Rehabilitating F. C. Baur with Jens Schröter and Matthew Hopper

While looking through my Mohr Siebeck catalogue, I was pleased to learn of a forthcoming volume entitled Ferdinand Christian Baur und die Geschichte des frühen Christentums (eds. Martin Bauspiess, Christof Landmesser, and David Lincicum). Sharing David Lincicum’s high estimation of Baur’s importance (see here; cf. here, here, and here), this post will attempt to prepare the way for this forthcoming volume by “rehabilitating” Baur in two respects, namely (1) in relation to his pioneering appropriation of historiographical insights and (b) in relation to his relationship to Hegel. To do so, I will take my initial orientation from two quotations from Jens Schröter’s book Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament / From Jesus to the New Testament.

1) Baur and Historiography

From Jesus to the New Testament (p. 320): “These exegetical-historical conclusions were obtained on the basis of the conviction that historical individual-appearances can only be understood by discovering their inner connection. As isolated individual phenomena, by contrast, they remain mute. In early Christianity, Baur saw such a connection in the opposition between Pauline and Petrine parties, whose views were then conciliated with each other. Even if this view was subsequently clearly differentiated with regard to the positions represented in early Christianity, the lasting significance of Baur lies in the thoroughgoing application of the principles of historical research to the beginnings of Christianity. He thereby laid the methodological foundations for all subsequent conceptions of a history of Christianity.” (cf. pp. 15-18, 27, 29, 31, 39, 319-21).

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament ( p. 346): “Diese exegetisch-historischen Ergebnisse sind auf der Grundlage der Überzeugung gewonnen, das geschichtliche Einzelerscheinungen nur dadurch verstanden werden können, dass man ihren inneren Zusammenhang aufdeckt. Als isolierte Einzelphänomene bleiben sie dagegen stumm. Im Urchristentum sah Baur einen solchen Zusammenhang im Gegenüber der paulinischen und petrinischen Partei, deren Auffassungen dann miteinander vermittelt worden seien. Auch wenn diese Sicht im Blick auf die im Urchristentum vertretenen Positionenen später deutlich ausdifferenziert wurde, liegt die bleibende Bedeutung Baurs darin, die Prinzipien historischer Forschung konsequent auf die Anfänge des Christentums angewandt zu haben. Er hat damit die methodischen Grundlagen für alle späteren Entwürfe einer Geschichte des Urchristentum gelegt.”

2) Baur and Hegel

From Jesus to the New Testament (p. 320n6): “By contrast it is inappropriate, as unfortunately often occurs, to dismiss Baur’s contribution with the observation that he forced Hegel’s philosophy of history onto the history of early Christianity. The article on the Corinthian Letters, in which he submitted his view for the first time, was written before Baur became familiar with Hegel’s writings. Cf. Hodgson 1966, 22.”

Von Jesus zum Neuen Testament   (p. 346n6): “Dagegen ist es unangemessen, was leider oft geschieht, Baurs Beitrag mit dem Hinweis abzutun, er habe der Geschichte des Urchristentums Hegels Geschichtsphilosophie aufgezwungen. Der Aufsatz über die Korintherbriefe, in dem er seine Sicht zum ersten Mal vorlegte, wurde geschrieben, bevor Baur mit Hegels Schriften bekannt wurde. Vgl. Hodgson, Historical Theology, 22.”

3) Substantive Analysis

My purpose here is not to rehabilitate Baur at every point. On the contrary, I think that fundamental aspects of his project have rightly been called into question. I do, however, think that it is unhelpful when a towering figure like Baur is set aside with dismissive slogans rather than engaged with in a critical and constructive manner. Against this background, I was somewhat frustrated to read the following statement in David Wenham’s forward to the important work Earliest Christian History: History, Literature, and Theology: Essays from the Tyndale Fellowship in Honour of Martin Hengel (eds. M. Bird and J. Maston): “Baur’s Hegelian analysis of the history of early Christianity and of the New Testament as a conflict between the Jewish Christianity of Peter and others and the Hellenistic Christianity of Paul was very influential, very damaging to traditionally orthodox Christian faith, but deeply flawed, as has been almost universally recognized since” (my emphasis). And I experienced comparable disappointment upon reading the similar statement of Daniel B. Wallace in his otherwise enjoyable blog post in memory of Martin Hengel: “These 19th-century scholars, especially Baur, applied Hegelian dialectic to New Testament studies (i.e., thesis vs. antithesis, struggling with each other end up resulting in a synthesis of both). Baur had been one of Hegel’s students; he applied this dialectic to the authorship of the NT writings, resulting in seeing only four authentic letters by Paul and seeing John as written sometime after 160 CE” (my emphasis). The problem with these quotations is not that Baur is beyond reproach. He is not! The problem is that Baur’s contribution is too quickly sloganized and dismissed by means of a somewhat inaccurate – or at least grossly oversimplified – attribution of his views to the influence of Hegel, which inevitably prevents the productive aspects of his approach from being appreciated and appropriated, for example his appropriation of advances in historiography (cf. FJNT, p.16). In fact, it could be added that in this respect F. C. Baur and Martin Hengel could be compared rather than contrasted with each other (cf. Hengel, “Eye-Witness Memory and the Writing of the Gospels”, pp. 93-95)! Let me conclude by noting that my own stance toward Baur was greatly shaped through my supervision of Matthew Hopper’s learned and spirited MA Thesis “Historical Theology as the Crossroads of Faith and Reason: The Contribution of Ferdinand Christian Baur”, which he completed in 2008. While my enthusiasm for Baur does not extend as far as my student’s, I remain indebted to Mathew Hopper for giving me a much greater appreciation for this Tübingen giant. Needless to say, I look forward to learning more about Baur’s achievements and shortcomings from the forthcoming volume Ferdinand Christian Baur und die Geschichte des frühen Christentums.

For some other posts on F. C. Baur in the blogosphere, see here.

For my other posts on Jens Schröter and historiography, see here.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For tips on how to use this blog, please see here.

For two interviews with me about the Baylor-Mohr Siebeck Series, see Clifford Kvidahl and Michael Hölscher.

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