The Importance of F. C. Baur

I’ve been fascinated by F. C. Baur for some time, and find his work simultaneously deeply problematic and hugely captivating. In that judgment I’m not alone. There are lots of inaccurate caricatures of Baur on offer, and these should be resisted even when one wants rightly to disagree with and criticise him. But as some inducement to reading the great man himself, here are two wonderful passages about the importance of the Tübinger:

“Despite these weaknesses, Baur’s greatness cannot be denied. The discipline of New Testament studies owes him more than any of those who came before him. On the wall in Käsemann’s living room study hangs a copy of the University of Tübingen’s portrait of Baur, a gift to the New Testament scholar upon his retirement. Once outside Baur’s direct influence, the one-time pupil of Bultmann finally came to write of Baur as the true ‘progenitor’ of a criticism at the root, a criticism conceived not merely as scientific method but as a presupposition for the life of the spirit. One summer day he pointed to that portrait on his study wall and said, ‘greater even than Bultmann’” ( Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture: Theology and Historical-Critical Method from Spinoza to Käsemann [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 130).

“But we can, by contrast, see Baur’s work in a broader light. Such a presentation would involve emphasizing the fact that Baur’s is the first thorough-going historical account of early Christianity, whose presuppositions were to influence many of those who followed him, whether in agreement or disagreement; and that his views about the relationship between John and the Synoptics, the question of the authenticity of many New Testament books, the theological tendency of individual New Testament writings, and the role of conflict in the creation of early Christian ideas, while disputed, continue to be standard topics of discussion in any account of New Testament and later history. If we accept these points, then Baur will appear as the central and most influential figure in the history of the study of Christian origins. Indeed, seen against this broader canvas, it may only be a slight exaggeration, here adapting the words of A. N. Whitehead on Plato, to state that the study of Christian origins after Baur is no more than a series of corrective footnotes” (James Carleton Paget, in an extremely learned forthcoming essay on ‘The Reception of Baur in Britain’ in Ferdinand Christian Baur und die Geschichte des Urchristentums [WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014]).

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  1. #1 by Jim on October 29, 2013 - 9:43 am

    greater than Bultmann… that’s crazy talk, Ernst, crazy talk!

    • #2 by David Lincicum on October 29, 2013 - 10:08 am

      I thought of you when I read that line, Jim!

      • #3 by Jim on October 29, 2013 - 10:34 am

        ;-)

  2. #4 by jamesdtabor on October 30, 2013 - 3:05 am

    Hear, hear! Totally agree. My book Paul and Jesus is in some ways a “rehabilitation” of F. C. Baur, not that such a towering figure would need “me” but he has gotten such a “bad press” by those generations of students over the past 40 years who have never read a line of Bauer but picked up on the standard “handbook” position that FC was extreme, was totally refuted, that no one takes him seriously. Here is a bit of my tribute: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/the-quest-for-the-historical-paul/

    There is indeed much to praise Baur for when it comes to pioneering a critical view of our N.T. documents, however I am wholly convinced he was right about Paul’s opponents as well–against the harmonizing account of Acts. Yes, I would say there is no concourse between Paul and Jerusalem…

  3. #5 by seanfwinter on October 30, 2013 - 5:09 am

    Can’t wait for the new volume, David.

  1. Rehabilitating F.C. Baur with Jens Schröter and Matthew Hopper | German for Neutestamentler

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