§ 2. The circle of expectation (John 1:19-52)


§. 2. The circle of expectation



1) The mission of the priests to “the” Baptist.


If it is detrimental to a report and must make us cautious about it from the outset if it betrays an agenda, we have every reason to be cautious at the beginning of this Gospel, for with tireless verbosity the author emphasises how important it was to him that the Baptist should bear witness and give the honour to whom it was due. That the author had an agenda when he began his writing in this way and emphasised the beginning so sharply that he says four times in succession (v. 19. 20) that the Baptist had borne witness cannot be denied, and the only question is what his purpose was.

The delegation before which the Baptist testifies is an official one, consisting of Levites and priests, and is sent by “the Jews,” i.e., by the authority, which the author always imagines to be in hostile opposition to the work of salvation. The evangelist already has this opposition in mind here, and the dissonance that emerges from time to time in the entire drama that follows is immediately woven into the first beginning, just as the overture’s composer already hints at the horrors that shake the spirit in the main work itself. But when later the resistance of the Jews is overcome by the Lord and the dissonance is resolved into harmony, the author also wants to show here how the hostility of the superiors cannot harm the Baptist and even less stop the entrance of salvation.


First, the Baptist answered the deputation that he was not the Messiah. He could only answer in this way if the messengers assumed that he could be the Messiah *), or if they thought that he appeared to be the Messiah. They are only to ask (v. 19): who are you? but the author has given the question this wavering attitude only because he confuses two things, namely, he wants to state the purpose of their mission in general and at the same time to pose a specific individual question. The first question he imagines is whether the Baptist is the Messiah, otherwise he could not put such a definite negative answer into his mouth. But both question and answer are not only improbable, but absolutely impossible. The Baptist could never have given even the slightest reason to believe that he was the Messiah, since he only ever attributed to himself the significance of being the forerunner before the Lord. If we do not even find a trace that the people took him for the Messiah **), much less could the authorities ask him whether it was really in him, as it seemed, or as he seemed to pretend that he was the Messiah. For if they sent a message to him, he must already have attracted their attention through a longer period of activity and through a greater stir which he had caused among the people. It was impossible for them to send a message to him without having made enquiries about him from afar, and then they could and must have learned from the most superficial enquiry that it had never occurred to him to pretend to be the Messiah.

*) Bengel , Guomon N. T. : Johannem esse Christum suspicatierant.

**) The fact that, according to the account of the third Gospel, the people assume that John might be the Messiah (c. 3, 15) is not historical testimony. Luke likes to pragmatize and freely creates historical transitions for the speeches of his characters. The question of the people is nothing but such a transition to the Baptist’s explanation of his historical position.


Nothing else propelled that question and answer to the beginning of the fourth Gospel than the desire for a backdrop on which the main image would stand out as vividly as possible. If the Baptist, this high personality, admitted it himself, if he admitted before the message of the highest authority that he was not the Messiah, then one is all the more eager for the appearance of the one who really is. In itself, the confession that he was not the Messiah lay in the preaching and effectiveness of the Baptist. But for the sake of that purpose, the author has the Baptist really and officially express it, although he has overlooked that he leads the forerunner into a collision and an investigation that was not possible given the nature of his appearance and his effectiveness.

We don’t need to be upset by the unsuccessful beginning to find it highly remarkable how the Baptist answers the following two questions from the messengers with a ruthless no. They ask him if he is Elijah. If the Baptist had already announced himself as the precursor of the coming one, he came very close to identifying himself as the promised Elijah, since that relationship between the Messiah and his herald is nowhere more clearly portrayed in the Old Testament than in Malachi, the same prophet in whose prophecy the forerunner is introduced as Elijah. However, a plausible view is not always easy to obtain, and the lower perspective always tries in vain to combine all the elements of its personality, including the elements hinted at in the past, into the unity of self-awareness. Only the higher perspective is fortunate enough to pull these elements of the lower personality together in one fell swoop into the point of unity of perception. So it was only the Lord who said (Matthew 11:14) that the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come. By adding “if you are willing to accept it,” the Lord indicates that his view of the connection between the Baptist and the promise of the coming Elijah is a new one that has not yet been expressed anywhere *). He should have said, “The Baptist is truly that Elijah of the promise, as he himself said, and you must believe his statement if the Baptist had actually identified himself as that Elijah.” If the Baptist had not given any indication in his response to the messengers’ question, the only remaining motive would be that perhaps the expectation of the promised Elijah was widespread among the people. But even this expectation could not have been widespread at that time **), otherwise the Baptist would have necessarily had to say that he was that Elijah so that the expectation would not be proven futile, or someone else would wrongly say that it had been fulfilled in him and not in the Baptist. And for the same reason, he would have also had to tell the official delegation of his highest authority, “Yes, I am, I am that Elijah.” He cannot deny the messengers’ question simply because the priests may have understood Malachi’s promise of the return of the empirical person of Elijah, as their question does not give us any reason to attribute such an adventurous idea to them. But if the Baptist had meant, in an ideal sense, that he was indeed that Elijah in contrast to such a question, it was his duty to express it in order to correct a false idea. And in general, he would have been obligated to give a motivated response to his authority’s reputation.

*) See Weisse, Die evang. Geschichte, I. 237.

**) The Jewish testimonies usually cited (e.g. Gfrörer, Das Jahrh. d. Heils II, 227 – 229) for the spread of such an expectation at the time of Jesus are all from later centuries and only came into being through contact with the Christian conception. In the Targum Jonath, Elijah did not become the standing personality of the forerunner, nor was the view of Malcachi in any way related to Is. 40, 3. Only in the Mishna Edajoth is there a reflection on Elijah and his appearance among the people in order to restore the old order, and only on this task without reference to the relationship to the Messiah, and only after centuries in the Targum Yerushalmi does Elijah become a standing personage who is often mentioned as one who is to be sent to the captives of Israel at the end of the situation. Who does not see here that it was only through acquaintance with the Christian world that the view of Elijah also became solidified for the Jewish circle of vision?

*) As is the usual assumption of the commentators. Cf. e.g. B. Bengel, de Wette, Lücke, Tholuck and others.


The following question, whether he is the Prophet, is evidently intended to descend to a lower level of dignity, and its meaning is no other than: well, if you are neither the Messiah nor Elijah, perhaps you are at least the Prophet? On the other hand, the expression “the prophet” has something so exclusive about it, it awakens the idea of such a high dignity that it is otherwise rightly reserved only for the Messiah (e.g. C. 6:14), especially as it is taken from the Messianic prophecy of the Pentateuch (Deut. 18). We shall only later find a suitable opportunity to discuss how the evangelist came to ascribe the title of prophet in such a contradictory way to the highest object of religious belief and at the same time to a lower level of the theocratic hierarchy. According to one essential aspect of his destiny, the Baptist was indeed a prophet, as the Lord himself acknowledges (Matth. 11, 9.), even though he adds that he was more than a prophet. On that side, therefore, the Baptist would have had to acknowledge that his task was prophetic, and if he had perhaps wanted to deny the question on the grounds that only the Messiah was the true prophet, the necessary respect for the authority would have demanded that he limit his “no” in this sense. Tholuck wants to console us in all these difficulties with the “compendious character of the narrative,” but that would only be a makeshift solution that does not help us and is highly dangerous to the reputation of the evangelist; because nobody can tell a story so compendiously that it portrays its subject in an awkward light. We cannot consider “the rough manners of the rough preacher,” to which Tholuck still refers, as an explanation; because if, as it would seem from the current context, they could become a repulsive personality trait, the Baptist would have had to restrain and moderate them all the more before the message of his authority.

*) Tholuck, Comm. on the Evang. John 1837. p. 67.


It cannot occur to us to accuse the evangelist of clumsy exposition and the Baptist of reckless barbarism in the same way as the believing apologist does, since the questions which the forerunner of the Lord answers in the negative have proved to us to be impossible and unhistorical. We are expelled from the real world, and we must now go back to the consciousness of the evangelist in order to seek out the origin of those questions and answers. The interest of the story is clear enough. For now, after the priests have exhausted themselves in questions, since they can no longer ask anything definite, are at the end of their wisdom and can only ask, who are you? now the Baptist comes forward with a round answer and says what his position in the divine household is. He is the voice of the one who calls in the wilderness to prepare the ways of the Lord. The evangelist wanted to put this testimony of the Baptist about himself on its right height by first letting the priests exhaust their wisdom and opposing the wisdom of the divine counsel to the finite understanding. The dead nature of the old priesthood had to reveal itself in the vain questions, so that it came to light that the old had lost its original spirit and meaning and could no longer find its way into the new, which announced itself through its own inner strength.


When the evangelist lets the Baptist say that he is not the Elijah of the promise, he enters into a decisive collision with the Synoptics, according to whose account the Lord says the opposite. The author must have had a dark awareness that the position of the Baptist was related to the promise of Elijah, otherwise he would not have come to such a question of the priests. But this consciousness could only be dark in him, and he had to let the Baptist answer in the negative if he wanted to produce the contrast indicated.

Incidentally, we would be acting inconsistently and unfairly against those features of the report which we had to describe as unhistorical if we did not also want to take a closer look at the Baptist’s statement about his historical position. The matter is not to be regarded as so impartial and innocent that the Baptist applies the saying Isa. 40:3 to himself only for the purpose of indicating approximately and occasionally in this case the essentials of his destiny. On the one hand, this saying appears as a standing formula; on the other hand, it is meant to explain the historical appearance of the Baptist in its complete totality and to summarise the individual sides of the personality of the preacher of repentance into one point where they find their final explanation. This effort, however, could only become a necessity and succeed when the appearance of the Baptist was completed for historical viewing.


The emissaries of the priesthood, who are said to belong to the school of the Pharisees, fully agree that John should be allowed to baptise if he were the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet *), and therefore demand that he should state his credentials, since he has not professed any of those titles. And what does the Baptist answer? Nothing but that he baptises in water, but that the infinitely greater one comes after him. It was impossible for the messengers to be satisfied with this answer, as the report presupposes. The Baptist did not say a word about his authority, at least nothing more than what he had just said, since he called himself the voice of the one who calls for the preparation of the ways of the Lord. But if the delegates could not have been reassured by the Baptist’s answer, it was all the easier for the evangelist. He was only concerned with a question, to have the Baptist speak of his water baptism and again more specifically of his position as a forerunner, and that question is only a lever for him, only a means which he throws away or forgets as soon as the Baptist has had his say *). But such a means, as has now been proven to us from the resolution of all questions and answers, is the whole message of the priestly party and it only served the evangelist to make the Baptist speak about the Messiah and about his own position in relation to the same.

*) That there was agreement among the Jews at that time about the eligibility of Elijah as the Messianic herald for baptism, we must not assume with the exegetes. The existence of such a view would have to be inferred from our passage, which is the link in a later pragmatic chain. In Dialog. c. Tryph. (Just. opp. edit. Paris.1636 p. 226) the purpose is indeed attached to the mission of Elias, that he should bring the Messiah χριση πασιν ποιηση. But when the Baptist, in the account of our Gospel (C. 1, 31), says, therefore he came with the baptism of water, that the Messiah might be manifested to Israel (ιναα Ψανερωθη), and if, as we shall see, this revelation of the Messiah is made dependent on his being baptized by the Baptist, the literal coincidence in the statement of the purpose already betrays to us the source from which the author’s view of that dialogue flowed.

*) It is an ingrained superstition of exegesis that it thinks it has explained the biblical writers by tautologies. One believes to have done everything when one has brought together the individual similar cases into a general formula. Thus de Wette (Brief Explanation of the Gospel and Letters of John 1837. p. 26) thinks to explain the above difficulty by the remark that John “does not always make the questions and answers correspond directly to each other. But this is the difficulty, that the evangelist does not allow both to correspond to each other, and it is only explained if the question “Why? But this is where the lack comes from, because the evangelist only goes for the answer, only wants it, and every means of eliciting it is the same to him or does not give him much trouble.


If we now say that the message of the priests was for the evangelist only a means by which he wanted to carry out the stated intentions and interests, then, because of the ambiguity that is inherent in language in these circumstances, the following should be noted. It is by no means to be said that the author invented these means purely from his head and consciously regarded them as invented. Rather, these intentions guided him involuntarily and with that immediate instinct of art that determines our pragmatic view of history. This instinct has given rise to countless hypotheses by historians, hypotheses that often hit the mark with ingenious certainty, but which often have to disappear again before criticism. Even in the reports of eyewitnesses, such hypotheses inevitably form, if the substance of the self-experienced, which in reality must work its way through many individual scattering moments and does not always rise to moments that allow the totality to emerge in perfect purity, is to be drawn together into such transparent moments. The eyewitness considers such self-formed moments to be historical, because they reflect to him the idea he has experienced in the dispersion of their individual appearances, and he regards them with the same faith as the later historian regards his hypotheses, of whose correctness the latter is so convinced that he no longer considers any doubt possible. So our evangelist also considered his report to be completely historical. It was enough for him that the Baptist had often spoken of his task, that even priests had questioned him about it, and his account, under the silent and secret cooperation of the interests indicated, made itself under his hands and as a certain, reliable history.


The circumstance that Luke also knows of a declaration by the Baptist concerning his historical position and his relationship to the Messiah must naturally give rise to comparisons. Explanators who, like Lücke *), treat the Synoptics with the greatest possible respect, agree to the assumption of two different incidents. For in Luke, the Baptist testified before the people before he had baptised Jesus, whereas in John’s account (C. 1, 26) the baptism of Jesus is already assumed. This timing, however, is not decisive, for Luke could not have presented the testimony in any other way, since, in the manner of the Synoptics, he concludes everything concerning the Baptist’s ministry before the Lord’s public appearance. Others, on the other hand, hold to the similarity of the content, declare the accounts in Luke and John to be accounts of one and the same incident, and since they are predominantly distrustful of the Synoptics, they, like de Wette **), declare themselves in favour of John and accuse the third Synoptist of inaccuracy. With what right the fourth evangelist receives the palm in this case does not require any further investigation for us, since his report has proved to us to be unhistorical. Strauss wants to leave it undecided on whose side the truth stands, whether Luke’s account is only an echo of what John knows to report more precisely, or whether the account of the latter only arose from the endeavour to give more weight to the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus by presenting it before an official delegation of the authorities ***). We are also relieved of this uncertainty, since the assumption of the crowd that the Baptist might be the Messiah himself, from which Luke proceeds, just as much as the more specific question of the state authority in John only arose from the pragmatic endeavour to give the Baptist’s declaration about himself and his great successor a specific historical occasion.

*) Comm. on the Gospel of John, 1, 342.

**) ibid. p. 27.

***) The Life of Jesus, 3rd ed. I, 420.


Tholuck *) argues in particular that the Baptist was able to speak the words twice about himself and his office as a forerunner, so that the same statement was heard once by the people and then by the state authorities. But we must surprise this interpreter, who thinks he has already gained the most by a simple repetition, by a much greater concession. Not twice or three times only, but very often the Baptist had to refer to the meaning of his water baptism and his relationship to the one to come. It is only the later historical view that draws together an extended efficacy of its heroes and confines the painting of them in one frame. What it usually does, however, it had to feel called upon to do in the highest degree when portraying the forerunner of the Lord. In portraying him, it was enough to describe his appearance, his pointing to the successor in brief features, for as these features were given, the interest of the view was so vividly directed towards the coming one that the herald, as he had performed his office, could immediately step from the scene. But once the effectiveness and significance of the herald had been condensed into one keyword, a specific occasion had to be sought for it, which in different circles could also become a different occasion, as we find in the account of the third and fourth Gospels.

*ibid. p. 69.

Nevertheless, it seems absolutely impossible that the message of the authorities was only a lever of pragmatism to bring the Baptist to that cue, since the exact indication of the place and time rather speaks for a historical incident. The priestly delegation is said to have spoken to the Baptist at Bethany on the Jordan, and the evangelist connects a subsequent incident with this meeting by the time: on the morrow. Before all this can force us to give up even one point of the result of the previous criticism, we must first examine what is supposed to have happened on the following day, whether it can prove itself to us more than historically and serve as a witness to the incident of the previous day.


2) The testimony of the Baptist about the Lamb of God.


On the following day, the Baptist sees Jesus approaching him and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The demeanor of the people who appear in this scene has that mysterious character that is initially inexplicably indefinite. Jesus approaches the Baptist, but we are not told why. Nor are we informed whether the Lord really approached the Baptist and engaged in conversation with him. Rather, the fact that Jesus is approaching him only has significance in the context of the Baptist being able to point him out and give him the highest testimony. However, since the Baptist does not give this testimony in a few words but in several sentences (vv. 29-34), and since these sentences are each so full of meaning that they cannot be spoken hastily and superficially, the Lord must have been far away from him when the Baptist saw him and spoke to those around him. If, however, the Lord had really been so far away when he appeared in the Baptist’s sight, then the Baptist’s speaking and pointing would be baseless and appear forced and awkward. Should we think that the Lord has come so close that the Baptist can easily point to him, he still cannot speak so extensively about the one who must be coming to him every moment unless he whispers the words, which are supposed to be a free, clear, and emphatic testimony, into the ears of those around him as quickly and hastily as possible. As there is no distance in which we could place the Lord so that the Baptist could point to him and at the same time give such an important and extensive testimony of him, we have no choice but to follow the explanation of Strauss *) that the coming of the Lord to the Baptist is only a pragmatic lever to introduce the latter’s speech. When it was established that the Baptist had pointed to Jesus, the historical view of this pointing was portrayed in a physically palpable way, and the Lord himself had to come to the Baptist personally so that he could point to him with his finger and say with even greater emphasis: ουτος εστ [=This is the one]. Finally, there is the natural escalation that the day before, the Baptist had said to the delegation of the authorities that the Messiah was already among them and had spoken of him as an absent one, so it was fitting that the Lord emerged from his hiding place so that the Baptist could immediately point to him. For this purpose only does the Evangelist bring the Lord into the Baptist’s field of vision, and he does so in that indefinite way because he is satisfied as soon as he has placed the Lord where he wanted him. De Wette **) says, “the Evangelist’s attention is solely focused on the Baptist’s testimony” – that is correct, and the simple statement of the fact, but when he says, “hence, we do not learn why Jesus came to the Baptist,” and when he thus thinks that the Evangelist knew this intention, also knew what had happened between Jesus and the Baptist afterward, but had omitted it only because of that limitation of his attention, this is a presupposition that the report simply cannot justify. Finally, the apologist could determine the distance at which Jesus is during the Baptist’s speech so wisely and according to that middle ratio that the Baptist’s detailed testimony can be comfortably spoken: if only his mediating wisdom would help him somewhat. Because necessarily he would have to command the Lord to stop for that middle distance until the Baptist has finished his speech with due decorum.

*) Life of Jesus, 1st ed. I, 349. 

**) ibid. p. 27.


By pointing to the Lord with his finger, the Baptist says: this is the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world, and thus, with this definiteness of expression, he refers to a view that was common to his time and his people, which had hitherto lived in expectation and had now found its real substrate. The most natural thing for the interpreters, if it is a question of the starting point of this view, seemed to go back to Is. 53 *), for the individual who, according to this prophecy, suffers for the world and bears its sin, is compared, because of the willingness with which he suffers, to the lamb that does not open its mouth when it is led to the slaughter. On this assumption, we would have to assume that the general expectation was that the Messiah, as a sufferer, would take upon himself the guilt of others, and that he was figuratively called the Lamb of God. But if we hear from the Synoptics that Jesus did not reveal to his own the necessity of his suffering until very late, without them being able to accept this idea, how can the Baptist have been so happy even before the lowly appearance of the Lord removed one of the greatest difficulties, as to be able to rely on a corresponding view of his hearers, when he showed them in the Lord the expected suffering Messiah? It is impossible that the Baptist could have been so fortunate, since according to the account of our Gospel, several of the Lord’s disciples first followed him, were sent by him to Jesus in order to follow him, and, what is more, were supposed to have been moved to follow the Lord solely by the fact that the Baptist showed them in Jesus that sufferer, the Lamb of God, but later did not demonstrate that they had gone through such an excellent school [that is, where the Baptist taught them that Jesus must suffer]. Impossible! we must say again and again, for in this case the disciples should have found it much easier to find their way into the Lord’s discourses of His sufferings and into these themselves when their time had come. How the apologist must torture and distort the report if he nevertheless wants to unite this fact with the testimony of the Baptist! The disciples of the Baptist, says Lücke *), “at first understood in this saying only the messianic relation, the inner understanding remained closed to them. But with a saying whose point, which alone contained the messianic meaning, they did not understand, they could not have thought anything, least of all that it aimed at the Messiah. But we need not even trouble the apologist with the question how the disciples could understand the Messianic meaning in a saying which they did not understand: we can confront him more briefly about the fact that he robs the Baptist’s saying of its historical foundation if he does not assume in the listeners the firm and certain conception of the suffering Messiah, to which the Baptist attaches himself when he says: Behold, the Lamb of God. For in saying this, he means nothing other than: Behold the promised and eagerly awaited Lamb of God.

*) Bengel: Ο, articulus respicit prophetiam de eo sub hoc schemate factam Is. 53, 7.

*) ibid. I., 360.


But we do not want to accuse the apologist of depriving the Baptist’s statement of its historical basis: he must do so because the disciples do not later demonstrate that such a certain view of the suffering Messiah had already been embraced by them. His error is only that he thinks he can still leave that certainty in the Baptist’s statement, even though he has removed that on which it is based. The conscientious apologist, however, seeks to make up for his mistake, or rather, he does not acknowledge his error, and by no means thinks that he has removed the foundation of the saying presupposed in the text; he only knows that such a foundation must exist and now seeks it somewhere else, even if not in the text. Thus it is said that the Baptist spoke in a “prophetic” spirit *) of the sufferings that would befall the Messiah, or that an instantaneous enthusiasm drove him to that utterance **) and that it was thus a work of “momentary enlightenment. ***). But does the evangelist want us to regard the statement of the forerunner only as a ray of hope, which is soon pushed back again by opposing views? Should the Baptist have come to an insight only through momentary enthusiasm, which was darkened again when the enthusiasm waned? Nothing less! Rather, according to the Evangelist, the Baptist is said to have had a firm, certain view of the work of salvation, as it is accomplished at its highest peak in the sufferings of the Redeemer, so that it formed the centre of his Messianic theory. So the evangelist wants us to see in the Baptist’s utterance nothing of foreboding, nothing of glimpses of light, nothing of momentarily gripping enthusiasm, but a dogma, a theory completely certain of its object.

*) So Lücke ibid.

**) Bengel: divinitus instructus Johannes appellat Agnum dei.

***) Hoffmann: The Life of Jesus, p 292.


How does the doubt of the Baptist, of which the Synoptics tell us, fit with a theory so certain of itself? Lücke will not make it comprehensible to us when he says *) that the Baptist “did not understand the full context of the Christian idea”. Who may speak thus of a man who, as that statement proves, has already summed up the totality of the idea into a reflected unity! Of course, it is now all the more certain that if, according to the report of the Synoptics, the runner later doubted and could not believe in the lowly appearance of the Lord, he could not have arrived at such a definite theory earlier. However, even without the comparison with the synoptic accounts, we can bring the matter to a decision as soon as we take a closer look at the Baptist’s statement.

*) ibid. I., 330.

The words, “which beareth the sin of the world,” are, however, directly derived from the prophecy of Isa. 53, but the same cannot be said of the formula, “the Lamb of God.” For in that prophecy the lamb is mentioned only as an image, and only as an image of the meekness and patience with which the described sufferer endures his sufferings; it thus appears in this comparison only occasionally, incidentally, and as the ordinary sheep as it is led to the slaughter and shearing. On the other hand, in the saying of the Baptist, the analogy of the lamb and the Messiah is not this external one, which only designates the behaviour of the sufferer, but it is to refer to the essence of the personality of the Messiah; thus it is not only to designate the nature of his suffering, but his suffering itself and the divine destiny of it. In short, here the lamb is a religious symbol par excellence, namely the symbol of the sacrifice ordered by God and to be performed by the Messiah on himself. Therefore, the merely coincidental image in the prophecy of Isaiah is not sufficient to explain this symbol and we must look elsewhere for its origin.


Apologetics is well aware that insurmountable difficulties arise as soon as the matter is taken seriously, and it makes yet another attempt to cover up the difficulties. Accordingly, Lücke wants to “limit the typical relationship of our passage to Is. 53 and not allow any other” *). Jesus is only described as the “quiet and innocent” suffering lamb **). “The addition: which bears the sin of the world, does not refer both to the figurative concept of the lamb and to the messianic subject depicted therein” ***). But this is of no avail and all resistance is in vain. If through the image of the Lamb (ό αμνος ό αιρων) the subject of the Messiah is to be united with the bearing of sin, then this bearing of sin must be inwardly connected with the nature and destiny of the Lamb. Or – to put this evasion in its proper words – if the destiny of bearing the sin of the world is to be related to the messianic subject “pictured” in the Lamb, then this is only possible if this destiny as such is inseparably bound up with this very image of the Messiah. The lamb, therefore, which is the image of the Messiah in this essential sense, representing the innermost essence of the Messianic personality, is not the lamb of Isaiah, but must be another.

*) ibid. I., 350.

**) Ibid. p. 351.

***) Ibid. p. 352.


The apostle Paul tells us what kind of lamb it is when he writes to the Corinthians (1:5, 7): “our passover sacrifice was also slain for us, that is, Christ”, i.e. not the Jews alone, but we also have a passover lamb. The fact that the Lord had suffered in the time of the Jewish Passover brought about the comparison between His death and the slaughter of the Passover lamb, and once this comparison had arisen, the Jewish Passover sacrifice was regarded as a type of the sacrifice of Christ. The indefatigable apologist still resists until he has held up his last reason to the necessity and simplicity of truth, and so Lücke cannot refrain from remarking that “the symbolism of the Passover has no inner, direct relationship at all to the bearing of the sin of the world” *). Well, a direct relationship may not have existed originally, but could such a relationship not have been conveyed to Christian consciousness when the Passover lamb as a type was related to the death of Christ through that temporal encounter? And did Paul and the congregation necessarily have to fall into an arbitrary game when such a typical relationship seemed to exist for their view? Did not the purpose of deliverance from death and misery also lie in the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover, did it not lie originally and directly in this sacrifice, the offering and observance of which earned the Jews exemption from death and deliverance from the house of service? Certainly it was not an arbitrary gimmick, but the finger-pointing of history and the perception of the inner connection, which made the type of the higher deliverance from spiritual death and from the bondage of sin recognisable in the Passover sacrifice.

*) Ibid. p. 348.


In fact, several commentators have believed that they could only fully explain the Baptist’s saying if they gave it a relationship to the symbolism of the Passover as a basis. But because they still regarded the saying as one of the Baptist’s, that is, because they could not accept the historical circumstance that the death of Jesus fell in the time of the Passover as the middle link for the emergence of the typical conception of the Passover Lamb, they had to give the Baptist the most external occasions for his typical language and for that very reason at the same time assume that no one at that time could have understood it. That Bengel knows no other counsel than to assume a sudden supernatural illumination of the Baptist to explain the saying, has already been mentioned; but the believing interpreter trusts so little in his means of violence that he cannot avoid putting another natural means into action, namely, the nearness of the Passover feast *). It is inexplicable how the mere proximity of the feast, or rather the vague atmosphere of the feast, could help the Baptist to create this image. Lampe is much more crude when he says that the Baptist came to his words because a herd of Passover lambs was driven over the Jordan before his eyes for the coming feast. *) This would really be a tangible occasion if the figurative speech, and especially the typical speech, depended on the tangible and not rather on the fact that the common view of a larger circle was the starting point. Thousands of Passover lambs could be driven past before the eyes of the Baptist and those around him, but neither the latter could call Jesus the Lamb of God in this typical sense, nor could others understand him, if it was not the popular belief that the Messiah would suffer the sacrificial death for the sins of the world. Since this popular belief did not exist, so that the Baptist could neither speak according to it nor, when he spoke in this way, be understood by those around him **), the only ground on which this saying could arise was the view of the Christian community. It was only through the coincidence of Christ’s death with the Passover that the Christian community was led to that typical designation of the Messiah; it was also able to associate with the typical expression the prophecy fulfilled in the Lord of the Passover-bearer who bears the sin of the world – in short, only after those historical conditions could a formula be formed and immediately, as soon as it was there, understood, which in the image of the Passover lamb summed up the self-sacrificing love of the Saviour and its expressions to their highest point. The Baptist testifies of Christ as the Christian redeemed [i.e. as if John himself was the Christian redeemed] by the sacrificial death of the Saviour, in that the evangelist knows how to make no distinction between unbelief and the completed faith and cannot let the forerunner testify otherwise than in such a way that he ascribes to him the developed view of the later congregation.

*) Bengel, I. c.: atque ipsum pascha tum prope erat.

* ) Lampe , com. I., p. 430.

**) Thus, for example, even Bengel must add to his explanation: quamquam primo illo tempore appellationis hujus exacta intelligentia si non ipsum Johannem eerte auditores ejus fugeret.


3) The testimony of the Baptist about the pre-existence of the Messiah.


While the Lord is still approaching, the Baptist, having just spoken of the suffering Messiah, speaks in one breath of the pre-existence of Christ. This is he, he says, of whom I said before: after me comes he who was before me, because he was before me. This saying can only have meaning and coherence if it deals with time in all three parts: after me comes he who was before me, because he was before me in the first place. Later on, speculation arises when a great historical epoch and its creator have entered the empirical world, but not before, because all speculation always presupposes sensible reflection on actual and empirically given circumstances, and this presupposition becomes possible again only if those circumstances have collided with other seemingly opposing ones. And the collision in this statement is not even the one that would be considered if it belonged to the baptizer alone, that the Lord has emerged after the forerunner, because this circumstance could not have caused any difficulty or appearance in the world as if the baptizer were greater. Nobody can think of holding one personality lower than the other just because they appeared later than the other. Least of all could it occur to the baptizer to see a difficulty in the fact that the Messiah only appeared after him, and because this difficulty was not there for him, he did not need to look for solutions. As soon as he considered himself as the mere forerunner, it was clear to him from the outset that he was the lesser one. *).

*) How deeply apologetics knows how to fetch its arguments from the bottom of the matter! Lücke (I., 313.) thinks that the saying belongs to the Baptist and that it has been faithfully handed down. The very fact that John repeats it in v. 30 (after it had already been quoted in v. 15) with the same words vouches for its faithfulness. As if in every other case the evangelist could not have the saying repeated with the same words, if the saying was once considered to be that of the Baptist!


But later, after the Lord had completed the work of salvation and this had been completed in the world, a difficulty arose which led to the thought contained in that saying. For now the world of Christian consciousness stood as an independent, but at the same time as a new one, opposite the other worlds of religious consciousness, especially the Jewish world. It seemed to be a contradiction that Christian consciousness should regard itself as new and yet also as absolute, and its principle did not seem to be the absolute truth, if it had only revealed itself at such a late date. This embarrassment was helped by the reflection on the revelations of O. T., in which a being appeared, proceeding from Jehovah, differentiated from the One Jehovah and yet identical with him. That in these appearances was seen the principle of absolute truth working in the past, is proved by our evangelist himself, when he says (12:41) that Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord in that appearance which came to him at his calling. Since there are several of these appearances in the OT and they are repeated at different times, the being that emerged in them had to be sublime above the changes of history and infinitely identical with Himself, i.e. eternal. From this peace and equanimity with itself it momentarily emerged until it appeared in history in a permanent way. As soon as this theory of the pre-existence and early historical activity of the Messiah had been concluded in the manner indicated, there was no more suitable point to which it could be transferred, no more suitable personality to which it could be put, for that standpoint which was not yet aware of the difference between revelation and later reflection, than the personality of the Baptist. For he stood at the turning point of the old and the new, and for him it must have seemed appropriate that he should reflect on the relationship of the revelations of the Eternal, who had already appeared momentarily in the past and was now to appear in living form, and describe it strikingly. But as fitting and appropriate as all this may seem, it remains the case that the collision out of which that saying arose did not exist for the Baptist and could only form for the actual congregation. But once this view of the preexistence of the Messiah had been established, it was enough that the forerunner had spoken of the glory of the one who was to come after him to assume that he had also already had and expressed a more definite and deeper insight into the entire historical appearance of the eternal Mediator.


4) The Baptist’s testimony of the baptism of Jesus.


Although the Lord approaches the Baptist and must already have come close to him, the latter still finds time to explain his relationship to the Saviour even more fully to the bystanders. First the Baptist says that he had not known the Messiah before, i.e. he had not known in which personality the expected Redeemer was to be found, but in order that he might be revealed, he, the Baptist, came with the baptism of water. John – as the evangelist now intervenes – really bore witness by telling what kind of vision of the Messiah had come to him. So the Baptist reports that he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon the Lord, and after a divine promise that he would recognise the Messiah from it, he became certain that this Jesus was the Messiah. Therefore, he now testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.


It is remarkable that the Baptist does not explicitly say that this manifestation of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus came to him at the moment when he baptised the Lord. But if we only look at the context more closely, our evangelist also wants the Baptist to say that this appearance occurred at the baptism of Jesus. The purpose of the Baptist’s baptism was the revelation and recognition of Jesus in Israel. But the evangelist thinks that this revelation happened because the Baptist testified of the Lord. That is why he emphasizes it in v. 32 when he says: “John bore witness” and derives this witness from the fact that the Baptist had this manifestation. But now the Baptist says (v. 31) that he did not know the Lord, but that in order that he might be revealed, he came with the baptism of water. The only purpose of his baptism was to make him acquainted with the Messiah, so that he could testify to all Israel about what he had found and confirmed by the occurrence of the divinely promised appearance. In short, he had to baptise the Lord so that he would be revealed to him and through him to Israel.


The evangelist therefore actually thinks that the Baptist spoke vv. 29-34 in one go; but he himself intervenes for a moment and with the words: “John testified” he wants to emphasise that this is the testimony through which the Lord was revealed to Israel after it had been made possible through baptism.

If this appears to be the view of the evangelist, several difficulties arise when we consider the matter itself and the account of the Synoptics. Matthew and Mark at least clearly express the view *) that the appearance at the time of the Baptist was not meant for the Baptist, but for Jesus Himself. In our Gospel it is even intended for the Baptist alone, according to a divine promise. Furthermore, in the Synoptics, John’s water-baptism has the more general and grandiose purpose of preparing the people for repentance and for the near kingdom of heaven, and it is only for this reason that the Jews stream out into the wilderness to John and undergo baptism, in order to confess their sins and cleanse themselves of them. However, the purpose of baptism is far more limited when, in the account of the fourth evangelist, it only became an opportunity for the Baptist to get to know the Lord.

*) It is with reluctance that we anticipate the criticism of the Synoptic accounts to be given in the following volume, but we must do so in order to immediately secure the above sentence against apologetic artifice. Mark 1:18 was safe from this, but Matthew, as always, suffered much in his account of the Lord’s course at the expense of the fourth Gospel, and had to say only what his interpreters wanted. In this case, of course, they wanted to do him a special honour at the same time, when they put him in line with their favourite, the fourth. But he protests against this honour as soon as he is allowed to speak freely from the heart. All that was to be said of the work of the forerunner has been reported by Matthew 3:1-12, he now tells how Jesus v. 13 came to John to the course and is thus about to pass on to the exposition of the Lord’s efficacy. So Jesus comes to the baptism v. 13, unsuccessfully John tries to stop him (v. 14. here the Baptist is the subject), Jesus answers him with words that remove all resistance, so that the Baptist lets him go. (V 15. Since Jesus was the subject here, ειπε, the Baptist is indeed again made subject in the words: “so he let him”, but these words are so much only a consequence of Jesus speaking about the necessity of his course, that they can only be spoken in an appositive way, when read, and cannot avert the gaze from Jesus as the centre of the whole and the ruling subject.) Now it is said, when he was baptized, Jesus came forth out of the water – that is, he has here become the only subject – and heaven was opened to him ( ανεωχθησαν αυτω), and he saw (ειδε) the Spirit of God descending. And in so strict a connection does de Wette (Erkl. d. Ev. Matth. p. 35) say, only apparently does αυτω refer to Jesus as the next preceding subject? No! he says more, he says that one “must” refer the αυτω to the Baptist. And the necessity of this relation? “John is the acting subject of the whole narrative, while Jesus is only passive.” But is Jesus still passive at the moment when, after baptism, he “immediately comes up out of the water, and the heavens are opened to him, and he sees the Holy Ghost descending” (V. 16.) The fact that Jesus is passive at the moment of baptism does not matter, for this moment lies behind him when he “comes up out of the water baptized.” And even his passivity in that single moment cannot prevent him from standing as the dominant subject of the narrative, the view of the report remains mainly directed towards him, the main interest lies on him, he goes to the course, he reaches it despite the reluctance of the Baptist, he rises from the water, heaven opens to him, he sees the descending Spirit. The main interest in the Baptist is V. 11 and is thus satisfied, now Jesus comes to the fore, he is the continuous subject of the narrative, he is therefore the purpose of the apparition, he saw it.


It is not the place here to explain how the Synoptics present the matter more correctly when they understand the apparition at the baptism as one that happened for Jesus; the consideration of the first Gospels will only lead us into the area of history. Here it is only to be explained how the fourth evangelist’s theory, which completely dominated him, involuntarily had to lead him to such a significant change of history. Neither in its content nor for the self-awareness of Jesus and for the development of the same could the baptism be of any importance if in it the eternal and from eternity self-aware Logos had appeared. For as the Logos Himself, He is personally all the fullness of truth and as the eternal divine thinking, His self-awareness has always been infinitely clear, completely open and did not need to be brought to the final clarification by an external impulse – which under these circumstances would be baptism. Therefore, the course of the Lord had to be important only for the forerunner. The high, infinite dignity of the Lord was to be placed in its true light by this turn of history: but this is so little achieved that all sides which come into contact here are now rather placed in a mechanical relationship. The baptism of Jesus loses all inner meaning, since it is no longer an infinite end in itself, but only an external means by which the Baptist learns who the Messiah is. On the other hand, John’s water baptism loses the relationship with which it was directed towards the people, in order to work them from within and turn them towards the future. It is no longer a means of cultivating the spirit of the people, but a mechanical means which was only the occasion for the Baptist to get to know the Lord. It was only through this diversions that it was to have a relationship to the people, namely in such a way that the Baptist, when he had come to know the Lord through water baptism, also bore witness to Him before the people. This reversal of all relationships and the transformation of living purposes into dead, mechanical means proves that we do not hear the voice of history in the testimony of the Baptist.


Speculation has often been accused of changing, distorting and reshaping history according to its own self-made laws as soon as it sets out to do so. This error is not always to be denied, but it is especially committed when a speculative principle has only just taken possession of the imagination; then it has such an overpowering effect in the first enthusiasm that the rational power of the empirical and historical cannot always emerge purely and completely. This guilt, into which the first followers of such a principle fall without knowledge and will, even the first representation of sacred history, which is carried out on a speculative ground, has not been able to escape. The complete interpenetration of speculation and sacred history is a work on which not only centuries, but millennia have to work, and, in addition, has as its prerequisite continuous criticism. It would therefore be asking the impossible and the destruction of all reasonable laws of development if one wanted to demand that he who undertook this work for the first time should have completed it at once.


5) The first disciples in the dwelling place of the Lord.


On the following day John the Baptist stood again with two of his disciples and, seeing Jesus walking near, said to them: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” At these words of their former master, the two immediately join the Lord and follow him. What the Lord did in the circle of vision of the Baptist, why he was always there at the appropriate time, so that the Baptist only had to look up to see him and to be able to point him out to the others with his fingers, we learn nothing about. Bengel thinks he can at least explain why the Lord remained in this mysterious distance and did not approach the Baptist: for it would have been condescension enough if he had really done so once *). But this deliberate frugality and distinguished distance may be the concern of insecure spirits who believe their reputations endangered when they step out of their caution: it was foreign to the Lord. Gfrörer tries the opposite means, or rather he is sure of it, he knows that in these “approaches between the Baptist and Jesus mutual explanations would have taken place. These conversations only took place behind the curtain, that is why the evangelist does not report anything about them”. **). But then he should at least report that Jesus had approached the Baptist. But one comes to such unworthy games of hiding behind the curtain when one not only accepts a pragmatic emergency work of the report as an absolute truth, but also elaborates it even further than the report itself allows. Only for this reason is the Lord back, so that the Baptist too can again point his finger at him and the pair of disciples can join him on the spot. But since this comfort does not always happen in the ordinary world, it seems that we find ourselves in a made-up world, in which everything happens according to the momentary wishes of its creator.

*) Gnomon N. T. : jam non ad Johannem veniebat, neque enini saepius decebat. Semel id fesisse, sat demissum erat.

**) Das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 144.


The situation, the proximity of Jesus, the finger pointing of the Baptist, his testimony: everything is the same today as it was yesterday. Why did the disciples of John only now, and not yesterday, come to the decision to follow the Lord? Something new, which would have had to bring this decision to maturity, has not been added. The difficulty is so great that de Wette must assume that the disciples were not present on the previous day when the Baptist pointed to Jesus. If only the evangelist did not leave the testimony of the Baptist in two words, thus assuming that the disciples had heard the detailed testimony yesterday. *) But the offence disappears immediately when we look at the inner structure of the report. The interest of the view is beneficially stimulated when we see the climax of an event gradually growing. The point in the present narrative is that the Baptist not only pointed to the Lord, but through his testimony also really led the first believers to the Messiah. To this climax, where everything unites and joins together in faith, the evangelist has contrasted the lowest level with artistic gesture, namely that region where everything is still separated by unbelief. In this lower region stand the priests of the old law who, through their hostile exploration, bring the Baptist to witness. In order to mediate the contrast between faith and unbelief, the evangelist places between the two extreme points what is still purely indifferent and unsuccessful. If, therefore, the priests had heard the testimony of the Baptist without faith, if through the testimony of their Master two disciples were persuaded to follow the Lord, the same testimony now stands freely between the two sides alone, apart from all hostile contact, as without all success.

*) Lücke (I, 346) admires “the faithfulness of the evangelist,” in that he states exactly when the Baptist gave the testimony of the Lamb of God in detail, and when he gave it in abbreviated form to his disciples. If we have used the context of the account to reject de Wette’s conjecture, we must, of course, also somewhat disturb his admiration of the faithfulness of the account. The same interpreter who above deprived the Baptist’s testimony of the Lamb of God of its historical foundation, makes up for his robbery by an opus supererogationis. What an immeasurable memory or inspiration this would have to be if the evangelist knew on which day the Baptist had said the same thing with so many words and on which other day he had said it with so many words. It is nothing but the irresistible instinct of the historian, who is beyond Homeric repetition, that he gives a speech for the second time only briefly and summarily, as soon as it still lies in his ear in its first comprehensiveness and he has written it down the moment before.


It looks very simple and natural when the evangelist says that the two disciples followed Jesus, but in fact it is completely without motive. ‘Αξικουθειω is otherwise in the Gospels, e.g. immediately in this Cap. V. 44, the expression for the free, open and constant discipleship of the disciples. Here it is only meant to denote the first attempt of approach, but it really only means: they were sneaking after him, because the attitude of the disciples who secretly follow the Lord has something oppressive and fearful about it. And what do they say when Jesus turns around and asks them what they want? They ask him where he lives. What an insignificant and trivial question for those who had just heard the highest testimony and were now to turn with all their heart to the one in whom they saw the fulfilment of their most precious expectations. De Wette wants to blur the impropriety of the question somewhat and says that the disciples asked the Lord this question with the intention of visiting Him later *). But the question remains unpalatable. They, who are so moved by the testimony of the Baptist that they immediately turn to the Lord, are now only supposed to ask him where he lives, in order to pay him their visit later – note! later? How chilling! Their hearts, filled with the testimony of the Baptist, should have been opened to the Lord immediately, but they should not have merely asked him about a fine dwelling, which they must have known anyway, if the Lord, as the report presupposes, was staying in a small place and had already been walking there for some time.

*) Just so Lücke according to Euthymius: they demanded a meeting μεθ ησυχιας. Was Jesus always surrounded by a crowd of people?


Jesus answered their question: come and see! and what did they see when they really came? Nothing but where he dwelt. But the words with which Jesus invites them have something categorical and so high-sounding that they seem to invite to the highest and most substantial spectacle. They are pompous and invite the unveiling of a great and deep mystery as well as the satisfaction of the most eager expectation. The Apocalypse proves that this judgement is not only based on arbitrary feelings. When the Lamb of God (C. 6.) loosens the seals of the sevenfold closed book, it is called out to the watching visionary: ερχοθ και ‘ιδε. And indeed this can only be called out to someone when a riddle is to be solved which, as the apocalyptist says, no one has yet been able to solve either in heaven or on earth (5:3). What then was the deep mystery that was revealed to the two disciples when they saw where the Lord dwelt? According to this invitation we would expect that the dwelling place of the Lord would have been a holy of holies and even in its outward appearance a worthy tabernacle of the Most Holy *). But to him who says that the Son of Man does not have where to lay his head, it is not fitting that his dwelling place should now all of a sudden be advertised as a holy of holies appropriate to his person. In general, we can consider it certain that the Lord never used such pompous words, even when he referred to the inner richness of his personality. For we call pompous that which is indefinite and exuberant. When the Lord speaks of himself in the Synoptics, he does so with a greatness and infinity that is in the highest degree sharp, definite and simple. His word about Himself: here is more than Jonah, more than Solomon! is great, simple and strikingly comprehensible. On the other hand, the invitation: “Come and see!”, even if it should refer beyond the inspection of the dwelling to the insight into the richness of his being – but the connection with the question of his dwelling does not even permit this extension – is nebulous, and with all its pomp so dull that we cannot ascribe it to the Lord. But neither must we. For if we consider how those words of exhortation in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse cannot coincidentally agree so much as they are in harmony with the context only here but not there, it is clear that in the Gospel they are only a reminiscence from the Apocalypse.

*) It is delicious to see how Bengel really knows how to substantiate the mysterious things to which the Lord’s words seem to lead: Messiae documenta videre illi potuere in ejus habitatione, quae erat simplex, tranquilla, munda, , silens, frugalis, sine egeno denique ipso, eoque solo, digna. This is still an intrepid declaration, which knows how to take its writer at his word – but also shows that these words, when given their proper content, are playful and unworthy of the Lord.


Even the end of the report does not stand out from the character of the whole by a firmer attitude. When the author says that they stayed with him “that day” and even adds that from ten o’clock *) they had stayed with the Lord, it is obvious that he means that they were with the Lord only that day. But it is just as clear that the author wants to tell how the remaining circle of disciples gathered around the Lord. For soon afterwards Jesus not only called Philip to follow him, but on his return to Galilee all those with whom he had come into contact in the days before appeared as his disciples, without whom he could no longer be thought of. So the evangelist wants to tell this story of a permanent circle of disciples, but at this moment (b. 40) he not only does not emphasise it, but he himself destroys his unmistakable intention when he says that those two stayed with the Lord that day.

*) Of course he means 10 o’clock before noon according to the Roman reckoning, not 4 o’clock after noon according to the Hebrew reckoning. Only if the greater part of the day is still left can it be said that they stayed with him that day, but not if only 2 hours are left. In the latter case it would have to be said that they stayed with him that evening.


6) The finding of the Messiah.


As in the foregoing many petty details, e.g. the time indications, seem to lead to an eye-witness, but the actions themselves and the speeches always threaten to dissolve this appearance: so it happens also in the following. One of the traits is so minutely precise and immediately vivid that it could only have come from an eyewitness, but everything else, and even more so the core, is indelibly stamped with the unhistorical. Andrew, one of those two who had visited the Lord in His dwelling, found (v. 42) his brother first. If we read πρωτον with some manuscripts, the report would not only have to continue with the number, if afterwards others were led to the Lord – but what is the use of numbering here? but it would also have to follow that Andrew found Philip afterwards. Since none of this follows, we must assume with other manuscripts that Andrew found his brother πρωτος, i.e. sooner than another. So he searched for him with someone else in different ways, and this someone else can be no one other than the comrade with whom he had been with the Lord. How vivid is this arabesque in the frame of the picture and how little is this itself the faithful imprint of reality!


Andrew calls out to his brother Peter: “We have found the Messiah. But could someone speak like this who had not personally experienced by chance or by the coincidence of several previously calculated circumstances that in this individual Jesus the Messiah had appeared? Only those who, certain that the Messiah must now appear, were only looking for the specific person who was the expected one, were allowed to speak in this way. But Andrew had not found the Messiah in this way, but was pointed to him by the Baptist, who, through the occurrence of the promised sign at Jesus’ baptism, had become certain that the Messiah had appeared in him. The Baptist would have been the only one among all the children of men who could say: I have found the Messiah; but Andrew could only say: the Baptist has shown us the Messiah and we have spoken to him in his dwelling place. Just listen to the perfectly correct paraphrase that Paulus *) gives to Andrew’s words: “We have made the great discovery! We have found the Messiah!” to immediately hear the false glory in these words. But the most criminal presumption is when an interpreter like Olshausen **) immediately makes the false trait that lies in the words of Andrew a general trait of his brother and speaks of a “searching nature” of Peter! Seeking, which turned to a particular individual and was more than the simple expectation of the Messiah, is peculiar only to the Baptist. The disciples, like the people in general, had not sought the Messiah as that person, but expected his arrival and their expectation was fulfilled when the Messiah came to them, announced himself to them or was proclaimed to them, but they did not find him.

*) Commentary on the Gospel of John p 117.

**) Bibl. Comm. 1831. II, 69.


When Simon appears before the Lord, the Lord says to him, you are Simon the son of Jonah, but you are to be called Peter, i.e..: You have received your name, as it is customary to do, by chance and without regard to your inner nature, but from now on you shall have a name that corresponds to your character: Rock. If we must also ascribe to the Lord a penetrating gaze with which he was able to explore the core of a personality, the first Gospel says that at least not on this early occasion Simon received his higher name, indeed it lets this naming be conditioned not even by that penetrating gaze of the Lord but by Simon’s bold and sure confession of faith (Matt. 16:16-18). Commentators such as Lücke and de Wette naturally do not fail to say that the giving of the name is already presupposed here in Matthew’s account. But here too both names, the old and the new, are so decisively separated and contrasted that Matthew can only be of the opinion that Simon the son of Jonah, in contrast to the old meaningless name, has now received the new more significant and appropriate one. If Simon had already had this name, the Lord would not be telling him anything new or special. But the position which Matthew gives to the giving of names can least of all be shaken by our evangelist; his powers are not sufficient for this. Only in the first Gospel does it make sense, for there Simon emerges from the circle of the other disciples through that decisive act of faith, and his new rock name also has a sound, healthy reason. In the account of the fourth Gospel, on the other hand, the relationship of the new name remains abstract, since it can only be directed to the character in general.


It is time to take a look at the general matter that occupies the report here, or rather to briefly translate the difficulties that have long been noticed by critics and have not yet been eliminated, which beset the report. The report wants to tell the calling of the first disciples. Matt. (4:18-22.) also reports how the first disciples were called, and among them the same who are mentioned here, but he tells it differently. According to him it happened in Galilee, not in the south of the country at the Jordan. It is not through the Baptist that the first disciples are directed to the Lord, but the Lord himself draws them to himself personally and solely through his word, without any preparation of them through contact with the Baptist being presupposed. Andrew and Peter are called at the same moment, while in the fourth Gospel Andrew is first called with another and Peter comes to the Lord through the mediation of his brother. The excuse of the apologists, that here at the Jordan the relationship between the Lord and His disciples had only been established for the time being, and that there in Galilee they were called to follow Him permanently, has long since been cut off by criticism. The people in Cana know better than those commentators what the evangelist has already allowed to happen at the Jordan, and they certainly presuppose that the disciples, who here have come into contact with the Lord, from now on essentially belong to him, for when they invite the Lord to the wedding, they do not fail to ask his companions, who are inseparable from him, to come too – a courtesy which those apologists would not have observed. From the wedding at Cana onwards, these disciples are uninterruptedly in the Lord’s company, and there is not the slightest period of time to be found where they would have lived apart from the Lord, so that a new connection would have been necessary. But Lücke thinks that there is still a way out, namely when the Lord says to Philip: follow me! this can first be understood by the external (!) company *). But what can be meant by external accompaniment when the Lord ties someone to his person forever? With this he also draws him into the spiritual realm of his personality and the outer accompaniment is then immediately the form of the inner substantial connection. And the naming with which the Lord introduces his relationship with Peter, what else should it mean than that Simon is now entering a new world and is the creature of his Master? It may be that the Lord first came into contact with some of the disciples at the Jordan, and that he later chained them to himself forever in Galilee. But we can only assert the possibility, if we understand ourselves to make this extreme concession, and we must not for a moment forget that neither Matthew nor the fourth Evangelist present the matter in this way, but that each of them had the Lord call his first disciples in an opposite locality and under different circumstances.

*) Comm. I, 388.


7) The finding of Philip.


It is very characteristic of the literary structure of this Gospel that it is extremely indefinite in detail, despite the most glaring appearance of definiteness. Hitherto the writer has always counted from one day to the next, and so he still does when he says that on the following day Jesus finds Philip, and yet he does not say which day he means. We can at best calculate the day: the preceding day is the day when Peter came to the Lord, and it is the middle day between the day when the first two disciples were in the Lord’s house and the day when Jesus finds Philip. For Andrew stayed with the unnamed comrade that whole day with the Lord, and so could only seek out his brother the next day and lead him to Jesus. But if the evangelist counts the days before and after, he should have made it clear that it was a new day when Simon received his brother’s message about the finding of the Messiah.

As far as the determination of the place is concerned, we can at least give the author credit for not being as vague as some of his commentators think.


When he says that Jesus wanted to go away to Galilee when he found Philip, he does not mean to say that it happened on the way to Galilee, so that a new but unknown locality is assumed *), in short, he does not want to change the scene, but only to say that it was about to be changed when Jesus found Philip.

*) Thus Lücke I. 387.

The author wants to emphasize the connection of this finding with the preceding events when he says that Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of the brothers Andrew and Simon. With such a motive, however, we would have to expect something completely different, namely that one of these brothers found Philip and led him to the Lord. Since one cannot find a complete stranger of whom one has never heard anything, how did Jesus know Philip before? Because he was a compatriot of that pair of brothers? Well, then his compatriots must have already told the Lord about him and described him as someone who was “well disposed” **). But that was also worth mentioning and then it could not be said: the Lord found him, but those brothers had already introduced him to Jesus and recommended him. If the report does not point to such a closer introduction, one would have to assume that Jesus had already known Philip before. But not even this is presupposed in the previous account, that the Lord had known the already called disciples before, so it cannot be assumed that Philip had such an acquaintance either, since he only came into contact with the Lord as a compatriot of the brotherly couple of Bethsaida. Nothing wants to come together and the more we look at the individual details, the more they flee apart. But everything comes together again in a moment when we give our aesthetic attention, if not our faith, to the artistic urge for variety that formed the arrangement of the report. If it was the Baptist who first pointed disciples to the Lord, if one disciple led another to the Lord, then there is a pleasant change when the Lord himself now moves a disciple to follow him through his word.

**) We assume the same as Lücke [did].


8) Nathanael.


The Lord was about to leave for Galilee when he found Philip, so it must have been on the journey itself where Philip found Nathanael; but at which point it happened is not indicated. Not even from the fact that Nathanael was from Cana (C. 21, 2), may we conclude that the travelling party was already close to this city.

As soon as Philip sees Nathaniel, he calls out to him: “We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote. It goes without saying that if the Messiah was expected at that time, then this expectation was based on the promises of the OT: but as the words are pronounced here in the usual course: “the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote,” they already presuppose a system of Messianic promises and can only have come from a detailed comparison of the promises of the OT with the person of Jesus. This comparative consciousness, however, only came to the disciples after the death and resurrection of the Lord, and it cannot be denied that the formula of a later point of view was put into Philip’s mouth.


Philip describes the found Messiah in great detail as the son of Joseph from Nazareth. But it was hardly the time or the place to tell Nathanael the father and birthplace of the Messiah, nor was it of any conceivable interest. At this moment, when Philip wanted to shout to Nathanael in a short, enthusiastic exclamation the miraculous fact that the Messiah had been found, in order to lead him quickly to the one who had been found, he could only tell him something that was important for his messianic expectations and could move him to go immediately to the one who had been found. In none of these relations was the dry notice of the father and birthplace of the Messiah of any importance.

But if we look at what follows, we discover the importance that this note had for the grouping of the whole, and thus the hand that placed it there. Nathanael takes offence at the fact that the Messiah should come from such an insignificant place as Nazareth, but as soon as he comes into contact with the personality of the Lord, his doubts are immediately removed. It is precisely this contrast, however, which must so beneficially excite us through the contrast of doubt and the victory which the Lord bears over the doubter, that the author wanted to achieve through the note about the Lord’s home. It would have been tedious if all the individual disciples who now gather around the Lord had declared themselves ready to do so at a single word: but the whole becomes more lively if one first approaches the Lord in doubt, in order to gain a more lively conviction from the impression of his personality and thus at the same time to testify all the more meaningfully to the power of this impression.

Critics usually conclude from this note on the home of Jesus that the fourth evangelist does not know the legends of the miraculous birth of the Lord.


For if it were otherwise, one concludes, he would remove the doubt of Nathanael by having Philip say: No! Jesus, to whom I want to refer you, is not actually from Nazareth either; rather, he was born in the city of David, Bethlehem, and is not actually the son of Joseph. But if we only look at the structure of the speeches which the Evangelist puts into the mouth of the Baptist, it is undeniable that he must have written very late, when the Synoptics had long since written their accounts. In this case, the legend which the first Gospel presupposes must already have become more widespread in the congregation; it could not have remained unknown to the fourth evangelist, and according to his view of the Logos, we must not trust him to have cast doubt on it. It is more probable to explain the matter in this way: it is deliberate irony on the part of the evangelist when he shows how doubt was aroused by the apparent home of Jesus; it is the joy of a contrast which he himself knows to be well resolved in his consciousness and in that of the congregation, but with which he can now all the more surely have the unbelief of the Jews punished, as we shall see later, or which in other cases, as here, he allows to be resolved in an immanent way by the impression of the Lord’s personality.

The point of the following story is that Jesus greets Nathanael, as he sees him, like an acquaintance, calls him an Israelite, as he must be, and Nathanael is surprised at this kind of greeting. Then Jesus tells him that he had seen him under the fig tree, under which he had been sitting just before he spoke to Philip. Of course, the Lord also wants to say that he had seen through the thoughts that were occupying him at that time, and they could not have been meaningless, for it is precisely because he had seen through them that the Lord justifies the fact that he greets Nathanael as a true Israelite. This feature, as well as the following symbolic word of the opened heaven, stand out so prominently against the manner of the evangelist that we may regard them without hesitation as historical, even if that symbolic word may not stand in its proper place here, for the homage of Nathaniel, by which it is supposed to have been brought about, retreats again entirely into the realm of the imaginary. Thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel! exclaims Nathaniel; but how could he combine two such opposite determinations in one view? The expression “King of Israel” has the colouring of the particular theocratic ground, but “Son of God”, according to the context of the Gospel, is to be grasped only in the metaphysical sense *). The evangelist could only juxtapose such heterogeneous things if, on the one hand, he wanted such a person to speak who had just come to the Lord from the circle of pure Jewish life, and on the other hand, since he wanted to portray him as a believer, he could not avoid attaching to him the believing view of the community. Since we have thus sufficiently revealed the manner in which this homage was made, it is not necessary to remind us how improbable it is that the disciples should have attributed such effusive attributes to the Lord at their very first meeting with him. —-

*) Olshausen II, 71 sees himself compelled to acknowledge the contradiction, although he knows how to silence it immediately in an apologetic way. “Nathanael, he supposes, had already learned through Philip that the forerunner had called Jesus the Son of God.” We would know how to be modest and not think that in this case the evangelist wants to bring about everything, the entire homage of the new disciple, solely through the impression of the personality of Jesus and excludes all other mediation and preparation: if the previous speeches of the Baptist himself were not made only at the later point of view of the congregation.


9) The pragmatism of this section.

According to its inner context, this passage proves to be a significant group of individual features for the Gospel, which at the same time unite in an artistic way to form a whole. It is the circle of expectation that opens up for us here in the entry and which is at the same time closed by the Lord’s final declaration of the opened heaven and chained to the larger circle of fulfilment. The expectation itself develops as a threefold expectation: first, the priesthood’s unreconciled expectation, which does not reconcile itself with the new and remains in the rigid, old forms; then the Baptist’s expectation, which stands between the old and the new, but who remains in the middle and only points to the new; finally, the expectation of the first disciples, which unconditionally points towards fulfilment. The Lord also passes through this circle of expectation in different ways. He is already there in the circle, but still hidden from unbelief, when the Baptist says to the delegates of the priesthood: “He stands in the midst of you, but you do not know Him. While the Baptist is testifying about him before the disciples, the Lord is already visibly passing by, but secretly like a floating figure in uncertain light. Finally, however, he stands before the believing disciples in full life and now heaven is opened above him and the angels of God ascend and descend above him.

We do not declare the whole to be unhistorical because it all looks so beautiful and because one link overlaps into the other with such artistic harmony, but because everything individual – and this is the only thing that matters here, since the grouping roughly corresponds to the idea and to the story as a whole and on a large scale – has dissolved for us. But before we pass final judgement, we must also consider the chronological side of the arrangement. In former times, the commentators were tormented by the synoptic accounts, which show the temptation following the baptism of Jesus, and since they, not without a right instinct, did not look for the baptism too far before the beginning of our account, or even saw it in the beginning of the same, they had to force a rift in the account, in which they could insert the temptation and even the forty preceding days. Of course, in their blind desire to mediate, they did not notice that our account from the message of the priests to the departure of Jesus to Cana counts only a few days, and day by day at that, and that after the moment when the Lord revealed His glory at Cana, there is as little room for the inner struggle of the spirit, which a temptation presupposes, as there was before, since the Lord was already acknowledged before the people as the Messiah. Now the commentators think they can attack the matter in a more discerning way; from the words of the Baptist to the message of the priests: he stands in the midst of you, they rightly conclude that the baptism which taught the Baptist to know the Lord lies before the beginning of our report, and they now believe they can enjoy a free anteroom into which they may move as much as they like. However, this free space is not so spacious that the temptation with the forty days has a comfortable place here. For if we see how it is in the nature of this report to let everything follow one after the other, how it always inserts only one day between each new event, we are not inferring too much when we say that between the baptism of Jesus and the message of the priests he does not want to count, if not only one day, then in all the world almost one and a half months. And it should be at least a month and a half if the Lord goes into the wilderness after the baptism and immediately after overcoming the temptation is to join in at the right time, so that the forerunner may point to him with his fingers, making him known to his disciples as the Lamb of God.


The temptation has no place either before or in the account of the fourth Gospel. The collision with the Synoptics, however, becomes even greater when they report that Jesus went to Galilee immediately after the baptism and temptation, and now, according to our account, the Lord remains in Judea at the Jordan for a longer time after the baptism and even gathers his first disciples here. The accuracy of the details, especially the dates, cannot bring about the decision in this collision in favour of the fourth evangelist, for up to now this definiteness has often dissolved into indefiniteness, and now the point is to be touched where this dissolution will be completed.

On the third day, it is said (2:1, 2), there was a wedding at Cana, to which also the Lord is invited with His disciples. What is this third day? The last determination of time was given (1:44), when the day was mentioned on which Jesus finds Philip. Now we are uncertain on what day Nathanael came to the Lord, whether this was a new day, and whether perhaps the third day was reckoned from here on. When Jesus finds Philip, he is about to leave for Galilee, so he has carried out his intention after calling Philip to follow him. Now Nathanael may have come to the Lord on the same day, even if on the journey, or on the following day. But here the author may be indefinite, the day from which every third one is to be counted is and remains that on which Philip was found. For only here in Bethany could the Lord have received the invitation to the wedding in Cana, which is the reason for his departure for Galilee *). This is also consistent with the fact that it is about three days’ journey from that point in Judea to Cana. But now comes the circumstance which, if it has to fall, also tears the whole chronological order out of joint. Not only the Lord is to be invited to the wedding, but also his disciples **). But how could it be known or even assumed in Cana that the Lord had disciples, since he only gathered the first ones at the moment when the invitation left Cana, since he did not even gather them, but only chance led them to him? Let us come to the conclusion! Chronological data, which on closer examination dissolve into nothing, can in no way establish an authority against the account of the Synoptics. –

*) It is not too harsh to call the brittleness with which Olshausen refuses to acknowledge the invitation to the wedding as the motive for Jesus’ departure for Galilee, and assumes “inner motives”, ugly ornamentation. The time of the “return journey” would have to be determined by the invitation. By the way, the evangelist does not want the journey to Galilee to be regarded as a “return journey” at all; rather, he looks at the matter as if Jesus were in Judea on the stage where he belonged, and already here he follows the maxim that he always lets Jesus’ journeys to Galilee be conditioned by external and accidental causes. Without the invitation to the wedding, it seems, Jesus would have remained where he was, as if at home.

**) Who will not admire the courage with which Paulus (p. 150) knows how to silence the report and has Jesus introduce the disciples “as new, unexpected guests” at the wedding feast?


The question of whether John, the eyewitness, is the author of the report cannot yet be answered with certainty, since the individual pages of the narrative do not yet allow us to come to our conclusion, since they lead us to completely opposite judgments. If accuracy in minor details leads us to an eyewitness, the arrangement of the scenes and the attitude given to the speeches of the characters leads us to the conclusion that we are at least not hearing the report of a faithful eyewitness. If the unhistorical nature of the account, which we acknowledge, for example, in the position of the forerunner alone, leads us to the conclusion that the account is purely the product of the later view of the community, then those chronological details nevertheless draw us back again. Even they could not stand the test of criticism, but we must always consider whether a later author, who worked purely according to the ideal view, could attempt to give his report that meticulous precision. Only in one case was it possible for him to do so, if he deliberately wished to give his report a definiteness in these things of which he knew at the same time that it was his own making. Before we indulge in such a result, we must keep one more possibility open, namely that: Could not an eyewitness involuntarily be led to rewrite what he had experienced from a later point of view of his consciousness, could not, especially if he wrote late, many things in his view change considerably, and could not then also the chronological definiteness, if he attempted it, turn into the opposite?



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