Ferdinand Christian Baur

Ferdinand Christian Baur

Ferdinand Christian Baur (June 21, 1792 - December 2, 1860), was a German theologian and leader of the Tübingen school of theology (named for University of Tübingen). Following Hegel's theory of dialectic, Baur argued that 2nd century Christianity represented the synthesis of two opposing theses: Jewish Christianity and Pauline Christianity. In the field of higher criticism, he proposed a late date for the pastoral epistles.

German Protestant theologian Adolf Hilgenfeld followed Baur's lead and edited the Tübingen School's journal, though he was less radical than Baur. ["Hilgenfeld, Adolf" and "Tübingen School." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] A patristic scholar and philosopher at Tübingen, Albert Schwegler, gave the school's theories their most vigorous expression. ["Schwegler, Albert" and "Tübingen School." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] The school's influence peaked in the 1840s, and was finally abandoned early in the 20th century. ["Tübingen School." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005]

Baur's views were revolutionary and often extreme; but, whatever may be thought of them, he rendered great service to theological science. "One thing is certain: New Testament study, since his time, has had a different colour" (H.S. Nash). He had a number of followers, who in many cases have modified his positions, as his groundwork continues to be built upon into the 21st century.

Early years

Baur was born at Schmiden, near Cannstatt.After training at the theological seminary of Blaubeuren, he went in 1809 to the University of Tübingen. Here he studied for a time under Ernst Bengel, grandson of the eminent New Testament critic, Johann Albrecht Bengel, and at this early stage in his career he seems to have been under the influence of the old Tübingen school. But at the same time the philosophers Immanuel Fichte and Friedrich Schelling were creating a wide and deep impression. In 1817 Baur returned to the theological seminary at Blaubeuren as professor. This move marked a turning-point in his life, for he now set to work on the investigations on which his reputation rests. He had already, in 1817, written a review of G Kaiser's "Biblische Theologie" for Bengel's "Archiv für Theologie" (ii. ?656); its tone was moderate and conservative.

Early works

When, a few years after, his appointment at Blaubeuren, he published his first important work, "Symbolik und Mythologie oder die Naturreligion des Altertums" ("Symbol and mythology: the natural religion of Antiquity", 1824-1825), it became evident that he had made a deeper study of philosophy, and had come under the influence of Schelling and more particularly of Friedrich Schleiermacher. The learning of the work was fully recognized, and in 1826 the author was called to Tübingen as professor of theology. It is with Tübingen that his greatest literary achievements are associated. His earlier publications here treated of mythology and the history of dogma. "Das manichäische Religionssystem" ("The Manichaean religious system") appeared in 1831, "Apollonius von Tyana" in 1832, "Die christliche Gnosis" ("Christian Gnosis") in 1835, and "Uber das Christliche im Platonismus oder Socrates und Christus" ("On Christianity in Platonism: Socrates and Christ") in 1837. As Otto Pfleiderer (Pflederer 1890 p. 285) observes, "the choice not less than the treatment of these subjects is indicative of the large breadth of view and the insight of the historian into the comparative history of religion."

Hegel's influence

Meantime Baur had exchanged one master in philosophy for another, Schleiermacher for Georg Hegel. In doing so, he had adopted completely the Hegelian philosophy of history. "Without philosophy," he has said, "history is always for me dead and dumb." The change of view is illustrated clearly in the essay, published in the "Tübinger Zeitschrift" for 1831, on the Christ-party in the Corinthian Church, "Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des paulinischen und petrinischen in der ältesten Kirche, den Apostel Petrus in Rom", the trend of which is suggested by the title. Baur contends that the apostle Paul was opposed in Corinth by a Jewish Christian party which wished to set up its own form of Christian religion instead of his universal Christianity. He found traces of a keen conflict of parties in the post-apostolic age, which have passed into the mainstream of Early Christian historiography.

Pauline epistles

The theory is further developed in a later work (1835, the year in which David Strauss' "Leben Jesu" was published), "Über die sogenannten Pastoralbriefe". In this Baur attempts to prove that the false teachers mentioned in the Second Epistle to Timothy and Epistle to Titus are the Gnostics, particularly the Marcionites, of the 2nd century, and consequently that the Pastoral Epistles were produced in the middle of the 2nd century in opposition to Gnosticism.

He next proceeded to investigate other Pauline epistles and the "Acts of the Apostles" in the same manner, publishing his results in 1845 under the title "Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi, sein Leben und Wirken, seine Briefe und seine Lehre". In this he contends that only the Epistle to Galatians, First and Second Epistle to the Corinthians and Epistle to the Romans are genuinely Pauline, and that the Paul of the Acts of the Apostles is a different person from the Paul of these genuine Epistles, the author being a Paulinist who, with an eye to the different parties in the Church, is at pains to represent Peter as far as possible as a Paulinist and Paul as far as possible as a Petrinist.

Early Christian conflicts

Baur was prepared to apply his theory to the whole of the New Testament; in the words of H.S. Nash, "he carried a sweeping hypothesis into the examination of the New Testament." He considers those writings alone genuine in which the conflict between Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians is clearly marked. In his "Kritische Untersuchungen über die kanonischen Evangelien, ihr Verhältniss zu einander, ihren Charakter und Ursprung" (1847) he turns his attention to the Gospels, and here again finds that the authors were conscious of the conflict of parties; the Gospels reveal a mediating or conciliatory tendency ("Tendenz") on the part of the writers or redactors. The Gospels, in fact, are adaptations or redactions of an older Gospel, such as the Gospel of the Hebrews, of Peter, of the Egyptians, or of the Ebionites. The Petrine Matthew bears the closest relationship to this original Gospel ("Urevangelium"); the Pauline Luke is later and arose independently; Mark represents a still later development according to Baur; the account in John is idealistic: it "does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it."

Baur's theory starts with the supposition that Christianity was gradually developed out of Judaism. Before it could become a universal religion, it had to struggle with Jewish limitations and to overcome them. The early Christians were Jewish-Christians, to whom Jesus was the Messiah. Paul, on the other hand, represented a breach with Judaism, the Temple, and the Law. Thus there was some antagonism between the Jewish apostles Peter, James and John, and Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, and this struggle continued down to the middle of the 2nd century. In short, the conflict between Petrinism and Paulinism is, as Karl Schwarz puts it, the key to the literature of the 1st and 2nd century.


Baur was a theologian and historian as well as a Biblical critic. As early as 1834 he published a strictly theological work, "Gegensatz des Katholicismus und Protestantismus nach den Prinzipien und Hauptdogmen der beiden Lehrbegriffe", a strong defence of Protestantism on the lines of Schleiermacher's "Glaubenslehre", and a vigorous reply to J. Molhler's "Symbolik" (1833). This was followed by his larger histories of dogma, "Die christliche Lehre von der Versöhnung in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung bis auf die neueste Zeit" (1838), "Die christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung" (3 vols., 1841-1843), and the "Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmengeschichte" (1847). The value of these works is impaired somewhat by Baur's habit of making the history of dogma conform to the formulae of Hegel's philosophy, a procedure "which only served to obscure the truth and profundity of his conception of history as a true development of the human mind" (Pfleiderer). Baur, however, soon came to attach more importance to personality, and to distinguish more carefully between religion and philosophy.The change is noticeable in his "Epochen der kirchlichen Geschichtschreibung" (1852), "Das Christenthum und die christiche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte" (1853), and "Die christiche Kirche von Anfang des vierten bis zum Ende das sechsten Jahrhunderts" (1859), works preparatory to his "Kirchengeschichte", in which the change of view is specially pronounced. The "Kirchengeschichte" was published in five volumes during the years 1853-1863, partly by Baur himself, partly by his son, Ferdinand Baur, and his son-in-law, Eduard Zeller, from notes and lectures which the author left behind him. Pfleiderer describes this work, especially the first volume, as a classic for all time. "Taken as a whole, it is the first thorough and satisfactory attempt to explain the rise of Christianity and the Church on strictly historical lines, i.e. as a natural development of the religious spirit of our race under the combined operation of various human causes" ("Development of Theology", p. 288). Baur's lectures on the history of dogma, "Ausführlichere Vorlesungen uber die christliche Dogmengeschichte", were published later by his son (1865-1868).

Tübingen School

The Tübingen School was at the height of its influence in the 1840s, but lost ground to historical fact. ["Tübingen School." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] Since Adolf Harnack proposed very early dates for the synoptics and Acts ("c" 1910), the Tübingen School has been generally abandoned. ["Harnack, Adolf" and "Tübingen School." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005]



*Otto Pfleiderer, 1890. "Development of Theology"

"Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation", s.v. "Tübingen School."

J. Fitzer, Möhler and Baur in Controversy, 1832-38: Romantic-Idealist Assessment of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (Tallahassee (FL), 1974) (AAR Studies in Religion, 7).

F. Kaufmann, Foundations of Modern Church History (New York, 1992) (American University Studies. Series VII. Theology and Religion, 115).

Th. A. Robinson, The Baur Thesis Examined: The Geography of Heresy in the Early Christian Church (Lewiston (NY)-Lampeter, 1988) (Studies in Bible and Early Christianity, 11).

U. Köpf, Historisch-kritische Geschichtsbetrachtung. Ferdinand Christian Baur und seine Schueler (Sigmaringen, 1994) (Contubernium, 40).

External links

* [http://www.depts.drew.edu/jhc/baurjhc.html F.C. Baur on the Higher Criticism] ; a brief quote
* [http://atheism.about.com/library/glossary/western/bldef_tubingenschool.htm Tubingen School] , summary----

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