Lectures on New Testament Theology

Ferdinand Christian Baur

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Editor(s): 
Peter C. Hodgson
Translator(s): 
Robert F. Brown
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     2016.
     416 pages.
     $130.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198754176.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Ferdinand Christian Baur’s Lectures on New Testament Theology, originally delivered at the University of Tübingen between 1852 and 1860, appears here in English, translated by Robert F. Brown and edited by Peter C. Hodgson. This substantial work constitutes the core of New Testament theology in critical scholarship. F. C. Baur, the founder of the Tübingen School, set the study of the New Testament in a new direction. Baur’s work impacted both historians and theologians in the pursuit of biblical criticism and biblical theology. Baur’s views continue to dominate the study of the origin of early Christianity.

Baur’s Lectures on New Testament Theology is divided into two major sections beginning with an introduction. Part 1 introduces the teaching of Jesus. Part 2 examines the teaching of the apostles in three major periods: first, “The Theological Framework of the Apostle Paul and the Book of Revelation”; second, “The Theological Frameworks of Hebrews, the Deutero-Pauline Epistles, the Epistles of James and Peter, the Synoptic Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles”; and third, “The Theological Framework of the Pastoral Epistles and the Johannine Writings.”

In his introduction, Baur sets the study of New Testament theology in its historical context, asserting that “to grasp the distinctive character of biblical theology [New Testament theology], we must go back to the history of its establishment and its development” (63). Over and against the construction of biblical theology based on the dogma of the church derived from scripture, Baur calls for the application of the historical-critical method in the study of the development of New Testament theology in early Christianity.  

In part 1, on the teaching of Jesus, Baur considers Jesus as the founder of a new religion. As such, his teaching constitutes the core of this new religion, but not its theology (96). Baur entirely relies on the Gospel of Matthew in his attempt to portray the teaching of Jesus. Following in the footsteps of J. J. Griesbach (1776) who persuasively demonstrated that Mark abbreviated and conflated Matthew and Luke on the basis of textual study, Baur, on the basis of theological development, maintains that Matthew’s gospel represented the earliest source of the gospel story, followed by Luke, which Baur claims was dependent on Matthew, and then by Mark, which presupposes Mark’s use of both Matthew and Luke (79).  

The longest part of the book deals with the teaching of the apostles in three periods. For the first period, Baur derives the teaching of Paul from only four of his letters: Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans. For the second period, Baur focuses on the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Deutero-Pauline Epistles (Ephesians, Colossians, and Philippians), the Epistles of James and Peter, the Synoptic Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles (236-320). For the third period, Baur considers the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) and the Gospel of John as they contribute to the most advanced theological framework in the development of New Testament theology. Baur’s examination of the Gospel of John lays a firm foundation for a Johannine theology which places Jesus in the most exalted position ever discussed in the New Testament (332). 

Baur’s method of tracing the development of New Testament theology depends on reshuffling the canonical order of the New Testament books. But Baur’s way of rearranging the canonical books seems to set the progression of New Testament theology in proper perspective.

Baur’s treatment of the Synoptic Gospels in their sequential order—Matthew, Luke, and Mark— strengthens the position of the Griesbach Hypothesis (also known as the Two Gospel Hypothesis) and poses an imminent challenge to Markan priority. Baur contends that Mark’s gospel does not have an independent source and is solely dependent on Matthew and Luke. As a result, Baur takes all references from Matthew and Luke, and seldom alludes to Mark in his lectures. He seems to imply that in the discussion of New Testament theology, one might do away with Mark’s gospel completely, as it does not contribute anything significant to the ongoing conversation on the development of early Christianity. In order to advocate for Markan priority, one needs to show in evidence that gentile Christianity preceded Jewish Christianity, since Matthew’s Gospel represents Jewish Christianity in its earliest form while Luke’s Gospel stems from a Jewish–Gentile antithesis. Until that happens, Baur’s analysis of the Synoptic Gospels in the sequential order of composition, Matthew→Luke→Mark, based on the development of early Christianity, remains a viable solution to the ongoing discussion of the Synoptic Problem.

Baur’s discussion of the theological framework of the Pastoral Epistles shows a more advanced development in establishing the church’s teaching as recommended by the hierarchy (325). Baur’s important contribution with Lectures on New Testament Theology is that the study of the Pastoral Epistles rests on the idea of the church as a teaching institution guided by bishops and elders.

In sum, Baur’s work, though over 150 years old, makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the development of New Testament theology in various stages in the life of early Christianity. The translator and the editor of this volume are to be congratulated and thanked for doing the hard work of returning Baur to the consideration of English-speaking New Testament scholars. I highly recommend Baur’s Lectures on New Testament Theology as required reading for all in the field of New Testament Studies, to help us begin to set the evidence and the questions right.

About the Reviewer(s): 

J. Samuel Subramanian Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of New Testament Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

Date of Review: 
December 12, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Peter C. Hodsgon is Emeritus Professor of Theology, Divinity School, Vanderbilt University. With Professor Brown, he co-edited and translated Ferdinand Christian Baur'sHistory of Christian Dogma (OUP, 2014) and Hegel's Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, Volume I: Manuscripts of the Introduction and the Lectures of 1822-1823 (OUP, 2011).

Robert F. Brown is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Religion and History of Philosophy, University of Delaware. His publications include Hegel: Lectures on the History of Philosophy 1825-6: Volume 1 (OUP, 2006) and Volume 2 (OUP, 2009).

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