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Otto Pfleiderer

Professor of Theology, University of Berlin
1839 to 1908

Born at Stetten in the region of Wurttemberg in Swabia on 1 September 1839, Otto Pfleiderer was a New Testament scholar and theologian. After training in Tübingen between 1857 and 1861, and subsequently for brief stints in Scotland and England, he served as a repentant in Tübingen before becoming the pastor of Heilbronn in 1868. Two years later he moved to Jena, where, after serving as superintendent in the church, became professor of theology. After the publication of his Der Paulinismus (1873) and several articles on New Testament criticism and theology, Pfleiderer was appointed to the chair of systematic theology at Berlin. Greatly influenced by F. C. Bauer at Tübingen, Pfleiderer belonged to the critical school of New Testament scholarship.

In 1885 he delivered the Hibbert Lectures in London on The Influence of the Apostle Paul on the Development of Christianity, and in 1894 delivered the Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh under the title “The Philosophy and Development of Religion”. His Gifford Lectures were dubbed by their critics as an ‘attack upon Christianity as a Supernatural religion’. Professor A. H. Charteris, who chaired the lecture series, is said to have judged Pfleiderer’s invitation to deliver the lecture series as an ‘unfortunate mistake on the part of the Senatus of Edinburgh University’. But rather than a disastrous outcome, the lectures proved to be stimuli for discourse. Principal Robert Rainy, Dr Marcus Dodds and Rev Professor Orr all produced responses defending a more ‘orthodox’ position on the supernatural aspects of the Christian religion. In 1890, his The Development of Theology since Kant, and its Progress in Great Britain since 1825 was published.

Pfleiderer died at Groß-Lichterfelde, near Berlin, on 18 July 1908.

Some of Pfleiderer’s important publications include: Paulinism: A Contribution to the History of Primitive Christian Theology (1877); Religionsphilosophie auf geschichtlichen Grundlage (1878), with a second enlarged edition appearing in 1883-1884, translated into English as The Philosophy of Religion on the Basis of its History (1886–1888); Das Urchristentum, seine Schriften and Lehren, in geschichtlichem Zusammenhang beschrieben (1878), which was enlarged for a second edition in 1902 and translated into English and published as Primitive Christianity (1906); The Early Christian Conception of Christ (1905); Die Entstehung des Christentums (1905), published in English as Christian Origins (1906); Religion and Religionen (1906), published in English as Religion and Historic Faiths (1907); and Die Entwicklung des Christentums (1907), published posthumously in English as The Development of Christianity (1910).

  • R. Scott Spurlock, University of Edinburgh