§ 8. Jesus as a prophet in a foreign land

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§8. Jesus as a prophet in a foreign land.




1) The motive of the journey abroad.



It was already mentioned in 4:1-3 that Jesus left Judea because of the hostile attention of the Pharisees and went to Galilee: but now that this remark was followed by the detailed report of Jesus’ stay in Samaria, the pragmatic reason for the journey to Galilee had faded away or had lost its vitality and the evangelist felt the need to refresh it again. Thus he says: Jesus went to Galilee because, as he himself testified, the prophet has no honour in his homeland.

Only for the apologist there are no laws of language, indeed no language at all, for the quality that is usually attributed to it, that it expresses certain thoughts, he immediately destroys if he has an interest in it. So here, too, he does not have to let the evangelist say what he wants to say, if he can only assert his interest by making the author into a man who does not know what he wants and what he is saying. The evangelist wants to say that Jesus went from Judea to Galilee because he had no honour there in his homeland and could more easily promise it here in a foreign land. But how can the evangelist allow himself to look at the matter in this way, since the apologist knows from the Synoptics that Galilee must rather be called the home of Jesus, if one calls home the country in which someone has found his permanent residence, determined by family relations, moreover, from his first childhood? To his horror, the apologist hears that Jesus elsewhere calls Nazareth his home and that here in this city he found the saying of the prophet confirmed in himself (Luke 4:24). But the apologist is not frightened, the fourth evangelist too, he says, thinks of the matter in this way, that Jesus “went to Galilee, but not to his hometown Nazareth, because he was not recognised there”. *). But then the evangelist must have already said something about the people of Nazareth despising the Lord’s preaching, but up to now he has only told us that a hostile attitude was forming against him in Judea, and only in order to avoid this threatening attention of the Pharisee party Jesus had left Judea and went to Galilee. Then the evangelist should have placed in Galilee itself the contrast between the home and the foreign country, and should have opposed the city of Nazareth, which the Lord avoided, with an equally single point, such as Cana. But when he says that the Lord went to Galilee, he contrasts this whole province as the more inclined stranger with the uninclined home.

*) Olshausen, Comm. II, 122.


Nevertheless – one will pardon this standing transition, but it forms the standing bridge that leads from the truth to the apologetic art – nevertheless de Wette thinks that the homeland spoken of here can only be understood as Galilee. And when the evangelist says that the Lord went to Galilee because he experienced the truth of this saying, this is the “provisional explanation of what follows, that the Galileans received Jesus well this time.” *) But the evangelist does not want to call it an exception that the Galileans (v. 45) received Jesus well, but he wants to present it as natural, as the confirmation of that saying. The Galileans therefore received him (ουν), thus, as is self-evident, they received him favourably, because they were not the countrymen of the Lord.

*) Kurze Erkl. des Ev. Joh. p.62.63. Likewise Tholuck Comm.p. 117.


Gfrörer **) takes refuge in the assumption of an ellipsis, as the γαρ in its apparent indeterminacy often contains an abundance of not expressly stated relations. Therefore, when the evangelist says that the Lord went to Galilee because he had experienced the truth of that proverb, the definite motive lies in the context and is only not emphasised because it is already clear in itself. The matter is to be understood in this way. Jesus remained in Samaria for some time and only hesitantly went to Galilee without any particular haste to reveal himself, because he could not hope to be well received as a prophet here in his homeland. This view also fails because of the transition by ουν (v. 45), which makes the good reception which the Lord found among the Galileans seem self-evident and perfectly natural. Here in the foreign land, the evangelist means, here it became evident that the prophet had to leave his home if he wanted to find acceptance. Then the evangelist should have emphasized the condition to which the γαρ is supposed to refer, that the Lord left Samaria only slowly and hesitantly – the main thing – beforehand, just as in general there is only an ellipsis in the transition made with “for” if the omission was previously so clearly expressed that it still resonates audibly in the reader. But can the fact that Jesus “talked for a long time with a woman outside the city of Shechem and stayed there for two days” be regarded as a sign that he did not like to return to Galilee? He only spoke with the woman while his disciples were fetching food from the city, and after he had stayed two days in their city only at the urgent request of the Shechemites, he continued the journey to Galilee without staying.

**) The Holy Saga II, 289.


“I understand the passage in this way,” says Neander *), “John gives v. 44 as a reason why Christ did not first work in Galilee for a longer time and now returned there, because he had to appear in a different light to his compatriots, who had rejected him earlier, when he appeared among them as a teacher, since they had seen him work publicly in Jerusalem.” In order for this explanation to stand, no less than the following ingredients would be necessary: 1) the evangelist would not only have to say that Jesus stayed a few days in Capernaum, but he would also have to have described it as conspicuous; but on the contrary, according to his basic view, he finds it natural that the Lord should leave for Judea as soon as possible, for there he would be in his place. A Passover feast calls the Lord to Judea so soon, but what this event is all about will be explained to us in time. 2) The evangelist would have to emphasize that the Lord stayed in Galilee for a long time this time 4:43 and would have to describe it as remarkable. But he does nothing of all this, but the Lord can hardly have recovered from the journey, so he must be called back to Jerusalem by a feast (5:1). 3) The author should have even called it remarkable that the Lord went back to Galilee at all; but he had rather described it as a natural consequence of the dangers that threatened in Judea (4:1-3-4). The evangelist should have reported that the Galileans once rejected Jesus – but what would he not have done to free the apologists from the fear of having to acknowledge a contradiction. But he did not do them this favour, for we have now seen too clearly that in his view Jesus is only in his place in Judea, where he belongs. Only we must not say, with Lücke, that Judea, in the circle of this view, comes to the dignity of being the fatherland of Jesus, “as far as he was born in Bethlehem. *) This relation should have been emphasized by the evangelist, since since 1:46 he still left the appearance as if Jesus was born in Nazareth. If this appearance was perhaps only an appearance to him, here he would have had to dissolve it, if he also wanted Judea to be considered in this literal sense as the country of birth. But it is nothing but the aesthetic view of history that would have led the evangelist to the view that Judea, but above all the holy centre, Jerusalem, was the home of Jesus. The Messiah seemed to him to be in his true place only at this centre of the holy land, and the distance from this ideal home, given only in the nature of things, could then only be offered by accidental circumstances.

*) Life of Jesus p. 386

*) Comm. l, 546.


Admittedly, the evangelist did not place the truth of a saying that the Lord, according to the synoptic accounts, experienced in a completely different situation, very happily, but according to his basic view of Jesus’ legitimate sphere of activity, he could not place it differently. Admittedly, he placed it very unhappily, for that saying has in mind the reception of the prophet by the masses and by the people as such, whereas the fourth evangelist lets Jesus experience the truth of it only through the hostility of the rulers, while the masses in Judea eagerly adhered to him, the prophet (3:26, 4:1) – but does that force us to deny what cannot be denied? Admittedly, one inconsistency is piled on top of the other. For the fact that Jesus departed from Judea was already sufficiently explained, if he believed that he had to flee the hostile attention of the Pharisees, but why did he now, by justifying his retreat into a foreign country with this saying, have to cast such a detrimental light on his homeland in general? Had his home indeed forced him to flee, and not rather only one party? And was Galilee, which had always been a part of the Holy Land, so foreign to him? After all, the friendly reception the Lord found in Galilee was sufficiently explained when this land appears as the foreign land where the prophet is met with greater willingness than in his homeland. Why does the evangelist have to give another reason to explain this reception and say that the Galileans had seen the signs that Jesus performed in Jerusalem at feast time (4:45)? According to the evangelist this is correct, if the Galileans want to see the signs of the Lord, they have to travel to Jerusalem, because in their country He only gives such proofs of His glory occasionally, when He is sent there by chance (4:54), the signs performed in their country are to be numbered (ibid.), innumerable are those which they can see in Jerusalem. But why must the evangelist give reasons for one and the same circumstance, each of which renders the other superfluous? If Galilee was a foreign land, then the prophet was sure of a favourable reception there. But if the Galileans were in a favourable mood because of what they had seen in Jerusalem, they did not need to be strangers in order to receive the prophet favourably. Where, then, do all these inconsistencies come from? Because the evangelist, in his pragmatic view of history, believes that he has never done enough if he has not brought together a multitude of motives, which then, of course, often interfere with each other.


2) The second miracle in Galilee.



Matthew and Luke also know of a miracle which must be the same as the second miracle which the Lord performed in Galilee, if the agreement in essence, that the Lord healed a sick man in Capernaum, whom He was asked to heal, from a distance, is proof of this unity. But since the apologist, in admitting unity, must at the same time admit differences which increase to the point of contradiction, he makes better use of these differences: out of their mutual theoretical conflict, in which they turn against each other into threatening contradictions, he puts them into more useful practical activity and lets them serve to support the assumption of two different facts *). But they too decidedly evade this service, since they are either too weak and insignificant or, if they seem stronger, can only be explained by the different theoretical views of one and the same substance.

*) Thus, for example, Lücke, Tholuck, Olshausen.

The man who asks Jesus for help is, according to Matthew and Luke, a soldier, a centurion, according to the fourth Gospel, a royal servant: only in a province which did not depend directly on the Romans, but was ruled by the native prince, could even a soldier in contrast to the Roman soldiers, be so called. The sick man, we note further, is the son of that man according to the fourth Gospel; the first and third evangelists call him his servant. But if in Matthew he is called the man’s παις, he may also be the son, and this is the more certain, since the urgency of the man’s plea in Matthew leads us to think of the relationship between the man and the sick man as the closest. The different degrees of the illness cannot be a reason for keeping the accounts apart. If, according to the fourth evangelist, the boy is deathly ill and Matthew, on the other hand, only says (8:5) that he is paralytic and very afflicted, Luke reports (7:2) that he is dying. As far as the place is concerned, according to all reports the sick man is in Capernaum, but here in this city Jesus is or he just enters it, when Luke and Matthew send the centurion or his messengers to meet him. According to the fourth evangelist, however, he heals the sick man in Cana. But when we see how this evangelist, v. 54, emphasizes that this is the second miracle that Jesus performed in Galilee, how he lets Jesus, v. 46, gain a firm foothold in Cana as the place where he first revealed his glory, and holds him back here as if by force, we see too clearly his pragmatic view that he considered it probable and fitting that the second Galilean miracle was performed precisely where the first had been performed. Finally, if one does not want the same thing to happen three times, even the striking difference in the description of the whole event cannot be a reason to separate the Synoptic account from that of the fourth evangelist, for in this Matthew and Luke again diverge just as much as both together and the fourth evangelist.


The question of whether the original version of the basic material is found in Matthew in comparison with Luke does not belong here: for now we only have to compare what is common to the two synoptics with the account of the fourth evangelist. According to the latter, the centurion is a Gentile, for when he says in confident faith that all that is needed on the part of Jesus is a word, that he need not go into his house, Jesus exclaims that not even in Israel had he found such faith. Further, according to Matthew’s account, as he is so strong in faith he represents the symbol of the pagans who come from sunrise and sunset and enter the kingdom of heaven, while the children of the kingdom are cast out. In the account of the fourth evangelist, however, not only does it not appear that the suppliant is a Gentile, not only does he lack the punch line that so magnificently dominates everything in Matthew, but he even puts the royal personage in the category of Jews, whom the Lord could never reject severely enough. The royal servant has hardly made his request that the Lord should come down to his terminally ill son, when Jesus is supposed to say: if you do not see miracles and signs, you do not believe. But it is impossible for the Lord to have spoken or rather to have approached a man in this way who turned to him without falsehood and evil. Thus he could reject malicious persons or those who demanded a miracle only for the sake of a miracle or even with the intention of trying, but not a man who turned to him with trust and faith. De Wette acknowledges that this man “did not come to demand a proof of faith” but instead of acknowledging the contradiction, he denies or rather hides it. “The unwilling remark of Jesus, he says, is not first of all directed against the one asking, but against the contemporaries in general, who needed miracles to believe “ *). But if those harsh words “not at first” were meant to refer to the present occasion, they would have had to be said, if the listeners were to understand how Jesus could suddenly come to such a passionate accusation. The words, however, reveal clearly enough the direction in which they are spoken: for when the Lord says immediately after the man’s request, “unless ye see signs and wonders,” he himself is regarded as the representative of such a condemnable standpoint. The contradiction of the occasion and the induced utterance of Jesus thus remains, and all that repugnant effort of the apologists to erase the contradiction is of no avail. The supplicant, says Olshausen **), “struggles up to faith with difficulty, since he is really only concerned with help against the external need. As if it were not his firm faith that made the man expect help from Jesus. “It was not only the need that led him to Christ” ***), but his faith that showed him the way to help. And assuming the fact that this was the result of mere need, does Jesus’ hard speech fit better? Does the man want the sign as such and only so that he may know whether it is worthwhile to believe?

*) Short explanation of the Gospel of John, p. 63.

**) Comm. II, 123.

***) As Tholuck says in agreement with Olshausen, Comm. p. 118.


“I consider, says Lücke *), that Jesus’ explanation to those to whom he singled out among the crowd, with his messianic activity already beginning to reveal itself inwardly in their hearts.” Already now! One of the greatest discoveries of modern apologetics is, in fact, that the Lord later exerted this “discriminatory activity” particularly. Therefore, the Lord must have had the intention beforehand to “arouse attention and external inclination” through the external stimulus of his miracles! Such a monstrous pragmatic reflection should at least not be presented by the interpreter of the fourth gospel, because according to it, the Lord had already demonstrated (2:23-25) what he thought of that external inclination at the beginning of his public appearance.

*) Comm. l, 549.

Finally Lücke **) assumes, “John wants to point out a certain contrast between the Samaritans, who believed without signs and wonders (v. 42), and the Galileans by his combination of this story with that of the Samaritans. But this remark shows us even more clearly the sore spot of the report. The Samaritans, on the contrary, believed at first only for the sake of a sign, namely because the Lord had proved to that woman that he knew her circumstances exactly. Why then should a man who did not think of the sign as a sign, who came to the Lord with firm faith from the beginning, immediately be so severely attacked? The fourth evangelist did indeed have a special affection for the Samaritans, but for that reason he could not so cruelly deny it to that royal official. It is also good that Lücke reminds us of the connection between the account of the royal official and the previous remark about the favourable reception Jesus received from the Galilians. But has not the evangelist destroyed the whole structure of his account when he mentions only one man among the favourably-minded Galileans whom the Lord has to attack and reject so harshly?

**) Ibid, p. 248.


Hence these contradictions arise, because the evangelist is governed by the theory that faith for the sake of miracles is an imperfect one, and because he considered this situation, where the Lord is asked for a miracle, to be the natural and suitable occasion, where the Lord Himself had expressed that opinion. As he had only that theory in view, the author overlooked the fact that he was putting it in a place where faith already precedes the request for a miracle, and the sign is not demanded as such, nor even for the awakening of faith.

Therefore, if those who consider the accounts of the first and fourth evangelists to be two separate events also argue that “it is hardly conceivable that the ‘punctum saliens’, the magnificent point of Matthew’s narrative, could have been lost in the account of the fourth evangelist”*), then the objection is resolved. Although those words of the Lord in Matthew, which designate the believing Gentiles as representatives of his brothers who will enter the kingdom of heaven, “must have been particularly appealing to the universalistic standpoint of John,” he was even more dominated by his reflective polemics, and he lacked the sense for the magnificent three-dimensional polemics that appear in Matthew’s narrative **).

*) Neander, Leb. Jesu p. 330. Hase, Leben Jesu p. 124.

**) The final reason why the account of the fourth Gospel lacks this punch line will be revealed to us by the critique of the synoptic accounts.


Despite the harsh rebuke, the royal offical repeated his tender request without saying anything new, without even taking the master’s reproach into consideration. And what does Jesus do? More than the boy’s father had asked and more than he himself had refused *). He had asked him to come down to Capernaum, but Jesus already says here, while he is still in Cana: your son is alive. This contradiction, too, was not entirely absent from the dogmatic reflection with which the evangelist treated a material that had lost its brittleness. This contradiction was also unavoidable in the dogmatic reflection with which the evangelist treated a material that had not completely lost its brittleness. If he wanted the Lord to speak so disapprovingly of the man’s request, he had to let him ask for an ordinary miracle, for it would have been punished as extreme presumption if the father had asked the Lord to heal his son from afar. But the source material forced the author to report a healing from afar, and so it happened that it took place so inappropriately after the abrupt rejection of a much lesser request. The original form of the source material has finally also been preserved in the fact that the father of the sick man, after he had been so rudely dispatched, still stands on the same standpoint of firm faith that he had taken before. Of course! for his faith could not be affected at all by those harsh words, and, as if nothing that concerned him had happened, he must repeat his request, because the evangelist, after he had completely departed from the material at hand through the interference of his theory, needed a bridge that would at last make the passage to the miracle possible for him.

*) Very naively, de Wette says, p. 63, according to his unwilling remark against the belief in miracles, “the Lord gets free here in the shortest way.” But this supposed brevity is, on the contrary, a very high increase of the miracle-working power!


The conclusion of the account gives us a curious contribution to the character of our author and historiography, and also makes it more explicable how he could have been diverted from the true point of the whole by special interests. When Matthew reported that Jesus said to the centurion, Go thy way, and it be done unto thee according to thy faith, he adds briefly, and his lad was healed at the hour (8:13). We can put up with that. When the Lord really healed miraculously, it was self-evident that the expression of His will was immediately accompanied by success, and the earnestness with which the Lord would have expressed His will in such cases would have been so moving, so confidence-inspiring, that no one, least of all one of His companions, could feel the need to ask immediately about the hour and minute of the success that had occurred. Afterwards, it would be even less likely for someone around him to inquire about these circumstances. The fourth evangelist, however, gives an exact account of the time and hour, though not in such a way that he says that afterwards, on closer investigation, it was generally shown that it had happened as the Lord said: but he weaves his interest into the story itself and now lets it be objectively satisfied. A servant meets the father on his return home with the message that his son is alive and out of danger. In answer to his question *) as to when the recovery occurred, the father learns that it happened at the same hour when the Lord said: your son is alive. This legal proof that the boy was healed by the will of Jesus is, however, purely made and only comes from the apologetic interest which wants the miracle to be confirmed as such. With this interest in the miracle and with this intention to secure the faith in miracles of his readers, the evangelist violates the theory that he had put into the mouth of the Lord (v. 48), but this is the contradiction that is always, even today, inherent in apologetics: on the one hand, faith is not to wait for the miracle and even the belief in miracles is regarded with affected contempt, but on the other hand, faith is to be believed in the miracle par excellence and faith is to be founded on it again.

*) How the father could have arrived at this question without the will of the author is incomprehensible. Olshausen, (Comm. II, 123) says: “from the servants the distressed father carefully inquires the hour in which the help arrived.” But if he was indeed so distressed, he would not have entered into such questions, and in any case the evangelist would not be telling us the truth if he said beforehand (v. 50) that the father had believed the words of Jesus. But if the boy’s father believed, he would not have asked a question that could only come from doubt.



The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.