Thomas Müntzer’s Doctrine Of Scripture And Revelation

Müntzer stretched Karlstadt’s distinction between the Spirit and the flesh still further by discarding baptism altogether and by setting aside the Scriptures as in themselves constituting no more than a dead letter. ‘Bible, Babel, bubble!’ was his slogan.

A. Skevington Wood, “The Radical Reformation Reassessed,” Themelios 16.2 (1981): 15.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. …Proving that Müntzer’s theology and doctrine was not at all representative of Anabaptists’ in general.

    • I am seeing this claim but the story seems more messy. He was hardly alone, among the ABs, in his view of revelation and Scripture. Zwingli denounced the Swiss Brethren for teaching similar views. Schwenkfeld and Denk also.

      The dividing line seems to be chronological, between the 1st generation and the later ABs.

    • I would submit the Zwingli wasn’t a very objective or entirely reliable source on which to base one’s opinion of such things. The vast majority of early Anabaptists did not forsake baptism altogether – quite the contrary – nor did they even remotely impugn the authority and inspiration of Scripture like the portrayal of Müntzer you cite above states – rather, for better or worse, their faith and doctrine was guided by their understanding of Scripture. Well-known first generation Swiss Brethren Anabaptists that principally held baptism and Scripture in highest regard included co-leaders Blaurock, Manz and Grebel, along with men like Reublin, Hubmier and Sattler. I know you know that Sattler created the Schleitheim Confession which promotes baptism and other articles of faith as formed by their comprehension (again for better or worse) and high respect for Scripture – and which was unanimously subscribed to by all those associated with his group. The actual writings and statements of these men should speak much louder than Zwingli’s often polemical and sometimes rabid denunciations of what they supposedly taught.

      • Phil,

        My judgment isn’t based only upon Zwingli’s assessment. There’s plenty of evidence from 1st generation ABs to support the claim that their doctrine of the “inner word” (vs. the “outer word”) was not unusual. Many bizarre views were held by the 1st gen ABs, including the doctrine of Christ’s “celestial flesh” (and that one persisted into the 2nd generation leaders, e.g. Menno).

        The Reformed judgment that the ABs opposed sola scriptura doesn’t mean that all ABs did so but there were plenty who did. Müntzer wasn’t a marginal figure. He was well connected to most all the major figures in the 1st generation AB movements. He was well regarded by them too.

        He’s discarded now because he’s historically embarrassing. That’s not history, however, that’s PR.

    • I would genuinely be interested in seeing any objective historical sources that substantiate the claim that Müntzer was well connected to and highly regarded by most all major figures in the early AB movement – particularly the notable men I previously named and specifically with regard to sympathizing with Müntzer’s views on the issues of baptism and scripture as portrayed in the OP.

      As for perhaps considering and portraying history in a convenient way so as not to be embarrassed by one’s historical forebears, I am still waiting for a robust Reformed review of how some among the early Reformed mistreated and even killed various early AB’s, including in some cases their women…

      • See Hans-Jügen Goertz, Thomas Müntzer Apocalyptic Mystic and Revolutionary (1993).

        Look at Müntzer’s correspondence (e.g., Müntzer’s Collected Works, ed. Matheson. He was in dialogue with many of the major figures in both the orthodox Reformation and in the radical movements. See also Gritsch, Tragedy of Errors.

        The Anabaptist movements were fluid and dynamic. Most of the leaders were on the move frequently and they intersected with each other by letter and in person.

        Müntzer certainly can’t be isolated from the other movements in the way that, e.g., Wenger (1957) sought to do.

        As to martyrs, get in line. C P Clausen documented between 3,000-4,000 Anabaptist martyrdoms in the 16th century. The Reformed were martyred on a much greater scale. No fewer than 12,000 were martyred in the NL under Philip II and the number in France, during the St Bartholomew’s Day/Week massacre runs to the tens of thousands. There were 4,000-5,000 in Paris alone. What is ambiguous is the number of martyrs in the suburbs and countryside.

        No religous group in the 16th century suffered more than the Reformed.

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