Walter Bauer (August 8, 1877 – November 17, 1960) was a German theologian, famous lexicographer of New Testament Greek, and scholar of the development of the early Christian churches.
Bauer was born in Königsberg, East Prussia, and raised in Marburg, where his father was a professor. He studied theology at the universities of Marburg, Strassburg, and Berlin. Bauer taught at Breslau and Göttingen, where he later died.
In his Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum (Tübingen 1934; a second edition, edited by Georg Strecker, Tübingen 1964, was translated as Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity 1971), Bauer developed his thesis that in earliest Christianity, orthodoxy and heresy do not stand in relation to one another as primary to secondary, but in many regions heresy is the original manifestation of Christianity. Bauer reassessed as a historian the overwhelmingly dominant view that for the period of Christian origins, ecclesiastical doctrine already represented what is primary, while heresies, on the other hand somehow are a deviation from the genuine (Bauer, "Introduction").
Bauer's translator, Robert A. Kraft, characterized his sophisticated, nuanced writing style, which
Through studies of historical records Bauer concluded that what came to be known as orthodoxy was just one of numerous forms of Christianity in the early centuries. It was the form of Christianity practiced in Rome that exercised the uniquely dominant influence over the development of orthodoxy and acquired the majority of converts over time. This was largely due to the greater resources available to the Christians in Rome and due to the conversion to Christianity of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. Practitioners of what became orthodoxy then rewrote the history of the conflict making it appear that this view had always been the majority one. Writings in support of other views were systematically destroyed.
Bauer's conclusions contradicted nearly 1600 years of writing on church history and thus were met with much skepticism among Christian academics such as Walther Völker (see below).
The cultural isolation of Nazi Germany precluded a wider dissemination of Bauer's ideas until after World War II; in the international field of biblical scholarship, Bauer continued to be known solely as the compiler of the monumental Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments (in its English translation A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature or simply the Bauer lexicon), which has become standard. Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei was finally translated into English in 1970 and published in 1971.
- Walter Bauer, 1971. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress) ISBN 0-8006-1363-5.
- Bart D Ehrman, 2002. Lost Christianities: Christian Scriptures and the Battles over Authentication (Chantilly VA: The Teaching Company), Lesson 19, pg 28.
- Walther Völker, "Walter Bauer's Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei im ältesten Christentum", translated by Thomas P. Scheck in Journal of Early Christian Studies 14.4 (2006): 399-405. Originally published in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 54 (1935): 628–31.