He was born at Schmiden, near Canstatt. After training at the theological seminary of Blaubeuren, he went in 1809 to the University of Tübingen. Here he studied for a time under Ernst Bengel, grandson of the eminent New Testament critic, Johann Albrecht Bengel, and at this early stage in his career he seems to have been under the influence of the old Tübingen school. But at the same time the philosophers Immanuel Fichte and Friedrich Schelling were creating a wide and deep impression. In 1817 Baur returned to the theological seminary at Blaubeuren as professor. This move marked a turning-point in his life, for he now set to work on the investigations on which his reputation rests. He had already, in 1817, written a review of G. Kaiser's Biblische Theologie for Bengel's Archiv für Theologie (ii. ?656); its tone was moderate and conservative.
When, a few years after, his appointment at Blaubeuren, he published his first important work, Symbolik und Mythologie oder die Naturreligion des Altertums (1824-1825), it became evident that he had made a deeper study of philosophy, and had come under the influence of Schelling and more particularly of Friedrich Schleiermacher. The learning of the work was fully recognized, and in 1826 the author was called to Tübingen as professor of theology. It is with Tübingen that his greatest literary achievements are associated. His earlier publications here treated of mythology and the history of dogma. Das manichäische Religionssystem appeared in 1831, Apollonius von Tyana in 1832, Die christliche Gnosis in 1835, and Uber das Christliche im Platonismus oder Socrates und Christus in 1837. As Otto Pfleiderer (Development of Theology, p. 285) observes, "the choice not less than the treatment of these subjects is indicative of the large breadth of view and the insight of the historian into the comparative history of religion."
Meantime Baur had exchanged one master in philosophy for another, Schleiermacher for Georg Hegel. In doing so, he had adopted completely the Hegelian philosophy of history. "Without philosophy," he has said, "history is always for me dead and dumb." The change of view is illustrated clearly in the essay, published in the Tübinger Zeitschrift for 1831, on the Christ-party in the Corinthian Church, Die Christuspartei in der korinthischen Gemeinde, der Gegensatz des paulinischen und petrinischen in der ältesten Kirche, den Apostel Petrus in Rom, the trend of which is suggested by the title. Baur contends that the apostle Paul was opposed in Corinth by a Jewish-christian party which wished to set up its own form of Christian religion instead of his universal Christianity. He finds traces of a keen conflict of parties in the post-apostolic age.
The theory is further developed in a later work (1835, the year in which David Strauss' Leben Jesu was published), Über die sogenannten Pastoralbriefe. In this Baur attempts to prove that the false teachers mentioned in the Second Epistle to Timothy and Epistle to Titus are the Gnostics, particularly the Marcionites, of the 2nd century, and consequently that the Epistles were produced in the middle of that century in opposition to Gnosticism. He next proceeded to investigate the Pauline Epistles and the Acts of the Apostles in the same manner, publishing his results in 1845 under the title Paulus, der Apostel Jesu Christi, sein Leben und Wirken, seine Briefe und seine Lehre. In this he contends that only the Epistle to Galatians, First Epistle to the Corinthians and Epistle to the Romans are genuinely Pauline, and that the Paul of the Acts of the Apostles is a different person from the Paul of these genuine Epistles, the author being a Paulinist who, with an eye to the different parties in the Church, is at pains to represent Peter as far as possible as a Paulinist and Paul as far as possible as a Petrinist.
Baur was prepared to apply his theory to the whole of the New Testament; in the words of HS Nash, "he carried a sweeping hypothesis into the examination of the New Testament." Those writings alone he considers genuine in which the conflict between Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians is clearly marked. In his Kritische Untersuchungen über die kanonischen Evangelien, ihr Verhältniss zu einander, ihren Charakter und Ursprung (1847) he turns his attention to the Gospels, and here again finds that the authors were conscious of the conflict of parties; the Gospels reveal a mediating or conciliatory tendency (Tendenz) on the part of the writers or redactors. The Gospels, in fact, are adaptations or redactions of an older Gospel, such as the Gospel of the Hebrews, of Peter, of the Egyptians, or of the Ebionites. The Petrine Matthew bears the closest relationship to this original Gospel (Urevangelium); the Pauline Luke is later and arose independently; Mark represents a still later development; the account in John is idealistic: it "does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it."
Baur's theory starts with the supposition that Christianity was gradually developed out of Judaism. Before it could become a universal religion, it had to struggle with Jewish limitations and to overcome them. The early Christians were Jewish-Christians, to whom Jesus was the Messiah. Paul, on the other hand, represented a breach with Judaism, the Temple, and the Law. Thus there was some antagonism between the Jewish apostles Peter, James and John, and Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, and this struggle continued down to the middle of the 2nd century. In short, the conflict between Petrinism and Paulinism is, as Karl Schwarz puts it, the key to the literature of the 1st and 2nd century.
Baur was a theologian and historian as well as a Biblical critic,. As early as 1834 he published a strictly theological work, Gegensatz des Katholicismus und Protestantismus nach den Prinzipien und Hauptdogmen der beiden Lehrbegriffe, a strong defence of Protestantism on the lines of Scbleiermacher's Glaubenslehre, and a vigorous reply to J Molhler's Symbolik (1833). This was followed by his larger histories of dogma, Die christliche Lekre von der Versöhnung in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung bis auf die neueste Zeit (1838), Die christliche Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit und Menschwerdung Gottes in ihrer geschichtlichen Enlwicklung (3 vols., 1841-1843), and the Lehrbuch der christlichen Dogmengeschichte (1847). The value of these works is impaired somewhat by Baur's habit of making the history of dogma conform to the formulae of Hegel's philosophy, a procedure "which only served to obscure the truth and prcfundity of his conception of history as a true development of the human mind" (Pfleiderer). Baur, however, soon came to attach more importance to personality, and to distinguish more carefully between religion and philosophy. The change is noticeable in his Epochen der kirchlichen Geschichtschreibung (1852), Das Christenthum und die christiche Kirche der drei ersten Jahrhunderte (1853), and Die christiche Kirche von Anfang des vierten bis zum Ende das sechsten Jahrhunderts (1859), works preparatory to his Kirchengeschichte, in which the change of view is specially pronounced. The Kirchengeschichte was published in five volumes during the years 1853-1863, partly by Baur himself, partly by his son, Ferdinand Baur, and his son-in-law, Eduard Zeller, from notes and lectures which the author left behind him. Pfleiderer describes this work, especially the first volume, as a classic for all time. "Taken as a whole, it is the first thorough and satisfactory attempt to explain the rise of Christianity and the Church on strictly historical lines, i.e. as a natural development of the religious spirit of our race under the combined operation of various human causes" (Development of Theology, p. 288). Baur's lectures on the history of dogma, Ausführlichere Vorlesungen uber die christliche Dogmengeschichte, were published later by his son (1865-1868).
Baur's views were revolutionary and often extreme; but, whatever may be thought of them, he rendered great service to theological science. "One thing is certain: New Testament study, since his time, has had a different colour" (HS Nash). He had a number of followers, who in many cases modified his positions.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.