Acts 19:1-7

INTRODUCTION: Who are the Anabaptists? Before we can accurately identify who they are, we must first understand what they are. The term Anabaptist comes from two words transliterated from the Greek: ana meaning “again” and baptises meaning “baptist.” Hence, the word Anabaptist refers to those who baptize over again or rebaptize. However, Baptists have never called themselves Anabaptists because they do not rebaptize people who have scriptural baptism. This name has been given to them by their enemies. In their confessions of faith Baptists have always denied they were Anabaptists. On the title page of the First London Confession of Faith printed in 1644, the following appears: “The Confession of Faith of those Churches which are commonly (though falsely) called ANABAPTISTS.” 

The Oxford Universal Dictionary of Historical Principles defines anabaptism as: “1. Re-baptism: 2. The doctrine of the Anabaptists; also occas., of modern baptists.” This same dictionary gives the following definition of Anabaptist: “1. lit. one who baptizes over again (whether frequently or once). Hence 2. Ch. Hist. Name of a sect which arose in Germany in 1521. 3. Applied (invidiously) to the Baptists.” In a further statement, the OUD states: “Baptists never called themselves anabaptists; as they did not admit that immersion. . .was baptism [without] an intelligent concurrence. . . on the part of the recipient.”

Baptists have never baptized anyone over again any more than Paul did in our text, as we shall explain later. Baptists were in Germany in 1521, but they did not originate there. Interestingly, the OUD admits immersion was practiced in 1521, a fact some Baptist historians who follow the Whittsitt theory claim never happened until 1641, especially in England.

The American Dictionary of the English Language 1828 Edition by Noah Webster defines an Anabaptist as “one who holds the doctrine of the baptism of adults, or of the invalidity of infant baptism, and the necessity of rebaptization in an adult age. One who maintains that baptism ought always to be performed by immersion.”

The New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia states: “The name Anabaptists (meaning Rebaptizers) was given by their opponents to a party among the Protestants in Reformation times whose distinguishing tenet was opposition to infant baptism, which they held to be unscriptural and therefore not true baptism. They baptized all who joined them; but, according to their belief, this was not a rebaptism as their opponents charged.”
(Vol.1, p. 161.)


The Compendium of Baptist History by J. A. Schackelford identifies many ancient groups of Christians outside the state church or churches as those who were called Anabaptists. On pages 107, 108 Mr. Shackelford says: “The Waldenses, Albigenses, Paterines, Paulicians, Donatists, and Montanists were all known as Anabaptists, from the fact that they rebaptized all who came over to them from the Catholics.”

John Lawrence Mosheim wrote of the Anabaptists, “The true origin of that sect which acquired the denomination of the Anabaptists by their administering anew the rite of baptism to those who came over to their communion, and derived that of Mennonites, from the famous man, to whom they owe the greatest part of their present felicity, is hid in the remote depths of antiquity, and is, of consequence, extremely difficult to be ascertained (Ecclesiastical History, John Lawrence Mosheim, Vol. 2, pp. 119, 120). Mosheim then showed that the Anabaptists of the seventeenth century were descendents of the Waldenses, the Petrobrussians, and other ancient sects.

Perhaps the most significant statement of the antiquity of Baptists came from the two men whom the King of Holland appointed in 1819 to prepare a history of the Dutch Reformed Church. Dr. Ypeij, Professor of Theology in the University of Groningen, and Rev. I. J. Dermout, Chaplain to the King published their History of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1823. In their history they devoted one chapter to the Baptists in which they wrote: “We have now seen that the Baptists, who were formerly called Anabaptists, and in later times Mennonites, were the original Waldenses, and who long in the history of the church received the honor of that origin.” Then these commissioned historians said, “On this account the Baptists may be considered as the only Christian community which has stood since the apostles, and as a Christian society has preserved pure the doctrine of the gospel through all ages.” (This well-known and oft cited quotation is taken from Baptists in History by W. P. Harvey which appears in Pillars of Orthodoxy, or Defenders of the Faith edited by Ben M. Bogard, p. 417). When the authenticity of this quotation was questioned in the late 1800’s, Dr. Harvey contacted Dr. George Manly who was President of a college of languages in Berlin to verify this statement. Dr. Manly found the volume by Ypeij and Dermout written in the Dutch Language containing the quotation and translated it for Dr. Harvey. Thus the authenticity of their oft-quoted statements concerning the Baptists was confirmed (Baptists in History, Harvey, cited in Pillars of Orthodoxy, edited by Bogard, pp. 418-420).

Were the so-called Anabaptists really rebaptizers? Absolutely not! They could no more be charged with rebaptism than Paul can. The Apostle Paul baptized, not rebaptized (1 Cor. 1:14-17) the twelve disciples mentioned in Acts 19:1-7. They did not have scriptural baptism, nor were they baptized by John the Baptist whose baptism was scriptural enough for our Lord and all the Apostles (Matt. 3:13-17; Acts 1:21, 22). These twelve disciples at Ephesus had “been baptized unto John’s baptism,” not by John the Baptist. “Unto John’s baptism” means with reference to John’s baptism. That they could not have been baptized by John the Baptist is evident from the fact he never left Galilee and Judea. Furthermore, he had been dead for many years at this time, and these twelve disciples had been recently dunked by Apollos, who before being taught the way of God more perfectly by Aquila and Priscilla, knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-28). Since he at that time knew only the baptism of John, he himself had evidently been baptized by John many years previous to this occasion. Therefore, it had to have been he that baptized these twelve disciples unto John’s baptism. But Apollos was not sent to baptize as was John (John 1:6, 33). Therefore, these twelve disciples did not have scriptural baptism until they received it from Paul. Thus, Paul administered baptism, not rebaptism.


Those falsely called Anabaptists held to Biblical positions advocated by all true Baptists in every age. Doctrines are not true because they are historical; they are true because they are Biblical. In a paper read before the American Society of Church History in 1890, Henry S. Burrage, D.D., stated the following concerning the beliefs that characterized the Anabaptist movement of the Sixteenth Century: “(1) That the Scriptures are the only authority in matters of faith and practice. (2) That personal faith in Jesus Christ only secures salvation; therefore infant baptism is to be rejected. (3) That a church is composed of believers who have been baptized upon a personal confession of their faith in Jesus Christ. (4) That each church has entire control of its affairs, without interference on the part of any external power. (5) That the outward life must be in accordance with such a confession of faith and to the end it is essential that church discipline should be maintained. (6) That while the State may properly demand obedience in all things not contrary to the law of God, it has no right to set aside the dictates of conscience, and compel the humblest individual to set aside his view, or to inflict punishment in case such surrender is refused. Every human soul is directly responsible to God.” (Henry S. Burrage, “American Society of Church History, pp. 157, 158, quoted by W. A. Jarrel, Baptist Church Perpetuity, pp. 182, 183). Following are some of the beliefs that characterized the Anabaptists:

A Regenerated Church Membership: It was this conviction that caused them to reject infant baptism. No person could be a member of an Anabaptist Church who had not been regenerated and professed his faith in Christ. “They believed in regeneration by the atoning blood of Christ, but they demanded the fruits of regeneration” (Burrage, quoted by Jarrel, p. 183). Neither did they believe in baptismal regeneration in any form. Balthazer Hubmeyer, a prominent leader among the despised Anabaptists from 1525 to 1528 said, “Salvation is conditioned neither on baptism nor on works of mercy. Condemnation is the result, not of neglect of baptism, but of unbelief alone.” (Burrage, quoted by Jarrel, p.184). 

A Baptized Church Membership: The Anabaptists obviously believed in and practiced baptism, else they would never have been called Anabaptists. Hubmeyer called baptism an ordinance of Jesus Christ, saying, “It is not enough that one believes in Jesus; he must confess him openly. . .The divine order is, first, the preaching of the Word; second, faith; third, baptism” (Burrage, quoted by Jarrel, p. 183). Hubmeyer further said, “Where there is no baptism, there is neither church nor ministry, neither brothers nor sisters, neither discipline, exclusion, nor restoration” (W.W. Everts quoted by Jarrel, p. 185). Obviously, they believed in baptism by immersion only. In a book which appeared in Holland in 1532 by an unknown author, with reference to baptism it is said: “So we are dipped under as a sign that we are as it were dead and buried as Paul writes in Rom. 6 and Col. 2” (Jarrel, p. 192). The Baptist Quarterly, Rev., July 1889 quotes the following from Dr. Philip Schaff: “The controversy between the reformers and the Anabaptists referred only to the subjects of baptism. . .The mode of baptism was no topic of controversy, because immersion was still extensively in use, and decidedly preferred by Luther and the other reformers as the most expressive and primitive, though not the only mode” (Jarrel, p. 195).

The Reformers believed in a parish church, i.e. everyone within a certain locale was a member of the church whether or not he was regenerate and had professed his faith in Christ publicly. The so-called Anabaptists rejected this practice, and they were in turn rejected by the Reformers. Leonard Verduin discusses the difference between the Anabaptists and the Reformers concerning who constituted the church in a chapter entitled Catharer in his book, The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. The Anabaptists were, he says, falsely accused of perfectionism, but “when the Cathars said that the church consists of changed men and women, they were not saying that it consists of sinless men and women” (Verduin, p. 102).

A Separated Church Membership: Those called Anabaptists were a separated people. Not only were they separated from wicked men in their church membership, their churches were separate from the state. Leonard Veruin discusses their separation from both a worldly society and the state in a chapter entitled Winckler (The Reformers and Their Stepchildren). The Anabaptists refused to get permission or a license from the state to preach (Verduin, p. 182), and they did not make their marriage vows in a state church, for which they suffered great hardship and had their marriages looked upon as illegal cohabitations (Footnote in Verduin, p. 161). Of this important difference, Philip Schaff wrote: “The Reformers founded a popular state-church, including all citizens with their families; The Anabaptists organized on the voluntary principle select congregations of baptized believers, separated from the world and the state” (History of the Christian Church, Philip Schaff, vol. 8, p. 71). 

An Instructed Church Membership: The hated Anabaptists were well-instructed in the Word of God. “The supreme authority of the Scriptures was made especially prominent in these teachings. The great evangelical truth which the Swiss reformers preached, they held” (Burrage, quoted by Jarrel, p. 183). They believed in total depravity, unconditional election, and Holy Spirit regeneration. “They held that there could be no contradiction between God’s doctrine of his church and of salvation, that election and justification by faith and regeneration by the Spirit result in a church of believers (An article in the Standard by Prof. Howard Osgood, quoted by Jarrel, p. 189). Philip Schaff is quoted in the Baptist Quarterly as saying of the Anabaptists, “They preached repentance and faith, baptized converts, organized congregations, and exercised rigid discipline. . .They accepted the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice. . . They were generally orthodox. . .Their demand of rebaptism virtually unbaptized and unchurched the entire Christian world. . .These two ideas of a pure church of believers and of baptism of believers only were the fundamental articles of the Anabaptist creed” (The Baptist Quarterly, quoted by Jarrel, p. 194). Do not these teaching clearly identify the ancient Anabaptists with modern Baptists who hold to historical Baptist positions?


What is known as the Munster Affair occurred in connection with the Peasant Wars. There had long been trouble in Germany between the peasants and the nobility. For one hundred years, the peasants had attempted to throw off the yoke which their feudal lords had laid upon them. Thomas Munzer was a leader of this tumult. This insurrection had more to do with politics than it had with religion. The men of Munster wielded the sword and dreamed of establishing a secular kingdom. They even practiced polygamy, insurrection, and other actions which were repugnant to the true Anabaptists.

“Thomas Munzer was never really an Anabaptist. Though he rejected infant baptism in theory, he held to it in practice, and never submitted to rebaptism himself nor rebaptized others” (The Baptist Encyclopedia, p. 26). Conrad Grebal, Thomas Manz, and others wrote to Munzer to exhort him, while passing judgment upon his inconsistencies. They exhorted Munzer to abandon all non-scriptural usages (The Baptist Encyclopedia, p. 29). Since he resisted the abuses of magistracy with the sword, he certainly was out of step with the Anabaptists who were always a passive and peaceful people. Munzer and the whole episode at Munster wrongly became a calumny against the Anabaptists. Accusing the Anabaptists of every conceivable evil and heresy had long been the practice of their enemies. Thus, we are not surprised that they were quick to identify the Munster Affair with the Anabaptists.


There were several different groups of Anabaptists just as there are many different fellowships of Baptists today. Some so-called Anabaptists believed in a general atonement and the free will of man. These Anabaptists were located in northern Europe. The General Baptists of England descended from them. Other Anabaptists believed in Particular Redemption and the bondage of the will. They were primarily located in southern Europe and were also known as Albigeness and Waldenses. In a footnote in Ecclesiastical History in a Course of Lectures by William Jones, vol. 3, p. 45 this statement is made: “Clark, in his Martrology, p. 111, says, ‘About this time, A. D. 1210, the English, who now possessed Guienne, which bordereth upon the earldom of Toulouse, began to help the Albigenses, being stirred up thereto by Reynard Lollard, a godly and learned man, who by his powerful preaching converted many to the truth and defended the faith of the Albigenses.’” The Lollards in England were named for this man who had preached among them. Henry Danvers called him a Waldensian barb or pastor (A Treatise of Baptism, p. 275). Samuel Moreland whom Oliver Cromwell sent to aid the persecuted Waldenses wrote, “Lollardo, who was in great Reputation amongst the Evangelical Churches of Piemont, by reason of a commentary that he made upon the Revelation: As also for having conveyed the knowledge of their Doctrine into England, where his Disciples were known by the name of Lollards” (The History of The Evangelical Churches of the Vallleys of Piemont, p. 184). Another writer has said: “Seemingly they [the Waldenses] took no share in the great struggle which was going on around them in all parts of Europe, but in reality they were exercising a powerful influence upon the world. Their missionaries were everywhere, proclaiming the simple truths of Christianity, and stirring the hearts of men to their very depths. In Hungary, in Bohemia, in France, in England, in Scotland, as well as Italy, they were working with tremendous, though silent power. Lollard, who paved the way for Wycliffe in England, was a missionary from these Valleys [emphasis mine]” (Cross and Crown, McCabe, p. 32).
Baptist Historian Abel Morgan wrote, “AND THAT THE FIRST THAT REVIVED THE ANCIENT PRACTICE OF ADULT BAPTISM IN ENGLAND HAD IT FROM THEM [the Waldenses], IS NO MORE UNLIKELY, THAN FOR THE PRESBYTERIANS TO HAVE THEIR DISCIPLINE FROM GENEVA; FOR THE ENGLISH HAD POSSESSION OF THOSE PARTS OF FRANCE WHERE THE WALDENSES WERE MOSTLY COUNTENANCED, FROM THE YEAR 1152 TO THE YEAR 1452, WHICH WAS LONG ENOUGH FOR MANY PERSONS TO BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH THE PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES OF THOSE GODLY PEOPLE, BY SUCH INTERCOURSE, AND FROM THEIR EXAMPLE, TO ENDEAVOUR A REFORMATION IN ENGLAND, though with no great success for a while. . .” (Anti-Paedo Rantism, pp. 172,173). Consequently, Baptist Historian R. E. Pound has concluded, “Please note when those in England became acquainted with the principles and practices of the Godly people in Southern France, between 1152-1452. He [Abel Morgan] further notes that those who first revived adult dipping in England, in modern times, revived the ancient practice of adult baptism from those in Southern France. He points out that their efforts in this revived practice met with no great results for a while. This testimony shows that the London Particular Baptists secured their baptism from the already existing Albigensian-Waldensian churches in Southern France, not in Holland” (The French Connection).
There are those who would call our Baptist Churches Anabaptist Churches today because we baptize those who come to us from the both the Church of Rome and Protestant Churches so-called. We do not rebaptize; we baptize, because those who have been either sprinkled or dipped by these societies do not have true and Scriptural baptism.
As we have seen, there were many more distinguishing characteristics of the Anabaptists than baptism alone. They held tenaciously to the old, Apostolic faith which was once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). May we, as their spiritual descendents, continue to hold to that same faith. 

Cathcart, William. The Baptist Encyclopedia. Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc. Reprint, 1988 (First Published in 1881).
Danvers, Henry. A Treatise of Baptism. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications Reprint, 2004 (First Published in 1674).
Jackson, Samuel Macauley (ed.). The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. 12 vols. New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1908.
Jarrel, W. A. Baptist Church Perpetuity. Dallas: Published by the Author, 1894.
Jones, William. Ecclesiastical History in a Course of Lectures. 3 vols. London: G. Wightman, Paternoster Row, 1833.
McCabe, James D. Cross and Crown. [n.p.] Jones Brothers and Company, 1880.
Moreland, Samuel. The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piemont. London: Henry Hills, 1658.
Morgan, Abel. Anti-Paedo Rantism. Philadelphia: Printed by Benjamin Franklin, 1747.
Onions, C. T. (ed). The Oxford Universal dictionary on Historical Principles (3rd. ed.). London: Oxford University Press, 1933.
Pound, R. E. The French Connection. Electronic Mail, July 24, 2008.
Shackelford, J. A. Compendium of Baptist History. Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1892.
Verduin, Leonard. The Reformers and Their Stepchildren. Sarasota, Florida: The Christian Hymnary Publishers Reprint, 1997 (First Published in 1964).
Webster, Noah. An American Dictionary of the English Language (1st ed.). San Francisco: Foundation for American Christian Education Reprint, 1967 &1995 (First Published in 1828).

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