Ferdinand Christian Baur

The German theologian Ferdinand Christian Baur (1792-1860) combined historical, philosophical, and linguistic approaches in his pioneering work on the history and philosophy of Christianity. He and his followers are known as the Tübingen school of theology.

Ferdinand Christian Baur, the son of a Protestant minister and dean of the theological seminary at Blaubeuren, was born at Schmiden, near Stuttgart, on June 21, 1792. He received his early schooling at Blaubeuren and attended the University of Tübingen from 1809 to 1814. After serving as country vicar and teacher, he was professor of theology at Blaubeuren from 1817 until 1826.

Influenced by B.G. Niebuhr's history of Rome, Baur became involved in the study of ancient history and the history of religion. This led to his first major work, Symbolism and Mythology, or the Nature Religion of Antiquity (3 vols., 1824-1825), and to his appointment as professor of theology at Tübingen in 1826. There he settled down to a life of teaching, preaching, and scholarship.

In 1833 Baur published Contrast between Catholicism and Protestantism according to the Principles and Main Dogmas of the Two Teachings. This work criticized attempts to polarize the differences between Catholic and Protestant dogma. In it Baur also presented for the first time one of his most important concepts—the distinction between the Petrine (Jewish-Christian) and Pauline (Gentile-Christian) interpretations of early Christian development. This concept was expanded in his famous Christian Gnosticism (1835).

Baur's studies during the 1830s and early 1840s culminated in the important Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi (2 vols., 1845) and in the Textbook of the History of Christian Dogma (1847). In Paulus Baur established a new chronology of St. Paul's New Testament writings. He recognized only the Epistles to the Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans as genuinely Pauline. He attributed the writings on Paul in Acts of the Apostles to a later Paulinist writer who attempted to overcome Petrine-versus-Pauline party differences in the early Church. Continuing study of the literary sources of the Gospels led to the publication of Critical Investigations concerning the Canonical Gospels (1847), in which the Petrine and Pauline differentiation was further developed.

During the last decade of his life Baur published three volumes of his projected five-volume church history. The last two volumes were compiled from his lectures and were published posthumously. Baur died on Dec. 2, 1860, at Tübingen, having suffered a stroke during a meeting of the Academic Senate. He was one of the most dedicated and fruitful scholars of his time, and his major contribution was the freeing of Protestant theology from the fetters of supranatural and pietistic conservatism.


Further Reading on Ferdinand Christian Baur

The most up-to-date study on Baur in English is Peter C. Hodgson, The Formation of Historical Theology: A Study of Ferdinand Christian Baur (1966). A modern translation by P.C. Hodgson, ed., Ferdinand Christian Baur on the Writing of Church History (1968), contains a lengthy and useful introduction to Baur and his work.