Johann Sebastian Bach – the fifth evangelist?



Today, Bach is generally regarded as one of the main composers of the Baroque style, and he is also recognised as one of the greatest composers of all time. Bach devoted his life to music and his contributions, or “musical science”, have been compared with what Shakespeare did to English literature and Newton’s efforts in physics. Besides being the greatest composer and organist of the Baroque era, Bach was also a theologian and did gather a lot of inspiration from the Bible. So it is not a sensation that nearly three-fourths of his 1000 compositions were written for use in worship. Many well-known historians, musicians and composers have claimed that Bach is to be considered as a tremendous virtuoso and with his remarkable masterpieces the “St Matthew Passion” and the “St John Passion”, he has given life to the Gospels. Some people, including the Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, have also stated Bach as the “fifth evangelist”.


Why should Bach be stated as the “fifth evangelist”? Why should a musician even be compared with the “real” evangelists?


Well first of all, music was never just music in his eyes. Ever since he received his first copy of Martin Luther’s Bible, he took most of his inspiration from it. The inspiration he gathered from the Bible characterised every single piece of art he composed after his finding of what the Bible could provide him with.


You obtain a perfect example of how much the Bible influenced him if you read the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. If you read that at the same time as you listen to the “St Matthew Passion”, you can actually experience what you are reading. This piece of music is directly connected to the Gospel of Matthew.


I think that it is satisfactory calling Bach the “fifth evangelist”. I mean, honestly, consider what he has done. He has given the Gospels an entirely new dimension, because now, we have the opportunity not only to read them but also to live them. Thanks to Bach’s music, we can live the Gospels with our imagination. Bach gave the Bible another dimension, hundreds of years before television came and we were finally able to “see” it with our own eyes.


Considering this, you may wonder if it was Bach’s intention to be the fifth evangelist. Was the purpose with his music to be put side by side with the evangelists?


If you ask me, I find it hard to believe that Bach himself was so arrogant as to consider himself as an evangelist and neither do I believe that he even thought of himself as holy person. Least of all I believe that he saw himself as a person that people all over the world would compare him with the “fantastic four”, St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. John. Actually, I believe that Bach was a very religious man that wrote his music not in honour of himself but only to praise the lord. And there is a peculiar thing that strengthens this argument. Bach wrote the acronym SDG on most pieces of music he composed. SDG stands for “Soli Deo Gloria”, it is Latin and it means “Glory to God alone”.


I think that it is possible to compare this debate with, for example, the one concerning the book and the movies “The Lord of the Rings”. As someone might know, Peter Jackson produced three movies out of the book “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien. These movies received many awards and a discussion was brought up concerning if the movies were at the same level as the book.


To conclude all this, we can at least say that this discussion has endured for a very long time, and will probably continue to do so for many years. Even though it is very difficult to have the same opinion concerning if Bach really was the “fifth evangelist” or not, I believe that there is a possibility that there at least is one thing that everyone can agree on. Johann Sebastian Bach was a composer beyond all kind of comparison, no matter if he was the “fifth evangelist” or not.


If you want to find out more about Johann Sebastian Bach, please check out this link:


Postat av: VICTORIA

Interesting thing about the lord of the rings. I mean, it is quite common that you compose music with literature as inspiration. And if you think of, there wasn't that many books to be inspired by when Johann Sebastian Bach lived. There are a lot of reasons why.

I think that he could be called the fifth evangelist. What did the others do different, really? Well, of course they are in the bible, but the concept is sort of the same, isn't it?

And one final thing about the music-literature relationship! I think it might be common that you get inspiration from music to write books. So those aspects are sort of related in many ways!

Once again a very well-written article!

2011-03-29 @ 18:07:43
Postat av: Olof

Thanks for the comment Viktoria!

It is indeed very common that you compose music with literature as inspiration. And as you say, the range of books was quite smaller compared with today.

What the others did is of course extremely important for Christianity, but I believe that it is possible to compare Bach with the Evangelists since he offered a second way to look on Christianity. Throughout music, he describes the gospels.

Once again, a very well written comment!

2011-03-31 @ 18:29:26

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