Law and Gospel in The Anabaptist/Baptist Tradition -- By: W. R. Estep

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 012:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: Law and Gospel in The Anabaptist/Baptist Tradition
Author: W. R. Estep

Law and Gospel in The Anabaptist/Baptist Tradition

W. R. Estep


There are two problems with this topic which must be admitted at the outset. The terms “Law” and “Gospel” do not occur frequently in either Anabaptist works that could be properly termed theological or in Anabaptist confessions of faith. This is also true of Baptist confessions in general and of major theologians among the Baptists in particular.

The second problem relates to the use of the terms Anabaptist and Baptist. While there is an historical connection between Anabaptists at the sixteenth century and the emerging Baptist movement in the seventeenth century, one should not confuse the two movements or fail to distinguish between the two. Even though the relationship is still a matter of debate among church historians, it is generally conceded that the Anabaptists first arose within the context of the Swiss Reformation in the sixteenth century, whereas, the Baptists arose out of the English Puritan-Separatist movements in contact with and under the influence of the Dutch Mennonites.

In spite of these distinctions, it must also be admitted that the Anabaptists and early English Baptists shared a similar theological, ecclesiological, and ethical stance, so much so that the topic can be treated without doing a disservice to scholarship or the differing traditions of Anabaptist and Baptist life. Therefore, we will frequently use the terms “Law” and “Gospel” as apparently both Anabaptists and Baptists used them in a general sense and more narrowly in a particular sense, especially in relationship to the accusatory or revelatory function of the Law.

Emil Brunner in The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption and Revelation and Reason delineates seven uses of the concept of Law in the Scriptures.1 Of these, the Anabaptist and Baptist usages

refer most frequently to the Mosaic Law and less so to the Moral Law. With the Anabaptists, particularly, the term “Law” is frequently subsumed under the Old Testament or the Old Covenant.

In an attempt to seek an understanding of both variations and the commonality of these concepts in Anabaptist/Baptist traditions, we will first look at four representative Anabaptist theologians. Second, we will turn our attention to the use of the concepts Law and Gospel as reflected in major Baptist confessions, and third, as understood by some twentieth century Baptist theologians.

Representative Anabaptists

Balthasar Hubmaier

Balthasar Hubmaier became the first writing theologian among the Anabaptists. He wa...

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