Just as the Lord did not have to fearfully reject the sensual image in figurative language in order to seek the true meaning, so he could also use a figurative expression without an outwardly corresponding situation giving cause for it. He did not need to have satisfied the physical hunger of the people beforehand in order to be able to speak to them of the imperishable food of the spirit. By such an outward occasion, which would then always have to be exposed in its vanity, while the sensual in the image is transcended in itself and by itself, the saying would only have been mechanically drawn out and the contemptuous attitude towards the sensual image would have been just as tiring as it was stilted. On the contrary, a pictorial expression is only striking in that it assumes the form of a familiar, generally known and always valid sensual relation. The independence of the image in the present case is already proven by the unnatural manner of the transition, which, however, was only possible and unavoidable even on the presupposed occasion. If it was not possible for the people to seek the Lord after the miraculous feeding merely for the sake of a full belly, then the word of the imperishable food of the spirit could not be attached to such an inhuman and unnatural motive.


7) The Bread of Life.


The misunderstandings into which the author lets the Lord’s listeners fall, otherwise and also now, are only pragmatic supports by which the speech, which would otherwise collapse due to its misguided structure, is needfully helped up again. For the speech would have to collapse in any case, because it is untruthfully motivated and consists of sayings that are supposed to form a whole but never can. The clamps that are to force the mechanical whole together must therefore be unspiritual, or, comparing the whole to an animate organism, be taken from death. The death and extreme loss of the spirit, the death to which the spirit can never again descend, now supplies the spiritless bond, and impossible misunderstandings must now serve to drive the halting speech on. Thus, as the fourth evangelist incessantly presupposes, figurative expressions cannot be misunderstood to the point of senselessness — where they are at home and the daily bread. The Hebrew – just look at the prophetic books – delights in images and still understands them even when they have been stretched to the smallest play or brought from the remotest distance. Jesus was only able to speak so often in images on a ground that brought forth an innumerable multitude of them, and in addition his figurative speeches are so simple, so drawn together out of immensity or playful pettiness into a definite and speaking form, that they make their meaning known directly in them. Yes, if the Lord had spoken among the dullest people, among a people who did not know the “parallelism of heaven and earth”, the parallelism of a spiritual and a natural world, which is otherwise praised in the Hebrew view, then misunderstandings of this kind would have been possible. But only possible – not necessarily, for the spirit would first have to have lost all “ultimate” perception of itself before it should be insensitive to the flash of those images. The apologetic talk of the “carnal sense” of the Jews *) is a play on an indefinite word, a support of indolence which is not serious about the matter, is apparently edifying, but in fact a mindless delight in unnatural contrasts. The parallelism of heaven and earth, body and soul, nature and spirit had not yet collapsed into the dead uniformity of the “flesh” for the Jews at the time of Jesus – how else would the time have been fulfilled? – but vibrated in the most living relationship, both sides were connected by thousands of trembling rays and sought their living unity. But later, when the seeking and fleeing, when the dispute between the two sides had been so decided for the greater part of the people that they had rejected the unity of heaven and earth that appeared in the Lord and had renounced it, the unhappy people had separated themselves from the goal of their historical development and appeared to the congregation as having fallen prey to this world and its meaning. Then, at last, evangelical apologetics came to ascribe to the people in every case, even in those cases where it was impossible, the misunderstanding of the simplest expressions of the Lord.

*) Guerike (Beiträge zur historisch-kritischen Einleitung ins N. T. 1828 p. 65) even says: “the inner nature of the speakers, as we have to imagine it elsewhere and as far as we can, also lets us see that their answers and comparisons had to turn out just like that and not differently. Just to mention one thing – if the opponents had understood nothing at all of the Lord’s utterances, they would not have brought him to the cross.


The crowd, which had shown an uncommon willingness to engage with his words in our Gospel, the Lord had revealed what the work of God was that they should do: it was to have faith in the messenger of God. Suddenly, like a treacherous wind changing direction from just moments before, the crowd asks Jesus: so, what sign do you perform so that we may believe? And from this starting point that the crowd takes, the Lord is led to the declaration that he is the bread of life. It is a malice that even borders on ridicule when the Jews take up the same word “work” that the conversation had revolved around until then, for the purpose of turning it against the Lord. But where does the crowd suddenly get this malicious disposition, when just moments before it seemed so receptive to the instruction about the imperishable food? The wind may change direction suddenly, but the crowd, though rightly accused of being fickle, cannot change its disposition so quickly without cause. Yet, there is no cause here, as the demand for faith in the messenger of God cannot be considered a cause, since the crowd was ready to acknowledge the promised one in the Lord with fervent enthusiasm the day before.

It was the sign of the feeding that had brought the crowd to this willingness to believe. But that they should suddenly ask for a sign to convince them of the necessity of faith, seemed so impossible even to apologists who still have a feeling for difficulties, that they must suppose that it was “probably not those who had experienced the miracle of the feeding the day before” *) who had made this demand for a new sign. But what a torment it is to be an apologist when at the same time the nature of the matter and the author of the scripture must be given their due! For even if we are relieved of the difficulty in the matter by that assumption, we must pity the writer that he is again forced to say the opposite of what he meant and expressed so clearly. So futile, then, in the case of his faithful interpreter, are all the arrangements which he has laboriously enough made, so much wasted effort is it that he translates again to this shore the multitude which was fed over there, that he lets the Lord address them as those who were fed by him yesterday – that he must now, after all, all at once let quite different people speak to the Lord. No! when we interpret, we must not disregard the writer’s words. No, we must not let the transfer of the audience surrounding the Lord happen in vain, so that we, even if it is more convenient, summon a new audience of the Lord from the near shore of the lake. No, and a thousand times no! even if the matter seems petty – but in the matter it is at the same time the word of an evangelist and – in the apologetic sense – an absolute truth. No! it is the same people who yesterday saw the sign of the feeding, who again sought out the Lord because of their “lust for food” and now demand a new sign. At least, what must first lie at the heart of the interpreter is the writer’s word, and we must now say: then the matter falls, then people who saw such a powerful sign yesterday that inspired them to fervent belief cannot start again today and demand a new sign—thus both, the writer and the matter, have received their true right. For we must not deny the matter its right, even if its right and that of the writer cannot be reconciled. But the measure of justice we owe to the writer has been fulfilled when we see how he came to his particular view. The evangelist cannot move forward except in contrasts, but the contrast against yesterday’s feeding was already exhausted when the Lord pointed the people to the imperishable food; now Jesus should designate himself as the true bread from heaven, so a new contrast was needed, and the people provided it by demanding a sign that corresponded to another bread from heaven. Moses had given the fathers manna as bread from heaven: now the Messiah should show what similar or greater thing he could give!

*) Lücke Comm. II, 94.


It seems so certain and appropriate to his self-awareness that the Lord called himself and his person dedicated to redemption the bread of life and the food of faith that it is not open to doubt. But that he did it in contrast to the manna food of the Father is so impossible that all apologetic efforts to give even a pleasing appearance to the opposite must fail *). It is not comparative consciousness in general that contradicts the infinite self-consciousness of the Lord – he compares himself with Jonah, with Solomon – but that form of comparative self-awareness that withdraws and restricts itself in contrast to the image from itself and to its power. It cannot be reconciled with the infinite self-sufficiency of the Lord. When he says: here is more than Jonah, more than Solomon! he is solely concerned with the relationship between the Ninevites and the Queen of the South, who turned to those men with faith and admiration, and the people who turned away from him, unbelieving and demanding signs that he could not grant. But measuring his life force against the manna that Moses gave to the fathers and repeatedly applying this measure (v. 49, 58), he could not and should not have done so, even if the crowd had given him the opportunity through their ignorance. Instead of spinning it out endlessly, he would have cut off or shut down this opportunity. On the one hand, if the Lord had really made the comparison between the manna bread and the food that he is for faithful enjoyment, it would be without proportion, which is never the case with his actual comparisons. But it is also unjust, because Moses gave the fathers not only manna but also the word of Jehovah.

*) In passing, we can call attention to another contradiction, which, however, is only due to the context in which the evangelist has formed it.The signs, to which the feeding of the five thousand also belongs, are to be subordinated to the need and food of the spirit, yet just before (v.26) the Lord had accused the Jews of seeking him for the signs. But there is another “and yet!” for the latter point: the same faith for the sake of signs, which the Lord demands here, he had previously denounced as very reprehensible in the case of the royal official from Capernaum.


One could argue that the designation of the person of the Lord as the bread of life still contains a reference to a sensory foundation, which is thus reduced to being finite and transient. That is indeed the case with every metaphor. In the comparison which presents the natural as the image of the spiritual, the starting point, namely the sensuous and immediate, is reduced to the reflection of the higher, but – learn it only from the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics – at the same time ennobled, illuminated by the light of the spirit and acknowledged in its justification, which it has as the reflection of the spirit. The Spirit, who is looked upon in his natural image, loses nothing in this mirror, but rather receives a basis which places it in the midst of ordinary, immediate life and enlarges the scope of its power. This was mostly alien to the fourth evangelist, who believed that he had only made the spiritual certain when he had torn apart or dissolved its natural image by laborious denials that it was not the true one. When the Lord called Himself the Bread of Life, He presented Himself and His vitalising power in a natural image, and in presenting Himself in it, He did not allow it to exist for Himself as the true thing, but at the same time He honoured it as His image, for He now considered it so worthy that it reflected Him and His power to the believing view. And what is this thus ennobled image but daily bread? Was it necessary for the creation of that figurative expression of quarrelling over the gift of manna? Did the Jews first have to give rise to it by boasting about the food of the fathers?


If all the internal evidence cannot convince you that the evangelist created the coherent discourses of the Lord, that his discourses are a kind of system in which reminiscences from all the places of his Scriptures themselves naturally come together, you may be convinced by the external evidence which lies in the passage vv. 36-40. We call it external because the evidence can be grasped with the hands and seen with the bodily eyes. The word of the bread of life, which is given to the world, is understood by the Jews in a foolish way, so that they think Jesus is talking about bread, which satisfies the hunger of the flesh. Jesus says that he is the bread of life, but, he adds, “I told you so, that you should see me and not believe. This phrase is so brief and suggestive that it presupposes the most vivid recollection and a firm memory in the people, which still retains the features of a speech heard earlier. “Ye have seen me, and believe not”: this is only to be understood when one remembers how, above Ch. 5, the Lord pointed out to his unbelieving opponents the whole extent of his works, which testify to him and his divine mission. The reflections which the Lord adds to his reference to the earlier discourse lead us to the same discourse, especially the antithesis, that he does nothing of himself, but according to the will of the Father animates the faithful and finally raises them from the dead. But – this is the external proof to which we wanted to draw attention – was the same crowd to which the Lord speaks here also present during the earlier discourse? I.e. was the crowd that hears the Lord here in Capernaum also his audience at that time in Jerusalem, where the Lord held his speech after the healing of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda? Who would seriously say that the same crowd which the Lord had miraculously satiated yesterday, and which brought Him today to this discourse on the Bread of Life, had long ago accused Him of violating the Sabbath? Chance, as they are wont to say, may play marvellously: but think what an effort of chance would be required to this end, if now as then the same multitude should surround the Lord, that He might need but briefly to remind Him of that former discourse. The insight into the method by which our author works frees us from the postulate of so highly miraculous a coincidence. Since the evangelist, because everything can be brought into connection, also really puts much into connection and always works towards a fairly complete system, which embraces everything related, it was inevitable with this arrangement of the larger speeches that they did not come into contact and that some things were repeated more than once. Usually this happens without the evangelist reflecting on it, but here the speech to which he returned was too close, especially the testimony of the works was too prominent, for him not to have had to take it expressly into account. But since the Lord was speaking, he had to refer to the earlier word, to remind the listeners of what they had heard before, and the evangelist did not immediately think of the fact that this earlier speech had been delivered in a different setting before a different audience *).

*De Wette p. 82 considers it “more probable that the evangelist omitted the earlier saying to which Jesus refers”. But this is a probability which is inaccessible even to your loftiest, most outrageous faith. John’s memory must have so meticulously recorded all the turns of the Lord’s speech that even a parenthetical phrase (“as I told you”) could not have escaped his notice – and yet he is said to have been so careless with the main point. The evangelist, however, considered his work to be so much of a whole that, if he included a reference to earlier things in a parenthesis, he would have known and indicated quite well what those earlier things were. Or – to put it more intelligibly – he could only make such a reference if he himself had already written down what he was pointing to. In this case, however, he saw it already written before him, since the thoughts and words of the section vv. 37-40 are the same as those in the speech Ch. 5.


8) The procession of the Father.


If the speeches which the fourth evangelist gives us were not to lose their relation to the presupposed hearers altogether, and either not to falter or not to become too much of a homily or pure theory, the hearers had often to intervene, but they could only make their presence known in an outward way, since the connection of these speeches is neither an original one nor continued to the perfection of the art. Mostly it is misunderstandings that make the flow of the speech more lively, sometimes the listeners murmur among themselves and the Lord takes occasion from this to continue. How little, however, a muffled murmur of the crowd can further the development of a speech is self-evident, since it is completely devoid of content and is only a kind of tautology which takes up what has gone before and looks at it only with a dull sense.


This time the Jews murmur that the Lord calls Himself the Bread that came down from heaven, and then bring up their murmurings in such a way that they say: is not Jesus the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? The Lord had to experience many controversies in his speaking and doing, but – apart from the childish misunderstandings – he could not have experienced so many in succession as are only mentioned here in this conversation, when he addressed the people with his words. Thus it is at least more probable that the annoyance at Jesus’ well-known lowly ways belonged to another occasion and was used by the author, who remembered it here, as a welcome motive for the continuation of the speech. But what is in itself more probable is made certain by the position of this motive in the context.

Whether the Synoptics, who also report an offence that was taken at the generally known origin of the Lord, know more precisely where this offence originate, is not our concern here. But when the Lord responds to those who took offense at his lineage, according to their reports (Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24), “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country,” it appears perfectly fitting, and human wit could hardly invent a better response. After the fourth Gospel, the Lord replies that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him. This, however, could no less appropriately serve as an answer to a thousand other objections; indeed, it is not even really an answer, but really only a continuation of the speech, which was to be set in motion by an external impulse. Earlier, in v. 37, the Lord had said that all that the Father gives Him comes to Him; in vv. 39, 40. He had said that He also really cares for the blessedness of those whom the Father gives Him; and only in order that He might say the same in the form of an antithesis (No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him), only in order that this turn of events might be brought about, must the Jews again intervene. An inner relationship that connects the interjection and the answer cannot, of course, be discovered in this kind of pragmatism. The commentators admit that the continuation of the speech does not exactly take into account the objection of the Jews, and they therefore even praise the doctrinal wisdom which does not reach to the root of the problem, but “seeks to meet the misunderstanding in an indirect way” *). Now, this doctrinal wisdom, which would have been lacking in the Lord according to the testimony of the Synoptics, who always tackle the problem directly, or whose fame was unjustly withheld from him by the first Gospels, is easy to come by. Because everything is connected “indirectly,” and the greatest teaching wisdom would be the one that only our Gospel knows, which moves furthest away from the problem and, seeking the most remote relationships, does not come into direct contact with the objections. Let us not seek the “wisdom” of the Lord in this, which is only a cumbersome combination of the evangelist and, on the contrary, would present the most unfavorable picture of the Lord’s teaching wisdom as soon as it is taken historically.

*) De Wette p. 83.

*) Lücke Comm. II, 106.


In the saying about the Father leading to the Son (v. 44) **), it is easy to find the original core that the Synoptic saying Matt. 11:27 has preserved for us in its healthy strength and freshness. Jesus may have returned to the content of this saying more than once and explained it in terms of the mutual relationship of Father and Son, that the relationship of others to the Father and Son could not be arbitrarily mediated by themselves, but only by the Father and the Son. But that he spoke almost exclusively of this relationship, preached only on the subject of this saying, and elaborated it into a kind of system, is impossible. In the Synoptics, the Lord proclaims Himself as the centre of the Kingdom of Heaven in the victorious and world-conquering way that He lifts all conditions of spiritual life off their hinges and places them on the ground of the Kingdom of Heaven with the sinners, the hungry and the weary. In this way, encompassing, penetrating and enlivening all reality, all conditions of life and the periphery of all humanity, the Lord alone could bring it about that he indissolubly chained the periphery of humanity to his person and fused it with his life force. In the fourth Gospel, the omission of this kind of work is not just an innocent deficiency, as apologists would call it, but rather it gives the appearance of weakness and lack of stability to the central figure himself. We constantly see the center point, or at least we are supposed to see it – but what is it, if not all the spiritual powers for which it is the focal point appear, if it does not prove itself as such in the fullness of the radii and real relationships? It is an atom. No one who has an eye for it would call these the living conditions on which the Lord acted and which he drew into the circle of his personality with original force, if all we hear about is murmuring Jews and childish misunderstandings. The points that surround the Lord in this way are also nothing more than atoms that are related to each other and to the isolated person of the Lord only through a spiritless emptiness. On the other hand, when the Lord, as he does according to the synoptic reports, has worked through the scope of the spiritual struggle, brought it to himself, and now points to himself and presents his person as the center of life, how different it is! He not only says that he is the only mediator, he does not just preach about it, no! He is now what he is and appears as the true mediator: countless threads now go back and forth between him and the entire reality, and just as all the pulses of the world beat towards him, he himself stands in the fullness of the light that emanates from him over the spiritual world. In the midst of work that is so effective, Jesus could and had to speak of himself and say: “Everything has been entrusted to me”.

**) V. 65 the speech comes back to this saying.


This contact of the fourth gospel with a synoptic saying can therefore certainly serve as proof that his speeches are not entirely without historical foundation, but now one must not immediately rush with apologetic recklessness beyond all bounds of the permissible and conclude the historical character of the whole thing wholesale. Only one ray of light is taken from the reality which the synoptic gospels portray to us, caught by the fourth evangelist and applied over and over again, but since the colourful painting is missing, on which that ray of light only really receives illuminating power, it loses its full meaning *). Light without the matter it illuminates, spirit without corporeality, brightness without opacity, does not enlighten and inspire, and has as little power as the little dot without the ground stroke which makes it a sound. Christ’s preaching of his person lacks nothing more and nothing less in the fourth gospel than the world of sinners, the weary, the hungry and the thirsty; it is the seed that falls into emptiness and finds no field according to whose manifold nature it bears fruit. So let the apologist stop using Matthew’s verse as evidence for the credibility of the speeches in the fourth Gospel—unless they also claim that someone who repeats a single prominent part of a melody a thousand times over or copies a painting by repeatedly drawing a single glimpse of light on a blank canvas a thousand times over or who copies an insightful sentence by continuously repeating only its concluding phrase or extending it into a line has truly reproduced a rich musical piece, a complete painting, or a meaningful sentence.

*) It is precisely at such points, where the synoptic Gospels touch the fourth, that the dissonance sounds most cuttingly.


9) The mediation of the Son.


The thought of the Father’s course, this saying, which through the infinity of its content appears at first sight to be an independent magnitude, must serve the author to bring the speech back to the bread of life and to the comparison of the same with the man’s bread. But how? In the Synoptics, the Lord never shies away from presenting a saying in its own right and with the stamp of infinite validity, even if the same saying is limited by another purpose. This kind of speech exerts that magic which never lets the soul come to the dormant rest which now considers the matter done, but excites it and, as the saying constantly resounds in it, calls upon it to occupy itself with it. As an infinite magnitude, the saying can capture and occupy the soul to its innermost depths, but when one determination is only externally limited by another and the limitation only appears as a combination of the understanding and not as the infinity of the higher unity, then such a network of sayings can only occupy the understanding that is satisfied when it has heard of that limitation. The Lord never spoke to the mere understanding; the saying that complemented another also came at his time and under his living circumstance, and it also came with infinite validity, not only for the sake of a reasonable limitation, and the struggle that now fought infinite against infinite happened not only in the understanding but primarily in life and soul, and before it found its solution in the rational idea, it had to work on life and soul over the course of many centuries. Let us now see whether the saying of the father’s course is not prematurely limited, if the thought is immediately rejected as if someone besides the son had seen the father. The idea of the Father’s inner revelation is not explained and supplemented by this, but dissolved into nothing. The Lord was too sure of His mediatorship to have so jealously bound and tamed this thought; for in the Synoptic account He says without envy and without a sensible clause: blessed are you Simon, for this is what My Father in heaven has revealed to you. But here, how disruptive and hasty is this jealous “not that anyone has seen the Father except the Son” in pushing aside the previous idea. Moreover, this limitation is only a reminiscence from the conversation with Nicodemus and from the Baptist’s speech to his jealous disciples, a reminiscence of a saying that we ourselves have already recognized as fabricated. The reflective intellect must receive this limitation as the Lord’s property to his honor.


10) The food and drink of the church.


The continued talk about the bread of life in vv. 47-58 seems at first to be a mere continuation or rather repetition of the previous comparison between the manna and the person of the Lord. But v. 51 takes a turn with the words: “and the bread that I give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” with which it changes to a new view. When Jesus hitherto called himself the Bread of Life, it was evidently figuratively speaking, and the actual object of appropriation, which was compared with the bread, was the spiritual content of his personality: this, as it is in its self-awareness, also holds the consciousness of unity with the Father, the will to unity with the divine will, and redemption in its actions. This spiritual infinity should be appropriated by individuals so that they may gain their eternal spiritual life substance. With the Jews, who, at the new turn of speech in v. 52, disputed among themselves how the Lord could possibly give them his flesh to eat, later commentators have also asked whether this eating, this enjoyment, is to be understood as figuratively as in the preceding context. If the Lord were to speak only of the eating of his flesh, we could really remain with the figurative conception, since the flesh (σαρξ) denotes the earthly, human appearance of the Saviour in general. This totality of humanity is the flesh, for example, when it is said that the Word became flesh. The progress which the speech would now make would then consist in the declaration that not only the abstraction of the spiritual content from the personality of the Lord, not only the general thought of unity with the Father and with the divine will, not only the abstraction of the atonement would be the content of the enjoyment, but the atonement as it is real and living as this personality of the Lord. In this case the speech would still be figurative, because the sensual determination of eating would be connected with a spiritual one; for even if flesh (σαρξ) is the human, earthly appearance, yet by it is to be understood the totality and generality of the human appearance together with its essential content. This essential totality of personality is inaccessible to the senses, even to the most spiritual sense, the eye, and cannot be grasped in faith in any other way than by means of spiritual perception. The expression “flesh” is not used here in this general sense, but is returned to the meaning of the body in a more limited sense, when it is combined with the meaning of blood in order to complete it, so that the totality of the bodily appearance may be designated as the object of enjoyment. This provision, that one must drink the blood of the Lord as one must eat his flesh if one wants to have eternal life, decisively cuts off the next path that could lead to the figurative conception. The next path, namely the one that the letter could show. The further difficulties as to how the consumption of the flesh and blood can create eternal life, i.e. have a spiritual effect, how the flesh, which is given for the life of the world, and the blood, which is poured out for the atonement, can be eaten and drunk, these difficulties decide nothing for the apologist, since they are not to be overcome by the artifice of interpretation, but by faith. And for faith, to which these words are actually spoken, the enjoyment of the body and blood of the Lord is not only an image of union with the Redeemer, but this itself at the highest point of its promise and enjoyment.


We hardly need to say that the Lord is speaking of the enjoyment of his body and blood, which the congregation celebrates in the Lord’s Supper. But we must not express it in this way, that the Lord speaks of this enjoyment *), but the Evangelist lets him speak in this way: He was once tempted by the allusion in the word “feeding” to lead the Lord from the miraculous feeding of the people to the saying that he is the bread of life, and now he exhausts this allusion completely by having him speak in the same context of the enjoyment of his body and blood, i.e. of an enjoyment which he only offered to his disciples at the last supper which he held with them. Shall we remind you how impossible it is that the Lord addressed this discourse to a crowd for whom the miracle of the feeding and the miracle-worker had value only for the sake of bodily satiation, who misunderstood the simplest figurative expressions to a crass degree, to a crowd which could therefore also see in this discourse only the invitation to anthropophagy? Or to a crowd that had degenerated to the point of dullness and stupidity was the Lord supposed to have spoken of his sacrificial death without making the slightest attempt to prepare, motivate or even emphasize this revelation in its importance? No! As if it were self-evident, even according to the view of this crowd, that he would go into sacrificial death, that the Messiah must suffer death for the world, so speaks the Lord, i.e. he speaks as a later teacher could homiletically present the known views to the believing congregation or, once the later sphere of life of the congregation and the real circumstances in which the Lord had worked and taught had grown into one, let the Lord speak. The only consequence that remained for the writer, and which ours does not lack, even in an inappropriate place, was that he either did not understand the Lord’s sayings or let them be misunderstood to the utmost.

*) As Bendel says: Jesus verba sua scienter ita formavit, ut statim et semper illa quidem de spirituali fruitione sui agorent proprie; sed posthae eadem consequenter etiam in augustissimum S. Coenae mysterium, eum id institutum foret, convenirent. Jesus, says Bengel, here prophesied of the Lord’s Supper. Tota haec de earne et sanguine J. Ch. oratio passionem spectat et eum ea S. Coenam.


If the apologist wanted to find the view of the Lord’s Supper here only if there were also an allusion to the sacramental substratum of bread and wine, he would be asking for an impossibility that even our author could not overcome.

We will now address the difficulty we encountered earlier, namely, that the Lord opposed himself to the manna of the fathers as the bread of life in a manner that does not correspond to the character of the one of whom it is written: ουκ επρσει ουδε κραυγασει. Now that this comparison with the manna also introduces and concludes the discourse that refers to the Lord’s Supper (verse 49, 58) and the impossibility that it belongs to the Lord is beyond doubt, its origin is also revealed to us. The community that had received its heavenly food in the Lord’s Supper and its daily bread on its journey through the desert of the world was the only one in which the manna of the fathers could present itself as an image of the food of the Lord’s Supper, but as an image that touched the nature of the archetype internally, since it was also a heavenly gift, while at the same time indicating the nature of the archetype in an imperfect manner, since it was only finite food. In the image, these two aspects of unity and difference are always combined, but our evangelist, who can only think of truth in contrast, this harsh character had to completely remove the aspect of internal connection between image and archetype and leave it only to the Jews as a false boast.


11) The apostasy of many disciples.

6:60, 66.

If one asks what is gained by denying the Lord this speech, by proving that it does not belong to him, and whether the loss does not at least outweigh the gain, the answer is obvious. Nothing is lost: what is the Lord’s genuine good remains and remains all the more certain now that it has been taken out of this disturbing environment, which can only harm him. But how great is the gain when the Lord’s doctrinal wisdom is again set in its true light, when we no longer have to torment him with incomprehensible difficulties or difficulties caused by himself, and especially when we no longer have to assume that he was always able to speak so harshly and with such difficulty that the listeners had to turn their backs on him. If the Lord did not give those speeches, then their consequence, namely that many of his disciples turned away from him, also falls away. But indeed they should have turned away, for such a teacher could not help them and could not enlighten them. According to the synoptic reports, those who were otherwise willing also turned their backs on the Lord, but according to sayings that were clear, transparent and only too comprehensible to the hearers, and which only too clearly expected of them an inwardness and a freedom from everything finite, which they really understood, but which they did not want to understand. There the collision is simple and a real, efficient one, but all collision falls away when the listeners are offered something that they could in no way even understand. This time the evangelist gives those people far too much credit when he lets them call the Lord’s speech hard. One calls a contradiction hard, the two aspects of which one understands well and just cannot bring together. But these people have not yet understood the parts of the discourse and its individual provisions, that they know what is flesh and what is eating; for flesh and blood and eating and drinking are here said with reference to the sacrament, of which they could know nothing. Actually they should have said: we do not understand anything of this speech – but it is good that they did not need to say anything, since they have not heard anything of the speech *).

*) Gfrörer (das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 72.) gives us a clear example of the sentimentality of the enlightened view, which has especially befriended the fourth Gospel. “The statement, he says, that the Lord was forsaken by many of his disciples, is a melancholy confession, which certainly cost our evangelist trouble and caused pain, for it runs counter to his favourite idea of the logos nature of Christ.” But it is precisely through this opposition, which is formed by the fickleness and the closedness of the mind to the person of the Lord, that the latter is exalted. Wisdom appears to the evangelist the more profound the more it is offensive; the certainty of the Lord appears to him greater when it maintains itself in the midst of the apostasy of the followers. It is a manufactured contrast; the painfulness that the evangelist put into the situation is infinitely cancelled out for him by the joy of the sublimity in which the image of the Lord now stands.


12) The increase of the offence.


After the speech and the offence caused by it have fallen away, it would seem that the explanation of the following words of the Lord, which refer to that offence, would have to be made more difficult. But the words cannot become more difficult than they already are in this context; rather, there is every prospect of grasping them correctly if they are isolated. Yes, the question in v. 62, “if ye then see the Son of man ascending where he was before,” is really inexplicable in this context, and the meaning which the evangelist connected with it must have remained for him in the most indefinite sense. It refers to the distress the hearers feel at partaking of the Lord’s flesh and blood: “That, but only so much, is clear at first, but what the relationship is, can only be indicated with some difficulty. The matter is not as simple as those exegetes think who take v. 62 as a facilitating explanation and as a removal of the offence *). The meaning of the passage would therefore be as follows: You are offended by what I have said about the enjoyment of my flesh and blood? How now? When you see the Son of Man rise again, will you not then see that my word must be understood spiritually, and that this offence will be removed? To facilitate the comprehension of mysteries, however, is by no means the author’s endeavour. We say: “the author,” for we cannot attribute this transition to the Lord. Just look at this “How then?” this “When you shall see the Son of Man ascending? How then?” and listen carefully to how secretly the Lord would have offered a solution which He would have possessed completely for Himself, but which He would have only half given to the hearers with a cunning glance at them. It requires but a glance at the preceding discourse to see how, on the contrary, the author is not at all afraid to heap offence upon offence. The Jews hardly took offence at the fact that the Lord calls Himself the Bread of Life, when the speech immediately increases and now the consumption of the flesh and blood of Christ is demanded. So from this the progress is made to a harder offence: “Does this offend you? (When you therefore see the Son of Man rise again, must not your offence increase?

*) Thus Lücke Comm. II, 141.


If this transition is taken seriously, but the greater vexation is to consist only **) in the fact that the Lord will really go to death, then the speech is deprived of its escalation, for the death of the Lord was already more expressly emphasized before than now, when the enjoyment of the flesh, which he will give up for the life of the world (V. 51.), was demanded. Or should the offence increase by the Lord’s demanding the eating of His flesh and blood, even after He has ascended again, the same offence already lies in the fact that His flesh, which has been given up to death, is to be eaten.

**) As de Wette p. 88 explains.


And yet the evangelist must have had something in mind when he made this transition, and before we can reproach him for what otherwise only happens to profane poets and even to Homer from time to time, we must have tried all possibilities. The following statement of the Lord: “The spirit gives life, the flesh is of no use. My words are spirit and life” (v. 63), or actually not this saying, but his passage here, proves that the evangelist had already reflected on the enjoyment of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore he brings these sayings here, in order to remind his readers at the same time that the flesh and blood of the Lord, which is offered for consumption in the Lord’s Supper, is not sensual, and that the demand for this consumption is to be grasped spiritually. Anyone who would still want to draw further conclusions from here regarding the theory of the evangelist would go too far and push the reflection of the same beyond its standpoint. Enough! He seems to have solved the difficulty contained in the idea of that enjoyment by shifting it altogether to the realm of the spirit, without finding a more specific answer to the question of how. Thus, we now indeed come back to the explanation that the ascension of the Lord should establish the relocation of this enjoyment to the spiritual sphere, and therefore actually eliminate the offense. But we cannot hold onto this explanation alone, because the form of the transition to a greater offense is too clearly defined, and the evangelist refrains from his tendency to pile offense upon offense, even in a context where he actually wanted to facilitate understanding. Thus, the complete contradiction between form and content has arisen.


The sayings which the Evangelist uses in v. 63 to explain the true enjoyment of the Lord’s flesh, both appeared so independent that they could not have been spoken in succession, as on this occasion – if the preceding discourse still existed as historical – so little on any other occasion. The first: “the spirit makes alive, the flesh is of no use” is most easily explained when it is brought about by a collision with some legal commandment. The other, “my words are spirit and life,” which is infinitely weakened if, as here, it means nothing else than “my words must be understood spiritually,” will have originated in a similar context and in the same sense in which the Lord called the weary and burden-bearing to himself and promised rest and refreshment to their souls.

13) Peter’s confession and Judas’ betrayal.


The discourse of the Saviour’s partaking of the flesh and blood was not actually delivered, the Jews could not grumble at it: so neither could many of the disciples take offence at their Master’s discourse, and he did not need to reveal his knowledge of their unbelief to them (v. 64.). It is not to be remotely asserted that those who had already drawn near to the Lord would not have turned away from Him again, if their willingness did not reach to the fulfilment of the Most High: but here, on this occasion, we say, no disciples could fall away from the Lord, because this occasion never happened. But the evangelist does not want to bring the matter to this catastrophe in vain; he takes it even further, to the Lord’s prophecy of an even deeper, more terrible catastrophe, and to calm the scene he adds the reconciling contrast with Peter’s enthusiastic confession.


The escalation reveals all too clearly its origin in the aesthetic contemplation according to which the author arranges the story and develops its various clusters. “There are some among you who do not believe” says the Lord v. 64. Earlier, or actually immediately in the account of Jesus’ first public appearance among the people, the evangelist had remarked that the Lord had seen through the inner man: now, in a later collision, it must be said that “from the beginning” the Lord had known which were the unbelievers among his disciples, so that he could never have been surprised by the apostasy of the weak; indeed, he had foreseen even the most despicable apostasy, the betrayal of Judas. It is not enough that the evangelist gives this only as his pragmatic remark, the Lord must finally say it himself (v. 70), that one of the disciples is a devil.

The pain of this scene of mourning is alleviated by Peter’s confession, who, on behalf of the others, vows constancy of faith and discipleship; for, he says in v. 68, “You have words of eternal life.” The synoptic account of Peter’s confession does not contain a counterpart, but a rival who fights with him for the field. The fact that Peter twice made the same confession is contradicted by the fact that the Synoptics also place his confession close to the feeding of the people (Matt. 15,16 Mark 8 Luke 9). Nor does this prove the double issue of fact, that in the account of the fourth Gospel he so enthusiastically praises the very words of life which the Lord had; for this praise was very near to him who let him speak, when the Lord had so just called his words life. It is one and the same confession which we hear here and there. But since it is linked in the fourth Gospel with speeches of the Lord, which are not only not given in this place, but are not given at all in this form, the Synoptics need not be ashamed that they do not have Peter proclaim the praise of such sayings, and the glory of having better motivated the confession of the disciple cannot be diminished by the fourth Evangelist.


As for the prophecy of Judas’ betrayal, we saw through what sequence of ideas it came to this place. However, the roots it has in this context go even deeper and lie even further back: just as the Lord’s statement that he is the bread of life develops into the talk of partaking in the Lord’s Supper, so too is the mention of unbelief among some followers escalated to the lamentation about the betrayal of one disciple, even to that lamentation that the Lord only expressed at the last meal he held with his disciples.

*) As also Weisse, evang. Gesch. ll, 235 notes.



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