A forgotten (partial) translation of F.C. Baur on the Fourth Gospel

Several months ago I stumbled across, while experimenting with Google books searches, two remarkably early translations into English of portions of Ferdinand Christian Baur’s works. One of these was translated by L. Swain: “The Grotian Theory of the Atonement,” Bibliotheca Sacra 9 (1852): 259-72 (an excerpt from Baur’s Die Christliche Lehre von der Versöhnung). An online version can be found here

Even more remarkable and exciting for me was the (re)discovery of a forgotten translation of an extract from Baur’s Kritische Untersuchungen über die kanonischen Evangelien, ihr Verhältniß zu einander, ihren Charakter und Ursprung (Tübingen: L. F. Fues, 1847), pp. 311-27 – translated as “The Gospel of John as Indicating the State of the Christian Sentiment of Its Times,” by Alfred H. Guernsey, Biblical repository and classical review – American Biblical Repository, October (1849): 636-650. This was an English translation within two years of publication and while Baur was still living – in contrast to the major English translations of his books on Paul and the early Church. These partial translations are omitted in the most complete bibliography of Baur’s works known to me, Horton Harris, The Tübingen School: A Historical and Theological Investigation of the School of F. C. Baur (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975; repr.: Leicester: Apollos, 1990), 263-74. Baur’s works on the Gospels, and particularly on the Fourth Gospel, have never been translated, though his views have been highly influential (those interested will read with pleasure Jörg Frey’s contribution to a forthcoming volume of collected essays on Baur, in which Frey examines Baur’s work on the Johannine literature in detail).

There is a Google preview of the original journal available here. But I have also thought it worthwhile to reproduce the translation below (or see this PDF of Baur on the Gospel of John). It’s extremely interesting to see how Baur locates the Johannine literature within his ‘Totalanschauung’ of the development of early Christian literature. Enjoy!

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In the discourses of Jesus, as found in the Gospel of John, as we have shown, the high absolute importance which the evangelist ascribes to the person of Jesus, and which is expressed in the idea of the Logos, comes forth with all the energy of a consciousness filled with it. It is just this importance given to the person of Jesus which marks the position of this Gospel in the progressive development of the Christian sentiment of primitive times.

In the books of the New Testament canon, if we overlook the intermediary transitions, there may on the whole be distinguished three types of Christian doctrine, three principal forms of religious sentiment, which constitute so many stages in the progress of the development of that sentiment. The first of these forms is represented in the synoptic Gospels, and in those books of the New Testament cognate with them. Here we see that phase of Christianity which stands nighest to Judaism, is the most closely connected with it, and was the earliest to break away from it, and assume an independent significance of its own. Here the absolute significance of Christianity is this; that it is the Law spiritualized and made universal, with the new covenant of the forgiveness of sin, which Jesus, as the Messiah or the Son of God in the higher Messianic sense, had established through his death. The Epistles of Paul present the second form, in the contrast of the Law and the Gospel, and in the significance, higher than the synoptic conception of the Messiah or Son of God, which the ascended Christ has, as the object of faith in the Pauline sense, or as Lord of the church.

The Gospel of John raises itself above this form also; transcending even the doctrinal system of the minor Pauline Epistles, it presents Jesus, as the subject of the evangelical history, absolutely identical with the Logos, who was from eternity with God, and who himself was God. In the Pauline standpoint we have the nearest measure for that of John. The relation between these two standpoints may be thus defined:—That in the relations of men to God, which with Paul is the harmonizing of opposites, only effected by struggle and contest, is with John the repose of a unity lying above these opposites; and that in respect of the person of Christ, which with Paul is always a human-divine relation, is with John one absolutely divine. The chief opposition with which the Pauline system is concerned, is that which is developed in the theocratic history of the Jewish people, or of the old covenant, between the Law, or sin attaining its full power by means of the Law, and the grace of God in the gospel, forgiving sin, and doing away with it:—or, as far as the seat of sin is in the flesh, the anthropologic contest between the flesh and the spirit. Involved in this opposition, man can only attain the consciousness of the forgiveness of sin by faith in Christ, as the object of faith, who suffered and died for the sins of the world, and himself became sin and the curse of the law. By this faith man is justified before God, and becomes thereby one with Christ, so that he accomplishes in himself the same process of victory over sin, the slaying of its power, and enfranchisement from the (Law, which constitute what is essential in the atoning death of Christ. And the chief significance of the person of Christ, consists in the fact that he has this significance for faith in him; or that he is the Son of God who died for the sins of the world, reconciling the world with God by his death; with which is intimately connected, that as having died and risen again, and now raised to the right hand of God, or ruling with the power of God, he is Lord of the church. Yet in his divine power and dignity he is essentially human. He is the second or heavenly man, in contradistinction to the first or earthly; or, as the principle of sin, done away with through his death, is properly the flesh (σάρξ), in opposition to the spirit (πνεῦμα), he is the spiritual man, who, in distinction from the earthly has in himself the quickening spirit (πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν), or spirit of holiness (πνεῦμα ἁγιοσύνης).

If we compare the Pauline system in this respect with those two fundamental ideas of the synoptic standpoint—the fulfillment of the law in the gospel, and the forgiveness of sin subjoined to the law—it may be easily perceived, that this system is only the harmonizing development of those two opposing ideas, hitherto unharmonized. As soon as the forgiveness of sin and enfranchisement from the power of the law came to be considered in their more definite import, they could only be conceived of as a process of reconciliation accomplished in the death of Jesus; and the higher was the representation of the death of Jesus, and of the work of reconciliation fulfilled by it, in the same proportion must the importance of the person of Christ become greater. But nevertheless, as long as the ascending way, so to speak, from below upwards to the Divine power and dignity of Christ was followed, and the Divine in him, in its ultimate relations, could thus be considered as an accident subjoined to his substantial human nature —beyond which we are not justified in going by the undoubtedly authentic epistles of Paul—so long the Christian sentiment had not as yet attained its ultimate point. The Pauline Christ, in every stage of the conception, is but the man Christ Jesus, raised to the Divine dignity. Christ is essentially man, since even as coming from heaven, he is called at the same time man (1 Cor. 15: 47). It remains for this way, ascending from the finite to the absolute, to substitute the other way wherein the consideration proceeds from above downwards, and where the substantial thing in the person of Christ is not the human, but that which is in itself divine —is the Logos, identical with the absolute being of God. From this standpoint the whole aspect of the essential nature of Christianity becomes changed. The first and essential thing in Christianity is then, not that self-completing process—objective in the atoning death, subjective in the faith in its atoning power—a process rendered necessary by the power of the law and of sin, and succeeding through such stern opposition; but the very essence of Christianity is the revelation of the glory of God in the only-begotten of the Father, the fullness of the Father’s grace and truth contained in the Incarnate One, in which everything incomplete, finite, and negative pertaining to the law given by Moses, is absolutely abolished. The manifestation of the only-begotten Son is itself the absolute working out of salvation, the immediate impartation to humanity of the Divine nature. The Logos, as the principle of light and life, entering into this contest between light and darkness, attracts, as kindred to himself, all who by faith in him become children of God; and this union with him in faith, which as such is also a doing (ποιεῖν ἆλήθειαν, iii. 21), comprehends in itself simply everything which from the Pauline standpoint can only be conceived of as an opposition, only to be reconciled by a series of various crises. In short:—That which from the anthropologic standpoint of Paul, is the ever-deepening contest in the subjective consciousness of the individual, between the flesh and the spirit, the law and grace is from the metaphysical standpoint of John, the objective contest of the two principles, embracing the physical and moral world, of light and darkness, and the process of the Logos glorifying himself in conflict with the unbelief of the world, and in this very glorification bringing all back to absolute oneness with himself.

Whatever may be thought of the objective relations of these various standpoints, it is at least certain that the developed sentiment of John could have the Pauline standpoint only as its preparative. From the Pauline standpoint only could one proceed to that of John, but could not, on the contrary, turn back to the former from the latter. The Gospel of John must therefore belong to a period when an advance had been made beyond the Pauline form of Christianity. The same thing is shown by the relations which in this Gospel Christianity sustains to Judaism and Gentilism. According to the principal passage bearing upon this point—(“Ye worship ye know not what, we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews,” 4: 22)—Judaism has indeed this absolute advantage over Gentilism, that its worship was one of knowledge, that is, it was directed toward the true object of the religious sentiment; while that of the Gentiles—to which in this passage the Samaritan is equivalent—was in relation to its object, an erring and ignorant worship. If, as is said in 17: 3, it be eternal life that men should know the only true God, then had the Jewish people alone the absolute truth. Therefore the Messianic salvation could come from the Jews only (4 : 22); from them only could come the Messiah, who should be the Redeemer of the world (4: 42). With the knowledge of the true God is therefore connected in the Old Testament a continual prophecy of and reference to him who should be sent from the only true God as the Redeemer of the world. Moses had written of the Messiah: Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.”—5: 46. In the writings of the prophets, the theme is the Messianic period: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”—6: 45. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of the Messiah (8: 52), and Isaiah, in the vision of his glory, prophesied of him (2: 41). The Old Testament religion is shown to be the true one, because in the most important points of the evangelical history, that only was fulfilled which had been in part expressly foretold, and in part typically represented in the Old Testament.[i]

The Judaism of the Old Testament thus indeed stands in the most intimate relation to Christianity. But the Gentiles have also a certain share in that light of the Logos which in the beginning shone in the darkness. For that light which came into the world before the Logos became flesh, lighted every man (1:9); and when the evangelist with special emphasis (11: 52) declares that Jesus was not to die merely for the Jewish people, but that by his death he should also unite in one whole the scattered children of God, he presents these scattered children of God as being also in the Gentile world. The greater was the unbelief of the Jews, and the less therefore the object of the efforts of Jesus could be attained among them, so much the more must its accomplishment come to pass in the Gentile world, in which there was also a greater susceptibility for the word of God and for faith in Jesus, than among the Jews; and the evangelist actually in several passages distinguishes the Gentiles in this respect above the Jews.

This equal adaptation and capacity of the Gentiles for participation in the Messianic salvation, is with the evangelist a long-settled matter; a question which is no longer, as in the epistles of Paul, an occasion of contest, and of eager discussion, bringing into play all the feelings of the time. It is a question which has been answered by the fact that there was a Christian church, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, united in one whole. The evangelist repeatedly adduces this oneness of a Christian church, consisting of various elements, and considers it as something which could only be effected by the death of Christ, considered as a publicly displayed signal, which should attract the observation of all men, in order to their believing in him; or as the condition upon which his earthly existence, as it were the germ of a plant springing from him, might become the foundation of a community waxing greater and greater.[ii] This would seem to prove that he saw this unity as a thing already realized before him. The evangelist could not herein so definitely perceive the immediate result of the death of Jesus—(in 18: 15, 16, with the laying down his life for the sheep, is immediately connected his bringing the other sheep which are not of this fold, that there might be one fold)—unless at the time when he wrote his Gospel, that death had actually produced this effect. As only in the unity of a Christian church, consisting indifferently of Jews and Gentiles, the evangelist could see the accomplishment of the object of the manifestation and labors of Jesus; and as he must, in the accomplishment of this object, assign to the Gentiles a share the more important in proportion to the negative attitude which the Jews, in their unbelief—the portrayal of which forms the main theme of this Gospel—maintained toward this object; so does that perfectly free position which the evangelist holds with respect to Judaism constitute one of his peculiar characteristics, and indicates a time in which Christianity, in its course of development, had overpassed the contradictions of the earlier period. Judaism already stands in the far distance, and everything positive which it has, as the Sabbath and circumcision, from the point of view where the evangelist stands, has become completely indifferent;[iii] and of the Mosaic Law itself he speaks most decisively, as of something which pertained only to the Jews, and which they only could call their own.[iv] The evangelist, as well as the apostle Paul, does not overlook the higher inward signification of the Old Testament, nor the prior claim which the Jews might make on the Messianic salvation: they are the ἴδιοι his own, to whom the Logos came (1: 11); but it is equally evident to him that by the unbelief of the Jews, which had now become an established historical fact, the Gentiles had actually entered into the same right of possession. Thus we have precisely the Pauline view of the relations of Judaism to Christianity, only that here it does not appear as one which must be made good by contest and debate; but it has actually wrought itself out into objective reality, in the existence of a Christian church consisting of Jews and Gentiles. Christianity has now taken its place in its absolute significance above Judaism and Gentilism. In the words of Jesus (4: 21), that the hour had already come, when the Father should be worshiped neither on Mount Gerizim nor yet in Jerusalem, but that the true worshipers of God were they who worshiped him in spirit and in truth, the evangelist has given utterance to the sentiment of his own time. It has already become to him a historical truth, that both Judaism and Gentilism could stand but in the same negative relation to Christianity, as the only true religion; and that therefore both Jews and Gentiles had a like rightful portion in the Messianic salvation wrought out in the Christian church, so as, in the unity of the whole, to constitute the one flock under the One Shepherd.

In respect to the relations of the evangelist to Judaism, the peculiarity is worthy of note, that the standing name by which in this Gospel the opponents of Jesus are denoted, to how different classes soever they may belong, is “the Jews.” There is no uniformity in this use, and therefore no limitation, no specification. There are passages where it would seem that the expression can only designate the members of the Sanhedrim; and others, again, where it is used interchangeably with “ the Pharisees,” whom the evangelist sometimes distinguishes from “ the rulers.” Then there are other passages where it can only signify the inhabitants of the capital, the evangelist marking a distinction between them and the “rulers.” And finally “the Jews” seems to be interchanged with “the multitude,” to whom, again, the name sometimes stands opposed. This designation is selected for all the opponents of Jesus, come they whence they may; whether they actually set themselves against him, or disputed with him. In Galilee, as well as at Jerusalem, on the shores of the sea of Tiberias as well as in the temple, it was “ the Jews” with whom Jesus had to do. He is the one, and they the other moral person, represented as speaking or acting. By the Synoptists, on the contrary, this designation is never used for any who might be the opponents of Jesus; they mark them out definitely and specially; it is with John only that all possible opponents are comprehended under the one name, “the Jews.”

It is believed that this fact—as also the characteristic of these opponents, answering to this name, in which concur all the individual qualities of the Jews, and all the separate motives of their opposition to Jesus in this one, that they did not believe in him, that their fundamental characteristic was unbelief—can only be rightly explained by the peculiarity of this Gospel as a whole, by its plan and object:—that its object, namely, to set forth the revelation of the glory of the incarnate Logos, could only be attained by means of contrast. And it is further believed, that this fluctuating, general use of the term “the Jews,” to denote all the opponents of Jesus, taken in connection with the universal tendency to set forth the Jewish people in the mass as unbelieving, would seem to point out the later Gentile-Christian standpoint from which this Gospel has been composed:—that an eye-witness, a native of Palestine, one familiar with the domestic affairs of the nation, an acquaintance, moreover, of the high priest, would not have expressed himself so indeterminately:—that it does not elsewhere occur that this designation denotes the rulers or other separate parties of the Jews:—that the expression betrays rather the subsequent original observation of a distant time, and is, as far as it goes, an argument against the authenticity of the Gospel.

In this designation of the Jews are undoubtedly concentrated all the peculiarities of this Gospel; but from this name it only follows, when this peculiarity is considered by itself, that the author of this Gospel, be he who he may, composed the evangelical history which is the subject of his representation, not from a purely historical, but rather from a higher religious or dogmatic point of view. As he had before his eyes, as an established historical fact, the great contrast in which Judaism stood to Christianity, he carried it over to his evangelical history, and therefore denoted those opponents of Jesus, whom the Synoptists, living in the actual survey of the circumstances, designated by the special historical names of Scribes, Pharisees, and the like—by the general name of “the Jews;” in order by that name to trace back to its first beginning and cause, that, opposition as it subsequently developed itself; and to set forth the entire relation of Judaism to Christianity, from a general point of view rendered necessary by a wider survey. But that he should survey the historical relations of his time from this point of view; that, notwithstanding the Christian church contained in itself a considerable Jewish-Christian element, the complete breach between Judaism and Christianity should appear to him as a fact accomplished, could be possible only from the standpoint of an author who had not merely adopted the Pauline view of the relations of Judaism to Christianity, but had further developed himself in an independent spirit, and had pressed forward to the full perception of the absolute idea of Christianity. So little with him is Christ the Son of David (ἐκ σπέρματος Δαβίδ, Rom. 1: 3,) that he seems to reckon his birth at Bethlehem among the Jewish fictions.[v] In place of the Jewish genealogies, with him appears the universal humanity of the σὰρξ γένεσθαι of the Logos. Only in the scene of the entry into Jerusalem, does he bring forward prominently anything of a Messianic character, in the manner in which it is represented by the Synoptists; but this is with him but a new point in the testimony which the Jews in their unbelief, bear against themselves. If they, after the immediately preceding miracle of the raising of Lazarus—with which the entry into Jerusalem, and especially the following catastrophe stand in such close connection—could so little resist the impression of the divine dignity of Jesus, that they offered homage to him as the Messiah, it could be only a new proof of the overmastering, the irradicable power of their unbelief, that they would not, nevertheless, recognize him as the Messiah. What Jesus did and suffered to take place in respect to him of a Messianic character, is according to the representation of the evangelist, only an accommodation on his part, in order to take away from the Jews that pretext for their unbelief, that they could not believe on him on account of his lacking the Jewish criteria of the Messiahship.[vi] But for the evangelist himself, and from his standpoint, everything Jewish has so little of a permanent and important significance, that as his idea of the death of Jesus shows, he looks upon the whole Old Testament as a period of religious history already accomplished, and therefore past away as far as relates to the Christian idea.

When we consider the great authority which the apostle Peter was for the Jewish-Christian portion of the Christian church, we shall not be surprised to find that an author who, on the question as to the relation of Judaism to Christianity, had so decisively adopted that view where he could not stand without holding to the principles which had first been made good by the apostle Paul, should not leave this point of the historical circumstances of his time altogether untouched. If we may consider chapter xxi. to be genuine, this was done by the evangelist in a very significant manner. For however obscure it may be, how the tarrying of the disciple until the coming of the Lord (ver. 22 sq.) is to be understood, this much is plainly to be seen, that to the apostle Peter’s glory of martyrdom is opposed some other distinguishing advantage belonging to the apostle John. Were it the express will of the Lord that he should tarry till He came, he was thereby raised above the requisition which might be made on him in respect of that martyrdom, and could in no wise be set below those apostles whose name, like that of Peter, shone in all the glory of a martyr’s death. If he were the survivor of the apostles—the only remaining disciple—yet only so because he was awaiting the Lord— this would be a distinction peculiar to him, which would place him the higher, the less he shared it with others. He was the disciple, who, as the awaiter of the coming of the Lord, should not die. The correction, in verse 23, in respect of the saying which went abroad respecting the apostle John, only shows that the οὐκ ἀποθνήσκειν was a too positive interpretation given to the words of the Lord; but it says nothing of an actual dying. It is not said that he was actually dead nor that it was appointed for him also to die. He thus remains the disciple of whose death no one has anything to say—of which no one might speak—in whose name, as well as in whose Gospel, death was lost in life. This was unquestionably a decisive preference of the apostle John over even Peter; and the care which was taken thus to specify it, could only be caused by the wish, in the contest with the Jewish-Christian party, whose chief authority was the apostle Peter, to maintain at least an equal authority for their own apostle John. But as we consider chapter xxi. as an addition subsequently appended, we see indeed, in this parallel between John and Peter, how deep an interest was felt by the party which was .based upon the principles of the Gospel of John; but this would seem to leave no connection with that Gospel itself.

But what is remarkable is, that in the last chapter a tendency is only more decidedly expressed, which can scarcely have been overlooked in several passages of the Gospel itself. Strauss was the first to point out that the fourth Gospel, in the relation in which John and Peter stand to each other, manifests a sort of premeditation; that in some places, in a peculiar manner, it endeavors, if not to place John before Peter, at least to set him by his side. The fourth Gospel alone, by the standing designation of ὁ μαθητὴς ὅν ἠγάπᾳ or ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς—of which the Synoptists, with whom Peter maintains the undoubted primacy, know not the least—distinguishes John, to whom beyond all doubt the designation refers, in some sense beyond all the others; and this confidential relation of the beloved disciple, appears in those instances where Peter was obliged to have recourse to the mediation of John:—as for example, when he could only learn through John, whom Jesus intended by what he said of the approaching betrayal (13: 24.) Peter himself must here have recognized his own less intimate relations with Jesus. It is indeed, as Strauss remarks, a merely external advantage, without any connection with any closer relations with Jesus, that according to the fourth Gospel alone, it is John who, as known to the high priest, procured for Peter access to the palace, when Jesus was detained there (18: 5); but with this stands immediately connected, that the Synoptists ascribe especially to Peter and not to John also, the zeal which impelled him to follow his imprisoned master. Here also belongs the circumstance, likewise noticed by Strauss, that the fourth Gospel places John beneath the cross of Jesus, where none of the disciples appear in the Synoptists; and that he is there placed in a relation to the mother of Jesus, of which the others make no mention. This selection could only be the result of the intimate relation in which John stood to Jesus; and from this relation the effort is everywhere visible, whenever an opportunity occurs of comparing the two disciples, that John shall at least not be deferred to Peter. The author of the gospel touches most strikingly upon this rivalship in the narration in chapter xx., where something is continually said of each of the two, which brings the one into comparison with the other. The two disciples go to the sepulchre together, but John outran Peter and came first to the sepulchre, stooping down into which he saw the clothes lying, yet without going in. Peter then, who came after John, went into the sepulchre, and examined the clothes more narrowly, for he saw that the napkin was not with the linen clothes, but was wrapped up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who first came to the sepulchre went into it, and here he did only what Peter had done before him; but then it is said of him only, not of Peter, that as the result of this seeing—for the faith of the disciples at this time was one which required sight, not an intelligent one, – that he believed.[vii] It is indeed true as Strauss remarks, that the distinctions belonging to Peter, as the honorable surname given to him by Jesus (1:43), his undoubting confession (6: 68), are no more passed over in silence in the fourth Gospel than are his Weakness, and the rebuke received by him in consequence from Jesus; but if we take in the mass that which refers to the peculiar relations of these two disciples to each other, it will appear that when this thing and the other is ascribed to Peter, which tend to place him —although still at the head of the disciples—in a not exactly favorable light, it is John as the author of the fourth Gospel, who mentions it, while it is not found in the Synoptists. It is remarkable that while all the evangelists relate that at the apprehension of Jesus, one of his followers drew a sword, and cut off an ear of the servant of the high priest, it is it only the fourth evangelist who records this action, of which Jesus disapproved, as having been committed by Peter. And not merely is this related (18: 10), but the evangelist returns to it, after minutely detailing Peter’s three acts of denial, in order to make use of this transaction as an occasion—which in the connection in which it stands, as Strauss correctly remarks, seems so careful and deliberate that its purpose can not be mistaken—for fastening upon Peter that stroke of the sword. The hesitation of Peter (13: 8) to suffer his feet to be washed by Jesus, affords indeed a fine testimony of his devotion to Jesus, but manifests, nevertheless, but little capacity for rightly understanding the deeper meaning of this transaction. Just as little for his credit was it that his thrice repeated denial should be again brought to mind in a manner so humiliating for him, by the threefold question put by Jesus (21: 15 sq.). If in all this we see but corrections and amplifications of the synoptic narration, then must this Gospel stand in a relation somewhat similar to the synoptical Gospels. But how improbable is it that all these traces concerning Peter and John should have utterly disappeared from the synoptical traditions. Could this relation to Jesus of the beloved disciple have been so unimportant, that they should have given no hint of it? And yet how can we doubt of it, when John himself as author of the Gospel, informs us of it? Then the question becomes still more pressing, Was he really the author?

However this may be decided, the particularity with which the relation of these two disciples to each other is narrated in this Gospel remains the same, and the ground of it can only lie in the historical circumstances of the times in which the composition of the Gospel took place: in the high authority which the apostle Peter had in so great a part of the Christian church. What then shall we think to have been the special design of the author of this Gospel?—Perhaps just this: To bring into recognition that particular form of the Christian sentiment which is set forth in this Gospel of John. But how else could this be done but in contrast to the prevailing direction of the existing forms of the Christian sentiment —which were, in general, the Pauline and the Petrine—to place itself above which was the necessary tendency of a Gospel, in which the principle of the Christian sentiment assumed an absolute significance so widely different. What then is the beloved disciple, who lay in the Lord’s bosom, the confidant of his inmost thoughts, in comparison with whom even Peter stood at a distance—what other is he than the bearer of that form of the Christian sentiment which is expressed in his Gospel—of the absolute idea of Christianity, as it is adequately conceived and expressed in John’s doctrine of the person of Christ? Why should it seem strange that in the position which John and Peter seem to stand toward each other, may be recognized the high significance which that form of the Christian sentiment represented by John had assumed in the historical relations of the time?

As Peter is the representative of the twelve apostles, the position which the evangelist gives himself in respect to Peter, points out the relations in which he placed himself towards the other apostles. This deserves, however, a somewhat closer consideration, in order to place what has been before remarked in a still clearer light. A contradiction, a polemic attitude, like that which we perceive in Luke, does not here manifest itself; but so much the more does the evangelist represent the entire degree of knowledge and spiritual capacity which the apostles had attained during the life of Jesus, as one so low and imperfect, that it stands at an infinite distance from that standpoint, from which he looks back upon this earlier period. Here belong the texts in which the evangelist expressly affirms that the disciples did not at first understand the true and proper sense of what was said and done by Jesus; but only subsequently, after his death and resurrection. (Compare 2: 22.) After his resurrection the disciples remembered what he had said (verse 19), and then for the first time understood his meaning, and then believed the Scripture and the word of Jesus. So also (12: 16) the disciples did not at first understand the Messianic import of what occurred at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; but after he was glorified, it is added, then they remembered that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. Of the numerous misunderstandings of the words of Jesus, of the so often inept questions which they put to him, how many are laid to the charge of the disciples. (Compare 4: 31 sq.; 5: 5 sq.; 11: 8 sq., 16). The last discourse of Jesus to his disciples, especially, contains proofs of how little able were they to comprehend his meaning, and the evangelist seems to have taken pains to make their spiritual incapacity manifest. How unappreciative is that question of Thomas, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?” (14: 5). How incomprehensible is the demand made by Philip, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us” (verse 8). How humiliating to the disciples the reply of Jesus, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (verse 9; compare also 14: 23; 16: 17,29). At so imperfect a stage of their spiritual life the disciples at that time found themselves, because they had not yet received the Spirit, which Spirit could only come after the glorification of Jesus (7: 39). The whole scope of the parting discourse goes to indicate a period when the Spirit imparted to the disciples had raised them to quite another stage of knowledge and of spiritual sentiment. But the greater is the difference between this later and that earlier period: the greater is the more everythng which raises the Christian sentiment to that higher standpoint, belongs to a period subsequent to the earthly life of Jesus; at so much greater distance does the evangelist stand from that Jewish view which would have the entire capability for the apostolical office conjoined to the earthly life of Jesus, and to the converse of the disciples with their immediately present Lord. Judaism took its stand on the personality of single individuals as conductors of the whole; on the apostles, and of these especially, on the apostle Peter. From opposition to this view arises the gentle irony of the evangelist towards the apostle Peter. In his view the Spirit, as the universal principle of the Christian faith and life, stands above the personal in the apostles; and the greater is the fullness of that spiritual life which had developed itself in the Christian church from this principle, first become operative after the departure of Jesus, so much the more do the apostles retreat into the background, for they who believed on him should also receive the Spirit (7: 39); and in the parting discourse it may hence be seen how the idea of the apostles passes over into the broader idea of the disciples, for the greater part of what is there said accords with the latter as well as with the former. In this respect it may here be worthy of notice, that the solemn title of ἀπόστολοι does not occur in this Gospel, and the twelve are only named where something depends upon their name which can excite no very high regard for them. Thus (6: 67) Jesus asks the twelve whether they also will go away from him; and honorable as is the confession of Peter, it is just here that the evangelist notices that Judas, the betrayer, had been one of the twelve. Thomas also, in the scene characterized by his unbelief, is introduced as one of the twelve.

Taking all these things together, we look upon the evangelist as an author who already stood at a distance from that oldest circle of Judaism.

[i] “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.”—2: 17. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”—3: 14. “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven: but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.”— 6: 32. “He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow fountains of living water. But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive, for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”—7: 38, 39. “And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: because thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.”…. “That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report f and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory and spake of him.”—12: 14, 15; 38—40. “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.” . . . . “That the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another Scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” —10: 36, 37.

[ii] “And this he spake not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”—1: 51, 52. “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. This he said signifying what death he should die.”—1: 32, 33. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”—3; 14, 15. “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” —12: 23, 24.

[iii] “ Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye marvel. Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision, (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the Sabbath-day circumcise a man. If a man on the Sabbath-day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me because I have made a man every whit whole on the Sabbath-day?”—7: 21—23.

[iv] “ It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.”— 8: 17. “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, 1 said, Ye are gods?” 10: 34.

[v] “Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the Scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?”—7: 40, 41.

[vi] In this respect it is remarkable, that while with Matthew (21: 1sq.) the entrance into Jerusalem was a transaction carefully provided for by Jesus himself, as essential to the Messiahship, John (12:9 sq.), on the contrary makes of the scene only a ceremony transacted by the Jews, which Jesus, after the people had commenced the movement, made use of, in order not to be found wanting in this prophetically announced criterion of the Messiahship. We cannot here infer a different transaction from this difference in the narrative, and suppose as Schleiermacher does, a double entry. Strauss has shown the impossibility of this supposition (ii. 301 sq.) It is strange that the disciples only should not have known the Messianic nature of the transaction. But the remark of the evangelist in verse 16, parallel to the passage 2: 22, should be thus understood: After the death of Jesus, the Messianic relation of what had taken place was first clear to them, for they then first comprehended it in the true sense, and perceived how it was to be taken; that an earthly king was no more to be imagined, than was an earthly temple in 2: 19. They first attained a true knowledge, when they had thrown aside everything Jewish, and learned to apprehend it in its mere typical import.

[vii] The passage, John 20: 4, 5, is one of those in which this Gospel most closely coincides with that of Luke (compare Luke 24: 12); but Luke speaks only of Peter, without saying anything of John.



  1. Digital Classics in the History of New Testament Research | David Lincicum
  2. Rehabilitating F.C. Baur with Jens Schröter and Matthew Hopper | German for Neutestamentler
  3. A Missing Translation of F. C. Baur | David Lincicum

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