BRUNO BAUER: Theological Explanation of the Gospels – I. The theological explanation of the fourth Gospel

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by Neil Godfrey

Theological Explanation of the Gospels

Die theologische Erklärung der Evangelien


Bruno Bauer




The theological explanation of the fourth Gospel.


For the German Protestant Church, the Johannine age of disintegration and instability began, if we leave Fichte’s declamations to the past as a prophecy of this completion of the indeterminacy that is inherent in religious consciousness in general, when, in the second decade of our century, religiosity, which had still proved powerful even in the rational cult of the Revolution, turned again to Christian forms and, at the same time, rationalism accomplished one of its most significant deeds in Brettschneider’s Probabilia *).

If this new religiosity was already a broken figure from the outset, since as a mere reaction against Enlightenment it could only repeat the flabby opposites of deism and at most transpose them into Christian formulas, its attitude had to become even more unhappy and sad, since it had to defend its corresponding gospel against Brettschneider’s “two” fels about the origin of the same from an apostle.

*) 1820


Fichte had already correctly sensed that the fourth Gospel corresponded to the new religiosity of which he was the prophet, and had based his edifying speeches on eternal and blessed life on it – the new theology had found its Christian-modified deistic highest essence in the formlessness of the messianic figure that this Gospel sets up, and in its contrast to the world, it had found its Christian-modified deistic highest essence – and now it, the unfortunate one, whose decrepit bones still trembled from the struggles of the Enlightenment, had to enter its career in the wake of doubt – it had to struggle to win back that melting figure from doubt!

With Brettschneider, with the exception of a few counter-writes, no real battle took place. He himself did not pursue his attack, but rather withdrew later with a few unifying remarks. As correct as most of his antitheses of the synoptic and Johannine portrayal of the Messiah were, they still lacked the solid foundation on which they could have developed their strength and become established. He gave the synoptic representation the preference – attributed to it the glory of greater historicity – but time had long since lost real faith in the truth of the synoptic massiveness, had almost lost the memory of the synoptic sculpture – from Ratio nalism and its representative Brettschneider one could not seriously assume that his preference for the synoptic figure would be followed by a real living into it, What, then, was the time to do with a work that wanted to command faith in a figure that no longer had any real life in any of those who were seized by the new religiosity and brought about the new theology?


Brettschneider’s work was a premature attempt which, after the appearance of the independent counter-writings, was only mentioned in the historical textbooks, as well as in the introductions to the Commentaries on the Fourth Gospel, and was rejected as an erroneous hypothesis – its effect was, to all appearances, just as superficial and soon obliterated, as that which the Superintendent Vogel had been able to achieve twenty years earlier with his ״Juvenal Judgement’ on the Evangelist John and his commentators – but it was only so easy for the theologians to come to terms with Vrettschneider’s twists and turns and to ignore them because they themselves carried doubt within them.

They had all fallen prey to unbelief – they wanted to get out of the power of negation, and the whole movement which occupied the German world for twenty years until Straussen’s resignation is nothing more than this last struggle of faith with unbelief, the last attempt of faith to assert itself before unbelief – but how would it have been possible to escape unbelief by a mere turning away from faith and to render harmless a power which had dominated the world for centuries? *

With the same justification with which one calls this turn to faith, one can call it the last, decisive penetration of unbelief into faith.

No! With a much greater right.


This, the complete conversion of unbelief into faith, is the historical reality, the real meaning and fact of the period.

I called the movement of this period a reactionary one – well! just as every historically significant reaction is only the organisation of the revolution against which it is directed and which, in its opinion, it puts an end to, so the theology and apologetics of this period is the Christian organisation of unbelief – an organisation which has received its proper conclusion in Strauss. .

When the hermaphroditism of the newer Christianity and theology suddenly saw this conclusion before it, it could be startled and protest in a multitude that it had nothing in common with this work, which came solely from the spirit of negation – but how much this work, as the consummate marriage of faith and negation, belonged to it, even for those to whom this connection seems incredible, the success must testify, the fact must prove, that theology, after it had not produced a new turn in those protests and had only assured the solidity of its preceding twenty years of work, had to go into eternal retirement and had nothing more to do. Strauss had done all she could in the end.

It is certain that the work of that twenty-year period was the work of unbelieving faith and believing unbelief.

The preference for the fourth Gospel was the result of unbelief that could no longer bear the strict and firm figure of the synoptic Jesus and hoped to be able to assert itself as faith in the melting world of that Gospel.


Weak – vain hope! How can a being that fled from the plastic form and is doubt from the outset, even face the blurring form with certainty and composure? How can it, the unbelieving, uncertain being, grasp and acknowledge the deformity for what it is, as a deformity? It seeks support and salvation against its inner restlessness and insecurity in the dissolving deformity; therefore it must forcibly intervene in the uncertain lines, in the untenable contrasts, in the exaggerated movements of its ideal and try to bring support into the contrasts, moderation into the movements.

So this unhappy being must disfigure the deformity even more, i.e. completely destroy his own ideal, give the lie to his faith in the fourth gospel.

And from where do the apologists, who in the course of that period defended and explained the Gospel of the heart, get the standard which is to bring form, support and measure into its untenability?

From the very Synoptic Gospels which their unbelief had already abandoned.

At the beginning of this period *) Gieseler had for the first time brought the hitherto isolated impulses of the tradition hypothesis to unity and to a kind of consistency, thus providing his contemporaries with what they needed for their explanation and defence of the fourth Gospel. It is true that he still left open the possibility that the traditional view of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels could be reconciled with the assumption of a gradually ordered Gospel tradition; indeed, he even believed that he could not recommend his version of the Tradition hypothesis any better than by asserting that it corresponded to the view of the origin of the Fourth Gospel, that it only provides the most certain support for the view of the origin of the Synoptic Gospels – only the power of faith was lacking in time, which also made it quite clear from Gieseler’s statement that he was not entirely serious about this recommendation of his hypothesis, and appropriated from the latter what corresponded to its love of indeterminacy and could be of real service to it in its treatment of the Fourth Gospel – i.e. the presupposition that it was not possible to find the origin of the Synoptic Gospels. I. e. the presupposition that in the Synoptic Gospels the oral tradition of the Gospel material had received its written fixation.

*) 1818.


If it was now necessary to defend the individual features of the fourth Gospel, its embarrassing detail and its deviating premises against the Synoptic Gospels, the more chimerical, groundless and crude it was at the same time, the more the definiteness of the fourth was a proof of its eye-witnessnessness and it was self-evident that the Synoptic Gospels, as documents of oral tradition, had to take a back seat to its work.

The tradition, however, especially since it had received its basic form from the apostles, nevertheless also led back to the real facts – thus the process of theological explanation and the decision was not as easy as it seemed at first in view of the simplicity of the contrast between eyewitness and oral tradition – in other words: the faith which was preferably due to the fourth gospel was also claimed by the synoptic gospels and penetrated the unbelief with which theology regarded the latter, whereas the unbelief which had affected the synoptics was turned against the fourth.


That is to say, one sought to harmonistically balance the opposing presuppositions, to blur the contradiction, and if for this purpose the presuppositions of the Fourth were forced upon the synoptic view, the theo-logical busyness was at the same time so unpartheistic in its anxiety that it muffled the most glaring detailed determinations of the latter to the benefit of the synoptic view or let them become completely blurred in the latter.

The common work of this unbelieving faith and believing unbelief now consists in those theological acts of violence against the clearest and firmest determinations of the evangelical text, which I had to present in detail as such in the first elaboration of my critique and of which I have proved that they are just as atrocious as they are silly and purposeless – atrocious, inasmuch as they are evangelical views and determinations, which the supposed faith of the theologians venerates as God’s word and threatens to oppose the unbelief of the world, to maltreatment which otherwise only characterises the most brutal struggle to the death – silly and pointless, insofar as they are perpetrated against the clearest text and insurmountable laws of language – futile, since the scriptural word which the theologian wanted to strangle survives all his efforts and in the end only stands there as his accuser.

After this struggle of united faith and unbelief has reached its end in the freedom that criticism has given to the Word of Scripture, – its end at least within the context of historical development, to which theology will no longer add any significant achievement, even if it maintains its status quo for so long with the reminiscence of its painful work – I was able to refrain from any interference in the present implementation of my critique.


The Gospels now belong to themselves, to history, and to that free and happy outlook which has already enriched itself with the bit- world of fetishism and the art world of polytheism, and which, in the bright space of its memory above the tumult of images of the Orient and the ideals of Greek lands, now also sets up the monotheistic image of the One, who, as man — in faith and in the new power that signify the rise of Christianity — has dreamed the dream of dominion over the whole universe and — again as the ideal man of faith — has for the first time grasped the thought of a complete break with the past.

If the ideal is saved and no longer needs to be defended against modern Jewishness, then the battle that the Jewish unbelief of theological faith waged with the evangelical witness also belongs to historical memory. It no longer provokes a counter-struggle, for the object against which it was waged is securely established; – it only needs to be presented and described in its most important turns, just as the criticism of the Gospels has become a pure presentation of their contradictions and of the original form to which these contradictions lead back.

But before I go on to describe the crudeness and cowardice of this struggle of the last 

theologians against the Gospels, I must first remark that it is but the consummation of the ambiguous conduct which the chiefs of Christian science have always shown, and indeed could only show, against the Scriptures. If the greatest organisations of Christianity, such as, for example, the mediæval If the greatest organisations of Christianity, such as the medieval division of spiritual and temporal power or even the Protestant creation of the state church, after a short flowering, only disintegrated again and again very soon, more quickly than the organisations of antiquity, because the vagueness and indeterminacy of their theological basis made it considerably easier for the offended to fight against them and provided the most dangerous weapons, the theoretical elaboration and substantiation of the doctrine was even worse off, since it had to rely on a disjointed collection of writings whose statements all claimed absolute validity and yet pushed their contradiction to the point of serious mutual exclusion. Even the most important organisers, an Augustine, *) Calvin, were therefore already forced to deal with these contradictions and to kill them in the same way as the moderns did, such as a Lücke, a Neander and de Wette, who were determined to drag the end of the tragedy down into the record with their personal anguish.

*) With the exception of Luther, whose plastic and solid nature kept him the furthest away from these theological miseries, which in the end had to bring about the downfall of the whole system.


The inherent power of development which the Christian world of thought contained up to the time of the Neformation did not allow those men of the organisational period to fall so low that they dared to trust the biblical testimonies only after the agonising struggle with those contradictions. But when the power of organisation was exhausted, when the system was complete, when new dogmas were no longer possible, and when doubt and clarification had shaken the world of thought and made it so untenable that the Protestant principle, according to which the Holy Scriptures are the judicial authority, the norm and guide for all teaching, was no longer valid, The theological struggle with the contradictions of the Gospels became serious, ghastly, convulsive and feverish.


And yet only one step beyond this consequence of the pro testant formal principle and the struggle was over, but this one step brought us into a new world in which the Gospels no longer serve personal need, but find themselves subject to personal power and yet at the same time belong to themselves for the first time.

As limited as the Protestant idea was that a form of life which, after the decay of its classical elaboration, already had to struggle with mortal doubt, could really be rejuvenated by the restoration of its historical beginning – as much as this return to the original Christianity was closed as an illusion by the Lutheran and Anglican creation of the state church, and in general by the Protestant submission of the church to the secular dictatorship, a substantial impulse was nevertheless expressed in it, the impulse of historical research.

As ugly and embarrassing as the fear was with which the theologians rummaged through the Gospels in order to find the real historical figure of their Saviour, the suspicion that the historical origin of their faith was different from the idea they had of its origin was nevertheless at work in them.


No matter how violent and futile the theological struggle with the contradictions of the Gospels may be, the assiduity with which the theologians sought out these impulses and strove to eliminate them was nevertheless an expression of the modern striving for “exact knowledge” – research, criticism, exact knowledge were still held only by monotheistic fear and lualism, as they were in alchemy and astrology, before they were superseded by chemistry and astronomy, in the service of an alien interest, greed or curiosity about one’s own future.

In short, confusion was the immediate precursor of the order and freedom that research brought to the world whose explanation it was, and this its historical significance is eS what will justify the remembrance we devote to it in the following lines.


The theologian and the fourth can still be called fortunate at the same time when the business of interpretation is so simple that a tautology suffices to bring it to an end – the former cannot go astray, for he need only render the text with a few more “general words”; the evangelist can be sure that his property is preserved unabridged and that his labour has not been in vain.

It is absolutely correct, for example, when de Wette remarks about the relationship between the questions of the priestly messengers and the answers of the Baptist (Jn. 1:19-27), that ״John does not always let the questions and answers correspond directly.


It is very correct when the same commentator comments on the situation where the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and the latter’s coming is kept at a wonderful distance and remains standing so that the latter can point at him with his fingers and recite his testimony (C. 1, 29 – 34) – when de Wette remarks on this inconsequential coming, ״the attention of the evangelist is directed solely to the testimony of the Baptist.

Tholuck demonstrates his mastery of the art of interpretation when he calls the ״nobody’ in the Baptist’s lament (C. 3, 32), that no one accepts the testimony of the one who has escaped from heaven, a hyperbole.

It is a true tautology when Bengel explains the pompous turn of phrase with which Jesus refers the disciples, who asked him about his dwelling, to the mystery of it (״come and see’ C. 1, 29), to the effect that this dwelling bore witness to its messianic owner, that it was worthy of him, yes, of him alone.

It is true what Hemsen remarks, that the word ״woman’ in the abrupt answer with which Jesus at the wedding feast at Cana rejects the admonishing finger pointing of his mother to the lack of wine that had occurred. the very ordinary meaning of a form of address”.

The inner incongruity of the self-tearing lament of John’s disciples (E. 3, 26): ״He of whom thou hast begotten baptiseth,’ Tholuck renders with at least a fairly correct tautology, when, according to him, the disciples of the Baptist say: -He who had to be baptised by thee, and had a testimony״ issued, takes the liberty of baptising himself.”

Enough of these tautologies, which, as it were, form the clear spaces in the wild and confused undergrowth of theological interpretation or the resting places where the exegetes recover from their strenuous struggle with the difficulties and contradictions.


And yet they can find no real peace and rest – the happiness of their tautologies is deceptive – they have well felt the difficulties that the Gospel text contains – with their tautologies they hoped to escape them – but in vain – the difficulties follow them on their heels.

Is the present difficulty not precisely that in that negotiation between the priests and the Anabaptist the questions and answers do not correspond? Is it explained if it is simply repeated, if the contradiction of the text is transformed into a general formula? Is the disproportion between means and ends not rather due to the nature of the end pursued by the Fourth, to its pragmatism, to its position in relation to the preceding evangelical historiography?

Is the hyperbole of the ״Nobody’ in that lamentation of the Täu Is the hyperbole of the ״Nobody’ in that lament of the deceiver not precisely the inadequacy that first demands its explanation? Or is the groundless jnconvenience eliminated when it is reduced to a grammatical formula? Does the meaningless hyperbole become a meaningful turn of phrase when it is only described as hyperbole – does its contradiction with the other presuppositions of the text cease when the theologian closes his eyes to it?

Is not the pomp with which Jesus presents his dwelling as the worthy tabernacle of the Most Reverend precisely the floating and unsubstantial exaggeration that is to be explained above all?

If the address ״Woman!’ is indeed an address, does it therefore cease to be harsh and abrupt towards the mother, and is it not first necessary to explain how the Lord comes to this extreme degree of alienation, which is certainly not motivated in the account of the Fourth and only finds its explanation in a completely different circle, in the synoptic account of events?


In the misfortune of the theologians, therefore, that of the Fourth is also preserved – in that the theologians hope to eliminate or cover up its contradictions and dissonances with their tautologies, they do it an injustice and overturn its text. They misjudge its pragmatism if they want to take away its glaring and at the same time groundless contradictions.

The fourth, however, asserts its tearing dissonances – it scoffs at the means with which the exegetes want to come to its aid.

The congruence of the complaint of the disciples of John: ״He of whom thou hast begotten baptiseth,’ is not raised by Tholuck’s tautological paraphrase, but only becomes more confused, only shifted; — when the Baptist says C. 1, 34: ״I begat,’ that means: Jesus – when the Lord says (C. 5, 33) John begat the truth,” that means: the truth had to have a favourable testimony issued to it by״ John? In whose favour you have testified,” with these words de Wette renders the complaint of John’s disciples somewhat less glaringly than Tholuck – but was not rather the testimony of the Baptist of the kind that he placed the one testified to by it infinitely above himself? Does not the dissonance therefore remain – must not the dissonance remain – that the disciples of John complain about the presumption of him whom their Master himself had described to them as the very greatest?


De Wette’s tautology about the inconsequentiality of Jesus’ coming, which gives the Baptist cause for his testimony that the evangelist’s attention is “solely” directed to the latter, is not yet pure and uninteresting enough; it does not merely reproduce the facts at hand, but at the same time follows its own theological purposes – it would like to persuade itself, it would like to persuade the people, that the fourth man knew quite well what happened afterwards between Jesus and the Baptist – but his attention is rather so exclusively directed to the testimony of the Baptist that he immediately forgets the marvellous scenery, which served only to bring about this testimony, when the latter has taken place – the scenery has vanished when the Baptist has spoken.

It has served its purpose.

If the tautology is really carried out purely and without any theological If the tautology is really pure and carried out without theological secondary intentions, then it is’ no longer tautology – then it is real explanation and understanding. Let the pragmatism of the fourth be recognised for what it is and it is explained – let justice be done to the fourth, let it be given what it deserves – let it have what is its own and it is seen through.

It is also still tautology, but a most impure, a slippery one, when Lücke remarks on the Baptist’s testimony to the Lamb of God that the disciples only understood his ״messianic relationship’.

So a saying whose ״messianic relationship’ is its only content contained more? contained other relationships? other meanings?

Theology does not want to say this, does not dare to assert it – but the whole scene, that the Baptist shows his disciples the Lamb of God in the Lord and the disciples are moved to follow Jesus, has the synoptic presupposition that the Lord only at the end of his ministry is the Lamb of God, that the Lord spoke of the necessity of his suffering and death only at the end of his Galilean activity, and that the disciples could not find themselves in these prayers, has a dangerous neighbour, which insists so firmly on the opposite that it does not tolerate the opposite presupposition of the fourth next to it.


Only the peaceableness of the theologian cannot grasp the thought that the two presuppositions are absolutely mutually exclusive – only the theologian can trust his eloquence to be capable of reconciling the two mortal enemies with one another; – and what turn of his rhetoric inspires him with such tremendous confidence?

Again, the tautology! He repeats the contradiction in a limp phrase and believes that he has thus eliminated it, appeased it. That the disciples of the Baptist, the later disciples of the Lord, at first only understood the messianic relationship in that ״saying’ – with this sentence Lücke finds the fourth; with the addition: ״the inner understanding remained hidden from them,’ he reassures the Synoptics; – For the sake of the fourth, the disciples must hear the “messianic relationship” out of the saying – for the sake of the Synoptics, they do not really understand the saying itself, although the “messianic relationship” is its only content, and the disciples could not understand anything about the messianic relationship of the image of the “Lamb of God” if they did not know to which part of the messianic business it referred.

The theologian wants to do justice to both the Synoptics and the Fourth, and he is wrong against both parties – he impairs both.

As far as the testimony of the Baptist himself is concerned, the apologist must of course weaken it for the sake of Luke, in whose Gospel the Baptist doubts when Jesus had long since proved himself through his miracles, e.g. Lücke must assert that the Baptist had ״not understood the full context of the Christian idea’, i.e. he must not acknowledge it. That is, he must not acknowledge that the image which the Anabaptist of the Fourth sets up as the highest and summarising expression for the destiny of the Messiah is the totality of the Christian idea summed up into a reflected unity.


In the same way, the theologian cannot acknowledge the real historical basis of the definiteness with which this image, this religious category appears, for he would then have to admit that this basis was given to the Fourth in the already existing faith of the congregation in the redemptive death of the Lord. He must not admit that the Baptist of the Fourth proceeds from the assumption that the image of the Lamb of God is fixed as dogma for the listeners – (the readers) – and Lücke, like Bengel, must help himself with the excuse that the Baptist had grasped the image of the Lamb in a ״prophetic’ spirit or as a result of divine inspiration.

Just as Bengel did not feel reassured in his assumption of a sudden divine inspiration and hoped to find a natural cause for the image in the influence of the festive atmosphere, in the proximity of the Passover *), so too Lücke does not dare to attribute the creation of the image to the prophetic spirit alone and he also looks around for a given point of contact. Only he is no longer capable of the naiveté with which the older commentators used the dangerous beistan of the Feast of the Passover – he knows the danger – he fears the unbelief that traces the image of the Lamb of God back to the Passover Lamb and would only have considered its creation possible in that time in which the Redeemer was worshipped as the true Passover Lamb, and now hopes for salvation in the image of the Tolerator, which the second part of Zesaias (C. 53) sketches out. 53), he hopes to find salvation from unbelief and an occasion for the image of the deceiver.

*) Similar to Lampe, who makes the Baptist fall for this image through the circumstance that a herd of sheep lambs was being driven over the Jordan for the upcoming feast.


Unfortunate deception! In order that ״the Lamb of God’ might become the lamb of that prophetic passage which appears only as the image of meekness and patience, he must now assert that in the Gospel saying ״the addition: which bears the sin of the world, does not refer both to the figurative concept of the lamb and to the mesfian subject depicted in it’ – in vain! Rather, through the image of the lamb, the subject of the Messiah is to be united with the bearing of sin, i.e. the bearing of sin belongs to the essence of the lamb – the lamb is the Passover lamb and it could only become the symbol of the Messiah at that time, when he had wrought redemption from sin in the faith of the world through his death.


The theologians, e.g. Lücke, hope to eliminate the contradiction that the first disciples in the synoptic account were called in Galilee, and after the fourth in Judea, by claiming that in the Gospel of the latter Jesus’ word to Philip (C. 1, 43): ״Follow me’ could only be understood by the outer company.


So again a double injustice! In order to unite the two accounts, the thorough researchers have to unnerve them both – they take away from the synoptic account the presupposition that Jesus immediately won over the disciples whom he met for the first time in Galilee by the magic power of his word – from the fourth, which only owes this magic word to the synoptic account: ״Follow me’, they impose the presupposition that the same invitation, which in Galilee emanates from Jesus so powerfully that it draws the disciples into the spiritual realm of his personality, in Judea only aims at their external bondage to his person.

The fourth reports that Jesus also baptised – albeit through his disciples.

While a right feeling prevented the evangelist from carrying out this glaring idea in detail and asserting it for more than a moment, the theologian must take it more seriously and raise the awkward question, ״Why do we not hear more about the baptism of Christ in the Gospels?’ He will certainly know how to give a reason, but since he insists on the presupposition that Jesus baptized, but the difficulty that besets this presupposition is insurmountable, the reason he sets up will at the same time infallibly betray the inner impossibility of the Johannine construction.

“The definite faith in Jesus the Christ, as it was included in baptism, answers Lücke, came forth much less frequently during the lifetime of Jesus.”

Indeed! The original designer of evangelical history, however, is not content with this ״much seltner’ and demands a never – a decisive never, which excludes the precondition of the fourth par excellence. He knew that his Lord first had to open up the infinity of his self-consciousness to the Wett and that before he had accomplished this spiritual, ideal work, he could not think of imbedding his activity in a positive statute like baptism – he knew that a positive statute could only serve as a means of grace when the new Wett was really founded and only required the invitation to enter it – he knew, He knew that the Lord could only institute the gracious statute at the moment when he had completed his work and empowered the disciples as its administrators – he knew, finally, that as long as Jesus was still fighting the battle of the kingdom of heaven with the law, faith could only be an emerging one, bursting forth in instantaneous enthusiasm, but not the positive and determined one that baptism presupposes.


Of course, the theologians could not see the origin of the untenable nature of the two passages in which Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman face the Lord; – that the inclination of Nicodemus and his infinite dullness only stem from the fact that the Fourth could not better reproduce the synoptic narrative of the rich man, and that the synoptic sculpture had to succumb to his love of untenable contrasts – that the Samaritan woman, that the Samaritan woman, the copy of the synoptic Canaanite woman, only proves herself unworthy of the Lord’s participation with every word, because the Fourth has formed her according to the same pattern according to which Nicodemns is created, the theologians must not admit even now, after I have proved it.

Nevertheless, they must explain how it is that the Lord surprises people with the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven who do not know how to use the simplest figurative expression.


But how? How are they to help themselves if they do not seek the explanation where it alone can be found – if they are not allowed to think of the original – of the real desire of the rich man for the bliss of the Kingdom of Heaven, of the heroic conquering power of the Canaanite woman?

False, therefore also impotent means of violence must help.

Nicodemus is the chosen protégé of the apologists, the Samaritan woman their favourite: – For the love of both, the theologian does everything, dares everything.

Even when the ״Master of Zsrael’ raises the first senseless objection as to how a man, who is also an old man, can return to the womb of his mother and be born again, Lücke wants to ״equitably divide the understanding and the lack of understanding of Nicodemus’, i.e. he wants to surpass the evangelist in equitableness, who presents the Pharisee purely as lacking understanding. Afterwards, Lücke tries this form of division by letting Nicodemus understand the ״words’ but not ״the inner meaning’, without making it comprehensible how anyone can understand words whose meaning he does not grasp.

Under Tholuck’s discipline, the old Pharisee becomes even more leacious – only the apologist still finds fault with the strength of his will. At the same moment that the Lord, astonished at the Pharisee’s weakness of understanding, exclaims: -You, the Master of Israel, do not understand this? Tholuck secretly hisses to us that the matter is quite different: -Nicodemus understands more and more clearly what the Lord means״ but he does not feel the strength in himself to make the required change. He also knows Nicodemus better than Nicodemus knows himself – while Nicodemus doubts theoretically or rather does not know what to think of Jesus’ statement, Tholuck explains to us that the Pharisee only felt no inclination to let himself be transformed in the way the Lord demanded.


Afterwards, when Jesus assaults the man who did not understand the first laws of the kingdom of heaven with the highest heavenly mysteries, and when the apologists, despite their initial denial, are brought to admit the Pharisee’s incapacity, de Wette explains the new turn, de Wette explains the new turn from the Lord’s intention, according to which he wanted to ״make an impression by higher revelations’ – and yet de Wette himself says that the Lord had ״abandoned the attempt to make Nicode- mus understand beforehand. “

Lücke even wants to establish a kind of law for this new turn of events: it is also otherwise the procedure of Jesus, ״that he, although he knows that he will not be understood, nevertheless also expresses the more difficult in order to spur the spirits on’ – only then he would really have had to have a spirit before him, which is not the case according to the presupposition of the fourth – then he would have had to be certain, then he would have had to be sure that something definite would stick in the soul of the listeners – then, in order to really seize the soul, he would not have been allowed to get confused into an unclear typology, he would have had to present the matter in its striking simplicity. – – – – – – –

But I break off. That is enough. The purpose which this reminder of the theological attempts at explanation alone could serve has been achieved.

I must break off, for the examples given have amply demonstrated the utter worthlessness of the supposed treasure which the theologians have heaped up with their interpretations – they prove that the whole world to which they belong can no longer be fought, but only forgotten.


If a more detailed recollection of the work which has been 67 If a more detailed recollection of the work involved in founding and establishing this chimerical world can still find an excuse and have an interest, then cS only that of the finisher of this work – Strauss.



BRUNO BAUER: Theological Explanation of the Gospels – English translation

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Machine translated by Neil Godfrey from Die theologische Erklärung der Evangelien (1852)

(June 2023)

Foreword (pp 1-44)

        • Strauss pp 4-17
        • Weisse pp 17-27
        • Wilke pp 27-32
        • Modern Judaism pp 32-43

I. The theological explanation of the fourth Gospel (pp 45-67)

II. Strauss’ tradition hypothesis (pp. 68-135)

III. The Original Evangelist (pp. 136-148)




Appendix – The Messianic Expectations of the Samaritans

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer




(To p. 142.)

The Messianic Expectations of the Samaritans.

The question whether the Samaritans were a purely pagan or a mixed people, formed from pagan and Israelite parts, is easily answered, if one appreciates the biblical data, the nature of the matter and the historical analogy. If the strict Chaldean conqueror took away only the most important families from Judah and left the mass of the people in their homeland, it is even less to be assumed that all citizens of the ten-tribe kingdom were transferred from their country to the eastern provinces of the empire after the conquest of Samaria by the Assyrians. It is easy to say that all the inhabitants were taken away, and to pronounce the word “all”, this so often “misused” hyperbole, costs little effort, but in reality the momentum of this hyperbole is very degraded, and to transfer all the inhabitants at once from a mountainous country, which offers so many places of refuge and hiding places, is impossible even for the greatest power. Not a few, but a great many of the Israelites will still have lived in their land when those five pagan tribes were transferred there by the Assyrians, since not even the religious zeal of the Hebrews had succeeded beforehand in completely cleansing the promised land of the original Canaanite inhabitants. It is also an absurd notion and only an exaggeration of the legend to say those five heathen tribes were sent into the completely deserted area of the early ten-tribe realm, in order to take possession of it and to inhabit it, it is much more probable or rather certain that they were sent there from the cities to keep in check the Israelites who had been pushed into the countryside and to render them forever harmless. But if we see in the whole course of world history how always the conquered peoples, when they were on a high standpoint of education and consciousness, spiritually subdued the invading conquerors, it explains to us how by living together with the Israelites the heathen tribes, which they were supposed to keep in subordination, were brought to the recognition of Jehovah. The foreign overlords were also not completely out of all religious relationship with the former owners of the land, their pagan nature service was not foreign to the Israelites and formed very easily the bond which would bring the victors and the vanquished closer to each other and unite them. But now the Israelites, as long as their separate kingdom existed, had united the thought of Jehovah with the figurative conception and with the service of nature, and as this thought, while the pleasure of the conception was satisfied in the natural, had become a meager abstraction, so it could also in the course of time and without effort be excluded from the foreign tribes and at first still merged with their idolatry, until it finally reached a kind of sole dominion. Certainly, it did not take the lions to make the foreign tribes fear Jehovah, and it is only the Jewish legend that sent the ravening beasts against the pagan colonists, because it only knew how to explain their conversion in an external way.


Although the Israelites who had remained behind had gained the spiritual upper hand over those heathen tribes, they were at the same time too weak spiritually to be happy about their victory and to assert it with consciousness. They themselves were not sure enough of their principle; the entire development of it that had taken place in the kingdom of Judah had remained alien to them and could not have had any effect on them, and they had not allowed themselves to be drawn into the movement that had started with David, so that they had only the unfinished and uncertain idea that, before David’s appearance, could only with difficulty hold its own against the hostile powers. They won, but unconsciously, by gradually growing together with the fresher life of the colonists, who now regarded themselves as the nucleus of the new nation-building and gave the newly formed masses the ambiguous consciousness that they were an independent people, originally alien to the law and yet again belonging to Jehovah. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, this transformation had already taken place. The building of the sanctuary on Gerizim softened the feeling of the original alienation from the law and served to strengthen their claims, according to which they, like the Jews, thought they belonged to Jehovah, but it did not prevent them from remaining conscious of their special nationality and from perverting it when it seemed otherwise useful to them. Only in very late times, it seems, after the Jewish folk life had long since perished and a habit of centuries kept the Pentateuch connected with their view, did the idea that they were descendants of Jacob come to reign supreme among them.


When the Pentateuch reached the Samaritans, whether they received it from the Israelites of the Ten Tribes, or whether it was brought to them by the Jewish refugee Manasseh, is not our concern here, since the question of whether they were expecting the Messiah, as we will see shortly, is completely independent of the decision of this question.


The reason why the question of the messianic expectation has always been answered incorrectly is that the essence of the messianic ideas among the Jews has been so much misunderstood until now. That which was a conception that emerged in the utmost spiritual distress, but was again temporary in ordinary life, was regarded as a fixed, positive dogma *) and what even the prophets saw only momentarily, what the prophets never worked out and combined into a comprehensible unity and objectivity, was regarded according to this way of looking at things as a concept of reflection that had already formed the center of the general consciousness of the people long before the exile. Once the living movement of history is included in this mechanics, then it is self-evident that the citizens of the northern kingdom, who remained faithful to the law, also experienced everything that the prophets in Judah prophesied about the Messiah, that they willingly accepted this dogma and that also those Israelites, who remained in their country after the fall of Samaria and let themselves be reformed by Josias, professed the dogma of the Messiah and from now on held it steadfastly **). It is Sanballath who united the native, Israelite population of the northern kingdom and the immigrated strangers to one people by the arrangement of an independent cult on the mountain Gerizim and the people of the Samaritans who arose in such a way took care to derive from the Pentateuch the dogma of the Messiah which was already known and familiar to them ***).

*) Thus Frederick de Chrisologia Samaritanorum, 1821, speaks constantly of a decretum Messianum Judaeorum or of a dogma Messianum. E.g. p. 22- 61.

**) Friedrich, I. c. p. 25, 42.

***) Ibid. p. 61.


It does not change anything in the matter, but remains the same externality and incorrectness of the historical view, if one does not go so far back and lets the “dogma” of the Messiah reach the Samaritans only later *), for example after the establishment of the sanctuary on the Gerizim. The O. T. does not know dogmas, it knows only of commandments and, from the prophetic point of view, of views – but who will call these views, which break forth only momentarily in the highest historical collisions, which are neither fixed any prophet nor united around a fixed point, articles of doctrine, to which it is, however, only peculiar that they dominate consciousness in the form of objectivity and that they can also be communicated because of this objective relation? The transformation of the prophetic view into an intelligible concept of reflection, which we first find in the Chaldean paraphrase, and the appearance of Jesus are not far apart, and even if countless Jewish defectors from the time of Manasseh to the end of the second century before Christ had gone over to the Samaritans, they could not bring them what they did not have at home.

*) Like Hengstenberg, the authenticity of the Pentateuch, I, 30.

It seems very certain, however, that just in the century before the appearance of Jesus, that is, in the time when the most important prerequisite for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven was being formed and completed, the gulf between the Samaritans and the Palestinian Jews had become so wide that all spiritual contact between the two sides had ceased.

Meanwhile, a colony of Samaritans had come to Egypt through Alexander the Great, and in Alexandria, under the Ptolemies, Jews and Samaritans lived together *), certainly not only in dispute over the legality of their Temple service, but in such a way that both sides were drawn into the freer spiritual movement of that world school of philosophy and criticism. The religious conception of the Samaritans agrees with that of the Alexandrian Jews and Philo in the most important points, but especially in the fact that everything that seems to draw the divine down into the change and into the barrier of the finite is removed **); their dogmatic expression has similarity with that of the Egyptian Jews and their Pentateuch coincides with the Alexandrian translation of the Seventy in the essential features, as well as in a large number of smaller peculiarities. But if Hengstenberg ***) uses this correspondence to prove that the Samaritans had borrowed “the doctrine” of the Messiah from the Jews, he only proves how badly this unhistorical conceit stands. Was not the enlightened point of view of the Alexandrian Jews the farthest away from the conception of the Messiah and what does Philo know to tell about the coming of the Messiah? Nothing! His Logos cannot enter into the flesh and blood of the empirical history.

*) Joseph. Antiq. Lib. XI, c. 8, 6 XIII, c. 3, 4.

**) Gesenius, de Samaritanorum theologia p. 6.

***) ibid. p. 30.


If the Jews could so completely obliterate the traces left in their minds by a thousand years of history when they made friends with the Greek education in Egypt, and if they could bend the movement of the Principle, which was aimed at the condescension of the divine into the empirical present, and lead it into the abstract intellectual world, what could be expected of the Samaritans? What then was to be expected from the Samaritans, who without that historical mediation had appropriated only the abstraction of Jewish consciousness and must always have the feeling of alienation from the concrete Jewish world? The idea of the Messiah not only remained stranger to them than to the Alexandrian Jews, but reflection and enlightenment became even freer and more decisive among them, and when Epiphanius and Leontius say of them that they denied the resurrection and the angels, we have no reason to doubt these reports.


What does it mean when theologians unanimously conclude from the account of the fourth evangelist that the Samaritans expected the Messiah and thought of him as a prophet *)? It means nothing more than that the believing habit can remain trapped in the letter for thousands of years before it first examines it and brings it together with the life of the real events. But while the habit can still be excused by its age and its firmness, the guilt begins where the habit itself enters into reflection and adorns itself with thoughts about itself. For once one has crossed over into the realm of reflection, one falls even deeper into error if one does not seriously strive toward the goal, and one can finally only spread the error sentimentally. This false sentimentality and love is found in its whole development in the assertions that the Samaritans “were less held by the bonds of rigid Pharisaism, and therefore easily turned to the Gospel” **) and that among them “the political element of the Messiah idea, as among the Jews, was not opposed to the Gospel” ***). But Pharisaism was just the last Jewish consequence, the existence of the law developed to the subjectivity of a school, as such it proves just the ability of the Jewish spirit to develop, just as it sharpened the need of redemption in the end, since it drove the minds to the longing for liberation by the burden with which it weighed them down. What do the Samaritans have to show in a similar way? And as for the political element of the Messiah idea among the Jews, it was so far from being an obstacle to the Gospel that it rather prepared the historical place for salvation among this people, since it merged the immediate self-feeling of the nation with the Messianic idea. If it also stood in opposition to the Gospel of the Crucified, it was only what always happens in history, that precisely the closest historical preconditions are also most capable of opposing their higher result, while at the same time they make the historical world more receptive to the acceptance of the result. And how important has not the Jewish conception of the royal office of the Messiah become for the Christian community, since it contained the outline of the image of the Messianic reign, which the Lord had not yet assumed in his lowly appearance, but which he will exercise at his glorious return?

*) Z, B. Gesenius de Sam. Theol. p. 41.

**) Olshauscn, Comm. II, 121.

***) Neander, Gesch. der Pflanzung p. 49.


Simon Magus the Samaritan, his appearance among his countrymen, his preaching of himself as a great man, the Samaritans’ opinion of him as the great power of God (Act. 8, 10.): All this cannot prove in the least that the Samaritans were expecting the Messiah. Since the angels were regarded by the Samaritans as the abstraction of divine will and divine power, and since they were familiar with the image of the angel of Jehovah from the Pentateuch, it could well have happened that they, touched by the Christian idea, saw in Simon this power of the Godhead that had momentarily emerged in the angel of Jehovah in the past. But for this it was necessary to be touched by the Christian idea, and how unstable is this possibility. If we look at how the author of the Acts of the Apostles is familiar with the idea of the “power of the Most High”, how he lets the personality of Jesus be generated from this power (Luke 1:35), how Jesus is also a “Great One” to him (1:32), it is only too obvious how he is the one who used predicates, which according to his view belong to Jesus alone, to paint the false image of the true Messiah. Simon’s view of himself and that which his compatriots had of him have thus become completely unknown to us: and from an unknown greatness one would not want to dare to infer the ideas of the Samaritans? Simon Magus has thus become as unknown to us as if he had never existed, and he can no longer rise above the value of an unhistorical person. Only this much is certain that for the author of the Acts of the Apostles Simon Magus was already the same as he remained for the church, the lying image of the true Messiah and the arch-father of all heretics. Later teachers of the church have only enlarged and more closely defined the person of Simon and his blasphemous fame by themselves with their richer historical experiences. Jerome, for example, tells us that Simon said of himself: I am the Word of God, I am the Glorious One, I am the Paraclete, I am the Almighty, I am the All of the Godhead. It is a naive, but also a fearful – namely all historical view eclipsing – impartiality, with which Olshausen looks at this note of Jerome. “If this statement, he says, admittedly only belongs to the later Christianizing direction of Simon, it still shows what this man was capable of.” *) As if that note does not only prove what the later ecclesiastical writers were capable of when it was necessary to describe a heretic *).

*) Comm. II, 687.

*) Of course, we cannot consider more historical than Jerome’s note what Irenaeus I, 20 and Epiphanius 21, C. I report about Simon, namely that he pretended to be the father among the Samaritans and the son among the Jews. But in this note, as in some others that we find in the Church Fathers, we can see a certain historical instinct that really depicted historical circumstances in the mythical form of historical pragmatism. Thus, the legend of Simon’s sermon is certainly formed with the right tact, which found out that the religious consciousness of the Samaritans was not as far developed as that of the Jews and that the idea of the Messiah remained unknown to them.

424 [corrected from 224]

As a witness that the Samaritans expected the Messiah, Winer **) calls Justin Martyr. However, this apologist, who was himself a Samaritan ***), has no small importance in this matter. If now Justinus places the Jews and Samaritans as One group opposite the Gentiles ****), then this can neither alienate us nor be considered as a special instance for the present question, because as worshippers of the One they were after all closer to the Jews than to the Gentiles. But when Justinus – and Winer refers to this – at the same time describes the Jews and Samaritans as those who “possessed the word of God handed down through the prophets and always expected Christ”: this is a hyperbole which at least does not make us feel as if we were listening to a sober witness. How can it be said of the Samaritans that they possessed the word handed down by the prophets?

**) Biblical Real Dictionary II, -139.

***) Just. Mart. opp. p. 52, 349.

****) Ibid. p. 88.


Whoever speaks in this way immediately proves that his testimony is invalid. If Justinus had a better insight, then he fell at that point only involuntarily into the track of the later conception and language and the same happened to him what happened to the fourth evangelist when he described the stay of Jesus among the Samaritans. Since the law and the abstraction of the one connected the Samaritans with the Jews, since they were the next foreign circle to be opened to the gospel, this success of the doctrine of salvation among them could not be explained in any other way than by the idea that they had also accepted the prophetic promise with the law and were thereby prepared for the gospel. But if Justinus does not fall into the path of a priori talk, if he speaks from empirical experience, then he proves that he had in fact a better insight and that the matter was quite different. In the introduction to his dialogue with Trypho he tells how he himself was led to the prophets and to their testimony of the true God and of the Christ, and he presents this testimony as such, which until then had been completely foreign and unheard of to him *) – proof enough that the Samaritans also possessed no trace of messianic views.

*) Ibid. p. 224. 225.

When in more recent times the Samaritan Pentateuch came to Europe and with the later literature of the Samaritans became the object of thorough investigations, nowhere was there even a hint of messianic expectations. And yet it would have been at least possible that the Samaritans in the course of the centuries would have taken the idea of the Messiah from the outside, as it is certain, for example, that they have appropriated the idea of the resurrection *). As little as one can conclude from the late occurrence of this view a thousand years back, so little one could conclude, if in the so-called book of Joshua or in the chronicle of Abulphatach the expectation of the Messiah would be found, that the Samaritans at the time of Jesus would have hoped for the Messiah. But even later there is not the faintest hint that could lead to such a wrong conclusion. Hottinger, for example, who has thoroughly investigated the literature of the Samaritans known at that time, could not find any reliable information from which it would be certain that the Samaritans had excluded the expectation of the Messiah into the circle of their ideas. Reland knows nothing else to say in this regard than that “in the Samaritan chronicles there is also mention of a great angel and that by him the Messiah seems to be understood”. **). It is right that Reland presents this remark only as an assumption, because it is only too certain that by that great angel only the highest of the forces emanating from the Godhead is to be understood ***) and that Reland only came to this assumption because he could not think of it otherwise than that the Samaritans cherished messianic expectations, and now had to reach for the most remote to see the general prejudice apparently confirmed.

*) Hottinger, dissertationum theologico-philologicarum fascic.1660 p. 11.

**) Reland, Dissertationum miscell. pars II, p. 27.

***) Reland ibid. p. 21.


In the correspondence which some European scholars have maintained with the Samaritans since the time of Scaliger, one believes to be informed now quite definitely about the messianic conceptions of the same ****). But one should consider how dependent and unoriginal that sunk and never truly substantial people have shown themselves to be in these negotiations, how indefinite and vacillating their answers to the questions about their messianic ideas are, and how the questions of the European scholars are nothing but questions of suggestion, which are only repeated in the answer without the question mark.

****) Gesenius de Sam. theol. p. 41.


If the Samaritans were really expecting the Messiah, one would think that they would have spoken about it for sure, but they do not like to explain themselves about this “point” *). Of course, because they do not know anything about it and believe to do a favor to their supposed compatriots and to put themselves in their favor, if they answered them, what these approximately wished. For they certainly do not even know what they wanted to hear, what they thought of the Messiah **), so they can only help themselves with some vague phrases. As soon as the good scholars ask more specifically, the echo also gives a more specific answer and the Samaritans know how to speak in more detail. When, for example, Marshall *) tells them to tell him who that prophet is of whom the Lord spoke to Moses, and when the same scholar describes the Messiah according to the three classic passages of the Pentateuch (Gen. 49, 10, Num. 21, 17, Deut. 48, 15), it goes without saying that the Samaritans do nothing more in their answer than to repeat this description. “You speak, they answer, of the coming of that great prophet of whom God spoke to Moses, he is the one of whom it is written” – and now follow the quotations which they first learned to know through Marshall’s inquiry as proofs of the Messianic promise. But in order not only to repeat the words of the question, but at least to write something new, they say: “This is the very prophet who was promised to our father Abraham, when it is said (Gen. 15, 47) that there smoked an oven and a flame of fire **). One sees, it became hot to the Samaritans, before they found a new place of proof. If the Samaritans had hoped for the Messiah for two millennia and were limited only to the Pentateuch to prove their expectation as a divine promise, then they would have puzzled over a multitude of proofs, so they did not need to be led by European scholars to proofs and more definite ideas and they did not need to make themselves ridiculous, if they now also dared to enter the field of scriptural research.

*) As even Silvester de Sacy must admit. Ueber den gegenwärtigen Zustand der Samaritaner, Franks, a. M. 1814. p. 5l.

**) e.g. already to Scaliger they write (Repertorium für bibl. und moiqenl. Literatur Th. 13. p. 291): Nos vero ignoramus, quaenam sit fides tua, an eadem sit, quam nos profitemur, an illa quam Judaci profitentur. In the letter they sent to Ludolf in 1684, they ask him (Epistolae Samarit Sicbem. ad Jobum Ludolfum Cizae 1688 p. 5): Nunc autem quaesumus a tu, o domine, ut nuncies nobis, quaenam revera tua sit religio? quisuam pro- pheta tuus? Num tu ex nobis Samaritanis? In the same letter they say that there was an exchange of letters between them and their brothers in England, but that they have not continued it for five years, adeo ut nun eerto eognoverimus veritatum religionis eorum et fidei illorum. (Ibid. p. 6.)

*) Repertorium for Biblical and Oral Literature. Lit. Ninth part. p. 12-14.

**) Ibid. p. 27.


If the word Messiah appears in the question, the Samaritan is embarrassed in answering whether he should use the same word. Why? Because the Samaritans know quite well that the expectation of the Messiah is peculiar to the Jews, and because after so many clumsy experiments they had finally become suspicious and uncertain about the views of the inquirers, so that they no longer knew quite what the latter wished to hear. How do they do it now? When their rich, powerful brothers speak of the Messiah, they remark at least casually in the postscript to the answer: “we know his (the prophet’s) name completely, as the rabbis call him ” or another time they indicate this name only by the initial letter ( מ) )*. The meaning of these answers is no other than: we do not really know how we are with you and what your view of the matter actually is, therefore, read out of our answers what you want and what you like – by the way, send us the contribution and the sum of money – these play a large and naive role in this correspondence – which you must send us if you are our brothers.

*) Silv, de Sach, op. cit. p 51.


But what about that Taheb, so celebrated in the biblical commentaries, that Messiah of the Samaritans, so spiritually conceived? In their letter to Scaliger they write: “you have asked about the Messiah: his name is none other than השהכ ” and with it they have given work to the scripture researchers and theologians for three and a half centuries. According to Hengstenberg this name designates the Messiah as the restorer, restitutor **), according to Gesenius as the convert ***), but the Samaritans themselves do not know anything definite about this name and if they are asked to explain, they do with the word secretly like people who do not want to let others notice their ignorance and embarrassment. “It is a great secret, the word of Taheb, who shall come” writes Salameh in the year 1810 *). If Taheb had indeed been the name of the Messiah among the Samaritans, it would have appeared in their writings, it would have been infallibly blackened by the careless nation in their Pentateuch, it would have been used much more often in their letters and they would have known exactly why it was the excellent name of the Messiah. However, they never mention Taheb in their letters when they give a detailed account of their religion and their faith, but only when the European scholars had forcefully pressed them to say what they thought of the Messiah, they touch this matter with a few words. In the first letter to Ludolf, who had certainly asked them very eagerly about the Messiah, because they ask him for information about who his prophet is, they give all the main points of their religion, but do not mention Taheb or Messiah with a single word. How striking it is, however, when in the same letter they rather call Moses their prophet and mediator in this world and on the day of the last judgment **). Only in the third – actually second – letter, after Ludolf had brought up the Messiah again, they write to him: “You ask whether the Messiah has arisen. He has not come yet, but when he comes, his name is Taheb.” *”). On the other hand, in the first letter, which they had sent to England a few years before, they write that one should tell them what the name “Haschaheb”[Taheb?], which is supposed to come, is *) – so perhaps they themselves do not know quite how they should use this word towards their supposed compatriots? Or do they first want to know how they want it to be used?

**) Christol. I, I, 69.

***) de Sam. theol. p. 44: reductorem vel conversorem i. e. prophetam homines ad meliorem frugem revocaturum.

*) About the present Just. p. 50.

**) Epist. Samar. Sichem. Cizae 1688 p. 9,

***) Repector, for bibl. and morgenl. Lit. 13 p. 281.

*) Ibid. p. 292. Nolices et etraits. T. XII. p. 181.


Four times the word Taheb occurs in the letters of the Samaritans – and it is fortunate that it appears more than once, otherwise one could too easily be driven to the suspicion that Ab Sehuta himself had formed the word for the Messiah, in order to be able to write something definite to Scaliger. Four times is not often, but just think how often a Jew of that time, if he should describe the religion of his compatriots, had mentioned the Messiah, how much he would know to say about him. It is true that the four times **) mentioning of the name must lose weight, because the Samaritans prove it too clearly in their letters, that they speak of the Messiah only of necessity, when the Europeans penetrate them too much, and then they know to assign to the Thaheb in the system of their religion much too little a fixed place. But nevertheless it remains striking that a century after Ab Sehuta in the letters of the Samaritans the name Thaheb appears again and then in the newest time in the letter of Salameh it is mentioned even if as an inexplicable secret. If this repetition were not there, one would be allowed to assume that Ab Sehuta had reached for some attribute of Jehovah and let it act as Messiah in a kind of personification. But if it is certain that this word must be of religious meaning, it is just as certain that it cannot designate any arbitrary attribute of the divine, but must contain a relation of the divinity to the world and to history, which is not altogether foreign to the conception of the Messiah.

**) In the Samaritan song in which Gesenius found the Thaheb, Messiah (de Samarit. theologia p. 45), the deity is rather addressed and asked that he may turn to his own. The word, in which Gesenius thought to find the Thaheb, is not the participle, which would then lack the article anyway, but the imperatio. Silvestre de Sacy, in the Notices et extraits.T. XII. p. 29. Gesenius hard also abandoned his explanation again: Berliner Jahrbücher 1830. no 82.


The mysterious word can not designate the Messiah as the return leader, converter or restorer, at least Hengstenberg can no longer want to give this meaning to the word, after he has again correctly noticed that never degenerates in transitive meaning” *). Hatthaheb therefore means the one who turns around, the one who returns.

*) The authenticity of Pent, I, 104.

The Samaritans often speak in their letters of a day of vengeance and retribution, of a time when Jehovah would step out of the distance and alienation in which he now held himself during their miserable, oppressed condition and turn back to them, and as the returning one, as the one who graciously turns back to his apostate and punished people, Jehovah had to appear to them, if they wanted to grasp him in his highest attribute. This attribute of the graciously turning Godhead must have been especially important to every Samaritan and could easily come to his mind when he was asked whether he believed in the Messiah. But it would have been impossible that the answer would have turned out three times always after the interval of a century as it happens in letters, if Hatthaheb == the returning one would have designated pure, so to say abstract attribute and not rather a more vivid manifestation of Jehovah. The idea of such a manifestation of the divine was very close to the Samaritans in their view of the angels, in whom the power of the divinity appeared directly, and if we now read that they believed in a great angel, who had especially protected the people, but had departed from them after the apostasy, then it is as certain as only possible that they expected in the return of the same the appearance of the divinity turning to them again. In the passage of the so-called Book of Joshua, in which this great angel is mentioned *), also Hottinger suspects an analogy with the Jewish messianic expectation: how, he remarks to the word “great angel,” if it meant the Messiah? but like Reland, he dares to express his assumption only tentatively. For there is too great a difference between the fixed reflective concept of the Messiah, as it was held by Jewish consciousness, and this shadowy, fading figure of the Great Angel, which disappears into the impersonal. In that concept of reflection of the Jews, the personality of the Messiah is so securely encompassed and so independent that we could almost say that it is a historical personality, namely historical in the world of consciousness, of which it really unites all relations in it. That great angel, on the other hand, has become so little an independent personality for the view that it rather disappears without inner support and core in the Godhead as its power.

*) If the people falls away from the law, Jehovah will leave it et recedent Angeli de latere vestro et nomen Angeli Maximi destituct vos auxilio, Hottinger, Smegma orieutale p. 491.


If we now summarize what has been said so far, how nothing in the testimonies of antiquity speaks for the existence of the view of the Messiah among the Samaritans, everything rather speaks against it, how in their more recent letters, when they develop their religion in detail, they know nothing to say about the Messiah, how only after the suggestive questions of their supposed compatriots, what they thought of the Messiah… they let fall a few words about a Thaheb, If they let fall a few words of a Thaheb, it cannot be called exaggerated doubtfulness or wilful denial, if that form of messianic expectation, which is usually attributed to the Samaritans, is denied to them.


Even if the Samaritans had great hopes of coming into agreement with their European compatriots, they could not have gone so far as to write them nothing but a deliberate, pure lie. For this reason alone, because they did not really know how they would get along with them, they could not dare to present them with an arbitrary invention as their faith. The only thing they could do, and what they really did, was to reach for that which they could assume would most agree with the ideas of their countrymen.

Since the whole so-called messianic expectation of the Samaritans is based on the fact that they hoped that Jehovah would one day turn to them again graciously, free them from their miserable pressure, and that he would do it in the special form of the returning one, we need neither raise nor answer the question when this expectation was formed among them. For this expectation is nothing more than the simple view, which is found in the Pentateuch, according to which Jehovah turns away from his people, when they fall away from him, but turns back to him according to the counsel of his long-lasting grace. Only so much we would dare to assert that in the first time, which the Samaritan people experienced as such and in which it settled into its own cult with the freshness and with the self-confidence, which was at all possible for it, there was still no special occasion for this view of the Pentateuch to become particularly important to it. It is probable that only the pressure of later centuries and the resistance of the small, narrow family to the constant threat of ruin, along with the feeling of misery, revived the hope of return.



Bruno BAUER — Seven (now Eight) Works Translated into English

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by Neil Godfrey

Until recently, an English translation of Bruno Bauer’s Christianity Exposed (1843) has only been available through a library or Edwin Mellen University Press. Now, however, Google Books has made Bruno Bauer’s famous work public — though it is in German. BUT the better news is that when one opens it in Google Reader and runs a cursor over the German text, a little box pops up giving one the option to have an instant translation of the selected text! Nice. — https://books.google.com.au/books/about … edir_esc=y Click on the READ EBOOK link in the left margin.

I have translated seven volumes of Bruno Bauer’s works into English and make them freely accessible here. I am not a German speaker and the Fraktur or Gothic font is not my closest friend so I have relied heavily on machine translation tools — Google Translate, DeepL and ChatGPT, often comparing them paragraph by paragraph for the preferable rendering into English. I have made an effort to manually check all pages for accuracy and comprehensibility but unfortunately the complexity and highly abstract commentary by Bauer sometimes stretched me to the limits of my abilities. Most of the text, I trust, is easier to read than those sections, but I encourage anyone who sees errors or can propose better translations to let me know.

Christ and the Caesars is commercially available — or rather it is very difficult to obtain — so I have provided here a fresh translation for open access.

BRUNO BAUER: Critique of the Gospel of John – English translation 1840

BRUNO BAUER: Critique of the Gospel History – English translation 1841-42

BRUNO BAUER: Acts of the Apostles – in English 1850

BRUNO BAUER: Criticism of the Gospels and History of their Origin – in English 1850-51

BRUNO BAUER: Theological Explanation of the Gospels – English translation 1852 — Primarily a response to David Strauss and his Life of Jesus and the assumption of oral tradition behind the gospels

BRUNO BAUER: Criticism of the Pauline Letters – in English 1852

BRUNO BAUER: Christ and the Caesars – in English 1877

Albert Schweitzer on Bruno Bauer

One might suppose that between the work of Strauss and that of Bauer there lay not five, but fifty years—the critical work of a whole generation. . . .

The only critic with whom Bauer can be compared is Reimarus. Each exercised a terrifying and disabling influence upon his time. No one else had been so keenly conscious as they of the extreme complexity of the problem offered by the life of Jesus. . . .

For us the great men are not those who solved the problems, but those who discovered them. Bauer’s Criticism of the Gospel History is worth a good dozen Lives of Jesus, because his work, as we are only now coming to recognise, after half a century, is the ablest and most complete collection of the difficulties of the Life of Jesus which is anywhere to be found. . . .

Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Translated by W. Montgomery. A. & C. Black, 1910. pp. 151, 159





§ 17. Concluding remark

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 17. Concluding remark.

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

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

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

**) Ibid. p. 194.

***) Comm. I, 113.


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

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

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

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


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

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

**) Hemsen ibid. p. 127.


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

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

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

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

**) Ibid. p. 209.

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


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

*) Glaudw. etc. p. 294.

**) Comm. I, 13.

***) Ibid. p. 67,

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

*) History of planting etc, p. 324.


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

*) advers. haer. III, 3

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


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

**) Lücke, Comm. I, 201.

***) Ibid. p. 103.

****) Ibid. p. 201.


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

*) loc. cit. ibid.

**) Ibid. p. 108.

***) Ibid. p. 67.

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


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

*) As Lücke thinks, Comm. I, 108.

**) Ibid. p. 103.


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

*) Ibid. p. 103.

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

**) Ibid. p. 100.


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

*) Ibid. p 199.

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

**Ibid. p. 195.


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

*) Glaubw. etc., p. 312.


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

*) Ibid. p. 317.

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

**) Ibid. p. 319.


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

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

*) Ibid p. 322.


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

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


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

*) Ibid. p. 323.

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

**) Ibid. p. 325.

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


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

**) op. cit. p. 325.

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


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

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


§ 16. The unity of Jesus with the Father

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 16. The unity of Jesus with the Father.


On the feast of the dedication of the temple Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s hall. The Jews surrounded Him, asking how long He would keep their minds in suspense and demanding that He tell them freely if He was the Messiah.


How often had Jesus declared loudly and publicly and without any restraint who he was! But they did not want to believe even the clearest speech, the reluctant ones!” So even Lücke must exclaim *), but he knows how to cover up the screaming contradiction with his complaint about the unwillingness of the people. As if the question of the Jews only presupposed their unbelief and not rather a reticent language of the Lord when it was important to speak out about the significance of his person. If the apologist no longer knows how to help himself, if he is already close to admitting that the evangelist was wrong in his pragmatism, then the Jews must atone for it with their unbelief **). But if we only take up the question in its true sense, the Jews want the Lord to explain himself more clearly than before about his person, for up to now he has only spoken about it in a vacillating way or rather avoided and evaded any definite explanation. This is the meaning, but the meaning that puts the whole structure of the Gospel in contradiction with itself, for from the beginning the Lord never failed to call himself the Messiah in the most definite way. The Jews had already asked him the same question: who are you? (8:25) and also then as now he only answered that he was what he constantly said about himself. Admittedly, now as then, the Lord complains of the unbelief which the people have opposed even to his clearest declarations, but this complaint is so far from serving as a support for the apologists’ talk of the people’s unwillingness that it is only the same contradiction with which we have just become acquainted. The evangelist must let the Lord complain about the unbelief of the Jews, for according to his account all the Lord’s speeches are only sermons about his person, the evangelist must come to this complaint, although the question of the Jews would only be possible if the Lord had rarely and then always only spoken vaguely about his person. The question of the Jews is therefore only a pragmatic irritant, which is instantly forgotten as soon as he has exerted his effect and set the Lord’s speech in motion *).

*) Comm. II, 363.

**) Olshausen, on the other hand, says of the Jews who called upon the Lord to make an open declaration, that they were “attracted by the wonderful appearance which the Saviour presented to them, and full of eagerness to understand the same.” (Comm. II, 250) But the Lord has done everything in our Gospel so that this understanding could come to a conclusion. He has not only given the impression of a miraculous appearance, which could be interpreted by others, but has himself constantly given the interpretation. Olshausen must of course also come to the reproach of “unbelief” because it is once written, but he can only do so by removing a difficult presupposition; for people who occupy themselves with the miraculous appearance of the Lord and its interpretation cannot surely be accused of unbelief, they are rather on the best way to faith and a kind guide would easily bring them to it. The Lord could only punish the unbelief of the Jews if His appearance was not only vaguely a miraculous one, but had long and often been interpreted by Him.

*) Gfrörer, therefore, has no other basis for his pragmatic argument about Jesus’ teaching of Himself (d. Heiligth. u. d. Wahrh. p. 2ü. 27) than only an accidental contradiction into which the pragmatism of the evangelist has fallen.


The point, by the way, which the evangelist has in mind already at the beginning of this passage and to which he only wanted to bring the Lord, is his saying that he and the Father are one, v. 30. But if the decision about his historical character can lie in what leads to this saying, then the verdict will be very unfavourable. For apart from the question of the Jews, which is impossible in this way, the Lord’s answer preceding this saying is also of such a nature that it shares the same fate with the question which gave rise to it, namely, the fate of proving its impossibility. Is the Lord, then, like the apologist, who is limited to a narrow circle of proof, always to refer only to his works (v. 25)? This would also contradict his conviction that the people do not believe this testimony of works (v. 26). And now the reason of unbelief! You do not believe, complains the Lord, because you do not belong to my sheep, as I have said; thus he refers to an earlier discourse, which can only be the likeness of the true Shepherd (10:1-18) *). But at that time the Lord had said nothing about a contrast of the sheep, he had rather spoken only of the contrast of the shepherds. The likeness therefore also receives a completely new turn through this new contrast, it is developed and expanded; but it can only be drawn into this new direction if it still occupies the mind of the present hearer with the freshness of the first impression and stimulates him to follow this new turn. After a quarter of a year, this stimulus has waned and the first vibrations that the simile aroused in the mind are over, so they cannot be carried on to further circles. The stone had to be thrown into the depths anew if it was to set the water level in greater oscillations. And then the very same persons should now call upon the Lord to make a clear declaration of his dignity, to whom he had so fully revealed a quarter of a year ago that he was the true Shepherd, who would suffer sacrificial death on behalf of the flock and also lead the nations into the Kingdom of God? This can only be seriously asserted by the apologist who, caught once and for all in the letter and the circle of vision of his protégé, thinks he has achieved everything when he paraphrases his protégé’s statements with a few more words. But if we only break through this fearfully confined circle of tautology and no longer fear the question of how the writer could entangle himself in contradictions as if it were a frightening image, then the view will be different and we can finally breathe freely. The evangelist has transferred the closeness that the Lord’s speech has for him and the reader to the point of view of the people who surround Jesus at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, the crowd has received for its view the identity that is characteristic of the drama’s chorus, and now Jesus only had to allude in a new scene to what he had said in the previous scene or to change it with a slight twist in a new direction.

*) De Wette, of course, thinks that the Lord is only referring to earlier reproaches, e.g. 8, 47, where he rebukes the people’s insensitivity. But he rather refers to a speech in which he made this reproach in the context of a parable of the shepherd.


The saying: “I and the Father are One” now stands alone and is left to its own fate. We must not let it share the fate of the preparatory speech from the outset, since it can be a real piece itself, even if in an unobservant environment. According to the evangelist’s view, the saying is supposed to express the unity of the Lord’s and the Father’s essence, for precisely this unity of essence is the reason for the Lord’s power, which reveals itself in the fact that one can no more snatch His own from His hand than from that of the Father. This reasoning, however, is only in the form of speculative observation, and the living fullness, the immediate being, in which the self-consciousness of the Lord and his perception were held, is drawn by it into the abstraction of the reflective determination, which was, however, only possible from the later standpoint of observation. Through the historical dialectic that the person of the Lord experienced, the immediacy of being had to be transformed into the past and into the ideal content of consciousness before the world of essence could open up to speculative reflection. The thought of the unity of essence is not rendered unstable by this result of criticism – on the contrary, it must prove its truth from within itself; nor do those words of Jesus’ life, in which it is in itself contained, thereby in any way lose their force and significance, but are only placed on the standpoint to which they belong.


We can easily disregard the attempt of the Jews to stone the Lord and the subsequent interjections in verses 31-33 as they fall short of their purpose and cannot deny the pragmatism of the evangelist as their origin. For he does not know how to resolve a collision with the Jews other than by allowing these stubborn and hardened enemies of the Lord, these stone-like people, to pick up stones *). It is also his standing formula that the Lord refers to his works when he is called to account (v. 32). We can therefore immediately move on to the new point, namely the saying in which the Lord proves that it is not blasphemous for him to sit with God, since in the scripture God himself calls others besides him gods (v. 34-36).

*) Tholuck knows the ground of evangelical history so well that he can tell us at once where the Jews got the stones so easily (Comm. p. 208). Since the building of the temple was not yet finished, the Jews were able to scrape together the stones lying around.

As this saying is detached from the presupposed occasion, so now, of course, its consequence must also be detached from it. Nothing else follows but the same appeal to the testimony of the works, vv. 37, 38, and that attempt of the Jews, repeated over and over again, to catch the Lord, v. 39. So much the better! now the saying stands alone, and it is possible for us to put it back into its true environment. When a mob of people is in a rage, and is already grasping at its last argument, stones, then there is no time to argue with it, and to prove to it from scriptures that it is wrong. Such a discussion requires a calm situation, and if we are forced to change the scene, we will also have to bring other people onto the scene, for the Lord could more easily give this proof from Scripture before the scribes than before the angry crowd. Because of the similarity of this proof with the argumentation reported by the Synoptics (Matt. 22:41-46), because of the purity and skill of the turn the proof takes, we consider it possible that the Lord really did reject the accusation of blasphemy from this passage in the Psalms and proved His right to ascribe divine dignity to Himself.



Up to this point, the fourth gospel could be considered on its own and it was possible for us to get to know its peculiarity from the criticism of its pragmatism and its presentation of history, since up to this point it stands alone and only comes into contact with the synoptic gospel circle at individual external points. From now on, however, when he moves on to the presentation of the last part of Jesus’ life, the fourth evangelist cannot take a step without coming into collision with the synoptic reports. Even with the report of the raising of Lazarus, although the synoptics do not know anything about it, he is not alone, since this miracle, according to his view, brings the struggle of the legal authorities against Jesus to a final decision, while the first gospels convey this decision in a completely different way. But it is not only this last part of the life of Jesus that is subject to comparative criticism, but also the whole account of the public activity of the Lord, which the fourth evangelist has delivered, is to be considered again, if we examine the parallel account of the first three gospels. Up to now, although we have always drawn the final judgment of criticism from the inner pragmatism of the fourth gospel, we have also opposed the synoptic accounts to it, but we have not yet taken this opposition in the highest degree of seriousness: we have only brought them into the circle of vision in the way one makes demonstrations with an enemy power in order to bring the opponent to his senses and to a decision. From the distant heights, on which we left the synoptic power only in a threatening position, we will now bring it down to the plain; now the hot battle between it and the fourth gospel will begin, and only now will it be possible to solve the question of the historical character of what we found as the last basic material in the latter gospel.


Before the battle breaks out, however, we must once again examine the forces of the fourth gospel and bring them back into the proper order of battle, especially out of the confusion and crooked position into which they have been placed by the apologists.


§ 15. The second Sabbath violation

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 15. The second Sabbath violation.

9:1 – 10:21.


1) The situation.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


2) The man born blind.

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

*) Comm. II, 317.


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

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


3) The question of the disciples.

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

*) Comm. II, 319.

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


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


4) The answer of the Lord.


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

**) Lücke II, 22, de Wette p. 68.


5) The day of the Lord.


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

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

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

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


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


6) The pond Siloam.


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

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

**) Comm. II, 327-329.

*) Is. 8, 6.

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

*) Evangel. Hist. II, 251.


8) The collision.

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

*) As Lücke claims (Comm II, 329.)

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


9) The decision of the Sanhedrin on excommunications.

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

**) As Lücke assumes, Comm, II, 332.


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


10) The faith of the healed man.

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

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


11) The Sabbath.

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


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

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

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 329.


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

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

*) Comm. II, 329.


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


12) The blind and the seeing.


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

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


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

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


13) The shepherd of the sheep.


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

*) Comm, II, 343.

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


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

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

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


14) The door of salvation.


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


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

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

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

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

*) Comm. Il, 346, 350.

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


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

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


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

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


15) The robbers who came earlier.


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


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


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

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

*) Comm. II, 349, 350.

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


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

*) ibid. p. 348.


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

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


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

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

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


17) One shepherd and one flock.


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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




§ 14. Continuation of the dispute about the person of the Lord

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 14. Continuation of the dispute about the person of the Lord.



1) The light of the world.


The dispute that he had with the Jews about the dignity of his person in chapter 7, the Lord did not let rest for long, but immediately took it up again at the next opportunity. Now, however, after the collision with the scribes and Pharisees, the best opportunity was given for this; the people who surrounded the Lord and listened to him (v. 2), before the tempters came to him, still surrounded him, so he could immediately resume the speech about his person.

Whether the author has the view that the Lord conducted the following dispute in one go is also easy to answer, since the argumentative speech is referred to as a whole by the introductory and concluding remarks. First, it is said that the Lord took up the speech again and at the end it is stated as the result of the argumentative speech that the Jews wanted to stone him.

The question, however, whether we really have before us a coherent chain of sayings of Jesus, is a different one, no longer has to do with the view of the author alone and can only be decided by the criticism of the content.

The beginning of this discourse must at once disconcert us, for it lacks all occasion. The Lord suddenly says: I am the light of the world. By occasion, of course, we do not mean a circumstance of the kind assumed by the commentators here, that the two candlesticks in the women’s courtyard were burning precisely to glorify the Feast of Tabernacles, or that they were extinguished just as the feast had come to an end *). But to speak of himself and the dignity of his person, the Lord could only ever find the occasion to do so when a spiritual controversy, which could only be solved in this way, had preceded or the people had already been seized and set in motion by a general word of the Kingdom of Heaven. But, as it is presupposed here, to preach from the outset only from his person, that looks as unlike the Lord as it can be, and he would certainly have known that it would be useless **). It must have been so unsuccessful, as even our author must always assume, since the crowd was not led to this point by any particular interest. The person of the Lord would have been presented without foundation in every respect, if the ground, namely the idea of the kingdom of heaven and its general laws, had not been given beforehand. However, for the Evangelist, it is firmly established that the teaching of Jesus must be represented only as the theory of his person, into which theory his entire view of the Lord had condensed itself. His view moved only in the contrast, whose extreme points were the isolated person of the Lord and the world sunk in its sensual interests. Thus, for him, the teaching of the Lord could only be the preaching of his person, and the success of it even among those in the masses who were immediately inclined to believe could only be hostility, resistance, and furious persecution.

*) After this explanation has gone through these two modifications, Olshausen (Comm. II, 190) thinks “it is sufficient to assume that the colossal candlesticks remained standing – after they had served the festive purpose – and that Jesus spoke with reference to them. Nothing, however, would be more “expedient” than for the Lord to call himself the light of the world with reference to these lampstands. Now one speaks only in a tone of reproach of a construction of history a priori! This view of the purposeful is indeed a theory, but we reject it not because it is a theory at all, but because it is a false one, which in its application must lead to the greatest offences. But whether the evangelist himself ever followed this theory of expediency is highly uncertain.

**) Olshausen (II, 189) correctly explains the Lord’s saying when he says: “visibly his (the Lord’s) effort is to attract the attention of the people. But this explanation is correct only in the sense that it is tautology, and only repeats the text in other words; it would be a real explanation only if it were now asked whether such an anxious and uncertain endeavour, such outward importunity, and the effort to attract attention to himself, were appropriate to him of whom it is said: ουκ . . . . . ακουσει τις εν ταις πλατειαις φωνην αυτου.


2) The apologetics of the Lord.


If the Lord’s dogmatic preaching of His person lacked all conditions by which it could find support and recognition, if it always, as now again in v. 13, provoked the objection that it was a one-sided testimony of Himself, then it was always left with only the same apologetic support, which the evangelist could form in fruitless opposition to decided unbelief, but which the Lord, with the certainty of His self-confidence, did not need. I know whence I came and whither I go, says the Lord, to prove the justification of his testimony of himself, but ye know it not (v. ll). To my testimony of myself is added that which the Father bears for me (b. 17-18). I am from above, ye from beneath; ye are of this world, I am not (v. 23). I speak what I have heard from the Father (v. 26). All of these are reflections that could be made from a later standpoint about the relationship between Christian consciousness and its content and the insurmountable stubbornness of the world, and they were inevitable in the perplexity in which a concentrated view in such a situation must be placed. However, all attempts to seriously attribute them to the Lord fail due to the weakness of these reflections and the correct view of the personality of the Lord. For Jesus could never be brought into embarrassment by the resistance he experienced, not alone, but always with the calm certainty of his self-consciousness, which only knows how to help itself through such contrasts. Only a view that had not yet gained a broad and solid foundation in the consciousness of reality or that did not know how to intervene in the world with that irresistible certainty of victory that supported the Pauline self-consciousness, in short, only a view that had concentrated itself in a simple opposition without richer inner development and expansion, could form those apologetic aids for its defense and limit itself to them.


Only at the price of limiting the content of Jesus’ self-awareness to a few points, which were immovable in themselves and were repeatedly presented at every opportunity, can this apologetic be held on to and defended as the Lord’s own creation. For all that the Lord touches here to defend Himself, in order to support His testimony of Himself, has already been completely exhausted on previous occasions and will be exploited again on later occasions. We do indeed find this price too high, and no one will be able to refuse us to free the Lord’s consciousness and language from this extreme uniformity and limitation, as long as the synoptic accounts testify to the richness and inexhaustible fertility of the discourse which the Lord had at his disposal on the most diverse occasions. In our Gospel, this poverty of presentation is connected with the fact that it always knows only one and the same conflict, namely that the opponents do not want to accept the Lord’s testimony about themselves. But that is precisely the fundamental flaw of this portrayal, that the Lord always only speculates about his person and therefore must always give rise to that projection.


3) The mystery of the origin of Jesus.


Let us leave aside the comparison with the synoptic accounts, and here too, as always before, consider and judge our Gospel only from itself. In this way, too, it will be seen that its view is self-evident. To the Pharisees’ objection: you testify of yourself, therefore your testimony is not true *), the Lord replies that he knows where he has come from and where he is going, but it is hidden from them. But are the opponents somehow instructed by this answer? Has the Lord’s testimony now gained more strength for them? Not in the least, for if they do not know which is the true home of Jesus, then this testimony is not justified for their consciousness, and it is only incomprehensible how the Lord could posit such a testimony of himself, if he knew that his authority to do so was absolutely hidden from others. If he once wanted to engage in it and prove his right to testify of himself, then the reason must be accessible to the others as well as to him.

*) Actually, as Olshausen (II, 190) also remarks, the Pharisees should only have said, your testimony as self-testimony is one-sided and not valid, and real men could only speak in this way. Therefore, we must not, like Olshausen, wrong the Pharisees and say that their remark contains an obvious falsehood. Rather, the exaggeration, “Your testimony is not true,” belongs only to the writer who drives the contrasts to the utmost abstraction.


4) The true judgment.


At once the Lord speaks of judgment, in that he reproaches the opponents for judging according to the flesh, that is, according to outward appearance, and not going to the bottom of the matter, that is, the same reproach as on an earlier occasion, when he accused them of judging according to appearance (7:24). What the true antithesis of this reproach is, we have just indicated, and is also definitely expressed on that former occasion, where it was said, rather, exercise righteous judgment. Nevertheless, in our passage it says: “But I judge no one. How does this contrast come about? The Lord did not reproach the opponents for judging at all and questioning his testimony, but he only wants to give them guidance on how to recognise the validity of his testimony, even if the way to this recognition is cut off from them. He wants to give them the guidance to the right judgment and demands of them that, when they judge, they should penetrate to the core of the matter, that is, exercise just judgment. The only contrast to this would be that the Lord does not judge according to outward appearance but according to inwardness. This contrast also occurs in the form that the Lord, when he judges, does not do it alone, but in communion with the Father. Nevertheless, it remains striking that this other side of the opposition is so divided into two halves, the first of which was not even prepared by the entire structure of the opposition. This division – I judge no one and, when I judge, my judgment is just, because I am not alone – only comes from the fact that the evangelist could not refrain from inserting into a contrast, which is quite differently conceived and had to have a different conclusion, the other contrast, familiar to him, of arbitrary judging and judgment in unity with the divine will *). The evangelist, who is always accompanied by the monotonous idea of the opposition of the arbitrary, could certainly combine strange opposites in this way, but not the Lord.

*) Olshausen himself must admit that this interjection: but I judge no one, “seems to be out of context” (II, 191). That the apologist is not at a loss to resolve the pretence at the end and knows how to find advice is natural, even if it is only that he says that the interjection is “best understood as a casual remark that is meant to sharpen their sin. As if that were more than a mere tautological paraphrase. That is precisely the difficulty, that this juxtaposition of the most diverse relations is an overabundance or rather an unclear confusion of relations, which stupefies the listener and even the reader by dragging him in opposite directions without even leading him calmly to one of them.


But if it is as certain as anything can be in this sphere that the Lord will not have threatened judgment on every occasion, it is absolutely impossible that he should have mentioned it in the form in which the Evangelist presents it. In the struggle with the really determined and serious unbelief, he will have threatened with the last judgement in general, with this last day of the Jewish conception, but without pushing himself forward as the judge. His speech was all the more powerful when he presented the Son of Man and himself as the mediator of judgement. In the Fourth Gospel, however, the idea of the Messianic office of judge is either wasted when it is only casually presented as an example of how one should judge, or it only occurs because the apologetics against the obdurate opponents no longer know how to help themselves. It is not the Lord, but the evangelist who reaches for the thunder of judgment against the doubters in such cases.


5) The testimony of the Father.


How His testimony of Himself is confirmed by the testimony of the Father who sent Him, the Lord does not elaborate. But did the opponents, with whom he was dealing at this moment, know how he had once explained this testimony of the Father (5:36-37)? Did they know it so well that no explanation was needed? No, they knew so little that they did not even understand what kind of father the Lord was calling as a witness. But if they were so unbelievably limited that they could not see that God was meant, then the Lord could not and was not allowed to refer to the Father’s testimony in such a brief way. But it is really an unbelievable and impossible limitation, of which the Jews are here reproached *); for they know so well another time (10:30-31), whom the Lord understands by the Father, that they immediately want to stone the blasphemer, who said, I and the Father are One. Certainly, it is again only the love of contrasts which induced the evangelist to drive the Jews into such an impossible misunderstanding. But they did not even have occasion to make such a senseless statement as to ask: where is thy Father, for it is not the Lord who speaks here of the testimony of Him who sent Him, but the evangelist once more heaps together all the apologetic reasons for the truth of the preaching of Christ. But only briefly does he let the Lord speak here of the testimony of the Father, because he counts on the memory of the readers who know the earlier argument, and because he was prevented by an involuntary feeling from extending the repetition further.

*) If even Lücke says (Comm. II, 272): “nothing was clearer than that Jesus meant his Father in heaven”, let us leave aside the apologetic talk of the “carnal-minded opponents” of Jesus, who could not have understood such a clear saying.


6) The Departure of the Lord.


With a new beginning of speech the Lord says: I go away, and ye shall seek me: but whither I go ye cannot come. Does he want to kill himself? say the Jews. We need only mention this misunderstanding, but no longer judge it.

7) The upper and lower world.


It was really not necessary for the Lord to attack the misunderstanding of the Jews more specifically, since it does not belong to the real world. He therefore simply continues in his speech: you are from below, I am from above, you are of this world, I am not. The contrast between the kingdom of heaven and the world was of course familiar to the Lord’s consciousness, but certainly only in this general, grandiose form; but to apply it to his person in this spatial form of above and below was reserved for the view of the congregation, which in the struggles it had to endure here below with the world that had fallen into death, directed its gaze upwards, to the origin of its salvation *).

*) The formula ανωθεν of the origin of Jesus had already occurred above 3:31 in the sermon of the Baptist, in a sermon that was actually preached by the Evangelist.


8) Appeal of the Lord to His preaching of Himself.


After the Lord has spoken at length about the dignity of his person, his origin, and his departure, the Jews ask him, “Who are you?” and he answers simply, “Just what I have been telling you.” But how could the Jews ask him in this way when he had not only just now, but constantly and continuously at every opportunity revealed himself as the Messiah? The answer – “I am what I say” – cancels out the question and itself; for if the Lord so briefly refers to his earlier statements because they are clear and detailed enough, the question of who he is could not have been raised. Rather, we hear from this answer the later apologist who, when all reasons are exhausted, can only say, “It is so, it is simply so,” and then we understand this turn.

9) A collection of strange relationships.


At the end, the Lord says, “I have much to say and to judge about you, but he who sent me is true.” One would expect the following statement: “Indeed, he who sent me will execute the judgment that I would have over you and speak about you.” But nothing follows. It is only later in the fortuitous continuation of the dispute with the Jews that the specific supplement follows, that the Father seeks the glory of the Lord and judges the injustice of the denial of recognition of the unbelievers (v. 50). It is as if the necessary but omitted addition has resonated with the author and secretly troubled him until he brought it to light. Earlier, in the original context, in verse 29, the Lord had indeed hinted that he was not alone, that the Father was with him, but this does not improve matters because the idea that the Father will judge for him is not really expressed, and therefore not really returned to the starting point, and it was indeed hardly possible after the speech had taken a completely foreign turn. When the Lord said that he had much to say and to judge about his unbelieving opponents, he spoke as if he wanted to continue: nevertheless, he himself would not pronounce this judgment over them, for another, the Father, would do it. Instead, the Evangelist lets the Lord fall back into the usual track, namely the speech about the contrast, that he does not speak of himself but only speaks into the world what he has heard from the Father. The Evangelist’s views so dominate him that they insert themselves into his speech even where he had aimed for a completely different contrast. The approach of the speech, “I have much to say about you,” reminds the Evangelist of a theme that recurs in the Lord’s final speeches, where he promises the disciples the Paraclete, who will reveal to them everything he could no longer say to them (John 14:25, 16:12-13). This once-struck tone enticed the Evangelist to that turn that would enter with the death of the Lord into the knowledge of others, and while falling into the other contrast of self-will and divine authorization, he now lets the Lord say: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do not act on my own, but speak only what the Father has taught me.”


What is the point of asking whether it was time for the Lord to speak of His death here, whether He, if He wanted to be understood, could indicate His death so inexplicably darkly in the expression of exaltation by His adversaries, or whether, rather, only for the later believer could the image of exaltation allude to the Lord’s death on the cross? These questions we need neither raise nor answer seriously, since the confusion of the last passage proves to us that it is not the Lord who is speaking, but that the views common to the evangelist, and even his literary turns of phrase, have flowed together so accidentally that even the connection which the author intended has been utterly dissolved. —

These and similar speeches of the Lord receive their true and original meaning when, through the critical process, through this spiritual chemistry, we lead them back to their basic substance and separate the admixture which the same has received through the form as an utterance of the Lord. They then appear in their true form as the first Christian apologetics, and it is not the Lord but the consciousness of the congregation that struggles in them with the objections of the world. If the unbelievers said: you always refer to the testimony of your Saviour with the confession of your faith, i.e. to something which itself first needs proof, the answer was: this testimony is justified in itself, for we know where the Lord is from and where he has gone; because you do not know, you certainly cannot accept this testimony. But we have another testimony, namely, that which lies in the work of the Lord and in the power which is inherent in this work and which could only proceed from the Father, who bears witness in it. You are from below and cannot judge him who is from above. And if you do not want to stop with your questions and objections, then know that the Lord is what he is, he is what he has always said about himself and what our testimony says about him. But your resistance does not go unpunished, for the Father judges the unbelief that resists the Lord. The Lord’s struggle with the Jewish world, the objections of the opponents and his defence, all this had to take on the form of later circumstances.


10) The second section of the discourse.


Through the preceding speech many were brought to faith and it is these to whom the following words of the Lord are addressed and who meet him with their objections.

In this part of the speech, too, we are confronted with several disturbing things: first of all, the context of the speech is torn apart, since the people to whom it is addressed are described in contradictory colours, on the one hand as willing and faithful, on the other hand as evil and wicked, as Satan’s children. Indeed, at the very moment when they are still presumed to be believers and nothing has happened that could have fundamentally changed them, the Lord describes them as those who wanted to kill him because his word does not find its way into them (v 37).

It is not only by accidental inconsistency that the author allows the character of these people to change so suddenly, but the Lord’s consecutive sayings presuppose listeners of a completely opposite character. The first saying: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and the truth which you will then know will make you free” requires faithful listeners who have already immersed themselves in the word of the Lord and are only made aware of the fruits of perseverance. On the other hand, the accusation: “You are not Abraham’s children, but Satan’s” (vv. 39-44) can only be directed against those who do not allow the Lord’s word to enter their hearts, who do not want to hear it. But did these people not know what to do with the Lord’s sermon? Were their thoughts only lies and murder? Many, it was said before, believed in the Lord and it is precisely with these many, it is expressly said, that this speech deals.


Although the author thought that all these sayings, which presuppose such different audiences, have their common bond in the continuous mention of Abraham, this connection and this bond must be very doubtful to us, because the main sayings are not brought about by a collision, which could possibly arise from the relationship of Jesus and the audience to Abraham, but are presented suddenly and without any particular occasion by the Lord. The Lord says without further ado: the truth will make you free (v. 32), he who hears my word will not see death for ever (v. 51), and the Jewish pride of descent from Abraham then finds fault with this. If these sayings are indeed connected with controversy, then the order should be just the opposite, the controversy should precede, the saying that resolves it and closes the dispute should follow. Where this natural order is lacking, these sayings are unprepared, and it is incomprehensible whence they suddenly come, where they are to lead, or what purpose they serve. The dispute that attaches itself to them becomes the unnatural light of implausibility, and far from being a serious controversy, it becomes a quarrel of incomprehensibly obdurate hearers who cannot grasp even the simplest saying. The Synoptics, on the other hand, give us examples of real controversies, which bring the Jewish point of view into pure, simple contrast with the Lord’s inpouring, and are not merely the wrangling of misunderstanding. The answers of the Lord – and it was worth the trouble that he answered here – are decisive, settle the controversy and are so clear and accurate that they “shut the opponents’ mouths”. There appear living figures who express their character to the point of plastic definiteness and betray real life as their origin; their controversy is completely natural and their conflict is not purposeless and endless, but always resolves itself in the harmony of the higher self-consciousness and in the defeat of the finite intellect. In our Gospel, the controversies become a tangle that moves back and forth only in misunderstandings and, in its purposelessness, can only end in tumult. The stones that the people reach for when the confusion of their minds has risen to the highest level make a worthy conclusion.


Let us now consider the main points of the dispute.

11) Freedom and bondage.


The Jews do not want to hear that the Lord told them that the truth would make them free, because as children of Abraham they were never servants and did not need to become free. The Lord replies that he means the bondage of sin, from which the willing knowledge of the truth sets them free. But they must let themselves be freed from this bondage by the Son, for only the Son remains eternally in the house, but not the servant. Who does not immediately perceive the discord that enters into the whole discourse through the different turn given to the idea of the servant? Two utterly different ideas are immediately thrust one into the other, one of which could as well as the other be the centre of a special speech, and must be explained in just as much detail as the other. And yet the one is not explained at all, yes, as if it were absolutely the same as the other, confused with it! When the Lord says that the servant will not remain in the house forever, but the son will, the servant and the son are regarded in the same way, namely in their relationship to the master of the house. The servant can be changed by the Lord, but the son is bound to the master of the house by an indissoluble bond; the thought is therefore similar to that which is set forth in the Epistle to the Hebrews. As the author of this Epistle (3:1-6) illustrates the sublimity of Christ by comparing Him as the Son of the householder with Moses, who only served as a servant in the divine household, so here the Lord Himself as the Son opposes the people as the accepted servant. But it is impossible that the Lord in one breath used the image of the servant in such a completely different sense and at the same moment spoke of the servant of sin and of the servant of God, that he passed directly from one image into the other without preparing or even making the transition, it is impossible that he could speak in such a way with the appearance as if he spoke of the same servant, of the servant in the same sense. The evangelist could only confuse different thoughts in this way without paying attention to their differences.


But if it was so easy for him to make turns of phrase, which go off to opposite points, appear to be of one and the same direction, nothing in the world can guarantee that he gives us the real facts when he reports how the Jews refer to their descent from Abraham against the Lord. This cannot be a guarantee of the so-called historical truth, for the Lord says later (vv. 37-39) that if they were really Abraham’s children, they would not want to kill him. For this contrast which the works form with their vaunted origin was too obvious once the masses’ reference to their descent was interwoven into the controversy. Even the evangelist lets this mention of Abraham pass by without a trace, as if it had not intervened at all when he came to the head of the dispute (vv. 41-50). Here the contrast is quite different, for the Jews boast that they have God for their father, and the Lord replies that the devil, on the contrary, is their ancestor, by ascribing to himself the origin of God with the usual contrast of self-authority and divine authority. Thus, from this side, the intermediate idea of Abrahamic descent is dissolved.

But if it was so easy for him to put phrases that go in opposite directions into the semblance of one and the same direction, then nothing in the world can vouchsafe for us that he gives us the real facts when he reports how the Jews appealed to their descent from Abraham against the Lord. Therein lies no guarantee for the so-called historical truth that the Lord afterwards (v. 37-39) says that if they really were children of Abraham, they would not want to kill him. For this contrast, which the works form to their boasted origins, lay too close at hand once that appeal of the masses to their descent was woven into the dispute. Even the evangelist lets this mention of Abraham pass by unnoticed as if it had not intervened at all when he comes to the climax of the dispute (v. 41-50). Here the contrast is completely different, the Jews boast of having God as their father, and the Lord replies to them that the devil is rather their ancestor, by ascribing to himself the origin of God with the usual contrast of self-authority and divine authority. Thus, from this side, the intermediate idea of Abrahamic descent is dissolved.

But is this double image of the servant really based on a double historical core? I.e., if the Lord, with his power over language and the clarity of his view, could not confuse different things, did he really, on different occasions, describe the truth that lies in his word as the power that liberates from the bondage of sin and himself as the Son who raises the servants of the Father to a free position in the divine household?

As to the former, the idea of the bondage of sin is not unworthy of the Lord, and there is nothing to prevent us from attributing it to him; but as the relation to national pride is omitted, only cease to attach to this saying that multitude of pragmatic and edifying considerations, and to give it the immediate relation to the political condition of the people, as well as to the sensual messianic expectations of them. In itself, the saying contains the idea of the purely ideal efficacy of the Redeemer, penetrating only into the depths of the spirit, but this “only,” this exclusiveness, is not expressly emphasised and need not have been originally inherent in the saying through its reference to a political collision. The situation that gave rise to it is in any case completely unknown to us, and even the evangelist gives us no hint of it, since according to his account the saying is already self-standing and so that its meaning is clear in itself, before the political pride of the people finds fault with it and tugs it to and fro.


The other view, according to which the Lord, as the Son of the House, stands opposite the others as servants, need not therefore be of later origin, because it is so much in harmony with that view in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which certainly arose without external stimulus and purely from the spirit of the author of this Epistle. When we hear how the Lord, when he was asked to pay the temple ransom, calls himself and his people the free sons of the heavenly King, while the people are only the accepted servants of him (Matth. 17, 24-26), the same thought is expressed here as there. In Matthew’s account, it has only received a special emphasis and twist due to the specific occasion; but whether the same saying has been preserved here in the fourth Gospel from the same situation in a faint echo and has only been turned differently by the author, or whether the Lord Himself has gone back to the same view on another occasion and has excepted it again for a different application: that can no longer be decided.


12) The Son of God and the children of Satan.


The argument over the glory of being descended from Abraham leads to the climax of the dispute, where the Lord scolds the Jews as children of Satan. While he only speaks what he has seen from the Father, they, says the Lord, only do the works they have seen from their father (v. 38). When the Lord stops at this assertion, even though they had just called Abraham their father again, and they now sense a deeper accusation behind that charge, the Jews want to secure themselves in a decisive way and now call God their father (v. 41). It does not sound quite right that the Jews should call Abraham and God their father in one breath; heat and embarrassment can indeed lead to sudden leaps in a dispute, but the leap of faith in this case is too violent, and there is no reason why the Jews should not stand by the glory of their Abrahamic descent, even if the Lord had given them to understand that they had another father. But the evangelist knew what kind of father Jesus meant, and he could ascribe the consciousness of the meaning of this reproach to the Jews, so that when Jesus wanted to call Satan their father, they could immediately come forward or rather anticipate with the corresponding contradiction that God was their father. The transition is thus proven to be one made by the Evangelist himself, as is already shown by the starting point from which the transition takes place, the mention of Father Abraham, which is shown to be made up by the Evangelist, as the thoughts and sayings to which this mention is attached have only been converted by the Evangelist into the cause of this dispute.


The contrast between the divine authorization of the Lord and the Jews’ descent from Satan is now freely presented out of its context and must, if it really belongs to the Lord, have a special reason for being and we would not dare to determine it if it had not revealed itself in our account. The Jews accuse the Lord of having an evil spirit in him, that he is possessed, and Jesus finds it necessary to reject this accusation and to appeal to his Father, whom he honors and whose words he hears and proclaims vv. 48-49. This is very reminiscent of the similar accusation made against the Lord in relation to his miraculous power, that he heals the possessed in the power of Beelzebub, the prince of the evil spirits (Matthew 12:23, 24). It is possible that the Lord was once accused of belonging to evil in relation to his teachings, because he dared to elevate his person above the measure of the ordinary human, and that he called his contemporaries Satan’s children on the occasion of such an accusation, as he once simply called them a wicked generation (Matthew 12:39, 45). However, we must add that it is just as possible that the Evangelist, according to the assumption of his entire work, could not present an accusation that originally referred to the Lord’s miraculous power in any other way than by using the Lord’s teaching about his person as the cause for it.

Therefore, at every other occasion, the Lord could refer to the one who keeps his word not seeing eternal death (v. 51) as a defense of his teaching about himself. The evangelist, as he has shown sufficiently, was able to bring up this saying on any occasion, while he has also convinced us that he was able to cite any other saying on those occasions where the Lord had to defend himself against doubts regarding his teaching about himself. Or in other words: the circle of apologetic arguments is very narrow in this gospel, and therefore the same sayings must always reappear very soon after each other. Here again, it is only the evangelist who wants to crush the doubt against the majesty of the Lord by preaching about his life-giving and immortalizing power. Already by the fact that this saying appears in a context where the struggle is against devilish obstinacy, it appears as an inappropriate and mechanically added appendage, and the answer of the Jews falls as well if it is not stopped by themselves. Anyone will call this saying inappropriate and purposeless if the opponents can only draw from it the reinforced conviction that the Lord must be possessed. And what conclusion do they draw to strengthen their conviction? Abraham and the prophets died, so does Jesus want to be greater than their forefather and the prophets (v. 52-53)? But how could they so completely misplace the only turn that could be taken from the starting point of this question? The only objection that was free to them, if they wanted to compare that glory of the Lord with the greatness of Abraham and the prophets, could only be made by saying: Abraham and the prophets could not spare their people from death, and you want to attribute such power to yourself? This is the only way they could have been indignant if they wanted to be, if the Lord had really offended their pride, which was based on their descent from Abraham, and if it were not the evangelist who had Abraham in mind here and in the preceding part of the conversation because he wanted to lead the conversation to a point at which the patriarch had to appear. Because the idea of the preexistence of Christ was fixed in the author’s mind as the conclusion of the dispute, because this preexistence emerged in its highest significance when measured against the ancestor of the Jewish people and the beginning of the theocracy, because the author wanted to sharpen the entire dispute to this conclusion, Abraham’s had to be thought of before, even in a context where this mention was inappropriate and had to be proven to be forced from outside.


13) The pre-existence of Christ.


The only question now is whether Jesus expressed the idea of His pre-existence in this particular way. After stating that he knows the Father and does not seek his own glory, the Lord says, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Jesus would not have had any other information about Abraham than what is recorded in the book of Genesis, and therefore, the patriarch’s joy can only have come from the promise of blessing that would come from his seed to all nations. The only point of contention is when Abraham was given the joy of actually seeing the day of the Lord. The usual explanation is that Abraham saw the Lord’s coming from paradise, where he is believed to live on and participate in the fate of his descendants. *) The Jews, however, understand the Lord’s speech quite differently, they understand it as if Jesus meant that he had seen Abraham and had already had dealings with him in the earliest past. The evangelist himself wants to describe this conclusion as the completely correct one when he introduces it with the words: the Jews said “therefore” to Jesus and the Lord confirms their view likewise when he says: “Truly, truly I say to you – i.e. do not be surprised when I speak like this, because – before Abraham was, I am, so he could already come to see my day in advance, since I could already reveal myself to him in the past. If it were really “a tautology of thought” *) when it is said once: Abraham rejoiced that he should see my day, and then: he saw it and rejoiced, then the evangelist would have to answer for it, and we would not be justified by it if we deviated from the explanation which alone is required by the context. But there is not even a tautology, but a heightening of the speech, in that the Lord wants to improve his words and say that it was not said enough that Abraham had only rejoiced over what he was to see in the distant future, no! his rejoicing over the future had been heightened to joy over the sight of the real and present already in the past. This does not make the idea of the day of the Lord “illusory” just because “it was not the actual day of the Messiah that Abraham saw”, because according to the view – let us say it nonetheless – of the evangelist, the prophetic vision was presented with the future as something present in itself, because it is eternally present. If one misses a “point of reference in the Old Testament and in popular belief” for this thought, one should only remember how the prophetic vision in the Old Testament sees the future as present and how according to the theory of our evangelist the person of the Lord appeared in his full glory to the prophets (Chapter 12, 41). There is no doubt: in the first sentence about Abraham’s joy over his day (v. 56), the Lord wants to say the same thing about himself as he expresses more directly (v. 58), when the opponents force him to. Both there and here, he wants to assert his preexistence before Abraham.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 310. de Wette p. 121.

*) As de Wette thinks.

334 [corrected from 234]

At least the Evangelist has him assert it. However, it must be very doubtful whether Jesus really spoke in this way, when we see how it lies in the theory of the Evangelist that the Lord, as the Logos, as the eternal revelation of the Father, preceded all special historical revelations, and precisely these special revelations have been mediated in sacred history. It is more likely that the Evangelist formed that statement out of this theory, rather than developing that theory from a single statement of the Lord. For the Lord, it was probably also not the place to teach his pre-existence if he only had the intention to crush the pride of the Jews in their ancestor. Finally, it is contrary to the nature of revelation that it should only serve the purposes of theory and express a speculative determination in one sentence. It has enough to do when it addresses the need of redemption, to expand and fulfil the inwardness of self-consciousness, and without fearing the least for the success and recognition of its work, it can leave it to the reborn spirit to create the new world of theoretical consciousness out of the depth of renewed self-consciousness.

The view of his preexistence is indeed present when Jesus speaks of his heavenly origins. But only in this generality could he himself speak of the assumption of his personality, for only in this way did he connect with the general idea of the Messiah and avoid a danger that would have arisen immediately if he had wanted to teach his preexistence as the evangelist presents it. If he had measured his eternity by the point of a certain historical individual, he would also have given the appearance or even spoken as if he wanted to ascribe pre-existence to himself as this certain historical and empirical individual. But we must never ascribe such a view to Jesus, otherwise we would be transferring the utmost rapture into his self-awareness. Only in the spirit of the later community could this more specific view of the pre-existence of Christ be formed, for now it was something else when faith saw the Lord in eternal pre-historical existence and as the effective content of earlier historical revelations. Just as the empirical uniqueness, which is inherent in the historical appearance of the Lord, is transfigured in faith into spiritual generality and elevated to the eternal present, so faith, when it saw its Principle as eternally active, no longer saw that empirical individual in the past, but that individual in the light of the infinity of a divine power.



§ 13. The adulteress

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§. 13 The adulteress

7:53 – 8:11.


1) The position of the question as to the authenticity of this passage.

The tale of the adulteress possesses an irresistible power which, by its first impression, excites and captivates the hearer by evoking in him the presentiment of a collision which transcends all real relations and yet is not untenable, and surprises him by the solution of this clash. Even the contradiction that the event takes place in the rough real world, which cannot be easily transcended, and yet exceeds all the heights of this world, has something mysterious for the listener, occupying them in the beginning in a pleasant way instead of hurting them, and it loses the appearance of excessiveness, as the Lord, this real and infinitely sublime personality above empirical reality, unites the two conflicting sides within himself and brings them back to peace in this unity. Without the power of this impression, this narrative would probably never have found a defender, and even those of its patrons who have completely misunderstood it would not have been prompted to make any attempts to defend it.

The question as to the so-called authenticity of this narrative is wrongly posed and its answer not only made more difficult, but impossible, as long as the two questions as to the Johannine composition of this piece and the reality of the incident as it is narrated here are regarded as one and the same question. For this standpoint, the Johannine origin of the piece would have to be immediately proven impossible if it turns out that the incident as reported here could not have happened. Or, if another view of the Bible is hesitant to admit the inauthenticity of a part, the account is twisted back and forth and the reported incident is tamed by force until it knows how to adapt to reality, so that the account appears genuine. Neither of these paths can entice us anymore, since even in the worst case, we must admit that even an eyewitness in a report can violate the real circumstances and exceed their limits.


But the transition to this section (7:53, a verse that still belongs to the disputed piece) immediately proves, the opponents of the authenticity of the same saw, that here comes a section that stands out decisively from the whole. Everyone, they say, went home. Who, one asks, the members of the Sanhedrin, of whose meeting the author has just spoken, or the people who had come to the holy city for the feast? Furthermore, in what connection is it with the foregoing that Jesus (8:1) goes to the Mount of Olives to spend the night there? Is it because it was his usual place of refuge at night? “But how should not John, who shortly before had told all things so clearly and vividly, have given this meaning and connection more distinctly and definitely?” *) Because he could not, we answer, because, as we have experienced not only shortly before, but always up to now, he never brings it to a clear view of the circumstances. But the difficulty is not so great even in the present case: “everyone,” says the evangelist, “went home” everyone, that is, of those who had hitherto stood on the stage, as well the members of the Sanhedrin as the masses. What is meant by “home,” whether it is the home of the foreign festival-goers or the residence of the members of the Sanhedrin, had to remain unclear because the author wanted to speak of everyone and bring all the characters he had brought onto the stage home. And supposing the passage to be obscure, and the report, after having just spoken of the meeting of the Sanhedrin, says: “Again, therefore (8:12) Jesus spoke to them,” the vividness is still more lost, and it requires the greatest agony to see any connection where even the appearance of it is not present. This appearance is at least there if that passage is retained as a genuine part of the whole, and this circumstance alone should be sufficient to confirm its authenticity. The author is not at all afraid of carrying on a conversation of Jesus with the people to such an extent that it becomes an endless quarrel and we can no longer understand that the Lord has not long since broken it off. From the outset, we cannot therefore prove wrong those who imagine the context to be so comprehensive *) that from 8:12 onwards, the continuation of the speeches that were given in Ch. 7 would be provided. Whether the author of the Gospel continues the disputations by a few links or not is irrelevant to the inappropriate character of the whole, as even one link, like the speeches in Chapter 7, goes infinitely beyond all likelihood, and before this infinity of inappropriateness, a new offense sinks to insignificance.

However, the author was unconsciously compelled by a correct feeling to give an appearance of boundary to that unsuitable extension of the disputations and to provide a kind of conclusion that builds up the turmoil of the dispute. In Chapter 7, this movement towards the conclusion is the intensification of the division in the crowd, the decision for a firmer belief, and the more pronounced emergence of the hostile attitude, whose extreme appears in the members of the Sanhedrin, but in such a way that here again the image of the division that took place in the crowd is shown, and thus also the image of the believing part of the masses. With this, however, the interest that runs through this section is completely satisfied, as it is led through all stages and relationships. The dispute that begins in Chapter 8, verse 12, also has its point, namely that it intensifies to the point where the Jews want to stone the Lord *). Both sections have their own conclusion, they are a whole in themselves and if the Lord withdraws at the end of the second section 8:59, the same must have been reported at the end of the first section, i.e. the intervening story of the adulteress, which is connected with the conclusion of the previous scene, cannot be dispensed with and belongs to the whole of the Gospel.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 220.

*) As Lücke, Comm. II, 242.

*) Lücke (II, 243) also thinks that this view, that the speeches of the two chapters were not held on one and the same day, can be asserted. But the reasons he gives for this are not correct. One day, he says, seems too short for so many speeches and counter-speeches, if one assumes that John “only communicates the main moments from the speeches of Jesus, usually very briefly. However, a writer who reports an exchange of words does indicate that he does not only want to give the main points, but the whole. If Lücke refers to the different contents of the speeches reported here, this is also misguided, for only the dignity of the person of the Lord is spoken of, for only the same interjections are always reported.


2) The collision of the positive and the heavenly law

Now, if we want to understand the narrative according to the Evangelist’s perspective, we must bring our eyes to the point of the narrative where it sees a twofold world, the empirically real and the ideal world of the kingdom of heaven, united. Only by bringing together these two worlds in the point of the narrative that determines its entire perspective can we explain how a collision existed here and how the Lord could solve it in this way. The Pharisees brought to the Lord a woman who had been taken in adultery, presented to him the case and the penalty of stoning prescribed by the law, and asked him for his opinion. They had done this (v. 6) to try him and to have a reason to accuse him. However, the Pharisees had the Lord in mind here, who had said that he had come for sinners, so he wanted to overturn the order of the world, to rescue what was rejected and ruined in the world from disgrace and ruin, and to humble what was exalted and sublime in the eyes of the world. The difficulty in which this question was to entangle the Lord, therefore, consisted in whether he was also determined to protect the sinner, who had been guilty of a certain deed, in relation to this deed against the obvious law of the world. But precisely by turning away from the obvious law and authority to Jesus as this individual person, the collision was already solved by them, and the question was brought before a judge before whom the letter of the law fell silent. They, as this individual, ask for the decision which the Lord, as this individual, is to give, and under these circumstances the Lord could only grant the right of condemnation to him who would know himself to be without sin and stain. When the Pharisees were struck and silenced by this turn that they themselves had taken first, the Lord not only addressed the sinning woman as this individual person but also with the essential significance of his personality.

If He faces her only as this individual, as the Pharisees first regarded the matter, He has no right to judge and condemn, but as Judge of the Kingdom of Heaven He has the infinite right of forgiveness and the authority to declare the offence undone. So now he says to the sinner: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”


3) The resolution of the collision.

The collision thus seems to be resolved, but it only seems that way, for the resolution is only achieved in that one side, the revealed law and the law of reality par excellence, only dissolves and evaporates in the ideal world of the Kingdom of Heaven. But then a collision is only truly and thoroughly resolved when both conflicting sides have received their right and the general divine order emerges from the struggle in which they abolish their exclusiveness. This has not happened here, when the right of the real world appears only as such, which cannot be executed by the individual person as such, and is abolished par excellence by the personality who is the Judge of the Kingdom of Heaven. But the judge who executes the revealed law of the real world does not act as this individual person, but the accidental definiteness of his personality is reduced to insignificance at the moment of judging, and appears only as a means, and that as the purely transparent means of the law which relates to the particular case. On the other hand, the law of the kingdom of heaven does not carry itself out in such a way that it directly annihilates the claims of the real world and its law: but only in such a way does it establish its world above the real one that it mediates itself through it. The ideal annihilation of the offence in repentance and forgiveness would only be an illusion if the offence were not also annihilated on the side where it had intervened in the real world and in appearance, and by the recognition of the necessity of punishment. In this seriousness of the real punishment and of the suffering that pervades marrow and bone, the inner, spiritual annulment of the offence is first conveyed in a powerful and real way.


Otherwise, the Lord knows how to resolve such collisions in a completely different way. Either he shows how one side of the contradiction is resolved in the other – the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath – or he recognises the right of both sides – give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s – and thereby awakens the perception of a general order that embraces both sides. It is therefore not only an arbitrary statement of power when it is asserted that the Lord could not have solved this collision in the way the report sees it. But it is not even foreseeable how the opponents of the Lord could have dared to take a collision out of a case that was so definitely taken into account by the law.

If the incident as it is reported here could not have happened, this does not at all prove that the report is not based on anything historical. The evangelist has already accustomed us to the fact that it can no longer alienate us or lead us to a purely negative judgement when his reports go beyond the measure of the real circumstances. His view, which in itself strives for contrasts, surpasses contrasts where they give him reality, and when he wants to report a collision, it is entirely in his nature to push it so far that it can no longer hold up at all for an understanding observation which keeps in mind the magnitudes of the real world. This disposition of our evangelist is like the spirit of those peoples who still stand on the first standpoint of art and who, instead of creating freely, can only use the figures of the real world and push them beyond their form and their natural measure. Thus it is probable that the report of the adulteress was based on a real incident – even if we cannot trace it back to its first form: in that case, however, the case in dispute did not have to have so much the form of the extreme offence in its kind and did not have to be so expressly decided by the law that no doubt remained, otherwise the thought of a collision would not have been possible.


Those commentators who deny the report to the author of the Gospel conclude from individual formulas that it originally belonged to the oral tradition through which the synoptic reports passed. But it would remain inexplicable if the report were later inserted into the fourth Gospel, why it would not rather have been inserted at that point of the synoptic narrative, especially of the first Gospel, where the scribes and Pharisees are in the best course of presenting trying questions to the Lord. The echoes of the Synoptic account are, however, sufficiently explained by the similarity of the content and the presupposed situation.


In more recent times it has been conceded that the evidence of the manuscripts which do not contain this passage is not decisive against its authenticity, since many, and among them excellent, manuscripts read it. It was too easy that one could not find oneself in the report or even took offence at it *) and therefore excluded it. One has therefore wanted to refer the decision of the question of the authenticity of the passage to the internal grounds **): but this, if one wants to depend on the inner probability of the reported incident, is precisely the skewed position of the question which we have already corrected. If, therefore, the question is more correctly whether the passage corresponds to the whole structure and attitude of the fourth Gospel, one must ask whether it, like the other parts of this Gospel, heightens contrasts to the improbable and to the point of unrelatedness. And since this question must be answered in the affirmative, this would also confirm the authenticity of the passage, at least in this sense.

*) In the circumstance that the narrative is missing especially in the Oriental manuscripts, Bretschneider (Probabil. p. 73) aptly reminds us of how it was precisely in the Orient that monastic austerity first and very early developed.

**) De Wette, p. 103.


§ 12. Echo of the dispute about the first Sabbath violation

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 12. Echo of the dispute about the first Sabbath violation.

Ch 7.


1) The time of the Lord.


The last time Jesus withdrew from Judea to Galilee, the evangelist, contrary to his custom, omitted to state the reason for this withdrawal. But this time he really did not need to, since he had described the murderous rage of the Lord’s opponents shortly before (5:18). On the other hand, he had (6:1) strangely enough fallen into the language of the synoptics by considering the shore on this side of the Sea of Galilee as the fixed point from which Jesus departed when he went elsewhere. The evangelist does not say that the Lord went from Judea to Galilee and from there he went to the other side of the lake, but from this side, where he is already located, Jesus goes to the other side. But for a long time the evangelist cannot deny his own view, now (7:1) he reminds the reader that Jesus only stays in Galilee out of necessity, because he would be found in Judea if the Jews did not want to kill him. Even his brothers cannot dissuade the Lord from his plan to stay in Galilee for the time being, although they ask him to go to Judea for the Feast of Tabernacles, so that his disciples – namely the followers who are supposed to be in Judea – can also see his works. In vain the brothers tried to provoke him from the standpoint of their unbelief: he replied that his hour had not yet come and that he would not go up to the feast. He stayed in Galilee.


What it means when the Lord says that his time has not yet come is perfectly clear from the context. He could not surrender himself to the hatred of the world, which pursued him, arbitrarily and at will, but in the divine counsel the time was determined when he might surrender himself to the hostile world. The time of the Lord is the time of suffering. This conception is not in the least made uncertain or impossible *) by the fact that the Lord at the same time says that the time of his brothers is always there. For as is customary in the game of such antitheses, the corresponding elements are as much in agreement with a third element when viewed according to their superficial appearance, as they are opposed or divergent for the consciousness that follows their essence. The third element in which the elements of the present antithesis intersect is, in general, the idea of public appearance before the world. The Lord thinks that you can always show yourselves to the world, what you have in mind and what you demand of me, that I should appear freely before the world. This cannot yet be done on my part, but on your part, it can always be done. However, why the Lord cannot and may not do so at all times is justified in his consciousness in a particular way, because his time is entirely different from that given to his brothers every moment, and therefore is not a specific time. It is clear that the Lord is speaking here of the time of his death, just as he had earlier rejected a request from his mother by referring to his time of suffering. The difficulty that arises from the fact that the Lord refers to his time of suffering without his brothers being able to understand him must not tempt us to make artifices, nor does it give us a right to let the evangelist write everything else, except what he wants to write. It seemed to him that the only thing worthy of the Lord was that he should have the last conflict of his life constantly in view; from this point of view he has always let the Lord speak, and even the first revelation of his glory at Cana had to proceed from this point of view.

*) As de Wette (p. 93) and Lücke (Comm. II 157) think.


Another difficulty does not entitle the interpreter to use violent means. Although the Lord says to the brothers: you are going to “this” feast, I am not going to “this” feast, although therefore this particular feast is spoken of, and because of the contrast to the time of suffering, this whole feast must be spoken of, but not only the beginning of it *), the Lord nevertheless goes to “this” feast after the departure of his brothers, as if he had wanted to do it secretly. Whoever wants to add a “now” with Lucke **) when the Lord says, I am not going to this feast, may do so after all, but he does not say that he is explaining a saying which he has long since lost sight of by such an addition. For such an interpreter, the evangelist has in vain made the speech revolve around the purpose of “this” feast. Lücke has another help ready, namely, he thinks that the contradiction disappears if the present tense: I am not going to this feast “is taken quite strictly” *), to which the following: my time has not yet come “gives an indisputable right”; but then one would have to let the Lord put an accent on that present tense with an ulterior consciousness that is unworthy of him. If all the words deny the idea that he will go to “this” feast, the gentleman is supposed to have indicated the opposite by an ambiguous accent, and not only to have gone secretly to the feast, but to have secretly put into his words the inwardly already existing resolution to go there? Assuming the case, impossible without Jesuitism, that the “strict” version of the present tense was able to put a “now” into the words: I am not going to this feast, this explanation is at least certain enough here because of the context, which deals with “this” feast, with “this” par excellence, and – to say it again and to cancel that “indisputable right” – opposes this particular feast as this whole feast to the not yet fulfilled time of the Lord. And the “strict” version of the negated present tense! Does it exist only with an ambush in the consciousness, only in that the near future of the action is silently affirmed **) ? But it is good that we are reminded of the strict version of the present tense: for there is a way of setting the present tense which is also very strict, but which does not merely hint at it secretly and covertly, but is endowed with great force and distinctness, and which we might call the categorical. It is the version of the present tense which, when the present is negated, strictly negates, namely, in such a way that it negates the action for the present because of the essential nature and destiny of the subject from whom it is demanded or expected. And this version is the only possible one here. I do not go to this feast means here: it is my task and destiny not to go to this feast, for it is my destiny to confront the hatred of the world only when the time determined by divine counsel, when my time has arrived; but this time, which is inwardly connected with my being, has not yet been fulfilled. If someone nevertheless prefers the surreptitious path of apologetics to the straight and simple course of evangelical speech, he may and must also assume that overnight, after the brothers had departed, the time of the Lord determined in the divine counsel was fulfilled. For no sooner are the brethren on the road, than he also departs.

*) This artifice is not without a Jesuit reservation, for example when Bengel says: qui primo die festi non inter- erat, non videbatur interesse; or as Bengel continues:: accedit deindc Jesus ad festum, sed quasi incognitus; nec tam ad festum, quam in templum.

**) Lucke (Comm. II, 168). De Wette thinks that the sentence: I do not go (ουκ), is after all to be retained in its simplicity, for it is “the negation limited by the following αυπω (my time is not yet).” How can the fog of apologetics obscure even the simplest provisions, veil the clearest indications! Not limited, but strengthened, justified is the negation. Because his time is not yet here, the Lord does not go to this feast.

*) This is also Beugel’s opinion : αναβαινω striete in praescuti acciplendum.

**) Another time, where Lücke again speaks of a present tense with such “emphasis,” ibid. p. 252, he himself says that “the present tense, which is in itself ambiguous, would then have to be determined by a closer one”!


2) The journey of Jesus to the feast of tabernacles.


But it is evident, says the apologetics, that my help cannot be so proudly rejected; the Lord is really going to the feast, so – So shall we make ourselves a new gospel? Erase what is written in the Gospel? Shall we cut out and add to it as we please, until it has become an altogether poorer one? No! The contradiction cannot be blurred, but it can be explained if we get to the bottom of it and see how it arose with both its assertions. One thing we have already found confirmed by the whole structure of his work, that it seemed worthy of the Evangelist of the Lord when he constantly referred to the time of fulfilment, namely to the time which, according to divine counsel, should bring his work to a decision and conclusion. In addition, the Evangelist held the view that it was not worthy of the Lord to be determined by any external decision. His miraculous activity was not caused by the complaints or requests of the needy: thus he feeds the multitude, he heals the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, and Ch 9 the man born blind without their request. Or if he is asked for help, he first sternly rejects the request, such as the admonition of his mother at Cana or the request of the royal official whose son is struggling with an illness, and he does not respond to the call to the sick Lazarus until no more request for help was to be expected: always only so that the miraculous deed may proceed from his free decision and seem to serve only the revelation of his glory as an end. If in such cases, where request and admonition had been most severely rejected, the deed nevertheless comes to pass, it must finally happen because the evangelist also wanted to report it, for he forgets the Lord’s absolutely negative answer, does not allow himself to be misled by it and unites in his consciousness two contradictory interests, because he was driven by them with equal strength. Thus, here too, he satisfies the interest of giving an example of how the Lord rejected every external impulse, even if it came from his closest relatives, because he only allowed himself to be guided by divine counsel through his consciousness: on the other hand, he lets the Lord go to the feast because he wanted to involve him in the following conversation in Jerusalem and in several collisions with the people’s parties.


It is impossible to determine if there is anything similar in the life of Jesus that underlies the account of that interaction with his brothers, and if so, what it might have been. It may be *) that the Lord rejected a similar request of his brothers on the impulse of an inner voice – although such a daimon can hardly be assumed in view of the clarity of Jesus’ self-awareness; it may well be, but then the evangelist went beyond the goal if he nevertheless let the Lord set out on the journey, and he let himself be determined to do so by the presupposition that the Lord walked to the holy city for the celebration even in the face of the most imminent danger. He forgot that the Lord would then, according to the other conditions of the report, have preached to the murderers of the Jews before the time.

*) What Weisse (Evangelical History II, 237) assumes.

3) The mood of the people’s parties.


It does not seem as certain as the evangelist 7:1 states, that the people of Jerusalem were so murderous against the Lord, and the apologists do not have the right to praise the evangelist for reporting the development of the deadly catastrophe so accurately. On the contrary, since, instead of letting the catastrophe grow, he always regards it as already finished, since the assassination attempt has matured so early, it is in the nature of things that the evangelist himself must betray, by a multitude of individual features, that the thing is by no means so far advanced. If in one moment he stretched everything to the extreme, it could not fail that immediately afterwards he would bring the unnatural tension to a lower level and significantly soften the mood of the whole.


The crowd who missed the Lord at the beginning of the festival, as if it were a matter of course that he would attend every festival, had a divided opinion of him. What judgment would we expect from one party of the people if the authorities were to consider it necessary to go to the extreme? Clearly, it would be an enthusiastic recognition of his messianic dignity. However, the Evangelist only reports (v. 12, 13) that the well-disposed part of the people judged the Lord to be a good man, while others said he was leading the crowd astray. But such an insignificant judgment, that Jesus was a good man, could not provoke the authorities so much that they recognized death as the only solution to the collision. On the other hand, it was not necessary to whisper it to each other in secret, as it was not so terrifying. One thing cancels out the other: either the people had more decisively declared themselves for the Lord, or the authorities could not resort to the means that desperation would have suggested to them.

But not only does one thing exclude the other, but each of the two sides of the contradiction cancels itself out, or at least is cancelled out by the report. When Jesus appeared publicly in the temple in the middle of the feast and taught, his knowledge of the scriptures caused wonder, since, as is generally known, he had not enjoyed a learned education, and those who were thus astonished were the Jews (οι Ιουδαιοι), by whom, according to the context here v. 15, the evangelist understands the authorities as usual. Apologetics, which appreciates so much the fine pragmatic remarks of our author, could easily find here, or rather should find here, the suggestion that only now the rulers and scholars had come into contact with the Lord, while otherwise only the crowd of the uneducated people had surrounded him. For as soon as the rulers were in any way concerned about the Lord and considered him worthy of attention, they had to make this remark and marvel at his learning in the Scriptures. And this fine pragmatism must now dissolve itself! The authorities could only have decided so decisively on the downfall of Jesus if they were completely certain of the danger that threatened them in him, i.e. if they had decided in favour of the Lord’s death, then the power of his speech and the depth of his knowledge of Scripture could not have remained unknown to them. Or if the superiors only now noticed to their astonishment how the Lord knew how to treat the Scriptures, they could not yet have come to the conclusion from the knowledge of his danger and the power of his speech, that it was a matter of his or their downfall.


The author also made sure that the fear of the people, who did not dare to speak out loud about the Lord because they knew the plans of the authorities, was also satisfied. The astonishment of the Jews at his learning of the Scriptures prompts the Lord to make some remarks, and among other things he reproaches them for not keeping the law of Moses, for they wanted to kill him. When the author then has the crowd ask in amazement who would want to kill him, since he is probably not in his right mind to speak of assassination attempts (v. 20), he has of course soon enough noticed the contradiction into which he falls. For at the first opportunity he does not refrain from suggesting that it was only the strangers who knew nothing of the plans of the authorities, but that the citizens of the capital were better informed (v. 25). Only when he lets the leaders speak for a moment as if the lord were completely unknown to them, was it appropriate that he should let the mob wonder when the lord speaks of assassination attempts; then he returns to the original premise of the hostile plans of the leaders, and now he ascribes knowledge of them at least to the citizens of the capital. But the help comes too late, and the contradiction has once been too strong for it to be blurred. The crowd had already been brought to the scene in its entirety, v. 12, 13, and no one from this whole mass dared to speak aloud his opinion of Jesus, because they knew the plots of the rulers. All were warmly informed of it, for all were afraid; but if only the chiefs had been informed, if the strangers, as must be assumed from their statement in v. 20, had known nothing of the plans of the rulers, they would have had to speak out loudly and impartially their opinion of the Lord. So again a ball of presuppositions which, when unwound, falls apart into individual extraneous threads!


4) The mood of the people during the feast.


With great care the author now also reports how the people’s opinion of the Lord developed during the feast. The report seems all the more accurate since he continues, as he had begun in vv. 12, 13, to contrast the opposing opinions of the mass of the people. The citizens of the capital assume that Jesus might be the Messiah, since the rulers let him teach without danger, but they immediately stifle this seed of faith, since they know the origin, which must be unknown in the Messiah, in Jesus,and they even make accusations against the Lord. On the other hand, another part of the crowd, and a large one at that, believed in the Lord and was induced to do so by the calculation that the Messiah, when he came, could not do more signs than Jesus had done (vv. 26-31). Thus the masses are divided. But alas, we cannot acknowledge this division: the multitude of signs is said to have brought many to faith in Jesus, and that just at this feast, for before Jesus arrived, the opinion of the people was much more undecided; but now there is nothing to indicate that even one sign was performed by the Lord in these days. Indeed, there is so little talk of miraculous deeds that this festive talk must revolve around a sign that had happened long before at the Pool of Bethesda. So how can it suddenly be signs that move the crowd to faith! Perhaps the memory, which now ran through the whole of the earlier time and summarised all the miraculous deeds of the Lord in one glance, had brought about this faith? Not even that, for the same memory should have had this effect before, and the better part of the multitude should have thought more of the Lord than is assumed and reported in v. 2. When some of the people here judge Jesus to be a very good man, they do not think of signs, nor do they speak in such a way as if they remembered the excellent works of the Lord. His opinion is only that the Lord has no evil intentions in his dealings with people and does not want to seduce them to evil through the influence of his speech. Where, then, does the power of the signs suddenly come from? It comes from the pragmatism of the author, who once laid out this passage in such a way that he presents the crowd in its relationship to the Lord as a divided one and must now continue and enforce this division in every way.


Finally, on the last day of the feast, when the Lord had invited the thirsty to Himself, because He was able to satisfy their need in a true way, the division among the people was completed. Some said that Jesus was the Messiah, others denied it, because He was from Galilee, but not from the tribe of David and from Bethlehem, from where the Messiah must take His origin, and the third opinion was that Jesus was in truth a prophet (vv. 40-42). The two first opinions are actually the same as those mentioned by the evangelist just before; the only difference is that those who deny the Messianic dignity of Jesus are brought into direct opposition to those who definitely acknowledged it, and that they do not demand an unknown origin of the Messiah but the one prophesied by the prophet Micah. But now the third opinion is that Jesus is not the Messiah, but the Prophet, and it is – to say it at once – to blame for the fact that the whole division of popular opinion disappears altogether, the divided masses flow together again, and the apologists are deprived of the most beautiful opportunity to show their art and to load hypothesis upon hypothesis. The prophet (ο προφητης) in this excellent definiteness must also be something excellent, or rather, as this exclusive person, beside whom there is no equal, he must be the highest thing that can be thought of as the middle member of divine revelation. And so he is also otherwise in the N. T. as the mediator promised in the law, the Messiah. Even our author had to acknowledge this involuntarily when he reported how the crowd, after the feeding, wanted to raise the Lord to the position of king, i.e. as the Messiah to their ruler, he himself says that they wanted to do it because they had recognised in Jesus the promised prophet. Yet he suddenly distinguishes between the Prophet and the Messiah? How could he forget that both were the same to the people, namely the highest thing they expected from the future? That the author forgot is shown by the facts; but how it could have been possible for him is sufficiently explained by his interest in painting the shades of popular opinion. Anything that seemed to produce the slightest shade had to be welcome, and anything that offered only a hint of diversity was used *).

*) It thus becomes evident how futile it is when Gfrörer (Das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 32, 33) wants to prove from the above passage, as well as from 6:14, that Jesus worked so that the people would not take him for the Messiah promised by the prophets, but for the prophet of whom Moses had spoken.


When we have now restored the crowd to its indefinite surging and to the manifold play of waves with which it flows to and fro, that is, to its actual element, we are also relieved of the question of whether the author went around among the crowd and counted the voices or whether the crowd itself dispersed and grouped itself according to the diversity of its opinions. Another gain! We are not obliged to go into the unanswerable question of what the Jews meant when they said in v. 27 that when the Messiah came, no one would know where he was from. The question is unanswerable because the Jews could not think of anything in terms of an idea that they did not even have and for which no evidence can be found anywhere **) Either they thought of David’s tribe as the starting point of the Messiah or, in the strength of faith, they, like many who joined the Lord, did not take offence when such a one made the impression on them of the Promised One, of whom they knew no other than that he did not have the earthly starting point determined by Scripture. In their ideal view, it was always certain that the Messiah would come from God. But: “one does not know from where:” this groundless indeterminacy is not peculiar to the popular view, and it is only the product of a writer who, as in this passage, seeks to set up a series of opposites, and since he needs so many, now also places one in the most groundless limbo.

**) Usually one cites, as also de Wette briefly does, the Dialogue with Tryphon as a witness that this idea existed among the Jews. The dialogue with Tryphon is usually cited as a witness to the fact that this conception existed among the Jews. But first, we saw that the idea of this dialogue of the anointing of the Messiah by Elijah, until which he would be unknown, only took its origin from our Gospel, or from the circle of thought in which it stands, and was a transformation of the view of this Gospel of the baptism of Jesus and its purposes. Then, if it be Dial. c. Tryph. p. 226, the Messiah will be unknown until Elijah anoints him, this does not refer at all to his origin, to his completely inexplicable origin, but only to the fact that his Messianic significance will only be revealed after the anointing by Elijah. The idea of this dialogue and that ascribed to the people in the fourth Gospel are therefore not so closely related as Lücke thinks (Comm. II, 176); only if the people had at least said that until Elijah came, no man would know who the Messiah was; “but whence he came,” then the people would not have been allowed to say at all, because the unknown of the person, not the secret of the origin, forms the point in the view of the dialogue with the Tryphon. The other passage, p. 336, which is quoted from that dialogue, deals just as little with an unknown origin of the Messiah, but with his twofold coming and appearance, with the δυο παρουσιαι, as the dialogue says: in the first, which takes place in lowliness, the Messiah will have to struggle with the resistance of the world, with disregard and misjudgment; only in the second coming will his glory be so clearly revealed that every contradiction will be repulsed. Gfrörer (Das Jahrh, des Heils II, 223) also brings Targum Jonath Micha 4:8 to our passage. Here it says: “Thou anointed of Israel, which art hid because of the sins of the people of Zion, unto thee shall the kingdom be given.” Lücke uses this passage (Comm. I, 363) to prove that the view that the Baptist came with water baptism to reveal the Lord to the people was based on a similar popular view that had already been given. But as far as the latter is concerned, the Targum knows nothing of a forerunner in this connection; but it does not speak of an unknown origin of the Messiah, nor of a hiding place where he is hidden, but it is only said that his arrival is held back by the sins of the people. There is no thought of an unknown whereabouts, but only of his ideal, heavenly pre-existence, from which he would not yet emerge because of the sins of the people. But the people do not even say in the Gospel: we do not know where the Messiah is hiding now, but: when he comes, no one knows where he will come from.


5) The three attacks of the enemies of Jesus.


Again and again, and at every opportunity, we must hear it said, “that John, more than any other evangelist, has revealed the natural connection and the soon hurrying, soon hesitating course of development of that great hour, and has thus skilfully linked the religious view of the history of Jesus with the natural pragmatic one”. *). The “religious pragmatism” is expressed in this passage on an occasion that is repeated three times here: they sought to seiize Jesus, but no one laid a hand on him, because, it says in v. 30, his hour had not yet come. If the danger from which the Lord is delivered were serious, sudden and threatening, then this pragmatism, which finds such incomprehensible things explained only in divine counsel, would not be rejected outright. But where the assassination attempts are commonplace, where the Jews have long (5:18) sought the death of the Lord, and where now again three attempts are made to capture the Lord, that pragmatism explains nothing, because it is supposed to explain too much. The wonderful power of that hour, for which the highest suffering is reserved and which must now thwart the earlier murder attempts, is weakened too much when it is supposed to be proven so often, and we finally do not understand how it happened that it did not collapse when it was continuously strained without interruption. By merely stating, “his hour had not yet come,” the author cannot explain to us the constant alternation of murder attempts and their thwarting time and time again.It is not because it is religious that we maintain that this pragmatism explains nothing, but because it remains in uniform while it is applied to a longer series of changing cases.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 181, 182.


But let us leave only the religious point of unity in its sublimity, where it may, however, miss many rays and unite in itself an abundance of finite relations, and let us examine the “natural-pragmatic view” of the evangelist. The basis of historical relations, we have already seen, is not the firmest. The relationship of the authorities to the Lord fluctuates between the extreme endpoints of having once recognised the full danger of the Lord and at the same moment behaving as if they had never heard the Lord speak. The crowd, on the other hand, seems to be completely familiar with the plans of the rulers and is careful not to express its opinion about Jesus aloud, and then again it speaks as if it did not even suspect how far the matter between Jesus and the authorities has progressed. Finally – which is not without importance here – the mood of the crowd in relation to Jesus was a purely manufactured one, and if three assassination attempts in succession now emerge from such a nebulous region, then one finds apt pragmatism here?


The first attack (v. 30) comes from the part of the people who are surprised that the Lord speaks so freely and openly, although he is threatened by the superiors. These people even think that the rulers might have acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and only the one circumstance keeps them from the decisive belief that they know the origin of Jesus, which would not be possible with the Messiah. But this certainly cannot be the mood in which an attempt is made which only the prerogative of the Lord’s actual time of suffering could repel. If the crowd suspected that the authorities might have withdrawn their attack and acknowledged the Lord, and if they were so inclined to do so, they would not have excepted that hostile plan with all the greater zeal. The cry of Jesus, that he knows where he comes from and who sent him (verse 28-29), could not have caused this anger of the crowd, not least because the crowd’s statement that they would not know the origin of the Messiah could not have elicited that cry, as there was no such popular belief.

The second attack comes from the Pharisees who, in connection with the priests, send out servants to catch Jesus; but the thread on which this attack hangs is so weak that it breaks at the first touch. The Pharisees had heard about the murmurings of the crowd, which was moved to faith by the calculation of the number of miracles in which Jesus revealed Himself (vv. 31, 32.). How the miracles of Jesus suddenly came here and had such a decisive effect, we would not be able to explain, if we had not already discovered the hand of the author, who forms and sets in motion the machinery of the whole at his own discretion: but how the Pharisees learned what the muffled murmurings of the crowd meant, can just as little be explained from the first premises of the report, for it is precisely out of fear of the rulers that the crowd is said not to have dared to speak openly of their opinion of the Lord.


Finally, for the third time, the danger breaks loose, and some again want to seize the Lord. Some! namely, some from the crowd (εξ αυτων), which grouped itself in its judgment of the Lord in such a way that some declared him to be the Messiah, while others declared him to be the Prophet, while several believed they could not recognize him as the Messiah because he was not from Bethlehem and from David’s lineage (verse 40-44). In this context, the few who wanted to seize the Lord can only be those who judged him less favorably, but must those who are only slightly less willing to believe immediately go to extreme hostility? Must those who still hesitate to recognize Jesus as the Messiah only because he is from Galilee act as his sworn enemies? They are only swaying, only one step away from full belief, but a deep chasm separates them from bitter enemies who could only find peace in the death of the Lord. But leading them over this chasm does not cause the author any trouble, and this easy task – a stroke of the pen is strong enough to be a bridge over that chasm – he had to use because he had previously let the plots against the Lord follow the judgment of the crowd each time (verse 25-30, verse 31-32). Therefore, if the crowd concludes its judgment, it is also appropriate that the hostile incident is repeated at the end. This is what the pragmatic arrangement demands, even if the strongest assumptions of the report itself must be overlooked at its request.


The apologist allows us one more question. Both times (vv. 30, 44) when the crowd wants to catch Jesus, the evangelist says, “No one laid a hand on Him”: if they did not even try to catch the Lord, how did the evangelist know that they wanted to catch Him both times, i.e. in these two moments?

6) Transition of Jesus’ Speech to the Point of Contention.

C. 7, 16 – 19.

Now the speeches that the Lord gave during the feast remained to be seen.

It is immediately striking that the Lord’s speech not only refers back to a long-past event, the healing of the sick man at the Pool of Bethesda, which had occurred during a Sabbath rest, but also that the main subject of this speech is the same as that which was discussed in detail at that time (in chapter 5). The contrast between self-will, seeking one’s own glory, and the activity that seeks the glory of God, reappears here (verse 18). The Lord refers, just as he did then, to his knowledge of the one who sent him (verse 29). In fact, in order to gather together some other striking repetitions of the speech that was given after the healing of that sick man, it should be noted that later in chapter 8, verses 13-18, the offense of the Lord testifying about himself is dealt with in the same way as it was then, by pointing to the righteous judgment of the Son and the testimony of the Father. It is also reiterated that the Son follows the pattern of the Father (verse 26), and finally, the works are brought up again so that they might bear witness to the Lord (chapter 10, verse 38).

This relationship is so strange that it is not enough to call attention to it and to present it as a fact; but the question arises as to what sense can be made of this fact. Lücke also says *): “A closer look teaches that the first important persecution and defence of Jesus Ch. 5 lies at the basis of the later speeches of argument and defence. The later speeches of the Lord, as reported by the evangelist: that is clear. But is it also a basis in the sense that the Lord Himself took proofs from it on every occasion, as it were, and almost always went back to it? This, of course, is how Lücke understands the matter, and this is how the apologist must understand it, that the Lord later repeats what he presented on an earlier occasion, and that the basic ideas of Ch. 5 “only return expanded and turned differently.” But the first glance at the new but groundless situation, which has already completely dissolved, teaches us that this division of the crowds was not an opportunity to revisit earlier sayings, to expand them and give them a different twist. And in the event that the situation was more settled, and the Lord had wished to give a different turn to thoughts which he had previously expressed, we have in the synoptic accounts quite different examples of the wealth of individual figures at the Lord’s disposal when he developed a substantial idea according to its different determinations. When we first hear those basic ideas of chapter 5 for the first time, they still have the advantage of the first impression they make on us: but if now the Lord, in order to prove his divine justification, always only emphasizes the contrast between the self-authoritative and the self-denial which seeks the glory of God, if he always only refers to the testimony of the Father and the works, then the repetition misses its purpose and takes on the anxious and pleading tone which is peculiar to apologetics when it asks the inclined opponent for concessions. It is not the Lord that we hear speaking in this tone, but the apologist who moves in a few narrow views, who has based his conviction on certain reasons and only has these reasons to draw on on every occasion.

*) Comm. II, 100.


It is also a vain effort if the interpretation tries to breathe some strength into the transition of Jesus’ speech to justification because of the Sabbath violation and to help it up. It is difficult to think of a more weak and laborious transition, and the Lord, after he has proved in the synoptic sayings how well he knows how to introduce a subject, should not also take upon himself the ambiguous glory that he has understood even the weakest transitions?

The Lord wants to give the Jews who wonder about his scriptural learning the touchstone by which they would learn that his teaching is not from him but from God: if they wanted to do the will of God, they would come to understand it. – This is the first turn of the discourse, which goes to the actual point of controversy. – One need only see the commentators of our Gospel at one point busily running to and fro through one another to notice for the time being that it is not quite right and sane, not at all as it should be. Even at this point, they are anxiously trying to bring out an inner coherence of the speech and yet cannot prevent its parts from falling apart. *). Everything would have held together if the Jews had wondered about the content of Jesus’ teaching as a completely new one and not only about the Lord’s teaching from the Scriptures, and if Jesus had answered in the same way as he did in 8:31-32: only receive my teaching into yourselves, make it your life principle, and you will then recognise its truth and its divine origin through inner experience. But the Jews did not say anything about the fact that the teaching of Jesus appeared to them as a new one – and yet the answer of the Lord presupposes this astonishment about the content, yes, it even jumps away from this presupposed subject and even falls apart into two unequal parts when it says: whoever does the divine will will recognize the origin of my teaching. The divine will is here an indeterminate abstraction, the most abstract generality, which stands apart from all living connection for that which is determined, namely for the doctrine of the Lord, and can bear as little witness to it as the barest deism can to ecclesiastical faith.

*) Olshausen, for example, (II, 173) defines the transition thus: “the object of the teaching of the rabbis was indeed essentially the right thing, but their relation to the true teaching was wrong. They taught without a true divine commission and without a divine calling.” Accordingly, the Lord would have to assume that his teaching and that of the rabbis was essentially the same. But he rather assumes that his doctrine is a new one and that the impulse of the new will be removed “if one does the will of God.” Lücke (Comm. II, 161) summarises the connection thus: “Certainly not from you and in your schools I have learned what I teach.” But that his doctrine is only his own, the Jews have said as little of this as that it is a new one.


Suddenly (verse 19), the Lord turns to the Law of Moses and accuses the Jews of not practicing it, for if they did, would they want to kill him? But how does this fit with the previous assumption, where the Jews’ amazement at his scholarship was entirely innocent and harmless? Even though there was talk of the divine will before, it was held in such a wide vagueness that the transition to the positive, Mosaic Law can only be called a leap. And as soon as this leap is made, how sluggish the speech becomes: “And none of you keeps the law. Why do you seek to kill me?” This is not the Lord speaking, but the evangelist has him speak this way because he still wants to add an argument for the legitimacy of that healing on the Sabbath.


If we have to ascribe to the age of the sick man who was healed at the pool of Beth- esda, in Hengstenberg’s sense, a symbolic relationship to the feast time in which the healing took place, that feast 5:1 was therefore a passover, but in the meantime (6:4) a new passover has passed, then a year and a half has passed until the present Feast of Tabernacles. What a coincidence it is that the Lord is immediately surrounded by the same crowd that saw the healing of the sick man and took offence at the violation of the Sabbath! How useless was the long speech wasted, which the Lord gave at that time Ch. 5, if the people, as soon as the Lord came to the holy city, were still in the position of amazement, which they had assumed at that time after that miraculous deed. The changeable crowd must have been of a quite different kind then than it has otherwise been in all the world and in all time: a petrifying spell must have taken hold of the people, so that after one and a half years they still stood amazed at that story and the Lord could immediately address them again after such a long interval: “Why are you surprised at my deed?

A year and a half! A much shorter time is enough to give the crowd new thoughts, interests and attitudes *). But on paper and for later perception, even greater periods of time shrink. The colourful change of reality simplifies itself for the memory, and the changing crowd that surrounded the Lord solidifies into the crowd in the statistical sense, into one and the same crowd that the Lord now always encountered when he came into contact with the people. How far this transformation of the changeable into a fixed quantity can go, we already had a striking but instructive example of it above at the Sea of Galilee 6:36. Finally, the rich interrelationships and interests of the real world merge into a simple circle of relationships and become fixed quantities. But to go so far in the petrification of relations and the mass of the people could only be achieved by a writer who, like everything else, had dissolved the real world into a simple abstract opposition, had already brought history and its collisions to an end at the beginning, and could now only ever have the same decisive opposition repeated. Now, of course, if the death of Jesus had become a firm decision for the Jews on the occasion of the healing of the Sabbath, it was self-evident that later on they would constantly bear that event in mind and that the Lord, after a long time, would have to take up his responsibility again, or rather, as if he had not brought it to an end earlier.

*) Olshausen (Comm. II, I76) explains himself, because of their difficulty, against the relation to Ch. 5. “It is far nearer to say that such a case had occurred again and that it gave rise to the whole conversation. How hasty! Only the innocent astonishment of the Jews at the Lord’s knowledge of Scripture gave rise to the conversation. And then not only would “such a case have occurred again” but it would also have to be reported by the author, yes, not only “such a case” but also the similar impulse to which it gave rise. Olshausen, however, has only given us an example of how facts are formed for sayings.


7) The justification against the Sabbath law.


But what harm does it do to a saying of the Lord that it is placed in an inappropriate context? It always comes to us at the right time, as long as it is otherwise reproduced in its pure originality. However, this is very questionable for this saying about the justification against the Sabbath law. The epigrammatic preparation necessary for such sayings lies in not postponing circumcision on the Sabbath, and the conclusion or the punchline is now the question: Why do you now consider it wrong that I healed a whole person on the Sabbath? Anyone who does not hear the disharmony with which the two parts of the saying are set in a essentially different key instead of harmonizing together has not yet learned from the synoptic Gospels how much the Lord’s sayings, like finished works of art, agree with all their parts and lead the listener to their pure, harmonious conclusion through the charm of rich melody. But this saying draws attention in completely different directions and ends in a dissonance, if that were even worth calling it that, which is a connection of indifferently different tones. The preparation of the saying suggests a different conclusion, and the conclusion is without preparation. The expectation aroused by the first part, when it is said that the Sabbath law deviates from the commandment of circumcision, would find its true conclusion in the fact that it is even more permissible for the Lord, who pursues higher purposes than the commandment of circumcision prescribes, to set aside the Sabbath law. Similarly, at least, the Lord says (Matt. 12:5, 6), if the priests profane the Sabbath for the sake of the temple service, and do not fall into sin, I am still more above the Sabbath law, because I am more than the temple. The fourth evangelist, however, could not in fact provide the appropriate preparation for the conclusion of the saying: “So there is no cause for accusation if I heal a whole man on the Sabbath”; he could not do so if he did not want to fall into the silliness of his interpreters.

It was reserved for them to attribute to the Lord the view that circumcision, which refers to this single member, also has a “medical” purpose *), and thus to place the Lord in the same line as Philo and Johann David Michaelis, who present this neat natural explanation of the purely religious symbol according to the legal view. Certainly, this interpretation has a right as such, since the conclusion of the saying presupposes this preparation. But it is just as certain that, if the preparation is taken worthily, it expects a different conclusion. We know from the synoptic account of a more dignified dialectic of the Lord, and even the evangelist did not dare to put the preparation of the saying in prosaic harmony with the inappropriate conclusion. Therefore, we do not commit a crime if we let this saying pass in its dissonance in honor of the Lord. **) —-

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 174.

**) Olshausen (Comm. II, 177) summarises the saying thus: circumcision refers only to the body, “but Christ’s healing was for the whole man, to which the inner life necessarily belongs. But it is only a question of the healing of this human being, and this encompasses the whole bodily organism, whereas circumcision refers only to a single member of the body. The body as such forms the medium tertium, and Christ’s healing and circumcision only diverge in such a way that the former completely embraces the body, while the latter has only a limited “medical significance”.


As an encore to this sacrifice of honour we would also add the attached saying (v. 24): “Judge not according to appearance, but hold righteous judgment”, if we did not allow the apologists the pleasure of exercising their anxious acumen in finding the most diverse and remote connections. As our evangelist proves, everything can be put into context, and we therefore do not want to trouble his interpreters with the question whether the Jews had judged only according to appearance and not rather according to the revealed law when they imputed the Sabbath violation to the Lord as an offence.

8) The Lord’s Ascension to the Father.


The Lord’s saying that He knew from whom He came and who had sent Him (v. 29), we will only touch upon in passing, since on the one hand it is only a repetition of the contrast between the independent appearance and the divine mission, and since the reason for the multitude saying that it was not known from where the Messiah would come, has already disappeared. We already know enough about how the author loves to make people take offence at the known lowly origin of Jesus. He already enjoyed it when he led Nathanael over this offence to the company of Jesus, and finally, after the people had felt this offence (6:42; 7:41-42) on all sides, he even lets the learned Pharisees mock at the Galilean origin of the supposed prophet (7:52).

But the evangelist now begins to exploit a new theme and to lead it through all the stages of misunderstanding just as diligently as he had hitherto used the mystery of the origin of the Logos to shatter the sensual mind and also the folly of the people. The Lord has always spoken of his death, but from now on he does so more clearly by calling his death the going home to the Father who sent him. In this way he speaks immediately to the servants whom the Pharisees had sent to seize him (vv. 32, 33). A man who speaks as a prophet, who wants to be acknowledged as God’s messenger, cannot refer to God more clearly and understandably than the Lord does when he says: “I am going where the one who sent me is.” And yet the Jews are to understand these words in such a way that this man, who has so often spoken of the testimony of the Father who sent him, might be willing to go into the dispersion of the Greeks in order to teach them. Never. This contrast does not belong to real life, but to a view that takes the contrasts so far that they no longer hold together at all and break like an overstretched string. The Lord’s self-awareness certainly had to struggle not infrequently with the rigid sense of the people, but if the gulf had been as great as we would have to assume according to this statement, then he would not even have been allowed to call out; he had to remain silent. The evangelist has so far exaggerated the contrast between the incomprehensibly dull spirit of the people and the clear self-awareness of Jesus that he has made it appear to his Master as if he had not been very conscientious in guarding the pearls of truth.


But we have one more reason to acquit the Lord of the unwise waste of the pearls, and the people of an intemperate folly, when we see only too clearly by what weak parenthesis that saying of going home to the Father is attached to this occasion. The servants of the Pharisees seek the Lord, and find him among the multitude: nothing but this suggestion of seeking and finding, which lies in the context, has brought this saying hither: later, when I have gone to the Father, ye shall seek me, but shall not find me. The reading αυτοις (v. 33): Jesus said to them, namely, to those servants of the Pharisees, is not quite certain, but if the Lord addressed the multitude with that saying, he must have addressed the servants of his enemies at the same time, since only the historical situation gave him the transition to this saying. Or he may have addressed the crowd in preference, in which case he must have regarded the crowd as complicit in the plan of the Pharisees’ servants, otherwise he would not have been allowed to address the people in this way. “You will seek me later, but you will not find me.” These words only make sense when they are addressed to those who have just sought the Lord and found him. The crowd would therefore have understood this address even less than the evangelist presupposes; they would not even have understood where it came from if they had not known the starting point of it, that they had sought the Lord with hostile intentions, and if they had not for a moment considered themselves to be guilty. But was this the right place to speak of the return to the Father, had it not been the Lord’s boastful revelation of a secret, which would have had no other purpose than to show that he was far above the present danger and would in future be inaccessible to all persecution? This speech is nothing other than one of those surprises to which writers resort when they cannot extricate princes and kings from dangers into which they have fallen through concealment of their rank, except by having them show the signs of their princely dignity. Our evangelist, however, when he reached for this help, was at a disadvantage because he could not even communicate to the crowd an understanding of this revelation of majesty, nor was he allowed to do so, because he immediately wanted to use the opportunity, according to his custom, to contrast the obtuseness of the people and the clarity of Jesus’ self-awareness.


9) The living water.


“In the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, let him that thirsteth come unto me, and drink.” The thought is the same that the Lord spoke to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well when He asked the woman for a drink of water. This time a certain occasion seems to be presupposed, for the attitude of the scene, how Jesus stands there, how he cries out, has something dramatic about it and clearly indicates a stimulus in the environment. The commentators have therefore thought, quite in the sense of the author, that it was a custom at the Feast of Tabernacles to pour out water before the people; but let us add that the Evangelist has here indeed acted in the manner of his commentators, who do not like to let the Lord use an image without showing the sensual material which is used for the image in the actual surroundings. They cannot hear that the Lord calls Himself the light of the world: immediately they must point to the sun or to the lampstands in the temple courtyard of the women, for these the Lord had in mind. When the Lord compares the position of the disciples in the world with the position of a mountain city which cannot escape the gaze, such commentators are immediately at hand to point out to us the particular mountain city whose sight brought the Lord to this image. Yes, who should believe it, if it were not written *), scarcely has the Lord said this time (v. 38), that from within (κοιλιας) the believer rivers of living water would flow forth, then a scholar also shows us the sensual occasion of this image in the belly of the temple-mountain, through which the water, which brought the Lord to the first half of the image, was conducted away in pipes **).

*) Theol. Studien u. Kritik. 1829. I, 138.

**) Bengel sees in the word κοιλια an allusion to the pot-bellied water-jars which had just been carried past. Alluditur ad amphoras, quibus ultimo festi illius die aqua ex sonte Siloah per urbem ad sacrarium ferebatur. Magnum enim ventrem habebant. Apart from the taste of the interpreter, one must also praise his exact archaeological knowledge of the shape of those jars.


There is no reason not to bring method into this kind of interpretation, and indeed we do not know how those interpreters could prevent us from surrounding the Lord with a magazine of sensual things, so that he had the salt immediately at hand when he called the disciples the salt of the earth, or could immediately point to the bushel with a light under it, in order to prove to them by the extinguished light how absurd it would be if they did not want to let their light shine. So – either consistency or the confession that this kind of interpretation misunderstands the figurative way of speaking! “Ye are the salt of the earth, I am the light of the world; come unto me, and I will quench your thirst;” in these images the general definiteness of the matter is indicated; for it is the very nature of the disciples that they are the salt of the earth, and it is likewise the general meaning of the Lord that he is the light of the world. Now, as the thing is conceived in its general definiteness, so also the figurative substratum is excepted in the generality which it has in its nature known to every one, which it has in general, which it always has, in short, which it has as a generic term, and which it can also only raise to the sign of a general spiritual destiny. Not this handful of salt, not this particular spring or bucket of water, not the sun rising or setting today, but the nature of salt, of water, of light in general, is what the Lord has in mind when He designates His or His disciples’ destiny. In the simple image, the general joins the general; any restriction of the natural substrate would give the image the most unbearable appearance and cast an unedifying dispute into its calm parallel. The picture is dignified and sustained when the general nature of the natural substance congruently joins the corresponding general power of the spirit; but when the general spiritual meaning is related to this single piece of the sensuous world, both sides throw themselves over, they quarrel *) and the general spiritual meaning unwillingly tears itself away from this handful of salt, from this bucket of water, points to it not as to a corresponding image, but as to a trifling, contemptible thing, in short the comparison acquires the appearance of grandstanding. The spiritual would then not be satisfied with the view rising of its own accord from the sensuous image to it as the counter-image; it would not expect this self-elevation, but would say from the outset: what do you want to do with this piece of sensuousness? Throw it away and come to me! As if the figurative way of speaking did not know that the spirit rises calmly and safely from the sensual image to its proper home. Our evangelist, however, has thrown into the picture a strife and quarrel which it does not originally know. In order to call himself the fountain of living water, the Lord did not need to refer to the water bucket of the Feast of Tabernacles or to the well of the Samaritans; rather, the invigorating and refreshing power of water in general was sufficient reason for him to see in it the image of his own invigorating power.

*) On occasion, the quarrel between the two sides would not only remain an ideal one and remain in the mind’s eye, but would also become very serious in reality. Just look, for example, how Tholuck Comm. p. 162, 163 describes the procession of priests with the holy water that has just arrived and considers it very probable that the Lord would throw that cry into the midst of this solemn act – would Jesus not in this case at least have interrupted, disturbed and confused the ceremony in a very obtrusive and untimely manner?


The Lord did not even think of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as the evangelist suggests, when he says that streams of living water would flow from within the believer. Even in the way the evangelist presents the saying, without dogmatic distinction, the personality of the Lord and the believers are related.

10) The meeting of the Sanhedrin.


The session of the Sanhedrin has waited a long time before we come to it, it is therefore time that we lift it up. Two speeches of the rulers are brought to us from this meeting; first a word to the servants who were sent to catch Jesus, but returned to no avail. To excuse themselves, the servants said that no man had ever spoken like this man, but the superiors immediately attacked them and said: “Are you also deceived? But do you see that one of the rulers or of the Pharisees believes in him? This answer, says Lücke *), “is so completely in the manner of domineering hierarchs and arrogant guilds of all times that – what do you expect, perhaps: that any writer, even the most ordinary one, could create it on their own? No! – that it is not necessary to develop the meaning of the words further.”

*) Comm. II, 201.


This is especially the fundamental error in the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, that one thinks to have done everything if one believes to have demonstrated some sense of the words, some connection between the sentences, and has spoken edifyingly about many things. After such work, a passage whose meaning does not even need to be “further developed” provides true Sunday joys. Against this painful explanation that creeps along the ground of the letter, it is finally necessary for interpretation to stand freely, to speak from the heart and to also give honor to the scripture, to look without fear at its foundations and to examine the origin of its individual parts and its letters. The reward is immeasurable: the true core sayings of the Lord, the pure content, the gold, all this imperishable and originally free material is emancipated and no longer serves as a mere occasion for commentators to demonstrate their wit and intelligence – but these sayings become suns, rising to their own element, thundering on in their own revolutions, and now revealing the full power of their rays. Some things that seem like gold may indeed prove to be mere appearances and the work of later reflection, but even that is a gain, because after a thousand years of unsuccessful effort, the human mind no longer needs to fumble around with material that has no original life and can convey none.


Thus, those words of the Pharisees are indeed “so completely in the manner of power-hungry hierarchs and arrogant guild scholars of all times” that any writer of any time could find and consider them to be the true facts and write them down as such. If, therefore, it is at least highly probable that they are the product of pragmatism, this becomes certain when we see that they are nevertheless improper and highly inappropriate to the situation. The words are spoken to the servants who themselves belong to the people; in this case the speech is not natural, but – brutal to a degree that exceeds all measure of the real world. Yes, if it was even an educated man, a Pharisee, who seemed to be inclined to the faith, such a one could then be made aware of it: Behold, only the people can be deceived; but do you see any other of the educated, learned, and rulers inclined to the faith? But spoken to those who themselves belong to the masses, these words are so outrageous that by their very lack of moderation they should have provoked resistance and failed in their purpose. For the next thing after such a throwaway speech would have been the answer alone: Well, we belong to the people and therefore have this kind; you do what you want!

The servants excuse the unsuccessfulness of their mission by saying that no man had ever spoken like this man, so that this man’s speech would have made such an impression on them that they would no longer have been able to think of their task. But what authority, if it is serious about the business it has entrusted to its subordinates, will be content with such an excuse: it would immediately send the sentimental servants back again, so that they could better carry out their task on the spot. Hierarchs, who are so soft-hearted and satisfied by such a message, could not have had the courage to send their servants out into the midst of the crowd, which had even grown by the visitors to the festival, in order that they might seize their enemy from the protective crowd of his followers. And now the servants even say: No man teaches like this one; but all that they heard Jesus speak was only that hint that they would seek him in the future, but would not find him. These are not words of life that must shake the listener through and through, for no one could understand them, at least no one understood them.


Finally, the Sanhedrin disperses after a question directed at Nicodemus, who had dared to try to appease the passion and anger of the leaders. He is asked if he is also from Galilee, and he is told to investigate and see if a prophet has arisen from Galilee. He would soon be convinced of the opposite. And yet several prophets arose from Galilee, which could not have been unknown to the learned assessors of the Sanhedrin even in the moment of the highest passion. The manuscripts which read εγειρεται do not offer the help which the apologetic interest welcomed in them. For if Nicodemus should inquire and see that no prophet arose from Galilee, such enquiry can only refer to the nature of the country and to experience, which would teach him that none indeed “arose from thence.” The difficulty, then, remains the same – a body of scholars could neither deceive nor wish to deceive one of its members with evidence of this kind. The reason for the rebuke which Nicodemus received from his scribal comrades is already known to us: the evangelist wanted to let the entire historical environment of the Lord test their limited intellect against his lowly origin, and finally the scribal authorities also had to have their turn. But, as elsewhere, he let his love for contrasts drive him far beyond all bounds of probability *).

*) Olshausen (Comm. II, 188) thinks that “in the heat of the argument” the scribes could have overlooked a historical circumstance. (Likewise Tholuck Comm. p. 166.). But if the heat had passed away, i.e. if Nicodemus, as the apologists suppose, had communicated the conversation of that meeting to the evangelist, or beforehand to the Lord, then the author, with calm reflection, ought to have noticed it, and also to have told his readers that an oversight had occurred here. But this “heat” is rather peculiar to the author; in writing this speech he does not think of the historical data of the O. T. and is only driven by his love of contrasts.


The same fate that the grouping, the contrasts and divisions of the mass of the people have had to experience, therefore also benefits the meeting of the Sanhedrin – it dissolves. This particular business, at least, which is assigned to its agenda here, could not have been treated with such desperate earnestness, since the presupposed conditions and the speeches that took place in it could not bear the criticism. Especially in the last period of Jesus’ life, the synod will often have spoken of the stir he caused among the people, but not this time, i.e. at this feast; now the high council had to assemble only because the evangelist wanted it that way. For he wanted to portray all the shades of popular opinion about Jesus, and his painting would have lacked a poignant background if he had not moved the meeting of the synod there, which put the favourably-minded in fear and supported and even led the hostile attacks against the Lord.




§ 11. The feeding of the people and the church

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§. 11 The feeding of the people and the church.



1) The nearness of the passover.


Apologetics, which devotes itself to the service of the letter, has almost nowhere so much to do and so much business as is presented to it in the passage to which we are now passing; for no sooner has it got over one difficulty than, before it can breathe, it is engaged in a new struggle with another. Criticism now does the most unselfish kindness to the direction that opposes it most stubbornly, in that it not only makes the difficulties disappear for a moment in the exegetical fog, but solves them for ever by explaining how they arose; thus it seizes here, as always, the opportunity to gather fiery coals on the head of its opponent. It is only a pity that the latter at the same time becomes too much disgruntled to give room to the feeling of gratitude, since he cannot be freed from the torment of those difficulties without having many a hearty joy of little traits,that serve him as amusing resting points on the field of impulses.


For example, the apologist is immediately pleased with the remark (V. 4.) that at the time when the miracle of the feeding and the following conversation took place, the feast of the Passover was near. From this “it is explained, says Lücke*), that there were just crowds of people wandering about in the land.” But if this remark, as de Wette also says **), “seems to explain why those houses of the people were on the move,” then the evangelist also appears to regard the gathering of the crowds of people around the Lord quite differently from the Synoptics. Only by an accidental circumstance does he set the masses in motion, at least for a reason that lay outside the personality of the Lord, whereas the Synoptics tie the multitudes to the Saviour by an inner bond of need. Matthew (15:30) has the multitude of the sick flock to the Lord so that he may heal them, and when Mark says (6:34) that the Lord felt compassion for the multitude because they resembled the herd without shepherds, and that he taught them many things, he is at the same time saying that the multitude, feeling spiritually helpless, flocked to the Lord to seek counsel from him.

*) Comm. II, 72.

**) Kurz. Ex. of Ev. John p .77.

But it is not so bad, one might object, that our evangelist leads the multitudes to the Lord only by the nearness of the Passover; for he does not mean to explain the presence of the multitudes in general, but only the great number of the multitude; that a multitude of the people followed the Lord at all, he sufficiently explains (v. 2) by the impression which the miraculous healing of the sick had made on the people. Thus the proximity of the Passover feast is mentioned only to explain, at least “in part, the wandering of great crowds”. *) But even this more limited purpose of the time is as disturbing as it is striking. Or is the escort of the crowd not sufficiently and completely explained in relation to the size of the crowd, when it already says in v. 2: a “great crowd” followed the Lord, because they had seen his signs on the sick? Why is it necessary to mention the proximity of the Passover in order to explain the presence of large crowds? The evangelist would have brought the most harmful excess into his narrative if the mention of the time of the Passover really served that purpose; for now he would not have trusted the Lord’s activity and its impression on the masses to have so much power that it alone could gather the multitude around the Lord. The first reason would have been weakened by the second, or actually annulled, even to the point of contradiction with the inwardly more coherent view of the synoptic accounts.

*) Lücke, Comm. 11, 5.


But even if the evangelist may have at least partly connected this pragmatic purpose with this timing – it is not impossible for him to have had such an intention, which would destroy the immediate surroundings of his narrative – we cannot go so far as to attribute to him the unconsciousness that he only noticed the proximity of the Passover feast in order to explain the gathering of a large crowd of people. He must have had another purpose and the apologists will agree with us if they really care about the honour of their protégé. How, namely, if the determination of time had grown together more with what follows than with what precedes? But let us not ask! It is so; the time is not directly connected with the remark that many people have come together, but the crowd is already quietly assembled, the report has already turned away from it in v. 3, because it is sure of it, it has already drawn the reader’s attention to the situation of the Lord, and only now, as it wants to develop the relationship of Jesus to the crowd, does it notice the proximity of the feast of the Passover. So this remark may still refer to the preceding in silence, but its actual direction is turned forward to the following, and in this direction it is supposed to point out how what Jesus did and said is internally connected with the approaching feast. The miraculous feeding, however, is so intimately connected with the following conversation – intimately, let us say, according to the Evangelist’s view – the enjoyment to which the Lord offers his flesh and blood is so much the pinnacle to which the bodily feeding of the people rises, that the near feast of the Passover must necessarily also be related to the content of this conversation. In the enjoyment of his person, the Lord wants to establish the higher image of the legal Passover feast, for his person, whose highest significance is revealed in his sacrifice unto death, is the eternal, heavenly archetype of the Passover lamb. And when could the Lord speak more appropriately of the higher sacrifice of his body and its appropriation than at the moment when the people were preparing to celebrate the Passover sacrifice? Now, if this connection sheds significant light on the following conversation, namely that it is already certain from the outset that the evangelist had the idea of the Lord’s Supper in mind and that he already portrays the Lord as instituting and calling for a celebration here, which the Synoptics only derive from the last Passover evening of the Lord, then the following part of the report also lends an explanatory light to the time determination. For if the criticism of the following conversation will teach us that it could not have been held by the Lord either in the present form or on the presupposed occasion, then that determination of the time proves to be one that was made and pragmatically deduced from the content of the conversation, which seemed to necessarily follow the miracle of the feeding.


2) The introduction to the feeding of the people.


The passages of sacred Scripture which, on closer examination, might cause some offence, usually betray by their torn and distorted appearance the struggle which apologetics has fought with them – it is always a struggle to the death, even if it is the word of sacred Scripture which its patrons kill – or they resemble the proof of that biblical manuscript on which the curious hands have gone to and fro until the distinguishing sign about which one argued has been obliterated. Only criticism brings back peace by allowing the Scriptures to say again freely and unhindered what they want to say.

As soon as Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw the people approaching him, he thought of where he should take bread to feed them *). But did the crowd come to him to be filled, or did he have nothing else to give them, so that he could only think of bread? On the contrary, the crowd was said to have come to him because they had seen samples of his healing power, and according to this, as Matthew says, sick people of all kinds were brought to him so that he might heal them. The Lord, as the same synoptist reports, by no means evaded this expectation; indeed, according to the account of Mark, he gave the people the gift of his teaching before he fed them bodily. And both times, where the synoptics report the feeding, which was repeated afterwards, they give as the reason for the miraculous help, that the people had once been around the Lord beyond the time when they needed new food, and the other time even for three days. There the thought of help was obvious, but in the account of the fourth evangelist it comes before all need and without need. We now ask, is this still an explanation of the evangelical account, when Lücke says *): “the deviation of John lies, as it seems to me, only in the abbreviation of the narrative, which omits the instruction of the people before the feeding”? If the narrative, in the sense in which the apologist thinks, namely, consciously omits something, then it would still have to leave room for the addition, but it rather completely excludes even a moment that could be devoted to another thought. No sooner does Jesus see the crowd pouring in than he thinks of the feeding and, as outcome also shows, with the intention of having it happen immediately **).

*) Correct Bengel: veniente populo jam providit Jesus cibum.

*) Comm. II, 73. Likewise Calvin: omittit Evangelista, quod alir tres referunt.

**) Tholuck, Comm. p. 131 says that the evangelist “draws the narrative together.” But the only one who draws together an account is the one who briefly and summarily reports what lies between the extreme endpoints. Krabbe (Lectures on the Life of Jesus. 1839, p. 365.) regards the account of the fourth evangelist with that of the synoptists as agreeing from the outset, and knows nothing at all of a difference. We mention the latter book only to remark that it can give us no occasion for consideration. It only repeats the old apologetic turns of phrase and differs from the writings of Lücke and Olshausen only in that it presents the apologetic inventions as dogma, whereas those men still had a feeling of difficulty. However, apologetics has indeed come full circle in history! Either it can only maintain its old, decaying supports for as long as possible and present them to the criticism as the pillars of the Church, until it dies from the historical weakness of age, or – and this now seems to be its most compelling argument – it must fight and push back against criticism with external force. But in so doing, as all history teaches, it will only hasten its fall, for spiritual power is only strengthened by external pressure and by the hardships of life, driven and transfigured to ever brighter self-confidence.


The individual features of the report are so arranged and the parts of the plot so placed in relation to each other that the miracle is the only goal from which they are derived. This is also the aim of the question Jesus asks Philip. Where shall we buy bread? Jesus, as the evangelist remarks in between, only spoke to his disciple to test him, for he himself knew quite well what he wanted to do. The question here could only be that the Lord wanted to see whether Philip expected a miraculous feeding through his power the moment he thought of the present crowd. And in this sense, as soon as he looked at the matter intelligently, since no sign of need or distress had yet been given, he must have passed the challenge poorly enough. It has also been asked why the question was addressed to Philip in particular, and the answer has been found in the fact that this disciple, as he also appears elsewhere (14:8-9), “held to the outward appearance and was not quick to believe. **). But as soon as he is interested in a different contrast (e.g. in the scene at Jacob’s well in Samaria), the author portrays all the disciples as being sensual and rational to the utmost degree. The fact that this time one individual must stand out is only a trait that arose from the striving for clarity and was also necessary because the roles in the present scene are distributed in a more definite way, in that one more disciple, Andrew, stands out in order to point out the small supply that could still be found for the need (vv. 8-9). Otherwise, the turn of phrase is essentially the same as our author loves to use in order to make the Lord’s majesty stand out against his surroundings. Here it was the perplexity of the sensual mind, against which the image of the wonderful certainty with which the Lord immediately has counsel and help ready in time of need, should stand out all the brighter. But it is not even necessary for us to remember how no need had yet appeared when Philip was called upon to seek help: even without this, we can say without hesitation that this complacent reflection on sensual thrift and narrow-mindedness was foreign to the Lord and that it was only created by a consciousness that loves movement in exaggerated contrasts.

*) Thus Lücke, Comm. II. 73S.

**) de Wette, too, therefore finds this circumstance “fitting” (short. Explanation p. 78.). Bengel assumes somewhat more prosaically: fortasse Philippus rem alimentariam curabat inter discipulos.


Incidentally, there is something very striking in the relationship between this preference for the depiction of the miracle and the way it is viewed in the following discussion about the bread of heaven. For here the attention is drawn so much to the spiritual living bread that the bread of heaven, with which the fathers were fed in the wilderness, is not only relegated to the background, but is also contrasted with the spiritual bread, which is by no means truly heavenly. With the manna, however, the bread that Jesus gave to the people must also recede as if in a world that has been pushed back and over which the spirit has risen far above in its quest for the true food. This contradiction is the old one that is inherent in the idea of miracles in general and which we have already learned about above.


3) The desire of the people.


The miraculous feeding made such a strong impression on the people that they acknowledged the Lord as the promised prophet, i.e. as the Messiah. But Jesus withdrew into solitude because he realised that they wanted to make him a king by force” This is again one of the features in which one admires the “great care” with which “John recorded everything that increased the hatred of the Jewish world and helped to bring about the last great catastrophe” *). That Jesus withdrew after the miracle is also reported by the Synoptics and is in the nature of things, because he did not want a tumultuous, external recognition, but only that of faith: but in the present case it is already difficult to explain what purpose an instantaneous withdrawal should serve in the presupposed excitement of the people, when several thousands had been witnesses of the expected and now proven Messianic glory. At least the Lord should not have come forward again the next day, for now those people had to worry him anew with their intentions.

*) Lücke, Comm. II, 79.

But do they really worry him, do they really prove that the Lord had seen correctly on the previous day when he feared that they wanted to make him king? Surely they would have conceived such a far-reaching plan only in the highest excitement which the sign evoked: but now the Lord says, v. 26, not because they had seen signs, but had become full, only for this reason did they seek him out. However, the mere feeling of a full stomach would not have brought them to confess that Jesus was the Messiah and to adopt that extraordinary plan, and we cannot degrade thousands of Jews to the point of saying that their expectation of the Messiah was based solely on the natural feeling of hunger. Therefore, if they sought the Lord for the sake of satiety, it is also certain that they did not want to make him king the day before in the midst of their faith. Let us not speak of the instability of the masses, it does not go so far as to reveal itself overnight without anything decisive intervening. Jesus also does not indicate anything that might have made the crowd change their minds or even that they had different thoughts today than yesterday. Instead, he simply says that the sensation of being satisfied drives them to him, but he does not mention anything about them wanting to make him king, which would have been worth mentioning and even required a rebuke. In short, both contradict each other: either the Jews did not merely feel the natural well-being of satisfied hunger when they thought of Jesus, or they did not plan in higher desire to make the Lord king. Of course, both sides of the contradiction throw a detrimental light on each other, and the fact that the contradiction exists at all makes them both suspicious; but it is at least possible that one side – we will begin with the first, and consider the second later – could really exist in itself, that is, that the Jews wanted to make the Lord king after the feeding. But it is just this first side of the contradiction that is least lasting, since it appears from the outset only as a pragmatic explanation of the writer, while the second is nevertheless given as the express word of the Lord. The author created this pragmatic hyperbole: it seemed natural to him that this time, when the Lord always withdrew after a miracle, there was the most urgent reason to do so, since people had seen a miracle and in the midst of their enthusiasm could go to the extreme, to declare the Lord as the Messiah and proclaim him. And the evangelist concludes that they had indeed wanted to do so when Jesus withdrew.


4) Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.


In the sentence: the disciples “wished to receive him into the ship,” when Jesus approached them across the lake and made himself known to them, the ἤθελον should never have been rendered in such a way that it signified more than the actual desire, namely, at the willingness of the actual action. At least the arbitrariness, which is master of all meanings, should not have been thrown beyond the sacred Scriptures, which once had to be accustomed to such treatment, to the classical writers also. Because everywhere in these writings where an action is connected that requires overcoming or against which one has previously resisted, it is only said that one is now willing to perform the action, but whether it has actually been carried out only becomes apparent from the context and is by no means inherent in the word itself. Therefore, in our account, it is said that they immediately wanted to take Jesus into the boat, but whether they actually did so is not stated in the word θελειν itself *). Since it is said in our report that they landed at the very moment when the disciples, having overcome their fear of the Lord, whom they at first thought to be a ghost, wanted to receive their Master into the ship, this is obviously meant to say that it was now too late and no longer necessary to really receive him into the ship. The interest why the word, which only signifies the decision to do an act, was also given the meaning of the actual deed, is clear enough, since, according to the account of Matthew and Mark, Jesus was really taken into the ship: but the contradiction cannot be removed. All the less can it be removed, since the circumstance of whether Jesus was taken into the ship or not does not stand alone in the accounts, but is conditioned by other circumstances: in the Synoptic account Jesus meets the disciples far from the shore, according to the account of the fourth evangelist at the moment when they are about to land. But the detail with which the evangelist emphasises that Jesus did not need to get into the ship seems to reveal very clearly that he was guided by a specific intention in his account. The miracle and the sublimity above the finite mediations appear greater when the Lord catches up with the disciples on the shore beyond and is now so close to land that he no longer needs the boat.

*) As nevertheless de Wette still maintains, c. Explanation p. 79.


However, the contradiction goes even further: as the disciples had traveled 25 or 30 stadia, Jesus is said to have come near their boat. 25 or 30 stadia! This would mean that the disciples were still in the midst of their distress and would also be in line with Josephus’ statement that the sea was 40 stadia wide. And yet, the disciples were said to have immediately landed as soon as they recognized the Lord, which supposedly happened upon his first greeting. In any case, it is an irreconcilable contradiction that the same scene is relocated 25-30 stadia away from the departure point and then again placed close to the shore where they had been sailing. The vagueness that leaves five stadia open and the overall calculation that counts from the departure point and thus still so far from the destination, assumes a great distance from the opposite shore, and yet the disciples were said to be so close to the landing place that it was not worth the effort to take Jesus into the boat when he approached them. This contradiction can only be resolved if we admit that in the mind of the author, two things crossed each other: the power of the actual presuppositions of the basic material and the transformed view for which the miracle had become quantitatively greater.


The report carefully states the circumstance by which Jesus’ miraculous walking on water became an event that not only happened for the disciples’ perception but must also have become known to the people through the simplest deduction *). The people knew (V. 22) that there had been only one boat available for the Lord and his disciples, yet they also knew that the disciples had crossed alone. Now, by chance, the people get means of passage on other ships arriving from nearby Tiberias, and over in Capernaum they find the Lord, where under the given conditions it was actually a superfluous question how he had come here, for how else but by miraculous means had it been possible? Whoever says *): “the miracle is nowhere emphasized and the question of the people about how Jesus crossed the sea is not used to make the miracle valid” or even: “the Johannine account falls short of the synoptic accounts in terms of the miraculous and superstitious”, demands coarseness/heavy-handedness from a writer who has already lost his way so many times by his finger-pointing, before he should ascribe to him the interest in a miracle. After all the individual circumstances that must have caused confusion for the people and led to the miraculous event, is not the miracle empirically certain for the reader? Does not the conclusion, when the reader draws it himself and must follow the people based on the assumptions, gain even greater power and impact? Certainly the author would have weakened everything, if he had gone further and allowed the relation to the miracle to stand out even more starkly or glaringly, if not in substance, of course, but at least weakened the impression.

*) Augustine, tractatus in Joann. ev. XXV, 8: insinuatum est illis tam magnum miraculum. Calvin: Hic Evangelista circumstantias refert, under conjicere posset turba, divinum fuisse Christi trajectum.

*) Like de Wette p. 80.


The pragmatism aimed at the general recognition and confirmation of the miracle has thus gone as far as it could if it were not to betray the subjective intention too much. But the author has not succeeded completely, if we look at the context intelligently, as is our duty. The whole thing is based on the assumption that only one ship, the ship of the Lord and his disciples, stood on the other shore. But the multitude that followed the Lord on his passage, because they had seen his miracles on the sick on this side in Galilee (vv. 1-2.), surely they also followed him by ship, so that on the following day their boats had to be ready to bring them back to this side? On foot, as Matthew assures (14:13), but of which the fourth evangelist knows nothing, will not all of them, among whom there were many users and owners of boats, have gone round the lake? Or, if the last point is that by chance ships came from Tiberias to bring the people back, could not just as by chance a single one have come from there beforehand, which could give the Lord an opportunity to cross over? All this only proves how the author, in momentary forgetfulness of the starting point, created the contradiction that only one ship stood on the shore beyond, in order to make the crowd guess the miracle that brought the Lord back to this side and to testify to it by their question.


5) The sensual desire of the people.


In answer to the question of the people, when he had returned to this shore, Jesus answered that they did not seek him because they had seen signs, but because they had been filled with the loaves. But why were these people able to seek the Lord again, if it was not because they had experienced his divine power in the miraculous feeding? We do not want to mention that the multitude should have acknowledged the Lord as the “promised” prophet because of the sign; but if they were only concerned about satiety, they could have stayed at home, for that the five thousand Galileans all lived in the most helpless poverty is not mentioned, and according to the report of the Synoptics, the lack which the miracle remedied was only brought about immediately by the fact that the thousands had stayed with the Lord longer than planned. The reproach is therefore so highly exaggerated and presupposes such an unbelievably base motive in the people that it must have caused the apologists enough trouble. They do help themselves, but only in such a way that they make the words into nothing, that they do not let the evangelist say what he says, that they let him say the opposite of what he says so strongly, so definitely. If, for example, Lücke *) thinks that the words: not because you have seen signs, but because you have become full, you seek me, should be understood comparatively, i.e., that this motive is stronger than the other. But he must answer for this to the evangelist, who, after all, lets the Lord say it as clearly as possible, so that that the crowd is not being drawn to him by the signs themselves. Or does Lücke**) say: “the crowd consisted of people of different kinds and directions”: well, then the Lord would have done very wrong if he had attacked all without distinction so harshly, although it was not his custom to extinguish the smouldering wick. Or does the same commentator go so far as to say: “Jesus himself had noticed a certain trust in him and his power in the predominant sensual appetite with which they had come to him, and had considered it possible and necessary to stimulate this germ of spiritual life, which the people themselves were not aware of *), then he has to deal with the Lord himself. For the Lord virtually strikes down this “desire to eat”, he does not take it up again in a formative way, he does not want to have anything to do with it, but says: “Away with your low desires!” and with one stroke he wants to lift the crowd into an absolutely different realm where it can procure imperishable food. Now, if this contention of the joy of natural satiety and of the commandment to seek imperishable food appears in all its purity, it also remains with its impossibility, and it is again only the author who formed it, in order to be able to pass from the rejected and limited lust of the multitude directed at the belly to the following conversation of the true food of the spirit.

*) Comm. II, 90. Likewise Calvin: neque tamen negari potest, quin miraculum respexerint; imo prius narravit Evangelista, siguis fuisse commotos sequendum Christum. Sed quia miraculis abutebantur in alienum finem, merito illis expro brat, quod majorem ventris quam signorum respectum habeant

**) Ibid. p. 91.

*) Lücke speaks quite differently, ibid. p. 89. Here he says, “the crowd was only aware of their amazement at the signs they saw. As if the Lord did not miss this astonishment! The astonishment as such has not only to do with the desire to see.


6) The imperishable food.


The Jews understand the word of the Lord about the imperishable food, which they are to receive, to the extent that they understand that it is to be obtained from the works of God, i.e. from works that are in accordance with the divine will. They are therefore much more understanding than the disciples, who earlier (4:33) had understood the word of their Master about His food in such a sensual way. But how is this consistent with the assumption that for the masses to whom the conversation was addressed, the Lord was only valuable for their stomach? Apparently so little that Lücke feels compelled to assume that it was “the more educated and receptive” who understood the Lord so bravely, that the crowd as such was “probably not able to understand Jesus’ figurative speech in the same way” *). So the evangelist always has to please his embarrassed apologists by saying, or rather meaning, the opposite of what he actually says. But everything is so coherent according to the structure of the conversation, everything follows one after the other, that it is always the same people, the same mass to whom the Lord addresses his speech, and who now respond more or less appropriately depending on whether the evangelist wants to continue the conversation without causing offense or introducing new contrasts. Now he lets the conversation flow without interruption because he is about to move on to a new contrast, which will occupy him for a longer period of time.

*) Comm. II, 93.


We have already noted that the figurative words of the Lord are too meager and limited in their interpretation when they are given the position that they originate from a real relationship with a sensory substrate and are spoken with a contemptuous glance at sensory relationships that are legitimate or indifferent to the spirit. The figurative view and way of speaking are essential to the spirit because its peculiar world has its reflection in the natural world and is reflected in a concrete way. But when the spirit uses this reflection for its representation, it is not so noble as to have nothing more important to do than to ridicule the reflection in its insignificance and contemptibility. Instead, it is confident that its reflection will only be taken as a reflection. Or viewed aesthetically: The point of the image is destroyed, corrupted, and the striking meaning is pushed down into flatness, if the natural image is rejected with great seriousness as inappropriate for the spirit. In the language of our evangelist, however, we have seen sufficiently how he does not allow any content to work through its inner, original power, but only believes to have fully developed it when he has separated it from its opposite. The Lord’s figurative words gave him ample opportunity for this movement in opposites, which he also used diligently, but only with the success that he weakened the power of those sayings as much as possible.


Just as the Lord did not have to fearfully reject the sensual image in figurative language in order to seek the true meaning, so he could also use a figurative expression without an outwardly corresponding situation giving cause for it. He did not need to have satisfied the physical hunger of the people beforehand in order to be able to speak to them of the imperishable food of the spirit. By such an outward occasion, which would then always have to be exposed in its vanity, while the sensual in the image is transcended in itself and by itself, the saying would only have been mechanically drawn out and the contemptuous attitude towards the sensual image would have been just as tiring as it was stilted. On the contrary, a pictorial expression is only striking in that it assumes the form of a familiar, generally known and always valid sensual relation. The independence of the image in the present case is already proven by the unnatural manner of the transition, which, however, was only possible and unavoidable even on the presupposed occasion. If it was not possible for the people to seek the Lord after the miraculous feeding merely for the sake of a full belly, then the word of the imperishable food of the spirit could not be attached to such an inhuman and unnatural motive.


7) The Bread of Life.


The misunderstandings into which the author lets the Lord’s listeners fall, otherwise and also now, are only pragmatic supports by which the speech, which would otherwise collapse due to its misguided structure, is needfully helped up again. For the speech would have to collapse in any case, because it is untruthfully motivated and consists of sayings that are supposed to form a whole but never can. The clamps that are to force the mechanical whole together must therefore be unspiritual, or, comparing the whole to an animate organism, be taken from death. The death and extreme loss of the spirit, the death to which the spirit can never again descend, now supplies the spiritless bond, and impossible misunderstandings must now serve to drive the halting speech on. Thus, as the fourth evangelist incessantly presupposes, figurative expressions cannot be misunderstood to the point of senselessness — where they are at home and the daily bread. The Hebrew – just look at the prophetic books – delights in images and still understands them even when they have been stretched to the smallest play or brought from the remotest distance. Jesus was only able to speak so often in images on a ground that brought forth an innumerable multitude of them, and in addition his figurative speeches are so simple, so drawn together out of immensity or playful pettiness into a definite and speaking form, that they make their meaning known directly in them. Yes, if the Lord had spoken among the dullest people, among a people who did not know the “parallelism of heaven and earth”, the parallelism of a spiritual and a natural world, which is otherwise praised in the Hebrew view, then misunderstandings of this kind would have been possible. But only possible – not necessarily, for the spirit would first have to have lost all “ultimate” perception of itself before it should be insensitive to the flash of those images. The apologetic talk of the “carnal sense” of the Jews *) is a play on an indefinite word, a support of indolence which is not serious about the matter, is apparently edifying, but in fact a mindless delight in unnatural contrasts. The parallelism of heaven and earth, body and soul, nature and spirit had not yet collapsed into the dead uniformity of the “flesh” for the Jews at the time of Jesus – how else would the time have been fulfilled? – but vibrated in the most living relationship, both sides were connected by thousands of trembling rays and sought their living unity. But later, when the seeking and fleeing, when the dispute between the two sides had been so decided for the greater part of the people that they had rejected the unity of heaven and earth that appeared in the Lord and had renounced it, the unhappy people had separated themselves from the goal of their historical development and appeared to the congregation as having fallen prey to this world and its meaning. Then, at last, evangelical apologetics came to ascribe to the people in every case, even in those cases where it was impossible, the misunderstanding of the simplest expressions of the Lord.

*) Guerike (Beiträge zur historisch-kritischen Einleitung ins N. T. 1828 p. 65) even says: “the inner nature of the speakers, as we have to imagine it elsewhere and as far as we can, also lets us see that their answers and comparisons had to turn out just like that and not differently. Just to mention one thing – if the opponents had understood nothing at all of the Lord’s utterances, they would not have brought him to the cross.


The crowd, which had shown an uncommon willingness to engage with his words in our Gospel, the Lord had revealed what the work of God was that they should do: it was to have faith in the messenger of God. Suddenly, like a treacherous wind changing direction from just moments before, the crowd asks Jesus: so, what sign do you perform so that we may believe? And from this starting point that the crowd takes, the Lord is led to the declaration that he is the bread of life. It is a malice that even borders on ridicule when the Jews take up the same word “work” that the conversation had revolved around until then, for the purpose of turning it against the Lord. But where does the crowd suddenly get this malicious disposition, when just moments before it seemed so receptive to the instruction about the imperishable food? The wind may change direction suddenly, but the crowd, though rightly accused of being fickle, cannot change its disposition so quickly without cause. Yet, there is no cause here, as the demand for faith in the messenger of God cannot be considered a cause, since the crowd was ready to acknowledge the promised one in the Lord with fervent enthusiasm the day before.

It was the sign of the feeding that had brought the crowd to this willingness to believe. But that they should suddenly ask for a sign to convince them of the necessity of faith, seemed so impossible even to apologists who still have a feeling for difficulties, that they must suppose that it was “probably not those who had experienced the miracle of the feeding the day before” *) who had made this demand for a new sign. But what a torment it is to be an apologist when at the same time the nature of the matter and the author of the scripture must be given their due! For even if we are relieved of the difficulty in the matter by that assumption, we must pity the writer that he is again forced to say the opposite of what he meant and expressed so clearly. So futile, then, in the case of his faithful interpreter, are all the arrangements which he has laboriously enough made, so much wasted effort is it that he translates again to this shore the multitude which was fed over there, that he lets the Lord address them as those who were fed by him yesterday – that he must now, after all, all at once let quite different people speak to the Lord. No! when we interpret, we must not disregard the writer’s words. No, we must not let the transfer of the audience surrounding the Lord happen in vain, so that we, even if it is more convenient, summon a new audience of the Lord from the near shore of the lake. No, and a thousand times no! even if the matter seems petty – but in the matter it is at the same time the word of an evangelist and – in the apologetic sense – an absolute truth. No! it is the same people who yesterday saw the sign of the feeding, who again sought out the Lord because of their “lust for food” and now demand a new sign. At least, what must first lie at the heart of the interpreter is the writer’s word, and we must now say: then the matter falls, then people who saw such a powerful sign yesterday that inspired them to fervent belief cannot start again today and demand a new sign—thus both, the writer and the matter, have received their true right. For we must not deny the matter its right, even if its right and that of the writer cannot be reconciled. But the measure of justice we owe to the writer has been fulfilled when we see how he came to his particular view. The evangelist cannot move forward except in contrasts, but the contrast against yesterday’s feeding was already exhausted when the Lord pointed the people to the imperishable food; now Jesus should designate himself as the true bread from heaven, so a new contrast was needed, and the people provided it by demanding a sign that corresponded to another bread from heaven. Moses had given the fathers manna as bread from heaven: now the Messiah should show what similar or greater thing he could give!

*) Lücke Comm. II, 94.


It seems so certain and appropriate to his self-awareness that the Lord called himself and his person dedicated to redemption the bread of life and the food of faith that it is not open to doubt. But that he did it in contrast to the manna food of the Father is so impossible that all apologetic efforts to give even a pleasing appearance to the opposite must fail *). It is not comparative consciousness in general that contradicts the infinite self-consciousness of the Lord – he compares himself with Jonah, with Solomon – but that form of comparative self-awareness that withdraws and restricts itself in contrast to the image from itself and to its power. It cannot be reconciled with the infinite self-sufficiency of the Lord. When he says: here is more than Jonah, more than Solomon! he is solely concerned with the relationship between the Ninevites and the Queen of the South, who turned to those men with faith and admiration, and the people who turned away from him, unbelieving and demanding signs that he could not grant. But measuring his life force against the manna that Moses gave to the fathers and repeatedly applying this measure (v. 49, 58), he could not and should not have done so, even if the crowd had given him the opportunity through their ignorance. Instead of spinning it out endlessly, he would have cut off or shut down this opportunity. On the one hand, if the Lord had really made the comparison between the manna bread and the food that he is for faithful enjoyment, it would be without proportion, which is never the case with his actual comparisons. But it is also unjust, because Moses gave the fathers not only manna but also the word of Jehovah.

*) In passing, we can call attention to another contradiction, which, however, is only due to the context in which the evangelist has formed it.The signs, to which the feeding of the five thousand also belongs, are to be subordinated to the need and food of the spirit, yet just before (v.26) the Lord had accused the Jews of seeking him for the signs. But there is another “and yet!” for the latter point: the same faith for the sake of signs, which the Lord demands here, he had previously denounced as very reprehensible in the case of the royal official from Capernaum.


One could argue that the designation of the person of the Lord as the bread of life still contains a reference to a sensory foundation, which is thus reduced to being finite and transient. That is indeed the case with every metaphor. In the comparison which presents the natural as the image of the spiritual, the starting point, namely the sensuous and immediate, is reduced to the reflection of the higher, but – learn it only from the sayings of Jesus in the Synoptics – at the same time ennobled, illuminated by the light of the spirit and acknowledged in its justification, which it has as the reflection of the spirit. The Spirit, who is looked upon in his natural image, loses nothing in this mirror, but rather receives a basis which places it in the midst of ordinary, immediate life and enlarges the scope of its power. This was mostly alien to the fourth evangelist, who believed that he had only made the spiritual certain when he had torn apart or dissolved its natural image by laborious denials that it was not the true one. When the Lord called Himself the Bread of Life, He presented Himself and His vitalising power in a natural image, and in presenting Himself in it, He did not allow it to exist for Himself as the true thing, but at the same time He honoured it as His image, for He now considered it so worthy that it reflected Him and His power to the believing view. And what is this thus ennobled image but daily bread? Was it necessary for the creation of that figurative expression of quarrelling over the gift of manna? Did the Jews first have to give rise to it by boasting about the food of the fathers?


If all the internal evidence cannot convince you that the evangelist created the coherent discourses of the Lord, that his discourses are a kind of system in which reminiscences from all the places of his Scriptures themselves naturally come together, you may be convinced by the external evidence which lies in the passage vv. 36-40. We call it external because the evidence can be grasped with the hands and seen with the bodily eyes. The word of the bread of life, which is given to the world, is understood by the Jews in a foolish way, so that they think Jesus is talking about bread, which satisfies the hunger of the flesh. Jesus says that he is the bread of life, but, he adds, “I told you so, that you should see me and not believe. This phrase is so brief and suggestive that it presupposes the most vivid recollection and a firm memory in the people, which still retains the features of a speech heard earlier. “Ye have seen me, and believe not”: this is only to be understood when one remembers how, above Ch. 5, the Lord pointed out to his unbelieving opponents the whole extent of his works, which testify to him and his divine mission. The reflections which the Lord adds to his reference to the earlier discourse lead us to the same discourse, especially the antithesis, that he does nothing of himself, but according to the will of the Father animates the faithful and finally raises them from the dead. But – this is the external proof to which we wanted to draw attention – was the same crowd to which the Lord speaks here also present during the earlier discourse? I.e. was the crowd that hears the Lord here in Capernaum also his audience at that time in Jerusalem, where the Lord held his speech after the healing of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda? Who would seriously say that the same crowd which the Lord had miraculously satiated yesterday, and which brought Him today to this discourse on the Bread of Life, had long ago accused Him of violating the Sabbath? Chance, as they are wont to say, may play marvellously: but think what an effort of chance would be required to this end, if now as then the same multitude should surround the Lord, that He might need but briefly to remind Him of that former discourse. The insight into the method by which our author works frees us from the postulate of so highly miraculous a coincidence. Since the evangelist, because everything can be brought into connection, also really puts much into connection and always works towards a fairly complete system, which embraces everything related, it was inevitable with this arrangement of the larger speeches that they did not come into contact and that some things were repeated more than once. Usually this happens without the evangelist reflecting on it, but here the speech to which he returned was too close, especially the testimony of the works was too prominent, for him not to have had to take it expressly into account. But since the Lord was speaking, he had to refer to the earlier word, to remind the listeners of what they had heard before, and the evangelist did not immediately think of the fact that this earlier speech had been delivered in a different setting before a different audience *).

*De Wette p. 82 considers it “more probable that the evangelist omitted the earlier saying to which Jesus refers”. But this is a probability which is inaccessible even to your loftiest, most outrageous faith. John’s memory must have so meticulously recorded all the turns of the Lord’s speech that even a parenthetical phrase (“as I told you”) could not have escaped his notice – and yet he is said to have been so careless with the main point. The evangelist, however, considered his work to be so much of a whole that, if he included a reference to earlier things in a parenthesis, he would have known and indicated quite well what those earlier things were. Or – to put it more intelligibly – he could only make such a reference if he himself had already written down what he was pointing to. In this case, however, he saw it already written before him, since the thoughts and words of the section vv. 37-40 are the same as those in the speech Ch. 5.


8) The procession of the Father.


If the speeches which the fourth evangelist gives us were not to lose their relation to the presupposed hearers altogether, and either not to falter or not to become too much of a homily or pure theory, the hearers had often to intervene, but they could only make their presence known in an outward way, since the connection of these speeches is neither an original one nor continued to the perfection of the art. Mostly it is misunderstandings that make the flow of the speech more lively, sometimes the listeners murmur among themselves and the Lord takes occasion from this to continue. How little, however, a muffled murmur of the crowd can further the development of a speech is self-evident, since it is completely devoid of content and is only a kind of tautology which takes up what has gone before and looks at it only with a dull sense.


This time the Jews murmur that the Lord calls Himself the Bread that came down from heaven, and then bring up their murmurings in such a way that they say: is not Jesus the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? The Lord had to experience many controversies in his speaking and doing, but – apart from the childish misunderstandings – he could not have experienced so many in succession as are only mentioned here in this conversation, when he addressed the people with his words. Thus it is at least more probable that the annoyance at Jesus’ well-known lowly ways belonged to another occasion and was used by the author, who remembered it here, as a welcome motive for the continuation of the speech. But what is in itself more probable is made certain by the position of this motive in the context.

Whether the Synoptics, who also report an offence that was taken at the generally known origin of the Lord, know more precisely where this offence originate, is not our concern here. But when the Lord responds to those who took offense at his lineage, according to their reports (Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24), “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country,” it appears perfectly fitting, and human wit could hardly invent a better response. After the fourth Gospel, the Lord replies that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him. This, however, could no less appropriately serve as an answer to a thousand other objections; indeed, it is not even really an answer, but really only a continuation of the speech, which was to be set in motion by an external impulse. Earlier, in v. 37, the Lord had said that all that the Father gives Him comes to Him; in vv. 39, 40. He had said that He also really cares for the blessedness of those whom the Father gives Him; and only in order that He might say the same in the form of an antithesis (No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him), only in order that this turn of events might be brought about, must the Jews again intervene. An inner relationship that connects the interjection and the answer cannot, of course, be discovered in this kind of pragmatism. The commentators admit that the continuation of the speech does not exactly take into account the objection of the Jews, and they therefore even praise the doctrinal wisdom which does not reach to the root of the problem, but “seeks to meet the misunderstanding in an indirect way” *). Now, this doctrinal wisdom, which would have been lacking in the Lord according to the testimony of the Synoptics, who always tackle the problem directly, or whose fame was unjustly withheld from him by the first Gospels, is easy to come by. Because everything is connected “indirectly,” and the greatest teaching wisdom would be the one that only our Gospel knows, which moves furthest away from the problem and, seeking the most remote relationships, does not come into direct contact with the objections. Let us not seek the “wisdom” of the Lord in this, which is only a cumbersome combination of the evangelist and, on the contrary, would present the most unfavorable picture of the Lord’s teaching wisdom as soon as it is taken historically.

*) De Wette p. 83.

*) Lücke Comm. II, 106.


In the saying about the Father leading to the Son (v. 44) **), it is easy to find the original core that the Synoptic saying Matt. 11:27 has preserved for us in its healthy strength and freshness. Jesus may have returned to the content of this saying more than once and explained it in terms of the mutual relationship of Father and Son, that the relationship of others to the Father and Son could not be arbitrarily mediated by themselves, but only by the Father and the Son. But that he spoke almost exclusively of this relationship, preached only on the subject of this saying, and elaborated it into a kind of system, is impossible. In the Synoptics, the Lord proclaims Himself as the centre of the Kingdom of Heaven in the victorious and world-conquering way that He lifts all conditions of spiritual life off their hinges and places them on the ground of the Kingdom of Heaven with the sinners, the hungry and the weary. In this way, encompassing, penetrating and enlivening all reality, all conditions of life and the periphery of all humanity, the Lord alone could bring it about that he indissolubly chained the periphery of humanity to his person and fused it with his life force. In the fourth Gospel, the omission of this kind of work is not just an innocent deficiency, as apologists would call it, but rather it gives the appearance of weakness and lack of stability to the central figure himself. We constantly see the center point, or at least we are supposed to see it – but what is it, if not all the spiritual powers for which it is the focal point appear, if it does not prove itself as such in the fullness of the radii and real relationships? It is an atom. No one who has an eye for it would call these the living conditions on which the Lord acted and which he drew into the circle of his personality with original force, if all we hear about is murmuring Jews and childish misunderstandings. The points that surround the Lord in this way are also nothing more than atoms that are related to each other and to the isolated person of the Lord only through a spiritless emptiness. On the other hand, when the Lord, as he does according to the synoptic reports, has worked through the scope of the spiritual struggle, brought it to himself, and now points to himself and presents his person as the center of life, how different it is! He not only says that he is the only mediator, he does not just preach about it, no! He is now what he is and appears as the true mediator: countless threads now go back and forth between him and the entire reality, and just as all the pulses of the world beat towards him, he himself stands in the fullness of the light that emanates from him over the spiritual world. In the midst of work that is so effective, Jesus could and had to speak of himself and say: “Everything has been entrusted to me”.

**) V. 65 the speech comes back to this saying.


This contact of the fourth gospel with a synoptic saying can therefore certainly serve as proof that his speeches are not entirely without historical foundation, but now one must not immediately rush with apologetic recklessness beyond all bounds of the permissible and conclude the historical character of the whole thing wholesale. Only one ray of light is taken from the reality which the synoptic gospels portray to us, caught by the fourth evangelist and applied over and over again, but since the colourful painting is missing, on which that ray of light only really receives illuminating power, it loses its full meaning *). Light without the matter it illuminates, spirit without corporeality, brightness without opacity, does not enlighten and inspire, and has as little power as the little dot without the ground stroke which makes it a sound. Christ’s preaching of his person lacks nothing more and nothing less in the fourth gospel than the world of sinners, the weary, the hungry and the thirsty; it is the seed that falls into emptiness and finds no field according to whose manifold nature it bears fruit. So let the apologist stop using Matthew’s verse as evidence for the credibility of the speeches in the fourth Gospel—unless they also claim that someone who repeats a single prominent part of a melody a thousand times over or copies a painting by repeatedly drawing a single glimpse of light on a blank canvas a thousand times over or who copies an insightful sentence by continuously repeating only its concluding phrase or extending it into a line has truly reproduced a rich musical piece, a complete painting, or a meaningful sentence.

*) It is precisely at such points, where the synoptic Gospels touch the fourth, that the dissonance sounds most cuttingly.


9) The mediation of the Son.


The thought of the Father’s course, this saying, which through the infinity of its content appears at first sight to be an independent magnitude, must serve the author to bring the speech back to the bread of life and to the comparison of the same with the man’s bread. But how? In the Synoptics, the Lord never shies away from presenting a saying in its own right and with the stamp of infinite validity, even if the same saying is limited by another purpose. This kind of speech exerts that magic which never lets the soul come to the dormant rest which now considers the matter done, but excites it and, as the saying constantly resounds in it, calls upon it to occupy itself with it. As an infinite magnitude, the saying can capture and occupy the soul to its innermost depths, but when one determination is only externally limited by another and the limitation only appears as a combination of the understanding and not as the infinity of the higher unity, then such a network of sayings can only occupy the understanding that is satisfied when it has heard of that limitation. The Lord never spoke to the mere understanding; the saying that complemented another also came at his time and under his living circumstance, and it also came with infinite validity, not only for the sake of a reasonable limitation, and the struggle that now fought infinite against infinite happened not only in the understanding but primarily in life and soul, and before it found its solution in the rational idea, it had to work on life and soul over the course of many centuries. Let us now see whether the saying of the father’s course is not prematurely limited, if the thought is immediately rejected as if someone besides the son had seen the father. The idea of the Father’s inner revelation is not explained and supplemented by this, but dissolved into nothing. The Lord was too sure of His mediatorship to have so jealously bound and tamed this thought; for in the Synoptic account He says without envy and without a sensible clause: blessed are you Simon, for this is what My Father in heaven has revealed to you. But here, how disruptive and hasty is this jealous “not that anyone has seen the Father except the Son” in pushing aside the previous idea. Moreover, this limitation is only a reminiscence from the conversation with Nicodemus and from the Baptist’s speech to his jealous disciples, a reminiscence of a saying that we ourselves have already recognized as fabricated. The reflective intellect must receive this limitation as the Lord’s property to his honor.


10) The food and drink of the church.


The continued talk about the bread of life in vv. 47-58 seems at first to be a mere continuation or rather repetition of the previous comparison between the manna and the person of the Lord. But v. 51 takes a turn with the words: “and the bread that I give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world,” with which it changes to a new view. When Jesus hitherto called himself the Bread of Life, it was evidently figuratively speaking, and the actual object of appropriation, which was compared with the bread, was the spiritual content of his personality: this, as it is in its self-awareness, also holds the consciousness of unity with the Father, the will to unity with the divine will, and redemption in its actions. This spiritual infinity should be appropriated by individuals so that they may gain their eternal spiritual life substance. With the Jews, who, at the new turn of speech in v. 52, disputed among themselves how the Lord could possibly give them his flesh to eat, later commentators have also asked whether this eating, this enjoyment, is to be understood as figuratively as in the preceding context. If the Lord were to speak only of the eating of his flesh, we could really remain with the figurative conception, since the flesh (σαρξ) denotes the earthly, human appearance of the Saviour in general. This totality of humanity is the flesh, for example, when it is said that the Word became flesh. The progress which the speech would now make would then consist in the declaration that not only the abstraction of the spiritual content from the personality of the Lord, not only the general thought of unity with the Father and with the divine will, not only the abstraction of the atonement would be the content of the enjoyment, but the atonement as it is real and living as this personality of the Lord. In this case the speech would still be figurative, because the sensual determination of eating would be connected with a spiritual one; for even if flesh (σαρξ) is the human, earthly appearance, yet by it is to be understood the totality and generality of the human appearance together with its essential content. This essential totality of personality is inaccessible to the senses, even to the most spiritual sense, the eye, and cannot be grasped in faith in any other way than by means of spiritual perception. The expression “flesh” is not used here in this general sense, but is returned to the meaning of the body in a more limited sense, when it is combined with the meaning of blood in order to complete it, so that the totality of the bodily appearance may be designated as the object of enjoyment. This provision, that one must drink the blood of the Lord as one must eat his flesh if one wants to have eternal life, decisively cuts off the next path that could lead to the figurative conception. The next path, namely the one that the letter could show. The further difficulties as to how the consumption of the flesh and blood can create eternal life, i.e. have a spiritual effect, how the flesh, which is given for the life of the world, and the blood, which is poured out for the atonement, can be eaten and drunk, these difficulties decide nothing for the apologist, since they are not to be overcome by the artifice of interpretation, but by faith. And for faith, to which these words are actually spoken, the enjoyment of the body and blood of the Lord is not only an image of union with the Redeemer, but this itself at the highest point of its promise and enjoyment.


We hardly need to say that the Lord is speaking of the enjoyment of his body and blood, which the congregation celebrates in the Lord’s Supper. But we must not express it in this way, that the Lord speaks of this enjoyment *), but the Evangelist lets him speak in this way: He was once tempted by the allusion in the word “feeding” to lead the Lord from the miraculous feeding of the people to the saying that he is the bread of life, and now he exhausts this allusion completely by having him speak in the same context of the enjoyment of his body and blood, i.e. of an enjoyment which he only offered to his disciples at the last supper which he held with them. Shall we remind you how impossible it is that the Lord addressed this discourse to a crowd for whom the miracle of the feeding and the miracle-worker had value only for the sake of bodily satiation, who misunderstood the simplest figurative expressions to a crass degree, to a crowd which could therefore also see in this discourse only the invitation to anthropophagy? Or to a crowd that had degenerated to the point of dullness and stupidity was the Lord supposed to have spoken of his sacrificial death without making the slightest attempt to prepare, motivate or even emphasize this revelation in its importance? No! As if it were self-evident, even according to the view of this crowd, that he would go into sacrificial death, that the Messiah must suffer death for the world, so speaks the Lord, i.e. he speaks as a later teacher could homiletically present the known views to the believing congregation or, once the later sphere of life of the congregation and the real circumstances in which the Lord had worked and taught had grown into one, let the Lord speak. The only consequence that remained for the writer, and which ours does not lack, even in an inappropriate place, was that he either did not understand the Lord’s sayings or let them be misunderstood to the utmost.

*) As Bendel says: Jesus verba sua scienter ita formavit, ut statim et semper illa quidem de spirituali fruitione sui agorent proprie; sed posthae eadem consequenter etiam in augustissimum S. Coenae mysterium, eum id institutum foret, convenirent. Jesus, says Bengel, here prophesied of the Lord’s Supper. Tota haec de earne et sanguine J. Ch. oratio passionem spectat et eum ea S. Coenam.


If the apologist wanted to find the view of the Lord’s Supper here only if there were also an allusion to the sacramental substratum of bread and wine, he would be asking for an impossibility that even our author could not overcome.

We will now address the difficulty we encountered earlier, namely, that the Lord opposed himself to the manna of the fathers as the bread of life in a manner that does not correspond to the character of the one of whom it is written: ουκ επρσει ουδε κραυγασει. Now that this comparison with the manna also introduces and concludes the discourse that refers to the Lord’s Supper (verse 49, 58) and the impossibility that it belongs to the Lord is beyond doubt, its origin is also revealed to us. The community that had received its heavenly food in the Lord’s Supper and its daily bread on its journey through the desert of the world was the only one in which the manna of the fathers could present itself as an image of the food of the Lord’s Supper, but as an image that touched the nature of the archetype internally, since it was also a heavenly gift, while at the same time indicating the nature of the archetype in an imperfect manner, since it was only finite food. In the image, these two aspects of unity and difference are always combined, but our evangelist, who can only think of truth in contrast, this harsh character had to completely remove the aspect of internal connection between image and archetype and leave it only to the Jews as a false boast.


11) The apostasy of many disciples.

6:60, 66.

If one asks what is gained by denying the Lord this speech, by proving that it does not belong to him, and whether the loss does not at least outweigh the gain, the answer is obvious. Nothing is lost: what is the Lord’s genuine good remains and remains all the more certain now that it has been taken out of this disturbing environment, which can only harm him. But how great is the gain when the Lord’s doctrinal wisdom is again set in its true light, when we no longer have to torment him with incomprehensible difficulties or difficulties caused by himself, and especially when we no longer have to assume that he was always able to speak so harshly and with such difficulty that the listeners had to turn their backs on him. If the Lord did not give those speeches, then their consequence, namely that many of his disciples turned away from him, also falls away. But indeed they should have turned away, for such a teacher could not help them and could not enlighten them. According to the synoptic reports, those who were otherwise willing also turned their backs on the Lord, but according to sayings that were clear, transparent and only too comprehensible to the hearers, and which only too clearly expected of them an inwardness and a freedom from everything finite, which they really understood, but which they did not want to understand. There the collision is simple and a real, efficient one, but all collision falls away when the listeners are offered something that they could in no way even understand. This time the evangelist gives those people far too much credit when he lets them call the Lord’s speech hard. One calls a contradiction hard, the two aspects of which one understands well and just cannot bring together. But these people have not yet understood the parts of the discourse and its individual provisions, that they know what is flesh and what is eating; for flesh and blood and eating and drinking are here said with reference to the sacrament, of which they could know nothing. Actually they should have said: we do not understand anything of this speech – but it is good that they did not need to say anything, since they have not heard anything of the speech *).

*) Gfrörer (das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 72.) gives us a clear example of the sentimentality of the enlightened view, which has especially befriended the fourth Gospel. “The statement, he says, that the Lord was forsaken by many of his disciples, is a melancholy confession, which certainly cost our evangelist trouble and caused pain, for it runs counter to his favourite idea of the logos nature of Christ.” But it is precisely through this opposition, which is formed by the fickleness and the closedness of the mind to the person of the Lord, that the latter is exalted. Wisdom appears to the evangelist the more profound the more it is offensive; the certainty of the Lord appears to him greater when it maintains itself in the midst of the apostasy of the followers. It is a manufactured contrast; the painfulness that the evangelist put into the situation is infinitely cancelled out for him by the joy of the sublimity in which the image of the Lord now stands.


12) The increase of the offence.


After the speech and the offence caused by it have fallen away, it would seem that the explanation of the following words of the Lord, which refer to that offence, would have to be made more difficult. But the words cannot become more difficult than they already are in this context; rather, there is every prospect of grasping them correctly if they are isolated. Yes, the question in v. 62, “if ye then see the Son of man ascending where he was before,” is really inexplicable in this context, and the meaning which the evangelist connected with it must have remained for him in the most indefinite sense. It refers to the distress the hearers feel at partaking of the Lord’s flesh and blood: “That, but only so much, is clear at first, but what the relationship is, can only be indicated with some difficulty. The matter is not as simple as those exegetes think who take v. 62 as a facilitating explanation and as a removal of the offence *). The meaning of the passage would therefore be as follows: You are offended by what I have said about the enjoyment of my flesh and blood? How now? When you see the Son of Man rise again, will you not then see that my word must be understood spiritually, and that this offence will be removed? To facilitate the comprehension of mysteries, however, is by no means the author’s endeavour. We say: “the author,” for we cannot attribute this transition to the Lord. Just look at this “How then?” this “When you shall see the Son of Man ascending? How then?” and listen carefully to how secretly the Lord would have offered a solution which He would have possessed completely for Himself, but which He would have only half given to the hearers with a cunning glance at them. It requires but a glance at the preceding discourse to see how, on the contrary, the author is not at all afraid to heap offence upon offence. The Jews hardly took offence at the fact that the Lord calls Himself the Bread of Life, when the speech immediately increases and now the consumption of the flesh and blood of Christ is demanded. So from this the progress is made to a harder offence: “Does this offend you? (When you therefore see the Son of Man rise again, must not your offence increase?

*) Thus Lücke Comm. II, 141.


If this transition is taken seriously, but the greater vexation is to consist only **) in the fact that the Lord will really go to death, then the speech is deprived of its escalation, for the death of the Lord was already more expressly emphasized before than now, when the enjoyment of the flesh, which he will give up for the life of the world (V. 51.), was demanded. Or should the offence increase by the Lord’s demanding the eating of His flesh and blood, even after He has ascended again, the same offence already lies in the fact that His flesh, which has been given up to death, is to be eaten.

**) As de Wette p. 88 explains.


And yet the evangelist must have had something in mind when he made this transition, and before we can reproach him for what otherwise only happens to profane poets and even to Homer from time to time, we must have tried all possibilities. The following statement of the Lord: “The spirit gives life, the flesh is of no use. My words are spirit and life” (v. 63), or actually not this saying, but his passage here, proves that the evangelist had already reflected on the enjoyment of the Lord’s Supper. Therefore he brings these sayings here, in order to remind his readers at the same time that the flesh and blood of the Lord, which is offered for consumption in the Lord’s Supper, is not sensual, and that the demand for this consumption is to be grasped spiritually. Anyone who would still want to draw further conclusions from here regarding the theory of the evangelist would go too far and push the reflection of the same beyond its standpoint. Enough! He seems to have solved the difficulty contained in the idea of that enjoyment by shifting it altogether to the realm of the spirit, without finding a more specific answer to the question of how. Thus, we now indeed come back to the explanation that the ascension of the Lord should establish the relocation of this enjoyment to the spiritual sphere, and therefore actually eliminate the offense. But we cannot hold onto this explanation alone, because the form of the transition to a greater offense is too clearly defined, and the evangelist refrains from his tendency to pile offense upon offense, even in a context where he actually wanted to facilitate understanding. Thus, the complete contradiction between form and content has arisen.


The sayings which the Evangelist uses in v. 63 to explain the true enjoyment of the Lord’s flesh, both appeared so independent that they could not have been spoken in succession, as on this occasion – if the preceding discourse still existed as historical – so little on any other occasion. The first: “the spirit makes alive, the flesh is of no use” is most easily explained when it is brought about by a collision with some legal commandment. The other, “my words are spirit and life,” which is infinitely weakened if, as here, it means nothing else than “my words must be understood spiritually,” will have originated in a similar context and in the same sense in which the Lord called the weary and burden-bearing to himself and promised rest and refreshment to their souls.

13) Peter’s confession and Judas’ betrayal.


The discourse of the Saviour’s partaking of the flesh and blood was not actually delivered, the Jews could not grumble at it: so neither could many of the disciples take offence at their Master’s discourse, and he did not need to reveal his knowledge of their unbelief to them (v. 64.). It is not to be remotely asserted that those who had already drawn near to the Lord would not have turned away from Him again, if their willingness did not reach to the fulfilment of the Most High: but here, on this occasion, we say, no disciples could fall away from the Lord, because this occasion never happened. But the evangelist does not want to bring the matter to this catastrophe in vain; he takes it even further, to the Lord’s prophecy of an even deeper, more terrible catastrophe, and to calm the scene he adds the reconciling contrast with Peter’s enthusiastic confession.


The escalation reveals all too clearly its origin in the aesthetic contemplation according to which the author arranges the story and develops its various clusters. “There are some among you who do not believe” says the Lord v. 64. Earlier, or actually immediately in the account of Jesus’ first public appearance among the people, the evangelist had remarked that the Lord had seen through the inner man: now, in a later collision, it must be said that “from the beginning” the Lord had known which were the unbelievers among his disciples, so that he could never have been surprised by the apostasy of the weak; indeed, he had foreseen even the most despicable apostasy, the betrayal of Judas. It is not enough that the evangelist gives this only as his pragmatic remark, the Lord must finally say it himself (v. 70), that one of the disciples is a devil.

The pain of this scene of mourning is alleviated by Peter’s confession, who, on behalf of the others, vows constancy of faith and discipleship; for, he says in v. 68, “You have words of eternal life.” The synoptic account of Peter’s confession does not contain a counterpart, but a rival who fights with him for the field. The fact that Peter twice made the same confession is contradicted by the fact that the Synoptics also place his confession close to the feeding of the people (Matt. 15,16 Mark 8 Luke 9). Nor does this prove the double issue of fact, that in the account of the fourth Gospel he so enthusiastically praises the very words of life which the Lord had; for this praise was very near to him who let him speak, when the Lord had so just called his words life. It is one and the same confession which we hear here and there. But since it is linked in the fourth Gospel with speeches of the Lord, which are not only not given in this place, but are not given at all in this form, the Synoptics need not be ashamed that they do not have Peter proclaim the praise of such sayings, and the glory of having better motivated the confession of the disciple cannot be diminished by the fourth Evangelist.


As for the prophecy of Judas’ betrayal, we saw through what sequence of ideas it came to this place. However, the roots it has in this context go even deeper and lie even further back: just as the Lord’s statement that he is the bread of life develops into the talk of partaking in the Lord’s Supper, so too is the mention of unbelief among some followers escalated to the lamentation about the betrayal of one disciple, even to that lamentation that the Lord only expressed at the last meal he held with his disciples.

*) As also Weisse, evang. Gesch. ll, 235 notes.



§ 10. The first Sabbath violation

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§. 10 The first Sabbath violation.



1) The pool of Bethesda.


The Lord heals a sick man by His word, who could not have been healed in the pool of Bethesda. If the natural explanation otherwise always knows how to eliminate the appearance of the miracle in the Gospel accounts and thereby goes so far that it does not even allow the possibility of the witnessing of a miracle by eyewitnesses, then the description of the miraculous stirring of that pool, which was always supposed to be caused by an angel, must have been uncomfortable for it, for here it concerns the evangelist himself conveying a very strong, miracle-believing idea. On the other hand, to the believing point of view, which is otherwise very ready to accept miracles, this description of the way in which the water of the pool was from time to time imparted miraculous healing power by an angel, must have seemed objectionable, because it is in no way different from the popular superstition, which regards every striking natural phenomenon as an effect of higher spirits, as soon as it does not know how to explain it by its inner law. Both points of view, that of the natural explanation and that of the faithful contemplation of the Holy Scriptures, must therefore have welcomed the fact that in some of the older manuscripts this offensive description was not found, and so Paulus, Lücke, Tholuck and Olshausen declare it to be spurious and a later insertion *). But is the motive with which the modern devout view decides in favour of the testimonies which do not have this addition, so recent that it could not have had an effect earlier and have led to suspicion against those words? Was it not possible that from a certain point of view of spiritual education doubts could arise about the explanation of the healing power of the pool, so that according to the usual procedure, which is still valid today, one would not want to ascribe to the evangelist a view which one no longer shared? If, however, it is preferably the Alexandrian witnesses who completely omit the description of the miraculous power of the pool, it is very evident from the formation of the ground on which these witnesses stand, and from the arbitrariness with which they also proceed in other matters of this kind **), that they have here exercised their criticism, or rather their after-criticism, on the basis of a certain presupposition. And if we consider that human nature has not suddenly transformed itself in our time, and that it did not just start to determine the object according to its inclinations and desires today, but rather what is a plague in our time had previously been expressed in individual signs in critical questions, we will no longer be unclear about how it happened that particularly on the Alexandrian soil that aspect of our report was viewed with suspicion and rejected as a superstition unworthy of the gospel of the Logos *). The inclination to believe in miracles, which otherwise so readily accepted such traits, was in this case pushed back by the preference with which one sought to keep the image of the Christian logician pure, and this was all the more easily overcome, the more the explanation of the healing power of the water was portrayed in a sensory manner. We do not need to develop in detail what has already been pointed out, that the following narrative itself presupposes every aspect of the description of the miraculous power of the pond; for if the sick man says (V. 7.) that he has no one to bring him into the water when it starts to move, this points to the earlier explanation that a secret power moves the water. Furthermore, the complaint of the sick person that he could never get into the water first, because someone else always came before him, would be incomprehensible if it had not been said beforehand that only he who got into the water first, as soon as it began to move, would be healed. However, the report could not tacitly assume such a miraculous quality of the pond, but had to emphasise it and possibly explain it, i.e. as far as possible. Or if one wanted to be content with the closing words of the third verse, that the sick always waited for the movement of the water, one need only try this economical sparseness for a moment to immediately have the sensation of an intolerable break: After the report had begun such a detailed description of the situation – of course! because he knew that what followed needed and deserved careful preparation – he should suddenly break off halfway and, by saying that the sick were awaiting the movement, give his words a definiteness which would only have seemed to remain if he had not described this movement and its nature in more detail? Therefore, instead of “not taking the liberty of declaring the whole passage unworthy of attention” with Lücke *), we must rather describe it completely and unabridged in the interest of the evangelist himself and his report as absolutely necessary. The explanation cannot be omitted if the account is to be coherent and not belong to the disabled who surround that pool. If we are now forced to give the offensive passage its well-founded place in our Gospel, it still does not justify the conclusion that a disciple of the Lord could not be the author of this Gospel. For it is not essential to a disciple of Jesus that he should immediately have been set apart from all the views of his people, nor is it the way in which the Holy Spirit works that he should violently tear those to whom he communicates himself out of all the conditions of their previous life and thought, even as far as it concerns a more definite knowledge of nature**). At least it would have had to be done by force if the first disciples had been torn out of a popular belief that could only give way to a scientifically mediated education after thousands of years. And finally, in the impossible case that the evangelist did not share a popular belief, of which even Lücke assumes *) that it existed at the time of Jesus and had stealthily forced its way into our Gospel through the Christians of the first times, would it not then have been the evangelist’s duty to do everything to make its intrusion impossible and to reject it forever? Should he not, since in the words of the sick man he still reproduces all the elements of that popular belief and gives the impression that he understands them in the same way as the sick man, have done away with this appearance and given a more educated, intelligible explanation, especially as expected of his later interpreters? Certainly, he would have given it if he had thought as he ought to have thought in the enlightened times of today’s apologists, but could not in his own time.

*) Paul’s Comm. on the Gospel of John, p. 262, calls the explanation given by the addition of the movement of the water a “superstitious” one; Tholuck even assumes (Comm. p. 122) that it is an “apocryphal gloss.

**) Just think of the question of the author of the Apocalypse.

*) The critical arbitrariness of the Gnostics was, of course, only peculiar to them to this high degree, but in individual statements it was not entirely foreign to the other church teachers.

*) Comm. II, p. 17.

**) As is well known, no one in modern times has expressed this principle more often than Neander, and he also credits the fourth evangelist with it several times (e.g., Life of Jesus, p. 334, History of Planting, etc., 1833, p. 324), but why does he now suddenly forget it when he derives that explanation of the miraculous power of the pool of Bethesda from an “old gloffem”?

*) Comm. II, 18. Olshausen, Comm. II, 127, even thinks that the addition came into the text from manuscripts “to the margin of which the owners had added this note from their own observation.” Finally, Paul, who also transfers this popular belief to the time of Jesus, says (Comm. p. 288.): “one must still, in a certain sense, thank those who added the legend to the text.


So far, then, it remains the same that this passage belongs to the author of the Gospel, but in no way does him dishonour, since nothing is taken away from his dignity once he has followed the poetic naturalist, the popular belief. But the matter becomes more dangerous and threatening for him if we go after this popular belief more seriously and ask whether it really existed for the author. It would be inexplicable if it were so, as Josephus then knows nothing of this Pool of Bethesda, nothing of the angel who miraculously set it in motion, reports nothing of it, since he otherwise does not like to conceal the miraculous treasures of his people and also mentions several pools of Jerusalem. Under these circumstances, the testimony of Eusebius to this pool has no more critical value than the testimony of Ambrose to the discovery of the cross or than the scholarship of the people, who have created a sacred geography for themselves out of the evangelical history on the often churned ruins of the holy city and still know how to show that pool without hesitation. The apologist helps himself by supposing that Josephus may have mentioned the miraculous pool under a different name, but the fact that he does not mention its miraculous nature is the height of difficulty. A magical healing power, which daily led shafts of sick people to the pool, must have made this pool strange and important to the Jewish archaeologist, because of the wonderful light which it could impart to the holy city. Nor should it be said that “Josephus had no opportunity to mention the pool; to mention a pool of such excellent and outstanding miraculous power would have been an opportunity for him to mention anything, even the most remote. If Josephus is now so completely silent about this treasure of the holy city, it certainly does not require any wilful doubt to put us into the greatest anxiety about whether such a pool really existed in Jerusalem, i.e. at the same time whether the evangelist had indeed followed an original popular belief or – One will try in vain to cut through this double question by pointing to the speech of the sick man, in which at least the whole miraculous nature of the pool is clearly enough presupposed. The matter only becomes worse; for far from proving the miraculous power of the pond and the popular belief, this speech itself must now be doubted, and the possibility intrudes that it itself, together with the belief in the “miraculous” power of that water which it presupposes, has only arisen from a situation formed later. And this possibility condenses ever more inexorably into reality the more seriously we consider Josephus’ silence and the extraordinary miraculous power of the pond. No other means of resolution remains here than the assumption that the evangelist is following a legend which sought to emphasise a simpler material, which in itself is a miracle, even more by a miraculous contrast. The miraculous word of the Lord heals a sick man whose helplessness had long prevented him from benefiting from the miraculous healing water.


2) The sick man.


The assumption that the evangelist used a material found in legend would not only relieve us of the embarrassing difficulties into which we would fall with regard to his character if the opposite assumption were made: it also frees us from the irresolvable contradictions into which other features of the report enter with all reality. For the world, even in its worst times, is not so depraved; no man is ever so forsaken as the words of the sick man, V. 7, are supposed to imply. He has no one, he complains, who will immediately bring him into the water when it is moved miraculously. But no one? And if he had no one, was there no one to bring him into the healing water? Impossible! But the sick man must have had someone to take care of him, for someone must have carried him to the pond on his bed, which he could only carry himself after he had been healed, and whoever had taken pity on him so kindly every day would also have done him the lesser service of love. The legend could let the sick person speak as he does, in order to contrast the healing power of the Lord with the extreme helplessness, which is all the greater, the more help has always eluded him. In reality, however, this situation is impossible. It is also inconceivable that this helplessness would require for its explanation that the sick at that pond or the friends who took care of them would have been left to themselves. For if it was always only the first who found healing in the water when it began to move, and if it was only up to their or their friends’ power and strength that they gained the lead over others: what terrible, oppressive tumult would we have to imagine at this pond, what crude appearances would have occurred here daily? Under these circumstances, some kind of official supervision would have been ordered long ago, so that it would not be left to the self-help and violence of individuals to gain the lead. And if this supervision, which properly watched over the order of events, had certainly been appointed by the priesthood, how – we must ask again – could Josephus have been unaware of the matter or not have found it noteworthy? But even without the help of the police, the appalling turmoil, which would have plunged the cripples into the pond as even bigger cripples or as crushed people, has been put to rest for us, since it has been shown that this entire sanatorium is the stuff of legend.


Finally, how does the author know, or rather how did Jesus know (v. 6), that the sick man had been afflicted for a long time, namely 38 years? The sick man could not have told the Lord, for there is no room for such a revelation in the discourses he has with him: on the contrary, it is precisely because the Lord knows the duration of his suffering that he turns to him. Therefore, the disciples could not have been moved by idle curiosity to ask the sick man about such things. Nor will the Lord have learned from others how long the sick man had been suffering, for no sooner had he arrived in Jerusalem than he saw him lying by chance at the pool as an unknown person, so that he must have seen with his penetrating gaze, without needing to learn from human information *), how long the sick man’s suffering had lasted. This, it seems, is how the evangelist sees the matter, and this is how he wants us to see it, but we must not, for the Lord alone would have to have chosen such a long-suffering sick person from the mass of others, so that the miraculous healing would appear all the more extraordinary. In the usual way, therefore, the duration of the sick person’s suffering should not have been known, nor can the Lord have known it in a miraculous way: has the author perhaps drawn the definite number from the stock of his imagination? This is not possible either, for if he wanted to make the cure seem all the greater by the duration of the illness, he would have been content with an indefinite and all the more magnifying relation or would have reached for a round, common number. Or if he had intended a deeper intimation by the number, he would have implied the purpose. The number must therefore have been handed down to him by the legend, and the latter, however, could have arrived at this particular number through a spiritual, poetic perception and through a specific purpose, by seeing in it a symbol which the author, if he did not suspect it from the outset, did not need to become aware of. Hengstenberg offers us a helpful hand here; at least he reveals to us the meaning of the symbol which we must now, after the failure of all other attempts at explanation, assume here. The newer Christologist only says: “we regard this sick person as a type of the Jewish people”; namely, how the latter, after 38 years of misery, in which it bore its guilt of sin, took possession of the Promised Land with the celebration of the Passover, one must find a relation to this if the sick person was healed after 38 years of suffering at the time of the Passover *). But the interpreter, who discovers such a beautiful correspondence between the image and the counter-image, will not assume that Jesus came into contact with the sick man by chance and without knowing which treasure of typicality he was touching? From his point of view, Hengstenberg can only allow himself to say, “We contemplate”, if the Lord had intended this contemplation, when he set his eyes on this very sick person among the crowd of others. But we cannot ascribe this intention to the Lord, for if so many speeches and such a serious involvement were connected with this healing, he should at least have revealed in one word the higher purpose he had in mind, indeed he should have shown the hostile people, who condemned him because of this healing, the image of himself in the sick man. It is rather possible that for the view of the congregation the healed man became an image of the general misery or rather for the Jewish coloured view an image of the misery which the holy people had once contracted through their guilt and from which they were freed again by the divine good pleasure. So far, then, the symbolic interpretation can be admitted, but this is also certain: the evangelist has taken the number without being aware of a symbolic reference in it.

*) Nemine indice, as Bengel correctly explains in the context.

*) Christ0logie II, 568.


3) The Sabbath.


Just as the situation with its preconditions could not stand up to criticism, so the transition from the situation to the action will not be able to prove reliable. Jesus asks the sick person: do you want to get well? What has not all been sought and found in this question? Tholuck and Olshausen let the Lord awaken the attention, longing and receptivity of the sick person with the question, Lücke the good will, so that this serves as an “analogy of faith” to the inner point of connection of the miracle. As if the question were more than a creature of pragmatism, since the author, in order to get from the presupposed situation to the matter itself, needed a transition, and how could he form such a transition more easily and simply than by letting the Lord relate to the sick person in the first place? If the Lord had wanted to awaken the confidence of the sick person for the miraculous healing, he would have had to know him, which is not the case according to the report. And then the Lord would have had to relate his question to himself and say: Shall I help you? For the sick man’s wish to be healed is already expressed clearly enough in the fact that, despite years of thwarted attempts, he nevertheless did not lose heart, and rather allowed himself to be brought to the pool again and again.

The healing happened on a Sabbath and resulted in a conflict with the legal anxiety of the people. To mention it in passing – when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he not only rose above the “Pharisaic petty spirit” *) which had surrounded the simple Mosaic law with a multitude of commandments and prohibitions, but he then declared the OT commandment to be one which could not put any barriers against the spirit in its original freedom and movement. With no word, not even with the slightest hint, does the Lord mention rabbinical statutes in his responsibility, he does not say that one must only distinguish the simple law from its later enclosures, but he goes straight for the Mosaic provision and says of this that the spirit with its free activity may and must reach beyond it.

*) As Lücke says, II, 21.


But is it really because of this that the sick man was healed on a Sabbath? Certainly it seems certain enough, since the Lord must justify himself against the accusation of the Jews with a saying that seems to refer only to a conflict with the Sabbath law. As the Father never rests, but works continually, so, says Jesus (v. 17), the image must follow the divine archetype. **) Although this saying seems to presuppose a collision with the Sabbath law, it is not yet beyond doubt that it arose on this occasion and that the sick man was healed on a Sabbath. On the contrary, the opposite case becomes more certain when we consider the historical course by which the Lord’s answer is supposed to have been brought about.

**) When Lücke (II, 23.) says: “Jesus does not want to touch the Sabbath law itself, but only the abuses which the carnal mind of the Jews allowed themselves,” this is the constant apologetic play on the word “carnal,” which cannot be rebuked seriously enough. Was not the law itself “carnal” when it limited creation and divine rest to days and demanded pure unemployment on the Sabbath in imitation of the divine archetype? Must the rabbinical fearfulness be understood only as a carnal corruption of the spiritual law, was it not rather the proliferating growth of the original “flesh?


Jesus heals the sick man and tells him to carry his bed and to appear freely. When the Jews see the healed man carrying his bed and point out to him that he is breaking the Sabbath command, he refers to the commandment of the one who healed him, but when asked by the Jews, he does not know who it was. By chance he meets Jesus again in the temple and only now, when the Lord called out to him: sin no more, lest something worse happen to you, does he know to tell the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. If he did not know Jesus before, if he did not get to know him through the healing, then he could not get to know him even at a second meeting with him without further ado. Something special that opened his eyes did not intervene, for the fact that the Lord warned him of distant sins could not appear to him as something remarkable, something outstanding, since it was a Jewish idea in general that sickness and misery were punishment for sin, so that he too could be warned by anyone else and, if necessary, by himself in that way. The fact that the sick man did not immediately learn who the Savior was is explained in v. 13 by the fact that Jesus withdrew from the crowd that was standing by. Well, then at least some of the bystanders must have known Jesus, for if they were not attentive to the incident or did not speak of the miracle worker, Jesus had hastily withdrawn without purpose or need; thus the healed man could easily have learned from them to whom he owed his recovery. However, even if there were reasons beyond our understanding why he did not know it, afterwards he could not have known it either, since his encounter with Jesus in the temple appears only as a momentary and quickly passing one. Since it was only accidental, the new difficulty arises that Jesus should have left it to chance whether he could call out to the sick man a warning, which, if it was essential and necessary, he should have given immediately after the healing, when he ordered him to stand up and carry the bed. Against the order to carry the bed, even the warning not to sin anymore is the more important thing for the salvation of the soul, and the essential, spiritual thing should have followed so late like an accidental addendum or like an occasional appendix? Since we are not able to recognize anything that looks like history in all of this, the fact that the healing took place on the Sabbath also fades into the area in which the other features of this report have their home, into the area of pragmatism. Or shall we, in order to complete the proof, still ask why Jesus hid himself after the healing and afterwards (probably soon after, if the heat of the Jewish investigation for the physician of the sick should not cool down) walks around freely in the temple? Lücke’s statement, that the Lord wanted to avoid similar things, like 6:15 which always had to be feared *), contradicts too much the context, according to which (5:15, 18.) the murderous Jews are by no means inclined to make the Sabbath-breaker their king. We should also ask how the evangelist knows about the two times he touched the hostile Jews or why the Lord does not present Himself as the spiritual Savior and the bodily Savior, as He usually does (Matt. 9:2-3) and as is worthy of Him. No, we do not need to remind you that the sick man had already violated the Sabbath by letting himself be carried on his bed to the pool.

*) Comm, II, 22.


If it therefore only remains to explain how the author came to place the healing of the sick man on a Sabbath, we have to remember that this healing is one of the few points where an agreement with the synoptic reports of the public activity of the Lord is found. Also Matthew (op. cit.) knows about the healing of a paralytic (which seems to be the sick man of the fourth gospel, since he lacks the use of his limbs), who was healed by the Lord on his bed. But if our gospel has only a few points in common with the synoptic reports of the public life of Jesus, then with regard to the facts similar things will have happened to it, what otherwise in the evangelical historiography tends to happen with the speeches of the Lord, namely that, because in the memory the empirical quantity of the occasions was condensed, what in reality lay far apart was heaped together on one point. If we add to this the fact that the fourth evangelist reports only a few miraculous deeds of the Lord, it is no longer conspicuous and it was self-evident that he added the conflict with the Sabbath law to the healing of the paralytic.

What seemed offensive and inexplicable to us until now, is now explained as a necessary consequence of the pragmatism, which had to present itself to the author as natural, if he did not have the hostile Jews immediately at hand and had to lead them to the attack against the Lord first. The healed man himself had to form the middle link and first attract the attention of the Jews by walking freely and publicly before them carrying his bed (v. 9).


But now the evangelist remembers that the Lord did not like to make an appearance with his miraculous deeds and usually withdrew after such a deed; so he surrounds him with a crowd immediately at the healing of the sick man (v. 13) in contradiction to this first condition. The evangelist thought he needed this retreat of Jesus to explain how it came about that the sick man did not know his Savior, and he overlooks the fact that Jesus could not have been completely unknown to the crowd if he thought he had to retreat. But if the sick man should nevertheless tell the Jews who had authorized him to violate the Sabbath, then he had to meet Jesus again, even if it remains inexplicable how he comes to know him as Jesus at the second merely occasional meeting. But if the author was led to assume a twice repeated contact of the sick man with Jesus, then it was necessary for the connection of the individual parts that the words of the Lord belonging together were separated and used on two occasions. The question, finally, why and in what spirit the healed man told the Jews that it was Jesus who had restored him to health, is now answered by the fact that it is completely omitted, and we do not need to agonize over it with the apologists. Only from the plan, according to which the healed man was once the only mediator between the Jews and the Lord, did this report come forth, and as little as the evangelist was concerned about whether the healed man might not appear as a malicious, ungrateful braggart, or whether the more innocent motive of obedience to the authorities might be the reason for the report, so little do we have to worry about this profound question.


4) Jesus’ speech of defense.


There follows a series of sayings of Jesus, all of which are connected to the fact that the Jews wanted to kill Him because He called God His own Father, and thus made Himself equal with God. Jesus wants to appease the murderous zealots by saying (v. 19, 20) that the Son does what he sees the Father do, and that the Father shows him out of love all that he himself does. This beginning of the discourse must already disconcert us, for it only repeats that which had given the Jews so much offence, but does not remove the offence or prove what seemed to the opponents an impossibility. For the kind of aesthetic sense that delights in contrasts without examining their elasticity and durability, it is, however, melodious when Lücke says: “Jesus calmly contrasts the unbelief of the Jews with the decisive self-awareness of his messianic dignity and power” *). That Jesus was able to do this is undeniable, and that he did it otherwise is proven often enough by the Synoptics. But then the Lord’s answer had to be short, compact, decisive, and not, as happens here, lose itself in a rambling argument, which at every moment gave rise to new objections and reflections. If, on the other hand, the Lord, as Lücke states **), had at the same time intended “to correct the false, incoherent ideas of the Jews about the Messiah”, then the speech, if it was not to be spoken in vain, would have to take into account the contrast step by step and let this intention emerge more clearly. But such a thing is not found either, and when the Lord says (v. 20) that the Father would show the Son even greater works than the present hearers had seen, “that they might marvel,” this is the right expression for the turn the speech takes here. They had to marvel at what was now opened to them, and even after this opening the Lord had to call out to them again with justification: do not marvel! (v. 28. ) For so lofty are these sayings, so inaccessible to the presupposed unbelief of the murderous hearers, that only wonder remained for them, but not wonder, which is the beginning, but the enemy of all knowledge, because it dulls the spirit from the beginning.

*) Comm. II, 26.

**) Ibid.


And indeed the Lord *), after having expounded his supreme authority of judgment and the raising of the dead, “is compelled by the obstinate incomprehension of his adversaries to give a different turn to his discourse,” v. 31. For he, says the Lord, does not testify of himself, but it is another who testifies of him. He will not appeal to the testimony of John the Baptist as that of a human being for himself, and he will only invoke it for the sake of the listeners, so that they may believe and be saved. Rather, he had a greater testimony, namely, the works which God had entrusted to him and which he was now carrying out. But again, the Lord must see that he also appeals to this highest testimony in vain, for the inner revelation, the word of the Father inwardly, his unbelieving opponents do not have in them in a lasting way, and so it is not to be wondered at that they also do not believe the testimony which the Scriptures bear of him.

*) As Lücke again correctly explains, ibid, p. 27.

This overview in the present passage reveals a well-meant apologetic, an apologetic that the struggle with doubt and unbelief had to call forth early on, and which even in its outlines is pretty much the same as it still looks in our situation, i.e. it does not move from its place with approaches taken again and again in vain and remains resolved in the same circle. But it must be impossible for us to banish the Lord and his victorious word into this barren circle of tautology; we owe the Lord the confession that we do not recognise the clarity and certainty of his spirit, as well as his sublimity above the antithesis in these windings and in this anxious alternation of approach and relapse. The Lord could not have spoken in such a way that in every sentence he was conscious of the uselessly wasted effort and only lost and entangled himself, as if out of embarrassment, in proofs of which, according to the premise of this speech, he should at the same time know that they would all be of little use. We do not deprive the Lord of anything, but rather free his image from a disturbing course, if we admit that it is only the evangelist who has put together this apologetic edifice. The presupposed situation of a hostile contact of the Lord with the people seemed to him to be the suitable occasion on which words of the Lord, which were originally intended to prove the divinity of his work or which might not have been uttered with this purpose, were spoken. But if it had already happened to him that the Lord’s sayings, which were meant to prove his divine authority and mission when uttered on special occasions, fell into a misguided place in this context, it must have been even more the case with words that originally did not serve this specific purpose at all, but were rather only the pure, unintentional expression of the Lord’s inner power and glory. But if the danger of change is so near, we would only be halfway in the following explanation of these sayings and would still have to fear a hidden enemy if we did not also want to examine the presupposition that these sayings, apart from their position, belong completely to the Lord.


5) The likeness of the Son.


“What the Father doeth, that doeth the Son likewise.” As much as these words are inwardly connected with the preceding ones, “My Father worketh, and so worketh I also,” in that they are only the general expression for them, it is not very probable that they were spoken in succession with them on the same occasion, if they belong to the Lord. The saying, “My Father works, and so do I,” is a self-contained, perfectly complete entity that does not require any additional emphasis to enhance its impact. In itself, it is perfectly clear and has a great lasting effect on the mind; the statement actually loses power when reduced to a general formula. So the Lord has made these reflective observations at another time? This is not yet necessary and is by no means beyond all doubt; at least the dogmatic attitude, which is expressed in the negation (the Son can do nothing of himself) and the corresponding affirmation must make it more probable that a simple, original core has been theoretically worked out by the evangelist. In the Synoptics we find similar sayings which point to the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son, as, for example, Matt. 11:27 ascribes to the Son the perfect vision of the Father and to the Son the same vision of the Son. But the speculative implementation of this relationship, its application to the entire work of salvation, the distinction between the archetype, which is contained in the eternal divine activity, and the after-image in the activity of the Son, the relationship of both sides, which is intelligibly conceived as the teaching of the Father, and finally their deeper union in the love of the Father for the Son: All this unmistakably resembles a later theory which sought to understand the relationship between the Father and the Son, and contradicts the certain immediacy with which the Lord contemplated and expressed His unity with the Father. The simple idea of unity with the Father and that of obedience grew into a dogmatic development in that saying.


6) The raising of the dead and the judgment.


Anyone who does not believe in dogmatic theory in the fourth Gospel must abandon their disbelief when they consider the statement in V. 21-30 carefully, both on its own and in the context of its surroundings. The statement is meant to provide the highest example of how the Father shows the Son everything and how the Son in fact reflects the prototype of his perception. This idea, however, runs through the entire exposition from beginning to end: nevertheless, the transition from the general purpose to the explanatory example, which holds everything together, is such that it cannot have been made by Jesus in reality. It is only a dogmatic bracket, a makeshift and a work of embarrassment that could not have mediated this leap from the general to the most specific individuality in any other way. Any other aspect of the Lord’s redemptive activity could have been cited as an example of how the Son follows the perception of the divine prototype in everything, for the Lord always and in all things demonstrated his obedience to the divine will. However, when the discussion suddenly shifts to the invigorating activity in spiritual creation, judgment, and the resurrection of the dead, the transition had to be made in such a way that the astonishment of the listeners was determined as the purpose (V. 20), and this purpose had to be achieved precisely because of the nature of the transition, as the speech indicates with commendable consistency against its own structure in V. 28. However, this also reveals the intention with which the speech was originally designed and proves the artificiality of the exposition.


But no! Let’s first say, the artificiality of the transition; before we judge the explanation itself, we need to examine it more closely. Corresponding perfectly to its purpose, the speech starts with the general divine archetype and develops the copy according to the individual aspects in which it expresses the archetype, until it concludes with a glance back to the general archetype. The Father, that forms the beginning, awakens the dead and brings them to life (v. 2l.), and his will is accomplished, as in the quickening efficacy, so also in the judgment which the Son executes, for only through this conformity to the will of the Father is it just (v. 30.). The divine archetype, the efficacy of the Father, who awakens the dead and brings them to life, is presupposed to be universal and to embrace the entire development of the spiritual world; but the representation in the after-image proceeds in two acts, each of which is again divided into the two sides of the raising to life and the judgment. The impartation of life, which proceeds from the Son, is at first conceived as such as already takes place in the historical world (νυν εστιν ωρα v. 25.); but it is still a limited one, for only “whom he will” does the Son animate, or rather, since his will is not arbitrary, he who honours him and in him the Father has already passed from death to life in the present through the mediation of the Son. If, therefore, only those who listen to the voice of the Son pass from death to life, the other side is that the unbelievers remain imprisoned in death and are already judged, for they are those whom the Son does not want to revive. But where does the Son get the power and authority to revive and to judge? Therefore, because the Father has given it to the Son to have life in Himself, as He Himself has it in Him, and the Son has the authority of judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Especially this last provision is truly profound and thorough: the judgment, which is carried out in history inwardly and in self-awareness, is carried out by the Lord, because he, as the Son of man, is the completed idea of humanity, and humanity in its historical development can only be judged through its idea.


Do not be surprised – v. 28 says at the transition of the speech to the end, namely to the last judgement – do not be surprised that the Son of Man attributes this power to himself, for the hour is coming in which all in the graves will hear his voice and come forth to the resurrection of life or to judgement. The only explanation appropriate to the course of the discourse, where the aim is ever greater astonishment, is that of which the transition to the end is conceived as the transition to the most astonishing. Do not be surprised, that is the meaning of the transition, do not be surprised at the power which I ascribe to myself, for it will reveal itself even more gloriously, greater and more comprehensively, when the resurrection will prove itself not only inwardly in the historical world of the spirit, but also as the resurrection of the body. The opposite view *), that the Jews should conclude from what is known and common, from the resurrection of the dead already known from the prophetic promise, to that which is more difficult for them to access, to the revival already taking place in the present, this view is already inappropriate because the centre is always missing for this conclusion, namely the concession that Jesus is the one promised by the prophets. The image of the Messiah is rather presented as a free centre in itself and only one feature is added after the other in order to complete the vision of his glory in a progressive increase. In the work of painting, what was already not taken into account at the transition is completely forgotten, namely that this image of Messianic authority was to be held up to the Jews, who did not even recognise that Jesus was the Messiah at all.

*) In Weisse, evang. Gesch. II, 221.


It only takes an overview of this many-faceted dogmatic work to see that it cannot belong to the Lord in this form. Written as it lies before us, we can follow its twists and turns and let ourselves be carried away by its gradual progress, especially since its content has long since become known to us. But spoken to those who were to hear in it for the first time truths hitherto closed to them, it must have been utterly incomprehensible, and instead of drawing the listener along in its progress, it would rather have had to confuse him with its twists and turns and, by plunging him from one astonishment into another, stupefy him. Yes, just read the whole passage, the slower and more deliberately the better, follow its artful concatenation and then still have the heart to claim that it could have been grasped by people who heard it for the first time and, what is more, should have heard it in stubborn unbelief.


If one believes otherwise, one may at least attribute it to the play of the aesthetic impression that others cannot find a spoken word of the Lord here: well! then there are still certain reasons that this speech does not belong to the Lord. “All things are delivered unto me”-that was possible for the Lord to say, and is explicable from the fullness of his self-consciousness; but to regard it in the objective relation of purpose: “the Father hath delivered up judgment unto the Son, that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father”-that is only for later reflection, for which the main features of the heavenly household are already positively given, and which now wants to come to a clarity about the relation of the individual provisions. The Lord could clearly and openly describe himself as the mediator of resurrection and judgment, and he did so, but only because he knew himself to be the promised one. But how far is it now from this simplicity and certainty of self-awareness to the question of the definite side of the Son’s relationship to the Father, in which His quickening power lies, or of the side of His historical appearance, in which His authority to judge is founded. Before these questions could be asked, life and judgment must already have manifested themselves many times in the spiritual world of the congregation, and the personality of the Lord must already have become a free object of reflection. These determinations, that the Son was the mediator of life because it was given to Him to have life in Himself as the Father has it in Him, that He, as the Son of Man, had the authority of judgment, were drawn from the depths of the spirit of the congregation, they were views which brought together the whole fullness of the determinations of the subject matter: but they could only be conveyed through the historical conditions indicated.


Now, when these determinations have been transferred from the Lord’s self-consciousness into their true birthplace, into the spirit of the congregation and into the later believing contemplation, the question still remains whether the distinction of a twofold resurrection and of a judgment on this side and on the other is really pronounced by Jesus. Why not? answers the believing consciousness at once, and we could be reassured by its answer, if it were not determined in such questions less by faith in the Lord than by believing familiarity with the letter of Scripture. Or does the doubting critic believe to discover a contradiction in this speech and says, for example, Gfrörer*), “the common Jewish opinion of the last day and the Last Judgment and the spiritual doctrine of the resurrection, which exclude each other, are directly related to each other, the Lord, who was far above his time, taught only the latter and John added the former from his stock”: even then apologetics is not helpless. No contradiction, it says, is present here; the Last Judgement and the inner-worldly historical judgement do not exclude each other, but the latter is only the completion of the former, and both join together in the continuity of the beginning and the end. Well said! This would be quite good if the question were only whether the thing itself is contradictory, and not rather whether the Lord has made the reflective distinction between a judgment on this side and one on the other.

*) The Sacred and the True p. 56-58.


In this purity we must hold the question if its solution is to arise, for now, we see, it is nothing else than the question whether teachings on the immortality of the soul and on the resurrection fall directly within the sphere of revelation. Empirically, we must answer in the negative, for in the OT, from the standpoint of the Law, no information is given anywhere about immortality and resurrection, and the old depressed conception of the room where the Fathers are gathered creeps like a dark shadow through the light world of the Law. The prophets speak of resurrection and judgement only after this higher certainty had been born in the human breast and in its inner struggles. And when the Lord speaks of judgment and resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels, he does so in no other way than by presupposing these views as certain, long known ones.

It is also in the nature of things that revelation itself cannot directly convey any teachings. As it seizes upon human beings, it grasps them in their present, historical determinacy and, with the demand that they absolutely overcome it, elevates them into its ideal world, which presents itself to them as immediately certain. This world that exists in and of itself is always opposed to the empirically given world, but correspondingly and absolutely parallel in contrast. Thus, the law commands the killing of the inclination to serve nature and demands submission to the divine will, the prophets are raised from the fragmentation of the legal world to the immediate vision of the divine plan, and the savior brings the message that the kingdom of heaven has come for sinners. If the actual self-consciousness has already fought for the direction towards a beyond, in and of itself being world through its internal historical movement, then, of course, the revelation also seizes upon this direction and spreads accordingly. Of course, the law could not attach itself to the old shapeless shadow world of the Hebrews or even relate to it at all, but for the prophetic vision, for which the resurrection was already certain, the divine counsel developed up to the future judgment, and in the kingdom of heaven that came with it, the Lord knew himself to be the only mediator until the completion in the Last Judgment.


For Jesus, in this view, which knew itself to be the same from the present to the consummation of the future and was sure of itself between the two limits, life and death, salvation and damnation were as much a present as a future decision. When he says that he came as a physician to the sick and sinful, but not to the righteous and healthy, it is already in the present that he exercises judgment, accepts sinners, makes them alive and rejects the pride of the righteous. The Lord could then unhesitatingly turn to the other side and speak of the judgment of the last day, without feeling the slightest need of a reflective mediation of this future with the present. Both sides, which are distinguished in the fourth Gospel and are set in relation to each other in such a way that the astonishment about them is foreseen, were so unabashedly united for Jesus’ self-awareness that the thought of astonishment about their relationship could not even arise in him. When, therefore, Gfrörer demands that only the one side, the thought of the present judgment, should be placed in the consciousness of Jesus, he is just as far from the goal as he who would now assert that only the other side, the thought of the future judgment, belongs to the Lord. No, the Lord united both sides in his consciousness, but in that unity into which the reflection on the relationship had not yet penetrated. Only later, when the congregation had already been formed and had felt the double-edged power of the spirit in itself and in its contact with the world, did self-consciousness descend into its inner world, and in it became acquainted with the ground of a judgment which even now decided on life and death. It was only then that the intelligible distinction between a present and a future judgment arose, and it could be called out to the unbelievers: do not be surprised that we speak of a present judgment, for he is already judge now who will also judge once in the consummation of time.

But if in this speech only the thought of the resurrection and the judgment remains as the original material, then it becomes even clearer how little this apologetic fragment belongs into the presupposed historical relationship.

7) The testimony of the Baptist.


The following apologetic argument is only put forward by the Lord in such a way that he spurns it for his own person and sets it back infinitely against another higher one. It is the testimony of the Baptist. Because it is only the testimony of a man, says Jesus, he does not accept it and only brings it to the memory of the Jews, so that they may thereby come to faith and life, for they, as men, could be content with a testimony of their own kind, even in their highest matters, where it concerns the salvation of their souls. Even to the dullest feeling this turn of phrase must give the impression that the voice of the Lord is not to be heard here. This turn of phrase, by which a testimony is only half given, or with averted countenance, as if it were unworthy of acceptance, and yet is excluded, and at the same time again thrust upon others with a defensive hand, is truly not due to the Lord, but belongs only to the apologist, who wants to heap argument upon argument, and give the appearance of abundance, by not needing any of them at all for necessity. Do we say again that this is only the aesthetic indifference of the critic? Then say only that it is worthy of the Lord, nevertheless, to make use of a proof halfway and for the awakening of faith, of which he at the same time says that he may not use it for himself with good reason, because it is deeply beneath his glory.


But could the Lord speak in this way about his relationship with the Baptist*)? Yes, if the preacher of repentance had come forth in his own authority and of his own accord, then the Lord could say that he could not accept his testimony, but then he could not also bring it up for the salvation of others. However, if the Baptist was sent by God, then the divine plan was revealed in his appearance, and faithful contemplation was no longer dealing with just a man, but with the divine will itself – in short, with a divine testimony. In general, however, the Lord would have lapsed into extreme Ostentation if he had wanted to detach the development of the Kingdom of God, which had him as its goal and was the divine omen of his coming, from his own person and only give it a makeshift relationship to others who might thereby be brought to faith. How different it is in the Synoptics, where the Lord refers to the promises of the prophets and does not shy away from describing the Baptist as the Elijah who was to prepare the way for him.

*) As soon as the apologist seriously elevates the pragmatic turns of the evangelist to general principles, the untrue nature of them is immediately apparent, Compare e. g. Tholuck, Comm. See, for example, Tholuck, Comm, p. 127.


8) The testimony of works.


The higher testimony, against which the Lord sets so far above that of John, lies in the works which he performs according to the Father’s command, and which now bear witness to him and his divine mission. After the earlier commentators had tried in vain to give the expression “works” (εργα) a closer definition, one has recently come to the correct understanding that the works are to designate all sides of the Messianic activity of the Lord. They are the totality of the individual determinations which “the work,” το εργον (C. 17, 4) sums up as the whole.

The nature of the abstract brings with it that it does not express the fullness of individual determinations as such, but a strong and healthy abstract can always awaken the view of its inner richness by uniting the actual abundance of the individual to unity. With this abstract, however, we would labour in vain if we wished to connect with it at the same time that vivid view, especially when, as here, it stands isolated and cannot enrich itself from the context. If, when we hear the word “works”, we are to list all the individual aspects of the Lord’s activity one after the other in our thoughts, this is a dead, mechanical linkage, which is always exposed to the danger of counting too many individual things or too few. And now even “the work” is so colourless and bodiless without a more detailed definition that the view dies away completely. In the midst of the vivid ramifications of the Saviour’s activity and out of the abundance of refined self-awareness, this abstract could not emerge, not to mention that it could not be understood by the Jews, who had not yet fully translated the individual pages of this work. The Lord spoke of the purpose of his mission in a more comprehensible, richly pulsating form, and when he referred to his present work, then he could point to living witnesses of his activity, then he said: Report to John what you hear and see, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the poor have the gospel preached to them, or he pointed to the Scriptures where it is written what the Son of Man is; always, at least, he spoke of his work as it was already completed in the present in living form for contemplation, or as a definite goal still awaiting him in the future. The abstraction of the works or of the work as this standing expression could then only come into use when reflection completely overlooked the historical activity of the Lord and made the attempt to summarise it into a whole. Its origin, however, is still revealed to us by the use to which this expression is put in the fourth Gospel: the apologetic interest created it in order to dispel doubts about the Messiahship of the Lord by referring to His “work”, and in such a sense the Lord must also use it here.


9) The testimony of the divine word.


The statement in vv. 37, 38 forms the transition from the preceding to the conclusion, but in this middle it is so wavering, it is so weakly expressed in it, whether it is a new argument or not, that already this character, which blurs into uncertainty, proves the artificiality of the transition. This wandering of thought from one thing to another may be characteristic of a written composition, but in the real life situation of a speaker addressing a crowd with specific needs or deficiencies, words are given a sharper and more penetrating shape. Before, the testimony of the works was spoken of; afterwards, from v. 39 on, the Lord refers to the testimony of the Scriptures; now, in the middle, the testimony of the Father is spoken of. On the one hand, this testimony lies in the works, the completion of which is entrusted to the Son, and on the other hand, it is expressed as a voice of the Father, that is, as a revelation in words. But the definition of this revelation of the Father is so ambiguous that neither the relationship to the works of the Son nor to the holy Scriptures of the OT is expressly emphasised. However, the pure revelation of the inner Word, in which the external mediation should be completely disregarded, cannot be meant either: that would be an idea that would have deserved and demanded a much more definite presentation. It therefore remains only with an echo of the saying to the two sides which include it, and the word of the Father dwelling within, which the unbelieving Jews lack, is itself the echo of the revelation given in the works of the Son and in the Scriptures.


Finally, who would deny the thought that the Scriptures testify of him from the Lord, who knew that the necessity of his suffering was confirmed in them, who recognised in the law and the prophets a continuing prophecy of himself (Matt. 11:13.)? But the development of this view into an apologetic argument, that is something quite different, that is a later turn, and it arose from a need which could only excite the mind later, when the work of salvation had been accomplished and the unbelief of the Jewish world had been decided. In the face of this decided obduracy, the contending congregation was then able to summon Moses as a witness to help and at the same time as the judge of his apostate people. —-


We thus find it confirmed, of which we have already found traces above, that the fourth evangelist puts together sayings in the same way as the Synoptics, which never owe their origin to the same occasion. But we cannot even say that he worked in the same way as the synoptics in this regard. For in the, if we may say so, cyclopean construction of the Synoptics, critical analysis finds the original granite boulders in the form that the divine nature of the Lord had given them. But if we look for the original pieces in the artificial construction of the speeches in the Fourth Gospel, we must attack the building and – it is not our fault and no one accuses us for it – strip it down to the ground before we find here a few foundation stones, which are themselves already very much worked over, as the Lord’s genuine good. In this contrast between the divine nature of the material in the Synoptic accounts and the art of the Fourth Gospel, the latter is not only to be understood as purely human wit and understanding, for it is also not without the testimony of the divine. The divine art of the spirit of the congregation has also collaborated, and as we understand the artful structure of those speeches as the self-understanding that the spirit of the community had mediated from the original words of the Lord in the struggle with the opposition of the world, its view will remain intact for us. Only we must give up trying to find in it nothing but the rock fragments of the Lord’s words or even their immediate structure.



§ 9. Rest stop

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§. 9 Rest stop.


1) The feast left undefined.


The evangelist does not specify what kind of feast it was on the occasion of which Jesus returned to Jerusalem after performing His second Galilean sign. We say on the occasion of the feast, because that is how the evangelist wants it to be seen, that the feast was always the occasion for Jesus to go to Jerusalem. This monotonous rhythm, in which the evangelist encloses the whole movement of Jesus’ life, cannot possibly have been the real historical relationship, for the Lord’s life will not have been so poor that the only motive of his movement should always be only one, always only the feast at Jerusalem. As it appears in the fourth Gospel, Jesus does nothing else in Galilee but waits for the feast time to go to Judea, as if he could not otherwise have gone to this always moving centre of the people’s life if he wanted to go there. And as soon as one of the main festivals approaches, it seems to have been a mechanically necessary consequence that the Lord set out and left Galilee. But with this, as always happens with the mechanical formation of a relationship, both sides of it are reduced to mechanical dead quantities. The feasts on the one hand have no other meaning than that of mechanical means and levers which serve to bring Jesus to Jerusalem. But if they have this mechanical power, if they are so infallibly able to bring Jesus to Jerusalem, he becomes a mere object, which is driven away by the power of the feast as surely as a dead body is moved by a push. In addition, there is a contradiction with a presupposition which the evangelist follows no less, since, according to his account, Jesus only ever leaves the capital when hostile movements appear among the people or in the sphere of authority. That he then leaves Judea is not because he has accomplished the purpose that led him there, no matter what the purpose may be: but only through accidental entanglements he is moved to retreat from a region in which, as it seems, he would have stayed longer in any other case. Against this way of looking at things, according to which Jerusalem and Judea appear to be the ordinary and legitimate sphere of Jesus’ activity, it is, of course, a glaring contradiction when the evangelist lets the Lord be moved to travel to Jerusalem only by chance and externally through the occurrence of the feast times.


Let us now at least ask, setting aside the motive as such, what kind of feast of the Jews (εορτη των ‘Ιουδαιων) was it for which Jesus went to Jerusalem this time? The commentators have guessed at all the feasts celebrated by the Jews; but only that explanation is worthy of mention for which Hengstenberg has again adduced reasons taken from the matter and from the context, namely, that explanation which decides in favour of the Passover. It is true that one objects that *) the intervening times are too short: Jesus had only just returned from the Passover feast in Judea and soon after that feast, which was left undefined (C. 6, 4), the time of the Passover would already be here again. But this would be a pity for a chronicle, where otherwise the annual periods are always filled with a great number of events without exception. Here, however, where only one or a few points are singled out from the period of a year, this objection is as inappropriate as possible. Hengstenberg now says that **) the evangelist has not left the feast undefined, for εορτη των ‘Ιοθδαιων, according to Hebrew usage, is the feast of the Jews, not merely any feast of theirs. But if the evangelist had fallen into this Hebraism, and had meant the chief feast of the Jews, and under this the passover, he would have said so expressly, and called his readers’ attention to the fact that the feast, which need only be so called, is the passover of the Jews. Otherwise he carefully enough explains Hebrew words and concepts, even the expression “the Messiah” he does not forget to translate I:42; he thus proves that he wrote for readers who did not have an immediate understanding of Hebrew concepts. To them, however, he should certainly have said that the feast was the Passover par excellence. It could be that he involuntarily fell into this Hebraism and forgot to consider his readers – but nowhere and never is the Passover, nor any other Jewish festival, simply called “the festival of the Jews,” so that it would be clear without further defining context which specific festival is meant. Regarding that Hebraism, it is simply impossible in the Greek language unless it is based on a specific, familiar formula given in Hebrew language and thought. *) But since such a formula cannot be assumed here, and since the Greek language usage stands and applies for itself, the expression remains indefinite, meaning that the festival that called Jesus to Jerusalem remains an indefinite festival of the Jews. A writer who attaches so much importance to incidental clauses that he otherwise even gives the time of day and the hour at which this or that took place, would have given the definite feast here too, on the occasion of which Jesus went to Jerusalem, if he had known it. But he did not know.

*) So dε Wette, k. Erkl. des Eω. Joh, p. 65.

**) Christology II, 565.

*) When, e. g., Luke 2, II, the shepherds of Bethlehem are told: the Saviour is born to you εν πολει Δαυιδ, the formula עיר דוד, is given by history and usage of language, and the reader knows at once which city is meant.


2) The pragmatism of the fourth Gospel.

But if we say thus: the author did not know to which feast Jesus went this time, we presuppose that the historical memory left him only once, but that in all other cases his memory was reliable and that he always knew exactly the real occasion of Jesus’ journeys to the holy city. But we must not allow this premise to stand without further ado. If Jesus, as the fourth evangelist describes, also travelled to Jerusalem on the occasion of other festivals besides the Passover, then the memory of these individual occasions could not remain fixed and could not be linked in an unchanging way with the memory of the events brought about by them. The multitude of individual occasions and the still greater multitude of individual events could not be kept apart in the original order for memory; indeed, the greatest confusion had to occur in this respect, however early the author had written. But the confusion was even more unavoidable, since it follows from the author’s standpoint of reflection that he wrote very late, namely at a time when the first germs of dogmatic theory had already long since developed.

In addition to the distance of time, however, there is the nature of the matter. There is no inner connection between the occasion and the following events, since the occasion for Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem at this or that time is only a formal, external one, or, according to the fact that it was just this or that festival time, an accidental one. Jesus could do or speak this or that at this or that time without this particular festival time being required for this deed or speech. Some chronological connections could be preserved in memory, most connections of this kind must also have shifted in the memory of an eyewitness, but none of them we may hold on to as reliable: with the exception, of course, of Jesus’ last Passover journey, which, however, need not first be confirmed by our author.


If the fourth evangelist is praised for the exact “chronological and pragmatic arrangement” of his account in comparison with the Synoptics, *) we not only cannot agree with this praise, but we cannot even approve of his striving for this kind of chronological accuracy. Luke says in the preface to his Gospel that he would endeavour to tell everything in chronological order. This is, of course, an endeavour that always comes into play when a story is of interest to a wider circle of readers. But it only ever occurs when the confusion of the individual has already occurred and the historical context of the material has been eliminated. Once this dissolution has occurred, it can only be reversed if written documents were written immediately after an event or if the memory could be linked to individual profound, great and significant facts. Without these two supports, even the most persistent memory of the eyewitness cannot escape error. Nowadays no one will accept the absurd impossibility that the disciples kept diaries during the life of Jesus; so the only support for memory remained only great, clearly marked events whose chronological date had to be preserved in memory because of their importance. The only point in Jesus’ life that had to remain fixed chronologically was the time of the Passover, the time of his death. The time of this event could never be forgotten, especially since it was so important for the community because of the typical relationships that came together in the sacrifice of the Passover meal and seemed to be intimately connected with the event. Otherwise, however, there was no crisis in the public life of Jesus, no blow that had to be chronologically fixed in the memory in the same way as the last Passover because of its intensity or its inner harmony with the time in which it took place.

*) E.g. Lücke Comm. I, 114. Eredner, Introduction I, 1, 241.


What an eye-witness could do under these circumstances, therefore, consisted solely in tracing in the events the formation of the catastrophe which would bring the Lord to the cross. The fourth evangelist also tries to do this, but he does not succeed. For according to him, the catastrophe does not develop, but is there from the beginning; the Lord does not enter among the people inwardly, spiritually, in the idea of excitement, but the excitement that he brings about is an outward one, and just as he enters Jerusalem for the first time, he hurries into the temple to prove himself outwardly as the reformer of the theocracy. The attitude that the author has given to the other side of the opposition corresponds to this. The Pharisees are immediately prepared for an outward attack and the Jews are already willing to kill him at the time of the second feast, which Jesus visited after a short stay in Galilee (5:16, 18). There everything is ready, all the acts are already played out at the beginning of the drama and it seems only a coincidence if the attack on Jesus is not carried out immediately and the hand that strikes is held up for so long. The imminent danger of this power, which is always ready to strike, embarrasses the evangelist himself, he has to wonder why the blow does not fall and he can only help himself outwardly mechanically by repeatedly remarking that the blow has still not fallen because the hour of the Lord has not yet come *).

*) Compare Strauss, Leb. Jes. 3rd Aug II, 401, 402.


If the author was by no means able to see a gradual development in the facts themselves, if always and in all cases only one thing is repeated, namely that Jesus sets the Jews against him and that they want to kill him, if everything is only the continuation of one and the same tone or the application of one and the same colour, if in the facts themselves their grouping, differentiation and connection is not substantiated: now, in the pronounced individuality of the facts, the author also had no means of consolidating the chronology or restoring it from memory. In other words! The chronological sequence did not spring forth with pure, original force from the facts themselves; rather, it was a writer’s reflection and emerged from that combinatory activity of the writer with which hypotheses are formed. In the place from which we started (5:1), the author once did not dare to give a certain hypothesis, perhaps because he had been misled by several attempts to give one.

We do not want to accuse the author that he often had to make mistakes in his chronological statements, otherwise we would have to accuse the general human weakness in such matters, which would be very unfruitful. In contrast to the raw enthusiasm of the apologists for the chronological accuracy of his report, we also do not want to accuse the author of having striven for a definiteness that was impossible in every case. On the contrary, we have only solved our task worthily if we show the reason why he made such an effort. This reason lies solely in the general character of the fourth Gospel. In the spiritual view which it has of the Lord, or rather which it lets him express as his self-view, lies, because of the dogmatic abstraction, that indeterminacy which is always connected with exuberant transcendence. In the historical development that the author wants to give, instead of progress there is only stagnation and repetition of one and the same thing. Nevertheless, the author wanted to satisfy the need for progress and definiteness, but he could only do so in sensual immediacy, and that is where the chronological precision attached to the festive journeys of Jesus and the mechanical motif of Jesus’ moving to and fro comes from. As long as theology remains in its vague abstractions and cannot decide on a concept, as long as it views the life of the Lord through the fog of apologetic theory instead of grasping it in the inner definiteness of real historical infinity, so long will it still prefer to feast on these chronological arabesques of the fourth Gospel.


The Synoptics, on the other hand, whom this apologetics looks down upon so contemptuously from the sphere of their transcendent sentimentality, also stand much higher than our Evangelist in the arrangement of the historical material, as we shall see later. It is true that they have arranged the material much more boldly than the latter, but they have done it in a strong, natural and healthy way; at least Mark and Matthew are particularly excellent in this respect. They have used efficient home remedies; for example, a natural locality, such as the Sea of Genesaret, forms the centre around which individual historical materials are arranged, or an outstanding fact gathers other facts around it. But besides this natural architectonics, they also have a spiritual one, which, though also made, is more appropriate to the greatness of the subject than that which our author’s art has formed. And what is most important is that the crisis is at least described and motivated in their work, whereas in the account of the fourth evangelist it is completed at the first moment, the bloody murder confronts the Lord from the very beginning, and according to this, in all of Jesus’ speeches, the necessity of his death is alluded to or even explicitly explained.


3) Inspiration.

Apologetics does not easily give up its cause and feels most secure when it has risen to the region where it can dismiss any question about the specificity of the thought as frivolous curiosity. The promise of Jesus that the Father would send the Holy Spirit in his name to teach the disciples everything and remind them of everything he had said is now considered the main guarantee of the faithfulness of the Johannine memory. “Shouldn’t this Spirit, one might ask, have also strengthened John’s memory in particular, just as it elevated the other powers of the spirit?” Yes! The answer is, “Here the case occurred that memory became more faithful the older it got” *). Not to mention that those words of the Lord refer to the memory and reproduction of his teachings, we also do not want to ignore the experience that memory, as far as it relates to sensory determinations of place and time, and to the movement and connection of these determinations, becomes weaker and more unreliable the older it gets. However, we cannot even hold on to this experience because it would be one-sided; for in truth, memory also has a side where it becomes more faithful with age and more certain in grasping the true factual basis and penetrating into the depth of the subject. Mnemosyne is eternally young, does not age, and its power rejuvenates only in later years to everlasting freshness and vitality. But this power does not refer initially to the sensory determinations of place and time, but to the spiritual forms and forces of history. Thus, the history of the past, such as the development of Greek national life, lives in our memory in a higher and more complete form than in the first eyewitnesses and the succeeding generations. The spirit of the Greek people and their manifold historical phenomenon has become the subject of our contemplation and possession of memory, while the same spirit, as it lived historically, was still sunk in its individual manifestations, or if it took itself back into memory, was still unable to comprehend its own totality. Even the individual appears more specifically in this rebirth of historical memory, and even the memory of chronological determinations becomes more faithful, certain, and reliable the older it gets. Just think of the chronological tables that more accurately represent the time determinations of Greek history than the oldest documents, which either contradict each other or are indefinite.

*) Lücke, Comm. I, 197.


So this is true: the older the memory, the sharper it becomes. We must not admit this to the apologist merely as a special exception, but extend it to a general truth: after centuries, after millennia, the past becomes clearer, more luminous and more present for memory than it was for contemporaries and the next generations. But – the apologist overlooks this – this rejuvenation of mnemosyne only happens after a laborious process, which also presupposes many trials and errors before it can reach its completion. The highest and last condition for this growth of memory, however, is that the historical spirit itself should have progressed and reached a higher stage, so that from this more mature standpoint it may be able to grasp the earlier historical phenomena in their true significance and to overlook them in detail. And as far as the chronological determinations are concerned, criticism comes in later, which reconciles or more closely defines the first confused, contradictory or indeterminate statements. In short, historical memory is never immediate, nor is it secured in the eye-witness by the immediate impression of what he himself has experienced, but it is only true when it is mediated by millennia and their development, and even in the eye-witness it is conditioned by his general understanding of the subject.


The apologist, it is true, also resorts to a generality when he says that the Holy Spirit reminded the disciples of the past and thus also strengthened John’s memory. But this theological conception is an unworthy one, since it does not essentially distinguish the Holy Spirit from any other external means of mnemonics. On the other hand, it should only be briefly noted that the spirit, and the holy spirit at that, can never be only a means that stands between the end and its execution; rather, as spirit, it always reaches beyond the position where it appears as a means, and it unites the two other extremes, the end and its execution, within itself. As this inner movement, the spirit is not only a mechanical means that stands between history, its experience, and its reproduction in memory, but just as it occupies the position of the means in a moment, so it is at the same time the interior of both extremes. It already works in the historical phenomenon, is the soul of it, and as such works on those before whom this history occurs. Just as it already lives as a soul in itself in the eyewitnesses and in those who hear from the eyewitnesses, so it is also active in them as an inner soul, in order to reproduce itself as self-consciousness and as a memory of itself.


In the movement of these three determinations, therefore, the first is history, as in it the spirit lives directly and is present as an inner soul. As in this determination history is still directly external and pure progression so for the sake of this pure outwardness it is still pure interiority and subjectivity, i.e. as it is directly there, so it floats, evaporates or dies away into the subjectivity of the eyewitnesses. Both this elementary exteriority and interiority are one and the same here. The next stage is the real, conscious and deliberate differentiation of this inwardness and outwardness, when history in its entire scope becomes the object of contemplation and literary representation as a coherent whole. This progress is based on the power of objectivity itself, which gathers and seeks to summarise itself from its evaporation within, or it is the act of the inner spirit in the object, which animated it as a general soul and is now working its way up to self-consciousness. But the place where this process takes place is the real self-consciousness, the historical spirit, as it exists as a community and appears in it as a single individual, and as this place is in itself already determined, mediated, and formed, that process is also determined accordingly. The more the subjectivity in which it proceeds still has special sides to it, which have not yet been overcome by a general formation, the more the process of historical memory and representation will also still have peculiarities about it which are not yet balanced with the generality of the object, and therefore stand in contradiction to it. The fourth evangelist stands on this standpoint of particularity; he has not yet subjected his particular formation and his particular character to the matter absolutely, while the Synoptic Gospels represent the matter as it has passed through the tradition of the community and its general formation, that is, through a subjectivity that was by far more corresponding to its generality.


This, however, is in no way intended to express or suggest the opinion that the peculiar character which determines the whole of the Fourth Gospel is pure particularity which has nothing at all in common with the matter in hand. It, too, belongs to the matter. The struggle of the Jews with the Lord, the contrast in general between the world and the work and person of Jesus, then in the Lord’s speeches the general contrast between the heavenly and the earthly, between eternal and earthly life, between light and darkness, between love and hatred: All this is not made pure, not taken out of thin air, it is really spirit from the spirit of the matter, it does indeed belong to the general, but the author has again purely abstracted these historical relations and these contrasts without the further determinations which they had in reality, he has thus in fact only emphasised a particular moment of the matter and carried it out alone. In this way, however, he also altered this particular, for he did not conceive of it as a moment of historical totality that was supplemented by other moments, but rather as the general. Thus, on the one hand, the sentimental, soft and wavering nature of his representation had to arise, for in order to expand a particular moment into the general, he had to drive it beyond its definiteness, volatilise it, dilute it or repeat it without interruption. On the other hand, he could no longer satisfy the desire to achieve definiteness in detail from the nature of the matter, but only in such a way that he again brought a measureless definiteness into his representation by carrying the later dogmatic theory into the speeches of the acting persons or by determining the time down to the day and hour.


If we use the better definition for inspiration – the self-consciousness of the absolute spirit as it historically took shape in the perception of the community – it seems that we cannot escape a dangerous conclusion, and that the apologists, if we called their conception an unworthy one, would rather be justified in calling our representation blasphemy. For if the particular pragmatism of the fourth Gospel and the general views of it proved to be a work of one single mould, and if we now still regard the whole as a historical manifestation of that self-consciousness of the absolute spirit, we might be accused of transferring into the divine spirit itself the barrier of the particular, of finitude in general. But the absolute spirit is not beyond the finite and its limits, for even then it would be limited, indeed even more limited, since it would have these barriers insurmountably outside itself and could not penetrate and abolish them. But it is rather in itself this movement to experience its own nature in the finite and to pass through it. But since this is a passage, a movement, and history, it does not remain within these limits but passes through them to arrive at the completed historical consciousness of itself. At first, this crossing of the barrier has the form of immediacy, that with one particularity only the other is there in the first place. Thus, alongside the fourth gospel, we have the synoptics, the perception of the Lord in the apostolic letters, and the general ground of these particular forms is again, in its immediacy, the existence of the community. But this complement and totality of particulars is only an immediate one, is only there in itself and not yet really set. For almost two millennia the congregation has been far removed from the true totality in which the limitedness of the particular views would be abolished. For the previous attempts of apologetics to establish that real unity were only gospel harmonies, i.e. not a unity in which the defective and mutually alien forms of the moments were suspended and reconciled, but only a mechanical and forcible joining together of them. The moments were taken out as they were presented, they remained in the form in which they were found, and they were considered absolute truth, while the movement in which they cancel each other out was falsely and forcibly hindered.


4) Criticism.

The spirit of the church, because it is a living mediation, cannot remain in the contradiction that the memory of its first historical appearance remains this limited one. Hitherto it has had other tasks to solve, namely it was the ideal intellectual world of Dogma and its own constitution to which it devoted the millennial expenditure of its powers. However, the promise of the Lord that his own would be given the spirit that would remind them of everything, also applies to us, is also fulfilled in the present, indeed our time is preferably the time in which the historical spirit returns to itself from its previous development and expansion, gathers in itself, summarises in memory all the moments it has passed through and processes them into spiritual unity. While the apologetics of the past could only flourish as long as the general view of history was a poor one, and if it can only ever be the counter-image of the earlier lifeless contemplation of history, the process in which the self-awareness of the absolute spirit will complete and conclude the recollection of its historical revelation now falls into our time. For this recollection, no essential historical moment will be lost, least of all the true totality of historical appearance: on the other hand, nothing of the limitations and deficiencies of the previous view can remain standing for it, and the first step towards its completion consists in the reflection on those limitations, as they themselves dissolve in them. This business of purification, cleansing and transfiguration has been taken over by the newer critique.


If the process of criticism appears monotonous, as the repetition of one and the same act, this comes from its ideal simplicity and cannot be a reproach to it. For it is, to express it abstractly, the pure affirmation of Christian self-awareness, which also in the given, positive and in the particular evangelical data finally wants to be with itself. If criticism, as the activity of this self-consciousness, is always only one thing, then it is nevertheless the one thing that, after a thousand years of resisting it, is necessary. If it appears monotonous, it is not its fault, but due to the nature of the object, as it must always let particularities that want to be immediately accepted as universals, experience their fate.

In the beginning, criticism may appear destructive, dissolving or as empty self-awareness. However, in itself, that pure self-awareness of the Christian [critical?] spirit is not empty or arbitrary, like a random idea. It carries within its simplicity the result of the entire previous historical development, as it is set by that development itself. Then, this pure self-awareness is fulfilled and mediated through the process of criticism. It takes in all the content of the Gospels that corresponds to it, but in doing so, it takes it into the one spiritual [intellectual?] ground from which it reproduces it in a form in which the limitations of previous views are overcome.


Criticism must also appear monotonous because the task of the critique is to break through the same tautologies and convoluted expressions of apologetics in order to carry out its mission. Of course, it could take the easy route by imitating apologetics and settling for vague generalities or sweeping statements about the limited nature of previous consciousness. However, if it is a spiritual fire, it must penetrate thoroughly, examining leaf by leaf, sentence by sentence, and word by word. We must continue to observe this fiery trial.



§ 8. Jesus as a prophet in a foreign land

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by Neil Godfrey

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.