§ 15. The second Sabbath violation

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 15. The second Sabbath violation.

9:1 – 10:21.


1) The situation.


Nowhere has the fourth evangelist produced a greater impression of the vividness of his narrative on the apologists than in the account of the healing of a man born blind *): but that he has so much satisfied the taste and need of those who have not yet formed a tenable idea of vividness, must make us suspicious of his achievement.

At the beginning, the apologists miss the vividness, but the reason why they take offense only proves that they are always concerned only with their own self-made perception when they eagerly receive and triumphantly hold the report against doubt, and when they doubt it or interpret it according to their wishes at other times. Finally, the evangelist had recounted how Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple before the Jews who wanted to stone him. Whether the conclusion of the narrative, that Jesus passed by in their midst (John 8:59), is authentic or not, it is irrelevant to the matter. For the evangelist continues: passing by (παραγων), Jesus saw a man blind from birth, immediately linking the following to the preceding. Jesus can only be thought and represented as passing by if he has already set himself in motion and the reader is told that he is already walking, or the starting point of the movement must be given. *) Our report has done enough to meet both demands; the beginning and the starting point of the movement are given, Jesus goes out of the temple, and when it is said that in passing by, Jesus saw a blind man, no impartial person will doubt that the report intends to say that Jesus saw the blind man outside the temple, in the vicinity, when he withdrew from the Jews’ persecution. The transition is extremely “vivid” and too compelling to be successfully challenged.

*) To his great satisfaction, Tholuck (Comm. p. 191) refers the critic to this “documentary” report of a miracle.

*) As e. g. Matt. 9:9: και παραγων ‘εκειθεν.


If, however, the apologist **) says, “What is told in chapters 8 and 9 would have been too much and too diverse for one day,” and further observes that “here Jesus appears too calm, too lingering, too public, and too fearless with his disciples for him to have left the temple secretly without them immediately beforehand” – then this has its complete nullity. The report falls into a harsh contradiction, but to say, because of this contradiction, that it is permissible to place the healing of the man born blind on another day, is too much, goes too far, and is the most obvious insult to the evangelist. Against the apologist who tried to arrange the events in such a way, this person would immediately appeal to the unambiguous clarity of the words and the transition, and take away from him the illusion that he was still dealing with the report. Now, the evangelist wants to say, now that the Lord has gone out of the temple, he saw a man born blind as he passed by, and the question of the disciples forced him to stop and brought about the following event. The contradiction that the Lord withdrew and hid from the Jews’ persecution should not move us to attribute our expedient, namely, the assumption of a longer interval between the Lord’s withdrawal and the healing of the blind man *), to the evangelist. For he forgets the danger as soon as the Lord has turned his back on it, and he can forget it so easily because the Lord’s withdrawal is only his pragmatic product and serves only to give a factual conclusion to a dispute. On the other hand, in his view, the intervals had to contract because he wants to connect the historical materials he has prepared for the presentation. But if we must remain with this immediate connection, we have an example of the clearest vividness that is dissolved again by the contradictory situations that the report links together. Such an example must warn us and make us cautious not to conclude historical credibility immediately where the presentation seems vivid. Against the apologist, it gives us the right to point out to him that he may not only eagerly seize the vividness of the report where it suits his interests, but must also admit and leave it unscathed where it contradicts his assumptions of the mathematical congruence of the report with reality and his ideas of a roughly conceived credibility of the narrative.

**) E.g. Lücke, Comm. II, 317. de Wette p. 122.

*) Even according to his “convenience,” the interpreter may not lay aside the writer’s statements, as de Wette p. 122 does, but must take them as the author wishes them to be regarded.


2) The man born blind.

The Lord had hardly noticed the blind man when the disciples asked him whose sin had caused his blindness, his own or that of his parents. If we, for our part, ask: how did the disciples know that this blind man was born as such? – this is by no means so improper as it might seem on superficial examination. Even apologetic commentators have not been able to avoid this question, but Lücke *) has not answered it when he says: “the blind beggar might call to the passers-by and lament that he was born blind”. Is it then said: Jesus heard a man born blind complaining of his misfortune, and not rather that he saw a man born blind? When beggars want to arouse the pity of passers-by by complaining, they never take the reason for their complaint purely from their misfortune, from a physical evil that is peculiar to them, but from the circumstances in which they stand. The child complains that its parents and brothers and sisters lie helpless at home, and that the parents are prevented by illness or physical infirmity from caring for themselves and their loved ones. The cripple, when he complains, laments that it is impossible for him to work for those who depend on his care. But even then the cripple, especially to a mere passer-by, does not speak of his infirmity itself, but does what the beggar does who begs only for himself, he lets the mere appearance of his infirmity speak for him. He knows that this language is more eloquent and forceful than that of words; for the mere sight of the affliction has an immediate effect on compassion, while speaking about the affliction diverts the gaze from it and leads it to the calm of reflection. Through the blind man the Lord could not know the duration of his affliction, at least not now only as he passed by.

*) Comm. II, 317.


But perhaps he learned it on an earlier occasion ? This is not possible either, for the evangelist does not present the matter in such a way that the Lord met in the blind man an old acquaintance or a well-known person of the temple surroundings, but he saw him now for the first time, he noticed him as a person hitherto unknown to him, and that by chance, as he was now passing by. Everything except the indication of the duration of the beggar’s blindness is kept in that indefiniteness which prevails in a narrative when the accidental arrival of new material is reported. Nor do the disciples speak as if they had previously heard the story of the man from others *). They know that the blind man was born blind, but they know it only because the Lord sees it, because the thing is presupposed as such and as known as soon as it is said that the Lord saw a man born blind in passing. The last thing that would remain would be the presupposition that the Lord, by the wonderful and penetrating power of his sight, saw at once in passing that this blind man was born as such; but this would necessarily lead us to the other utterly impossible presupposition, that all the disciples also gained in the same way the immediate insight into the nature of that infirmity, or, as the Lord read the history of the blind man within himself, so they had read in the Lord his knowledge of the facts. But where did the Lord and the disciples get the knowledge of the fate of a man unknown to them until then? The evangelist communicated it to them, he wanted to report the healing of a man born blind, he knew that he was born blind, he wanted to bring about this healing through a dispute that arose precisely from the nature of this suffering, and what was a firm prerequisite for him, it was self-evident that it was also immediately known to the Lord and the disciples at the right time. In such cases, where the situation of an event is clear to the writer of history from the outset, the persons he introduces are like somnambulists, who see through the situation at first sight and without understanding mediation, and are completely at home in it. But when criticism seeks this mediation, the whole scene evaporates and is transferred from reality to the narrator’s consciousness, in which alone it finds its explanation and its origin.

*) As Bengel says: natum fuisse caecum ex aliis audierant Tholuck knows the circumstances even better: “the disciples perhaps also knew that neither the parents nor he himself had ever lived in gross sins; therefore – the perhaps has become a certainty – they were interested in his fate.” Comm, p. 191,


3) The question of the disciples.

The question which they raise according to the account in v. 2, could not of course be put to the Lord by the disciples, if they had not known before, or had not seen through now, that this man was a man born blind. But even in itself this question is not without difficulty. Who, the disciples ask, sinned, this man or his parents, that he should become blind? It is not only the one part of the question that is difficult, but the whole position of the question. According to the old Hebrew view, the sin of the ancestors is visited on the children: if, therefore, a child is born blind and suffers punishment for sin before it could sin itself, no other sin than that of the ancestors could have been visited on it. Why do the disciples not calm themselves with this legal conception, and oppose it, as if it could not be thoroughly explained, with another possibility; why do they even consider another case as possible, namely, the other case, that the child itself, through its own sin, brought this suffering down upon itself? Yes, they even doubt the correctness of the first explanation to the extent that they oppose it with another explanation which must appear to them to be groundless, so that the meaning of their question is: neither of the two hypotheses is able to explain the matter. It is not at all self-evident, as the commentators tacitly presuppose, that the old legal view had become shaken and wavering among the disciples, since otherwise they by no means prove the enlightenment which casts doubt on the old forms of life and imagination. And how could they have imagined the other case, that the man born blind had contracted his suffering through his own sins, or how could they have thought it possible that he could have sinned even before he was born? Later rabbinical teachings give us no right to ascribe to that earlier period, with Lücke *), the “popular prejudice” that “man can already sin and become liable to punishment in his mother’s womb. The doctrine of the pre-eminence of the soul is also not so certain among the people at the time of Jesus **) and the view that earthly destiny depends on the different behaviour of the soul in its earlier state is not even definitely developed in Philo. If it is therefore incomprehensible how the disciples could have wavered in their legal view, it also remains unclear what they should have thought of the other case, that the man born blind was himself responsible for his suffering.

*) Comm. II, 319.

**) At least among the Alexandrians, thinks de Wette, p. 122, this doctrine is to be used in advance, but the passage of evidence cited by him, Sap. SaIom. 8, 20 does not deal both with the pre-existence of the soul, and with a pre-stabilised harmony of soul and body.


But this dilemma cannot even have originated with those who lived among the people and in their unbiased perception, least of all in such a way that it should have arisen as their discovery, as their instantaneous idea, or as an accidental remark, as is assumed here. Doubts and antinomies of this kind form in quite a different circle: either they are the product of reflection, which awakens within a sphere of life itself when it no longer truly satisfies the spirit, gets into dissolution through its inner contradictions, and through these inner difficulties only occupies the spirit theoretically and incites it to brood. Or from without, from strangers and opponents, such doubts proceed as objections, when a certain form of view attracts the attention of another stage of education and can no longer conceal its contradictions from the freer way of looking at it, is no longer to be decided, but this much is certain, the question is not an instantaneous idea of the disciples, but a standing casuistic question, may it have arisen from the acumen of the school or from the late encounter with Greek education.


4) The answer of the Lord.


The casuistic subtlety of the question will have caused the evangelist some scruples from the point of view of his later education, until he found the answer in his view of the purpose of the Lord’s miraculous activity. For it is he who based his apologetic system on the works of the Lord, who sees in the works of Jesus the proof of his divine mission and only allows the Lord to perform miracles in order to prove his glory and divine authority. This abstract conception, which tears apart the living relation to reality, the bond of compassion and mercy which drew Jesus to the suffering, and substitutes an understanding reflection for the living intertwining with life, proves that this answer does not belong to the Lord. “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God should be made manifest in him”: this answer arose from the evangelist’s theory, and it is only to lead from all musings of this kind to the only worthy contemplation of the Lord’s miraculous works.

Therefore, those who withdraw to this passage, isolate themselves here, and believe themselves protected against the opposing sayings of the Lord, stand on weak ground. Because they share the modern sensible view, it is incredible to them and only the prejudice of an uneducated time that sin and human illness should be in a legally and positively determined connection. What is unbelievable to them according to their enlightened views, the Lord could not have believed? or if he speaks as if he harbours the “Jewish prejudice”, as in the Synoptic accounts, then he does it only out of accommodation. It is true that in this way the most damaging light that can fall on the human character falls on the Lord, that of concealment, of reticence that speaks and thinks differently, of indolence that, in possession of better insight and with the most important interests of the human spirit, proceeds sluggishly along the track of the language of prejudice and spares the effort to pull itself out of the wrong way of speaking, to pull others out of error. But the apologist triumphantly points to our passage where the Lord declares himself against the Jewish prejudice *). The whole blindness of this apologetics is necessary if one is to think that the matter is improved by this saying of the Lord; one must cling to a hypothesis as stubbornly as these commentators do, and with the same desperate fear want to transfer the newer enlightenment into the consciousness of Jesus, in order to be able to think that this saying draws the Lord out of the circle of the Jewish conception of the connection between sin and disease. But we need hardly mention that this saying proves to be the work of the evangelist, nor that it refers only to this particular case – for it speaks only of this blind man, and the same could not be said of other blind men or disabled, that their sufferings had the purpose, so that the works of God might be revealed in them – we do not need to remind you in detail that, according to the correct interpretation, the saying is only intended to detract from the pondering over a certain casuistic question and by no means wants to give a theory about the connection between sin and illness. But this would not be the right way of teaching, nor would it really save the honour of the Lord, if he wanted to enlighten the disciples about the general “prejudice” of the people in passing and as if only throwing it out, and on the other hand speaks on another occasion before the mass of the people and before the scribes as if he harbours that “prejudice” and even after a long argument confirms this “prejudice” (Matth. 9, 2 – 6)? Here, one would think, where the Lord heals the paralytic with the gift of forgiveness of sins, where he so definitely presupposes the connection between sin and illness, and where the scribes argue about his authority to forgive sins, it would have been necessary for him to present the enlightened views of the later apologists, if he had had them. But it is good that we have been able to drive the enlightened commentators out of their stronghold by critical means, in that the Lord’s saying about the purpose of the infirmity of that man born blind has proved to us to be the work of later pragmatism. For although this saying refers only to the purpose of this individual case of illness, and incidentally seeks to discourage musings on similar complicated cases, the Lord would still appear to have spoken more cautiously and timidly about sin and illness in one case and only before the disciples, whereas otherwise he speaks before the people from the viewpoint of the absolute positive connection between the two. If this time, even in a difficult case, he did not want to go straight into the presuppositions of the people’s view, then he could not speak so ruthlessly from this view. But the Lord did not speak with this hesitant reflection in this one case either.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 22, also Paul’s Comm. on the Ev. p. 471.

Now the apologists also have no reason to try their art on the earlier words which the Lord addressed to the sick man from the pool of Bethesda.


When the Lord says to a healed man, as he did in the midst of Jewish folk life: “Behold, you have now become healthy, sin no more, lest something worse happen to you” 5:44, does he then want to derive the illness naturally from such sins *) which, because it is a direct physical process, can be the source of illness? How does the Lord know all of a sudden that this sick man allowed himself such sins 38 years ago?

*) As Olshausen thinks Comm. II, 128 in agreement with Paul p. 264


If other interpreters say more cautiously **) that the words of the Lord show that the illness had a “moral cause,” then that is only spoken ambiguously. Because by the moral cause, they do not mean, like the law and “Jewish prejudice,” every purely spiritual, i.e., only in the direction of thought and will, violation of the law, but rather an offense that, by its inner nature, intervenes naturally in the physical organism. “How often,” Lücke exclaims, “even now sin is the source of bodily diseases!” “How often” is, however, a rhetorical phrase that silently admits countless cases of the opposite kind and can only designate the cases one needs as sufficient through this silence. Translated from the rhetorical, that exclamation means: there are countless cases in which the illness has a purely natural cause, but in some cases, it has a moral cause, and these cases – let us add – are limited to the few where the violation of the law, by its nature, intervenes directly in the physical organism. The question arises: does Jesus speak to the sick person at the pool of Bethesda as if he refers to a specific offense known to him, and not rather to sinful, unlawful behavior in general? – This question no longer needs an answer for the unbiased, and it remains that our evangelist also lets the Lord speak from the same perspective, according to which there is a positive connection between illness and sin. The evangelist believed that he could only solve the casuistic question of the man born blind by diverting attention from the actual difficulty and leading to the highest, general purpose of everything that happens in the world.

**) Lücke II, 22, de Wette p. 68.


5) The day of the Lord.


In His answer to the question of the disciples, the Lord continues: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me, while it is night; the night cometh, when no man can work.” These words presuppose a situation in which there seemed to be a barrier to the Lord’s activity or an obvious resistance to it. Nothing, the Lord wants to say, nothing should restrict or prevent the revelation of His glory and the fulfilment of His task, since the night will soon come which in any case forbids all activity, namely that night by which He understands His departure from the world in relation to His person. For, he says, since I am once in the world, I must also prove myself to be the light of the world.

But nothing is foreshadowed which stood in the way of the Lord’s fulfilling his task in the present situation. Some commentators have thought that it was the Sabbath *), and indeed it seems certain that the evangelist had this relationship in mind. For the expression “working” (εργαζεσθαι) is the same that the Lord used on an earlier occasion, when he was accused of violating the Sabbath (C. 5, 16. 17), and as the Lord then referred to the uninterrupted activity of God, which was the archetype for him, so here he proceeds from the thought that he will not always walk in the world and must use the time allotted to him for activity. This interpretation is not as wrong as de Wette thinks **); for the thought of the nearness of his death alone could not have brought the Lord to this saying, there must rather have been an obstacle over which the thought of the only short time left to him lifted him. And since no other obstacle is mentioned in the context, it can only have been the conflict with the Sabbath law. This explanation is not hindered by the fact that the author only mentions in passing that it was the Sabbath, for the writer of the story is quite at liberty to add explanatory motifs only later in the narrative.

*) Lucke (II, 322). He explains the words of Jesus thus: “No Sabbath, and no wrath of the Jews, of which ye are afraid, shall hinder me from doing the works of God in him that is born blind.” But first of all, to touch the latter point, did the disciples say a single word about it, or make it known that they were afraid of the wrath of the Jews? This explanation seals and gives again one of the innumerable examples of how pragmatism brings hypotheses into history and elevates them to facts.

**) Briefly. Explanation of Ev. John p. 123.


The saying with its meaning remains, even if there are other serious difficulties in the way of this explanation, but it does not remain – as the saying of Jesus. If the Lord should really speak in this way at this moment, then either the disciples must have pointed out the hindering Sabbath law beforehand or the Lord must have drawn their attention to it himself, otherwise the disciples would not have known how their Master suddenly came to this speech. But they had not even thought of the healing of the man born blind, but had only put forward the casuistic question to which the unfortunate man had given rise. But least of all were they prepared to understand the meaning of the Lord’s statement, in so far as it referred to his imminent departure. This statement of the Lord is also not of such a nature that it wants to communicate a thought that was not yet familiar to the disciples as a new one and to draw it out of its darkness to their power of comprehension: no! it presupposes the tip of the thought as completely known and thus alludes to a thought that was by no means as accessible to the disciples as the report presupposes. The reader, of course, who finds a few lines later (V. 14) that it was Sabbath, the reader for whose view the earthly life of the Lord is finished, and who knows, especially here at this moment, that the time of the Lord’s suffering will soon follow, can make sense of this saying, but the disciples could not and the Lord could not expect them to understand a saying that was so incomprehensible to them. It was only to the later congregation that the middle element of the conclusion, through which the Lord makes clear why he would now heal the blind man, was established as a known truth; only to them was it possible to grasp the saying as they heard it, and only by keeping their understanding in mind and directly confusing it with that of the disciples could the evangelist allow his pragmatic reflection to be transformed into a saying of the Lord. For it is a simple reflection that the Lord, who heals only to reveal his glory, had to use the time allotted to him without turning to limited obstacles. Because he was fully convinced that this view was the view of the Lord himself, he could easily transform it into a saying of the Lord, so easily in fact that he did not even notice the contradictions arising from this transformation.


6) The pond Siloam.


How the author etymologically arrived at the name of the pool of Siloam, or whether he even followed a proper procedure, as a newer grammarian would demand – does not contribute to the matter. Enough, the author finds *) in the name of the pool a connection with the name belonging to the Lord, and does not fail to call his readers’ attention to the fact that the pool to which the blind man was sent is called the same as the Lord – the Sent One. We would not touch this interjection of the Evangelist if it did not give us occasion to call his attention to the conduct of his apologists. Otherwise they make the opposite of his most definite words; here they even take away his word. Yes, Lücke comes down so hard on the evangelist, tells him so decisively to his face that this allegory borders on nonsense **) that he could almost make him ashamed and take back his words, so that he himself would have to be satisfied if only that allegory were declared to be the “gloss of an allegorical interpreter” – if an evangelist had to be ashamed of the fact that he always and everywhere has the Lord in mind and even once follows the play of the often surprisingly intricate connection in the most remote relationships. But was the prophet Isaiah *) also on the hunt for allegories that touch on nonsense when he used the gently flowing waters of Siloam as an image of the theocracy and its king? Did not rather the prophet lead the evangelist on the track which he had only to follow in order to hear at last the echo of the highly praised name, the name alone to be praised and resounding through the whole universe **)? Let us therefore leave the evangelist the joy of hearing again the name of God’s messenger also in the name of the brook to whose pool the Lord pointed the blind man; but let us also leave the apologist his joy of being able to rap the fingers of the evangelist who also here has the only beloved name in his ear and writes it down.

*) If one wants to hear the echo that was in the ear of the evangelist, one only has to pay attention to the echo of the passive ending of the word derived from שלח. The evangelist did not need anything more than the approximate echo.

**) Comm. II, 327-329.

*) Is. 8, 6.

**) What to the prophet was the symbol of Jehovah, the theocratic king, became to the evangelist the symbol of the Messiah. Calvin has already referred to this view of Isaiah and says in his way forming the connection (Comm. to the Ev. Joh.): Fons ille templo vicinus quotidie Judaeos venturi Christi admonebat.


If the apologist asks why the evangelist, if he wanted to allow himself such allusions, did not translate the name of the pool Bethesda, the answer is easy: because he did not want to point this name to the Messiah, because the name – House of Grace – is too clearly connected with the nature of the pool, because he forgot that a name which was clear to him would not be so to all. But why did he translate so clumsily this time? How? Clumsily? Can an allusion be too weak for the allegorist, and was there, for the evangelist and his readers, besides the Lord, another who bore the name of the messenger with equal right?


7) The negotiations concerning the healing of the blind man.


Among the acquaintances and former acquaintances of the blind man who suddenly saw, a division arose: some said that it was the same man whom they had known before as a blind beggar, others said that it was not him. The healed man must report who had given him back his sight, and no sooner had he done so than he was brought to the Pharisees. Among the Pharisees, too, his report causes a division, as some think that whoever breaks the Sabbath cannot be from God, but others conclude from the miraculous sign that whoever has done it cannot be a sinner. Eventually, all the characters express their opinion about the miracle worker, as the healed man answers the question of who he thinks he is: a prophet.

The Jews, however, did not believe that the miracle had really happened, and sent for the man’s parents to convince themselves whether he was really their son, born blind. The parents affirmed that he was, but they were afraid to speak freely about how he had regained his sight, because the rulers had decided that anyone who confessed Christ would be expelled from the synagogue.

The man whose healing brought about the whole investigation was called before the meeting again and asked to give glory to God, because the man to whom he thought he owed his healing was, as the superiors knew, a sinner. A quarrel ensued between the authorities and the healed man, who, bitterly mocking the judges, insisted that the man must be from God, and was finally expelled, probably, according to the report, from both the meeting hall and the synagogue.


Jesus had heard this and when he met the man again, he asked him if he believed in the Son of God. The healed man declares himself ready to believe, but does not know who the Son of God is, and only when Jesus says that he himself is the Son of God does he decisively confess that he is the Lord. The contrast of the unbelieving Pharisees and the blind man who has been converted to faith now brings the Lord to speak about the judgement, which is his task in this world: the blind shall see, the seeing shall become blind. Pharisees are also present at the moment, they ask maliciously whether they are also blind, and precisely because they pretend to see, the Lord answers them, their sin remains.

No one would claim that the evangelist was present at all these scenes. But if one assumes, on the assumption of the supposed vividness, that the author has found out about all these negotiations of the crowd and the authorities through exact investigation, then Weisse has already pointed out the striking thing that would lie in the fact that he has “turned this care to such a trivial gossip” *). However, we do not need to be content merely with calling this care conspicuous and the negotiations themselves null and void, but it can be demonstrated in the most definite way how those negotiations were also null and void in another sense and the entire report dissolves itself.

*) Evangel. Hist. II, 251.


8) The collision.

The neighbours and acquaintances of the healed man argue about the identity of the person, whether this person, whom they now see before them with full use of the eye, is the same one whom they used to know as blind. The healed man assures them of the identity of his person, tells them that a certain Jesus had healed him, but cannot tell them where he is now, and is now led by his neighbours before the meeting of the Pharisees. Why do they lead him there? No one can say. Because the Sabbath violation seemed too alarming to the fearful ones *)? But in no word do they hint at this concern; their speech reveals only this much, that the ambiguity of the incident moves them to this step and that they want the matter to be cleared up before the court. The evangelist says afterwards that the healing happened on a Sabbath (v. 14), but even in court this circumstance is only mentioned in passing (v. 16) and it really did not need to be mentioned more seriously, because the cause of Jesus was already condemned according to an earlier decision of the Sanhedrin and everyone who wanted to confess Him as the Messiah was cursed (v. 22). But if the only thing that mattered was that the healed man should acknowledge this earlier decision of the highest theotrical authority and thus Jesus as a rejected one, if the matter had progressed so far and had come down to this single point, then the one-time mention of the Sabbath is also an idle accessory. The accusers could therefore only have had in mind the decision of the Sanhedrin that every confessor of Jesus should be expelled from the synagogue *). In this case, however, there was no reason for the crowd to remember this decision, there was no confessor of Christ who would have had to be brought before the authorities, the healed man spoke so strangely of Christ that he called him a certain Jesus – so what did this decision have to do with him?

*) As Lücke claims (Comm II, 329.)

*) Lücke, op. cit., also allows this motive to play a part at least.


9) The decision of the Sanhedrin on excommunications.

The matter becomes still more difficult, but the critical solution of the difficulty also easier, if we ask what the relation is to that resolution of the Sanhedrin. It is assumed that it was really passed and even publicly announced in v. 22 – but when was it passed, when were the people informed of it? Some commentators answer: when the servants of the authorities, who had been sent out to capture Jesus, returned to the Sanhedrin without having carried out their commission. At that time, when the servants excused themselves by the power of Jesus’ preaching, and seemed to have been won over by him, the assessors of the Sanhedrin said, “this crowd, which knoweth not the law, are under the curse” (7:49). Later, at a later meeting of the Sanhedrin **), this resolution could not have been passed, for the reason that there was no time at all between that supposed earlier meeting and the healing of the man born blind. On the day after that meeting of the Sanhedrin, Jesus was teaching in the temple, he was interrupted in his discourse by the Pharisees, who led the adulteress to him with that tempting question, resumed his discourse when he had dispatched the tempters, but provoked the people by his speech, withdrew from the temple, and in passing saw that man born blind, whom he healed immediately after the casuistic question of the disciples. Now where is the time for the Sanhedrin to meet again, to make this decisive decision and to make it known to the whole people? The decision must have been made earlier and since we do not hear anything about it except for 7:49, the evangelist must be of the opinion that he informed his readers about it when he reported the speech of the Pharisees in the Sanhedrin to the suspicious servants. But at that time, when he had the Pharisees address their servants in this way, he did not want to report a positive decision of the Sanhedrin, but only the subjective opinion of the Pharisees expressed in the heat of passion. The rulers did not want to banish the followers of Jesus and pronounce a curse on them by means of a legally passed resolution that was to be made known immediately: rather, the servants, who seemed to be wavering, wanted to bring them back to their senses by telling them that they should not judge themselves by the mob, for in their blindness they had fallen under the curse of the law.

**) As Lücke assumes, Comm, II, 332.


Let us summarise the matter. A continuous interest that pervades the negotiations about the healing of the man born blind, perhaps brings them about from the beginning, but in any case animates them in their course and finally brings them to a conclusion, is a decision of the Sanhedrin against the confessors of Jesus. The evangelist can only see this decision in those earlier words of the Pharisees to the servants of the council – when the author reported these words, he only gave them as such, which happened to be spoken in the heat of the moment only as a subjective opinion and only to the servants – these words, spoken in a completely different sense, thus turned into a formal positive decision of the Sanhedrin under the evangelist’s hands. In such a short time – for there is only one night between that meeting of the Sanhedrin and the healing of the man born blind – this transformation was able to take place under the hands of the author and the decision itself became known among the people, so that the parents of the healed man knew it well, because the author had written so much in the meantime, had reported so many controversies and speeches, that the period of time seemed to his feeling to be greater than it really is according to a reasonable consideration of the other information.


10) The faith of the healed man.

A second interest of the story is how the relationship of the healed man to the Lord develops into faith. At first, Jesus is just a certain someone to the blind man, who is called so. Despite the Pharisees’ insults, the grateful heart of the healed man holds fast to the belief that the man who opened his eyes cannot be a sinner but must be from God. Finally, his faith is brought to decisiveness and real consciousness when Jesus shows him the true object of his faith in his person. The point of the narrative is thus formed by the fact that the healed man’s unconsciousness of the full significance of what he confessed before the Pharisees is transformed by the Lord into consciousness. However, even this interest of the narrative is not executed with the purity with which the artistic plan of a freely formed view is developed on the one hand, and on the other hand, the realities of the situation are offended from every side of the report.

If the healed man is to be led from the one extreme of unconsciousness to the other of believing consciousness, then he was not allowed to know at first to whom he owed his healing. But how should he have known, since Jesus, who only healed him in passing, did not tell him who he was, and the blind man, as long as Jesus stood before him, had not yet regained the free use of his eyes — he only gained his sight after he had bathed his eyes in the pool of Siloam at Jesus’ command. If he knows too much from the beginning, he knows too little during the trial with the Pharisees. If the one who wanted to confess Jesus had fallen under the curse of the law and was to be expelled from the synagogue, this decision was nevertheless openly enough directed against the Lord’s claims, insofar as he demanded faith in his person and wanted to be recognised as the Messiah. When the Pharisees said to their servants that the blinded people were accursed, they asked: do you see that any of the rulers or Pharisees believe in him? (7:48.). Whoever was placed in this collision, that he had to choose between obedience to the old law and obedience to the highest theocratic authority, and between the confession of Jesus and the curse of the law, must have known that in this struggle the highest claims there could be were opposed to the claims of the authorities, In short, that the person whose recognition forfeited the curse wanted to be recognised as the Messiah. Therefore, when Jesus met again with the healed man whose fate he had learned, he rightly had to presuppose that he believed in him. “Thou believest in the Son of God?” (v. 35) i.e.: so for the sake of your faith, because you acknowledge me to be the Son of God, you have suffered the curse of rejection? Of course, the author overlooks the necessity of this conclusion, because only at the end, through Christ’s own opening, does he want the faith of the healed to come to full consciousness. Through this contradictory intention it happens that Jesus’ question: “So you believe in the Son of God? In the interrogation before the Pharisees, the healed man does not yet know for certain who Jesus is, so that he can tell him himself; from the beginning, however, he must at least know who healed him, so that his recovery can give rise to the negotiations of the Sanhedrin.


11) The Sabbath.

The impartial interpreter must confess that all these disputes, from the doubt of the neighbours as to whether the one who now sees is really the formerly blind one, to the repeated meeting of Jesus with the healed man, have arisen from that deliberateness of the writer of history which, without being aware of the contradictions in which it is entangled, is at the same time connected with an unshakable faith in his work. The author believes that he is reporting history because he is convinced that these collisions are entirely natural, and this conviction is all the more firm for him because he follows the same pattern here as he otherwise lets events develop. Opposites and divisions are for him the mainsprings by which the individual events are driven on to their necessary consequences, and in them they themselves supply the material, which in itself takes on manifold forms by dividing and grouping the mass of the people and the authorities in various ways. The uniformity of the scheme, the a priori fixed rubric, which, like a series of compartments, could absorb the consequences of any event, completes the proof that the whole entanglement that follows the healing of the blind man is nothing but a work of pragmatism. The author’s extraordinarily detailed description of the miracle was motivated by his ultimate purpose: he wanted to have the miracle of the healing confirmed in an objective manner through the public interrogation before the authorities.


The secret activity of pragmatism extends even further. In this we already noticed a wasteful excess, that the cause of Jesus before the court of the Pharisees had already been condemned from the beginning by an earlier decision, and now the violation of the Sabbath was used as a reason for decision against him. At the same time, however, the report betrayed an undeniable uncertainty in relation to the latter accusation, since it was not even seriously enforced and only casually touched upon, as it were, only as a point of honour, because the Sabbath was once stated as the day of the action. Now what is more probable, or rather more certain, than that the healing of the blind man is only transferred to the Sabbath because the author wants to heap collision upon collision and has to introduce this new collision because he could not purely carry out the other, already legally valid condemnation of the cause of Jesus? At least he could not make it clear at the outset why the people believed they had to bring the healed man before the court. In this embarrassment he reaches for this collision with the Sabbath law and immediately drops it, after the already established condemnation of the cause of Jesus, to which the court now only had to refer, had grown into a historical significance.

The very fact that, according to the Talmud, no judgement was held on the Sabbath and on feast days, should not only make the statement that the healing took place on the Sabbath suspicious, but completely destroy it. The apologist is never embarrassed and knows how to answer immediately that the judicial investigation took place on the following day *). Listen to the report! The blind man is sent by Jesus to the pool of Siloam, he bathes his eyes there and comes back healthy; the neighbours see him when he comes home, they ask him who healed him, and when he said that it was a certain Jesus, but did not know where he was, they bring him before the court. Everything follows one after the other: to see the man who had just returned from the pool of Siloam, to ask him about his doctor and, since he could not answer sufficiently, to bring him before the court, is one connection, one moment, and there is no room for the interposition of a night. So if it was on the Sabbath that the blind man was healed, it was also on the Sabbath that he was brought before the court.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 329.


It is clear that the report has the interrogation of the healed man and his parents take place in an ordinary court session. The judges summon the parents of the healed man, interrogate him anew (v. 24, where it is incomprehensible how he had to be interrogated after the parents had left, since they were confronted with him at the same moment vv. 19, 20) **) and finally the judges pronounce a curse on the man who did not want to give God the glory. The difficulty which lies in the fact that a judgment should sit on the Sabbath becomes still greater if the judgment which condemns that man were the highest, namely the Sanhedrin. The people, therefore, says Lücke, did not exactly bring the healed man “before the great Sanhedrin, for that did not always sit, but either before a synagogue court or, if there were any already at the time of Jesus, before a so-called smaller Sanhedrin “*). But if we behave impartially against the impression of the report, we will be forced to admit that the author wants to have the healed man brought before the highest court, the Sanhedrin. It was the Sanhedrin that first pronounced the curse on the blinded people in general (7:49), and from the same court it was therefore understood, according to the context, that in a particular case it imposed this very curse on an individual. It is true, of course, that the Sanhedrin did not always sit, least of all would it have assembled immediately when the people wanted to present a suspect to it; but it is easy for the historian to exercise the utmost power of dictatorship, he knows no embarrassment, no obstacles, everything is at his command as he wants and needs it, and no limits are set to his will when he pragmatizes. In the ideal world of pragmatism, even the most contradictory circumstances become docile. If the evangelist is a born Jew, who must have known the circumstances better than anyone else, it is difficult that he could bring together such contradictory things as the Sabbath and a meeting of the Sanhedrin waiting for business, as if it were a matter of course. But the need of pragmatism silences all doubts, knows of no difficulties, and covers up the contradictions. Moreover, we have already seen that the author mentions the Sabbath only in passing and does not seriously pursue the controversy that lies in the Sabbath violation: the consequences that must follow from that time statement could therefore not develop and the author was therefore not prevented from presuming that the Sanhedrin was assembled at such an inappropriate time.

**) Help! Lücke explains it by saying (Comm. 11,333-334): “after the confrontation had taken place, the inquisitor and the parents had probably been dismissed in order to discuss what should happen next”. Again, nothing helps! The parents say of their son in v. 23 that he is old enough to be asked himself, but v. 24 means that their son was immediately cited, i.e. the evangelist forgot that the son himself was already standing with the parents before the judges.

*) Comm. II, 329.


Does at least the fact remain that the Lord once healed a man born blind? Who would want to hold onto this core with a clear conscience after the tree that grew from it has only revealed itself to be a product of the pragmatic greenhouse? It is possible that even in that remnant the original nucleus has not yet been purely peeled out. The fact that the unfortunate man who caught Jesus’ attention was specifically a man born blind, not just an ordinary blind man, and the casuistic question of the disciples are intimately linked. This question, which according to the account, should have only arisen from a casual idea of the disciples, we recognized as one of those standing devices with which a standpoint that has fallen apart deals with itself or is plagued and embarrassed by a foreign perspective. If, therefore, the disciples could not have asked that question, there is nothing to sustain the circumstance which is supposed to have given rise to the question. It is infinitely more certain that the author himself was preoccupied and disturbed by the casuistic puzzle. Now, if the basic material was given that the Lord healed the blind, the author could assume that a man born blind was also healed andand from this premise, as well as from his view of the purpose of Jesus’ miracles, he formed the Lord’s saying that solved the intricate riddle.


12) The blind and the seeing.


Among the speeches of the Lord, to which the healing of the man born blind and the following entanglements with the authorities gave rise, stands first the word of the judgment to which he had come: namely, the blind shall receive their sight, and those who see shall become blind. According to the report, the Lord spoke this word to the healed man when he confessed his faith.

The thought is the same that the Lord expresses in other words in Matt. 9:12-13. and 11:25; it is also probable that the Lord expressed this contrast between the help that is certain for the needy and the rejection that befalls the proud and secure, often and in different turns. But this occasion, this connection, was not of such a kind that that saying could follow. In general, and in relation to the overall success of his activity, the Lord could say: I praise you, Father, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to the uneducated. Then it was left to the self-examination of each one whether he belonged to the under-aged or the wise, and he could participate in the blessedness of the former without losing his impartial innocence and becoming guilty of another kind of self-exaltation through the proud feeling of opposition. Or to the secure and proud the Lord could say that he had not come to them, the healthy and righteous, but to the sick and sinners: but to say to one of the sick, the healed, that the crown of honours was destined for him and his fellow-sufferers, that is to say, to awaken in him the seductive attraction of pride and self-conceit through the opposition to the rejected. Only then was that cutting word – it really has a penetrating sharpness, it bores into the innermost – only there was it in its place, where it was necessary to strike down and mortally wound the pride of knowledge and justice, while in the other case it was just as soft-sentimental as it was dangerous and tempting to false security. We shall soon be convinced of the truth of this remark when we remember how a false piety delights in its opposition to the world, in a supposed self-abasement, reflects itself with pleasure in the self-made image of misery, and at the same moment makes itself guilty of the most damnable pride. But away from this ugliest image that the history of religion can show! Nor do we need to dwell any longer on how naturally and correctly those sayings of Matthew are placed, for it is only too clear how the fourth evangelist came to place this saying about the blind and the seeing just here. To a writer of history, who otherwise also attached the spiritual sayings of the Lord to sensual occasions, the saying about the spiritually blind seemed to be in its place, when it was addressed to a blind man who had regained the use of the sensual eye.


Now against a saying that did not arise on this occasion, not even Pharisees who happened to be around could protest. But neither could they, according to their own presuppositions of the context. Jesus meets the blind man again after he has left the synagogue, asks him whether he believes, discovers himself to be the Messiah, has to deal with him alone: and this negotiation should have been conducted so loudly and publicly that the Pharisees could immediately fall in at the end of the conversation as if on cue? The author overlooks the connection, because he definitely wants to draw the Pharisees into the conversation, so that the representatives of blindness would also be on the scene *). He was guided by an immediate feeling that the saying about the blind and the seeing would be too inappropriate if some people of the former kind did not at least accidentally harden it. Is it necessary to examine the matter seriously in order to say that the question of the Pharisees, “Are we also blind?” with the explanatory answer of Jesus, in a saying that is terribly clear, is unseemly and only the work of the evangelist?

*) Olshausen once again demonstrates how easy it is for apologetics to invent new facts and motives. He explains the presence of the Pharisees, which the evangelist simply assumes as an internal necessity of the saying, without any bias. He says (Comm. II, 235): “Some of them, when they saw Christ speaking with him who had been healed, rushed to him.” Now let this pragmatic construction develop its consequences – that is, consider the busyness of the Pharisees who are always ready nearby when they are needed, and moreover, the same Pharisees who had just driven the healed man out of the synagogue. See how they hurry as soon as they see the Lord talking to that man – and the whole picture will dissolve at the moment of its completion. It is even questionable whether the Pharisees, since the Lord’s conversation with the healed man is very short, will still arrive in time; they must at least be on their feet very quickly if they are still to hear the saying that applies to them.


13) The shepherd of the sheep.


In the same passage, as the Lord reproached the Pharisees for their blindness, He spoke to them of the true Shepherd. What could be easier for the apologist than to establish a connection between this speech and the previous statements of the Lord against the Pharisees? Why should it be impossible for the apologist to do what the evangelist was able to do? A vague, a faint allusion is enough to bring together what is divorced. “The Pharisees, says Lücke *) in this way, considered themselves to be the leaders and guides of the people, and indeed they were. But alas, they led the people astray, and were blind guides Matt. 23:16, 25.” It is the most peculiar impartiality – that impartiality, namely, which tends to occur in the highest anxiety – when the interpreter, in order to explain the connection of a speech and to connect the following with the preceding, does not refer to the earlier part of the speech and prove therein the train which leads to the following, but goes back to another writer in order to look for the connecting point in this. Yes, if the reproach that we read in Matthew, that the Pharisees and scribes were blind guides, preceded the speech of the true shepherd here in the account of the fourth evangelist, then it would be something different, then there would really be a connection. But this means of violence, that one goes back to another writer, and in this writer to a quite different speech, to a different train of thought, proves in itself that there is no connection here. When the Pharisees are called blind before (9:39), it is not at all in reference to their relationship to others whom they were to lead and guide; indeed, this saying about the blind seeing does not actually refer expressly only to the Pharisees, but the pride of self-righteousness in general is punished. The self-righteous are considered in their own fate and only in relation to their guilt and punishment *). But the evangelist (as well as his interpreters, who immediately have the reproach of the leaders of the people in Matthew 23 ready in their minds) has before his eyes everything else that can only be reproached in the Pharisees, if only he writes their name; the register of guilt of these leaders of the people, which has become standing in the evangelical view, is opened to him at once, and so it is possible for him, as if the closest connection had been introduced, to speak immediately of their bad and selfish leadership of the people. The certainty of faith, with which the author thinks he has prepared the transition in the best possible way, goes so far that he begins the speech about the shepherds with the formula: “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” with a formula that only confirms what has gone before by leading it to its highest expression. But as there was no mention of the rulers as shepherds of the people, since only in the author’s view, in which the whole image of the Pharisees is present in the name, does this meaning of the rulers, as soon as their name is mentioned, come to the fore, it is clear that we do not have before us the context in which the Lord, as the true shepherd, opposed the corrupt leaders of the people.

*) Comm, II, 343.

*) What dissoluteness of thought belongs to this, when the apologist in complete impartiality devises the most opposite means of explanation. Olshausen says (Comm. II, 237): “the context of the speech is so exact here that there is no doubt at all about the unity of the speech; one need only assume a paragraph in the conversation” – i.e. with the paragraph the speech has permission to jump over to the most distant thing – “or to add a transitional formula” – but to what should it be connected? The transitional formula which the Lord uses: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, does not therefore work for the apologist? – Otherwise” – i.e. when nothing helps, when, so to speak, all the strands break – “otherwise the Pharisees, who had the pastoral profession, had given sufficient cause by their conduct to hold up to them the image of the true shepherd.” But before that there was no mention of them as shepherds, but only of them in relation to their personal blindness, which forfeited them judgment.


The talk of the shepherd is figurative, or, to put it more precisely, a simile. The evangelist rightly calls it a paromy and not a parable, for while in this the general thought is brought to view in the action of a specific individual, the parable lacks this specificity of the action, which in the beginning always reports with the appearance of its reality is, and rather the image is raised from the outset to static universality and presented as an image. So here is not how e.g. in the story of the sower, a certain incident that only becomes general at the end is reported, it is not told what a certain herd experienced through this certain good and bad shepherd, but shepherd and herd are in from the beginning pure generality.

But the depiction of the relationship between shepherd and flock is at least not lacking in contrast. The contrast between the true shepherd and the one who cannot even be called a shepherd is first understood in such a way that the shepherd enters the sheepfold freely through the door, while the other, the thief, climbs over elsewhere. Then, it is turned to the other side, that the sheep freely and willingly follow the voice of the true shepherd, while they flee from the stranger.

The Evangelist says that the Pharisees did not understand this parable. This would be somewhat believable, although only in the weakest degree, if the Lord had suddenly spoken of the true shepherd’s duty without any particular reason, as happens here. Those against whom the parable was directed would then at least not have been able to understand how the Lord came to preach such a sermon. But no man speaks in allegories and parables, and no man can speak at all – compare only the real poet or historian whom you will – without a certain situation or even a discussion having preceded, which is now to be brightened up by the parable, made completely clear or, if there was a collision in the preceding, brought into purity and conclusion. Then, however, the preceding discussion or the necessity of the situation and the figurative speech intervene in such a way that the simile, through the preceding conditions, becomes just as clear at one stroke as it itself disentangles and clarifies the entanglements that gave rise to it. Could Menenius, for instance, have fallen out of the air with his fable, did not this certain attitude of the outraged people belong to his figurative speech, and did they not immediately understand what the speech about the members of the body that had revolted against the stomach had to mean, or did they not feel immediately struck? Neither the Roman historian nor the Briton poet thinks it possible that the people did not understand the wise speaker. Truly, when the evangelists, in order to contrast the unfathomable or rather incomprehensible wisdom of the Lord with the dullness of the people and the rulers, always append to the figurative speeches of the Lord the remark that they were not understood by those to whom they were addressed, they do false honour to the wisdom of the Saviour, who spoke powerfully. The interpreter, whose eye is not yet weakened to reality, has the sacred duty to free the Lord from that ambiguous – no! from that undoubtedly false glory: he must admit that the Lord could never have presented an allegory or a parable if the occasion did not call for it, by which the image was spiritually prepared and enlightened. There is no reason why we should doubt whether the Lord used the image of the shepherd, so often used by the prophets and comprehensible to everyone, when he was zealous against the corrupt rulers of the people. But if he did so, it was on a specific occasion or in a speech which, by its nature, led to it without coercion, and if the speech was addressed to the rulers themselves, they must have known what it was aiming at with such a childlike image, apart from the fact that the context taught them that it was aimed at them.


14) The door of salvation.


But the matter would not be much improved, the difficulty would only come in from another side, if we assumed that the parable was misunderstood by the listeners and that the following speech vv. 7-16 should be the explanation. For to people who had understood nothing at all of the simile, it would now have to be repeated and interpreted precisely, step by step. This would confuse them if, in the interpretation, the simile were turned in a completely different way, every move were rearranged and changed, and instead of the pure, intelligible interpretation, a kind of simile speech were again spun. He who did not understand the first pure simile could not grasp the following speech, in which the intention to explain and the continuation and alteration of the parable intersect in a way that could only have produced the impression of the greatest confusion for the presumed weak powers of comprehension of the listeners. If, therefore, we were to believe the author’s unbelievable statement that the listeners had not understood the simplest analogy and that Jesus wanted to explain it to them in the following speech, it would seem as if the Lord could not have explained a comparison in any other way than by making the matter even more difficult and confusing for the listeners.


If neither of these things is possible, neither that measureless dullness of the hearers, that they did not understand at all what Jesus meant, nor this definite intention of the Lord to awaken such hearers to the understanding of the simile, it is by no means denied that the Lord could not have applied a simile to himself and developed it according to new points of view. Precisely this way of explaining a simile, by only changing it and putting it into new turns, is the only natural way in which the Lord could have used a simile as the subject of a greater elaboration, because the form of the simile is in itself intelligible. But it is a question whether the Evangelist has given us such an exposition of a simile.

He then, says the Lord, is the true shepherd; whereas the thief enters only to choke and destroy, he has come to bring life to the host. He is the true shepherd who knows his own and whom they know. With this explanation the similitude is simply removed again, but it receives a new twist when the Lord describes himself as the true shepherd who lays down his life for the flock, and opposes himself to the hireling who abandons the sheep in danger because they do not belong to him (vv. 10-15). So far the matter is clear.

The speech is more difficult, even to the point of incomprehensibility and confusion, when it arrives at the door of the sheepfold. The difficulty of this passage is all the greater, since it does not follow after the simple explanation and thus presupposes a prepared audience, but rather introduces the explanation itself. I am the door of the sheep, says the Lord v. 7.

If the commentators still argue about whether the door that leads to the sheep or through which the sheep go in and out is meant, whether the Lord wants to speak of the necessary behaviour of the shepherds or of the sheep: the hearers cannot know where they stand, indeed, they themselves must be more uncertain, because they could only keep to the fleeting word and its momentary impression, whereas the later interpreter can calmly contemplate the written word and ponder over it as long as he likes and until he has calmed down. The Lord explains even more clearly in v. 9 what he means when he calls himself the door, namely, whoever enters through him gains salvation, goes in and out and finds pasture. Well? Are the commentators still of different opinions here, are they still arguing about the meaning? Yes, they do! But what is not possible for the expositors if they do not find the tracks they expect! Because in the preceding simile – the theme – the shepherds are the next object of consideration, they must also be so here, according to the interpreters, because they expect it to be so. According to Lücke *) they are spoken of both times (v. 7 and 9) and according to de Wette, who in the latter saying lets the speech refer to the sheep, at least in the former saying **). The change that de Wette assumes is inadmissible, for the second saying (v. 9) is too obviously the explanation of the shorter first saying (v. 7), since the words “I am the door” are taken up again and the Lord only says in what sense he is the door. But for whom he is the door is also clear to the unbiased eye. For salvation is spoken of, which he who enters and leaves through the door would find.

*) Comm. Il, 346, 350.

**) Briefly. Explanation of Eo. Joh. p. 127, 128.


However, in the passage that precedes it, the salvation of the shepherds is not mentioned, but rather the care of the sheep. To go in and out and to find pasture only makes sense if it is understood of the sheep, for only he can go in and out who, when he goes out, runs towards the pasture, just as, when he goes in, he remains in the fold and stays there quietly, which cannot be said of the shepherd. Finally, the door of the sheep can never be the door that leads the shepherd into the sheepfold, otherwise it would have to be called “the door of the shepherds” in contrast to the sneaking ways or the violent breaking in of the thief. So the Lord calls himself the door through which the sheep enter to rest and go out to pasture.

But how does he suddenly come up with this image? It can only be understood through a contrast, which would either have to be a false entrance to the stable, or the entrance to another potentially dangerous stable, or the idea must be that there is only one entrance to the stable, namely the entrance that the Lord mediates. However, no such contrast is indicated, not even so much as the Lord designating himself as the only entrance to the stable through a small turn of phrase or emphasis. Even in the transition from the theme to the explanation, the contrast is not given, and in the theme itself, it is not even hinted at or prepared for in the slightest. The image of the door enters the discourse from nowhere, neither the listeners could understand it nor could anyone remember it for later times and contemplation, but least of all could it introduce the explanation of the preceding theme, as at this point, it was above all important to connect to the misunderstood theme as precisely and clearly as possible. With section V. 10-15, it is entirely different: although the image is introduced in a new turn, the theme remains the foundation, and the parable is actually explained as the Lord applies it to himself with a clear elaboration of the contrast. None of this is found in the image of the door.


And do the interpreters easily overlook all these not insignificant difficulties? Not so! They feel the stumbling block; Lücke, for instance, senses the danger into which the context falls when the Lord calls himself the door through which the sheep go in and out for their salvation; but instead of getting to the bottom of the difficulty, seeking out its origin, or even making it clearly apparent – they smother it by force. The Evangelist is said to have once given us the speech in the most beautiful context, so that even in the picture of the door the shepherds remain the next object of contemplation, yes, the “delicacy” with which the Lord Himself had elaborated the theme, the beautiful painting as it had come from the hand of the Lord, one wants to admire, and what does one do, overflowing with the feeling of this anxious admiration? One drags the words to the ordeal and does not rest until they mean the opposite of themselves.

It is a nobler and more respectful attitude towards the evangelist’s report if we take it to task in its pure idiosyncrasy: we then at least respect it as the word of a man who knew how to say what he wanted to say, and we free the author from the state of immaturity in which the apologists hold him back. If we run into difficulties in this open and uniquely masculine procedure, we at least know them, we know in every case where we have to look further, and instead of giving the Lord’s speech the deceptive appearance of false subtlety, we can rather free it from this appearance, which can only hold its own before the stupid eye of apologetics, but not before serious contemplation, and restore it to its original purity and simplicity. How clearly does the Lord speak otherwise, how purely kept and determined by the contrast is, e.g. Matt. 7:13-14, the picture of the narrow gate that leads to life! It is impossible that the Lord, at this very moment when He speaks of the true and the bad shepherd and carries out this image through all possible twists and turns, should have suddenly and so casually, without preparing and motivating the total reversal of the image – for it cannot be called a new twist – made the door the centre of the image. The contrast of the shepherds had to remain the centre in the theme as well as in the execution and expansion. It is possible that the Lord once called himself the door in another context, starting from the image of the sheepfold, and indeed the only door leading to it. But it is much more certain that the description of the Lord as the only door that leads to life and salvation was given to the evangelist, and that it was only he who was moved by the outward appearance of the world (v. 2) – namely, that the sheepfolds, among others, also have doors – to insert this image into the present context and to rework it according to it.


15) The robbers who came earlier.


The evangelist himself was partly to blame – although this does not excuse them – when his interpreters did not relate the image of the door to the sheep, but to the shepherd. Between the simple statement of the Lord that he is the door of the sheep (v. 7) and the explanation (v. 9) of how he is, the evangelist inserts a saying that refers to the behaviour of the shepherds and makes them the main object of attention, while before and after it is spoken of the weal and woe of the sheep. When an interjection is inserted into such a clearly coloured environment, it is the cheapest expectation that it would be inserted in a way that would not be too glaringly different from the colour of the environment. If Jesus calls himself the only and true door of the sheep, then the false shepherds, if they are to be spoken of, would have to be called the door that leads to death and is the entrance to death. On the other hand, the saying completely abandons the image of the door; indeed, it does not pass over into a merely different, but still similar image, but leaves the figurative mode of speech and turns to the prosaic reflection on time, “All, says the Lord, who came before me are thieves and robbers.


“Before me”: when this is combined with the form of the verb that indicates the past, it can mean nothing else but “before my arrival”. Lücke admits this reference to the past, acknowledging that the other explanations, which are only possible through the terrible torture of interpreters who feel the difficulty of the passage but do not accept it, are incorrect. Nevertheless, even he cannot freely face the difficulty; he must at all costs glue it together, i.e. destroy the relation to the past again or reduce it to a semblance. But what is impossible remains impossible, and “those who came before me” remain those who came before the coming of the Lord, who came before he came. Lücke says that the Lord “means the false teachers and leaders of the people in his time, especially the Pharisees, who before him, as it were (!) before he could find entrance, had imposed themselves on the people as the true shepherds.” So the interpreter only needs to conjure up a “as it were” to twist the clearest words of Scripture, so “before me” does not actually mean “before me” but “in my time,” so before me means everything else that the apologist just wants, just not “before me.”


God! is this why you gave the Scriptures to the world, so that people might learn to turn yes into no, and brand as irreligious those who cannot admire their jugglery?

If, after the report, the Lord adds: “All those who came before me,” it is clear enough that he wants to go further back into the past before his coming and call all of them thieves and robbers. For his derision of the form of the past – ηλθον – Lücke *) indeed invokes the present tense εισεν – they are robbers, but he would probably not have seized this support, which is not fragile but already broken from the outset, if he had considered that a judgment, even if it is pronounced on persons of the past, can be pronounced in the form of the present tense. “To all who came before me” is the subject of the sentence, the explanatory relative clause: “who came before me” is intended to indicate that the subject belongs to the past, to the time before the coming of the Lord, the copula – “are” – indicates the eternal validity of the sentence.

*) Comm. II, 349, 350.

Because of the incorrect position of the saying about the robbers before the time of the Lord, however, we could still be satisfied, if only it were clear what the evangelist had in mind among these men of violence. The expression “all” lays claim to comprehensive generality; if, therefore, the Manichaeans understood by these all the prophets of the OT, this is in itself no more incorrect than when moderns, like Lücke, think of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus, and it is only to be wondered at if one does not include a great many other people in the number of those all. But this expression is not so vague. Just consider the context: it is the Lord who speaks of those who came before him, who came before he came, so he can only mean those who appeared before him with the claims with which he alone was allowed to appear. He is the Messiah; those who appeared before him as if they were allowed to take his place, as if they were he himself, are false Messiahs.


There were rebels against the Roman authorities before and after the appearance of Jesus. Judas of Galilee and Theudas did not want to be recognised as Messiah, says Lücke*). How could they have been even remotely associated with the Lord, (Acts 5:36-37.) if they had not at least appeared to others as such, who, like the Lord, had demanded the recognition of their divine mission. If Gamaliel could have brought them into this connection with the Lord, so it was also possible for the evangelist. But it is known of Theudas that he only appeared a long time after the Lord. Now, if the author of the Acts of the Apostles lets Gamaliel speak of a far later person as of one who had long since become historical, the evangelist could also let the Lord speak of pseudo-Messianic attempts, which only later stirred up their most dangerous power, as of those which already lay in the past. There is no longer any doubt: in the present saying we have a view of the evangelist which, according to his custom, he regards as a view of the Lord.

*) ibid. p. 348.


If, by the way, one says, as Lücke does, “it cannot be proved at all that there were pseudo-messiahs before Christ,” and also doubts whether those who rebelled against the Roman authorities ascribed to themselves messianic significance, it would be incomprehensible how the Lord could warn so earnestly and urgently against false saviours (Matt. 21:21). This warning cannot be understood as pure prophecy, for prophecy, as well as the possibility of its understanding, presupposes the experience of its real substrate. Or if this warning prophecy came into being only after the real experience, and was only traced back to the Lord, then the time after Christ must not have been entirely lacking in pseudo-Messianic undertakings. In both cases our evangelist could let the Lord speak as he does in this saying: either he brought a reminiscence to a wrong place or his later view was transformed into a view of the Lord.

It is worth a little trouble to point out how strange it sounds in a Gospel that otherwise, in general reflections, only knows how to accuse the world’s insensitivity and unbelief when it praises the prudence and obedience of the flocks. Otherwise, the evangelist always complains that the world did not want to receive the divine light, but now (v. 8) he praises the host for not following the temptations of the false saviours, but for remaining faithful to the true shepherd. But only the preceding parable of the flock that does not follow the stranger (v. 5) led him to this contradiction.


16) The original form of the parable of the shepherd.

Even if we separate the parable of the door, which does not fit into the context, and the saying about the robbers who appeared before the true Saviour, from the rest of the speech and restore the context of what precedes and follows, it is still difficult to think that the evangelist reproduces the parable of the shepherd in every detail exactly as it was in the mouth of the Lord. The ease with which we overlook what has been written, what has become familiar to us from childhood, and what has been read over and over again innumerable times, must not lead us to the erroneous idea that the Evangelist, even if he himself had heard it, had always and even for the late period in which he wrote it down, had in his memory, as it were, mechanically imprinted. The part that the reproduction has in the representation, however, is not yet determined to its full extent, if we were only to admit, in an indefinite way, that the features in the evangelist’s representation may only be intertwined and grouped differently than was the case in the Lord’s recital. On the contrary, it is unlikely that the Lord would have extended an image so widely, for this way of speaking, which could continue into infinity and always find new relationships between the image and the thing, contradicts the plastic power with which the Lord otherwise forms the images into a whole and gives them the character of the accurate. If the Lord speaks figuratively, the simile is short, condensed into a single sentence, or if he elaborates the image according to its richer relations, it becomes a parable. The expansion of the picture, without its being set into definite action, is sluggish and monotonous, the individual features lack the bond that holds them together into living unity, and the overview, the impression, and the ability to live on in the memory are lost. If, therefore, the Lord has really once executed the image of the shepherd according to various relations, he has not done it in the form of a simile/allegory, but has perfected the image into a parable *) and the evangelist has extended the vivid and self-contained whole of the parable according to his reflective manner into the dragging length of the simile/allegory.

*) Which also Weisse, evang, Gesch, II, 255, probably finds.


17) One shepherd and one flock.


After the Lord has said that He laid down His life for the sheep, He goes on to say in v. 16 that there are other sheep which are not of this fold, and that He must lead them also, that they will obey His voice, and that there will be One Shepherd and One Flock. That the Lord speaks of the Gentiles and of their entrance into the Kingdom of God needs no proof. It is equally clear from the context that this admission of the nations into the fold of the One Shepherd is made dependent on the sacrificial death of the Saviour. For shortly before, the Lord speaks of laying down His life, and immediately afterwards He speaks of the Father’s love, which He would receive for His sacrifice. The evangelist’s view is clear to us.

But only for us who, like the evangelist and his first readers, completely overlook the revelation of the divine counsel and the development of the work of salvation. He only needs to indicate the outermost points to us, so that we immediately know where we stand; indeed, he can even let the speech change so suddenly in the form of the transitions that he may presuppose as known the very same thing that he had only just wanted to develop, and draw conclusions from the presupposition of this known connection. We can still understand him if need be. Who, however, will be so presumptuous, when he has come to understand this form of exposition and especially the transitions, as to blame the Lord for not having wanted to instruct the people about the mystery of the divine counsel, and rather for having wanted to mystify them on purpose, and that the Lord’s hearers should always have been able to take nothing else from his sayings than the conclusion that he was possessed? (V. 20.)


In accordance with his custom, the evangelist does indeed cause a division among the people after the conclusion of this speech; some say that such words are not those of a man possessed, for – everyone will certainly expect that the people would prove the opposite from the content of these words, from the blessing of their impression, but he does not allow himself to be drawn into this, but only says – an evil spirit cannot open the eyes of the blind. Even if not much time had elapsed in the natural sense after that healing of the blind man, it had nevertheless happened in that spiritual sense which is conditioned by the greatness and importance of the following event. This battle, delivered in the figurative speech of the shepherd to the corrupt authorities of the people, this speech of the sacrificial death of the Messiah and of the extension of the kingdom of God: these are deeds which must have attracted attention in the highest degree. If the people had been divided about these deeds, those who were more favourably disposed would not have been able to refer only to the healing of the blind man. But the evangelist could and wanted to bring in this reflection here in order to connect the conclusion with the starting point and thus give the account the appearance of a coherent whole.


For the section of the discourse, as far as it refers to the sacrificial death of the Lord and the admission of the nations into the kingdom of God, the way in which it is introduced already does not arouse any favourable prejudice. He as the good shepherd, says the Lord, knows his own and is known by them. As the Father knows him, so he knows the Father, and he lays down his life for the sheep (v. 14, 15). But what is the purpose of the idea of the mutual relationship of the Father and the Son, here in a context that is interrupted by this interjection without any reason? Again, only the evangelist could have had a reason for this interjection, for he was already thinking of what follows the Lord’s voluntary sacrifice, namely, that authority to take back life of which the Lord, because he knows the Father, is certain; he, the evangelist, came to this interjection because the word “recognise” [=Erkennen] led him to it. If the Lord wanted to refer to his intimate relationship with the Father, it would only have been the right place to do so when he had already spoken of his sacrifice and wanted to make the transition to the thought that he would regain his life.

That the evangelist regards the Lord’s death as a sacrificial death is already evident from his view of the typical meaning of the Passover lamb. He also has this sacrificial death in mind here when the Lord says that he gives his life for the sheep, and he wants his readers to understand the Lord’s saying in the same sense. But only the readers who were already firmly established in the circle of the Christian view were able to carry this developed sense into this saying; the people to whom the Lord was speaking were not. For here, in connection with the image of the faithful shepherd, the death suffered for the flock is only figuratively a sacrificial death and nothing more than the final proof of the steadfastness and endurance with which the shepherd remains faithful to his duty even in the most extreme dangers.


The connection of Jesus’ sacrificial death with the calling of the Gentiles is also presupposed as absolutely known, and only on this presupposition could the evangelist pass from the idea of the sacrifice of the faithful shepherd to the saying of the one host, in which the Gentiles are also excluded, without anything more valuable, without any mediation.

But how the presupposition of the known connection blurs with the other presupposition, that the Lord opens up a mystery hitherto unknown to the people, when he says in v. 17: “therefore the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take possession of it again.” It is not to be wondered at if the interpreters, who here assume an intelligible development, get it wrong in the context, or rather only confirm it by their explanation, that all intelligible context has ceased here. As soon as we hear the word “because of this”, we immediately think of what has gone before, that the Lord lays down his life and thereby opens the entrance to the kingdom of God for the nations. But this retrospective immediately takes on a limited direction when it only says: because I lay down my life. The reception of the nations is no longer thought of and de Wette *) would therefore be right to say that the saying v. 16 about the one host is only a “secondary thought”. But how could the Lord throw down this great thought only in passing? Whoever declares it to be an incidental thought is saying, against his will, that the evangelist has inserted this thought without strict mediation, because he could take it for granted that it was known to his readers. Well, let it be so that the transitional formula “therefore” refers only to the giving of life, as the evangelist at least expressly states. We want to follow the author in this abbreviated expression, but we must not give up the fact that the thought of the calling of the nations is involuntarily drawn into this thought of sacrifice because of the well-known connection. But if only the consequence of the fatherly love, which is certain for your son because of his voluntary sacrifice, were clearly and intelligibly stated, namely with that clarity which is otherwise peculiar to the language of the Lord. This consequence of deserved fatherly love cannot, according to the structure of the sentence, lie in the words, “that I may take life again,” for these are only intended to indicate the purpose connected with the sacrifice of life. And yet the consequence of fatherly love must be given in these words, for beforehand the Lord described the extreme point of the work of salvation to be accomplished by Him, and as soon as one hears the formula: “therefore”, one expects the consequence which the supreme sacrifice must have for Himself, and afterwards (v. 18) the authority to take possession of His life again is spoken of in such a way as if it had been previously founded in divine love. This justification should have been given in v. 17 and the Lord should have said that because I lay down my life for such a great purpose, the Father loves me so much that he has given me the authority to take back my life from death. The evangelist also wanted to say this, but in giving this opening, he fell out of the situation into his presupposition that the content of this opening was known to the readers in general. The critic, who has been enlightened as to the confusion of the situation with the later position of the congregation, is painfully run through by this cutting discord, and is dragged in opposite directions: he sees that the opening is to be given of the necessary consequence of divine love, which would be acquired through the sacrifice of the Lord, and is surprised that instead of the opening there follows a reflective reference to what is known.

*) K. E. d. E. J. p. 130.


This contradiction only loses its tormenting impression when we get to the bottom of it and do not shy away from the confession that this talk of the sacrificial death of the Lord, of the purification of the host of believers caused by it, of the fatherly love which the Lord earned through both and finally of the divine reward, namely the Lord’s authority to take his life again, is the work of later reflection. It is the meditative contemplation that seeks the connection and the inner purpose in what is known and experienced and only gets into that broken attitude because it cannot deny the relationship to what is known, while it is supposed to appear as the Lord’s speech and as the opening of that which until then had been hidden from the people.



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