Critique of the Gospel of John: Preface

Critique of the Gospel of John 

by Bruno Bauer.


printed and published by Carl Schünemann.


To my brother
Edgar Bauer

Dear Edgar! 

Since even the pure is not impure to the pure, it gives me particular pleasure to dedicate these leaves to you.

The 2l. August 1840.




It was originally the author’s plan to continue his critique of the history of Revelation by presenting the historical presuppositions of Christianity to the critical examination of the New Testament Revelation. If, however, he could not be indifferent to the question whether his fine book would be opposed to innumerable prejudices or to only a few, and if he was free to choose whether to make it easier for that which he knew to be true to enter and to remove the multitude of prejudices in a more palliative manner, then no one will blame him if he abandoned this plan and preferred the opposite path. The history of Jewish consciousness, as it had developed since the conclusion of the canon until the appearance of Jesus, is, as much as it has the opinion for itself that it is pretty much, if not completely, known, a still unknown area, and already by the questions which the author had to raise here, he would have caused offence – what would he have gained by answering them? No one, for instance, has answered the question how the prophetic immediate conception of the Messiah became a fixed concept of reflection, and yet, with the common prejudice which sees in history everywhere known and settled things, one would only wonder how one could still raise that question. On the other hand, the common and popular – even the theological-popular – view of the personality of Jesus is so much encased in rigid reflections that it can no longer find itself in real history and, when the light of it confronts it, is only unpleasantly touched.


In order to arrive at real history, therefore, the author took the opposite path and considered it necessary, above all, to subject reflection, which has built its special realm over history and refracts the original light of it in strange bends, to reflection again, whereby the refracted appearance of the original is annulled and this emerges in its true form. If it was now a question of subjecting the evangelical historiography to criticism, then the author, in accordance with his plan, had to begin here too from the outermost, latest structure, in order to arrive from there at the more original, and that this outermost formation of reflection is found in the fourth Gospel will be proved in the first book of the following critical work.

The author could not, of course, hope to avoid all offence in this way, for it has now come to such a pass that truth can no longer be spoken without causing offence. But nevertheless he has the great advantage here that he can, in case of need – although he is not afraid of it – appeal to principles which are peculiar to our time and which are spoken of by no one more than by those who are frightened of their correct implementation and who know no other way to help themselves against them than by external violence and religious condemnation. As I said, the author does not want to cover himself by this appeal to necessity and against damming; he only has the objective interest of the matter itself in mind when he calls it a matter of the congregation, a general matter of the newer theological science, and he reminds the apologist of his own word, not in order to appease his zeal and to divert it from his person, but in order to make him more receptive to the truth, as far as it is possible.


In recent times we have seen how the denominational differences of the Protestant churches have collapsed through the indifference to which the gradual effectiveness of the Enlightenment has reduced them, and have lost all their vital significance. How thoroughly the revolutionary Enlightenment has worked is proved by the fact that the different positions of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches with regard to the Holy Scriptures have completely balanced each other out and have become one and the same. According to its more abstract and enlightened character, the Reformed view tore itself away more forcibly from the general tradition and subjected even the Word of God, as it presents itself in Scripture, to the judgment of the inner Word, which, as Zwingli says, sits in judgment in the shrine of the human breast. After the first fluctuations, which almost bordered on the enthusiastic, this view gained a firmer hold by making Scripture, as the Word of God, its only norm and support, but the break with dogmatic tradition, which only became complete in the Lutheran Church, remained. The Word of Scripture, torn from its living development, could therefore only be held by force as the norm of Christian consciousness, i.e. it became at the same time an external fetter on the spirit, which, while devoting all its strength to the explanation of this norm, soon discovered its finiteness and weakness. After he had in vain expended all his ingenuity on the palliation of these weaknesses, and had become misled by the dogmatic theory, which exhausted itself in a multitude of confessions without gaining permanence and firmness, nothing more could assure him of the Holy Scriptures, and the reformed exegesis at last drew the Bible into the circle of books which of human origin were to be explained humanly and contained temporal weaknesses.


The Lutheran Church did not seem to be exposed to this danger, since it had withdrawn Scripture from subjective arbitrariness and had placed it in the most intimate relationship with dogma. Her inner enemy, however, was the contradiction contained in her presupposition that Scripture and dogma were in agreement, but not yet resolved. It only seemed as if it granted the spirit a freer movement when it permitted and commanded that the ecclesiastical symbol should be judged and regulated according to Holy Scripture, for as soon as the spirit wanted to surrender to this movement, the symbol became a fetter into which Scripture and understanding were forced. As soon as the spirit withdrew from the oppressive power of the symbol and had to withdraw from it, because it was no longer able to hold it as an external force, the prerequisite that Scripture and dogma should be in harmony was also lost; it was to be examined above all else, and so it came about that the Bible was examined just as ruthlessly as it had already been in the Reformed Church, and was examined to see whether and to what extent it contained temporal and local, that is, historically limited, ideas.


Now that, on the one hand, the symbolic determinations have lost their determining and distinguishing power, and, after the revolution which has driven them from the foreground, are left at most to a modest or wise consideration, and, on the other hand, biblical criticism is recognized as an inner essential moment of Christian congregational life *): after this comprehensive momentous revolution it is not the least significant consequence if unanimously the evangelical theologians establish the principle that a canon must be distinguished in the biblical canon and the Scriptures from the Word of God, which they only contain, not directly sey. Now, from the standpoint of believing consciousness itself, it is most definitely stated that literalism is contrary to Christianity and that “one must regard the determination of the canon as not yet completely closed” **); criticism is thus left full freedom to seek out that which contradicts the essential determination of the canon, but especially the originality that belongs to the canon as a later and made work of reflection. Only “that which we have recognized as an inspired representation of divine revelation, we must respect and accept as the word of God” *) what therefore does not prove to be such a representation, criticism may freely consider with the consent of the believing consciousness without being exposed to the charge of sacrilegium. Even Steudel, for whom the rift between writing and symbol is decided, who sees in the former only a “rigid formula,” in the latter the “representation and source of life,” **) must nevertheless accept as an “appearance” of the N. T. writings “the emerging individuality of the writer” ***). But if this emerges, then it appears either as a special content for itself, or the content does not appear in its original totality but limited, in this limitation it has become another and criticism is allowed even by the most zealous defender of theopneustics to seek out the traces and the special and limited content in which the individuality of the writer is concealed.

*) Schleiermacher, der christliche Glaube, pp. 130-131.

**) Twesten, Lectures on Dogmatics, 3rd ed. I, 431.

*) Ibid. x. 417.

**) Glaubenülehre p. 24.

***) Ibid. p. 64.


As far as the fourth Gospel is concerned, which is our only concern in the first book of this work, we can be quite satisfied with the concessions of the faithful apologetics, to stop at this expression. Bengel still claims ****) that John also wrote down the conversations he did not hear dictante spiritu, i.e. as a reliable guarantor. Lücke, on the other hand, says of the longer speeches in the fourth Gospel that their “absolute, literal authenticity must be abandoned. *). In these, as in the “difficult” speeches, John has “his hand in between everywhere”, just as the fourth Gospel in general is “absolutely individual in its conception and presentation of Christ”. If the reflex of the “later Johannine way of thinking” is thus extended to the whole historical mass of this Gospel, another zealous apologist of the same expresses it even more emphatically that the Fourth Gospel is a “to a certain extent systematic or dogmatic presentation of Gospel history ” **).

****) Gnomon N.T. ad John 4, 26

*) Comm. I, 200; he says the same of the speeches of Jesus in this Gospel in general, p. 191.

**) Credner, Einl. in das R. T. I, I, 238.


Why, however, is it only too certain that criticism will be fiercely opposed and suspected by liberal apologetics when it really seeks out the “hand” of the fourth evangelist in his writing, when it proves the “individual” in his conception and portrayal of the Redeemer and clearly brings to light the “systematic and dogmatic” in his historical work? Because apologetics speaks and acts differently, because it no longer knows its general principles in detail, because it does not know how to apply its principles in the explanation itself, generally because, as a transitional phenomenon, it is nowhere at home, can no longer bear the old – the ecclesiastical dogma and the earlier theory of inspiration – and is frightened by the consequences of its own principles and has to oppose them, however the more indeterminate standpoint has pursued and opposed its necessary, more definite development in history up to now. And such an uncertain, inwardly unfinished figure, which is serious about nothing, which grants no satisfaction and makes only violence and suspicion the support of its inner indeterminacy, is supposed to be able to stop and prevent the development of the whole of historical consciousness? Apart from the inner strength and truth of the principle that is to be strangled, history already proves how such struggles tend to end, and if apologetics is not affected by the simplicity and truth of the critical process that our work carries out, it must not deny that we have only taken its own principles seriously, principles that are now generally recognized.


The excuse that our work is composed of arbitrary assertions, which excuse was not yet completely cut off from the reviewer of the Weißeschen Schrift, since they actually only proceed divinatory with regard to the fourth Gospel, this excuse, we think, we have made impossible, since we only follow the strict observation of the Gospel text and the historical pragmatism of the fourth evangelist and only express the results of this observation, which goes into the most detail.

It is also to be hoped that philosophy will be left out of the game. The apologist, if he really looks at the following critical process with an unbiased eye, should rather note to his great satisfaction that we have neither judged the fourth Gospel from philosophy alone, nor even partly with the help of it, but that we are moving purely and solely from the field of historical criticism.


Finally, we are far from judging the fourth Gospel from the synoptic accounts alone, since we know only too well how reflection was also active in them and even penetrated into the presentation of Jesus’ speeches. When, therefore, we sometimes contrast the Synoptic Gospels with the Fourth, we have in mind primarily their account of the sayings of Jesus, which, through their simplicity and the infinity of their content, prove to be the real words of the Lord. On the contrary, we have never dared to conclude a judgment before we have judged the account and details of the fourth Gospel from them ourselves.

In this consideration and evaluation of the fourth Gospel from itself and from it alone, we have allowed ourselves to be guided so little by a presupposition, we have made so little use of the admissions of the apologists, who in the prefaces and introductions know how to speak so much of the evangelist’s standpoint of reflection, that we have now rather placed ourselves entirely on the standpoint which the apologists take in the explanation of the individual. We took the individual statements of the Gospel as the eternal and absolute truths as which they appear, as which they have hitherto been regarded in the Church, and as which they are still regarded by the apologists, and we only saw what these absolute truths make of themselves when they are seriously and minutely considered.

It might now seem necessary that we should remove the reproach that criticism can only give offence, and say, for instance, that truth can only give offence to the inertia and habit of error, or perhaps plead that our work has neither arisen from a careless conceit, nor by its attitude contradicts the dignity of the question and its object. But how could we hope that we would succeed in making the investigation of truth safe against this accusation, since a Leffing has not succeeded in convincing the zealous apologist that truth never brings harm? We therefore only say: woe to him to him who takes offence!


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