List and summarize the 4 views of Baptist origin. Which view is most convincing? Why? Give specific reasons in your response.

During the last few centuries, historians have continued to debate the sources that prompted the emergence of the Baptist faith. Four different theories emerged to explain the origin of the Baptists. H. Leon McBeth lists the options as English separatism, biblical Anabaptist influence, biblical continuity, and organic successionism.[1] Regarding English separatism, it is first necessary to provide a brief background sketch. During the sixteenth century, under the influence of the recent reformation movement, many churchmen in England wanted to purify the Church of England by modifying church polity, simplifying worship, and adopting Calvinist teachings.[2] Many of these Puritans were not satisfied with the efforts to purify the church and decided to separate from the Church of England. Accordingly, the first theory of Baptist origin is that two different groups of Baptists in England emerged from these Separatists: the rigid Separatists called General Baptists and the semi-Separatists called Particular Baptists.[3] The second theory of Baptist origin was the influence of the biblical Anabaptists. McBeth explains that certain historians contend that it is possible that a segment of Baptists, the General Baptists, were influenced by a limited segment of Anabaptists, the Dutch Mennonites, which laid the groundwork for a Separatist movement and ultimately was the origin of Baptists.[4] Further, McBeth does not rule out the potential for Anabaptist influence upon the Particular Baptists.[5] The third theory traces Baptist origin prior to the Anabaptists. Historians that support the biblical continuity theory assert that the Baptist teachings can be traced from the time of the New Testament.[6] Specifically, the distinctive practice of believer baptism originated from biblical times, not the recent influence of Separatists or Anabaptists. The fourth theory, the Organic Successionist school, assumes an unbroken continuity or succession of actual churches with different names from New Testament times to the present.[7]  For example, the theory suggests that John the Baptist “represents a denomination affiliation,” and the denomination continued through the centuries with different groups such as the Donatists, Cathari, Waldenses, and Anabaptists up to and including the modern Baptist faith.[8]

Regarding which view is most convincing, McBeth observes that historians often distance themselves from the biblical continuity theory and Organic Successionist school due to a lack of evidence to support these views.[9] Furthermore, by referencing Winthrop Hudson’s work, McBeth identifies five arguments that support the assertion that the Baptists originated from the Separatist movement in England. The arguments are summarized as follows: Baptists denied they were Anabaptists, rejected certain features of the Anabaptists, discredited John Smyth for aligning with the Anabaptists, held views consistent with the conclusions of Separatism, and were almost all Separatists before becoming Baptists.[10] Regarding Hudson’s three Anabaptist arguments, Clint Bass observes that Baptists may have attempted to distance themselves from the Anabaptists because of an opposition to certain Mennonite practices, the literal Anabaptist concept of rebaptizing, which was a complete rejection of the first baptism, as well as the dangers associated with the Anabaptist brand as revolutionaries.[11] In other words, just because the Baptists denied association with the Anabaptists does not necessarily undermine the possibility of Anabaptists influence as an impetus for the origin of the Baptists. Furthermore, regarding the Separatists, McBeth observes that certain scholars assert that the Anabaptists prepared the way for Separatism.[12] If this is the case, then regarding Hudson’s two Separatist arguments, the Baptists could have been aligned with the Separatists via the original influence of the Anabaptists. Finally, William Pitts recognizes that the formation of the Baptist identity and distinction from other Protestants rested almost solely on the concept of believer baptism, which the Anabaptists supported.[13] Accordingly, although the Separatist influence must not be eliminated, based on the risks of association with Anabaptists, the influence of the Anabaptists upon the Separatists, and the critical nature of baptism to the founding of the Baptists, it does not appear unreasonable that the Anabaptists were the impetus to the origin of the Baptists.




Bass, Clint. “Succession History: Some Early Baptist Perspectives.” Baptist Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 8–16.

McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: B&H Academic, 1987.

Pitts, William L. “Baptist Origins and Identity in 1609: The John Smyth/Richard Clifton Debate.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 36, no. 4 (2009): 377–90.

[1] H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness (Nashville: B&H Academic, 1987), 49.

[2] Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid., 39.

[4] Ibid., 52–53.

[5] Ibid., 56.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 58.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 58-60.

[10] Ibid., 51.

[11] Clint Bass, “Succession History: Some Early Baptist Perspectives,” Baptist Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2016): 15.

[12] McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, 53.

[13] William L. Pitts, “Baptist Origins and Identity in 1609: The John Smyth/Richard Clifton Debate,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 36, no. 4 (2009): 377.