§ 17. Concluding remark

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 17. Concluding remark.

We can now bear it with a calm conscience, since we can easily show the refutation in our work, if the apologist, instead of grasping the possibility of criticism, in holy zeal reviles the critic, insults him, and brands him in the eyes of those to whom the feeling of holy disgust is more accessible than the effort of comprehension. But by taking these vituperations calmly upon us, the apologist must not blame us if we also once more overlook his last general arguments, and by criticizing them finally prepare the solution of the question as to the author of the fourth Gospel.

“One is not mistaken, says Hemsen *), if one thinks that the main reason for these different judgments can be found partly in the nature and character of the Gospel and partly in the individuality of each critic. For the critic has a “narrow and common view” **) and not everyone can grasp the “love” of the fourth gospel like the Christian apologist. As we said, we think that our work speaks loud enough that we cannot remain silent on the accusation of meanness. We can also listen to it with all peace of mind. We can also hear with all composure when Lücke exclaims in moral zeal ***): “it takes a great eccentricity and partiality of heart and mind to misjudge the peculiar charm of the Johannine Gospel.”

*) The Authenticity of the Writings of John the Evangelist p. 117.

**) Ibid. p. 194.

***) Comm. I, 113.


The critical free view has the prejudice against itself that it must misjudge the essence of the gospel: but we refer to our work and only ask: who recognizes the innermost determination of the fourth gospel and who misjudges, screws and twists it, the critic or the apologist? Finally, we are not frightened by the religious hyperbole, when Τholuck zealously says *): “the sanctuary of religious feelings had to be touched in the most disdainful way”, as soon as the critics wanted to look at the fourth gospel with unbiased freedom. The critic has become accustomed to religious condemnation, moral suspicion and civil proscription, he will perhaps become even more so, and he must only regret the point of view for which the free investigation of the truth and the restoration of the true view of the person of the Savior has become an irreligious outrage.

*) The Credibility of Evangelical History 1837, p. 271.

But let us only weigh the condemnation over which the love of truth raises us too surely, and let us rather consider in those apologetic turns what is still worthy of consideration at all.

Thus the “depth” of the fourth gospel is, as Hemsen thinks, what must be closed to the critic. We hope, however, that the philosophically educated critic will no longer be reproached for this; on the contrary, we think that it should be credited to him as cautious abstinence if he refrains from hearing speculative determinations confirmed by the mouth of the Lord. What of really deep determinations is contained in the fourth Gospel is probably recognized by no one more and more unrestrictedly than by the critic as the archetype of the entire ecclesiastical speculative theory, and the only question at issue is whether the Lord has always allegorized and speculated only about his person – a question, therefore, from which the critic must always answer only with the most decided “No!” as long as the immediate certainty and certainty of Jesus’ self-consciousness is of value to him.


“The fact that John *) sometimes becomes obscure cannot be remarkable, since he endeavored to present to his readers the divine in Christ **).” As if the divine in the Redeemer could only be represented darkly! But it does not even occur to the true critics to accuse the fourth gospel of obscurity. The sayings of this gospel are in themselves very understandable, they are not more incomprehensible than any simple abstraction like unity, spirit, flesh, light, darkness, above, below. Criticism claims only that the Lord could not always speak only in abstraction and could not bring the infinite content of his self-consciousness merely to abstract expression. Also in the Synoptics the Lord speaks of his person and of the divine of it, but how clearly, strikingly, determinedly and how removed from all abstract attitude he did it by presenting his person as the living center of a living, historical and all times encompassing world! The ambiguity of the Lord’s discourses in the fourth Gospel lies only in the fact that the most abstract determinations are heaped together without receiving their proper and natural mediation, that the form of the later reflecting spirit is confused with the standpoint of Jesus, that both presuppositions, namely that the Lord speaks and the presupposition of the later standpoint of the congregation, become confused. The reasonable conclusions (ουν), the theological consideration (ενα) and the antitheses and contrasts (αλλα), which all have a given, generally known content as their premise, inappropriately cross the premise that the Lord unlocks heavenly mysteries, and this and only this confusion produces the appearance of darkness or rather of obscurity.

*) Incidentally! Why doesn’t the apologist say: Christ? This substitution of the subject, which is so often found in apologetic commentaries and treatises, is in itself an inconsistency, but a proof of how much criticism has penetrated even into the flesh of its sworn enemies. It is only bad that the apologist is so sure about this stake in the flesh, does not feel it and cannot think about it.

**) Hemsen ibid. p. 127.


” A spirit that exercised its power not only over the simply practical natures, but also over the deeply searching speculative Paul, must have originally scattered elements that were related to such a direction *)”.

*) Thus Neander, das Leben Jesu Christi, (1837.) p. 208.

Yes, the elements, i.e. the general content, were essentially speculative and had to stimulate the deepest spirits to development, but this content, which Jesus would bring into the world of consciousness, was not presented by him in the abstract form which the fourth gospel gave him. Criticism, therefore, cannot be condemned by that appeal to the speculative nature of the Christian elements.

“Something purely metaphysical, Neander continues, does not occur in John, but here too everything has its practical relation to the inner life, the divine community of life to be established through Christ **).”

**) Ibid. p. 209.

Of course! Because the fourth evangelist would bring the content of Christian consciousness to an abstract form, he could not ignore the relation to self-consciousness, to the inner life and to Christ, because of the nature of the subject. But does criticism have to claim that the fourth evangelist wrote only a metaphysics of understanding, does it really claim that? To be sure, the apologist must attribute a meaningless assertion to his opponent if he wants to gain even a momentary and apparent success against him.


About the personal character of the fourth evangelist, as far as it can be seen from his writing, the apologists are very divided. Tholuck *) sentimentally exclaims: “that sensual and intimate, gentle and mild man!” Lücke thinks **), “the gentleness and tenderness, which one is accustomed to praise in him, without being able to prove any particular traits of it, lay more in the general principle of Christian love, which he had grasped with special depth and truth, than in his individual temperament. It was rather fierce and angry.” And did he deny this vehemence in his so “thoroughly individual ***)” representation of Christ? Neander says: “Not a gentle and soft love, but a love that grasped and held on to the object it was directed at with all its strength, and thus abruptly repelled everything that dared to revile this object or to interfere with its possession, that was the predominant thing in his mind ****) “. Neander thinks that this original disposition of John was later “transfigured” in the service of the gospel, so he also assumes that it could no longer emerge in the evangelical writing of the same, but since he himself says that the influence of the Holy Spirit could not have torn the apostle out of his earlier idiosyncrasy *), he will not impute it to others as a crime if they find this oxymoron of harsh love in the gospel itself. It is true that he, like Lücke, denies that the “gentle, soft, mild” which, for example, Tholuck praises in the fourth evangelist, was preferably peculiar to him; but the style of the gospel, the blurred transitions, the matte in the connection of sentences and thoughts, the tautologies that revolve around themselves, the complaint about the insensitivity of the world – if in all this there is not the sign of softness, in what else should it betray itself? Admittedly, we must not, like Tholuck, consider the fourth evangelist to be only a mild, gentle man, nor, like Lücke, describe his character only as a violent one, nor, like Neander, deny him soft gentleness, as if it were incompatible with ruggedly repulsive love: but this ruggedness and that softness and gentleness of spirit are essentially related, the latter is the complement of the former, indeed, both are a whole, are one and the same. The rugged violence is the only weapon with which the gentle character can preserve itself and its own, and it is characteristic of the soft character to go out strictly against the opposition, while the strong, masculine character not only holds on to its content with all its strength, but penetrates it down to the individual and definite and no longer behaves only repulsively toward the opposition, but calmly and surely dissolves it. The manly, strong character never loses his calm and patience in the struggle, he does not threaten from beginning to end, but he works – look at the apostle Paul – he certainly labors with the enemy power in the most detailed and determined way and one can be sure that his polemic never overshoots its target, but hits it. But precisely that softness with which the fourth evangelist complains about the resistance of the world and now feels driven to salvation with all the more touched love, precisely this elegiac mildness is at the same time the greatest harshness. For now he presents the matter so hyperbolically, with such an overflowing polemic, that he always says: No one received the Savior, now the historical ground of the Lord has become an abstract contrast for him, the Jews appear as an utterly rejected, hostile mass, accessible only to murderous thoughts, which no longer knows how to understand anything, not even the clearest, simplest word of the Lord, and for which only the thunder of judgment is kept at last, when nothing more can be done with it. Contrasts and nothing but contrasts, opposites and antitheses are the element in which this gentle gruffness, this gruff mildness, this hard softness can move.

*) Glaudw. etc. p. 294.

**) Comm. I, 13.

***) Ibid. p. 67,

****) History of planting -c. p. 317.

*) History of planting etc, p. 324.


It was a correct understanding of this character, when the ecclesiastical view in the first times, when it became acquainted with the fourth gospel, drew that picture of the author, which is already found in Irenaeus *): when John went to Ephesus into a bathhouse, but saw that also Cerinthus, the heretic, was in it, he immediately rushed out full of disgust and said, he must fear that the house would collapse over the enemy of truth. One will also find that the softest characters in church history were the harshest and hardest, if only one does not confuse harshness and brusqueness with a comprehensive struggle that penetrates the individual and the specific. It may be that the fourth evangelist meant to fight certain opposites when he wrote his scripture, but he himself did not bring these opposites to a definite conception and always has to do only with the general opposition of unbelief and misunderstanding in general. Our time, as far as it is devoted to apologetics, bears the same character of soft indeterminacy and hardness; no apologist has been able to bring it to a definite conception of the opponent, and he always creates for himself only in the image of unbelief and unchristianity or of the Antichrist a self-made opponent, not to be found in reality, over whom he now all the more impudently summons the thunder of worldly and heavenly judgment. Of course – it goes without saying – this newer unclear and indefinite apologetics and polemics is only the brusque softness, the impotent *) power of the dying, while the polemical apologetics of the fourth evangelist had caught the creative power of a new world and had created the basis of an essential view of the church.

*) advers. haer. III, 3

*) although in the secular for the moment still quite palpable.


If the matter were thus settled on both sides, when the apologists speak of a “not insignificant influence of the apostle’s subjectivity on the presentation of the speeches in his Gospel” **) or of a “reflex of the Johannine language and way of thinking” ***) in the speeches of the Gospel and then speak to each other of the “faithfulness and credibility in essence and in spirit ****)”: then the matter would be very easy and would not need the effort and care that criticism devotes to it.

**) Lücke, Comm. I, 201.

***) Ibid. p. 103.

****) Ibid. p. 201.


But it is something else when the matter is taken seriously, when the influence of the author’s subjectivity is traced in detail, i.e., when what the apologists only speak of, what they only speak of before the explanation of the work and what they completely forget when they explain the gospel itself, happens in reality. If they then remembered their concessions, with which they were so liberal before, if they sought out the influence of the author’s subjectivity on his representation, if they really took hold of the “hand” that the evangelist “has everywhere – as they say, at least – in the longer and more difficult speeches between them *)” and if they only determined more closely in what “the individuality of the representation **)” is expressed in the fourth gospel: then they would see how nothing at all is said with vague words like “faithfulness in substance and in spirit. For in fact, one could then no longer call the “Johannine Gospel absolutely individual in its conception and presentation of Christ” and yet still claim that the agreement with the Synoptic Gospels “in all essentials is unmistakable, so that what is different and peculiar appears only as a supplement, even as a correction ***). The idiosyncrasy, which is supposed to “absolutely” determine the fourth Gospel, to permeate the conception and presentation of Christ throughout, itself forms an essential point, turns into content like form in general – the criticism proves it in detail – and the agreement in the essentials now rather becomes a significant contradiction, at least as we have learned.

*) loc. cit. ibid.

**) Ibid. p. 108.

***) Ibid. p. 67.

As soon as the reflective standpoint of the fourth Evangelist has betrayed itself and the individuality of the presentation is also recognized as a continuous one, we are not sure, even with so-called smaller speeches, whether the “author” did not have his hand in them as well, and we have actually found his hand in them too, since they differ from the larger ones in nothing but their extent. For some point of view we would be speaking incomprehensibly if we said the historical material according to its formation, arrangement, grouping and even development is intrinsically connected with the discourses and, if these are reflections, are no less shaped and originated by the author’s reflection. We shall therefore content ourselves with referring to the critical and experientially mediated proof which we have provided above, and merely reminding us that we have not found an atom that would have eluded the work of reflection of the fourth evangelist.


And yet would the fourth ” be regarded as a canon of the first three Gospels?” *) Not for all eternity! In the synoptic gospels the reflection was not absent either, but in the speeches themselves, it was the most abstinent and far from the idea that “we have subjective relations of the speeches of Jesus, only different and from a more distant and lower standpoint **)”, rather the subjective of the means through which they passed was mostly eliminated since they passed through the general spirit of the community. The synoptic relations of the speeches of the Lord stand higher, if we look at the free infinity of the content, the speeches in the fourth gospel stand lower, in so far as they have descended into the entanglements of reflection.

*) As Lücke thinks, Comm. I, 108.

**) Ibid. p. 103.


The fourth gospel brings Lücke together with the weakest point of the synoptics, especially of Matthew, when he says *): “the three first gospels contain no fewer samples of the faithful, partly literal retention of longer speeches of Jesus”. These supposedly longer speeches are, after all, only mechanical accumulations of particular pieces of speech, but even in this, their weakest point, the Synoptics still triumph, since they have preserved the individual pieces at least in their original independence, while the fourth evangelist has substantially changed and edited the basic materials.

*) Ibid. p. 103.

To remind us of one such change! That does not apply to us or any critic when Lücke says, “Whoever completely misses the naive, simple, parabolic, and gnomic in John, must not have read it attentively**).” Who would react so strongly! And now, mixing such different things, from the naive and gnomic! As far as we know, no critic has claimed that the figurative language – because that is what the apologist can only mean – is completely absent in the fourth Gospel, but it has been found that the discourse of parables does not continue here until the completion of the parable, of which the Lord was such a master according to the synoptic accounts. And with this finding, it will remain so forever. Of course, when Lücke says, “entire speeches in the fourth Gospel move in figurative, parabolic language,” he proves that he does not understand what the criticism means. A speech can be figurative without being held in a parabolic manner. On the other hand – one can hear the Talmudic rabbis – a saying can be gnomic without being naive “in an artistic sense of being simple. The parable of the shepherd, as given in the fourth Gospel, is neither simple nor naive nor a parable, but a simile that is extended too far, kept unclear and finally sometimes very nakedly traversed by the reflection that shaped the whole. The speech about living water or bread of life, as Lücke thinks, is also not parabolic but rather simile speeches that are also accompanied by a very painful prosaic contrast and, like the latter, spin on from it.

**) Ibid. p. 100.


If the reflection of the fourth evangelist is already active in the smallest homonymous speech, it is no more proof against the free composition of the speeches that “John does not intersperse longer speeches more often *)”, one would have to think that someone had not been absent at all, if he had not been absent quite often or not always, as soon as there was opportunity.

*) Ibid. p 199.

The apologist finally believes to have a great support for the credibility of the fourth gospel in the ecclesiastical tradition, according to which John almost or really lived into the second century, thus was Jesus’ companion in his younger years. For “the impressions of youth are the most lasting **)”. We do not want to deny or assert the Johannine origin of the Gospel, but this much is certain, the impressions of the youth, although the most vivid, are the most uncertain. They are vivid only in the sense that the youthful spirit moves in vibrations which are boundless outwardly and extend into the innermost, but do not yet encounter a firmly formed world, so that all impressions which fall into this boundless, infinite sea now find the widest scope. But for the very reason that individuality is neither completed nor has gained a firm, inner core, impressions also blur and merge with the indeterminacy of the spirit. Only the finished man, who is something and for whom an objective world exists, knows how to preserve the impression of an appearance purely and to reproduce it as such in a clear, plastic form. The vividness of youthful impressions is actually based only on the infinite indeterminacy; therefore, if we leave youth this kind of lively excitement, we must first ascribe the thorough receptivity to the man, because he is at the same time the most active and the independent is more deeply seized and overwhelmed by the independent and by the shaped infinity.

**Ibid. p. 195.


Tholuck attempted again to step out of the vagueness of the usual apologetics and to give the diversity of the evangelical presentations an objective point of support and agreement. But the way in which he poses the question and looks at his opponent—Criticism—does not promise his attempt any particular success and only proves that he, too, had to pay the unavoidable tribute to apologetics. For the view of criticism he holds that it is “precisely another Christ, that of the fourth Gospel and that of the first three – an Alexandrian mystic the former, a Palestinian rabbi the latter *)”. Can the apologist, then, never conceive his opposition correctly? Does not criticism say that the former Christ is the Saviour in the reflection of a later church member as such, and the latter the Lord in the finitude of his historical self-consciousness? The contrast is also not that of the “manufactured and unpopular” and the “natural and popular,” but it is the contrast of the limitedness created by the reflection and the original infinity. The fourth gospel, too, is no stranger to a kind of infinity/universality, but it is the infinity of reflection, which is always at the same time finite, since it needs the opposition for its support. Only in the Synoptics is the infinity/universality of Christ the true one, i.e., the one that carries and holds itself with certainty and does not first need to be reflected in limited opposites in order to grasp itself.

*) Glaubw. etc., p. 312.


Tholuck admits a difference of the evangelical representations – how he thinks of it in a more definite way, we will soon see – but, he asks *), “does not already the richness of Christ give a sufficient explanation for this difference?” Certainly, if there were a tenable difference, which is not the case and had to be examined first before all other questions. The infinite richness reproduced by the Synoptics testifies against the narrowness of the representation in the fourth gospel, for as soon as the individual is examined in detail in the fourth gospel, it dissolves itself, just as it breaks down against the power of the Synoptic figure.

*) Ibid. p. 317.

Tholuck further refers to the “wealth” of Socrates, to which antiquity traced back ten schools **). But first of all we are dealing with biographical works, which those ten schools did not devote to the master Socrates. The real schools that formed after him did not want to reproduce Socrates’ system either, but through their studies they knew quite well that they developed earlier principles like the eleatic, atomistic, pythagorean, that of Anaxagoras in a more comprehensive self-consciousness and that they had not inherited a system as such from Socrates. The inner richness and real definite content of these schools therefore did not come to them from Socrates, but they took it from the treasure of the entire previous development of the Greek spirit, and that several directions, which took their starting point from Socrates, diverge so easily, was purely and solely due to the indefiniteness and lack of content of the Socratic principle. What does it mean, if the evangelists as historians of Jesus are put together with Plato and Aristotle, in so far as they “drew the basis of their views” from Socrates? Aristotle is, after all, infinitely far from giving his philosophy as that of Socrates, and when Plato in his dialogues lets the son of Sophroniskos develop the deepest dialectical principles or the most difficult positive determinations, he does not mean to say that Socrates taught in this way, any more than Sophocles meant to say that Oedipus spoke exactly as he portrays him speaking. In fact, if this sober and bland fidelity could be discussed further, Sophocles could more easily claim to be in agreement with history, as he portrayed a character with this specific content, in this specific conflict, while Plato knew that he was describing Socrates in situations and with a content that were completely foreign to him.

**) Ibid. p. 319.


So, what is the purpose of these equations of value, since the evangelists wanted to represent this certain historical personality as such, that is, not only to develop views whose basis they would have drawn from their master?

It seems to be more related to the matter when Tholuck *) comes to speak about Leibnitz and exclaims: “where will one find the biographer who represented the whole man? He has not yet stood up for Leibnitz! But appearance remains appearance, i.e. remains the appearance, which is what apologetics always comes to nowadays. Should the evangelists remain in the dark, into which this whole speech ends, and wait with their quarrels until that which is the only important thing here can be demonstrated, namely until different and yet apt descriptions of Leibnitz’s personality have been written?

*) Ibid p. 322.


But the synoptics can be dismissed sooner. “No, it does not belong here at all, because the Synoptics are by no means such people, to whom one side of the historical personality of the Lord was absolutely closed, but they give us just the whole glory of this personality. Anyway, here is not even a field for literary parallels – not only because, as Tholuck thinks, next to Wolf no Leibnitzian Johannes stood up or “in so far Wolf always used the Leibnitzian expressions for those truths whose innermost sense was not open to him *)” – but therefore here is no opportunity for literary finery, because Wolf was the only and necessary consequence of the uncritical dogmatism of Leibnitz. And if Tholuck now places the faithful Wolf above the synoptics already because he at least used the expressions of his master for the deeper truths that he did not understand, then he would have to place him still infinitely higher, because he was the only possible consequence of his master. But we would gladly leave these parallels where they belong, in the realm of idle thoughts, if we did not have to follow the apologist to the limit of his wit.

*) So the synoptics, who are paralleled with Wolf, are not even supposed to be equal to him, nor to Tholuck, in so far as they do not, like the latter, use the expressions of Christ for those truths, whose innermost meaning is to them, etc.?


Tholuck, in fact, returns to Socrates and parallelizes with the Synoptics and the fourth evangelist, Xenophon and Plato, inasmuch as the latter gave “accounts” of their master, “in which a similar relation is unmistakably expressed as in the Synoptic Gospels and in the Johannine *)”.

*) Ibid. p. 323.

But it is impossible to call Xenophon a counter-image of the Synoptics, inasmuch as he is an example **) “that the ideal side of his master can remain so closed to a writer of thoroughly practical direction that he hardly knows how to include a few speculative elements.” The poor Synoptics! But they will easily get over the neglect they have received so far, since the time of their recognition is dawning, and it will be more and more generally recognized that only in them can the ideal be found in its true form. So long as it is not proved that Plato intends to give historical notes of Socrates’ views in his dialogues, so long as other history still proves that in the development of philosophical thought the stages which must really be regarded as such, differ essentially by the distinctness of the philosophy, and that even after an indefinite stimulation by the teacher the pupil can still be regarded as such, while he has gone infinitely beyond the standpoint of his predecessor, so long will the judgment of modern philosophy *) on Xenophon, that he has portrayed the historical Socrates, remain valid. Hegel still says much too much when he says “that in respect of the personal and the method, of the exterior in Plato’s conversation, we can obtain a more faithful, perhaps more educated picture of Socrates!” On the contrary, the personal aspect of Socrates in Plato, because it is connected with a content originally alien to him and with a more abstract formation of the consciousness, is more coy than it was in reality; the healthy, immediate, freshness is missing and the irony has become an insidious, disgusting consciousness, tickling itself inwardly over its separateness. In this, too, Plato’s depiction is mistaken, in that the opposition Socrates has to deal with has mostly become caricature. Men like Gorgias, Hippias were not these vain fools, these unintelligent schoolboys, who are finished with their wisdom at any moment and are sent home ashamed. With such clumsy people, about whom another, who wants to tickle himself, could only make fun, it would not even have been worth the trouble to argue.

**) Ibid. p. 325.

*) Hegel, Gesch. der Phil. II, 125.


Finally, Tholuck wants to dispense with the “esoteric proofs” and only remind **) “how one-sidedly, in the Christian church itself, certain moments” of Christian truth have been developed, depending on the power of the individuals, with the receding of the others. How different, he exclaims, is the doctrinal circle that James and that which a Paul derives from the Christian tradition!”

**) op. cit. p. 325.

First of all, it should be noted that this evidence also places the matter in a strange area – that of doctrine. The doctrine starts from something simple, from the concentrated view of the general essence, condensed into one point, and develops it to its inner determinations. Here there is a reasonable, tenable, and necessary difference, because the development of doctrine, even if it is typically and imperfectly indicated in its first attempts in single individualities, needs time for its full expansion, passes only gradually through its moments, and for the complete elaboration of it needs certain people-priests corresponding to the moments, until later time, when the movement is calmed down, summarizes the result in a system. But this ideal unfolding of the essence is not at all what is at issue in the present controversy, but rather the imprint of something that is historically and positively given, the representation of a life whose endless forms are reproduced by the Synoptics.


Nevertheless, we must add on the other hand – Tholuck, at least as far as the fourth gospel is concerned, has played the matter over into its true territory. For this Gospel is already on the ground of theory, it already proceeds from a general view which it freely shapes in historical form, and it has supplied in its essential content the material which the Greek Church has fully worked up in its Trinity controversies. According to this essential side of his writing, the fourth evangelist does not have his complement both in the Synoptics and rather in Paul, with whom he exemplifies the spirit, questions and interests of the Orient and Occident.

Here, however, in the area of free, reflective doctrinal development, where even the apologist had to move him, even if against his will and without realizing what he was doing, the evangelist will remain from now on and here in his home he can always be sure of the recognition he deserves.


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