The Relation of the Old and New Covenants in Pilgram Marpeck’s Theology

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The Relation of the Old and New Covenants in Pilgram Marpeck’s Theology

William Klassen§

→91# It is no surprise that with the restoration of the Bible to the common man at the time of the Reformation one of the most urgent problems to emerge was the authority of the Old Testament. A host of issues including the use of images, war, usury, worship, and infant baptism, all in varying degrees, were supported by reference to the Old Testament. Two major hermeneutical issues of the Reformation were the relation of the Old and New Covenants and the relation of the Word and Spirit. On both the Anabaptists provoked the discussion and determined its course to a much greater extent than is generally recognized.[1] Harnack was surely mistaken when he asserted that the retention of the Old Testament in the church’s canon at the time of the Reformation was due to an unavoidable accident.[2] It was no accident that the Reformers retained it; it was a logical result of their basic conservatism. Nor was it an accident that the Anabaptists retained it; they accepted it as God’s revelation and struggled (not always successfully) to reconcile its differences with the New.

The prominence of this issue is illustrated by the way it emerges at every major disputation between Reformed and Anabaptists. At the Frankenthal Disputation of 1571 it was obviously the most burning issue that separated the two groups.[3] Baptism, the oath, bearing of arms, and other issues continued to divide the Anabaptists and Reformers because the Old Testament was viewed differently.

Considerable energy has been expended in the effort to ascertain the origin of the clear distinction made among the Anabaptists between the two covenants. Much has been made of the apparent dependence of the Anabaptists in their view of history upon Joachim →92 da Fiore. In these treatments Pilgram Marpeck is often overlooked.[4] As far as Marpeck is concerned there is not a shred of evidence that he is indebted to Joachim da Fiore. He would have rejected da Fiore’s doctrine of the three ages as well as his “doctrine of the concordance between the Old and New Testaments which rests on the fundamental unity of the People of God in history.”[5] The periodization of history which some find in the Anabaptists and the restitution element so strongly emphasized by Franklin Littell are both altogether lacking in Marpeck.[6] It seems quite plausible to find Marpeck’s differentiation between the Old and New Testaments growing out of his experience at Strasbourg. His position is obviously hammered out against those of Bucer, Capito, Johannes Bünderlin, and Schwenckfeld. As he saw the way in which Bucer was led on his position on the Old Testament, Marpeck drove his stakes deeper and clung to his position.

It is our intention here to look at Marpeck’s position on the Old Testament. A familiarity with the facts of his life and his strategic importance in the Anabaptist movement is assumed.[7] Born about 1490, his life runs almost concurrently with that of Menno Simons and his importance stems from the fact that he was an Anabaptist almost from the beginning of the movement, his leadership extending into the second generation of Anabaptists in South Germany. He is one of the most prolific Anabaptist writers, his extant writings exceeding those of Menno Simons by the ratio eight to one. Recently two more anonymous Anabaptist books have been discovered, the style and content of which lead to the conclusion that the two lost booklets of 1531 ascribed to him have now been located.[8]

Of his writings mention will be made here only of the tome which he dedicated to the problem of the relation of the Old and New Covenants, the Testamenterleutterung. This book of over 800 →93 pages is a concordance listing Scripture passages around a variety of themes, all showing how the Old and New Covenants differ, and how the Old Testament points beyond itself to the New and foreshadows the experiences of the New Covenant. It was written sometime after 1544, the exact date unknown. It was published by the Marpeck printing press at Augsburg before May 1550. This is a major source for our study, although every book written by Marpeck and almost every extant letter deals to some extent with this problem.[9]

Three things are attempted in this paper: (1) To view Marpeck’s usage of the Old Testament in the framework of the larger Anabaptist usage; (2) To study the ways in which he outlined the relationship between the Old and New Covenants; and (3) To compare briefly Marpeck’s position with that of Marcion. From such a study a few questions for modern Biblical theology may emerge.

I. Pilgram Marpeck’s Use of the Old Testament

The Anabaptists were sometimes accused of rejecting the Old Testament as Scripture.[10] Because they categorically rejected the circumcision-baptism analogy so important for the retention of infant baptism and because they refused to allow the Old Covenant ethic to attenuate that of the New it was assumed that the Old Testament was not a part of their Bible. Evidence that any Anabaptist leaders rejected the Old Testament Scriptures has yet to be adduced. To be sure, Leonhard Schiemer,[11] and possibly others, cautioned their followers to read primarily the New Testament, but this in itself may already be a reaction to the preoccupation with the Old Testament seen in men like Thomas Müntzer and later the Münsterites.[12] Thomas Müntzer picked up the militant strand of the Old Testament while Augustine Bader[13] and the Münsterites succumbed to a strict biblicism of the Old Testament which had disastrous results. It hardly needs to be pointed out that these aberrant groups have no claim to be considered as Anabaptists, even →94 though the assertion is at times made that their attitude toward the Old Testament is Anabaptist.[14]

What then is the Anabaptist attitude toward the Old Testament? It is obvious that it is not uniform. An Anabaptist like Hans Denck thought it sufficiently important to translate part of it from the Hebrew, thus making a significant contribution to the history of the German Bible. Others felt an affinity to the prophetic strains in the Old Testament. The Ausbund, a hymnbook, and the Martyr’s Mirror borrow heavily from the narratives of the Old Testament as does also the recently discovered Codex Geiser.[15]

The decalogue and the ethics of the Old Testament form the difficult portions and here there is less unanimity. Early this lack of unanimity came to the surface in the formation of a group of Anabaptists who were Sabbatarians, led by the influential Oswald Glait. This Sabbatarian party lived on for some time and is evidence that a group of Anabaptists took the decalogue so seriously that they tried to keep the one commandment which is not explicitly set aside by the New Testament church. Marpeck took a firm stand against this Sabbatarian party and insisted that no day of rest must be prescribed to the Christian.[16]

One of the striking things about Marpeck’s use of the Old Testament is that he apparently used it as much as the New when the occasion called for it. In the Confession, his writing addressed to the Strasbourg Council (1532), he refers to the New Testament six times as often as to the Old,[17] the ratio in the first part of the Verantwortung (1544) is eight to one, but in the second part (1550) it is three to two. In the Testamenterleutterung, where it is his studied purpose to discuss the relationships between the two Testaments, he uses them about equally. As in the case of Irenaeus, so Isaiah is →95 Marpeck’s favorite prophet and the book of Leviticus in the Pentateuch. In the New Testament Marpeck quotes most often from John and Paul, thus providing an exception to the assertion of Robert Friedmann that the Anabaptists lived primarily in the Synoptics and James and not in Paul and John.[18]

In Marpeck’s usage the Pentateuch and the Prophets stand out. In contrast to the Ausbund and the martyr literature, which used the narratives and the Psalms, Marpeck used the historical material and the prophetic material. His estimate of the Old Testament may be illustrated by examining some of the recurring themes he drew from the Old Testament.[19]

II. The Old Testament as Preparation

During Marpeck’s stay in Strasbourg, one of the complaints he lodged against the state churches was that the Gospel was preached without any preaching of the Law.[20] In this respect Marpeck shows himself to be a true follower of Luther, who also held to the position that one should not preach the Gospel without first proclaiming the condemning Law. First the Law must reprove sin before the Gospel could come with its healing. The Old Testament accordingly is given a preparatory role. The function of the Law specifically is to bring knowledge and conviction of sin. How can a man come to the Gospel unless he is first convicted by the Law? asks Marpeck.[21]

The stress Marpeck lays upon the Law must be understood alongside his emphasis upon the Fall and its consequences. He insisted that knowledge or awareness of sin comes only through the act of committing a sin. Adam’s sin caused man to inherit a proclivity or tendency toward sin, but this is not considered guilt in the sight of God. Only the exercise of the will results in sin, and the atonement of Christ covers innocent children and idiots.[22]

In this view the awakening of the consciousness of sin becomes important, forming the necessary prelude to the acceptance of redemption. Within this context Marpeck defines the role of the Law as increasing the sorrows of humanity. While sorrow ruled until the time of Moses, the giving of the Law through Moses only increased sorrow and grief because man was merely forced back →96 upon an earnest petition to God for help.Conf., 177. where the original reads: “Dann es ist die ursach aines hertzlichen gepets zu got umb hilff” and the statement on page 181: “The Law along with John is past, which brought only sorrow and tribulation, according to God’s command” (page references in the Confession are according to the Wenger text [MQR 1938] corrected where necessary according to Krebs-Rott.).</ref> Before the coming of Christ man could not experience full forgiveness of sins and he could only be comforted by using the ceremonies which God had ordained for that purpose.[23] The ancients of the Old Testament possessed a proleptic piety; they desired to do good, but their desires were frustrated by their lack of ability to act according to their desires. These desires were as shadows which pointed forward to the light which was coming in Jesus Christ (Conf., 177).

This was also the role played by John the Baptist. John preached repentance, revealed sin to men, and pointed them to Jesus. Marpeck refused to identify John’s baptism with Christian baptism as was the vogue with the Reformers. In reply to Hubmaier’s statement of the Anabaptist position Zwingli had argued that there is no difference at all between the two baptisms, and that repentance is all that is necessary for Christian baptism. It was argued with fervor that the New Testament knew nothing at all about rebaptism. How did they explain the apparent rebaptism of the disciples in Acts 19? Bucer insisted that since there is no such thing as rebaptism, neither by Christ, who was satisfied with John’s baptism, nor by his disciples, the allegedly rebaptized disciples in Acts 19 in actuality had not received the baptism of John. If they had they would have known about the Holy Spirit according to Luke 3:16.[24]

Since it is the nature of the Law to increase the knowledge of sin, a corollary of its action is that grace also increases and takes the upper hand. Consequently the Old Covenant can also be called the “first grace.” Affirming the pre-existence of Christ Marpeck does not rule out the activity of Christ in the Old Covenant, but he distinguishes between Christ the pre-existent and Jesus Christ who appeared in history. Until the coming of the Son of God himself no full redemption was possible.[25] Christ is the physician who heals those who through the Law have been “crushed, broken, and pierced” (zerslagen, zerschnitten, und zerbrochen. Conf., 181).

This stress on the negative preparation of the Law for the →97 coming of Christ Marpeck finds in Romans 7, and may have been prompted by his extensive disagreements with Bucer on the place of the Old Testament. The amount of emphasis already placed on the radical difference between the Old and New Covenants in the Confession of 1532 is striking. The same stress is seen also in Mar- peck’s two other booklets of 1531, but there the trend of the discussion is quite different. There he also emphasized that the disciples did not have the Holy Spirit until after Pentecost, but the use of the Old Testament is extensive with the slightly self-conscious explanation that since the opponents used the Old Testament—so much he would reply on their terms. The hermeneutical issue was different when dealing with spiritualizers, be they Schwenckfelders or of the Kautz-Bünderlin type (CV, a iii recto).

The spiritualizers applied the words of II Corinthians 3, “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life,” to any letter, even that of the New Testament. To this both Marpeck and Scharnschlager objected because this would cut the motivating nerve of New Testament preaching. They both applied it exclusively to the Old Testament.[26]

Furthermore the whole problem of the place of the letter or the Law in the New Covenant is involved. Marpeck criticized the Hutterites for using pressure (zwang) to get people to relinquish private property and insisted that the New Testament had no law that property ought to be held in common.[27] As recent discoveries show, however, his most serious disagreements on the question of legalism in the Christian life came from the “Swiss Brethren.” Correspondence has come to light in the last decade which shows clearly that there were deep disagreements between a certain group of Swiss Brethren in the St. Gall-Appenzell area and Marpeck. The Swiss accused Marpeck and his followers of being too free. Marpeck in turn complained that the Swiss congregations were so zealous that they had every leader under the ban, and some of them were under the double ban. What were the concrete issues? Between George Maler, a close associate of Marpeck, and the Swiss they were something like this: Is it right to wear or weave bright-colored clothes? Maler said it was all right. The Swiss said not. The Swiss contended →98 that one should not punish his wife, but Maler felt that this was carrying nonresistance one step too far. A wife is like a child and in need of discipline at times. Maler rejected the Swiss absolutism on not carrying a sword and also felt that marriages ought to be reported to the government.[28]

For Marpeck the issues were clear. The Christian man is a free man and is bound to Christ and to His community. Marpeck’s stature is seen in that he refused to become reactionary when he broke with Luther, but tried desperately in his own brotherhood to steer a middle course between the libertinism in the Strasbourg Anabaptist brotherhood and the legalism of the Swiss Brethren. Fortunately, Marpeck’s clear conception and devotion to Paul’s gospel and the description of the Christian life assisted him in steering this course. He retained church discipline, but it was always clearly redemptive in approach; he practiced controlled communion, but he had none of the marks of the moralist who is so well portrayed in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in the Gospels. Was he right in throwing the Law out of court as far as the Christian life is concerned? On the basis of Paul, one is inclined to say Yes. The past four hundred years have also shown that the answer which he gave should not be ignored, even though it is admittedly easy to slip back into the comfortable routine of legalism and thus deny one’s sonship. Marpeck’s ideal of the Christian life where the Christian is guided not by any legalistic biblicism but by the Spirit working through the body of believers in the church may be a more dangerous ethical ideal—but no one has yet shown on the basis of the New Testament that this is not precisely what Paul was describing. While Scharnschlager, his close coworker, explicitly advocated sola fide-ism this did not mean that the Christian common life does not take recognizable form. Such a form is given by the living historical Christ himself.

For Marpeck the Law had a provisional preparatory role. Once one is in Christ, the Law is gone, and the Christian is driven on by the Spirit. This is one of the favorite images used by Marpeck—the driving of the Spirit. To keep this from degenerating into any subjective individualism Marpeck insisted that each motive, each drive of the Spirit be shared in the community of the Spirit where →99 it would receive correction and purification. Those who did not subject themselves to this because of pride or other deficiency were disciplined, as the case of Helene von Freyberg clearly shows (KB, #28).[29]

III. The Old Testament as Promise

According to Marpeck a clear difference must be made between promise and fulfillment. The innocent child’s sin is taken away by Christ’s word of promise, but this word of promise is not to be identified with faith itself (Conf., 184). The saints of the Old Covenant are called children of the covenant of promise but not a syllable of the Old Testament indicates that they were children of God in the same way as those under the New Covenant are (Conf., 185f.). All of the Old Testament Scriptures are seen as pointing forward to Christ, as finding their fulfillment in the New Covenant. The parable of the scribe and his treasure chest in the Gospel of Matthew is applied by Marpeck to Christ. The treasure chest is the Scriptures, written by Christ himself, pointing through all the patriarchs, Law and Prophets to Christ (KB, fol. 284b.).

Marpeck’s contemporaries took exception not to these ways of defining the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, but to the way in which he overstated the difference. Bucer repeatedly insisted that the Old and New Covenants are idem in substantia and the thorough study by Hans Heinrich Wolf on Calvin has shown that Calvin’s position is virtually the same. Peter Martyr, another influential Strasbourg Reformer, as well as Melanchthon came to similar conclusions.[30] Deriving his cue from Zwingli, Bullinger wrote a book on the subject in 1534 defending at length the thesis that there is no difference between the Covenants - in fact there is only one covenant; the difference resides merely in the administration of God.[31]

Marpeck objected to these formulations because they obscured what was centrally important for him, namely the Incarnation of Christ. If the Old Testament saints were truly no different from the church of the New Testament, then it seemed to him that the →100 Incarnation was merely a puppet show. If the Holy Spirit had been already active in the same way under the Old Covenant as he was under the New, John must have been mistaken when he said that the Holy Spirit was not yet given, for Christ had not yet been glorified (John 7:39). His fundamental objection to these positions was that history was not taken seriously. He refused to say, as did Peter Martyr, that the parts of Scripture were not new and old but rather Law and Gospel, distinct not historically but theologically.[32] Marpeck insisted that history be taken seriously. Before Christ’s coming things were simply different. That in the sight of God Abraham was considered as righteous as any New Testament Christian Mar- peck would not for a moment deny. But to call Abraham a Christian and to consider normative for the Christian the standards of the Old Testament was one of the greatest insults to the Incarnation of Christ Marpeck could imagine.

In defining the difference, Marpeck repeatedly used the term wesentlich. This term is taken from the German translation of the Bible (Col. 2:17 and Heb. 10:1) and therefore has no Platonic connotation whatever. Its meaning is simply defined as Jesus Christ (TE, Preface). The difference between the Old and New Covenants consists in Jesus Christ. In contrast Calvin insisted that only the form and not the essence of the Old Covenant was set aside in Christ.[33]

Perhaps the most serious hermeneutical problem with respect to the Old Testament is the question of allegory or typology. How does one extract the contents of the Bible from its imagery using methods which have certain built-in safeguards within them? Luther arrived at the standard was Christum treibet, and this is followed in large measure by Caspar Schwenckfeld, Marpeck’s most vocal critic. The problem is that with this criterion it soon becomes the major task of the exegete to find Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. When the exegete allows one insight to dominate his notion of Christ as Luther did, then certain books like the Apocalypse can be judged unfit for the Christian canon. In his use of the Old Testament Luther had not broken with allegory.[34] Nor had Calvin consistently done so, although he made considerably more headway in this regard than did Luther.

Marpeck used allegory where he felt that the source material →101 (like the Song of Solomon, the Hagar story) justified it, but showed such a keen interest in the historical books of the Old Testament that he found hardly any time at all for allegory. This is the more striking when it is recalled that as he entered Strasbourg in 1528, Bünderlin was strongly and directly opposing Antiochan methods of exegesis and advocating allegory while actively leading the Anabaptists. Soon thereafter Melchior Hofmann began his activity in Strasbourg and again we have a hermeneutical type which is far from the sane methods used by Marpeck.[35] In spite of the fact that Marpeck knew no Latin, Greek, or Hebrew he had a fine sense for historical exegesis. This historical sense led him to delete certain typological phrases from a book of Rothmann that he took over and published as a confessional manual for his group. Equally clearly it can be observed when certain statements in the writings of Hans Hut or Schiemer which minimize the differences between the Old and New Testaments are either deleted or revised in the editions handed down by the Marpeck group.[36]

Marpeck stressed the discontinuity between the two covenants rather than the continuity. It should be observed, however, that he saw his position as a corrective one. The Reformers read the New Testament back into the Old while the Anabaptists themselves were always in danger of dragging the Law back in through the back door. Fighting on both of these fronts and seeing the tragic results of a fanatic devotion to the Old Testament at Münster, Marpeck resigned himself to a usage of the Old Testament which placed high value on the devotional use of the Song of Solomon (here he is following the great mystics, notably Bernard of Clairvaux; although Origen, Ambrose, and many other commentators exegeted the Song.)[37] For Marpeck, in contrast to the mystics, the bride was always the church, never the individual.[38] For this and other reasons he does not belong among the mystics.

Did Marpeck overemphasize the difference between the Old and New Testaments? Undoubtedly. We do not accept his statements today and we have every right to criticize Marpeck for stressing so much the difference between Abraham and the Christian that he →102 fails adequately to note that the element that ties them together is faith-obedience—a good Pauline point. He allowed his opponents to force him too far in making assertions about the salvation of the patriarchs and few will follow him in the devious paths taken to get himself off that exegetical hook!

Let us pose a final question: Was he Marcionite? It depends a good deal on what we mean by Marcionite. What the church condemned about Marcion was not only his aversion to the Old Testament (for then there are many Marcionites today!) but basically his cleavage of the Godhead into an angry and a compassionate God. Of this there are only traces in Marpeck.[39] This is the more impressive because there are numerous Marcionite leanings in Marpeck. For example, the incident on the way to Jerusalem where Jesus refused to have fire come down from heaven on the Samaritans —a passage which Marpeck loved to quote as did Marcion also. Indeed one of the firmest textual supports for Jesus’ reply: “Ye know not what spirit ye are,” comes from the hand of Marcion (Luke 9:55).

Another point equally striking is the assertion by Marcion that Jesus did not merely go to Hades to proclaim his victory over death, but actually to proclaim forgiveness and offer salvation to the patriarchs.[40] Between Marpeck and Schwenckfeld this was a recurring cause for contention, Marpeck maintaining that Jesus actually gave salvation to the patriarchs at that time while Caspar Schwenckfeld argued that Jesus merely announced his victory to them then.[41] The publication of several editions of the Gospel of Nicodemus in German in Augsburg in 1525ff. would lead one to suspect that some Anabaptists, and Marpeck may indeed have been among them, read this booklet and thereby were sped on their way to reflect, not too productively to be sure, on how Christ spent the three days between his death and his resurrection. If Marpeck were to be accused of being Marcionite in tendency, this would be impossible to refute, →103 and possibly the best one could do would be to observe that Martin Luther too has been accused of this.[42]

One point at which Marpeck is not Marcionite is in his view of history and human development. While Marcion and Schwenckfeld, Bünderlin and Bucer (and even some of the Reformers), but especially Sebastian Franck, made much of the fact that humanity in the Old Testament had not been ready for the New, being still too childish, but that now we are ready to move beyond the infantile stages of the Old, Marpeck never accepted this position. He insisted that God’s manner of dealing with man in history is determined by his sovereignty and not by man’s progressive evolution. One needs only think of Harnack’s Neomarcionitism to see that this position has considerable relevance for today. According to Marpeck we return again and again to the Old Testament and we never say that we have grown beyond using it, because it forms an organic part of God’s whole dealing with mankind.

Finally, what relevance does this have for modern theology? H. Richard Niebuhr has recently stated: “The relationship of the Old Testament to the New is a central issue in biblical studies, and in the interpretation of the nature of Christianity.”[43] This is certainly correct. In the ecumenical discussions about the Lordship of Christ this issue was also isolated as needing further attention.[44] H. H. Wolf in his study of Calvin’s position on this matter admitted that Calvin’s position may have only slight relevance for today for we will have difficulty accepting the answers as valid even when we accept the questions as such.[45] The possibility of such irrelevance exists for each sixteenth-century answer given to this issue.

In Marpeck’s case, however, it is hard to consider his solution to the problem as irrelevant when we notice that he finds the element of continuity between the Old and New in the covenant-making God, and we find some of the best Old Testament scholars doing the same today. When that which binds Old and New together is promise and fulfillment we approach the position of Friedrich Baumgärtel. The differences are admittedly great yet the similarities may be even more significant.

→104 Our study of this problem, however, is motivated on a deeper level than merely to find surface differences and similarities. The Reformation discussions on this subject should lead us to strive for a measure of consistency in our approach to the Old Testament which was strikingly absent then.[46] Calvin, while he argued for substantial identification of the two covenants, refused to allow the women to adorn themselves with jewels simply because Rebecca had done so.[47] And the statement that Jacob kissed Rachel before introducing himself to her so profoundly shocked his “puritan” standards that he averred that there must be a textual transposition (Gen. 29:11). In actual fact Jacob probably introduced himself first and then kissed Rachel.[48]

In the area of ethics Christianity has had most difficulty relating the two covenants and it is apparent that this is the area in which discussion is most needed. Precisely because Marpeck’s position clearly distinguishes between Old and New Testament ethics, because he took God’s action in history seriously, and because he was able to avoid both legalism and libertinism, his voice may still deserve our attention.

Jan J. Kiwiet argues that in spite of the fact that Marpeck was not a trained theologian (perhaps because of it) he appears to be much closer to the Hebraic thought-forms of the Bible than many of the major Reformers who were bound to Aristotelian patterns of thought.[49] Schwenckfeld was clearly tied to Neoplatonism which he had received via Augustine. This is even more true of Minderlin and Franck. In his rejection of the distinction between the word and the spirit Marpeck also affirms the importance of history as the area in which God works. Having committed himself to this point of view he could not depreciate the Old Testament except in so far as it was depreciated by God’s greatest act in Jesus Christ.

He took his position with the writer to the Hebrews: perfection was not obtainable through the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:11) but through one like Melchizedek who owed his priesthood not to a system of earth-bound rules but to the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. Therefore the “earlier rules are cancelled as impotent and useless, since the Law brought nothing to perfection” (Heb. 7:16-19). Clearly the writer to the Hebrews assumes that the first covenant was faulty (8:7) but his major assertion seems to be that →105 the coming of Christ has made it obsolete and outdated (8:13). In order to establish the latter covenant the former had to be annulled (10:9). It is in such a context that the writer can say that the Law contains but a shadow, and no true image (10:1).

What Marpeck was doing was following these sayings in the book of Hebrews. We may call them a one-sided interpretation of the relationship between the covenants but before his position is brushed aside it would be necessary to take into consideration the attitude taken by the writer to the Hebrews on this very important question. Perhaps modern “Biblical theologians” might have as much difficulty fitting Hebrews into their scheme of things as they would Marpeck. At any rate the position espoused by Marpeck served as a healthy corrective in a day when the emphasis was placed on continuity between the two covenants rather than on discontinuity.


§ This essay was published in Essays in Biblical Interpretation: Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives, ed. Willard M. Swartley (Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1984), pp. 91-105. Copyright © 1984 Institute of Mennonite Studies. All rights reserved. Published online by permission of Institute of Mennonite Studies.

# These numerical notations indicate the page breaks in the published book. When citing this essay, please cite the appropriate page number(s) in the published book.

  1. Apparently James D. Wood, The Interpretation of the Bible (London, 1958) 99-101, is the first to include the Anabaptists in a history of hermeneutic as giving a positive contribution, although he mentions only Denck and Hubmaier. George Huntston Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia, 1962) 815-32, has observed that “there was a very close connection between the way the Radicals conceived of the two Testaments and the way they conceived of the nature and the mission of the church and the solidarity and destiny of all mankind” (p. 816).
  2. Marcion, 248.
  3. In the published Protocoll: Das ist/alle handlung des gesprechs zu Franckenthal (Heidelberg, 1571), the record of an extensive discussion between Anabaptists and Reformed, the relation between the two Testaments is the first major item of business and reappears on pp. 19, 44, 45, 87-90. 272 f., 601 f.
  4. In “The Hermeneutics of Pi1gram Marpeck” (Diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 1960) I have pursued these questions at greater length.
  5. Gordon Rupp, “Word and Spirit in the First Years of the Reformation,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 49 (1958):16. Considerable research has resulted in a lack of unanimity on the origin of the covenant idea itself. Gottlob Schrenk first asserted that Zwingli’s covenant theology received its impetus from the Anabaptists (Gottesreich und Bund [Gütersloh, 1923], 36) and this was accepted by Walter Hollweg in his informative essay, “Bernhard Buwo, ein ostfriesischer Theologe aus dem Reformationsjahrhundert,” in Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst und vaterländische Altertümer zu Emden, 33 (1953):71-90. L. J. Trinterund, “The Origins of Puritanism,” Church History, 20 (1950:37-57) would seek its origin outside Anabaptism.
  6. The Anabaptist View of the Church.
  7. A complete description of his life and the fullest account of his writings can be found in my dissertation, “The Hermeneutics…,” 9-45.
  8. MQR 33:18-30, “Pilgram Marpeck’s Two Books of 1531.” As long as we attribute these books to someone else (so Ernst Crous in the article “Bünderlin,” RGG3 I, 1496) or assume that they were both directed against Bünderlin (so Williams, op. cit, 274) we cannot see clearly the significance of these years and the independence of Marpeck’s position in 1531. The reading of these books and the extensive material presented in the volume edited by M. Krebs and H. G. Rott, Quellen zur Geschichte der Täufer, Vol. VII (in two parts) (Heidelberg, 1959) make such a misunderstanding unnecessary.
  9. See ME sub voco for full bibliographical details. Abbreviations are as follows: Confession (1532), Conf.; Clare verantwurtung (1531), CV; Klarer unterricht (1531), KU; Vermanung (1542). TB; Verantwortung (1544), V; Testament erleuterung (1549), TE; Kunstbuch, KB.
  10. So Caspar Schwenckfeld, Corpus Schwenckfeldianorum (hereafter CS), VIII, 221:10 f.; X (February 27, 1547), 925.
  11. Lydia Müller. Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Täufer (Leipzig, 1938) 1:45. According to the testimony of Hans Leupold the Anabaptists in Augsburg about 1527 when they gathered studied the word of God, principally the Gospels and the Prophets (ME 3:328).
  12. Lydia Müller. Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Täufer (Leipzig, 1938) 1:45. According to the testimony of Hans Leupold the Anabaptists in Augsburg about 1527 when they gathered studied the word of God, principally the Gospels and the Prophets (ME 3:328).
  13. See ME 1:209 ff.
  14. G. Uhlhorn, Urbanus Rhegius (1861) 108. Jakob Andrea in his Drey und dreissig Predigen von den furnembsten Spaltungen in der christlichen Religion. (Tübingen, 1568) asserts that the Anabaptists do not accept the Old Testament because *their errors can be too easily refuted from the Old Testament (IV. 102) although earlier he has accused them of explaining the essentials of Christian piety from the Ten Commandments rather than from the Christian faith (p. 20).
  15. The Codex Geiser is described by Harold S. Bender in the MQR 30 (1956):72-75. It contains a poem on the experience of Joseph which has 64 stanzas. Felix Manz, one of the early Swiss founders, used the Hebrew text of the Old Testament as a basis for group Bible study (Emil Egli, Actensammlung zur Geschichte der Zürcher Reformation [Zürich, 1879] No. 692, 4). Lydia Müller is certainly correct when she writes: “Das Täufertum lebt an sich sehr stark im Alten Testament” (Der Kommunismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer [Leipzig, 1927], 25). On the prominence of the Old Testament in the Anabaptist hymnody see Rudolf Wolkan, Die Lieder der Wiedertäufer (Berlin, 1903), 185. J. Loserth comments on the themes of their songs: ‘Die meisten Lieder... erläutern biblische Geschichten, wobei das alte Testament den Vorzug vor dem neuen hat. . . .” (“Aus dem Liederschatz der mährischen Wiedertäufer,” Zeitschrift des Vereins für die Geschichte Mähren und Schlesien, vol. 27 [1925], p. 47).
  16. See “Sabbatarian Anabaptists,” ME 4:396.
  17. The text of this confession is printed in Krebs-Rott, op. cit, 416-528 with a careful refutation by Bucer. Together these two documents comprise one of the most significant statements about the differences between the Anabaptists and the larger Reformation on the relation or the Old and New Covenants.
  18. “Conception of the Anabaptists,” Church History 9 (1940):360 f.
  19. According to a count by Ford Battles based on the Institutes, Calvin used the New Testament five times to every three times he used the Old. See John T. McNeill, “The Significance of the Word of God for Calvin.” Church History, 28 (1959):135.
  20. Krebs-Rots, op. cit, 352:41: “Der ander jrthum, dass sie das evangelion (p. 353) vor dem gesatz geprediget haben, so doch niemans zum evangelion kumt, er erkenn vor und ee durchs gesatz sein sündt. Wie dann Johann baptista die buss gepredigt.”
  21. On Luther see Wilfried Joest, Gesetz und Freiheit (Göttingen, 19562) and on Marpeck, Krebs-Rott, op. cit,p. 441 ff.
  22. According to John Lawson (The Biblical Theology of Irenaeus [London, 1948] 216 ff.) this view was already held by Irenaeus.
  23. Conf., 187.
  24. Bucer, Krebs-Rott, op. cit, p. 27. Marpeck, Conf., 181. On Zwingli see Sämmtliche Werke 3:238 ff.; 258 ff. For an interesting but questionable way out of this problem see Markus Barth, “Baptism and Evangelism,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 12 (1959):36 f. Barth asserts, “Christian baptism after the resurrection is essentially identical with John’s baptism (Acts 2:38; 19:4.5; in the last passage the end quotation marks belong after verse 5, not verse 4).”
  25. Conf., 17 f. The law and the prophets are called the first grace in KB fol. 285b. Marpeck appears to be indebted to Leonhard Schiemer here; d. Lydia Müller, Glaubenszeugnisse, 1:60 f.
  26. V 2:519. For Scharnschlager in particular see his “Sendschreiben an die Brüder in Mähren,” which must have been written after the second part of the Verantwortung, published in Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter, 4 (1939):10-12, where he makes the statement: “Den wer nicht durch (das Alte Testament) getötet wird, der kann durch das Amt des Neuen Testaments nicht sum Lebm kommen” (p. 11). Maler (KB fol. 152b), a member of the Marpeck brotherhood, rejects this interpretation as do also Peter Riedemann, Confession, p. 66 and Ulrich Stadler, Glaubenszeugnisse, 215. Marpeck may have been aware that this verse was the motto of the allegorists (see James Wood, op. cit, p. 90). On Luther and Calvin see H. H. Wolf, Die Einheit des Bundes. Des Verhältnis von Altem und Neuem Testament bei Calvin (Neukirchen Kreis Moers. 1958) 46. For a persuasive argument that it should be applied only to the Old Testament see G. Schrenk, Kittel’s TWNT 1:764 ff.
  27. TB, 265. Scharnschlager calls it a “gesetz, drang und Strick” (KB 223).
  28. In his correspondence with the Swiss, Marpeck discusses the place of the Law and the Ten Commandments at length. He is disturbed that they will not extend communion fellowship to him and one of his bitterest complaints against them was their refusal to give him a clear testimony, either that he was wrong or that he was right. To him their disdain for epistolary exchange smacked of spiritualism. Scharnschlager makes an even more basic criticism of the Swiss: To him it seemed as though the Swiss were substituting a works righteousness for the righteousness which comes alone through Christ (see KB 255b). On Maler’s differences with the Swiss, see F. Roth, Augsburg Reformationsgeschichte, 4:614.
  29. For the contents of the Kunstbuch and its relevance for Anabaptism see the masterful description by Heinold Fast, op. cit 212-42.
  30. On Calvin see his Institutes Book II, Chapters X and XI, and Wolf, op. cit, p. 116: “eadem doctrina, vera fidei unites, fiducia unius mediatoris invocatio Dei patris, gubernatio eodem spiritu. Discrimen non in substantia, sed in accidentibus.” On Peter Martyr, see Joseph C. McClelland, The Visible Word of God (Grand Rapids, 1957), 85 ff. and on Melanchthon, Hans Jörg Sick, Melanchthon als Ausleger des Alten Testaments (Tübingen, 1959) 56 f.
  31. Heinrich Bullinger’s book was first published in Latin in 1534 as De Testamento seu foedere Dei unico & aeterno ... and later (1539?) in German as Von dem einigen vnnd ewigen Testament oder Pundt Gottes. On the influence and importance of this book see H. A. J. Lutge and G. Oorthuys, Heinrich Bullinger. I. Het eenige en eeuwige Testament of Verbond Gods . . . (Groningen, 1923).
  32. J. C. McClelland, op. cit, p. 87. Stadler in the work cited above takes the same position.
  33. Wolf, op. cit, p. 146.
  34. Hans-Joachim Kraus quotes a statement from Calvin which shows “dass Luther in der Praxis seiner Auslegungen die Konsequenz jener hermeneutischen Regeln vermissen lässt, die er selbst aufgestellt und immer wieder betont hat” (op. cit, p. 13).
  35. As ably shown by Peter Kawerau, Melchior Hofmann als religiöser Denker (Haarlem, 1954).
  36. The differences from the Rothmann text, which is taken over almost unchanged otherwise, with substantial additions are described in my dissertation, “The Hermeneutics of Pilgram Marpeck,” pp. 126-35.
  37. On the history of exegesis of the Song of Solomon see F. Ohly, Hohelied Studien. Grundzüge einer Geschichte der Hohelied Auslegung bis urn 1200 (1958).
  38. Schwenckfeld (CS 7:442; 4:134) belongs in the camp of the mystics according to this criterion. James Denney says correctly: “Though Christ is sometimes spoken of as the husband or bridegroom of the Church there is no Scriptural authority for using this metaphor of His relation to the Individual soul” (Expositor’s Greek New Testament, 2:638).
  39. When, for example, he says in allegorizing the second chapter of the Song of Solomon: “(before Christ) the sun of the Father shone upon the earth u upon a parched earth through wrath with righteousness of the law. Therefore no fruit was found among men because of the heat and wrath of the Father.” Then Christ came in the flesh. “. . . however, before the going down of the sun, Jesus Christ, mankind was still without fruit, but the abating of the heat of the day came about through the cooling off of the wrath of the Father” (KB fol. 12b). Schwenckfeld says the heat of the day is Christ (CS 7:361). The absence of any extensive stress on God’s nature being different in the Old Testament from the New should caution us from seeing Marcion here. Marpeck at times allows his style to get away from him, as, e.g., when he explicitly says: “for the law of revenge (!) was given through Moses, grace and truth came to us through Christ” (KB #18). In the “Epistel von fünferlei Früchten wahrer Busse,” August 1550. published by Heinold Fast, Der linke Flügel der Reformation (Bremen, 1962) 105-18) this reference is found on p. 105. On the basis of his total position it is clear that he would have been sympathetic to the adversative de supplied by certain manuscripts in John 1:17.
  40. Harnack, op. cit, pp. 169 ff.
  41. For Marpeck’s position. see KB 323; V 265 f.
  42. Emil G. Kraeling, The Old Testament since the Reformation (London, 1955), p. 13 and p. 70.
  43. The Advancement of Theological Education (New York, 1957) 70. J. Coppens, Vom christlichen Verständnis des olten Testaments (Louvain, 1952) provides much material and bibliography on the prominence of this theme in Roman Catholic biblical scholarship. The book edited by Bernard Anderson, The Old Testament and the Christian Faith (New York, 1963) contains thirteen essays, presenting Bultmann’s position and reacting to it. These efforts represent only the beginning for the resurgence of interest in biblical scholarship will force us to examine this issue in depth.
  44. The Ecumenical Review, 11: (July 1959) 447.
  45. op. cit, 7.
  46. For the difficulties interpreters saw in one aspect of the Old Testament and their attempts to solve them see Roland Bainton, “The Immoralities of the Patriarchs according to the Exegesis of the Late Middle Ages and of the Reformation,” HTR (1930)19-49.
  47. Wolf, op. cit, 146.
  48. Wolf, op. cit, 148.
  49. J. J. Kiwiet, Pilgrims Marbeck (Kassel, 1957) 149 f.