Ferdinand Christian Baur and the History of Early Christianity

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Editor(s): 
Martin Bauspiess, Christof Landmesser, David Lincicum
Translator(s): 
Peter C. Hodgson
Robert F. Brown
  • Oxford, U.K.: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     2017.
     432 pages.
     $127.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198798415.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

This is an important book for anyone interested in the history of early Christianity. Fifteen essays, which are divided into three parts, present and discuss the works, the importance, and the influence of Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860). Together, these essays demonstrates clearly how Baur shaped various discourses and conclusions we are still grappling with. With all the flaws in his scholarship, Baur remains significant as a thinker in the history of the study of early Christian studies. Certainly, many of Baur’s research questions are conditioned by the state of scholarship at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and most of his conclusions are today outdated. However, as this book so remarkably shows, one cannot ignore this pioneer thinker if one wants to understand the history of research on early Christianity.

In the first part of the volume, the various authors evaluate the connections and demarcations between Baur and other significant thinkers (David F. Strauss, Johann A. Möhler, Georg Wilhelm F. Hegel). For example, the nearly four decades long teacher-student relationship between Baur and Strauss was replete with tensions and changes. Regarding Baur’s connection to Hegel, Martin Wendte demonstrates that although one can see traces and influence of Hegel’s thoughts on Baur’s thinking, Baur was an idealist and a Hegelian with his own questions and his particular answers.

Part 2 focuses on “Historical and Exegetical Perspectives.” The place and the nature of New Testament introduction in Baur’s theological history of primitive Christianity is discussed by David Lincicum, who shows that a canon-centered discipline remains important for Baur, “even if he wants to dissent from many of the traditional authorial claims embodied in that canon” (92). Baur posed some basic questions with regard to the hermeneutical and theological tasks of New Testament introduction that are still worth pondering. In spite of the admiration one may have for Baur, Anders Gerdmar demonstrates that Baur remained a nineteenth century German scholar who shared “fundamental Orientalist ideas, which are inherently racist” (114).

Baur as an interpreter of Paul is well presented. Baur was a pioneer in his critical assessment of Pauline Christianity. He needs to be placed in his specific historical context in order to understand how his works advanced the study of the Synoptics. Jörg Frey argues that Baur can be counted as one of the most important figures in research on the Gospel of John. Baur’s historical method is today acknowledged to be problematic, but he has asked some of the best questions with regard to the study of the Gospel of John. Regarding Baur’s New Testament theology, Robert Morgan demonstrates that in searching for what remains essential in the dynamics of history and theology, Baur aimed for a theological synthesis. He endeavored to do serious and critical historical studies that are theologically sensitive in interpreting the Bible.

In part 3, “Influences,” James Carleton Paget analyzes Baur’s reception and influence in Britain. It is a reception marred by ignorance, by incomprehension, but also by admiration. Baur’s historical method in New Testament studies is of enduring importance, and he is still influential in the works of some British New Testament scholars. The history or assessment of Baur’s reception and influence in North America is still to be written. 

Baur also remains influential in German scholarship, as Daniel Geese shows. Geese focuses on the similarities and differences between Baur and Harnack. The two thinkers, the two masters, remain of interest as conversation partners. In another essay, Brigit Weyel argues that Baur’s place in practical theology was not only as an academic, but also as a sensitive preacher. In his preaching, Baur called for trust in the promise of salvation and blessing, while trying to separate what is essential from what is not.

Some of the chapters do not contribute much to our understanding of Baur (e.g., chapter 2, on ethical judgment and ecclesiastical self-understanding). Other chapters present little critical assessment of Baur’s views (e.g., chapter 6 on Baur’s view of Christian Gnosis) and therefore does not make a clear contribution. Although the chapter on pastoral theology has its own merits, the attempt to situate Baur in some trajectory within pastoral theology is forcing a square peg into a round hole. In spite of these few critical remarks, this volume is a fascinating contribution that will be valuable not only to scholars and to graduate students, but also to interested lay readers. I highly recommend this book.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ronald Charles is assistant professor of religious studies at St. Francis Xavier Univeristy.

Date of Review: 
September 26, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Martin Bauspiess is in the department of New Testament studies at the University of Tubingen.

Christof Landmesser is professor of New Testament studies at the University of Tubingen.

David Lincicum is associate professor of biblical studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Peter C. Hodsgon is emeritus professor of theology, Divinity School, Vanderbilt University.

Robert F. Brown is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and history of philosophy, University of Delaware.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments