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19. ARE THE OTHER MIRACLES FACTS FOR JN.?
We must quote yet another passage from the Synoptics to elucidate the question as to what opinion the Fourth Evangelist held with regard to the miracle-stories. When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask whether he was the promised Saviour, or whether they must look for another. We must remember here that, from the time of the baptism of Jesus, John could not have been clear on this matter (see p. 79 f.). The answer of Jesus is almost verbally identical in Mt. (xi. 4-6) and in Lk. (vii. 22 f.): “Go your way and tell John the things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in me.” Could Jesus have done anything more calculated to destroy the effect of his words than, in his list of works of wonder which reaches a climax in the awakening from the dead, to specify at the end of them preaching to the poor, that is to say, something quite ordinary, something not at all wonderful, something which could not make the slightest impression on the disciples of John as an answer to their question whether he was the promised Saviour, their ideas of his superhuman power 107being what they were. Or may we suppose that the Evangelists have inappropriately added this from clumsiness? Assuredly not. They have taken the greatest possible care that we should read in their books of all the five classes of wonders which Jesus enumerates before this answer to the Baptist.
Now, in both consistently (Mk. omits the whole story of the Baptist’s messengers) there appear before this date only the healing of a leper (Mt. viii. 1-4 = Lk, v. 12-14) and of palsied men (Mt. viii. 5-13 = Lk. vii. 1-10; Mt. ix. l-8 = Lk. v. 17-26); and in Mt. (ix. 18-26), besides these, in agreement with the order of events in Mk. (v. 21-43), the awakening of the daughter of Jairus. This Lk. introduces too late for the answer to the Baptist’s question (not until viii. 40-56). But, instead of it he has introduced earlier (vii. 11-17) the awakening of the young man at Nain, about which Mt. and even Mk. say nothing at all. On the other hand, Mt. ix. 27-34 introduces the healing of two blind men and a dumb man, about which Lk. and even Mk. are silent. In Jesus enumeration there is no dumb man, but mention is made of the deaf; since, however, both are described by the same Greek word (kophós), there do, as a matter of fact, appear in Mt. before chapter xi. all the ailments mentioned by Jesus. In Lk. the blind and the deaf are omitted. Instead of this, Lk. tells us in vii. 21 that in the presence of the messengers of the Baptist Jesus healed many blind and other ailing persons, about whom there is not a word in Mt.
Both Evangelists, therefore, although in complete disagreement with each other, have been at pains to make Jesus enumeration appear literally true; and, this being so, could they have deprived it of its whole force by making so unsuitable an addition (concerning the preaching to the poor)? 108Or was it perhaps later copyists who did this? But even in their case, the matter would be equally inexplicable.
There is here again, as in the question of Jesus utterance about leaven, only one solution: the most striking and seemingly the most embarrassing version must be the most original. Jesus himself must have added, “and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” But he could only have done so if all the previously mentioned persons are on the same level, that is to say, if he meant spiritually blind, spiritually lame, spiritually leprous, spiritually deaf, and spiritually dead. And here again, just as in the case of the stories of feeding, the concluding words are intelligible only on this understanding. “Blessed is he whosoever finds none occasion of stumbling in me”: this means that the Baptist should not take offence at Jesus for coming forward in such simple guise, as a mere teacher and prophet, and should recognise him as the promised Saviour, in spite of his humble appearance. This, in truth, was why John had had doubts on the matter. In thinking of the promised Messiah, he thought, as his whole race did, of a person who would come forward with superhuman power, drive the Romans from the land and set up a mighty kingdom, in which the Jews would reign.
Here then we have a new instance how utterances of Jesus have often been faithfully preserved in the Synoptics. In this saying we may depend upon it that we have the words of Jesus in all essentials, particularly in their conclusion, just as he spoke them (the question whether he enumerated at the beginning one ailment more or less need not detain us); and this is the more noteworthy, since the Evangelists have entirely misunderstood it, and have made great efforts to show that their misunderstanding is right. At the same time, we have in it a new example of the way in 109which Jesus availed himself of figurative language which might easily be misunderstood, and which actually was understood in such a manner that objective works of wonder were supposed to be intended when he had spoken merely of spiritual experiences unaccompanied by any miracle.
For the Fourth Gospel, therefore, we have here a foundation upon which to build if we would assume that not only the feeding of the five thousand, but also the healing of the man born blind, of the man paralysed for thirty-eight years, of the son of the royal official, and the awakening of Lazarus, were from the first meant to describe merely the healing of souls. It makes no difference, of course, if the son of the royal official is described as suffering, not from one of the ailments enumerated in Mt. xi. 5, but from a fever. In fact, by recognising this figurative style of speech, we may also venture to seek such an explanation of the last remaining miracles of the Fourth Gospel, the turning of water into wine at Cana, and Jesus’ walking on the sea, even though these are not miracles of healing.
We may not, of course, in any case go as far as to sup pose that all these stories, in their figurative meaning, actually came from Jesus himself. Had they done so it would be inconceivable that about most of them the Synoptics should know nothing. What we gather, therefore, is at most this, that the author of the Fourth Gospel still had correct information as to the metaphorical style in which Jesus delighted to express himself, and that he copied this in the spirit of his master. At the same time, it is true, we must reckon fully with the possibility that he did not gain this by first-hand knowledge of Jesus style of speech, but in the roundabout way described above: he believed that in all his miracle-stories he had to do with 110real events; not until later did they become to him figures for mere ideas, and the question whether they really happened become of but secondary importance. Not even now are we able to come to a decision upon these two points of view; perhaps indeed, as already intimated, Jn. could not himself have said which of them he had finally adopted.
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