Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer
§ 14. Continuation of the dispute about the person of the Lord.
1) The light of the world.
The dispute that he had with the Jews about the dignity of his person in chapter 7, the Lord did not let rest for long, but immediately took it up again at the next opportunity. Now, however, after the collision with the scribes and Pharisees, the best opportunity was given for this; the people who surrounded the Lord and listened to him (v. 2), before the tempters came to him, still surrounded him, so he could immediately resume the speech about his person.
Whether the author has the view that the Lord conducted the following dispute in one go is also easy to answer, since the argumentative speech is referred to as a whole by the introductory and concluding remarks. First, it is said that the Lord took up the speech again and at the end it is stated as the result of the argumentative speech that the Jews wanted to stone him.
The question, however, whether we really have before us a coherent chain of sayings of Jesus, is a different one, no longer has to do with the view of the author alone and can only be decided by the criticism of the content.
The beginning of this discourse must at once disconcert us, for it lacks all occasion. The Lord suddenly says: I am the light of the world. By occasion, of course, we do not mean a circumstance of the kind assumed by the commentators here, that the two candlesticks in the women’s courtyard were burning precisely to glorify the Feast of Tabernacles, or that they were extinguished just as the feast had come to an end *). But to speak of himself and the dignity of his person, the Lord could only ever find the occasion to do so when a spiritual controversy, which could only be solved in this way, had preceded or the people had already been seized and set in motion by a general word of the Kingdom of Heaven. But, as it is presupposed here, to preach from the outset only from his person, that looks as unlike the Lord as it can be, and he would certainly have known that it would be useless **). It must have been so unsuccessful, as even our author must always assume, since the crowd was not led to this point by any particular interest. The person of the Lord would have been presented without foundation in every respect, if the ground, namely the idea of the kingdom of heaven and its general laws, had not been given beforehand. However, for the Evangelist, it is firmly established that the teaching of Jesus must be represented only as the theory of his person, into which theory his entire view of the Lord had condensed itself. His view moved only in the contrast, whose extreme points were the isolated person of the Lord and the world sunk in its sensual interests. Thus, for him, the teaching of the Lord could only be the preaching of his person, and the success of it even among those in the masses who were immediately inclined to believe could only be hostility, resistance, and furious persecution.
*) After this explanation has gone through these two modifications, Olshausen (Comm. II, 190) thinks “it is sufficient to assume that the colossal candlesticks remained standing – after they had served the festive purpose – and that Jesus spoke with reference to them. Nothing, however, would be more “expedient” than for the Lord to call himself the light of the world with reference to these lampstands. Now one speaks only in a tone of reproach of a construction of history a priori! This view of the purposeful is indeed a theory, but we reject it not because it is a theory at all, but because it is a false one, which in its application must lead to the greatest offences. But whether the evangelist himself ever followed this theory of expediency is highly uncertain.
**) Olshausen (II, 189) correctly explains the Lord’s saying when he says: “visibly his (the Lord’s) effort is to attract the attention of the people. But this explanation is correct only in the sense that it is tautology, and only repeats the text in other words; it would be a real explanation only if it were now asked whether such an anxious and uncertain endeavour, such outward importunity, and the effort to attract attention to himself, were appropriate to him of whom it is said: ουκ . . . . . ακουσει τις εν ταις πλατειαις φωνην αυτου.
2) The apologetics of the Lord.
If the Lord’s dogmatic preaching of His person lacked all conditions by which it could find support and recognition, if it always, as now again in v. 13, provoked the objection that it was a one-sided testimony of Himself, then it was always left with only the same apologetic support, which the evangelist could form in fruitless opposition to decided unbelief, but which the Lord, with the certainty of His self-confidence, did not need. I know whence I came and whither I go, says the Lord, to prove the justification of his testimony of himself, but ye know it not (v. ll). To my testimony of myself is added that which the Father bears for me (b. 17-18). I am from above, ye from beneath; ye are of this world, I am not (v. 23). I speak what I have heard from the Father (v. 26). All of these are reflections that could be made from a later standpoint about the relationship between Christian consciousness and its content and the insurmountable stubbornness of the world, and they were inevitable in the perplexity in which a concentrated view in such a situation must be placed. However, all attempts to seriously attribute them to the Lord fail due to the weakness of these reflections and the correct view of the personality of the Lord. For Jesus could never be brought into embarrassment by the resistance he experienced, not alone, but always with the calm certainty of his self-consciousness, which only knows how to help itself through such contrasts. Only a view that had not yet gained a broad and solid foundation in the consciousness of reality or that did not know how to intervene in the world with that irresistible certainty of victory that supported the Pauline self-consciousness, in short, only a view that had concentrated itself in a simple opposition without richer inner development and expansion, could form those apologetic aids for its defense and limit itself to them.
Only at the price of limiting the content of Jesus’ self-awareness to a few points, which were immovable in themselves and were repeatedly presented at every opportunity, can this apologetic be held on to and defended as the Lord’s own creation. For all that the Lord touches here to defend Himself, in order to support His testimony of Himself, has already been completely exhausted on previous occasions and will be exploited again on later occasions. We do indeed find this price too high, and no one will be able to refuse us to free the Lord’s consciousness and language from this extreme uniformity and limitation, as long as the synoptic accounts testify to the richness and inexhaustible fertility of the discourse which the Lord had at his disposal on the most diverse occasions. In our Gospel, this poverty of presentation is connected with the fact that it always knows only one and the same conflict, namely that the opponents do not want to accept the Lord’s testimony about themselves. But that is precisely the fundamental flaw of this portrayal, that the Lord always only speculates about his person and therefore must always give rise to that projection.
3) The mystery of the origin of Jesus.
Let us leave aside the comparison with the synoptic accounts, and here too, as always before, consider and judge our Gospel only from itself. In this way, too, it will be seen that its view is self-evident. To the Pharisees’ objection: you testify of yourself, therefore your testimony is not true *), the Lord replies that he knows where he has come from and where he is going, but it is hidden from them. But are the opponents somehow instructed by this answer? Has the Lord’s testimony now gained more strength for them? Not in the least, for if they do not know which is the true home of Jesus, then this testimony is not justified for their consciousness, and it is only incomprehensible how the Lord could posit such a testimony of himself, if he knew that his authority to do so was absolutely hidden from others. If he once wanted to engage in it and prove his right to testify of himself, then the reason must be accessible to the others as well as to him.
*) Actually, as Olshausen (II, 190) also remarks, the Pharisees should only have said, your testimony as self-testimony is one-sided and not valid, and real men could only speak in this way. Therefore, we must not, like Olshausen, wrong the Pharisees and say that their remark contains an obvious falsehood. Rather, the exaggeration, “Your testimony is not true,” belongs only to the writer who drives the contrasts to the utmost abstraction.
4) The true judgment.
At once the Lord speaks of judgment, in that he reproaches the opponents for judging according to the flesh, that is, according to outward appearance, and not going to the bottom of the matter, that is, the same reproach as on an earlier occasion, when he accused them of judging according to appearance (7:24). What the true antithesis of this reproach is, we have just indicated, and is also definitely expressed on that former occasion, where it was said, rather, exercise righteous judgment. Nevertheless, in our passage it says: “But I judge no one. How does this contrast come about? The Lord did not reproach the opponents for judging at all and questioning his testimony, but he only wants to give them guidance on how to recognise the validity of his testimony, even if the way to this recognition is cut off from them. He wants to give them the guidance to the right judgment and demands of them that, when they judge, they should penetrate to the core of the matter, that is, exercise just judgment. The only contrast to this would be that the Lord does not judge according to outward appearance but according to inwardness. This contrast also occurs in the form that the Lord, when he judges, does not do it alone, but in communion with the Father. Nevertheless, it remains striking that this other side of the opposition is so divided into two halves, the first of which was not even prepared by the entire structure of the opposition. This division – I judge no one and, when I judge, my judgment is just, because I am not alone – only comes from the fact that the evangelist could not refrain from inserting into a contrast, which is quite differently conceived and had to have a different conclusion, the other contrast, familiar to him, of arbitrary judging and judgment in unity with the divine will *). The evangelist, who is always accompanied by the monotonous idea of the opposition of the arbitrary, could certainly combine strange opposites in this way, but not the Lord.
*) Olshausen himself must admit that this interjection: but I judge no one, “seems to be out of context” (II, 191). That the apologist is not at a loss to resolve the pretence at the end and knows how to find advice is natural, even if it is only that he says that the interjection is “best understood as a casual remark that is meant to sharpen their sin. As if that were more than a mere tautological paraphrase. That is precisely the difficulty, that this juxtaposition of the most diverse relations is an overabundance or rather an unclear confusion of relations, which stupefies the listener and even the reader by dragging him in opposite directions without even leading him calmly to one of them.
But if it is as certain as anything can be in this sphere that the Lord will not have threatened judgment on every occasion, it is absolutely impossible that he should have mentioned it in the form in which the Evangelist presents it. In the struggle with the really determined and serious unbelief, he will have threatened with the last judgement in general, with this last day of the Jewish conception, but without pushing himself forward as the judge. His speech was all the more powerful when he presented the Son of Man and himself as the mediator of judgement. In the Fourth Gospel, however, the idea of the Messianic office of judge is either wasted when it is only casually presented as an example of how one should judge, or it only occurs because the apologetics against the obdurate opponents no longer know how to help themselves. It is not the Lord, but the evangelist who reaches for the thunder of judgment against the doubters in such cases.
5) The testimony of the Father.
How His testimony of Himself is confirmed by the testimony of the Father who sent Him, the Lord does not elaborate. But did the opponents, with whom he was dealing at this moment, know how he had once explained this testimony of the Father (5:36-37)? Did they know it so well that no explanation was needed? No, they knew so little that they did not even understand what kind of father the Lord was calling as a witness. But if they were so unbelievably limited that they could not see that God was meant, then the Lord could not and was not allowed to refer to the Father’s testimony in such a brief way. But it is really an unbelievable and impossible limitation, of which the Jews are here reproached *); for they know so well another time (10:30-31), whom the Lord understands by the Father, that they immediately want to stone the blasphemer, who said, I and the Father are One. Certainly, it is again only the love of contrasts which induced the evangelist to drive the Jews into such an impossible misunderstanding. But they did not even have occasion to make such a senseless statement as to ask: where is thy Father, for it is not the Lord who speaks here of the testimony of Him who sent Him, but the evangelist once more heaps together all the apologetic reasons for the truth of the preaching of Christ. But only briefly does he let the Lord speak here of the testimony of the Father, because he counts on the memory of the readers who know the earlier argument, and because he was prevented by an involuntary feeling from extending the repetition further.
*) If even Lücke says (Comm. II, 272): “nothing was clearer than that Jesus meant his Father in heaven”, let us leave aside the apologetic talk of the “carnal-minded opponents” of Jesus, who could not have understood such a clear saying.
6) The Departure of the Lord.
With a new beginning of speech the Lord says: I go away, and ye shall seek me: but whither I go ye cannot come. Does he want to kill himself? say the Jews. We need only mention this misunderstanding, but no longer judge it.
7) The upper and lower world.
It was really not necessary for the Lord to attack the misunderstanding of the Jews more specifically, since it does not belong to the real world. He therefore simply continues in his speech: you are from below, I am from above, you are of this world, I am not. The contrast between the kingdom of heaven and the world was of course familiar to the Lord’s consciousness, but certainly only in this general, grandiose form; but to apply it to his person in this spatial form of above and below was reserved for the view of the congregation, which in the struggles it had to endure here below with the world that had fallen into death, directed its gaze upwards, to the origin of its salvation *).
*) The formula ανωθεν of the origin of Jesus had already occurred above 3:31 in the sermon of the Baptist, in a sermon that was actually preached by the Evangelist.
8) Appeal of the Lord to His preaching of Himself.
After the Lord has spoken at length about the dignity of his person, his origin, and his departure, the Jews ask him, “Who are you?” and he answers simply, “Just what I have been telling you.” But how could the Jews ask him in this way when he had not only just now, but constantly and continuously at every opportunity revealed himself as the Messiah? The answer – “I am what I say” – cancels out the question and itself; for if the Lord so briefly refers to his earlier statements because they are clear and detailed enough, the question of who he is could not have been raised. Rather, we hear from this answer the later apologist who, when all reasons are exhausted, can only say, “It is so, it is simply so,” and then we understand this turn.
9) A collection of strange relationships.
At the end, the Lord says, “I have much to say and to judge about you, but he who sent me is true.” One would expect the following statement: “Indeed, he who sent me will execute the judgment that I would have over you and speak about you.” But nothing follows. It is only later in the fortuitous continuation of the dispute with the Jews that the specific supplement follows, that the Father seeks the glory of the Lord and judges the injustice of the denial of recognition of the unbelievers (v. 50). It is as if the necessary but omitted addition has resonated with the author and secretly troubled him until he brought it to light. Earlier, in the original context, in verse 29, the Lord had indeed hinted that he was not alone, that the Father was with him, but this does not improve matters because the idea that the Father will judge for him is not really expressed, and therefore not really returned to the starting point, and it was indeed hardly possible after the speech had taken a completely foreign turn. When the Lord said that he had much to say and to judge about his unbelieving opponents, he spoke as if he wanted to continue: nevertheless, he himself would not pronounce this judgment over them, for another, the Father, would do it. Instead, the Evangelist lets the Lord fall back into the usual track, namely the speech about the contrast, that he does not speak of himself but only speaks into the world what he has heard from the Father. The Evangelist’s views so dominate him that they insert themselves into his speech even where he had aimed for a completely different contrast. The approach of the speech, “I have much to say about you,” reminds the Evangelist of a theme that recurs in the Lord’s final speeches, where he promises the disciples the Paraclete, who will reveal to them everything he could no longer say to them (John 14:25, 16:12-13). This once-struck tone enticed the Evangelist to that turn that would enter with the death of the Lord into the knowledge of others, and while falling into the other contrast of self-will and divine authorization, he now lets the Lord say: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do not act on my own, but speak only what the Father has taught me.”
What is the point of asking whether it was time for the Lord to speak of His death here, whether He, if He wanted to be understood, could indicate His death so inexplicably darkly in the expression of exaltation by His adversaries, or whether, rather, only for the later believer could the image of exaltation allude to the Lord’s death on the cross? These questions we need neither raise nor answer seriously, since the confusion of the last passage proves to us that it is not the Lord who is speaking, but that the views common to the evangelist, and even his literary turns of phrase, have flowed together so accidentally that even the connection which the author intended has been utterly dissolved. —
These and similar speeches of the Lord receive their true and original meaning when, through the critical process, through this spiritual chemistry, we lead them back to their basic substance and separate the admixture which the same has received through the form as an utterance of the Lord. They then appear in their true form as the first Christian apologetics, and it is not the Lord but the consciousness of the congregation that struggles in them with the objections of the world. If the unbelievers said: you always refer to the testimony of your Saviour with the confession of your faith, i.e. to something which itself first needs proof, the answer was: this testimony is justified in itself, for we know where the Lord is from and where he has gone; because you do not know, you certainly cannot accept this testimony. But we have another testimony, namely, that which lies in the work of the Lord and in the power which is inherent in this work and which could only proceed from the Father, who bears witness in it. You are from below and cannot judge him who is from above. And if you do not want to stop with your questions and objections, then know that the Lord is what he is, he is what he has always said about himself and what our testimony says about him. But your resistance does not go unpunished, for the Father judges the unbelief that resists the Lord. The Lord’s struggle with the Jewish world, the objections of the opponents and his defence, all this had to take on the form of later circumstances.
10) The second section of the discourse.
Through the preceding speech many were brought to faith and it is these to whom the following words of the Lord are addressed and who meet him with their objections.
In this part of the speech, too, we are confronted with several disturbing things: first of all, the context of the speech is torn apart, since the people to whom it is addressed are described in contradictory colours, on the one hand as willing and faithful, on the other hand as evil and wicked, as Satan’s children. Indeed, at the very moment when they are still presumed to be believers and nothing has happened that could have fundamentally changed them, the Lord describes them as those who wanted to kill him because his word does not find its way into them (v 37).
It is not only by accidental inconsistency that the author allows the character of these people to change so suddenly, but the Lord’s consecutive sayings presuppose listeners of a completely opposite character. The first saying: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and the truth which you will then know will make you free” requires faithful listeners who have already immersed themselves in the word of the Lord and are only made aware of the fruits of perseverance. On the other hand, the accusation: “You are not Abraham’s children, but Satan’s” (vv. 39-44) can only be directed against those who do not allow the Lord’s word to enter their hearts, who do not want to hear it. But did these people not know what to do with the Lord’s sermon? Were their thoughts only lies and murder? Many, it was said before, believed in the Lord and it is precisely with these many, it is expressly said, that this speech deals.
Although the author thought that all these sayings, which presuppose such different audiences, have their common bond in the continuous mention of Abraham, this connection and this bond must be very doubtful to us, because the main sayings are not brought about by a collision, which could possibly arise from the relationship of Jesus and the audience to Abraham, but are presented suddenly and without any particular occasion by the Lord. The Lord says without further ado: the truth will make you free (v. 32), he who hears my word will not see death for ever (v. 51), and the Jewish pride of descent from Abraham then finds fault with this. If these sayings are indeed connected with controversy, then the order should be just the opposite, the controversy should precede, the saying that resolves it and closes the dispute should follow. Where this natural order is lacking, these sayings are unprepared, and it is incomprehensible whence they suddenly come, where they are to lead, or what purpose they serve. The dispute that attaches itself to them becomes the unnatural light of implausibility, and far from being a serious controversy, it becomes a quarrel of incomprehensibly obdurate hearers who cannot grasp even the simplest saying. The Synoptics, on the other hand, give us examples of real controversies, which bring the Jewish point of view into pure, simple contrast with the Lord’s inpouring, and are not merely the wrangling of misunderstanding. The answers of the Lord – and it was worth the trouble that he answered here – are decisive, settle the controversy and are so clear and accurate that they “shut the opponents’ mouths”. There appear living figures who express their character to the point of plastic definiteness and betray real life as their origin; their controversy is completely natural and their conflict is not purposeless and endless, but always resolves itself in the harmony of the higher self-consciousness and in the defeat of the finite intellect. In our Gospel, the controversies become a tangle that moves back and forth only in misunderstandings and, in its purposelessness, can only end in tumult. The stones that the people reach for when the confusion of their minds has risen to the highest level make a worthy conclusion.
Let us now consider the main points of the dispute.
11) Freedom and bondage.
The Jews do not want to hear that the Lord told them that the truth would make them free, because as children of Abraham they were never servants and did not need to become free. The Lord replies that he means the bondage of sin, from which the willing knowledge of the truth sets them free. But they must let themselves be freed from this bondage by the Son, for only the Son remains eternally in the house, but not the servant. Who does not immediately perceive the discord that enters into the whole discourse through the different turn given to the idea of the servant? Two utterly different ideas are immediately thrust one into the other, one of which could as well as the other be the centre of a special speech, and must be explained in just as much detail as the other. And yet the one is not explained at all, yes, as if it were absolutely the same as the other, confused with it! When the Lord says that the servant will not remain in the house forever, but the son will, the servant and the son are regarded in the same way, namely in their relationship to the master of the house. The servant can be changed by the Lord, but the son is bound to the master of the house by an indissoluble bond; the thought is therefore similar to that which is set forth in the Epistle to the Hebrews. As the author of this Epistle (3:1-6) illustrates the sublimity of Christ by comparing Him as the Son of the householder with Moses, who only served as a servant in the divine household, so here the Lord Himself as the Son opposes the people as the accepted servant. But it is impossible that the Lord in one breath used the image of the servant in such a completely different sense and at the same moment spoke of the servant of sin and of the servant of God, that he passed directly from one image into the other without preparing or even making the transition, it is impossible that he could speak in such a way with the appearance as if he spoke of the same servant, of the servant in the same sense. The evangelist could only confuse different thoughts in this way without paying attention to their differences.
But if it was so easy for him to make turns of phrase, which go off to opposite points, appear to be of one and the same direction, nothing in the world can guarantee that he gives us the real facts when he reports how the Jews refer to their descent from Abraham against the Lord. This cannot be a guarantee of the so-called historical truth, for the Lord says later (vv. 37-39) that if they were really Abraham’s children, they would not want to kill him. For this contrast which the works form with their vaunted origin was too obvious once the masses’ reference to their descent was interwoven into the controversy. Even the evangelist lets this mention of Abraham pass by without a trace, as if it had not intervened at all when he came to the head of the dispute (vv. 41-50). Here the contrast is quite different, for the Jews boast that they have God for their father, and the Lord replies that the devil, on the contrary, is their ancestor, by ascribing to himself the origin of God with the usual contrast of self-authority and divine authority. Thus, from this side, the intermediate idea of Abrahamic descent is dissolved.
But if it was so easy for him to put phrases that go in opposite directions into the semblance of one and the same direction, then nothing in the world can vouchsafe for us that he gives us the real facts when he reports how the Jews appealed to their descent from Abraham against the Lord. Therein lies no guarantee for the so-called historical truth that the Lord afterwards (v. 37-39) says that if they really were children of Abraham, they would not want to kill him. For this contrast, which the works form to their boasted origins, lay too close at hand once that appeal of the masses to their descent was woven into the dispute. Even the evangelist lets this mention of Abraham pass by unnoticed as if it had not intervened at all when he comes to the climax of the dispute (v. 41-50). Here the contrast is completely different, the Jews boast of having God as their father, and the Lord replies to them that the devil is rather their ancestor, by ascribing to himself the origin of God with the usual contrast of self-authority and divine authority. Thus, from this side, the intermediate idea of Abrahamic descent is dissolved.
But is this double image of the servant really based on a double historical core? I.e., if the Lord, with his power over language and the clarity of his view, could not confuse different things, did he really, on different occasions, describe the truth that lies in his word as the power that liberates from the bondage of sin and himself as the Son who raises the servants of the Father to a free position in the divine household?
As to the former, the idea of the bondage of sin is not unworthy of the Lord, and there is nothing to prevent us from attributing it to him; but as the relation to national pride is omitted, only cease to attach to this saying that multitude of pragmatic and edifying considerations, and to give it the immediate relation to the political condition of the people, as well as to the sensual messianic expectations of them. In itself, the saying contains the idea of the purely ideal efficacy of the Redeemer, penetrating only into the depths of the spirit, but this “only,” this exclusiveness, is not expressly emphasised and need not have been originally inherent in the saying through its reference to a political collision. The situation that gave rise to it is in any case completely unknown to us, and even the evangelist gives us no hint of it, since according to his account the saying is already self-standing and so that its meaning is clear in itself, before the political pride of the people finds fault with it and tugs it to and fro.
The other view, according to which the Lord, as the Son of the House, stands opposite the others as servants, need not therefore be of later origin, because it is so much in harmony with that view in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which certainly arose without external stimulus and purely from the spirit of the author of this Epistle. When we hear how the Lord, when he was asked to pay the temple ransom, calls himself and his people the free sons of the heavenly King, while the people are only the accepted servants of him (Matth. 17, 24-26), the same thought is expressed here as there. In Matthew’s account, it has only received a special emphasis and twist due to the specific occasion; but whether the same saying has been preserved here in the fourth Gospel from the same situation in a faint echo and has only been turned differently by the author, or whether the Lord Himself has gone back to the same view on another occasion and has excepted it again for a different application: that can no longer be decided.
12) The Son of God and the children of Satan.
The argument over the glory of being descended from Abraham leads to the climax of the dispute, where the Lord scolds the Jews as children of Satan. While he only speaks what he has seen from the Father, they, says the Lord, only do the works they have seen from their father (v. 38). When the Lord stops at this assertion, even though they had just called Abraham their father again, and they now sense a deeper accusation behind that charge, the Jews want to secure themselves in a decisive way and now call God their father (v. 41). It does not sound quite right that the Jews should call Abraham and God their father in one breath; heat and embarrassment can indeed lead to sudden leaps in a dispute, but the leap of faith in this case is too violent, and there is no reason why the Jews should not stand by the glory of their Abrahamic descent, even if the Lord had given them to understand that they had another father. But the evangelist knew what kind of father Jesus meant, and he could ascribe the consciousness of the meaning of this reproach to the Jews, so that when Jesus wanted to call Satan their father, they could immediately come forward or rather anticipate with the corresponding contradiction that God was their father. The transition is thus proven to be one made by the Evangelist himself, as is already shown by the starting point from which the transition takes place, the mention of Father Abraham, which is shown to be made up by the Evangelist, as the thoughts and sayings to which this mention is attached have only been converted by the Evangelist into the cause of this dispute.
The contrast between the divine authorization of the Lord and the Jews’ descent from Satan is now freely presented out of its context and must, if it really belongs to the Lord, have a special reason for being and we would not dare to determine it if it had not revealed itself in our account. The Jews accuse the Lord of having an evil spirit in him, that he is possessed, and Jesus finds it necessary to reject this accusation and to appeal to his Father, whom he honors and whose words he hears and proclaims vv. 48-49. This is very reminiscent of the similar accusation made against the Lord in relation to his miraculous power, that he heals the possessed in the power of Beelzebub, the prince of the evil spirits (Matthew 12:23, 24). It is possible that the Lord was once accused of belonging to evil in relation to his teachings, because he dared to elevate his person above the measure of the ordinary human, and that he called his contemporaries Satan’s children on the occasion of such an accusation, as he once simply called them a wicked generation (Matthew 12:39, 45). However, we must add that it is just as possible that the Evangelist, according to the assumption of his entire work, could not present an accusation that originally referred to the Lord’s miraculous power in any other way than by using the Lord’s teaching about his person as the cause for it.
Therefore, at every other occasion, the Lord could refer to the one who keeps his word not seeing eternal death (v. 51) as a defense of his teaching about himself. The evangelist, as he has shown sufficiently, was able to bring up this saying on any occasion, while he has also convinced us that he was able to cite any other saying on those occasions where the Lord had to defend himself against doubts regarding his teaching about himself. Or in other words: the circle of apologetic arguments is very narrow in this gospel, and therefore the same sayings must always reappear very soon after each other. Here again, it is only the evangelist who wants to crush the doubt against the majesty of the Lord by preaching about his life-giving and immortalizing power. Already by the fact that this saying appears in a context where the struggle is against devilish obstinacy, it appears as an inappropriate and mechanically added appendage, and the answer of the Jews falls as well if it is not stopped by themselves. Anyone will call this saying inappropriate and purposeless if the opponents can only draw from it the reinforced conviction that the Lord must be possessed. And what conclusion do they draw to strengthen their conviction? Abraham and the prophets died, so does Jesus want to be greater than their forefather and the prophets (v. 52-53)? But how could they so completely misplace the only turn that could be taken from the starting point of this question? The only objection that was free to them, if they wanted to compare that glory of the Lord with the greatness of Abraham and the prophets, could only be made by saying: Abraham and the prophets could not spare their people from death, and you want to attribute such power to yourself? This is the only way they could have been indignant if they wanted to be, if the Lord had really offended their pride, which was based on their descent from Abraham, and if it were not the evangelist who had Abraham in mind here and in the preceding part of the conversation because he wanted to lead the conversation to a point at which the patriarch had to appear. Because the idea of the preexistence of Christ was fixed in the author’s mind as the conclusion of the dispute, because this preexistence emerged in its highest significance when measured against the ancestor of the Jewish people and the beginning of the theocracy, because the author wanted to sharpen the entire dispute to this conclusion, Abraham’s had to be thought of before, even in a context where this mention was inappropriate and had to be proven to be forced from outside.
13) The pre-existence of Christ.
The only question now is whether Jesus expressed the idea of His pre-existence in this particular way. After stating that he knows the Father and does not seek his own glory, the Lord says, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Jesus would not have had any other information about Abraham than what is recorded in the book of Genesis, and therefore, the patriarch’s joy can only have come from the promise of blessing that would come from his seed to all nations. The only point of contention is when Abraham was given the joy of actually seeing the day of the Lord. The usual explanation is that Abraham saw the Lord’s coming from paradise, where he is believed to live on and participate in the fate of his descendants. *) The Jews, however, understand the Lord’s speech quite differently, they understand it as if Jesus meant that he had seen Abraham and had already had dealings with him in the earliest past. The evangelist himself wants to describe this conclusion as the completely correct one when he introduces it with the words: the Jews said “therefore” to Jesus and the Lord confirms their view likewise when he says: “Truly, truly I say to you – i.e. do not be surprised when I speak like this, because – before Abraham was, I am, so he could already come to see my day in advance, since I could already reveal myself to him in the past. If it were really “a tautology of thought” *) when it is said once: Abraham rejoiced that he should see my day, and then: he saw it and rejoiced, then the evangelist would have to answer for it, and we would not be justified by it if we deviated from the explanation which alone is required by the context. But there is not even a tautology, but a heightening of the speech, in that the Lord wants to improve his words and say that it was not said enough that Abraham had only rejoiced over what he was to see in the distant future, no! his rejoicing over the future had been heightened to joy over the sight of the real and present already in the past. This does not make the idea of the day of the Lord “illusory” just because “it was not the actual day of the Messiah that Abraham saw”, because according to the view – let us say it nonetheless – of the evangelist, the prophetic vision was presented with the future as something present in itself, because it is eternally present. If one misses a “point of reference in the Old Testament and in popular belief” for this thought, one should only remember how the prophetic vision in the Old Testament sees the future as present and how according to the theory of our evangelist the person of the Lord appeared in his full glory to the prophets (Chapter 12, 41). There is no doubt: in the first sentence about Abraham’s joy over his day (v. 56), the Lord wants to say the same thing about himself as he expresses more directly (v. 58), when the opponents force him to. Both there and here, he wants to assert his preexistence before Abraham.
*) Lücke, Comm. II, 310. de Wette p. 121.
*) As de Wette thinks.
334 [corrected from 234]
At least the Evangelist has him assert it. However, it must be very doubtful whether Jesus really spoke in this way, when we see how it lies in the theory of the Evangelist that the Lord, as the Logos, as the eternal revelation of the Father, preceded all special historical revelations, and precisely these special revelations have been mediated in sacred history. It is more likely that the Evangelist formed that statement out of this theory, rather than developing that theory from a single statement of the Lord. For the Lord, it was probably also not the place to teach his pre-existence if he only had the intention to crush the pride of the Jews in their ancestor. Finally, it is contrary to the nature of revelation that it should only serve the purposes of theory and express a speculative determination in one sentence. It has enough to do when it addresses the need of redemption, to expand and fulfil the inwardness of self-consciousness, and without fearing the least for the success and recognition of its work, it can leave it to the reborn spirit to create the new world of theoretical consciousness out of the depth of renewed self-consciousness.
The view of his preexistence is indeed present when Jesus speaks of his heavenly origins. But only in this generality could he himself speak of the assumption of his personality, for only in this way did he connect with the general idea of the Messiah and avoid a danger that would have arisen immediately if he had wanted to teach his preexistence as the evangelist presents it. If he had measured his eternity by the point of a certain historical individual, he would also have given the appearance or even spoken as if he wanted to ascribe pre-existence to himself as this certain historical and empirical individual. But we must never ascribe such a view to Jesus, otherwise we would be transferring the utmost rapture into his self-awareness. Only in the spirit of the later community could this more specific view of the pre-existence of Christ be formed, for now it was something else when faith saw the Lord in eternal pre-historical existence and as the effective content of earlier historical revelations. Just as the empirical uniqueness, which is inherent in the historical appearance of the Lord, is transfigured in faith into spiritual generality and elevated to the eternal present, so faith, when it saw its Principle as eternally active, no longer saw that empirical individual in the past, but that individual in the light of the infinity of a divine power.
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