§ 7. Jesus in Samaria

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§ 7. Jesus in Samaria.



1) Reason for the departure from Judea.


When Jesus leaves Judea and goes to Galilee, according to the view of the evangelist, it is always for a special reason; this time it happens because the Pharisees had become aware that through baptism He was making more disciples than the Baptist. Of course, we should add that this attention of the Pharisees was connected with a hostile attitude and that it was in Jesus’ plan to avoid their protests.

This attention of the Pharisees the author treats as known to the reader, since he makes the transition with ουν; nay, when he says, “since therefore Jesus learned,” he also wants to presuppose as known that Jesus had heard of hostile or threatening utterances of the Pharisees. The only thing we heard from the Jewish party was that a Jew had argued with the disciples of John about purification. But nothing was said of this, that Jesus had heard of this dispute, since the disciples of John only addressed their complaint to their Master; then it was expressly said that the dispute proceeded from the disciples of the Baptist. And finally, this Jew, whom the disciples of John brought into controversy, can so little testify to a hostile attention of the Jewish party to the doings of Jesus, that he rather testifies to the opposite, since his utterances are supposed to drive the disciples of the Baptist to the realization that the cause of their Master is threatened with ruin *). Therefore, the transition is not particularly successful, and since it has already unravelled on itself, we do not even need to mention that the whole controversy about the baptism of Jesus is not so firmly established that it could justify Jesus’ journey to Galilee. But let’s leave the transition aside! Let us calmly allow the Lord to arrive where the evangelist wants him to be on his journey to Galilee, in Sychar in Samaria. We also do not want to discuss which of the two explanations for the mocking name Sychar, which are disputed in the commentaries for supremacy, is the most correct, since the pun on the name Sichem, which the evangelist has also engaged in here, is arbitrary and cannot always be followed in its movements. Enough! The Lord is now in Sychar.

We want to let the Lord arrive calmly where the Evangelist wants Him to be on the journey to Galilee, at Shechem in Samaria. Nor do we want to deal with the question which of the two explanations of the nickname Sychar in dispute in the Commentaries is the most correct, since the popular joke which has played with the name Shechem in this way, and in whose game the Evangelist has also got involved here, is arbitrary and cannot always be followed in its movements. Enough! The Lord is now with Shechem.

*) Thus Tholuck (Comm. p. 104) says that the Jew had asserted against the disciples of John: “the lustration of Jesus was more dignified, and therefore the multitudes flocked to him”. So the attention of the Jewish party was friendly to the baptism of Jesus, in general a benevolent one. But how can one describe it mildly enough when Tholuck, in the utmost unconsciousness, justifies this benevolent attitude of the Jew in the fact – one sentence before (ibid.) – that it “annoyed” the Pharisees that Jesus received more disciples than the Baptist!


2) Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.

C 4, 5 – 26.

At Jacob’s well near the city Jesus rested while the disciples had gone into the city to buy food **). They are still absent when a woman comes to the well to draw water. The Lord asks her for a drink of water, but she is surprised that he, a Jew, asks her as a Samaritan woman. Then Jesus answers, if thou knewest what God hath given thee at this moment, and who speaketh with thee, thou wouldst rather have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water *). Jesus naturally supposes that the woman knows not what opportunity is offered her, but if he knew her so well as it afterwards appears, he ought to have presupposed still more that she would not understand him when he pointed out to her the opportunity of living water from afar. For if she did not understand him at all, as she immediately proves, it was empty ostentation when he offered her that opportunity. But even if she had understood him better, it always touched on ostentation when he spoke to her in such a way that he contrasted his gift of living water not with what every well offers, but with a request he had just made. In this contrast between the tiny request and the power to give infinitely more lies the dangerous point that gives the appearance of vanity, which we cannot attribute to the Lord in the least.

**) Lücke I, 514. and Olshausen II, 110. admire the memory of the faithful disciple, who still knows how to say that it was just about the sixth hour. But that the Lord would rest at noon and send the disciples out for food is in the nature of things, and the historian need not take it from his memory, but may just as well conclude it pragmatically. The sixth hour here is noon; the author does not reckon according to the Roman, as above (I:40), but according to the Hebrew way.

*) Whoever wants to see the apologetic servant of the letter playing with his fetters and the Jesuitism of exegesis completed, should read Bengel’s explanation of this chapter. The apologist must be surprised in the same way as the Samaritan woman that the Lord speaks to her so confidentially, since he himself had forbidden his disciples to address the Samaritans. Bengel therefore lets the Lord constantly twist and turn and search for secrets, so that in the secret struggle with his prohibition he might still bring it to safety. Quin etiam, says Bengel, colloquium cum Samaritide ita gubernavit, ut rogatus v. 15 gratiam ei impertiret. To such cunning must the apologist creep! And it does not even help him, for already in v. 10 the Lord entices the woman to desire his heavenly gift, which he shows her from afar.


The woman does not even understand the Lord’s allusion to his higher gift so far as to realise that it contains a reference to a spiritual gift and the contrast to the sensual water. We are not yet surprised at this, although the commentators, as their explanations prove, tell us that we have reason enough to be. *) First of all, we only want to point out that the woman does not even know what she herself is saying. She thinks (v. 11) that the Lord wants to give her water from this well, and she is only surprised that Jesus speaks in this way and yet has no pail. But at the same moment she asks (v. 12): Thou wilt not be greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well? So she means that Jesus wants to give her better water than she usually draws from this well. Shall we say that only the evangelist has introduced this contradiction into the woman’s speech by piling misunderstanding upon misunderstanding? The hand of the evangelist, however, will immediately be unmistakably betrayed when we consider the following explanation of the Lord and the answer of the woman. For Jesus, in vv. 13, 14, sets forth the contrast between sensual and spiritual water in a perfectly clear way: of the water there, he says, which one draws from wells, one’s thirst is not permanently quenched; but that which he gives becomes a fountain of water that gushes into eternal life. And yet the woman does not understand him, she still thinks he is talking about sensual water, and only asks for that miraculous water, so that in the future she will be spared the trouble of fetching water (v. 15). But no one who is not stupid will misunderstand such a clear contrast *).

*) The interpreters take just offence at the misunderstanding of the woman, and now seek either to raise it or to mitigate it. According to Paulus, the woman (Comm. on Ev. I. p. 216.) thinks: “You cannot want to speak of a drink of water from this well” and she notices that there is something more secret in Jesus’ speech. But she does not take any notice of such higher suspicions, she only considers this one relation of Jesus’ words to spring water as possible, even if it is contradictory in itself, and therefore she cannot understand it. Lücke (Comm. 1,517.) must himself say that the image of spring water “is used by Christ as a not unusual and, especially in the Orient, very natural image of higher spiritual goods. But then the same commentator (ibid. p. 518.) must not call it “natural” that the woman understood spring water by the living water; but it was unnatural when she misunderstood such a common image of the supernatural, especially when Jesus used it in contrast to well water.

*) The Samaritan woman enjoys the same affection of the apologists that they bestow on Nicodemus. Olshausen wants to save her “noble, called heart” and now says (II, 112.) in her request “both longing for the higher and sensuality are mixed. “But her request is purely sensual. Lücke first says (I, 519) quite correctly: “the woman, if she was attentive, could not escape the spiritual higher relationship.” But the opposite is written! So – Lücke (p. 520) “cannot help finding a certain joking, ironic naivety in the Samaritan woman’s answer. Her request is half joke, half serious.” But she is quite serious, she does not know how to use Jesus’ offer in any other way. And when Lücke (ibid.) himself says: “her lack of understanding and her unaccustomedness to spiritual things prevent her from grasping the true meaning of Jesus’ words,” there can be no question either of “jesting,” or of “naïveté,” for this is only possible when the sensual can be expressed, while the spiritual is sure of itself. Calvin at least is to be praised when he does not want to miss anything of such an unclear half and half, and separates more efficiently, although he also does not want to acknowledge the misunderstanding of the woman as such. He says: “haec mulier Christum initio aspernatur adeoque eum subsannat; satis intelligit, Christum figurate loqui” and counts her answer among the scurrilibus dicteriis. This is also wrong, but it is only the serious application of that playful talk of “half jest and half earnest.”


Immediately after the woman’s unreasonable request, Jesus said to her (v. 16): “Go, call your husband and come here. The woman replied that she had no husband, and Jesus said that she had spoken correctly, for she had had five husbands, but the one she now had was not her husband. The proof of this wonderful knowledge leads the woman to recognise Jesus as a prophet, and she immediately uses this opportunity of having a prophet before her to gain clarification about the point of contention between her people and the Jews.

In context, it seems certain that the Lord revealed his prophetic knowledge only with the intention of continuing a conversation that had actually ended due to the woman’s misunderstanding, and to make her more receptive to his teachings. But this would mean nothing other than that the Lord wanted to bring about, by force and external pressure, what had not come to him in free conversation and through the path of teaching. So the context seems very precarious and threatens great difficulty – but where the difficulty is greatest, help is also closest and this comes to us from the side where it always comes from – from the apologists. They tell us that the Lord had a completely different purpose, which was to be achieved through a detour as a means to that ultimate end. “The Lord wants to arouse the woman’s conscience and instill the feeling of sin in her.” *) But, not to mention that the evangelist knows nothing of this intention – does the woman’s misunderstanding appear as one caused by impure will, sinful inclination, rather than as one simply conditioned by weak comprehension? And could this comprehension be immediately strengthened by the mere surprise into which the sudden revelation of the Lord’s miraculous knowledge must have plunged the woman?

*) Thus Bengel, Tholuck p. 110, Olshausen II, 112.

But if we keep in mind only what we found certain, that the woman’s misunderstanding was an impossible one, the difficulty that lies both in the evangelist’s view and in that of his apologists disappears. We no longer need to ask how the Lord could have hoped to make the woman more receptive to his teachings on divine things by proving his wonderful knowledge even of accidental things, for the cause, the incomprehensible misunderstanding of the woman, disappears.

It could seem as if the evangelist reveals to us another intention that moved the Lord to reveal his wonderful knowledge. For the Lord says to the woman, call your husband and come here – with him, of course. So did he perhaps, as Lücke **) explains, intend to continue the conversation in the presence of the man? Was he hoping for an opportunity for a further and, if the man was more receptive, more fruitful conversation? “But how dangerous it was to rely on chance whether the man, who lived in a troubled relationship with this woman, would be more receptive. And the woman does not even fetch her husband, there is no more talk about him, the invitation to fetch him is completely forgotten, the woman talks to the Lord for a long time as if the invitation had not been made to her, and when she finally goes into the city and brings the message of the Messiah to the people, there is no talk about her husband either. But if it was only a matter of chance whether this man was “receptive”, then Jesus would have had to send the woman away immediately, or we would at least have to find out later what happened to her receptiveness. Or was he also among the mass of the townspeople who became believers – he should have been specially mentioned in front of everyone.

**) Comm. I, 522.


Since the injunction that the wife should fetch her husband does not fit into the context, it is certain that it is only one of those levers which the evangelist makes use of at transitions, and which he ruthlessly leaves lying in his path when they have done their duty. The evangelist only wanted to bring about the revelation of the woman’s marital circumstances *).

*) Lücke (loc. cit.) counts the woman’s answer: “I have no husband” and Jesus’ answer in v. 18 “among the coincidental and unexpected. According to the context, the matter must be reversed: The evangelist has nothing but the revelation of Jesus’ wonderful knowledge in mind when he asks the woman to call her husband. The fact that the woman does not call her husband must make Lücke concerned about Jesus’ intention to test this man’s receptivity and for the “more fruitful conversation” with the woman. So this commentator really assumes that the Lord’s first intention in making this request was only to get the opportunity for a “wider” conversation. So the Lord acted here like people who are at a loss to continue a conversation and draw another thread of speech out of fancy, and that request to the woman was only a formal means of keeping the conversation going. Lücke says that the woman’s wish, v. 15, “contained, however incomprehensibly, a starting point for a further conversation. But then the gentleman did not have to reach so far to find a starting point; he did not even thirst for it, he had to use that first starting point to take away the incomprehensible appearance of the woman’s wish. It is only a pity that this wish was not only incomprehensible, but that it was and should really have put an end to the conversation. Finally, Lücke says that Jesus “used that unexpected turn of the conversation, which we have already examined, to make a special impression on the woman’s mind by a sign of his higher knowledge.” So: Jesus was able 1) to take up the woman’s incomprehensible wish, 2) he asks the woman to call her husband in order a) to continue the conversation in a different way and perhaps b) in a more fruitful way, too, the Lord 3) still has the opportunity to make a special impression on the woman’s mind. One must admit that the apologetic exegesis is in any case comprehensive.


But if it still remains unclear why the Lord shows such wonderful knowledge, the mythical explanation offers us its help. It also seems to be the surest way to explain the matter, since according to it the words of Jesus emerged solely from the evangelist’s perception and his intention must be clear enough from his depiction. Strauss *) says that the evangelist intended a symbolic representation: the Samaritan woman appears as a representative of her people; but it was Hengstenberg *) who proved more precisely how she could appear as this symbol. Just as she had had five husbands and the one she now had was not her husband, so her people had “formerly been in fivefold spiritual marriage with their idols,” but Jehovah, to whom they now adhered, was not the God who belonged to them. To wonder at the unmeasured coincidence of this exact correspondence would be of no help to us in Hengstenberg, for he directs our gaze to “the divine providence by which the higher relations of her people were reflected in the lower relations of the woman.” Instead, therefore, of laying upon us the guilt of a sacrilegious doubt about this strange providence, let us direct the attention of the symbolist to things about which a free and human judgement is permitted with less danger. We ask first of all: did the woman know before she spoke to the Lord what a strange thing her personal destinies were and in what splendid harmony they were with the circumstances of her people? Certainly not. So the Lord must have seen at first sight, when he met this woman at the well, that her circumstances were a perfect symbol of the history of the Samaritans and their present situation. But if Jesus wanted the Samaritan woman to come to the same insight, if he wanted to bring about something, even the slightest thing, in her or in her people through this insight, he would have had to say to the woman: just look at your personal circumstances carefully and recognise in them the image of the religious circumstances of your people. But the evangelist makes it clear enough that Jesus’ only intention in revealing his miraculous knowledge was to awaken faith, and the Lord seems to have achieved everything he wanted when the woman, to her joyful consternation, asks the prophet a question that particularly concerns her as a Samaritan woman. But if the Lord had intended a symbolism here, he would have had to make this woman aware of it, for here, where the empirical circumstances of the woman are so wonderfully revealed, there was a danger that everything would seem to be settled when these circumstances were uncovered and the woman was surprised and brought to a kind of faith. But to a woman who could not understand even the simplest pictures beforehand, the Lord could not leave it to her alone to think about such difficult symbolism, or even to suppose that the elements of such a symbolism were present here, if he had intended this symbolism.

*) Lif. Jesus. First ed. I, 518. 519.

*) Contributions II, 23. 24.


The mythical explanation could take up Hengstenberg’s conception and regard the marital relations of this woman as an imitation of the religious relations of the Samaritan people, freely created from later experience. It seems to contradict this, however, that the evangelist would have had to form this symbolism himself and also state it clearly and definitely. But he, it can no longer be denied, not only knows nothing of such intentional symbolism, but sees the matter quite differently, according to him Jesus had only shown this knowledge in order to bring forth faith.

In no way, therefore, does this proof of miraculous knowledge want to fit into the whole. It does fit into the whole as the evangelist presents it, but we can never regard this account as historically true, since the previous misunderstanding of the woman, which forms the point of departure, is impossible and Jesus could not have produced faith mechanically. If we abandon the evangelist’s account and single out the proof of Jesus’ miraculous knowledge as the core of the story because the author did not know how to include and present it, we are still not enlightened about its original meaning. At least two cases remain possible: either Jesus himself spoke to the woman about her marital situation, but we do not know how and with what intention. Or the evangelist has included in his account a view that had developed in the congregation about the Samaritan people but in a different context. We can decide nothing about this for now.


No sooner has the woman learned from the wonderful knowledge of Jesus that she sees a prophet before her than she brings before him the dispute of her people and the Jews about the rightful place of worship. But how could the woman ask such a question? As a Samaritan, as a member of her people, she could only be convinced that Mount Garizim alone was the rightful place of worship, and according to the whole conversation she by no means appears to be such an outstanding spirit, for whom alone it is possible to step out of the substance of her life and look at it questioningly. The commentators know how to help themselves, of course, when they say that the woman jumped away from the subject to which Jesus had directed the conversation, because it “gave her no pleasure *)”, “she sought to divert the conversation from the oppressive one which the contemplation of her sin had for her **);” for it is a “general experience that a man, when he feels himself struck by any judgment about his inner being, and has not true humility, seeks quickly to break away from the subject ***).” And so say interpreters who only let the Lord develop His wonderful knowledge so that He might awaken “the feeling of sin” in that woman and make her more receptive to His revelations through thorough repentance! Then the Lord would have had to keep her, even if she did not want to, in the contemplation of her sinful misery, and if she suddenly wanted to jump off to something else *), immediately lead her back to the actual subject. The Lord will certainly have been able to direct a conversation in such a way that it does not completely leave the intended direction, and no unbiased person will approve of it if the faithful apologists affirm the opposite. And how was the Samaritan woman to understand the following profound insights of Jesus, if her inner being had not yet been properly worked out, if she had so suddenly fled from the school? But if we are not allowed to assume that the Lord only showed his wonderful knowledge in order to bring the woman to higher understanding through thorough repentance, then we cannot regard her question as one that was off-target. But the Lord also did not show his higher knowledge so that the woman would know that a prophet was standing before her and so that she would use this opportunity to ask questions about things that interested her. So there is no other explanation left than that the question of the woman is only a pragmatic lever to get the following explanations of Jesus going.

*) Lücke I, 523.

**) Olshausen II, 113.

***) Tholuck, Comm. p. III.

*) We must again excite the envy of those commentators by pointing them to a golden stage from the golden age, where Bengel had only to say about the question of the Samaritan woman: non semper reprehendenda est desultoria interrogatio.


Jesus’ saying about worshipping God in spirit and in truth has a close relationship to the presupposed situation, into which he is even more deeply drawn when the Lord at the same time declares that the time will come when the Father will neither be worshipped on this mountain Gerizim nor in Jerusalem. Finally, the saying: you worship what you do not know (i.e. your cult is not based on the corresponding perfected religious consciousness and is therefore afflicted with a barrier and with contradiction), but we worship what we know, because salvation comes from the Jews – this saying has the appearance of having been originally addressed to a member of the Samaritan people.


But in the first place, these sublime explanations seem to be too much wasted, for the Samaritan woman looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, who would set everything straight for her and her people (v. 25); for the present, therefore, she knows nothing to do with these explanations. It therefore only looks like a necessary excuse for this dissipation when Lücke says *): “without the woman’s question v. 20, Jesus would not have opened this sublime prospect of his spirit to her.” So it was only in response to a question of embarrassment, because the woman did not want to stay on the subject which “gave her no pleasure,” that the Lord allowed these profound explanations to follow, to an idle wandering spirit, which could not stand anywhere, which could not grasp the easiest thing before, that he opened up the deepest mystery? Tholuck even has to accuse the woman of that “natural inertia” which “does not want to engage more closely with that which a deeper religious knowledge brings with it” **) and Olshausen finally says that “the essence of the words escaped her”. ***). This complaint about the inertia and incompetence of the woman, which is entirely in the spirit of the evangelist, need not be well-founded, since it is possible that here too the author followed his maxim, according to which he loves to contrast the wisdom of the Lord with the inability of others. The woman may therefore still have been moved by a lively interest in religion and have heard and understood those words of the Lord. But she did not hear them because the Lord did not speak them.

*) Comm. l, 526.

**) Comm. p. 113.

***) Comm. II, 117.


Just think of the concise and straightforward immediacy of self-awareness with which the Lord exclaims, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and now, seeing abstract reflection here, we must admit that we find ourselves on a fundamentally different standpoint. The formula, “the hour is coming and now is,” as will be shown below (Ch. 5.), belongs to the evangelist, who commonly reflects that truth and decision are not merely future but already manifest in the present. The determination of the “true” worshipers (αληθιωοι) is also unique to the evangelist, who likes to define the positive through reflection on the negative, the appropriate through consideration of the not yet appropriate. But the justification that only those who serve the Father in spirit and in truth are the true worshipers, the justification that lies in the fact that the Father demands such worshipers, for God is spirit, the justification that is completed by these two intermediaries and presents the theme as a proven one – that is unmistakably dogmatic reflection, but not the immediate, self-assured attitude that is characteristic of the Lord’s sayings.

It is also only a reflection on the course of religious history when the dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews is resolved in such a way that the unconsciousness of their cult is attributed to the Samaritans and the mature and complete consciousness of the religious idea to the Jews. He out of whose consciousness this reflection arises, on the one hand, joins the ranks of the contending Jews – we worship what we know – on the other hand, the Messiah and redemption are to him an external object of reflective contemplation – salvation comes from the Jews. One must have a weak ear if one does not hear in this saying one of those later messengers of the faith who preached the Gospel among the Samaritans and thus had the most urgent occasion to clarify the relationship of this people and of the Jews to the Messianic salvation. Only this serious and urgent ‘collision’, which was still foreign to the Lord, in the midst of which at least he was not yet placed, could produce a reflection of this kind. But if these two core sayings belong to a later point of view, then no force can hold back the easy consequence of them: that in the future one will worship the Father neither on Mount Gerizim nor in Jerusalem, from an earlier point of view.


But the most tragic fate is the way in which the Lord finally reveals Himself to the Samaritan woman as the Messiah. The woman, after she had received the information from the Lord, put off the arrival of the Messiah, who would settle everything. But if Jesus has nothing more urgent to do than to reveal himself to the woman as the Messiah, then this haste has something so hurtful and the appearance of such an obtrusive prematurity that we must be infinitely glad if it is possible for us to break through this turn of the conversation. But it is not only possible, it is necessary, for the Samaritan woman could not put off the coming Messiah, she could not give the Lord occasion for such a premature discovery of His dignity, because her people never expected a Messiah *). The words of the woman: I know that the Messiah is coming, are only the result of the pragmatism of the author; he wants to infer that the woman has experienced the Messiah in Jesus, he makes the experience, because he does not know any other way, into a complete recognition and he derives this from an explicit declaration of Jesus, which then naturally has to be followed by a corresponding expectation of the woman.

*) The proof, which would take up too much space for a note, follows in the appendix.


3) The conversation between Jesus and his disciples.


The Lord has just revealed Himself to the woman as the Messiah, when the disciples come out of the city and the woman goes back to draw the people’s attention to the man who has revealed to her what she has done and who must be the Messiah.

The disciples now offer the food they had fetched from the city to their Master, but he rejects them and says: I have food which you do not know. But why spurn the food of the flesh so harshly, why look upon it with such rejection? **) And if the Lord wanted to call the food of the spirit, which is opposed to the earthly food and consists in the fulfilment of the divine will, his own, as he clearly says in v. 34, he would have had to state this contrast immediately. But in this way he kept the matter in abeyance, not even in the mysterious, which could serve to stimulate thought, but in that vagueness with which people speak who think themselves clever and above others and speak of their higher position with devious secretiveness *[*]).

**) Lücke only elaborates on the sentimentality and false softness of the report when he says (I, 535). “One can imagine” (i.e. one can form the historical picture a priori) that Jesus, thinking about the strange conversation and the expected consequences of it, becomes so engrossed that, fed inwardly as it were, he forgets the sensual food”. Well! but whom “the disciples now lovingly remind him of the earthly-necessities”, did he still have to disdain it so contemptuously? Was the inward nourishment so far-reaching that it was allowed to go on to the contemptuous treatment of the humanly necessity? And can one call this a strange conversation in which the other part distinguished itself so little? Could consequences be expected where the Lord, in order to be acknowledged, had to impose himself? Certainly, the serene alertness and openness of Jesus is contradicted by this sentimental image. Paulus, of course, (Comm. p, 220.) allows the Lord to reach for the food without further ado, but he can only answer for this in the case of the evangelist who lets the Lord revile the bodily food outright.

*) Bengel therefore correctly says in the sense of the context: hoc augbat admirationem et discendi amorem. But the latter point is not good, because the disciples cannot find their way into the Lord’s speech.


But if we assume for a moment the impossible case that the Lord spoke in this way, the disciples should not have spoken among themselves as they did in v. 33: they were not even allowed to doubt whether someone had brought food to the Lord. For this is what the Lord always meant to say, and it is in His words that He has in His possession (εχω), i.e. has personally in His power, a food distinct from the ordinary. The Lord’s statement (v. 32) is not possible, nor is the misunderstanding of the disciples, but the evangelist wanted to place the Lord in a secret sphere, elevated above the ordinary neediness, and to put this elevation in a more contrasting light through the distance from the limited, earthly sense of the disciples.


And what a strange coincidence must have played out if the Lord should bring about two such similar misunderstandings in a few moments. First, that woman is said to have misunderstood him concerning the ever-flowing drink which he was able to give, and now the same thing is said to have happened to the disciples concerning the food which he had in his possession. But if we recognise these misunderstandings as impossible, then the question turns differently and we must ask: should the Lord have spoken first to the woman of the eternal drink and now to the disciples of his food? The parallelism of drink and food could indeed have produced both sayings in one breath, if the Lord addressed them to one subject, although they are always separated by the fact that drink and food have quite different relationships here: the Lord distributes the former, the latter He Himself enjoys. But here the parallelism breaks down still more, so that he cannot have produced the sayings like twins, if each of the two is addressed to different subjects. On the contrary, the conclusion is inevitable that only the appeal of parallelism led the evangelist to link figurative views of the Lord, expressed on quite different occasions, to one and the same situation. The author has therefore worked here in the manner of the Synoptics, who likewise let analogous sayings, or even those which are only connected by an external parallelism, be brought about by one occasion.

After Jesus has spoken of His higher food, there follows a remark which is intended to give an example of how He accomplishes the will of the Father and satisfies Himself in such service. Lift up your eyes, says v. 35, and see how the fields are already white, that is, ripe for harvesting. This is followed by some reflections on the fact that the proverb: one sows, another reaps, proves true here. Obviously Jesus wants to apply this saying to the relationship between Himself and His disciples when He says in v. 38: you reap what you have not put your labour into; but this application is made with a pathos that goes far beyond the situation, when at the same time it is said: you enter into a labour in which others (αλλοι) have put their strength. In the presupposed context, surely only the Lord is to be thought of, that he has worked and the disciples will receive the fruits of his labour. The floating and soaring nature of the expression in this context can only be explained by the fact that the author has confused the literal generality and the definiteness of the application *).

*) According to Olshausen (II, 120.) the αλλοι, even only the prophets of the O.T. But the Samaritans, who are supposed to be the presupposed field, have not been worked by them. And if Jesus here speaks of the Shechemites, the κοπος, into which the apostles are to enter, is even accomplished only by him.


The generally prevailing explanation is that this saying refers to the Samaritans and to the happy successes which the Lord could expect from his conversation with this woman. The fruits of his efforts, however, would only be discovered by the disciples, just as the apostles later preached the Gospel among this people with great success. And if the disciples are to lift up their eyes and see the fields ripe for harvesting, then these fields must be visible and present before them. So indeed – a rare, happy case! – there is but one voice among the commentators that the multitude of believing Shechemites flocked to the Lord just now and were shown to the disciples as that ripe field **). If this were the only question as to how the evangelist views the matter, then we must certainly agree with the interpreters, for not without intention did he order his account in such a way that the gathering of the people of Shechem (v. 30) and their arrival before the Lord (v. 39-40) encloses the conversation between Jesus and his disciples, at least he has accomplished it by his preliminary announcement of the approaching people of Shechem, so that they are already near when Jesus’ conversation with his disciples turns to the ripe field, and can be conveniently seen by the disciples when they are to look upon the ripe fields.


The interpreter, however, has only solved by far the lesser half of his task if he renders the view of an account and its connection in slightly different words. If he does not want to remain in the barren or dark circle of tautology, he must rise higher and examine that connection more closely, whether it is really a solid connection and whether the report gives us a living, historical whole. However, we will have to deny that our author gives us a whole of this solidity if we really – as those interpreters did not do – look at his report. Firstly – to start with the feeling of the highest authority of the apologist – we immediately have the feeling that those words “behold the fields ripe for harvest” are far too general and have a much grander background than they could contain only the limited relationship to the Samaritans. A great, unmanageable spiritual field ripe for harvest must be assumed for those words, for the sensory image is the surging sea of grain fields, and so the counterpart must be no less extensive. *).

*) Yes! when the Lord goes about in the land, and has the crowds following him in view, he can say to the disciples: ο θερισμος πολυς! Matth. 9, 37.


In the words: “you are doing what you have not put your strength into” lies the other assumption that the spiritual field to which they refer has already been worked on many times by the Lord and has already been completely sown. But the Lord has not yet worked on the field of the Samaritans, and as far as the one conversation with the woman of Shechem is concerned, it cannot promise much success, since she has proved to be completely unintelligent and unreceptive. But the Lord cannot call the whole nation of the Samaritans a field ripe for harvesting, when he said shortly before: you Samaritans do not know what you worship, so your cult lacks the consciousness of its essential content. This lack of consciousness is precisely the immature character of this people. Finally, how can a saying (vv. 36-38) that distributes seed and harvest to different times and subjects refer to an occasion where seed and harvest coincide, where Jesus sows and harvests at the same moment? The seed that he is said to have planted in the woman’s soul is said to have already ripened when the woman induced the believing Shechemites to rush out to him and welcome him as the Messiah. Yes, the Lord expressly points out that here the time of sowing and the time of harvest coincide, whereas otherwise, according to Proverbs (v. 35), the two are separated. Otherwise, he says, in life we are put off by the fact that after sowing comes harvest, but here we see the fields already ripe for harvest. Thus two sayings are connected as belonging directly together, which point to quite opposite presuppositions: on the one hand, the one sowing and the one reaping are the same (v. 35), on the other (vv. 36-38) both are different subjects, and yet both are said to be the development of one thought *).

*) Lücke I, 538 has perhaps anticipated something of the difficulty when he cautiously says: “This contrast (namely, how especially seed and harvest diverge, but here coincide) applies only to the present case. Can Lücke show that the evangelist indicates that something quite different follows when he lets the Lord speak of the difference between the sowing and the reaping? The evangelist means with this completely different saying to give a further explanation of the saying v. 35, but does not see that he sets the opposite as identical. Paulus, on the other hand (Comm. p. 221), knows quite well that vv. 36-38 should only be an explanatory application of v. 35, he knows that v. 35 “the joys of sowing and reaping, otherwise separated by several months, fall into the same time”, he also knows that vv. 36-38 presuppose the difference of sowing and reaping – but he misses the point when he nevertheless wants to glue both sayings together and transfer the difference, which is emphasized in the second half, also into the first half. The disciples, he says, are now also to work among the Samaritans. That is, Paulus must now strangle both sayings. “The disciples shall help the Lord to finish the work which he has begun.” But in the second “saying” the work is completed and they enter into this work completed by others as reapers. In the first saying the work is also finished and the harvest beckons to the Lord. The contradiction is irresolvable, at least not in the apologetic sense.


The saying about the ripe harvest, into which the disciples are to be sent as labourers, only regains its true and magnificent meaning when we place it in the context in which it arose. But it cannot have come into being in any other situation than that in which the Synoptics and Matthew 9:37, which also knows how to report a word about the rich harvest, bring the Lord before our eyes. The environment of the people in need of help and salvation is the only field which the Lord could point out to His disciples as the ripe seed field.

The evangelist already understood this in that he related and limited a saying that had a much grander background to the situation he presupposed. He did it all the more because in the same situation the Lord himself was already receiving the reward of his sowing in the recognition of the Shechemites, and even more deeply did he confuse himself when, in order to emphasise even more the marvellous way in which sowing and harvesting followed one another as if one stroke after the other, he added the saying by which one is put off to the harvest which will come late, though in its own time.


The commentators, who do not feel the tearing contradiction of this speech of Jesus, of course also assume and would fight for it as for a sanctuary, that this saying was also brought by the Lord at this moment. Yes, they even know what occasion reminded the Lord of this word: it had just been “sowing time” and we should therefore “think of Jesus as surrounded by germinating seed fields” *). But was not the contrast, that here seed and harvest coincided, reason enough to think of that proverb, and could not the evangelist bring it from his own resources, if that contrast occupied him? So here we can still absolve the evangelist from the accusation – for that apologetic playfulness, if it were allowed to refer to the report, would also make the report itself suspect of a false search for occasions – of this suspicion that he had searched for such occasions. But now we must remember how oppressive and embarrassing it was, what a dangerous, squinting light it threw on the Lord when he made him contrast his gift of living water with a request for a drink of ordinary water and speak of his spiritual food with a contemptuous side glance at the bodily food. This squinting light is immediately dispelled when we have to think of those words spoken on a quite different occasion, on an occasion where the prosaic and dangerous contrast which the evangelist presupposes was not present at all. We must, however, trace them back to other occasions, since it has already been proved to us how, where the evangelist has placed them, they are only brought together by an external parallelism. Here the evangelist has fallen into the manner of his interpreters, who, in the case of living words of the Spirit, which spring from within and have spiritual causes, presuppose a sensual impulse, who, for example, think that the wind was heard just then, when the Lord said that the effects of the Spirit were as free and indefinable as the movements of the wind, or who assume that a herd of passover lambs had just passed by when the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God. Thus the evangelist also once looked for mechanical reasons for those sayings of the living water and of the food of the Spirit, and he could easily find such when he put them into the Lord’s mouth at the moment when he was on a journey. On the contrary, from that point of view he believed that the sayings, because they deal figuratively with eating and drinking, must have come into being in a situation where this is really very necessary and seems to be the only business apart from walking: only then the Lord, for the sake of his sublimity, had to speak of the drink and the food of the Spirit with those contemptuous sidelong glances which the Evangelist makes him cast.

*) Lücke I, 538. Olshausen II, 119. Such interpreters will therefore only use the saying: aurora musis amica at the sight of the dawn.


4) The faith of the Samaritans.


At first, when the woman had run into the city, many of the Shechemites came to believe, because they heard that Jesus had proved to the woman that He knew everything about her circumstances. But since Jesus stayed with them for two days at the request of those people, many more came to believe, and no longer by miraculous authority, but because they now saw and heard for themselves that Jesus really was the Saviour of the world. But they also spoke out against the woman.

The author has altogether confused the two intensifications. The first is that through personal contact with Jesus many more were brought to faith than before. The evangelist adds the other one as if those who were added to the multitude said to the woman that they no longer believed in Jesus because of the sign, but because of their personal experience. Actually, this increase could only have taken place with those who had previously been brought to faith by the woman’s report.

But these words of the Shechemites, with which the author wants to give the final punch line to his report, and which he has so hastily confused into the first intensification precisely because they were so important to him, immediately dissolve themselves. It is suspicious that the woman should have known nothing more important to say to her fellow citizens than that Jesus, this foreign man, had proved the most exact knowledge of her circumstances. The Lord had revealed greater and more important things to her. But if we hear how the Shechemites distinguish between the faith which is awakened by the authority of a sign and that which is based on personal experience, if we see how they look contemptuously on the former, and boast of the latter, they appear to be as stilted as the people who speak their wise and noble dogmatic principles at every opportunity. It looks far too deliberate how the Shechemites speak; it seems as if they had nothing more urgent to do than to dismiss from themselves the suspicion that they might believe for the sake of external authority. Real, living people cannot speak like this, they could only say to the woman: we have found your testimony confirmed; but the evangelist could let her speak like this, because he had in mind the principle (2:23-25) that faith is incomplete if there is need for a sign, and here he wanted to describe believers as they must be. But he has put his dogmatic distinction into the mouths of the Shechemites, and he lets these people, who now speak like precocious children, speak theologically.


After the resolution of all the details, the punch line that the evangelist has given to his account has revealed to us the soul of the whole. A simple material – for the author had to have it for his work of reflection – the one simple fact that Jesus once came into friendly contact with Samaritans, he processed in that sense of which we still find traces in the circle of the evangelical view (Luk. 10:30 ff. 17, 11 ff.). The moment when the Gospel was being fought to the death by the priestly power in Jerusalem, when the gates of the Gentiles had not yet been broken down, but when the preaching of the Gospel among the Samaritans seemed to be entitled to special happiness, caused the expectant attention and favour of the young congregation to be directed towards this people. The value and importance of the Samaritans increased in the estimation of the congregation, the more the Jewish people as such declared themselves against the Gospel, and it is from this later interest that the evangelist has now shaped his account.




§ 6. The collision of the baptism of Jesus with that of John

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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



§6. The collision of the baptism of Jesus with that of John.



1) The jealousy of John’s disciples


As if he were only in his place in Judea, Jesus, when he leaves Jerusalem, goes into the open country and travels around with his disciples, baptizing. John the Baptist was also there and baptized. The scene is located near Aenon, by Salim; localities about which we hear nothing else. It is noteworthy that the author does not give a reason why the Lord left Jerusalem, because he usually does not forget to mention it. Instead, he follows his inclination to be pragmatic by telling us why the Baptist was staying in that area. Namely, there was a lot of water there. But couldn’t the Jordan, on whose banks we should surely imagine the scene taking place, have had enough water elsewhere, and couldn’t the baptismal candidates be immersed anywhere? It seems that the author did not pragmatize successfully, and one only needs to take that reason seriously, as Olshausen really does *), and say that the water was “convenient” for immersion there, to see how inappropriate it is. For as far as we know, only a bathing resort demands “convenience,” and the Baptist did not choose his place of residence based on it, but on whether he could hope to find acceptance with his preaching and baptism.

*) Comm. II, 101.


But it must be very strange to us to suddenly see the Baptist still in full activity, and the evangelist certainly also intends to respond to this surprise when he remarks that the Baptist had not yet been thrown into prison. The author therefore presupposes [the two men were baptizing side by side] – otherwise one would imagine the matter differently, namely that the appearance of the Lord only took place when the Baptist was ousted from the public arena, and it is precisely this view, even if not exactly the written report of the Synoptics, that he wants to counteract. If we remember how much the fourth evangelist had let his reflection penetrate into the portrayal of the personality of the Baptist, we cannot accept his chronological hint as a correction of the synoptic tradition. The synoptic conception of the matter, namely, that Jesus only went out after the Baptist’s imprisonment, could certainly seem suspicious to us, because according to it the empirical historical circumstances correspond too exactly to the spiritual ones. The task of the forerunner, who was supposed to point to the Lord, seems to have been completed when he had announced or even shown the coming one to the people, so that he could immediately step down when the promised one had appeared before the people. It seems uncomfortable with the forerunner still working on the side and pointing to the coming one long after he had proved himself to be the Lord. So it could be that in the tradition the view was formed that the star which shone before the morning must naturally have set as soon as the sun of salvation rose, even if in reality the Baptist had continued his activity beside Jesus for a long time *). But we must not regard this possibility as reality until we have a firm indication left in the opposite report of the fourth evangelist.

**) de Wette Erkl. des Ev. Ioh. p. 51.

*) Even in our day Olshausen (Comm. II, 102) has this view when he says (of course with due regard to the fourth evangelist): “it is in the relation of the forerunner to Jesus that he was only with him a short time. Olshausen, by the way, admits no contradiction between the synoptic account and the fourth evangelist (ibid.), for the departure of Jesus to Galilee Matth. 4:12, Mark 1:14, after the imprisonment of the Baptist is that reported in John 4:3. Tholuck (p 103) absolutely agrees with this explanation and Lücke (I, 490) considers this relation of the reports “not improbable”. But the Synoptics want to report the first public appearance of Jesus.


He says in v. 25 that a dispute arose between the disciples of the Baptist and a Jew about purification. Ζητησις is the expression for a controversy, such as arises between parties who are opposed by their principles. “Purification,” since it is even set without the definiteness of the article, is indeed kept in indefinite generality, but according to the context it is certainly intended to refer preferably to baptism. But the report does not give us the slightest hint as to how baptism was the subject of the dispute. Afterwards, when the disciples came to the Baptist, they should have said, “Behold, there is a Jew with whom we have quarreled, and he asserts such and such things concerning water baptism.” *) Instead, they say v. 26, something they could say, even though no dispute with a Jew had preceded it. Yea, such a controversy should not have preceded and given them cause to complain, if they speak but thus to the Baptist, as they do. He, they say, of whom thou hast testified beyond Jordan, baptiseth, and all flock unto him. But they could only have said this if, without first having argued with a Jew, they noticed that Jesus was threatening to oust their Master by his baptism. The complaint of the disciples of John and the occasion sent beforehand thus fall apart.

*) Tholuck, Lücke and others know more about this speech.


But also their complaint itself tears itself apart – not we tear it apart – into pieces that cannot be reunited for all eternity. The displeased complainers call Jesus the one of whom the Baptist had testified beyond the Jordan, namely, at that time when he made the Lord known to his own as the promised Lamb of God. We do not want to ask sentimentally whether the Baptist had to do with such obdurate disciples who accused the man whom he had shown them with his fingers as the suffering Messiah as a harmful rival of their Master. We would rather look more sharply at their words: “of whom thou hast testified”. Whoever speaks as these words read, acknowledges the testimony, admits that it is a testimony of a fact; the disciples must therefore acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah testified to by the Baptist. And now, at the same moment, they should be envious of the success of the man thus testified to, they should regard this man as a stranger, as a mere someone, as someone else? If they are really human, if they have heard the testimony of the Baptist and seen the fingers that showed them the long-awaited Lamb of God, if they have really acknowledged this testimony – they should have rejoiced that this man really proves to be the one whom their Master called him, and like the other people they should have fallen for him *). For now we are only allowed to determine that the disciples of John, when they complained about the growing following of the Lord, could not call him the one witnessed by the Baptist. But they could not do so either, because they could not have heard a testimony such as the Evangelist presupposes. Their complaint therefore still remains possible: let us see whether it becomes more than possible through the rebuke which the Baptist gives them.

*) Tholuck, with whom Olshausen agrees, explains the complaint of the disciples of John in such a way that he only restates the congruence of the two parts in other words, but does not explain it (Comm. p. 104.): “He,” say the disciples after him, “who has had to be baptized by you and has had a testimony given to him, takes the liberty of baptizing himself. So, when the runner (1:34) says, μεμαρτυπηκα , it means, Jesus.- and when the Lord (5:33) says: (‘Ιωαννης) μεμαρτυρτυρηκε τη αληθεια, it means: the truth – have had to have a favourable certificate issued to them by John the Baptist, in order, after all, to be able somehow to find accommodation in the world! Heaven and earth pervert this apologetic in order to assert a scriptural word as absolute, which yet at the same moment makes a mockery of it. Only criticism restores the Scriptural word to its proper sense. Even de Wette (p. 52.) follows the apologetic track when he translates the words of John’s disciples: “in whose favour” you have testified. But the testimony of the Baptist was always one by which he placed the witnessed infinitely above himself.


2) The last testimony of the Baptist.


This alone must cause us concern that the Baptist here again acknowledges Jesus, not only in a way as he does in the speeches reported above (C. 1.), but in such a way that he at the same time refers to the testimony which he had given of Christ in those earlier sayings – he thus refers to views which we have already recognized as the expression of a far later point of view. Reflections that could only develop after the completion of the work of salvation are also to be found when the Baptist calls Jesus the one who “came from above”, the one who “came from heaven”, who pre-existed in heaven and testified of what he saw there. Because this reflective attitude is especially prevalent from v. 31 on, Paulus, Olshausen, and Tholuck *) claim that the speech of the evangelist begins from there. But how then is the full stream of the discourse torn apart, namely at the very point where everything is connected in the most precise way and one link overlaps into the other! Olshausen says: “the following verses are not at all in favour of the Baptist’s point of view, in that they testify to the blessing of the acceptance of the words of Jesus, which did not take place with the Baptist **).” And yet it is already presupposed beforehand (v. 29.) that the Baptist sees his joy fulfilled in the union of the Messiah and the church and thus knows the delight of this union, otherwise he could not describe it at all as the object of his joy. Lücke is again “inclined to take a middle course and to assume that from v. 31 the reflection of the evangelist *) is mixed with the speech of the Baptist. But as soon as we see the same reflection active beforehand, no one will be able to prevent us from regarding the conclusion as what the beginning should be – as the speech of the Baptist. For every reason to separate them then falls away.

*) Tholuck, for example (Comm. p. 105.), says: “from v. 31 on, the evangelist begins to continue with the words of the Baptist. Then the content would be the same, so there would be no reason for separation.

**) Comm, II, 105.

*) Comm. I, 501.


Let us first note some minor inconsistencies in the speech. The Baptist is said to say in v. 32 that the Lord testifies of what he has seen in the heavenly world, but that no one accepts his testimony. And the Baptist is said to have said this now, at the very moment when his disciples enviously told him that all were flocking to the Lord? Never! So he should have said: “and you see for yourselves how his testimony is so winning that they all acknowledge him, everyone comes to him. It is of no use to claim that the evangelist is speaking here! For even if he wanted to connect his reflections to the speech of the Baptist, they must at least be appropriate to the presupposed situation that everything accrued to the Lord, they must not contradict it outright **). To be sure, the evangelist speaks here, but in such a way that he wants the Baptist to speak, only he lets him express feelings that are always present only to him, the evangelist, but often at an inopportune moment. Since he lets the Lord express the same complaint against Nicodemus (v. 11), this is the place to say something more specific about it. It is true that the Gospel had to struggle a lot with the resistance of the world, even in the apostolic times – and the Lord and the Baptist are told about their experiences here: but it is just as true that it also won great victories and – metaphorically speaking – spread wonderfully fast over the whole world. The fourth evangelist always emphasises only the one side, and the way in which he does it, and that he does it so often with that standing formula, falls into the sentimental. His soft soul likes to pour itself out in lamentations and prefers to move in the opposition of the Gospel and the insensitive world. In this way, however, the image of truth loses its fresh colour and the powerful attraction that it exerted on the world, and it acquires a weak, legendary quality. Yes, even the true struggle which the Lord had to endure with the world – and which is included in that formula – loses its magnificent character from this point of view, when it is said continually and at every opportunity: “No one accepts His testimony. *) In the fourth Gospel, the struggle that the Lord in the Synoptics’ account undertakes with calm and infinite certainty is a series of attempts that are always renewed and repeated in vain and without success.

**) Bengel says to v. 31: haec usque ad finem capitis videtur attexuisse erangelista, baptistae sensui congrentia. The congruence is missing!

*) On the tautologies ! Tholuck (Comm. p. 105.) says, ουδεις sey “hyperbolic.” But the hyperbola is in this very case the inappropriate thing.


Another inconvenience! He whom God has sent, says the Baptist v. 34, speaks the words of God. The fact that this revelation of the divine can come from the Lord has already been explained by the Baptist in such a way that he draws the reason from the past: the Lord has seen, has heard, has come from heaven (v. 32). Also in v. 34 it is to be justified that the Lord can speak the words of God, but suddenly the justification is given in a completely different way, a general principle is established: “God does not give the Spirit according to measure”, a principle which reaches far beyond the present case *). This is the reason why the evangelist, in letting the Baptist speak of Jesus being endowed with the Spirit, has in mind at the same time the congregation and the fullness of the Spirit, which is continually and freely imparted to it.

*) Tholuck explains the present tense διδωσιν (Comm. p. 105) thus: “it is in this that God can and will do it, and from the context it is to be concluded that he has done it here.” But the generality of the proposition always reaches beyond the context. Olshausen: II, 106: “the present tense διδωσιν very appropriately denotes the permanent communication of the Spirit from the Father to the Son.” Olshausen thus goes so far as to limit the relation of the phrase only to Jesus. Then the definiteness αυτω might be much less lacking.


If in the second part of his discourse the Baptist lets himself go in the general consideration of the dignity of the Lord, the first part contains the nucleus which takes account of the presupposed occasion. There he says to his envious disciples, who want to provoke him to jealousy against Jesus, that man cannot take anything that has not been given to him from heaven. Thus he should not presume to be more than what he said about himself at that time, since he only called himself the forerunner of the Anointed One. But he rejoiced that the expected one was given to the church, even if he himself had to decrease while the anointed one increased. (V. 27 – 30.)

It may happen that joy and sorrow touch each other in the same subject at the same moment; but usually it will only be the case when both feelings are excited from different sides, and then, because they contradict each other, they must struggle with each other, which will last until they either balance each other out, or one triumphs over the other. In the speech of the Baptist, however, joy and pain stand calmly, as it were neutrally, next to each other, as if they had nothing to do with each other, and both are brought about by the same occasion, by the coming and successful ministry of the Anointed One. The Baptist rejoices that the Messiah has united with the congregation, and without bringing both feelings together, he expresses the painful necessity that he must now decrease, while the Anointed One grows far beyond him.


It is possible, of course, for the same subject to produce opposite sensations at the same moment through the same matter, but then the matter must act from different sides, which it has in itself, and also grasp and seize the subject from different sides, which it presents to it. That is not the case here either. As a forerunner, the Baptist rejoices in one and the same thing which, as a forerunner, at the same time arouses in him the painful sensation of diminishing, namely, that the promised one is given to the church.

But if the Baptist had really carried opposite feelings in this way, he would have been tortured by an unbearable contradiction, which he, as a spiritual person, would have had to resolve absolutely. If he rejoiced at the coming of the Messiah, why did he not make joy complete and the ruling, pervading, sole sentiment by unconditionally surrendering himself to the Messiah? In the picture that describes his personal position, v. 19, he stands outside, like the friend of the bridegroom who embraces the bride inside the wedding chamber and expresses his love in friendly caresses. Why, then, does he not join the congregation, so that he may also be embraced by the bridegroom? If he was indeed happy about the arrival of the Anointed One, he should really have joined him if he did not want to weaken his verbal recognition of the Greater One – we do not want to call it a lie, but he did want to weaken it and give a bad example to the others whom he pointed out to the Coming One.


On the other hand, the Baptist says he has to decrease. The reason here is also incomprehensible. He did not actually have to decrease, for that would presuppose that he would still have to exist as a forerunner next to the Lord, even if overshadowed by the infinitely stronger light of the Lord, but he would have to step completely out of his position, i.e. cease to be what he had been for so long when he paved the way for the Lord. And his joy in this seclusion could not even be as complete as he boasts, since with vain effort he still wanted to be something, even if something diminishing, for himself. Then he was not allowed to say, v. 35, that everything was given into the Lord’s hand, or he acted wrongly if he did not first of all give himself into the hand of the Mighty One.

The resolution of the core of this speech is completed when we see how the Baptist, in contrast to the heavenly origin and the heavenly wisdom of the Lord, says of himself that he is of the earth and also speaks only earthly things. (V. 31. 32.) This is again the contrast of the heavenly and the earthly, which here comes to just as unhappy an end as it did above, when it was put into the Lord’s mouth in the conversation with Nicodemus. Lücke certainly cannot hold back this ending when he asserts *): “only comparatively shall it be said that the Baptist, like all the earth-born – de Wette says, like all the sons of earth – is inferior to the Messiah as the heaven-born.” Rather, the Baptist wants to confront the Lord as the earthly one with his whole historical task and with the whole scope of it. Therefore he also says: he speaks εκ της, all that he speaks comes from below, from the earth. On this centre of difficulty Olshausen really goes off and now says *): “also the divine which John speaks, he speaks from the earth, i.e. in earthly, veiled form, while Christ also presented the heavenly in heavenly clarity.” But it is not the contrast of the form of one and the same content that is to be expressed in these words, but the contrast of the content; for the fact that Jesus speaks the heavenly is only due to the fact that he alone has seen it. By leaving the contrast purely as it stands, it now appears that the evangelist, in his antithetical zeal, forgets how he himself had said in 1:6 that the Baptist was sent by God, and how he had said of him the same thing that is now to be said of the Lord alone in 3:34. If it were to be understood even relatively, that the Baptist came from a lower sphere, figuratively to be called earthly, then it is not only inappropriately expressed, but it is also impossible to say, since his mission is founded in the divine nature and in this alone. And then the Baptist, according to his origin, should also speak only earthly things! But everything that the evangelist reports to us of the Baptist’s speeches is not in the least something earthly, but that which the Lord just described to Nicodemus as the mystery of the heavenly. Thus the Baptist has the perfect insight into the mediation of the work of salvation through the sacrificial death of the Anointed One when he calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and even in this case he does not speak more “veiled” than the Lord when the latter, under the type of the brazen serpent, presents the divine counsel and his destiny to die for the world. Indeed, in the speech in which the forerunner describes the glory of the Anointed One to his envious disciples, he does so with the very words that the Lord Himself uses when He speaks of Himself and His task. The Lord also says (3:11) that He testifies of what He has seen. He complains in the same context with the same words that His testimony is not accepted, and He speaks of the purpose of His divine mission and of judgment (3:16) just as the Baptist does here (3:34-36). And that would be earthly speaking? No. The Baptist could not have uttered a contrast which, as soon as it is taken somewhat seriously, evaporates. But we have already learned above where this contrast comes from: it comes from the evangelist who wants to use it here again to contrast the Lord and the forerunner, but can only bring it to a vague semblance and echo of the difference.

*) Comm I, 502.

*) Comm. Il, 105.


Just as nothing individual in this speech has proven itself to us as the real word of the Baptist, neither can the general meaning of it. For if the Baptist acknowledges the Lord as the Messiah in the most definite way and at the same time wants to form an independent entity which, although it decreases, nevertheless insists on its isolated standpoint, this is a contradiction which he could never have carried within himself. One would have to deny completely that the Christian idea permeates and surrounds the whole man, consciousness and will, before one could make it credible that a man who has grasped the core of this idea and lives in it should not have given himself completely over to it. It is historically certain that the Baptist did not join the Lord, and with this it is equally certain that he never had that perfect insight into the work of salvation which the fourth evangelist ascribes to him. That the Baptist sees the mystery of heaven present in Jesus and yet still wants to stand for himself, even if to his pain, is the same contradiction that lies in the fact that his disciples regard as a harmful rival the one whom their Master had testified to them as the Higher, even the Most High. We have already seen that they could not have heard this testimony, but do they perhaps have reason to know in Jesus a dangerous rival of their Master?


3) The baptism of Jesus.

Jesus and John baptised at the same time, in the same area, close to each other and this circumstance as well as the success of the former aroused the envy of the disciples of the latter. The Evangelist corrects the expression that the Lord baptised as quickly as he can and now says in 4:2 that it was not he himself who baptised, but his disciples, so the author himself seems to have felt the offence that would lie in it, if the Lord had wanted to gain a following through baptism. But the matter is not made any better by this correction, and the extremely objectionable idea that the Lord, even through his disciples, should have had an effect on the people in a positive, statutory form, retains its force. One will no longer be able to resist the admission that this kind of influence was impossible for the Lord. As the content with which Jesus appeared lay in the infinity of his self-consciousness and in the certainty of his unity with God and of real reconciliation, so his effectiveness could only consist in opening up this infinity of his inner being to the general consciousness and in bringing it to the imagination through his teaching, as well as to view it in general through his appearance. His task was only this ideal, spiritual work. Every positive statute, even baptism, would have limited the infinity of a new creation at its beginning, or would have presupposed that the new world was already there in its completion, and that it only required the acceptance of baptism if one wished to enter into it. *) Finally, it would contradict the Lord’s free position if he had created the impression that he wanted to gather a certain circle of followers around him who were formally separated from the world. Jesus, however, was much freer: completely sure of himself and his work, he threw the seed of life of a new world into the old and knew that in its time it would also produce the certain fruit. Baptism by the disciples would have been a premature intervention in the free development of the new principle, would have been mistrust in its creative power. Later, when the world was secured, the Church had to create certain forms for its existence, and the baptism was necessary, but as a form of Jesus’ personal activity it would have been a disturbing, externally limiting form. In order to be fully convinced of this, we only need to imagine the picture that would emerge if Jesus and John had each drawn a special circle of followers around them through baptism: we then only need to consider what our report presupposes and in this case would also have to presuppose that friction had arisen between the two circles: – two quarrelsome schools, envious of each other, would be before us, but not the place in which a world-conquering principle is born and develops in free certainty of itself.

*) Bretschneider, Probab. 70: Neque necessarius videbatur baptismus, cum Jesus, dum viveret, ecclesiam non haberet. Cf. Weisse, evang. Gesch. I, 411-412.


The apologist still has to answer the difficult question: “Why do we not hear more about the course of Christ in the Gospels?” “The definite faith in Jesus the Christ, as it was included in baptism,” answers Lücke *), “was much less frequent during the lifetime of Jesus.” True! but properly understood it proves the very impossibility that Jesus could have baptized. For the confession of his name, which he would have required for baptism, would have been a positive, dogmatic, or rather symbolic one, which could not have existed if he first wanted to bring forth this faith. In the way the Synoptics report, he could only call Peter blessed for the sake of his divinely worked confession, if his faith during his lifetime was a nascent one, bursting forth in momentary desire, but not the positive and definite one that baptism presupposes.

*) Comm. I, 493.

And if we were to indicate how the baptism of water, which Jesus had performed by his disciples, and that of John differed, we would have to labour in vain like the apologists. However, according to the presuppositions of the Fourth Gospel, it is inevitable to assert “the essential unity” of both baptisms, and the difference in this case could only be placed in the fact that John’s baptism “included only the believing hope in the coming, whereas Jesus’ baptism included the definite faith in the Messiah who had appeared.” But before we stoop to this conclusion with Lücke **) and belittle the essence of Christian baptism by this merely formal, quantitative difference, given by the indifferent determination of time, we admit that this conclusion, which impairs the sacrament, is only the consequence of the false assumptions of our report. But the baptism of John cannot be thought of apart from Christian baptism if the Baptist, as the fourth evangelist reports, had acknowledged the Lord. He could no longer point to the One who was to come if he did not want to fall into a screaming contradiction or turn the people away from Jesus in a soul-robbing way. For if he had that deep insight into the centre of the Christian idea, if he had acknowledged the definite presence and fullness of this idea in Jesus, then he would not only have had to baptise the people into the One who had appeared, but also to instruct them about the great significance of Him; but then his baptism was no longer his own; or he would not have been allowed to baptise at all, as soon as the people associated with his baptism the idea that it was to prepare them for the reception of the One who was to come *). But if he baptised with a different position from the Messiah who had appeared, then his baptism no longer had anything peculiar in front of the baptism that the disciples of Jesus performed under his eyes; then he had left his historical limited position and on the other side so that envy against Jesus and his successes could not arise. All these conflicts, however, are cancelled from the beginning, since the profound Christian insight which the fourth evangelist ascribes to the Baptist has not proved itself to us, and that envy of John’s disciples could not arise, since the occasion for it was lacking, i.e. since Jesus never baptised, not even through his disciples.

**) Ibid. p. 491.

*) This necessity must be proved even by Lücke (loc. cit. p. 493), when, in order to maintain the “preparatory character of the baptism of John,” he must actually hide it. It was “in its place” where “Jesus did not appear himself. The baptism of John cannot be brought down further than by making it dependent on the accidental locality. And in the fourth Gospel we even hear that both Jesus and John baptised side by side in the same place.


4) The origin of this report.

Now that all the pages of this account have been collapsed and the task is set of finding its origin, several decisive key words reveal to us the material from which the author’s pragmatic reflection was built. In his answer to the envious accusation of his disciples, the forerunner calls Jesus the bridegroom, v. 29. Jesus describes himself as such, Matt. 9:15, and it is right, he says here, that those rejoice with whom the bridegroom dwells. According to Matthew’s account, the Lord makes this statement on the occasion that the disciples of the forerunner ask Him why His disciples do not fast like them and the Pharisees. Even if it is not certain whether the disciples of John themselves asked Jesus, it remains that questions were raised about the relationship between the way of life of the Lord’s disciples and that of the Baptist. Fasting, however, was regarded as purification of the soul: thus, in addition to the figurative designation of Jesus as the bridegroom, we have a second allusion, which consists in the fact that a dispute arises about purification *). In the account of the fourth Gospel, however, we still notice how a Jew is introduced as disputing, which is not necessary for the motive of what follows, and is even disturbing for it: we can also indicate from where this dispute with a Jew originates! Matthew also knows of a dispute about cleansing, in which the Jewish party appears, when he tells us that the scribes asked Jesus why His disciples did not wash before eating (15:2). For the proliferating and only slightly stimulating fantastic reflection of our author, the Gospel tradition offered enough material from which he could form his report.

*) Gfrörer (das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 141) also draws attention to this correspondence.


Admittedly, we must admit that these data could only provide the framework; the complete structure of this report could not yet be built from them. That main beam had to be added which held the structure and the framework together, namely the fact that Jesus baptised. The evangelist found this main beam on the trajectory in which his anachronism 3:5 had put him. Here the Lord had to speak of the necessity of baptism in order to state all the conditions for entrance into the kingdom of heaven; if the Lord spoke in this way, then baptism as Christian baptism (for this is the only thing meant there) must be something present to him, then he himself baptized or, when the author himself took offence at it, he had it performed by his disciples. Then, however, the jealousy of John’s disciples could arise and the Baptist had a suitable opportunity to speak again about the mighty one, an opportunity that the evangelist was actually only looking for when he built this account.

This testimony of the Baptist is, in fact, the soul that animates and inhabits that construction, the power that brought together that material, the purpose it serves. The author wanted to give the words with which the Baptist, in a dignified way, departs from the story as it appears in this Gospel and, before he leaves the scene, once more bears witness to the sublime.

But why did the Baptist have to testify again, why was it not enough with the noble testimony which he had already given so powerfully at the beginning of the Gospel? From the synoptic account we see that the last thing that was known of the Baptist was a word about the Messianic expectation. Of course, it is only a question, and a doubtful one at that, when the Baptist asks Jesus through some of his disciples whether he is the Messiah or whether we should wait for another. A question of this kind, however, does not agree with the overall view of the fourth evangelist, since according to it the Baptist is initiated into the deepest mysteries of the work of salvation; under this presupposition, he must therefore in the end testify as clearly and firmly as before to the glory of Jesus. Nevertheless, the evangelist cannot keep the power of the historical entirely at bay, and even in his account he must betray the undeniable, the unconvincing, that the Baptist stood far from the Lord. Without noticing the crying contradiction, he must at the same time present the Baptist, who is supposed to be at the centre of the Christian idea, as one who still wants to form an independent, even if diminishing, entity alongside the Lord.


Incidentally, we would be doing just as much honour as injustice to a report that has emerged from this material, this purpose and from this impression of historical fact if we wanted to call it a myth. Too much honour – because it is not determined by an idea and purely by it; injustice – because the whole is pragmatic reflection that has processed an abundance of given material.



§ 5. Jesus and Nicodemus

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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



§ 5. Jesus and Nicodemus.

2:23 – 3:21


1) The behaviour of Jesus against the miracle believers.


Through the signs that Jesus performed during the Passover many were brought to faith; but, the report adds, the Lord did not confide in these people because He knew all of them. When a historical circumstance is substantiated, it is not without reason that both the reason and the thing substantiated should have an internal relationship, i.e. that both should have the same essential content. It will therefore not be called an unreasonable imposition if we expect the evangelist to explain to us this inner relationship and to say why Jesus did not want to give himself unreservedly to such people who were moved to faith by signs. For if the author wants to reflect and give pragmatic reasons, we might expect him to introduce us to the centre and true reason of the matter. But he does the opposite: instead of sticking to the matter at hand, he loses himself in remarks that he cannot even bend back to the matter at hand. For he completely departs from the matter when, instead of explaining to us the inner reason for Jesus’ restrained behaviour, he only goes on to say that the Lord has always known what is in a man, even if no one else taught him about it. If only he had said at least the one thing, that Jesus had seen through the faith of those people as an unreliable one! But in this way the impropriety and intentionality of that remark becomes all the more apparent to us: for that those people only believed for the sake of miracles and were therefore not reliable, the Lord could know even without that wonderful insight. Every person who is not quite limited knows how to distinguish true and thorough devotion from a mere momentary and superficial excitement, even without a miraculous gift.


If we now leave aside the description of the miraculous knowledge of Jesus, in which the pragmatic remark of the evangelist gets lost far too much, and turn back to his starting point, this consists in the distinction between two kinds of faith, one of which is based on the impression of the miracles, the other – – yes, if we could only say what the other is to be based on! Our evangelist at any rate does not remain consistent in this distinction. For example, in his account of the miracle at Cana, he emphasises that the faith of the disciples only became real faith through the impression of the miracle.


Elsewhere, for example, in the meeting of Jesus with Nathanael, we see that the evangelist does not regard signs as the deepest motive of faith, but the total vision of the “revelation of the heavenly” in the person of Jesus; but on the other hand, we can again recall other things, for example, how the Lord leads the Samaritan woman to acknowledge His dignity through a sign. In short, we see in the author’s account the beginnings of a theory which he would like to impose on Jesus’ behaviour as a general norm, but which he has not yet consistently carried out, since he still allows the Lord to perform signs far too often in order to bring forth a faith which, according to this theory, would still have to be a very unreliable one.

The following conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus is, according to the evangelist, a single case in which Jesus’ knowledge of man was revealed, namely in relation to that faith which was first awakened by miracles. For the first word with which this man comes to Jesus is the confession: we know that you have come from God, for no one can do such signs as you unless God is with him. We must therefore consider this conversation from the point of view of whether Jesus’ profound knowledge of human nature and his prudent treatment of the beginners in the faith were really demonstrated in it.

2) The conversation with Nicodemus.


Nicodemus has hardly said that Jesus must be from God, as His miracles show, when the Lord immediately answers him: whoever is not born from above cannot see the Kingdom of God (v. 3). So the Lord demands a second birth, but with the expression “from above” he at the same time designates the sphere from which it proceeds as the higher one in contrast to the place of the first birth. But the conversation could not be so aphoristic, at least Jesus could not so suddenly, without an explanatory transition, confront the miracle-believing Pharisee with his demand; for if Nicodemus, as we shall soon hear, did not understand the word of regeneration, he will not have been able to grasp the sudden transition to this speech of regeneration. First the intermediate elements had to be properly discussed, then Jesus would have had to say: that you believe because of signs is not enough, it does not open the gate of the kingdom of heaven for you, first you have to be born from above. The evangelist excludes such middle links; he wants to give a complete account of the conversation and demands of us that we look at the matter as if he had left nothing out. Rather, we are to admire the penetrating gaze with which the Lord saw through the noble Pharisee and knew at once that he had come to him to be taught about the kingdom of heaven, but that for now he had only arrived at a weak faith through the signs *). But was it a matter of Jesus knowing for himself how things stood with Nicodemus, and being able to put the case at hand straight through his marvellous insight? Was it not rather a matter of his enlightening the Pharisee about his inner being, telling him what he was discovering there, and now preparing him for the highest demand? But we can even refrain from this difficulty, for the clash already reaches the point where it is insoluble, even if we only direct our attention to the presupposed wonderful depth of vision of Jesus. Nicodemus answers the Lord like a child who does not yet know how to deal with general concepts and who does not understand how to grasp spiritually the determinations that are expressed in the way of the imagination with a symbolic epithet. He declares the He declares the demand for rebirth to be a complete contradiction because he understands it from a sensory point of view and considers this understanding to be the only possible one. But if Jesus really knew Nicodemus’ inner being, he should also have known how weak his spiritual capacity was, how childish his powers of comprehension were; rather, if he considered it possible and worth the effort under these circumstances, he should have lifted him up to the idea of rebirth, but not blindly assaulted him with such an incomprehensible demand.

*) This is how the apologists view the matter and then, like Tholuck and Lücke, attribute to Nicodemus a true treasure of “receptivity and disposition to faith”.


Perhaps everything could still have been done well, if only the Lord had now, when Nicodemus had shown himself to be so limited, removed this barrier through a clear understanding. He really wants to explain to him in his answer what seems difficult, even impossible, wants to show him how to understand it spiritually – but how does he begin the matter? In a way that only a later apostle could do, if he wanted to state the conditions for entering the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus was told, “Whoever is not born of water and the Spirit cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). Every unprejudiced person who sees water and the Spirit together in a Gospel will immediately recognise that the water is not the ordinary water, but the water of baptism. The Lord cannot refer his apprentice to the baptism of John, for he refers to water and the Spirit as belonging directly together, but the baptism of John is otherwise always contrasted with the baptism with the Spirit, which the Messiah administers, and in such a way that both types of baptism are historically separated.


Thus, only the view remains that Christian baptism is to be understood by the water, and this is challenge enough for the apologist to seek a solution. For how can the Lord speak of baptism as a sacrament, which he is said to have instituted only after his resurrection? Olshausen acknowledges “the relation to baptism”, but – “it only proceeds from the idea of baptism”. *). But then Nicodemus would already have to know Christian baptism – which is impossible – he would already have to know how to distinguish dialectically between idea and appearance, i.e. he would not only have to be a Christian, but also a quite enlightened one. And how could Jesus, if he only wanted to speak of the idea, mention the material alone and describe it as necessary? He could only do so if he wished to be misunderstood. “Only an allusion to the symbolic meaning of water in baptism,” which Lücke sees in the Lord’s saying, cannot be found in it either, for as little as the Spirit is mentioned here merely in the manner of an allusion, so little is the water mentioned either. But when Lücke says **) that Jesus “did not refer Nicodemus to baptism as such, neither to the Johannine nor to the Christian baptism,” then all these ideas disappear and one can no longer understand how the Lord could demand of Nicodemus to grasp as a symbol what was not a symbol, or to think of a symbolic meaning for which no specific background was given.

*) Comm. II, 89.

**) Comm. I, 455.


But Nicodemus could not think of baptism in an enlightened way as a mere idea, nor of baptism itself as necessary as it is referred to in this passage, since it is the Christian baptism that was only later closely linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit after the Lord’s departure, as it is in this saying of the Lord. In other words, the words of Jesus are spoken by a member of the later community from their later standpoint.

After a general reflection that cannot deny its late origin, the Lord says to Nicodemus, “Do not marvel.” Actually, we should expect that what I have said about the necessity of being born of water and the Spirit would follow, as that would be what Nicodemus would have had the most reason to marvel at, since it must have been the most incomprehensible to him. In any case, this birth of water and the Spirit was the last thing the Lord had spoken of. However, the Evangelist felt involuntarily that he had strayed too far from Jesus’ standpoint with this latter determination, so he has the Lord go back further and say to Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I have called rebirth necessary.” (V. 7.)

Obviously, with this turn of phrase, the Lord’s speech begins to develop and justify this necessity. But not only does nothing follow from this (v. 8), but the speech, which is supposed to justify the assertion of this necessity [to be born again], suddenly turns into a strange turn and describes the unwillingness of the spirit to follow its own laws when it wants to embrace someone. So it is natural that Nicodemus gives up all hope of understanding and asks with the calmness of resignation: how can this happen? Or rather, the evangelist lets the conversation end with this weariness of the distinguished Pharisee, because he has now sufficiently exposed him in his ignorance, because he can now rightly let the Lord call out to him: You, the Master of Israel, do not understand this? and – what is the final motive – because he wants to let the Lord’s speech flow freely and unhindered; for an opponent who has reached the limit of his understanding can no longer express any objections. *).

*) Nicodemus is a chosen protégé of the apologists. Even when he raises the first senseless objection, how a man, who is also an old man, can return to the bosom of his mother and be born again, Lücke (1, 452) wants to “divide fairly between the understanding and the lack of understanding of Nicodemus”, i.e. to surpass in fairness the evangelist who portrays the Pharisee purely as lacking understanding. Afterwards Lücke (1, 457) divides in such a way that he lets Nicodemus understand the “words” but not “the inner sense” – it is only incomprehensible how someone can understand words if he does not grasp their sense. Under Tholuck’s instruction, the old Pharisee becomes much more docile, only the apologist still finds fault with the strength of his mind. At the same moment that the Lord says: You, as the Master of Israel, do not understand this, Tholuck knows the inner life of Nicodemus much more thoroughly and reveals to us behind the Lord’s back that the matter is quite different. (Comm. p. 99) “Nicodemus grasps more and more clearly what the Lord means, but he does not feel the strength in himself to make the required change.” Then the Lord has looked at the matter very wrongly, if he thinks that it is only due to the weak mind of the Pharisee, then he should have said more correctly: Thou wilt not let these matters be known to thee? Even Nicodemus did not know himself as well as Tholuck knows him: he doubts the possibility of the matter theoretically, but he should have rather said that he feels no inclination to be transformed in the way the Lord demands. Hase (Life of Jesus, Chapter 41, 42) tries to explain the striking turns of the conversation through the method of Jesus’ teaching. “It is peculiar to it to boldly refute an objection by expressing the very idea against whose lesser power the objection was made in its fullness, so that the contrast against the lesser is cancelled out by the contrast against the higher, and the latter overwhelms the mind in its full force.” However, it is only the method of the fourth Evangelist to let the Lord speak so ruthlessly to his listeners that they do not become overwhelmed but have to give up all understanding. That method could only be worthy of the Lord and be part of his teaching plan if the listener, after being “overwhelmed,” is at the point where he understands the lower potency of the thought because of the higher potency. But in the end, Nicodemus not only does not see the necessity of rebirth, but as if that “overwhelming” attack had not happened at all, he still doesn’t know what else to say than what he asked at the beginning: “How can this happen?”


Now that the opponent has been thrown to the ground, the Lord continues in a coherent speech: what we know, we speak of; what we have seen, we testify of; but you do not accept our testimony. First of all, it is striking how Jesus can speak in the majority when he only wants to speak of himself. Nowhere else do we find that the Lord used the phrase of the plural majesty. De Wette thinks he finds an example of this usage in Matt. 3:15, when the Lord says: it behoves us to fulfil all righteousness, but John, who first resisted baptising the Lord, is included in the “us”. Tholuck says that “the speech describes the general relationship of God’s messengers to men. From his historical point of view, however, the Lord could only have said of the prophets that they saw in the same way as he did, for these were the only messengers of God of whose effectiveness he could speak to Nicodemus. But the prophets were denied real sight (Matt. 13:17), and in John 3:32 the Baptist said: only Jesus had seen and testified of what he had seen and heard, but no one had accepted his testimony.


Also the other majority: “you do not accept our testimony” contradicts the situation that the Lord speaks to Nicodemus. The words sound as if a crowd of unbelievers were standing there, a crowd of those to whom the testimony of the truth had been presented in vain after long labours. But the Lord has only just made his public appearance in Jerusalem and now he should complain so bitterly about the unreceptiveness of the people? Only repeated experiences of malicious resistance could lead to such harshness.

Jesus ties his further speech to the complaint about such bitter experiences. If, he says in v. 12, the earthly things which I spoke to you were not accepted by you, how will you believe when I speak the heavenly things to you? Although the accusation is directed against several, it must nevertheless be of such a nature that it can also affect Nicodemus. But did he prove to be unbelieving and not rather behave like a man who does not understand what another speaks to him? Furthermore, the fact that Jesus has so far spoken of the earthly must also fit what he said in the conversation with Nicodemus, otherwise the latter could not possibly know what is meant by the earthly. So we would have to regard the birth that is supposed to come “from above,” that is supposed to come “from the Spirit,” as the earthly, to which something higher than the heavenly stands in contrast?

Before we subject all this to the final acid test of criticism, we must go a few steps further, in order to have all the difficulties together.

The Lord now wants to say what the heavenly things are, for he first explains that he was able to see them and that he alone was able to attain to this view. V. 13 says that no one has ascended to heaven except the one who has descended from heaven, who is in heaven. How is this ascent to heaven to be understood? Well, if it could cause offence, figuratively! *) But the descent from heaven is not to be understood figuratively, but seriously-locally, since it is to designate the supernatural starting-point of the personality of Jesus: for as the Logos, who was eternally with God, he must really descend from heaven if he is to come to earth. Now even de Wette **), in agreement with Lücke, says that “because of the connection” the ascending must also be understood figuratively as the descending is to be understood figuratively – the matter becomes too extreme, the apologist becomes presumptuous out of fear, and one must intervene and reverse the matter precisely because of the connection. It is not the ascending that can explain the descending, but rather the other way around: that the Lord has descended ***) should now also prove the possibility of ascending. But as the descent is the historical descent, in a literal sense, of Him who was in heaven from eternity, so the ascent is to be understood in the same strict literal sense. Of course, all the anguish of the commentators came only from the fact that the ascension is described as already past and accomplished *): but we must leave them in torment; for as the action and movement of the ascension is physical, and the expression literal, so now it is also the indication of the time that the action took place, that the Lord ascended into heaven. Yes, we must increase the agony of the apologists and call out to them: as all the provisions in this context are driven by their starting point to be understood literally, so also the provision that the Lord is in heaven. **) The actual existence of the Lord in heaven is to be understood by this, as the congregation later thought of it, when the Lord, after the completion of fine earthly activity, was raised into the glory which he had with the Father before the world stood. In short, we have before us the most extreme anachronism: the Lord speaks of his later destinies as if he had experienced them long ago, and he could speak in this way because the evangelist lends him his later view. For he is familiar with the idea that the Lord had to return to the Father, where he had been before, in order that the disciples’ knowledge might be completed. This at least implies that the knowledge of heavenly things can only be truly communicated when the Lord has ascended to heaven. Since the evangelist wants to proceed to the revelation of heavenly things, the reminiscence of the condition that makes it possible comes to his mind; he lets the Lord express this condition directly, as it stood in his later formed conception, because he cannot separate himself from the type of language once formed, and does not notice how he confuses everything down to the time determinations.

*) De Wette, who follows this explanation, must not refer to Deut. 30:11. For here the wisdom of the law is already presupposed as given, and the forbidden ascent to heaven, which the law only wanted to bring about, is to be grasped literally and sensually locally, because the contrast to the given, the near, the local must also be local. The question “who ascends to heaven and descends” is also to be answered literally in Prov. 30:4, because it refers to that which is impossible for human beings.

**) Explanation of the Gospel of John, p. 46.

***) De Wette has discovered two sides to the descent: on the one hand it is figurative, “on the other hand it signifies the permanent revelation of God in Christ.” No, it signifies that which has become historical, that which was given in the descent of the Logos.

*) Bengel understands the shortest way of avoiding this torment when he says: Praeterito tempore verbi (‘αναβενηκεν) in futurum mutata subaudi ‘αναβησεται. translated into plain German: If the words of the sacred Scriptures anger thee. Scripture vex thee, strangle them and cast them from thee.

**) De Wette freely says: “to divert from the materialistic-real conception of the καταβας serves the added οων εν τω ουρανω.” But what kind of materialism is this from which we should be distracted here? We do not know it, it would have to be the tendency of the ecclesiastical view, which the fourth evangelist has already expressed in its basic features, according to which the divine principle of the church came to it from the beyond. The καταβας, however, is not explained by its environment, but is the foundation of it, dominates all that follows, and determines it by its seriously meant local definiteness.


The heavenly things themselves are now revealed in vv. 14, 15: namely, the necessity, based on divine counsel, that the Lord must be exalted. But this exaltation, as the comparison with the exalted serpent proves, is the glorification which is not won without the death of the cross.

Now we have come to the point where we can conclude and examine the previous sentences step by step. We start from the end, in order to look for the true starting point and the historical basis. Jesus is said not only to have predicted to Nicodemus the future suffering of his death on the cross, but even to have opened up the necessity of it – but no! not opened it up, but only hinted at it in a typical way. All those highly exalted sayings of apologetics, that it is surely possible that the Lord could have spoken of his death so early, that he had wise intentions in doing so, beats back alone the question whether it is appropriate to the teaching wisdom of Jesus to develop an idea and yet to do it so vaguely that only he who already knew that idea thoroughly was able to understand him. The image of the brazen serpent is far-fetched, had not yet become the generally used type of messianic suffering at the time of Jesus, it agrees with the matter in question only to the extent that Jesus did not suffer death on the ground but high up on the cross, and even originally that serpent was not supposed to be the type of messianic suffering, since it had fulfilled its purpose when the Jews in the desert were healed bodily by the sight of it. The understanding of this type is therefore only possible if the knowledge of the depicted facts already exists, i.e. only a later man, after Jesus had suffered the death of the cross, could regard the bronze serpent as the type of the Lord’s atoning suffering and present it as this type to others who likewise already knew the sacred story. In general, this typology dealing with individual coincidences is only possible to the consciousness which already has both the image and the thing before it in its coincidental particularities.


And what could have moved Jesus to reveal the heavenly secret of his death on the cross to a man who had proved himself so incapable and childishly clumsy when he was supposed to receive the knowledge of earthly things? De Wette himself says that the Lord “had already given up trying to make Nicodemus understand” and now the Lord is supposed to “try to make an impression” by “higher revelations”? *) There was even less to hope for, especially if the “higher revelations” were only typological hints. Under Lücke’s hands Nicodemus has become a “receptive man” **), we are left without sources when we look for evidence of this receptivity, for so far the evangelist has only given us an example of how the Lord struggles in vain to make the elements of the order of salvation clear to a master of Israel. However, Lücke does not fail to bring up the apologetic remark, which is taken only from the fourth Gospel, that it was also Jesus’ practice “to express even the more difficult things, although he knows that he will not be understood, in order to provoke the mind/spirit.” *). But then he would at least have to be certain that something definite would stick in the soul of the listeners, but this certainty was completely cut off by the success of his efforts so far. And if he wanted to seize the soul, he could not speak in unclear typological terms, but had to present the matter in its striking simplicity.

*) Erkl. des Ev. Joh. p. 44.

**) Comm, I, 476.

*) Ibid. p. 477.


Further back we come to the contrast between the earthly and the heavenly. Here it will always alienate us to see rebirth as something lower than anything else, no matter how high it may be, for it is itself something so infinitely high that we can never find ourselves in it, even if it is only relatively called lower **). It does not help when Olshausen says, for example, that the rebirth is something earthly because it “takes place in the people who walk on earth”. ***), for the death of Jesus takes place there. But de Wette thinks that this explanation, which he also follows, does not collapse, because the death of Jesus on the cross is “founded in the divine action in history and with it man behaves in a receptive-believing way, but with the rebirth he behaves in a receptive-active way “*). And yet Jesus (v. 8) describes regeneration as something that depends solely on the will of the spirit and is a matter in which human power and determination cannot intervene. The figurative expression, however, also excludes human will from regeneration and describes it as a divine work to which human self-determination contributes as little as man contributes to his bodily birth. The Lord could not make this distinction, since he did not speak to Nicodocus of his death on the cross. But the evangelist, who in this conversation wants to let a teacher of Israel feel the whole distance between Jewish narrowness and the depth of the divine counsel, and who lets him be moved by ever deeper insights from the Lord into helpless and incomprehensible amazement, – in doing so, he proceeds from the awareness that to the Jewish point of view the thought of the necessity of the Messianic suffering was the greatest annoyance, and so he now presents it as the mystery that is superior to all other provisions that apply in the divine household. The contrast between the earthly and the heavenly is therefore not only meant to juxtapose the easily comprehensible and the difficult to understand **). The evangelist does not have this merely formal contrast in mind, but he wants to establish an essential contrast of content. But it is also natural that he must hold back this contrast only in the form of an unclear, undefined feeling, but cannot develop it intelligibly. In the first attempt to develop it, it would immediately become apparent that rebirth cannot be excluded from the sphere of the heavenly world either. It was enough for the author if the conversation only ran out into the mysterious, and he did not notice the difficulties into which he entangled himself in this endeavour, because he only went for that conclusion.

**) Benqel felt that – but the scriptural word stands there once, so help! coelesti sensui Jesu Christi sunt ‘επιγεια, quae in terris peragenda, nobis humi repentibus maxime videntur coelestia. Totus scripturae stilus est συγκαταβασεως plenus. Delicious ! Then the condescension should have been proved by calling celestial what the poor children of men call celestial, but not by the more noble usage of the upper language, which was allowed to prevail so ruthlessly.

***) Comm. I, 91.

*) Briefly. Explan. p. 45.

**) So explains Lücke, Comm. I, 466.


The question of whether the core of the conversation can be declared historical is closer to the question of whether Nicodemus, when the Lord spoke to him of the new birth, was really able to prove himself as limited as the evangelist depicts. Echoes of the idea of regeneration are, of course, found in the OT, but Jewish consciousness before the time of Jesus did not bring it to full definition, and as little as it reflected on its meaning, so little did it summarise the idea in a simple, striking word. But because of these echoes, this thought must have been understandable to Nicodemus, as it was certainly offered to him? The misunderstandings of which Nicodemus was guilty could be explained by the fact that the step from preparation to result was an infinitely difficult one and could not be taken by everyone. Yes! But once it has been done by an outstanding spirit, it is easy and simple for anyone else to do it. In fact, the new principle of life which Jesus took from his self-awareness and revealed was so simple that it was immediately comprehensible, and through its inner healthy power so victorious that it had to seize everyone whom it touched. It could be fought, rejected, but not dragged down into the silly, childish. The unbelievable narrowness of the learned Pharisee is only a work of the evangelist; he delights in the contrast of the unfathomable wisdom of his Master and the inability of the finite intellect to comprehend it, but he especially intended to portray the wisdom of Israel as unable to grasp the new. Admittedly, the author has translated it in such a way that at the very moment when he wants to emphasise the majesty of Jesus’ spirit, he puts the Lord in an unfavourable light, for now it seems as if the Lord did not know how to influence the most noble spirits of his people.


From the later point of view of the evangelist, the saying about the necessity of baptism is also made, the baptism, -which, as we have seen, can only be the Christian one. The evangelist also lets the Lord express his later and at the same time the still later experiences of the apostles, when he lets him complain about the insensitivity of the world. And from the words of Jesus, we bear witness to what we have seen, the apostle also speaks of one, for these have seen what none of the prophets have seen (Matt. 13:17 ).

Also the beginning of the conversation is made pure: when Nicodemus refers to the miracles that prove the divine mission of Jesus, the evangelist only wants to indicate that the Master of Israel was one of those unreliable believers in miracles of whom he had spoken before in general. In the few days of the feast of the Passover, however, Jesus would not have performed so many signs that could have given Nicodemus cause for this remark. That the Lord assaults the stranger immediately after his first words with the demand of regeneration is only natural for the evangelist, because he wants to report a conversation about regeneration. Finally, he wants to give us an example of the Lord’s wonderful knowledge of human nature and his wise restraint; but he has only given us an example of how one would have to offer a man the deepest truths and speak to him without regard to his childish powers of comprehension, if one did not want to get anywhere with them on the spot.


As the last core of the report, nothing remains but that Jesus once spoke with a Pharisaic ruler about the necessity of rebirth. But if everything unctuous in this conversation is the work of reflection, why should it we not be able to separate out its core idea? If Nicodemus appears so childishly limited only for the sake of a certain contrast, why should not his whole personality and existence be the product of a mere poem or hypothesis? The character of our reporter prevents us from resolving even the core. Even if the author is clumsy in his portrayal, even if he weaves into the speeches of Jesus views that could only be formed from the later standpoint of the community, he still cannot form a historical character out of imagination. He is not that creative and his reflections can only be linked to a given point. His reflection is a weak, though abundantly proliferating creeper, which can certainly cover a trunk, but cannot form such a trunk itself.

3) Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus.

3:16 -2l.

Since Nicodemus is at the limit of his understanding, where he cannot even express doubts, and has already had to keep quiet when the stream of higher insights flows over him, the Lord uses this favourable opportunity to give him a detailed discussion of the work of salvation. Following on from the thought of the necessity of the death on the cross, the Lord now says: “It is truly so, (v. 16) for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for the salvation of the believers. The same idea, in the form of negating the opposite, is expressed in verse 17, stating that God did not send His Son to judge the world, but to grant it the gift of eternal life. Both ideas are then summarized in verse 18: the believer will not be judged, but the unbeliever has already been judged as such. For the judgment is already present in the manifestation of the light, which the wicked flee from (verse 19). This behavior is entirely natural (verse 20), as they fear that their evil deeds will be exposed by the light. Whereas the one who does what is true (verse 21) comes to the light freely, so that his deeds done in God may be revealed.


The Lord did not give this speech either. The expression “the firstborn Son of God” was attributed to Christian doctrine through reflection only when Jesus’ personality was removed from immediate, sensual perception and became the subject of theory. The thought of judgment, as it appears here, cannot at least have been expressed in this context in the conversation with Nicodemus. For the fact that the unbeliever as such is already judged, betrays the fact that the thought, as it is developed here, belongs in a quite different context, namely, in such a context where the idea is to be eliminated, as if it depended only on a future judgment, so that everyone will receive their due. But this contradiction does not precede, does not lie in the previous conversation with Nicodemus, is entirely at home elsewhere. Furthermore, the determination of the time, that God gave his Incarnate Son into the world, presupposes the work of salvation as already completed, and comes from the reflection which saw it thoroughly accomplished. In the context in which the Saviour’s death on the cross is to be justified by divine love, the giving of oneself is the giving of oneself into the sufferings of this world and into death: but if Jesus did not speak of His necessary death to the Master of Israel, He cannot even think of justifying or developing this necessity any further. Finally (v. 19), that the people did not love the light that had come into the world, is again a reflection on a past time and on a judgement of the crisis[?], which the congregation, but not the Lord, had behind them at the moment when he spoke to Nicodemus. So there are thoughts everywhere that the Lord could never have expressed, or at least not here as far as the idea of judgement is concerned.


In addition, the whole account where the Lord is spoken of is in the third person. The Lord could not use this way of speaking either, if he wanted to speak of his present and past effectiveness in a larger context. It is a different matter in the longer speeches of the Synoptics when Jesus describes the future judgement and speaks of the glory of the coming Son of Man. It is a different matter in the longer speeches of the Synoptics when Jesus describes the future judgement and speaks of the glory of the coming Son of Man. For in the coming time of glory, he refers to a revelation of prophecy that has not yet appeared, he stands before himself as an ideal object of vision and can speak of himself in the third person. But he could not do so in this way, and even in such detail and extension, when he spoke of his present appearance. The apologists have noticed at least some of the difficulties mentioned, but because they do not know how to get at the heart of the matter, the substance, they consider the statement “that the Lord could not have spoken these words” to be an offence against Holy Scripture. If the content does not cause them any difficulty, they nevertheless take offence at the form and now help themselves with the assertion that it is not Jesus who speaks in the passages v. 16-21, but the evangelist *). “What, asks Tholuck, could one reasonably object to, that the evangelist, from v. 16 on, should consciously give an exposition of the thought previously given by the Saviour?” Well, the thing is that he does not indicate that he was commenting but that he was in good faith indicating what the Lord spoke — but he was really only writing what the later church had theorized? [loose “translation”]

*) Thus Olshausen: Comm. II, 96. Tholuck Comm. p. 35.


Even de Wette and Lücke do not reflect on the difficulties of the content, the latter even thinks “that v. 16 – 21 do not contain any thought which in itself contradicts the coherence and the purpose of the conversation”! – but with regard to the form, they find it remarkable that “no boundary mark” can be discovered that separates the author’s reflection from the preceding conversation. Since, then, the coherence of the contents is the most agreeable, all that is needed is a middle way, a “middle opinion,” which properly blends the two assumptions that Jesus’ speech continues and that the evangelist also intervenes. Thus it is said that Jesus’ speech continues in that section, but that the evangelist “now lets himself go more freely” **) or that “the explanatory and expanding hand of the speaker now intervenes much more strongly than before”. ***). But even with this emergency help, the section v. 16 – 21 cannot be separated from the previous one and the complete unity of both halves must remain. For as far as the letting oneself go freely is concerned, the account has long before done the utmost in this, and not only before vv. 13-15, as de Wette thinks, he has done it, he has also not only “lent Jesus his words”, as the same commentator assumes, but the content of the views, and that not only vv. 13-15 but from the moment when he (v. 5) let Jesus speak of the necessity of baptism. But when it is said that the evangelist lets himself go more freely from v. 16 onward, the idea is still at the bottom of it that he does it with the consciousness that from then on he gives thoughts and words that were not completely presented in this way by Jesus. But where does he show this consciousness and how can he have it at all, since he could not let the Lord speak otherwise than from the point of view of the later church?

**De Wette’s explanation of the Gospel of John, p. 48.

***) Lücke Comm. I, 479.


All these apologetic turns, however, will be put into their necessary confusion and driven back by the following remark. If we present the statements of another, we can and may without further ado also link our reflections to the presentation, justify what has been reported, and introduce our continued consideration with the formula “for”, i.e. “it is really so”. But we cannot, may not and will not do this unless 1) the statements of another are before us in writing and are only combined by us into a whole. This is how we proceed, for example, in the presentation of a philosophical system, or in a work on the history of dogma, or in the development of a biblical doctrine. Or 2) we must have before us a self-contained saying of another, which in this self-contained form forms a whole and is thus known to everyone *). But also 3) we must not report an interchange, but only the totality of a spiritual standpoint in its pure generality. Since none of these conditions is given here, since the author wants to report an exchange, a conversation that is not yet in written form in other passages, since he does not even give it in summary indirect speech, he also wants to render in vv. 16 – 21 what he wanted to render before – the words of Jesus; but he also gives them here with as little success as before.

*) With this, Tholuck’s question (op. cit.): “Would not every preacher in our country in a similar way (namely, as the evangelist does according to Tholuck’s presupposition) link his own exposition to a biblical text?




§ 4. The cleansing of the temple and its justification

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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



§ 4. The cleansing of the temple and its justification.



1) The expulsion of the merchants from the temple.

The evangelist is not allowed to let the Lord linger long in Galilee, just as only the invitation to the wedding had led Him there, so now a passover calls Him back to Judea after a few days, after He had hardly settled in Capernaum. Arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus immediately went to the Temple, but was offended by the commercial activity he found there and now forcibly expelled the merchants who desecrated the place of religious worship.


Since the Synoptics also know of such an expression of Jesus’ zeal, but place it in the last days, which preceded Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion, the question is whether the same thing happened twice, and if it did not, in which account we find the true position of the matter. Those commentators who find too much of the same in both accounts to assume a repetition of the action, which could not always have the same appearance, and who are more inclined to the fourth evangelist than to the others, declare themselves to be in favour of the two accounts being identical and find in the fourth gospel the true position and account of the incident. Thus Lücke and de Wette regard it as proof of the greater credibility and faithfulness of the account, when the Lord, according to the fourth evangelist, deals more mildly with the dove-dealers than with the money-changers and those who sold sheep and oxen. For while he forcibly expelled the latter with their cattle, and even overturned the tables of the changers, he only urged the dove-dealers with the mild words that they should put aside those (i.e. the doves) and not make his father’s house a house of sale. This view of the matter, however, is only outwardly connected with the sentimentality that one associates with the idea of the dove. What could have moved the Lord to deal more gently with the dove traders than with those who traded in oxen and sheep? Was it the fact that the doves were “necessary for the poor”? *) What casuistry! As if the poor – sentimentality plays a role here again – could not buy doves elsewhere, as if their need excused the desecration of the holy place! The Lord’s words are only addressed to the dove traders because he mentions them last and at the same time follows the urge to be specific, but not because they are more innocent than the others. Moreover, the evangelist was not at all fortunate in the singling out of particulars, for the words: do not make my father’s house a house of commerce, cannot originally have been addressed to the dove traders alone, but are meant to designate the offence of all wrongdoers as such. In addition, no impartial person will be able to accept that these words “are meant as a reference to the petty traders” *), for first of all, they are much too closely connected with the request addressed only to the dove traders: “Take that away!” and secondly, according to the report, the Lord has already done everything with the ox and sheep traders and with the money changers that he considered necessary against them when he had forcibly put an end to their trade. The vividness of the report is therefore only gained through an oversight in the words that applied to all. From the fact that the fourth evangelist gives the words with which the Lord punishes the profanation of the holy place only as an allusion to the OT, while the Synoptics have Jesus quote the passages of Scripture verbatim, it cannot be concluded that his account is accurate and authentic *”). It is just as easy for him to have turned into an allusion what was quoted in the mouth of Jesus.

*) This is how de Wette explains it.

**) As Lücke (Comm. I, 437) and Neander, Leben Jesu p. 38S think. De Wette is even so tragic, or rather so inquisitorial, that he says that the speech of Jesus is “distorted” in the Synoptics! (Explanation of the Gospel of John, p. 40).


And now the circumstance of Jesus weaving a scourge from ropes, how precise, how graphic! But it has long been said: how suspicious rather! If the violent character of Jesus’ action does not harm it, that very fact renders it more alarming; indeed, it drags it down into baseness. The merchants could be struck by the word and the reproof, so that they obeyed unconditionally; in the moment of surprise even the money-changers could get over the fact that their tables were turned over. But it would have been a challenge, and some of them might have resisted too much, if the master had used a scourge against them. They would then no longer have had to deal with the holy fierceness and indignation alone, with this spiritual greatness, thus no longer with a power against which they were not armed, but with an opponent to whom they were completely equal. The apologist, to whom this report of the swinging of the scourge is once absolute and eternal truth, must therefore endeavour either to keep this dangerous instrument in the background as much as possible or to withdraw it altogether from the game. The scourging of the people, says Tholuck*), was not so much the effect of the outward chastisement which Jesus gave him, but rather the effect of the holy prophetic earnestness and the punishing conscience. But then the scourge was not only a dangerous, but also a superfluous addition. Therefore – so we can make the transition, – therefore, because everything else is of no avail, Neander now says: **) “Of course, the abolition of the scourge – note! the abolition – could not be a sign of violence to be used here” but only “a symbolic sign of the impending divine judgment. “So not only is the scourge not used, and when it is wielded threateningly, not only does it have no meaning for the present moment, but, as the Lord is invading the people with it, wanting to punish them because of the desecration of the temple that has just been committed, the people are supposed to direct their thoughts to the distant judgment? If, then, not a single word of the Lord gives the people’s thoughts this direction away from the present towards the future, is this direction to be effected by the silent scourge? The report not only disdains this excessive artifice by directing the punishing words of Jesus against the temple violators without any reference to the future, but also by letting the scourge fulfil its entire purpose if it is the effective means of expelling the merchants from the temple. For only as this effective means does the report want to describe it when it says of the Lord: ποιήσας φραγέλλιον πάντας ἐξέβαλεν.

*) Comm. p. 86.

**) ibid.


Finally, it is declared to be a sign of the accuracy of our report that it has preserved the statement about the breaking down of the temple, to which the false witnesses later referred before the Sanhedrin. It is also clear from this point that the fourth evangelist correctly places the cleansing of the temple in the first time of Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem, for only on this condition can it be explained that the false witnesses had such an easy time in court. But if malicious people remembered a saying of Jesus at such an opportune time after several years, then there were more attentive listeners to the Lord in Jerusalem than the evangelist would have us believe, when he otherwise lets all the speeches of the Lord be spoken into the void because of the hard-heartedness of the people. And years did not have to pass for those witnesses to have a better chance, since they could give a different meaning to Jesus’ words by a small, inconspicuous twist.


In the last point, we have already come to the question of which report is chronologically correct. However, since it is still possible that the event occurred twice and that it only turned out so similar both times because they caused quite similar or rather the same circumstances, we must first examine this possibility even more seriously.

“Why should not the fact, asks Tholuck *), have happened twice and each of the two relations be equally justified?” Assuming that the Johannine account is justified because of its “greater” but, as we have now seen, not happy “specificity”, he goes on to ask: “If Jesus thought it necessary to perform the action at the beginning of his teaching time, should he not have repeated it so often when the same profanation was particularly glaring, and how now, if this was only the case at the last Passover feast?” We must again surprise this commentator when we answer: not twice, but very often, the Lord ought to have repeated the action. For how and according to the law of what casuistry does the believing apologist want to excuse the Lord if, after intervening once, he again took hold of the sacrilege in the holy place only after it had become “particularly glaring”? Is it permissible to tolerate evil, once it has been fought, until it has overgrown the whole ground, and moreover the ground of the holy place? It would be worth the effort to examine more closely the principle which finds such a procedure – to speak in casuistic language – “probable”. But away with it! It is enough for that commentator to take the trouble to point out that when the Lord once cleansed the temple, the success was not a lasting one, because it was based only on a momentary consternation of the sinners, and what has already become a popular custom is not forever suppressed by such means. As often as the Lord came to Jerusalem at a festival time, so often would he have had to cleanse the temple. But what should have been done so often, the Lord could only have done once, for only once was it a significant act, an accusation against the priests who did not take better care of the sanctity of the house of God, and a declaration that he had come to restore the integrity of the service, whereas if it had been repeated, the act would have appeared to be a purely police measure, which was always unsuccessful. The question as to which account of the cleansing of the temple, if it only happened once, is thus immediately decided. In the last period of Jesus’ activity, the significant character of the act became clear and the bold step that the Lord took with this violent act corresponded to the decisive break that had now happened and irrevocably brought about the catastrophe. But in the first period of his appearance, the act would have seemed pointless if it had not been repeated every time he went on a festive trip, and then it would have taken on that false police air.

*) Comm. p. 88.


The fourth evangelist knows nothing of a repetition of the action, otherwise he would have indicated it in the same way as in the account of the miracle at Cana, where he already hints that it was the first and that even afterwards miracles were still performed by the Lord. However, he had placed this act at the beginning of Jesus’ activity, because it seemed to be a fitting symbol of the entire Messianic activity.

2) The new temple.

The Jews demanded a sign in relation to the fact that the Lord had risen up against the desecration of the Holy Place. But why a sign? The act of Jesus was not such as would necessarily have had to be proved by a sign of its authority, since it could have proceeded from any other who felt impelled in holy zeal. At the most, the Jews could have asked the Lord about his authority to interfere in the sacred ordinances.

The words of Jesus, “Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again,” are interpreted in two ways: one which immediately presented itself to the Jews, and the other which only became clear to the disciples after the Lord’s death. The Jews understood the words as referring to the visible temple, the disciples understood them as referring to the body of the Lord and His resurrection.

The Jews would not have come to their understanding if the Lord had not pointed to the temple with his hand. If, on the other hand, the Lord had intended to speak of his body, he would have had to point to it: then, of course, the misunderstanding of the Jews would have been impossible, but at the same time they would not have been able to think of anything under those words. For the figurative conception of the whole temple only arose later in Christian consciousness, namely, when the congregation had broken away from the temple service. Only then did it regard itself as the temple in which the divine spirit dwelt in an appropriate manner, whereas in the time of the law the divinity had dwelt in a temple of stone. Now the congregation saw itself as the body of which Christ was the head and could therefore also call itself the body of the Lord, the body that was born in the death of Christ. Finally, because everyone in the congregation knew himself to be partaker of the Holy Spirit and regarded himself as the dwelling place of the same, the body of each one could be called a temple, and only from this individual version of the image could an understanding of the words of Jesus, as developed by the fourth evangelist, arise. But in order for this view, the basic features of which are given in the Pauline theory, to come into being, historical conditions were necessary which were not present in the circle to which Jesus was speaking *). The evangelist therefore speaks quite correctly when he says that this understanding did not dawn on him and the disciples until later, but it is not an understanding which understands the words in their historical relationship, but speculates about them and places them in a completely different relationship than they originally had. The evangelist’s remark that the disciples believed the Scriptures when the understanding of the Lord’s words dawned on them leads us to the later point of view of comparative reflection: they believed the prophecies of the O.T. about the suffering and resurrection of the Anointed One.

*) Philo (de opiif. mundi §. 47) calls the body οιχος τις η νεως ιερος ψυχης λογιχης. The corresponding view in the New Testament is not borrowed from him, but rather a similar conception of the body developed in his consciousness in a similar situation and distance from the temple service. To him, the body is the temple of the Logos, and to the community it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.


In part, the Jews understood the Lord’s words correctly; on the other hand, they also misunderstood them in part: for even if Jesus pointed with his hand to the temple as it stood there physically, he did not mean merely the stones and the framework of it, but at the same time he understood the temple in its spiritual meaning as the centre of the cult. He therefore believed that he would found a new cult if the old one were to perish. But how does this justify the deed for which he was to prove his authority? The old and the new are not only in opposition, but also in an internal and historical connection; the old is the birthplace of the new and this has a side, according to which it is the purification and transfiguration of the old. The founder of the new must not allow the old to be stained by the unholy, and he must see to it that the birthplace of the new is kept pure.


The time definition: “in three days” I will raise the temple again seems to be original and to have conveyed the transformation of this statement into a prophecy of the resurrection of the Lord. Jesus himself, however, could not speak of his resurrection in a prophesying way, so that he might have meant: in three days after his future death he would establish the new service of God through his resurrection. For if he wanted to be understood, he would not only have to indicate the necessary intermediate steps, but also explain each step in detail due to their infinite difficulty for the understanding of the people. However, and this is decisive, the Lord does not want to say what he will do in the distant future, but rather something continuous, enduring, and permanent, namely, he wants to indicate the authority that is already given to him at all times and now, and that he can prove himself.

Nevertheless – “nevertheless” is what we usually have to say when we move from the explanation of a biblical view to an apologetic explanation – nevertheless Tholuck thinks that only the evangelist’s view is the right one *). The Lord could not have pointed to the temple, otherwise “he would necessarily have created the misunderstanding that he was speaking of the construction of the external temple.” However, the center of a cult can be used as a symbol of it without discomfort.

*) Comm. p. 90.


On this supposition, “the main idea that the temple is to be built anew is lacking. But the determination of the new is openly expressed when Jesus says: he, this single, weak-appearing individual, will in a short time rebuild the old when it falls, and through the contrast of this individual and such a great task, the renewal of the old is immediately elevated to its spiritual meaning. Furthermore, “in three days” cannot have the literal meaning of “in a short time”. But when Tholuck refers to Hos 6:2, even to our use of language, he contradicts himself. For if, like Hosea, we say: in two, three days, we want to indicate by the fluctuation of the expression that we want to define the short time only approximately: “in two days” is intended to mark the first possible boundary, but the addition of “in three days” is intended to indicate that another boundary point is also possible, even if it can only possibly be the outermost one. In Hosea, however, the formulas: “after a few days, – מִיֹּמָ֑יִם is the indefinite expression – on the third day” are alternate determinations of one and the same. The first indefinite expression, “in a few days,” however, betrays the fact that when it is said, “on the third day,” this provision is only intended to mark the next possible boundary.

Finally, Tholuck *) helps himself with the assumption “that the Jews, if Christ referred to his body, could still misunderstand him, since that interpretation of the body was too remote for them.” *) But if it remained inaccessible to them even in spite of the physical certainty brought about by the pointing, the Lord was not allowed to speak of such things to them at all. It is to be admitted and goes without saying that the Lord spoke many a word whose full content was only revealed to later consciousness, but then it must nevertheless have been of such a nature and forcefulness that it involuntarily seized even the first hearers, opened up to them the perception of a new world, and even at the first moment presented a comprehensible core which developed into a fruit corresponding to it – but it could not have been spoken into the blue.

*) Ibid. p. 91.

*) Happy times of innocence and comfort, the apologist would have to sigh, where one only had to assume, without all anguish and anxiety, as e.g. Bengel did, that the Jews had not noticed the pointing movement of Jesus, which was directed towards the body.


If all else does not help, Olshausen resorts to the assumption of a double sense. “In addition to the ostensible sense, the words have an inner sense for the crowd, which only became apparent to the disciples themselves after the resurrection” **). No one will want to eliminate the double sense from language in general, but it will always have to be acknowledged only where it is found in the same direction that word and thought have once taken. Here, therefore, once one has reached the one point of the sense, the ostensible, i.e., the temple, one would have to come in the same direction to the second sense. But does this unity of direction take place when the Lord, with one movement of the hand, with the One τουτον, and at the same moment backwards and forwards, forwards to the temple and from the temple, is not to point in the same line further or deeper into the midpoint, but back towards his body?

**) Comm, p. 81.



§ 3. The miracle at Cana

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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



§3 The miracle at Cana.



1) The introduction to the miracle.

When the wine ran out during the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus called the attention of his mother to it, not in the way that one guest usually reminds another in such cases that it is time to leave *), but to the servants she immediately says, what he tells you to do, i.e. even if the slightest commands were unusual, follow them. So she does not expect Jesus to provide wine for the guests in the usual way, but she is prepared for extraordinary preparations for a miracle.

*) Nevertheless, Bengel explains the words of Mary in this way: velim discedas. it ceteri item discedant, antequam penuria patefiat.

So the mother of Jesus is expecting a miracle. How does she come to this so easily? She has not yet seen her Son perform any miracles, since the evangelist explicitly states that the Lord performed the first sign at Cana. Or did she foresee, as the apologists say, remembering the signs and wonders that glorified the birth of the Lord, that her Son would now perform something great? But why now of all times? And does she only foresee the coming event according to the message she has received, is she not rather convinced that it will happen, and does she not prepare the servants for it in this sense? But Jesus could not have told her beforehand that he would perform a miracle at the wedding and that he would perform this particular miracle, for the mother’s remark that the wine had run out was only meant to draw the Lord’s attention to a circumstance that had happened by chance.


But the Lord does not like his mother to tell him what to do and to interfere in his affairs. Woman, he says, what have I to do with you? It is in vain that the apologists endeavour to take away the harshness of this form of address, and that Hemsen, for example, says that the word “woman” has “here the quite ordinary sense of a form of address *). A form of address! What kind of address it is, that is what matters, and the word “woman” always denotes the utmost alienation when spoken to the mother, because it removes the definite relation to the mother, makes the filial relation disappear, and instead sets the general relationship according to the sex. Bengel therefore explains the address more correctly in the sense of the evangelist when he says that it should indicate that the Lord was not involved in the natural side and feeling of the family relationship. **) But this reveals to us the inhuman transcendental harshness of the form of address and how impossible it is that he should have spoken in this way who never wished to renounce the duty of fulfilling “all justice, thus also the justice of the family relationship. Hase ***) is also quite right in assuming that “the historian has preserved Jesus’ answer in order to express his independence from family relationships. As if the truth wanted to take revenge, Hase, although he first describes the answer as Jesus’ words, must at the end let the historian express Jesus’ supposed independence. Indeed, Jesus himself cannot speak in this way, since we cannot ascribe to him such a fearful jealousy for the appearance of his independence, a jealousy that went on to extreme harshness against his mother.

*) Die Authentie der Schriften des Evangelisten Johannes p. 82.

**) Ne matrem quidem noverat secundum earnem.

***) Das Leben Jesu. 1835. p. 107.


In this respect, such a rude dismissal contradicts the way of the Lord, as he never refuses help when asked, let alone in such a harsh manner. Directed towards the mother, however, this harshness would exceed all bounds. Of course, the evangelist also gives a motive why the Lord did not respond to the mother’s admonition: his hour had not yet come. According to his presupposition, as he understood the mother’s admonition, Bengel can make it easiest for himself if he understands the hour to which the Lord refers as the time for departure *). But how could the Lord so exclusively call the time that would have been the end of their gathering for all the guests his hour? Would it not have been necessary for the author to emphasise that this conversation between Jesus and his mother was about the hour of departure? But “my hour” has such a solemn sound that we should not assume, even with Lücke, Olshausen and many others, that the Lord means the right time for the performance of the miracle. We would then have to assume the impossible, that the Lord had already told the mother that he would perform this particular miracle on this feast day. Rather, the hour of the Lord is called throughout the Fourth Gospel the time in which the work of salvation is completed, i.e. the time of suffering. Augustine is therefore closer to the mark when he really goes back to that time, which in the exclusive sense is called the hour of the Lord, and means with reference to 19:26, that the Lord wants to say that he will not have anything to do with his mother before the hour of his death *). But this explanation too must be rejected outright, since it completely overlooks the relationship to the requested miracle, for in the context of the report those words can only mean: now I cannot respond to your admonition about the wine, but when my hour has come, then I will bring the miraculous wine. But it is evident that these words of the Lord are just as unhistorical as the preceding admonition of the Mother.

*) Hora faciendi, quod innuis, i. e. Discedendi.

*) Weisse, evang. Gesch. II, 281.Aug. in Joan. ev. tract. VIII, c. 9 says: quia genuisti informitatem meam, timc te cognoseam, cum ipsa infirmitas pendcbit in cruce. When, by the way, the Lord, pointing to the standing favourite disciple, says to his mother from the cross: “Woman, behold, your son!”, this address does not cancel out the above explanation of the use of the word woman, as Hemsen (loc. cit.) thinks, The harshness enters into the above address through the fact that the Lord at the same time rejects a request of the mother. But what both forms of address have in common is that the master lifts the mother out of the family relationship with him. In both cases he no longer regards her as his mother; therefore: “Woman!”


The words that Jesus and the mother exchanged with each other must also have been spoken later, because the mother, when she asked the Lord to perform a miracle, would not have said it aloud so that anyone but Jesus could hear. It had to be done so quietly that even a disciple sitting nearby could not hear it. The words to the servants can also only be thought of as a quiet hint, if the whole company was not to be put in suspense beforehand: but how could the servants then understand a hint in a matter of which they had no idea?


The question of the origin of this dialogue is easily answered. There is something offensive in the miracle itself, insofar as it serves to satisfy desire. If the company itself, when there was no wine and they still wanted to drink, had asked the master to perform the miracle, the offence would have been increased and the purpose of the social pleasure would have been too naked. Under these circumstances it must have seemed more fitting and harmless if a woman had asked for a miracle, which again none of the women could do with less suspicion of a selfish intention than the mother of the Lord. But she could so surely expect and presuppose what would happen, because the evangelist had the miracle in mind and could also grant the mother of Jesus the certainty that it would be performed. Her invitation was for him the lever with which he set the following in motion.

This request, however, seemed to involve an inconsistency. The Lord might otherwise perform his miracles at the request of others, without such an occasion being the cause of a discreditable connotation: here such a reason seemed to be there. For the words of the Mother, who is already certain of success, do not contain a request but an admonition, and if the Lord then performed the miracle without further ado after Mary’s request, it seemed that he had followed the authority of the Mother. But now he was to appear in his glory, which the evangelist had to guard jealously and let the Lord reject any appearance of external authority *).

*) Calvin, Comm. on the Gospel of John, explains the evangelist’s view correctly: Christus periculo occurrit, ne alio quam oportet trahatur matris dictum, quasi ex ejus praescripto miraculum postea ediderit.


We have already seen that the meaning of the Lord’s words, “My hour has not yet come,” is none other than this: only when the time of completed suffering and glorification has come will I pour out the true miracle wine. As soon as we understand the words in this only correct sense, their true meaning is immediately betrayed, and the hint of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which lies visibly in them, now, after having been misunderstood for so long, emerges unmistakably. Although the fourth evangelist does not report the institution of the Lord’s Supper himself, he does know it, and he lets the Lord reflect on the enjoyment of his flesh and blood. As the Lord speculates in this later passage about the necessity of this partaking, so he prophesies here at Cana about the gift of the true miraculous wine, which he will give to his own in his time. But it was impossible for the Lord to speak of this gift so early on, since he could not assume that the mother would understand him even remotely.

Now we can no longer be surprised at the instruction which the Mother of Jesus gives to the servants. For she could very easily find out that the servants would have something to do here, since the evangelist only had to lend her his knowledge of what followed. Nor could she turn to her son’s words that his hour had not yet come, since they came only from the evangelist, who satisfied his desire for a prophecy in them and, when he had satisfied it, forgot that they had to tell the mother not to pursue the Lord with her desire. On the contrary, the evangelist needed the mother so that the arrangements for the miracle, which the Lord would later make, could be made all the more easily by the servants. The servants were to be prepared for Jesus’ seemingly strange request *).

*) Is this not true apologetics, which turns the biblical text into its opposite? “Withdrawing herself, says Olshausen, Mary now refers the servants to the divine Son”. That is a beautiful retreat, when after the hard rebuke of the Lord she still gets involved in the matter and even draws the servants into it, who now also had to expect that the Lord would soon do something special!


But the Lord would not have been allowed to perform the miracle if he had said: My hour has not yet come. But the evangelist intervenes, he wants to report this miraculous deed and all the inappropriate speeches that precede it cannot dissuade him from this intention.

2) The purpose of the miracle.

The evangelist strongly emphasizes that it was the first sign that the Lord performed at Cana, that he revealed his glory and that the disciples believed in him. Accordingly, he seems to consider the ultimate purpose of the miracle, in accordance with his maxim, to be the production of faith, so that in and of itself, as the breaking of natural laws, it would not have achieved its essential purpose. However, this view cannot cause us any lasting offense when we inquire about the purpose of this miracle, as it belongs solely to the pragmatism of the author.

A far more serious difficulty presents itself when, apart from the pragmatism of the evangelist, we consider the miracle for itself. The miracle is otherwise always beneficial in that it removes a natural deficiency. But what the Lord is said to have done at Cana does not aim at the beneficial removal of a natural evil, but only at refreshing the interrupted desire. Ever since apologetics was embarrassed by the discovery of this contradiction, it has endeavoured to find an inner purpose in the miracle at Cana which would make it appear to be more than a casual expedient. Olshausen, who has completed these efforts, now says that the Lord’s purpose was to lead his disciples, who had formerly followed the Baptist, the man who lived in the rough desert and did not drink the fruit of the vine, into a freer position. He had already achieved this purpose if he took them into society and its freer movement and led them out of the desert to the pleasures of a wedding feast. In doing so, he would have already shown them clearly enough that it was not in harmony with his spirit if one wanted to close oneself off from the cheerfulness of life. Olshausen also assuages this objection *). The Lord had wanted to balance out the contrast between the austere life in which the disciples had previously been caught up and the enjoyment to which they were now led, and to suppress “all possible censuring judgements that wanted to stir in their hearts” through the miracle. But in this way the miracle again becomes only a formal means. If the disciples thought that the stern seriousness of the Baptist and the cheerfulness of the Lord were really a contrast that would have made them misunderstand their new Master, Jesus had to explain it more clearly, or if he wanted to do it by means of the miracle, he would have had to express this purpose at the same time by a postscript, otherwise the treatise itself, which is supposed to lie in the miracle, would have missed its effect or would have been completely incomprehensible. If the fourth evangelist was one of the disciples whom the Lord wanted to influence by the miracle, then he at least proves that with him the means worked unsuccessfully or was not necessary. To him the miracle is nothing but the revelation of that glory which he sees in all other miracles of the Lord in the same way. And where is the proof that in the minds of the disciples any reproachful judgements came to the fore? The Lord would have acted very rashly and, what is more, with a wasteful use of the most violent means, if he had sent a miracle against “possible” judgements of this kind before they had even forced themselves forward. But if he had seen from the real statements of the disciples that such judgements were indeed being raised in their hearts, then he would have had to repudiate them differently, just as he rebuked those who reproached him for not living as strictly as the Baptist (Matth. 9:14-17). The purpose of the instruction could not have been fulfilled in the miracle.

*) Comm. II, 75. 76.


In general, however, we must not conduct teleological observation too prosaically if we do not want to expose ourselves to the danger of subordinating the principle of utility to the miraculous activity of the Lord. Already in the contemplation of nature we are not permitted this prosaic limitation; we would, for example, only consider wine in a one-sided way if we only wanted to understand it in relation to man and not in itself as the highest manifestation of the spiritual in the plant world. Similarly, at least, we could regard the miracle at Cana as an end in itself, and the act itself as a rejoicing in creation, as an exaltation over what was pressing, sick and suffering, an exaltation which was no injustice to the Lord.


If one wants to understand the report mythically, then only the words of the Lord, “My hour has not yet come,” are to be considered. According to the evangelist’s view, the Lord is supposed to point to the time of suffering in which he will perform the true miracle witness: how, then, can this prophecy reveal the ideal meaning of the account? if the transformation of the water into wine were a prelude to the distribution of that wine at the Last Supper? Even without the correct explanation of these words of the Lord, de Wette has come to the conclusion that it would be most analogous to regard this giving of wine as a counter-image of the giving of bread and both as corresponding to the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper *). But this explanation is not really sufficient, since it leaves it unclear why wine, which is obtained by transformation, should occur in this prelude to the Lord’s Supper. This cannot be based on the fact that wine is also given in the Lord’s Supper, which is no longer the direct wine, but the blood of the Lord; for the transformation theory was not developed as early as one would then have to assume. If the report had only been written as a prelude to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, it would have had immediate appeal as a myth and would have been more widespread than it really is. Then it must also have been more closely related to the legend of the multiplication of the loaves as an image of the giving of the bread of the Lord’s Supper and, if the latter narrative was mythical, it must have originated in the same circle with it and have always existed together with it. Since this is not the case either, the account would have to be a purely literary product of the fourth evangelist, but then again the relationship to the giving of wine at the Last Supper would have to prevail in it.

*) ibid. p. 37.

On the contrary, however, this relation appears only once, only as if lost, and even only in such a way that the miraculous deed itself appears against it as an inconsequence.


Thus the mythical explanation cannot be carried out with complete certainty. The Synoptics, of course, know nothing of this miracle, but the reason for their silence may also lie in the fact that the congregation’s perception of this feature of the Lord’s life did not know how to find it and that it now gradually receded in their memory. But even if the miracle were the historical core of the report, it must not be overlooked that the evangelist did not give a pure account of the idea of the whole, especially that he did not adequately introduce the miracle.


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

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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



§. 2. The circle of expectation



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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

**) ibid. p. 27.

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


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

*ibid. p. 69.

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


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


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

*) Life of Jesus, 1st ed. I, 349. 

**) ibid. p. 27.


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

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

*) ibid. I., 360.


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

*) So Lücke ibid.

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

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


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

*) ibid. I., 330.

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


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

*) ibid. I., 350.

**) Ibid. p. 351.

***) Ibid. p. 352.


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

*) Ibid. p. 348.


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


6) The finding of the Messiah.


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


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

*) Commentary on the Gospel of John p 117.

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


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


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

*) Comm. I, 388.


7) The finding of Philip.


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

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


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

*) Thus Lücke I. 387.

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

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


8) Nathanael.


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


9) The pragmatism of this section.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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




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

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by Neil Godfrey

With the assistance of machine translation tools I have been making some of Bruno Bauer’s key works on New Testament criticism available in English. This page links to BB’s chapters on his Criticism of the Gospel of John, published in 1840. I will continue to add more chapters as (a) attempt to proof-read translations for accuracy and readability and (b) format them for online posting here. Unfortunately I have not been able to render all of BB’s words with the clarity I would like, especially his more philosophical and theoretical discussions. But there is still much more that is clear for those who are interested.

The page numbers correspond paragraph by paragraph to the published online text on Google Books so if you want to compare what I have posted here with the German original it should not be too difficult to do so.

The German text I have used is located on Google Books. Consider my effort a draft awaiting someone more knowledgeable of Bauer’s thought and the German language to refine into a more respectable translation.

Criticism of the Gospel of John

BB does not go beyond 10:39 in this volume. He continues discussion of the Gospel of John in Criticism of the Gospels and History of their Origin – in English. The reason for the break is that up to 10:39 the Gospel of John can be analysed for the most part independently of the Synoptic Gospels but in order to investigate the origin of the later chapters comparisons with the Synoptics are essential.


Comments by Martin Kegel on Bauer’s criticism of the Gospel of John

Comments on the Bruno Bauer’s Criticism of the Gospel of John by Martin Kegel: Bruno Bauer und seine Theorien über die Entstehung des Christentums [= Bruno Bauer and His Theories on the Origin of Christianity]. Quelle & Meyer, 1908.

The plan:

Bauer’s original plan had been to continue his “Critique of the History of Revelation” (Part I) by presenting the historical preconditions of Christianity to the critical examination of the New Testament Revelation. This plan – he says in the preface to his new work on the Gospel of John – of a presentation following the course of history, he has given up and with his new writing has entered a path that will lead more quickly to the goal1). He wanted to proceed in a literary-critical manner and begin his investigation with the latest form of New Testament literature. For, he later said (“Deutsche Jahrbücher” 1842, p. 670): “With the insight into the composition and tendency of the Gospels and their individual sections, the insight into their origin and into the historical basis or ideal meaning of their reports is also given”. He wanted to begin with the latest structure and then penetrate further and further into the early period of the production of New Testament literature and thus come closer and closer to the origins of Christianity itself.

But what was this latest structure? Bauer was certain that it was the Gospel of John. At the beginning of the century, this Gospel had been subjected to sharp attacks2) : the time was preparing itself in which one would no longer draw one’s knowledge of the founder of Christianity from the Gospel of John, as had been the case hitherto, but from the Synoptics alone, the time within which we still stand to some extent. Bauer helped to bring about this time; his work was intended to show that the fourth Gospel was not suitable to inform us about the origins of Christianity. — p. 25 — all quotations here are translations

Early days:

In his critique of John’s Gospel, Bauer had still admitted a number of important positive propositions with regard to the common view of the origin of Christianity; so in particular he had asserted the existence of Jesus and the revelation that had taken place in him of a power (if not quite transcendent, then at least) reaching beyond “all” humanity. — p. 36

Evolution of thought:

Already in his writing on the Gospel of John (p. V and especially p. 418 ff.) he had come to the conclusion that the history of Jewish consciousness, as it had developed from the conclusion of the canon to the appearance of Jesus, was still an unknown area; but there he had still assumed that the messianic views were widespread at the time of Jesus (p. 277 f.), that above all Jesus found his messianic self-awareness confirmed in the Old Testament (p. 335). There he only gave evidence in a supplement that at the time of Jesus the concept of the Messiah as a concept of reflection was not at all present among the Samaritans, let alone generally widespread . . .  — p. 37

History of Jesus or the Community?

But if Mark is of purely literary origin, it is obvious that what Luke and Matthew have more than their source Mark is also only a literary extension without a historical background. And this assumption, Bauer shows, can also be proven: nowhere in them do we find anything factual either, but always only construction! In the Gospels, whose conclusion is John, we have nothing more than a development of Christian self-awareness . . . — p. 40

The writing on the Gospel of John had already caused widespread offence by its content and tone . . . — p. 44

Bauer, as has been shown, had founded the whole edifice of his new theories on the proof that in the Gospel of John we have before us a unified work of reflection. From here he advanced to the assertion of the artistic structure of the Gospel of Mark and came to the conclusion: the story could not have proceeded in this way, so the Gospels do not report real facts to us, but they only give us views of the community. — p. 58



§ 95. The report of the fourth

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

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



§ 95.

The report of the fourth.

John 20, 21.

Not only do the contradictions which theology thought it would have to spend the whole of history dealing with to the end of the world resolve themselves easily and without effort, but they also resolve themselves without much loss of time as soon as the true key is found – a proof that mankind will no longer need to spend much time – – no! at all on these things.

In the fourth Gospel, the women no longer watch Jesus being buried — the fourth, as has been noted, has advanced them by a few lines; Nicodemus and Joseph already embalm the corpse so abundantly – with a hundred pounds of aloes and myrrh — that the women have nothing left to do the next day after the Sabbath – – so they stay at home. The fourth sends only the Magdalene to the tomb; he must send a woman to the tomb so that the matter may be initiated at all, he sends only one because the others are superfluous and also disturbing for the elaboration of the contrasts which the evangelist has in mind for the following conversation of Jesus with Mary.

Mary Magdalene finds the stone taken from the tomb and immediately runs — why only to these two? — to Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them that the stone had been taken from the tomb. She suspected the enemies of what Matthew’s priests had imposed on the disciples out of malice, but the outcome disproves their assumption.


She runs to Peter because the fourth reads in Luke’s writing that Peter ran to the grave at the women’s message. He has to do the same here, except that the Fourth makes him run a noble race with the other disciple. Already their walk to the tomb is a race, they both run together, but the other disciple arrives first, bends over — like Luke’s Peter to see into the tomb, and sees the linen lying there, but does not go in. Peter also arrives, goes in and sees – so that he also sees something special! O, wonderful discovery! — He sees the linen lying there and the face-cloth that was on Jesus’ head, not – no, not! — lying with the linen, but — oh, how important! how great! how glorious! – but wrapped together on one side in a special place. “The great Peter! And yet how small! His glory is only that he first went into the tomb and saw the face-cloth, but — he thought nothing of it! He did not know how to appreciate his find. Only the other disciple, who now also went into the tomb and now also saw the face-cloth, believed – as Luke’s Peter wondered at the incident.

Well, if he believed, why not Peter? Why not Mary Magdalene, who is now suddenly standing by the tomb again and weeping? She must not yet believe for the sake of the following contrasts. She must first see the angel or the two. She does indeed see Luke’s two, but the fourth – oh, how symmetrical! – places the one at the head, the other at the feet where Jesus had lain. But why must Mary be here again? The two angels did not answer her complaints, saying that Jesus’ body had been taken away. She has to come back to the tomb – how clumsy! – because the fourth reads in Matthew’s scripture that Jesus appeared to the women as they were going away from the tomb. Yes, but that is something else; that is at least an external connection; but the last trace of connection disappears, we lose sight and hearing when Mary, after walking back to the city, suddenly stands at the tomb again.


The tasteless web of contrasts, where Mary, when she expresses her complaint to the two angels, looks around and sees Jesus but does not recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener – of the garden created by the fourth gospel – asking if he – imagine! – has taken the body away, recognizing Jesus only when he calls her by name “Mary!”, and Jesus saying “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” these contrasts fall to the ground before any human eye. The last one is not even properly developed and is only explainable from the scripture of Matthew, which is not taken from it, but only the assumption of this page is silently derived from it. In fact, the women of Matthew approach Jesus and worship him, embracing his feet.

Matthew’s Jesus does not forbid them to worship at all, but only tells them not to be afraid, nor to endure, but rather to bring the good news to the disciples.

Suddenly and mysteriously, Luke’s Jesus appears in Jerusalem in the midst of the hurrying people, calling out “Peace!” to them, and when they are frightened, shows them his wounds with the words: “Touch me and see!

From this, the fourth gospel has made the story that Jesus – correctly! – suddenly appears among the disciples late in the evening of the same day, with locked doors, saying “Peace be with you” and showing them his wounds. But contrasts! Contrasts! The fourth gospel wants them. So this time, he only breathes on the disciples and gives them the Spirit through this breath – as he promises them the power from above at the same occasion in Luke – and thereby also gives them the power of forgiveness of sins (– Matthew 18:18).

But the contrasts! the contrasts! Thomas was not present this time. Therefore, after eight days, Jesus must appear once again because Thomas, in the meantime, had proven himself to be unbelieving against the report of his brothers, so that the previously omitted feature of touching could be supplied and Thomas could have the desired opportunity to touch the resurrected one. Poor Thomas! What has he suffered so far! *)

*) The assumption that Jesus had to fight with those who doubted the reality of His person, is very clumsily brought up by Matthew – and only in a few words – when he brings it up in C. 28, 17 at the only meeting of Jesus with the disciples and even at the same moment he lets some doubt that the disciples worshipped Jesus at all. Under these circumstances, since we do not know where some of them came from, Matthew’s account must have become as confused as it has in fact become. Only Luke’s account is coherent: first the disciples doubt, then they are taught, and afterwards, when the Lord departs from them, they worship Him.


But doesn’t Luke also tell the story that Jesus ate to prove his reality back then? Patience! The fourth gospel also reads in the scriptures of Mark and Matthew that Jesus met with the disciples in Galilee? Patience! The fourth gospel seems to end his writing right after the Thomas section (Chapter 20, verses 30-31), when he says: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The fourth gospel was impatient; he connected this reflection too early to the saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” As we are used to seeing from him, he made a mistake and will continue in his laborious and disconnected manner soon enough. But haven’t the greatest theologians proven that Chapter 21 is spurious and written by a later hand? We have proven, on the other hand, where the fourth gospel took his material from: from his imagination and from the writings of the Synoptics. We saw that he copied Luke everywhere – if one were to strike out as spurious what is borrowed from Luke, without lamenting the loss, this gospel would have to be struck out from the beginning, from the questioning of John until the end, with a mighty cross. The fourth gospel has just copied from Luke again: well then! He is now also copying what he had not yet copied last: he lets Jesus eat with the disciples, by letting him appear before the disciples in Galilee out of obedience to Mark and Matthew. He lets him appear before them at the Sea of Galilee because he believed he could bring in Luke’s story of Peter’s fishing here. He lets Peter be instructed with the office of the chief shepherd on this occasion because he reads in Luke that Peter should strengthen and establish his brothers, he brings this investiture of Peter here because it seemed to him to be a fitting conclusion for his writing and (according to Matthew) the laying of the foundation for the building of the Church. Finally, he could bring in a contrast here, which made it possible for him to mention “the other disciple” and to assure that he wrote the gospel of the heart.


It is no longer worth the trouble to point out how shapeless and inhuman the elements of the original report have become under the hand of the Fourth – for this reason alone it is not worth the trouble, since we have already proved how unsubstantial and vapour-like these elements all are already in the original report, in Luke’s report. What, then, they had to become under the hand of the Fourth! The disciples, among them Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, had spent the night casting their nets in vain on the lake: there stands Jesus on the shore! on the shore! they do not know him, like the disciples of Emmaus, and he asks them: Children, have you nothing to eat? — — — No! we avert our gaze from it for ever and ever!

Only the question remains, who is the “other”, the favourite disciple who wrote the Gospel? It is not John! He is hidden among the “two others” whom the Fourth mentions next to the sons of Zebedee (C. 21,2). The fourth man would have been so clever that he would not have mentioned the two Zebedees in this context and next to the unnamed one, if he had the Scriptures of Luke open in front of him, read the names of the two Zebedees here (C. 5, 10) and if he wanted the beloved disciple and author of the Gospel to be understood as John. In the very late time when the Fourth wrote, it was well known among the believers who the Zebedees were, and the Fourth should not have considered it even in one of his unguarded moments? Impossible!


But (parenthetically!) did he really write the last verses of his Scripture (C. 21, 24. 25)? Is not the assertion that Jesus did so much that, if one wanted to write it in one, the world would not contain all the books, a too conspicuous repetition of the early! Is it not too striking a repetition of the early conjecture (C. 20, 30) that Jesus had done many other signs? It is rather an exaggerated repetition, which can only belong to the fourth – or one would have to refute our whole previous work! – can belong to. But he says: “and we know that his testimony is true”? Well? doesn’t he say a moment later: “I mean, the world would not contain the books.” The Fourth (Gospel) loves such hyperboles, as we have already seen above in Chapter 19, verse 35, where he so excellently knows how to set up testimonies for himself. In this, as in everything else, he is lacking in restraint, and awkward, because he excessively exaggerates.

The other is also not, as Lützelberger thinks, Andrew, who together with an unnamed person is at the same time the first to follow Jesus (C. 1, 37 – 41). The fourth was so clever that he understood that if Andrew was acquainted with the high priest Annas, then Peter was also acquainted with him, and that he did not need to come to the palace of Annas through the mediation of another, the mysterious other. The other is rather the unnamed one next to Andrew, and with diligence the Fourth immediately has the great unknown appear the first time he introduces the disciples of Jesus.


So who is he? That would be a fine conclusion to our criticism if we were to be tempted to build hypotheses into the air.

Before we should stray so far, the contest that the unnamed and Peter wage in this Gospel should rather be more human, more sustained, and in general only be worked out to a more definite image. It is certain that the fourth wants to elevate his unnamed one by presenting him as a dangerous rival of Peter, even as a rival who often wins the battle. But what a battle it is and what matters it revolves around! They race against each other “ah the grave, and the quarrel revolves in the end around who sees the linen or the sweatcloths first; the unnamed one must arrange for Peter to enter the palace of Annas, and satisfy Peter’s curiosity about the Master’s fate! If only the Fourth Gospel had left out this competition and conflict! The struggle is in itself terribly petty and insignificant, and in the end so unsuccessful that the Fourth, through Luke and Matthew, is nevertheless forced to bestow the office of shepherd on Peter.

But in the end, the Fourth Gospel still considers Peter significant! He is the one to whom Jesus says: “No! No!” – it is not known when and how and where he said that he should stay until he comes again. And when does Jesus say that he may say this of the unnamed? When the fourth had copied from Luke’s account of Peter’s fishing expedition, now at so late a time, the note that Peter (C. 21:19,20) was told by the Lord to follow him, now that the fourth goes on to say that Peter turns round and stands following the unnamed man, and says to Jesus, “Lord, what shall he do?”– – Lord, what shall he do?

But if the fourth says that from that word of the Lord the opinion was formed that this disciple, the unnamed one, would not die, does he not then refer to a real conception of time? to a legend? Must the unnamed one not then be a certain, known person?


How can we still be impressed by a Gospel that is completely dissolved for us?

he Unnamed One is a nebulous figure, a foggy figure formed by the Fourth Gospel itself, and in this respect the Fourth Gospel has actually hit the mark. He first wanted to create the appearance that there was still a Gospel that came from an eyewitness, written directly by such a person. A nebulous figure was the only worthy author of such a scripture, as the Fourth Gospel has delivered.


In the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel story confronts us in its highest perfection, in its truth and as a revealed mystery. As a plastic representation of the same ideas, it might seem that the Synoptic Gospels stand above the Fourth, just as the theology of the Church Fathers, the mysticism of the Middle Ages, and the symbolism of the Reformation seem to stand as the plastic, completed forms above the narrowness, lack of content and nihilistic confusion of the new theology. But this is only an illusion. The relative priority of sculpture should not be denied to both, to those ecclesiastical creations and to the Synoptics – actually, if the whole is important, only to Mark. Only this more restrained, tighter form can itself not even be called plastic and human with any real right. Let us see a dogmatic execution of Augustine, Anselm, Hugo, Luther, and Calvin, which would have human form, inner form, support, and true coherence! Just one dogmatic sentence! The monstrosities of narrowness, of staggering contradiction, of stilted obtrusiveness, lie only hidden in the classical works of those men, and only poorly concealed under the deceptive cover of a tighter form. The newer ones, too, are classical if they present us only with narrowness, only with contradiction, only with obtrusiveness, and present it purely as such, without any further content. The newer ones have only peeled out the true kernel when they offer us the obtrusive nothing; they have betrayed the mystery, they are the true classics.


Thus the Fourth has betrayed the secret of the Gospel, which we have critically uncovered – a merit that predestined him to become the ideal and idol of the newer classical theologians and has truly made him an idol.



§ 82. Entrance

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 3



Thirteenth section.

The tale of suffering.


§ 82.


Mark 14, 1. 2.

If the condition proposed by me above has really been entered into – which, however, I cannot even expect, so that I am, after all, dependent on my best insight and my will alone – then it seems to be better, after all, if I once more renounce the concession.
I will once again name theologians, mention theological views, since we now come to the point where the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel cross each other most sharply and the theologians exert their last powers to come to the aid of their favourite, the disciple, whom their Lord also loved, at this perilous moment.

The original evangelist has now continued the collision between Jesus and the Jewish parties up to the point of development where the catastrophe must inevitably occur. Jesus himself finally declared the break with them succinctly before the people and so now – when the Passover was only two days away – the chief priests and scribes came together to discuss how they could catch their opponent by a statement and accuse him of a crime punishable by death.  However, they postponed their plan until after the feast because they feared that the people would get into an uproar if the trial were held during the feast, and only when Judas promised them to hand over Jesus secretly did they no longer insist on waiting until after the feast.


Of the details that were either allowed in the original account or were a consequence of their negligence, only one needs to be mentioned here: that Luke forgets to report how many days were left until the Passover festival, and instead of noting that the priests postponed the execution of their plan until after the festival due to fear of public unrest, he writes a meaningless or rather inexplicable – that is, only explicable from Mark’s scripture – remark: “out of fear of the people” (!) the high priests and scribes sought to destroy Jesus. He could not leave Mark’s pragmatism unscathed, because he could not bring himself to let the importance of the point of incidence, which occurs with the betrayal of Judas and changes the plan of the priests, come to the fore, since he omits the anointing in Bethany, which occurred after the consultation of the priests and before the incidence of that point, and immediately juxtaposes both the consultation of the priests and the note that Judas reported to the priests and leaders of the soldiers (!) (Luke 22:1-6). However, the pragmatism of the original Gospel writer, which he suffocated, still cries out through his report in his final moments of agony, when Judas seeks an opportunity to hand over his Lord to the enemies “without disturbance”.

We have to sit up and take notice when the Fourth suddenly tells us that the priests “conspired from that hour to kill Jesus” (C. 11, 53), while he already knew of several assassination attempts beforehand; but we can no longer be surprised when he lets the catastrophe be brought about by a miracle, namely by the raising of Lazarus. In his tumultuous pragmatism, miracles play the leading role. The miracle of the raising of Lazarus arouses the crowd and makes them believe (11:45, 12:9, 17-19), and the high council fears extreme danger because “this man performs so many signs” (11:47). 

Because he has much more interesting things to tell us, the Fourth tells us not a word that Judas was to blame for the priesthood’s plan being able to come to fruition sooner than the conspirators had hoped; according to his account – how beautiful! what a glorious correction of the Synoptic Gospels! – the conspiracy comes to pass not so short a time before the Passover (C. 11, 54. – 12, 1); but how interesting also is the note which offers us full substitute for the enormous confusion of this glorious account! How interesting it is, if everything unexpected and unmotivated were interesting, that the priests feared that the Romans would take away their land and people if they let Jesus continue to work in this way, after which it would be certain that all would soon believe in him. The most interesting enrichment of our knowledge of history, however, is the note that Caiaphas, as the high priest of this (!) year, was possessed by the prophetic spirit and prophesied the sacrificial death of Jesus by virtue of it, when he puts an end to the fear and helplessness of his college with the remark that it was better that one man should die for the people than that the whole people should perish!


The critique of the Lazarus stories will allow us to appreciate the interesting aspects of these historical explanations and to settle the sins of the Fourth and the Synoptics.

So for now, we will once again deploy the theological armies into the field and measure the strength of criticism against them. But how do I speak? Can I send them into battle? Are they not the brave ones who face criticism with heroic fearlessness? Can I command them, then, and is it not rather the duty of the critic to defend himself against these holy armies at every moment? No! They do not intimidate me anymore! I have repelled all their maneuvers.


It is only grace on my part if I breathe new life into their arguments and help them stand up against reason, and if I have made them feel their powerlessness once again, then the last move against them will be left to the critic, who will leave them lying in contempt and prove to them in this final form that they cannot stop criticism on its triumphal march.

This expression of contempt is the last recourse available to the critic when he has dissolved theological wisdom, it is rightfully his, his last duty, and a prophecy of that happy time when nothing will be known of the arguments of theology.

Or shall I then forever, after I have resolved all the twists and turns of the theologians from all sides, remark after every critical development that this or that theological explanation is just as timid as it is audacious, just as superficial as it is impertinent, just as much the result of ignorance as it is shameless? Shall I always add the boring: “as was to be proved” after I have given the proof? Everything has its end, and so does this struggle.

The expert – but not the theologian – will also see in the following explanation of the Passion story that the struggle with theological explanation preceded it. He will see that in every section I had the opportunity to ask the theologian where he obtained his precise knowledge of circumstances that have never been criticized. However, the expert will also see that it is futile to ask the theologian to revise his archeology of the Passion story, when it is dissolved by criticism, yet more thoroughly, honestly, and less frivolously than has been done so far.but more thoroughly, more honestly, and less carelessly than it has been done hitherto.


But we will still have to do with your theologian even after we have taken leave of him. The theological reflections are already contained in the Gospels.




§ 25. A look back at the fourth Gospel

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



§ 25.

A look back at the fourth Gospel.

It must be a reconciling look.

And a look, if it is only heartfelt and sincere, is enough.

We are not yet in a position to judge the relationship between the historical material of the synoptic Gospels and the fourth Gospel, even as far as we have come to know the former. This particularly concerns the question of why the fourth Gospel lacks a prehistory, a question whose sufficient and satisfying answer has not yet been given, if we were to infer only indirectly from its content whether it excludes or presupposes it. We need clear indications as to whether it consciously excludes or assumes the holy prehistory, or whether it does so unconsciously. To gain this final certainty of judgment, we must have achieved certainty through the complete comparison as to whether the fourth evangelist was familiar with one or more writings of the synoptic circle. So, for now, let’s leave this for later!


One point, and a point of comprehensive importance, we can already shed light on. In our criticism of the fourth Gospel, we have shown that the speeches it attributes to the Lord (as well as to the Baptist and other persons) are the free literary work of the author. Despite this result, we acknowledged that reflection also played a role in the synoptic presentation of Jesus’ speeches, but we said that the subjectivity of the means through which they passed is here most abolished since they passed through the general spirit of the community. We thus still left the appearance that we possess in the synoptic presentation the speeches of Jesus in their historical originality, and we had to leave this appearance standing, as only later investigation could show us in what sense to understand that category of the original. Now we can make the first accounting.

The contrast has now become rational. The speeches of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels are not any less the product of later reflection than those reported in the fourth. Nonetheless, the contrast remains, but as an inner one, as a contrast in one and the same line of development of one and the same principle. Both are free literary works: the circle of teaching development that the Synoptics created and the one in which the fourth Evangelist leads us. Both are the reflection of the same principle, but we find its original reflection in the synoptic writings, and its later work in the presentation of the fourth. The Synoptics took the principle in its simple universality, which it had found in the community up to their time, and they give us its religious reflection, which expresses itself positively in individual sentences, sayings, gnomic and parabolic forms, and they only differ in that Matthew, the latest, tries to set the positive determinations more freely in flow and bring them into a kind of systematic connection, although he cannot completely break away from the standpoint of his predecessors since he inserts positive sentences he finds or creates and elaborates new sentences himself that have no inner connection with the initiated context.


The reflection of the fourth gospel stands opposed to the original and religious reflection and its positive nature. Its assumption is no longer the simple generality of the principle as it is immediately given in the life and faith of the community, but the universality as it has contracted into the simplicity of the essence and seeks to fathom the inner necessity of the individual determinations in this world of essence and their eternal presuppositions.

At least this much we had to express here in order to give the fourth evangelist the satisfaction which the criticism of the synoptic gospels has given him. We can now proceed with a lighter heart, since the previous tension between the two circles of the evangelical view has diminished, and we are given the certainty that we are dealing with free humanity and works of self-consciousness in both circles – a certainty that we may hope and expect will be even more comprehensively confirmed in the following part of the investigation and bring about the final reckoning.



4 Jewish Word Plays behind the Word Becoming Flesh / 3 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post is detailed. But it is getting down to the nitty gritty of a case for the midrashic creation of the Jesus figure in the gospels.

Performative utterance: In the philosophy of language and speech acts theory, performative utterances are sentences which are not only describing a given reality, but also changing the social reality they are describing.
This post continues a series on Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier by Nanine Charbonnel

Nanine Charbonnel cites four intriguing instances.

A. I Am/I Am He/I and He … and we are all together

Many of us are familiar with Jesus declaring “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) which echoes Yahweh’s self-declaration in the Pentateuch; less familiar are the moments when Jesus says, “I am he” (ἐγώ εἰμι αὐτός – e.g. Luke 24:39), and that sentence echoes the second part of Isaiah (אֲנִי-הוּא =  ’ănî = I [am] he; LXX = ἐγώ εἰμι = I am) and liturgies of the Jewish people. (I’ll simplify the Hebrew transliteration in this post to “ani hu” (= I he).

These self-identifications bring us back to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush: “I am he who is”, which in the Greek Septuagint is ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν.

But we need to look again at those words [hu ani] in Deutero-Isaiah:

In Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6 we read God declaring,  I am he [ani hu] (=me him) אֲנִ֣י ה֔וּא

We will see that this expression, “I he” is related to the festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth.

But first, we note that during New Testament times at the Feast of Tabernacles or Tents worshippers walked around the altar each day singing “O Yahweh save us now, O Yahweh make us prosper now”, which is a line from Psalm 118:25

נָּא הַצְלִיחָה יְהוָה אָנָּא נָּא הוֹשִׁיעָה יְהוָה, אָנָּא
na hatzlichah yhwh ana na hoshiah yhwh ana
now prosper us [we pray / beseech you] now save us [we pray / beseech you]

Now in rabbinic literature, in Mishnah Sukkah 4:5, we find another version of this liturgical sentence was said to be used during the temple ceremony.

Each day they would circle the altar one time and say: “Lord, please save us. Lord, please grant us success” (Psalms 118:25). Rabbi Yehuda says that they would say: Ani waho, please save us. And on that day, the seventh day of Sukkot, they would circle the altar seven times. 

הוֹשִׁיעָה וָהוֹ אֲנִי
hoshiah waho ani
save us [taken to be a substitute for the divine name by some scholars – see Baumgarten below] I (Hebrew); (confusingly, ana in Aramaic means “I”. By hearing the original Hebrew ana as the Aramaic ana, the transformation to Hebrew “I” follows.)

Both ani and waho may be considered “flexible” as I’ll try to explain.

  • ani in Hebrew means “I”
  • ana in Hebrew means something like “we pray” as above

Aramaic was the relevant common language in New Testament times, however, and it’s here where the fun starts.

  • ana in Aramaic means “I”

So we can see how the Hebrew “we pray” can become the Aramaic “I”.

If waho, והו, began as a substitute for the divine name it could when pronounced easily become והוא, wahoû, which is the Aramaic for “me”.

NC writes,

qui peut être une manière de dire ‘ani wahoû’, “moi et lui”.

Translated: which can be a way of saying …. “me and him”. (The “wa”  = “and”.)

Not cited by NC but in support of NC here, Joseph Baumgarten in an article for The Jewish Quarterly Review writes,

Mishnah Sukkah 4.5 preserves a vivid description of the willow ceremonies in the Temple during the Sukkot festival. Branches of willows were placed around the altar, the shofar was sounded, and a festive circuit was made every day around the altar. The liturgical refrain accompanying the procession is variously described. One version has it as consisting of the prayer found in Ps 118:25, אנא ה׳ הושיעה נא, אנא ה׳ הצליחה נא , “We beseech you, O Lord, save us! We beseech you, O Lord, prosper us.” A tradition in the name of R. Judah, however, records the opening words as follows: אני והו הושיעה נא. The meaning of this enigmatic formula has occasioned much discussion among both ancient and modern commentators.

In the Palestinian Talmud the first two words in the formula were read אני והוא and were taken to suggest that the salvation of Israel was also the salvation of God.

(Baumgarten, Divine Name and M. Sukkah 4:5 p.1. My highlighting)

The same idea is brought out by NC in her quotation of Jean Massonnet. I translate the key point concerning the “I and he” or “me and him”

This may be a way of closely associating the people with their God on an occasion when the Israelites might surround the altar; it was a great moment of the feast […] In a veiled form, one audaciously asked for salvation for the good of the people and of God, as if God – so to speak – was in distress with his people.

(Massonnet, Aux sources du christianisme…., p. 269, cited by NC, p. 317. My highlighting.)

NC adds, again translating,

we are the emphasing the last sentence. He adds: “the idea that God accompanies his people in distress is […] ancient and widespread”, see Isaiah 63, 9: “in all their distress it is distress for him”. On personal pronouns see Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile according to Saint Matthew, p. 64, note.

Finally, one point I failed to mention earlier, recall our earlier discussions of the importance of gematria. In that context it is not insignificant that “ana YHWH” has the same numerical value as “ani waho”.

B. Dabar, a Word in Silence Continue reading “4 Jewish Word Plays behind the Word Becoming Flesh / 3 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


Jewish Origin of the “Word Became Flesh” / 2 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post continues an exploration into the origin of the gospel figure of Jesus, in particular the case made by Nanine Charbonnel [NC] in Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier.

[To readers not so interested in the depth of these posts I have added an apology at the end.]

Though Jesus and Christianity appear to most of us as being very different from what we think of as Judaism, NC is setting forth reasons to believe that Christian beliefs about Jesus (that he was God in the flesh) were in fact natural adaptations of certain Jewish beliefs in the Second Temple era and prior to what we now think of as orthodox rabbinic Judaism. The view that early Christian and Jewish beliefs were much closer to each other than we tend to imagine today is not new among scholars. NC, therefore, can quote a critical work of the life of Jesus from the early 1800s in partial support of her argument that the figure of Jesus we read about in the gospels was initially created as a personification of various attributes of God.

Personified attributes of God in certain Jewish traditions

Pre-Christian Jewish thought has long been known to have personified various attributes of God. In 1835 David Friedrich Strauss in his Life of Jesus Critically Examined wrote:

We find in the Proverbs, in Sirach, and the Book of Wisdom, the idea of a personified and even hypostasized Wisdom of God, and in the Psalms and Prophets, strongly marked personifications of the Divine word; and it is especially worthy of note, that the later Jews, in their horror of anthropomorphism in the idea of the Divine being, attributed his speech, appearance, and immediate agency, to the Word (מימרא) or the dwelling place (שכינתא) of Jehovah, as may be seen in the venerable Targum of Onkelos. These expressions, at first mere paraphrases of the name of God, soon received the mystical signification of a veritable hypostasis, of a being at once distinct from, and one with God. As most of the revelations and interpositions of God, whose organ this personified Word was considered to be, were designed in favour of the Israelitish people, it was natural for them to assign to the manifestation which was still awaited from Him, and which was to be the crowning benefit of Israel,—the manifestation, namely, of the Messiah,—a peculiar relation with the Word or Shechina. From this germ sprang the opinion that with the Messiah the Shechina would appear, and that what was ascribed to the Shechina pertained equally to the Messiah: an opinion not confined to the Rabbins, but sanctioned by the Apostle Paul.

(Strauss, Life, Pt II Ch IV §64. Bolding is NC’s re the French translation)

Elijah Benamozegh (Wikipedia)

NC rightly remarks that many aspects of the texts of the New Testament would remain obscure without reference to the later Jewish writings. Talmudic writings, though late, certainly contain ideas, debates, sayings, that were known before the fall of the temple in 70 CE. NC goes further, however, and suggests that even the late Jewish mystical writings of the Kabbalah incorporate ideas much older than the Middle Ages. This is an area I have read too little about so all I can do at this point is repeat NC’s point and attach questions to them, especially when citing a Kabbalist.

In the nineteenth century, Joseph Salvador (in 1838), then especially the rabbi of Livorno Elijah Benamozegh (in a manuscript of 1863 which has remained unpublished, but written in French and having been sent to Paris, and which has just been published), La Kabbale et L’origine des Dogmes Chrétiens, have thrown very interesting light on these questions – if at least one accepts to name Kabbalah all that has not been accepted by rabbinical Judaism, and which must have had much more older than the Middle Ages alone. [machine translation of NC, p. 313. I have ordered a copy of La Kabbale but will have to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive.]

NC further indicates that, according to Benamozegh, New Testament passages relating to the relationship between Father, Son, Holy Spirit under various metaphors and the incarnation of the Word of God are explained best by certain of those mystical notions, such as the Malkuth. The types of esoteric Jewish beliefs that entertained some of these ideas presumably from as early as the Second Temple era also would go a long way towards explaining the origins of various forms of Christianity (e.g. gnostic) that were delegated as heretical by what became orthodoxy. As mentioned, I know too little at this stage about Kabbalism to comment, although I have to add that the relevance of Kabbalist ideas to NC’s quest is underscored by Daniel Boyarin in Border Lines.

* e.g. Boyarin argues in The Jewish Gospels that the idea of a suffering messiah was a pre-Christian Jewish idea. Compare W. D. Davies in Paul and Rabbinic Judaism who also writes, How far are we justified in finding the same conception [suffering Messiah] among the Rabbis of the first century? Two factors ought to be borne in mind when we think of this question. First, that a methodical consideration is involved. We find an idea well attested in the early second century, and we have pointed out that the concept of the Servant of Yahweh of Deutero-Isaiah had become associated with that of the Messiah before the first century. We are led to the feeling that if the idea of the Suffering Messiah were not a burning issue in Christian theology the evidence before us would have led naturally to the assumption that it existed in the first century despite the absence of specific evidence. Moreover, in the second place, we must presuppose that behind the punning interpretation of והריחו in Isa. 11.3, as the burden imposed on the Messiah, and of חוליא (the sick) and חיורא (the leper) in Isa. 53. 4, there was probably a very long development.
We are now in a position to state the result of our discussion. It has led us to the conclusion which, in view of those ideas of the value of suffering and particularly of the suffering of the righteous and of martyrs which we enumerated above, we should have expected, namely, that the assumption is at least possible that the conception of a Suffering Messiah was not unfamiliar to pre-Christian Judaism. (p. 283)

So returning to Boyarin (with NC), some of whose more fascinating ideas cohere with other works by his scholarly peers*, NC directs us to this section of Border Lines:

This leads me to infer that Christianity and Judaism distinguished themselves in antiquity not via the doctrine of God, and not even via the question of worshiping a second God (although the Jewish heresiologists would make it so, as we shall see in the next chapter), but only in the specifics of the doctrine of this incarnation.78 Not even the appearance of the Logos as human, I would suggest, but rather the ascription of actual physical death and resurrection to the Logos was the point at which non-Christian Jews would have begun to part company theologically with those Christians—not all, of course—who held such doctrines.

78. It is not beside the point to note that, in traditional Jewish prayer from the Byzantine period to now, prayer to the “attributes” of God is known as well as prayer to the Ministering Angels (Yehuda Liebes, “The Angels of the Shofar and the Yeshua Sar-Hapanim,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 6, no. 1-2 [1987]: 171-95, in Hebrew). These prayers were rectified by nineteenth-century Jewish authorities, who saw in them (suddenly?) a threat to monotheism.

[NC quoted the bolded part in the French translation. The passage above is from Boyarin, Border Lines, pp 125 and 294]

In the next section of this post, we will delve further into Boyarin’s discussion on the relationship between early Christianity and Judaism.

Innovative interpretations: theology of the Memra in the Targum

The Word: Logos (Greek); Memra (Aramaic) Continue reading “Jewish Origin of the “Word Became Flesh” / 2 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


What Is the Purpose of the Nicodemus Stories in John? (Part 2)

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by Tim Widowfield

Before returning to the Johannine stories containing the words and deeds of Nicodemus, I must digress briefly to discuss the issue of dependence. The Gospel of John contains countless mysteries, many of which can keep a scholar busy for a lifetime. Who actually wrote the gospel? What were his sources? Who is the Beloved Disciple? Can we find seams (aporias) that might reveal both sources and later redaction?

These puzzles may entertain the mind, but they can often become dark, twisting, endless rabbit holes. I would offer here a rather imperfect analogy to the so-called hard sciences in which we may not understand certain things (yet), but rather than beat our heads against the wall, we measure what we can and try to derive workable models and submit modest predictions. With that in mind, let’s look at larger patterns — looking less at syntax and semantics and more at pragmatics and narrative frames.

Literary Dependence

Typically, scholars will demonstrate the probability of independent, unique Johannine sources by means of declaration rather than explanation.
The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio, 1310–11 (Wikipedia)

As you probably know from my previous posts on Vridar, I believe that the author of John knew the Synoptics — especially Mark — and used them as source material. Anyone who argues for absolute independence must either ignore or explain the astonishing fact that John re-invented the gospel genre. We have discussed in earlier posts the ways in which John follows narrative boundaries already laid out in Mark.

The author of the Fourth Gospel has built his own road, but he was clearly following already established paths. As an example, we have the narrative “Dead Zone” between Jesus’ burial and the discovery of the empty tomb. The curtain closes as the tomb is sealed. Nothing happens in the story for about 36 hours. The curtain lifts, the sun rises, and the truth is revealed.

Many scholars posit the existence of “traditional material” that lies behind the Fourth Gospel. They insist that John’s usage of such unknown, unseen, never-referred-to sources is more likely than John’s appropriation of and embellishment upon existing Markan frames. Typically, scholars will demonstrate the probability of independent, unique Johannine sources by means of declaration rather than explanation.

However, I would argue that the silence in the Dead Zone represents a Markan frame adhered to by John. We can more simply explain it as an artifact of literary dependence than as a coincidence among pre-existing (yet somehow always magically independent) sources. The silence signals dependence. Yet despite this shared silence, we can find clues that John ached to say more.

The Raising of Lazarus and the Dead Zone

In fact, we can find the missing action between the burial and Sunday sunrise somewhere else. What are we missing from Jesus’ resurrection stories in Mark and John? Continue reading “What Is the Purpose of the Nicodemus Stories in John? (Part 2)”


What Is the Purpose of the Nicodemus Stories in John? (Part 1)

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by Tim Widowfield

Longtime Vridar readers may recall a post from 2013 in which I discussed an argument put forth by William Wrede regarding the priority of Mark’s gospel. Wrede noted that when Matthew took over Markan accounts, he sometimes condensed or rewrote his source, which led to oddities in the finished product. It turns out Volkmar and Wrede described this evidence of “inaptness” of the text well before Mark Goodacre discovered editorial fatigue.

Editorial Clues in the Burial Story

Vienna – Plaster statue of Burial of Jesus with the Nicodemus and Joseph from Arimathea in Michaelerkirche, Vienna.

In a similar fashion, in a post back in 2018, we considered the possibility that a grammatical error in Mark 8:27-30 might indicate a redactional seam that may hold clues to the original (hypothetical) source material. Recently, I became interested in whether such inconcinnities might be found in the narrative layer of the Fourth Gospel. Specifically, I wondered if we might find hints in the empty tomb story of editorial fatigue, which could have been caused by the intrusion of the Nicodemus legend in the burial story.

Recall that Mark’s burial story neatly pre-answers several continuity questions posed by the women-at-the-tomb story.

  1. Q: Why did the women wait until Sunday morning?
    A: Jesus died and was buried on the Day of Preparation (Mark 15:42). They rested and waited on the Sabbath.
  2. Q: Why were they bringing spices to anoint Jesus’ body?
    A: Joseph of Arimathea had quickly wrapped the body and buried it in a tomb. (Mark 15:46)
  3. Q: Who’s this Joseph guy?
    A: A member of the Sanhedrin who was seeking the Kingdom of God. (Mark 15:43)
  4. Q: So Pilate just gave him the body? How did that happen?
    A: He was really brave. He demanded it, and Pilate relented. (Mark 15:43-45)
  5. Q: If the women didn’t participate in the burial, how did they know where to find the tomb?
    A: They followed Joseph and watched from a distance. (Mark 15:47)

The Stone

However, as Sunday morning rolls around, we begin to see some substantial inconsistencies in John’s account.

Mark’s attention to detail in the empty tomb story extends to the stone that blocks the tomb. As an afterthought, the women wonder how they’re going to move “the” stone that’s blocking the entrance. What stone would that be? Continue reading “What Is the Purpose of the Nicodemus Stories in John? (Part 1)”