Featured Articles

Theological Matters

Theological Insights from Southwestern

baptism1

Pilgram Marpeck’s Christian Baptism

As Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary prepares to host its conference celebrating the Anabaptist Movement on January 30-31, 2012, Jason G. Duesing presents his synthesis of Pilgram Marpeck’s (d. 1556) view of believer’s baptism in his five-part series, “Pilgram Marpeck’s Christian Baptism.”

Pilgram Marpeck (d. 1556) was the second most influential theologian among the evangelical Anabaptist movement.[1] In his recent work, The Formation of Christian Doctrine, Malcolm Yarnell concludes that “At the theological headwaters of the believers’ church movement stands [Pilgram Marpeck’s] theological method …. On this foundation and from these principles are derived the free churches’ understanding of the proper development of doctrine.”[2] Rollin Armour considers Pilgram Marpeck to have “articulated perhaps the most thoughtful interpretation of baptism among the Anabaptists.”[3] Considering that unlike most Anabaptist theologians Marpeck served as a civil magistrate and not a cleric, Armour’s words are significant.[4] Harold Bender describes Marpeck’s life as “a good illustration of the transition from Catholicism via Lutheranism to Anabaptism” in that he moved directly from one tradition to the next as directed by the Scriptures.[5] Pilgram Marpeck was “loyally Biblical [sic]” not only in his daily life, but also his theological life, especially in the development of his theology of baptism.[6]

Pilgram Marpeck was “loyally Biblical” not only in his daily life, but also his theological life, especially in the development of his theology of baptism.

By way of introduction, it is helpful to examine three of Marpeck’s summary statements concerning baptism. First, it is foundational to see that Marpeck’s understanding of baptism draws its definition from the biblical text. In the midst of a rare comment on his own testimony of conversion Marpeck states, “I have been baptized precisely because it is written that one should do so, and I have been baptized because according to the testimony of the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3, 4), it is written that our Lord Christ died for our sakes.”[7]

Second, it is crucial to recognize that Marpeck’s understanding of baptism sees its significance even in its descriptive terminology. In response to South German Spiritualist, Casper Schwenckfeld, Marpeck asserts, “We don’t simply call it ‘water baptism’ as Schwenckfeld does, for God’s word and action precedes and accompanies it. For this reason, and not because of the element, it is called Christian baptism.”[8] Thus, I will use the terminology “Christian baptism” when exploring Marpeck’s view.

Finally, it is important to note that Marpeck’s understanding of baptism finds its essential nature in the role it plays as a matter of ecclesiological integrity. He summarizes, “If these three things, the true proclamation of the gospel, correct baptism, and correct communion, are in doubt, there can be no true church of Christ. If one of these parts is missing, it is not possible outwardly to maintain and support a true Christian church.”[9]

This series will discuss four descriptive statements of Marpeck’s regarding Christian Baptism: Infant Baptism, of any kind, is not Christian Baptism, Christian Baptism follows a Christ-established order, Christian Baptism always leads to a new life, and Christian Baptism is a witness.

Therefore, in light of Marpeck’s understanding of baptism according to its biblical definition, significant terminology and ecclesiological necessity, this series will discuss four descriptive statements of Marpeck’s regarding Christian Baptism: Infant Baptism, of any kind, is not Christian Baptism, Christian Baptism follows a Christ-established order, Christian Baptism always leads to a new life, and Christian Baptism is a witness, all of which aim toward the goal of providing a theologically rich vision of baptism from this German theologian, still demanding ears to hear.


[1] G. H. Williams, editor of Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), 30, used the term Evangelical Anabaptist to categorize the Swiss and South German Anabaptists who saw “only the New Testament as normative for doctrine, ethics, and polity.”

[2] Malcolm B. Yarnell, III. The Formation of Christian Doctrine (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007): 106.

[3] Rollin Stely Armour, Anabaptist Baptism: A Representative Study (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1966), 113. Research related to the writings of Pilgram Marpeck was almost non-existent until the mid-twentieth century. Since that time, nearly all of Marpeck’s writings have been translated and published in English with the exception of his concordance, Testamentserläuterung.

[4] Stephen B. Boyd. Pilgram Marpeck: His Life and Social Theology (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), 1. For more on Marpeck’s life and work see John C. Wenger, “The Life and Work of Pilgram Marpeck,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review XII, no. 3 (July 1938): 137-166, Jan J. Kiwiet. Pilgram Marbeck. Ein Führer in der Täuferbewegung der Reformationszeit (Kassel: Oncken, 1957), William Klassen. Covenant and Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), and Harold S. Bender, J. Loserth, and John C.Wenger, “Marpeck, Pilgram.” in The Mennonite Encyclopedia (Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing House, 1957).

[5] Harold S. Bender, “Pilgram Marpeck, Anabaptist Theologian and Civil Engineer,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review XXXVIII, no. 3 (July 1964): 237.

[6] John C. Wenger, “The Theology of Pilgram Marpeck,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review XII, no. 4 (1938): 205-206.

[7] Pilgram Marpeck, “A Clear and Useful Instruction,” in The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, ed. William Klassen and Walter Klaassen (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1978), 94. Also known as Marpeck’s Klarer Unterricht.

[8] Pilgram Marpeck, “Response to Casper Schwenckfeld,” in Later Writings by Pilgram Marpeck and his Circle, ed. Walter Klaassen, Werner Packull, and John Rempel (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 1999), 87. Also known as Marpeck’s Verantwortung. Schwenckfeld, known Anabaptist critic, prompted Marpeck’s defense through his own critique of Marpeck’s Admonition of 1542.

[9] Pilgram Marpeck, “The Admonition of 1542,” in The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, ed. William Klassen and Walter Klaassen (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1978), 292. Also known as Marpeck’s Vermanung or Taufbüchlein.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



Jason Duesing

Jason Duesing

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Assistant Professor of Historical Theology and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Related Posts