Pilgram Marpeck: Christian Baptism is a Witness

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.”

In Marpeck’s Confession, he contrasts the reasonableness of infant baptism based on circumcision with the simplicity of faith in Christ. Where paedo-baptizer’s appeal to a sign of the Old Covenant, Christian baptism is a witness of the believer’s New Covenant faith.[1] Indeed, this is a major theme for Marpeck as it appears in all of his writings on the subject. It is in the midst of this that Marpeck reveals two aspects of Christian baptism as a witness.

First, Christian baptism functions as a witness of an inward transaction. Referring again to the conversation between Philip and the eunuch, Marpeck emphasizes the eunuch’s confession of faith that he believed with all his heart in Jesus Christ prior to baptism in Acts 8:37.[2] The eunuch’s baptism, therefore, was “the witness that the comfort which is preached to the believer is truly in his heart.”[3] Marpeck underscores the testimony of Christian baptism as “a witness of the death of sin and unbelief into which we have come and in which we have lain,”[4] as well as the “witness to the inner conviction that one’s sins are forgiven.”[5]

Christian baptism functions as a witness of an inward transaction … [and] of outward love.

Furthermore, Marpeck sees the expression of external baptism as the “earthly and elemental witness” of the inward baptism of the Holy Spirit.[6] He explains that the passage in Eph 4:5 referring to “one baptism,” the reference in Eph 5:25-27 concerning the “washing of water with the word,” and the statement in 1 Cor 12:13 referring to the baptism of the Spirit, all speak of the inward baptism that is expressed visibly in the witness of Christian baptism.[7] For Marpeck, Christian baptism best testifies to the new life that springs forth from the inward transformation of the Christian.

Second, Christian baptism serves as a witness of outward love. What Marpeck terms as the “internal working of the Holy Spirit,” is that which transforms the life of the Christian and leads him ultimately to Christian baptism. This external exercise of Christian baptism, therefore, “show[s] love toward all men” in that it is a witness to the gospel and work of Christ on behalf of the world.[8] This message of love reveals the cyclical nature of Marpeck’s Christ-established order for Christian baptism.

When Christian baptism functions as a witness to the world it simultaneously serves as the teaching function to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ. This faith, as shown above, is the prerequisite to Christian baptism, which, in turn, stands as the door to the church and a further witness to the world. Marpeck’s Christian baptism, when practiced by local churches, depicts the gospel of the love of God for the world through the witness of the changed lives of God’s people.

[1] Marpeck, “Confession of 1532,” 111. See article 19.

[2] This variant reading does not appear in most translations, but Marpeck’s text followed the insertion of Acts 8:37 as legitimate as he cites it in “A Clear and Useful Instruction,” 88. Bruce Metzger, the UBS text, and the NA27 all leave 8:37 in the textual apparatus. See Metzger’s defense in A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Ed., http://www.biblecentre.net/nt/greek/gkcm/main.htm accessed November 21, 2005. For a further treatment supporting the inclusion of Acts 8:37 see Cottrel Ricardo Carson, “Acts 8:37: A Textual Reexamination,” Union Seminary Quarterly Review 51, no. 1-2 (1997): 57-78.

[3] Marpeck, “A Clear and Useful Instruction,” 88.

[4] Marpeck, “Confession of 1532,” 130-31.

[5] Ibid., 153.

[6] Ibid., 143,145.

[7] For Eph 5 and 1 Cor 12 see “The Admonition of 1542,” 198, 200-201. For Eph 4 see “Response,” 124, 137.

[8] Pilgram Marpeck, “On the Inner Church,” in The Writings of Pilgram Marpeck, ed. William Klassen and Walter Klaassen (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1978), 422-423. Taken from a collection of Marpeck’s letters known as the Kunstbuch.