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Taking next the narrative of the healing of the man born blind, its origin could easily be understood on the sup position that some preacher discussed a story of the healing of another blind man taken from the Synoptics, and held the Jewish people to be meant by the man. In that case, it was very natural for him to say that this blind man was so from his birth. In a quite similar way, indeed, the discourse of Stephen (Acts vii.) aims at showing that the Jewish people had mistaken the will of God from the first. Some hearer who was not too attentive might easily have gathered from the discourse that Jesus had really healed a man who was blind from birth. In this particular case, however, we are in a position to say further how some of the details in the narrative in Jn. may have arisen. In Mk. viii. 22-25 we read that a blind man was made to see by Jesus, not at once but by degrees. If a preacher enlarged upon this, he might easily reach the thought: the spiritually blind only succeed gradually in recognising Jesus, the person who makes them whole. The thought is in Jn. ix. 17, 31-33, 38 expressed in such a way that the healed man at first regards Jesus only as a prophet and a devout man sent by God, and only in the end comes to perceive that he is the Son of man, in other words, the Saviour of the world. Further, from the same passage in Mk. the point in Jn. ix. 6 is borrowed, that Jesus’ spittle served as the remedy. The only new features are the way in which this is used, and the washing of the eyes in the Pool of Shiloah.


For the story of the marriage-feast at Cana also (ii. 1-11) there were starting-points in the New Testament. In the future kingdom of eternal happiness people drink wine (Mk. xiv. 25). Figuratively, the new religion which Jesus introduces has already (in Mk. ii. 22) been compared with new wine which ought not to be poured into old skins; and the time during which Jesus is with his friends, whether in the present or in the future, is here (Mk. ii. 19) and elsewhere (Rev. xix. 7; Jn. iii. 29) described as a marriage festival. If we may believe that the Fourth Evangelist built his narrative upon these foundation stones, some one who was familiar with the figurative style of speech, or a number of such people, before Jn. may easily have done the same; and in that case the whole account would have been handed on to Jn. as a real miracle.

The origin of the story of the healing at the Pool of Bethesda we may suppose to have been rather different (v. 1-16). Here a preacher may not have started with some parable which had been handed down as coming from the mouth of Jesus. But he might certainly have taken the story in the Old Testament (Deut. ii. 14) as his starting-point, according to which the people of Israel, in punishment of its disobedience, was obliged to wander in the wilderness for thirty-eight years. Thus, in a figurative discourse, having in view all the while the people’s whole history down to his own time, he might have described the nation as a sick person, who for thirty-eight years had been bed-ridden. Five porticoes—thus he went on per haps to recall the five books of Moses, by obedience to which the Jews hoped to be made blessed—had the house in which he lay, but he did not become well; often as the water was stirred, which held out to him the hope of a 117cure, there was never any one there to help him to step in, until Jesus came and asked him, Wilt thou be whole?

In this way the explanation may be applied to all the miracle-stories in Jn. which have not been taken directly from the Synoptics, like the feeding of the multitudes and the walking on the sea. Of other narratives, it perhaps suits best that of the washing of the disciples’ feet. According to Lk. xxii. 26 f., immediately after the last occasion in his life on which he supped with his disciples, Jesus said, “I am in the midst of you as one that serveth.” Now, washing the feet was one of the duties of the humblest servants. It may perhaps seem to us rather bold, but it is not unthinkable, that a preacher, wishing to describe very vividly Jesus condescension in serving his followers, may perhaps have said: “Jesus ministered to his disciples like the humblest slave; he compared himself with the servant who washes the feet of the guests at meal-time.” Of course, he meant this only as a figure of speech; but it is very conceivable that it was understood as a real event which actually happened on the last evening of Jesus’ life.

But enough. We do not press the application of this method of explanation to other accounts in the Fourth Gospel; for we by no means wish to derive all accounts not included in the Synoptics from a “tradition” only known to Jn., but only those in which this can be done naturally; and so we leave every reader to judge in how many cases the method is appropriate.

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