Pieter Jansz Twisck on Biblical Interpretation

JAMES W. LOWRY*

     Abstract: Systematic statements on how to interpret the Bible are rare among the early Anabaptists. Pilgrim Marpeck's TestamentserlĄutterung, published in Augsburg by 1550, does address the issue at length but Marpeck's primary focus was on the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Menno Simons and Dirk Philips, major sixteenth-century leaders within northern Anabaptism, interpreted the Bible extensively, of course, but they made no systematic statements about hermeneutics and offer only scattered references in their writings about their method for interpreting the Scriptures. However, we do have one relatively early statement from an ardent student of Menno Simons. In May of 1623 Pieter Jansz Twisck of Hoorn finished writing Scripture Harmonization, which contained a six-page preface on hermeneutics. This article translates the preface into English for the first time and considers how it relates to scattered statements in Menno's writings about Bible interpretation.

STUDIES OF ANABAPTIST BIBLE INTERPRETATION

     The subject of Bible interpretation and hermeneutics has been of on-going interest to scholars of Anabaptism. A full page of references to articles on the subject from the 1940s to the present can be assembled from the MQR alone. In 1955 Harold Bender provided a foundational summary on the subject in his article on the Bible in the Mennonite Encyclopedia.[1]  Bender said the Ana-baptists accepted and applied the Bible as their sole authority for life and faith more rigorously than did other Reformation parties, assumed the New Testament was superior to the Old and struck a balance between the Inner and Outer Word.

     In a 1967 essay "The Hermeneutics of the Anabaptists" John Howard Yoder proposed that, among other principles of Bible interpretation, the Anabaptists developed a unique "congregational hermeneutic" in which the Bible is best understood when studied and discussed in the context of the gathered church.[2]  The idea of the hermeneutical community has continued to challenge and vex scholars, who recognized that the concept fits logically with the Anabaptist emphasis on the church but find little evidence in the early records that Anabaptist congregations actually practiced such a hermeneutic approach. [3] 

     C. Norman Kraus was the first to highlight the impact of second-generation Anabaptist Pieter Twisck and other later European Mennonite authors on the principles of biblical interpretation held by most American Mennonites.[4]  Focusing especially on a thirty-three article confession of faith which he attributed to Twisck, Kraus noted that Twisck regarded scripture as an authority to be obeyed and emphasized the creative way in which he dealt with the relative authority of the Old and New Covenants for regulating the Christian life.[5]  Apparently he was not aware, however, of Twisck's preface to the Scripture Harmonization.

     Several other scholarly writings have recently appeared that bear directly on Anabaptist hermeneutics and especially on Menno's approach to scripture. Werner Packull, for example, picks up Yoder's contrast between the Anabaptists' emphasis on the visible church as a hermeneutic community and the Protestant reformers' emphasis on the infallibility of the inspired text interpreted by educated theological experts.[6]  John D. Roth in "Community as Conversation: A New Model of Anabaptist Hermeneutics"[7]  and Stuart Murray in Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition[8]  have also recently engaged the basic issues, offering several refreshing new insights. Both Roth and Murray have identified a standard scholarly consensus regarding biblical interpretation among the Anabaptists. Included in that consensus are the following assumptions: (1) the Bible is self-interpreting, even to the unlearned; (2) Christ is the key to interpreting all of Scripture; (3) obedience is essential to a proper understanding of Scripture; (4) the Old Testament is to be distinguished from the New; (5) the Letter should not be confused with the Spirit in interpreting the Bible; and (6) the Bible is to be interpreted in a congregational setting. As we shall see, Twisck's writing on Bible interpretation touches on all six of these points.

PIETER TWISCK AND HIS SCRIPTURE HARMONIZATION

     Pieter Jansz Twisck (1565-1636) was a widely traveled minister and elder of the Old Frisian Mennonite Church at Hoorn, leader and probable founder of the Old Frisian Conference, and a staunch defender of the Anabaptist foundation as established by Menno Simons. Twisck was the industrious author of many books, including two volumes of Bible concordances, which were innovative for Bible study in the Dutch language,[9]  and the Scripture Harmonization,[10]  which was published posthumously in 1661 by Twisck's grandson, Pieter Jansz Twisck de Jonge.[11]  In the 400-page book Twisck arranged seemingly contradictory passages of Scripture side-by-side and then, in some 800 short essays, explained them in a way that resolved the contradiction.[12]  The eighteenth-century Mennonite preacher Gerardus Maatschoen regarded Scripture Harmonization as a "very excellent" work.[13]  Archie Penner, whose 1971 dissertation is the only major study of Twisck, argues that Scripture Harmonization proves Twisck to have been "a keen student of the Scriptures" and "able to think rather deeply."[14] 

     In his six-page preface to the book Twisck clarified his ideas about the interpretation of Scripture. With the exception of the book by Pilgrim Marpeck noted above, this is the earliest known, extended discussion of the subject to come from the Anabaptist movement.

TWISCK'S PREFACE AND ARTICLE XI OF THE

CONFESSION OF FAITH

     The arguments presented in Twisck's preface need to be understood in relation to another short statement on Bible interpretation-a discussion on "the written Word of God" that appeared as Article XI in a confession of faith known as the Thirty-Three Articles that was published in the Hoorn martyr books of 1617 and 1626. Dutch Mennonite scholar Sjouke Voolstra considers Syvaert Pietersz to be a co-author along with Twisck of the Thirty-Three Articles.[15]  Both were ministers in the Old Frisian church at Hoorn. A close comparison of the English translation of Article XI that appeared in the Martyrs' Mirror[16]  and the version appearing in the Dutch martyrologies of 1617 and 1685 reveals that the 1685 edition of the Martyrs' Mirror and the subsequent English translation added three brief statements that do not appear in the 1617 text; these minor additions, however, do not bear on the discussion at hand.

     When taken together, Article XI "Of the Written Word of God" and Twisck's preface to Scripture Harmonization complement each other, giving a fuller picture of the Old Frisian approach to biblical interpretation. Because the preface introduces a book that reconciles apparent contradictions in Scripture, it begins by strongly asserting the essential unity of the Bible. Thus, the preface does not even mention the important Anabaptist principle of the distinction between the Old and New Testaments. Article XI, by contrast, emphatically underscores the distinction between Moses and Christ, the Law and the Gospel, and the Old and New Testaments.[17]  Article XI understands the relationship between the Testaments as a kind of "ranked" unity. It connects the Old Testament Law with Christ, but subordinates it to him. It interprets the Law figuratively as a spiritual schoolmaster bringing sinners to Christ. Christ is the end and fulfillment of the Law. The New Testament is better established (vaster) because "it was given through a higher (hoogher) and worthier (weerdigher) ambassador, and was sealed with a more precious (dierweerdiger) blood." Unlike the Old Testament, it will never end. So although there is a kind of unity between the Old and New Testaments, the relationship is one of inferior to superior, with Christ and the New Testament clearly being better. Article XI also implies this "ranked" unity elsewhere with the following assertion: The people of the Old Testament were not permitted to add or take from the Law "following their own opinion." But even less could the New Testament "be bent or distorted according to one's own individual opinions" since it had been established by the blood and death of the testator Jesus Christ.[18] 

     Since the New Testament is superior, the Old Testament must be explained by it and reconciled to it. The Old Testament must yield to the New.[19]  In fact, all Christians must prefer the New Testament to any human regulations-even to the laws of earthly governments. At the end of the world Christ will pronounce judgment on men according to their obedience to the Gospel, or New Testament. Since Christ will judge the world by the standard of the New Testament, we have yet another reason for recognizing its superiority over the Old Testament.

      Subordinating the Old Testament to the New is actually the only principle of Bible interpretation that Article XI deals with directly. Though only implied in Twisck's preface, it is a major principle in Article XI, without which the Anabaptist position is incomplete.[20] 

TWISCK'S PREFACE AND MENNO SIMONS

     Pieter Jansz Twisck greatly admired Menno Simons. Thus, one would expect to see Menno's ideas reflected in his writings. Yet similar ideas do not necessarily prove a direct dependence of Twisck on Menno. Both men continually drew on the same source-the Scripture-and sometimes their words sound similar simply because they are both quoting the same Scriptures. But beyond the mere quotation of Bible verses, Twisck did express some ideas about interpreting Scripture that were similar to those scattered in various writings of Menno. Since Menno never systematically stated his principles of Scripture interpretation, Twisck's writing on the subject has special interest.

     Early in the preface, for example, Twisck says that Scripture has been inspired by one God, through the Holy Spirit, just as Menno says: "All the great prophets of God such as David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel" speak "through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit."[21] 

     Twisck argues that the one God, who is united within himself, has inspired Scripture and imparted to it the same characteristic of unity. Likewise Menno assumed the unity of Scripture and admonished readers to weigh matters "in the balance of the holy, divine Word carefully in such a manner as to keep the unity of the Scripture."[22] 

     In the preface Twisck indicates that we must be morally and spiritual clean to interpret Scripture correctly: "We must check that we come to the Scripture with clean hands and a pure heart." In a similar fashion Menno says: "The pure Word of God . . . cannot be . . . taught by servants who are themselves unclean and carnal."[23] 

     Twisck writes that we cannot understand the meaning of divinely-inspired Scripture except by the Spirit of God. The believer must be enrolled in a school for knights and spiritual warriors, wherein the Holy Spirit is the champion, captain and master. Menno also insists that the believer must be taught in his heart by God[24]  and that the Holy Ghost is the true schoolmaster.[25] 

      "All of God's Word must be equally dear to us; no part is against the truth," argues Twisck. This point might appear to contradict the statement in Article XI, which holds the New Testament to be "worthier" and "better established" than the Old. Yet Menno reconciles this apparent contradiction when he speaks of the importance of "the thrust of the whole Scriptures"[26]  and asks: "Does not the whole Scripture direct us to Christ?"[27]  Menno further argues, "All the promises to the fathers, the expectation of the patriarchs, the whole figurative law, and all the prophecies of the prophets are fulfilled in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ."[28]  So the Old Testament is as dear as the New Testament because both testaments direct us to Christ. Therefore Twisck, Article XI of the Old Frisian confession and Menno are all in harmony with each other.

     Agreeing that Christ is central to understanding the Old and New Testaments, Twisck says that Christ opens the seals of the book of Scripture and that He is the correct interpreter and explainer. Menno also emphasizes the need for Christ in understanding: "All Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, [is] rightly explained according to the intent of Christ Jesus."[29]  For both, Christ is the key to the two testaments and gives them unity.

     Both Twisck and Menno agree on the need to understand Scripture in context. Some false teachers, claims Menno, "have jerked some passages from Scripture."[30]  "It is the nature of all heresies to tear a fragment from the holy Scripture and thereby . . . defend [their error]."[31]  Twisck expresses the same idea more colorfully: "Each must be careful that he does not take a verse or two crossways . . . into his mouth and run away with it, not looking around, and not once noticing that many other Scripture texts . . . bring forth another meaning." We must compare Scripture with Scripture, Twisck argues, "consider what comes before and after [a] verse," and view the general import of the whole passage. Menno certainly practiced this principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture since he frequently built doctrinal statements by quoting a wide range of passages. As Menno recommended: "Read through the entire Scripture-Moses and the prophets, Christ Jesus and the Apostles, and ponder them diligently."[32] 

     Twisck closes the preface to his book by saying, "Where we might not have hit the meaning correctly, we would be glad to change it toward the better (nae beter)." These words "toward the better" constitute a kind of slogan, or statement of an ideal for his writing and life, which Twisck usually included in his books.[33]  Similarly, Menno says, "Then if I err in some things . . . I pray . . . that if anyone has stronger and more convincing truth he through brotherly exhortation and instruction might assist me. I desire with my heart to accept it if he is right."[34] 

     It can be objected that Menno was writing to opponents in the quotation cited in the previous paragraph rather than making a case for a congregational hermeneutic. Yet if Menno was willing to change his views to those of his opponents in the light of Scripture, he obviously would have also changed his views for his brethren in the church. Why does Menno not say this explicitly when writing for his brethren? Perhaps he did in his sermons or in other face-to-face situations not recorded in writing. This is the so-called "Rule of Paul" as John Howard Yoder has pointed out[35] -"Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge."[36]  Although scholars have noted that evidence of the practice of the congregational hermeneutics is not abundant in the records of early Anabaptism, we do have these clear statements by Twisck and Menno suggesting that the principle was part of their understanding of proper biblical interpretation.[37] 

SUMMARY

     We have explored Article XI of the Old Frisian confession of faith and scattered statements of Menno Simons, relating them to Twisck's preface to his Scripture Harmonization. We see these sources supporting at least four of the main principles of Anabaptist Bible interpretation as summarized by Roth and Murray: Christ is the key to interpreting Scripture; obedience is essential to a proper understanding of Scripture; the Old Testament is to be distinguished from the New; and (albeit indirectly) the Bible is to be interpreted in a congregational setting. Footnotes to the translation of the preface show that Twisck also refers in passing to the remaining two principles identified by Roth and Murray as distinctly Anabaptist principles: the Bible is self-interpreting, even to the unlearned; and the Letter should not be confused with the Spirit in interpreting the Bible. So in one way or another Article XI and Twisck's preface touch on all six of these central points. In addition, both Twisck and Menno assert as guiding principles the unity of Scripture, the Holy Spirit as guide and, as a practical matter, the need to interpret Scripture in context.

SCRIPTURE HARMONIZATION[38] 

PIETER JANSZ TWISCK OF HOORN

PREFACE

     Many people, who scarcely care to read the Holy Scriptures attentively (and have even much less grace to live out the same), excuse their sluggishness, saying that Scripture contradicts itself, or at least is not to be understood by the layperson. But, no! Scripture is, or often appears, to be contradictory according to the letter, but in fact, meaning and truth has no conflict within itself, but has a single foundation and import. If there is any conflict or darkness, the problem is really in our conflicting thoughts and dark understanding and not in the Holy Scripture itself,[39]  which as a whole is united and cannot be in disunity.

     For Scripture has been inspired by one God, who is united within Himself and always remains unchangeable and never has opposition within Himself. He always was, and is, and shall be found eternally a God of peace and not of strife. Because Holy Writ has been dictated[40]  and established by God through the Holy Ghost, we may plainly and confidently say in writing and in speaking that the Holy Ghost is the one author, origin, and master of the Holy Scripture. And the Spirit is the truth-united, always identical to Himself, always sure, certain, constant-and neither speaks nor brings forth that which conflicts with Himself. So how could any strife or disunity be found in the Scripture in its correct sense or meaning?

     God the Lord is certainly no Spirit of confusion,[41]  but is everywhere one and united. Everywhere He teaches us also to strive for that same [unity] ourselves. Why, then, should He confuse us, entangle us, or confound us through Scripture? Why should He make wavering, doubtful, and uncertain what one should believe and follow, or what one should not believe nor follow?

     Beloved, if there were any strife or uncertainty in Scripture, how could one know and confess what stands sure and firm? Or how could one distinguish between the truth and lies, or how could one separate good from evil, the certain from the uncertain, and the light from the darkness? Would not religion decay into disorder and absolutely pass away?

     Therefore we must not fear, nor be in any way dismayed, that Scripture should deceive us or be in any way truly in conflict with itself.[42]  No one, leaning with certainty upon the truth of God's Word, will be deceived and entangled, unless he is deceived and misled through his own fault and dark outlook. For not in vain Scripture is called hidden, or a closed or sealed book in which the kingdom of heaven is as a treasure hidden in a field, a treasure to seek and to find. Isa. 29, Mt. 13, Mk. 4, Rev. 5.

     Here, in addition, we should notice why God the Lord has so veiled the Holy Scripture under some mysteries and secrets, or why He formed and brought it forth in a dark, apparently conflicting manner. The answer you could well find in the texts noted above. It is mainly that the godless, perverse, conceited, impure, swine, pigs, and dogs should not find the costly pearls and dishonor and bring them into disrespect. For this cause the Lord Jesus always spoke with the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes in parables, comparisons, allegories, examples and skillful reasoning, in which the spiritual meaning was hidden and not recognized by them. From this we learn to seek the correct sense and meaning not from the Letter, but from the Spirit[43]  and in God, to whom from now on also all honor and glory comes. We should seek the right sense in Scripture through God who drives, leads and guides us by Scripture.

     But without impertinence we must read, harmonize, seek and find in the fear of God and in faith. For faith, or the spirit of faith (someone says), is the light in Scripture, and he who does not have it does not have understanding in divine matters. Yes, it would be better that he did not know anything about the Bible, nor study it; for he misleads and confuses himself and other persons besides. So it is our own fault that Scripture is a trap for us-dark, wrenched, conflicting- by which through misuse we wound and hurt ourselves.

     Wherefore we must take care that we come to Scripture with clean hands and a pure heart. We should not fence[44]  with our own ingenuity or opinion in the darkness, but we should be reasonable knights and warriors in the school of Christ. For the Holy Spirit, the champion and captain in this school, tolerates no one who has learned from a master other than himself. Much sophistication, skirmishing, glossing,[45]  self-contrivance, partiality or other beating of the air, grabbing and groping as a blind man for color will not be tolerated here. For such persons, with their twisted leaps, strange expositions and rare explanations, often establish their own opinions (instead of what belongs to faith).

     For all upright hearts this is a difficult and troublesome strife, as one battles others with Scripture from which the others should borrow their power and protection. This teaches one to proceed with greater carefulness in order to explain God's Scripture with Scripture[46]  by the help of the Spirit. Then one can make an adequate stand against all opponents, misleading spirits and birds of confusion and defend the truth with truth. Scripture does not fail in the least when one is pounced upon and attacked by philosophy or by some other human teachings, but against these the Word of God is our shield and breastwork and goes far beyond and surpasses all other defenses. The difficulty is great if one overrides and combats the Word of God with the Word. Yet the advantage is to march out (when one is encircled and attacked with opposing scriptures) and yet maintain the correct meaning. (For one cannot proceed more firmly and surely and live more assuredly in faith).

     Here each must be careful that he does not take a verse or two crossways (as they say) into his mouth and run away with it, according to his own notion or opinion, not looking around, not once noticing that many other Scripture texts fight against it and bring forth another meaning. Rather he must appropriately compare Scripture with Scripture, harmonize and explain. He must illuminate the darkest speeches with the clearest. He must not obscure clear words with darker or unfamiliar Scripture texts that do not pertain to the matter.

     All of God's Word must be equally dear to us; no part is untrue. However, we must hit the correct meaning and alight upon the truth in all matters, which, by good practice in discerning the good and the evil, is especially impressed upon the heart and poured into it by God. So we say with Johannes Uytenbogaert:[47]  "All passages of Scripture which appear to be dark will be opened by what is written more clearly on the same subject in other places."

     From all this, we can realize that the Book must be consumed and understood as a whole and opened by Christ the Lamb. Without Him the Book is firmly closed for all men and fixed with seven seals and shut, and it shall also remain firmly closed so long as the seven evil seals are not torn off. [These seven seals are] the spirit of the devil, the wisdom of the world, one's own understanding, human counsel, human strength, corporal knowledge and the fear of man. In their place, seven other seals, eyes or spirits of the Lamb-the Spirit of the Lord, of Wisdom, of Understanding, of Counsel, of Strength, of Knowledge, and the Fear of the Lord-need to appear, come open and make everything known to us. (Read Isaiah 11 and Revelation 5.)[48]  Through Jesus Christ we must know that godly learning is needed for salvation.

     Here we see, hear and have the judge, interpreter, explainer and harmonizer of all proverbs, statements and assertions that appear to be in conflict. For He alone knows best why and for what reasons He has presented and spoken this in this way and that in that way. He gives each person, according to the measure of his faith, to know as much as he can profit from and manage for salvation and the glory of God. Therefore the Holy Scripture is God's Word, Spirit and life for the person enlightened by God, just as he understands it in the Spirit which lives in him.[49]  But for the godless it is a trap of death and not a word of God, just as their god is also not God. Behold, then, we must open our eyes in God's Spirit in order to ask God for His Spirit and understanding. We must allow Him to move us from the Letter to the Spirit (not binding ourselves here and there to a straw or unfounded position).

     [We must] look at the Holy Scripture from all sides carefully, through and through, for what might be the right sense or meaning here or there. For this purpose a concordance[50]  is very useful to find one word explained by another. For example, if someone happens upon a dark or doubtful word, in just a minute, with little effort, he can find similar words in other places. Thereby, on some occasions through the illumination of truth (as one carefully compares one word with another) one can easily estimate how one should understand these or those words correctly and well. For it is obvious enough that there is almost no letter, verse or statement without its contrary verse, statement or letter (according to human opinion). Wherefore in harmonizing or opening [the seals of Scripture] one must enter and walk a special or higher road which Christ himself (and no reasoning nor created being) portrays and stamps in us, accordingly judging spiritual matters spiritually.

     When we happen upon some verses that appear conflicting, or have them cast up to us, then we should not launch into the matter unthinkingly. Rather we should turn to the Bible. We should consider what comes before and after the verse, where [the thought of the verse] comes from and where it is heading, what it speaks to, or out of what purpose or reason it arises. The verse will often present itself quite differently from the way it first met us or was portrayed to us. The darkness is illuminated, or the harmonization with the contrary statement is made.

     From this explanation, we further see that to obtain a proper understanding of Scripture and to make good harmonizations, at the least, one should not cling to just one verse. But one should consider well if more is not elsewhere written on this subject. (For there are no words, verses or passages, or at least very few, which stand alone without any fellow witnesses.) And as we bring the Scriptures together, the one place will serve, help, light up and balance the other. Or if one has the texts of Scripture together that appear to differ somewhat with each other, by comparing other witnesses of the Scripture, one can notice and see that such Scriptures do not conflict with each other (as it appears to men) in their correct meaning. So by the grace of God a good piece of work is already accomplished. This work shall greatly serve for the comfort and strengthening of the simple when they see that the collected Scripture texts offer their hand to one another, illuminate and explain the right ground, sense and meaning of the Holy Scriptures for better understanding.

     So I bring you the result of my work, hoping that it shall serve many for illumination and for strengthening of faith, since I have not only gathered conflicting Scriptures-that is, specific Scriptures with explanations-but have also considered most of the various matters of faith, which in these times are much disputed, and I have expressed a brief opinion to the best of our ability. Where we might not have hit the meaning correctly, we would be glad to change it toward the better [nae beter]. Yet the reader should know that I have deliberately refrained from many different teachings that one might bring out in regard to these texts (in order to avoid length) and I have applied myself only, or mainly, to harmonize the meaning of the different texts with brief remarks. May the Lord grant that my work serve for the teaching, comfort and edification of each and to the honor of His lofty name.

     Hoorn May 23, 1623 Pieter Jansz. Twisck

Toward the better.

APPENDIX

The following are two samples of Twisck's method of harmonizing Scripture, related to his foregoing discussion.

Isaiah 29:10

     . . . the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he blinded.

II Corinthians 4:3

     In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not. . . .

     This blinding of the ungodly and evil men is attributed here to God and the devil, and for a third option we might apply it to man ("For it has been said, 'Their own wickedness hath blinded them.'" Wisd. of Sol. 2:21), and there leave the matter. Yet each in his order. To the devil and to man such blinding can be attributed properly, and to God improperly because good comes from God and evil from the devil and from man, who on his part helps and struggles for evil, both with words and deeds (Wisd. of Sol. 1:16; 2:24). Here Paul's words do duty where he admonishes, "That we should not walk as other heathen walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (Eph. 4:17-19). Wherefore the blinding by God who surrenders them to a reprobate mind (according to their well deserved guilt) has its place (Rom 1:28; 1 Thess. 4:8).[51] 

Matthew 13:15

     For this people's heart is hardened, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. Acts 28:27.

John 12:40

     He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. Rom. 11:8

     The one evangelist draws from the prophet Isaiah that the people Israel have closed their eyes, and the other evangelist says that God has blinded their eyes. Yet one must not understand this as if the evangelists strive against one another, but that God and man share with one another in this. More specifically, men through sin separate themselves from God, become hardened and turn their eyes away from God or become blind (1 Sam 6:6; Isa. 59:2; Ezek. 12:2). And then God numbs, hardens or surrenders these willful men to a corrupted mind, and their delusions are strong (according to what they seek) so that they believe lies (Rom. 1:24; 2 Thess. 2:10 [11]).[52] 


[*] James Lowry is an independent scholar, working on documents from Dutch Mennonite sources and living in Hagerstown, Maryland. 1. ME 1:322-24. Return to Text

[2] . MQR 41 (Oct., 1967), 291-308, esp. 300-04. See also John H. Yoder, TĄufertum und Reformation im GesprĄch (ZĀrich: EVZ-Verlag, 1968), esp. the chapter "Die Gemeinde als Ort der theologischen Erkenntnis," 101-08. Return to Text

[3] . Stuart Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2000), 157. Return to Text

[4] . C. Norman Kraus, "American Mennonites and the Bible, 1750-1950," MQR 41 (Oct. 1967), 309-329. Return to Text

[5] . See esp. Article XI, "The Written Word of God," in the confession. American Mennonites frequently reprinted this confession of faith, which was included in the Martyrs' Mirror.-Ibid., 313. Return to Text

[6] . Werner Packull, "Enkele aspecten van de hermeneutiek van Menno Simons," Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 22 (1996), 143-57. Later in his article he raises the question whether the hermeneutic community could be a modern idea imposed on Reformation times (144). For a German version of this, see "Menno Simons und die Auslegung der Heiligen Schrift," Mennonitische GeschichtsblĄtter, 53 (1996), 44-61. Return to Text

[7] . H. Wayne Pipkin, ed. Essays in Anabaptist Theology, Text Reader Series 5. (Elkhart, IN.: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1994), 35-50. Return to Text

[8] . Murray, Biblical Interpretation, 210, 211-15. Murray's thoughtful book, the most extensive writing on the subject, builds on a traditional framework, yet integrates recent advances in Anabaptist historiography. Return to Text

[9] . Archie Penner, "Pieter Jansz. Twisck-Second Generation Anabaptist/Mennonite Churchman, Writer and Polemicist" (Ph.D. diss., U. of Iowa, 1971), 173. Return to Text

[10] . The title of the book translated into English is Scripture Harmonization: Or a Brief Explanation and Harmonization of Many Seemingly Opposing Verses, or, Various Passages of Holy Scripture, Which Appear to Contradict Each Other, Yet Taken in Their Correct Sense Are Not Contrary. Return to Text

[11] . Pieter Jansz. Twisck de Jonge was also an elder in the Old Frisian Church in Hoorn during the years 1649-1690, but published no writings of his own.-ME 4:759. Return to Text

[12] . In 1526 Hans Denck published a little booklet of contradictions in Augsburg in 1526 called Wer die warhait warlich lieb hat, which contains only a brief paragraph of introduction and conclusion and 40 sets of apparently contradictory Scriptures. But Denck made no attempt to harmonize the contradictions.-Hans Denck Schriften, ed. Walter Fellmann (GĀtersloh: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1956) 2. Teil, 67-74. Return to Text

[13] . Hermannus Schijn, Uitvoeriger Verhandeling van de Geschiedenisse der Mennoniten . . . Tweede Druk op nieuws uit het Latijn vertaald, en met noodige Aantekeningen vermeerderd door Gerardus Maatschoen (Amsteldam: Kornelis de Wit, 1744), 2:521. Maatschoen was a preacher of the Zonist Mennonite Church in Amsterdam and translator and editor of Hermannus Schijn's two- volume history of the Mennonites, to which he added a third volume.-ME, 3:430. Return to Text

[14] . Penner, "Pieter Jansz. Twisck," 191-92. Penner summarizes Twisck's statement on hermeneutics (187-92) and argues that Twisck tried to apply in his writing the principles which he expressed. Return to Text

[15] . Sjouke Voolstra, Het woord is vlees geworden (Kampen: Uitgevermaatschappij J. H. Kok, [1982]), 120, 175-76. Archie Penner has argued that the actual writer was Syvaert Pietersz, but that the thought of the confession reflects that of Twisck and the Frisian Church.- Penner, "Pieter Jansz. Twisck," 260-61. Return to Text

[16] . Thieleman J. van Braght, The Bloody Theater or Martyrs' Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (Scottdale, PA.: Mennonite Publishing House, 1951), 381-83. The original version of this confession is in the unnumbered pages at the front of Historie der warachtige getuygen Jesu Christi, Die de Evangelische waerheyt In veelderley tormenten betuychten [en] met haer bloet bevesticht hebben sint het Jaer 1524 tot desen tyt toe . . . (Hoorn: Zacharias Cornelisz, Boek-vercooper, 1617). Since there was extra space at the end of the Confession of Faith, eight quotations were placed there "to confirm these articles" from "our old teachers," first from Menno Simons, then from Dirk Philips, always alternating, four from each "teacher." This may be the origin of N. van der Zijp's unproven claim that this confession was made of sentences borrowed from the works of Menno. -ME 4:758. Return to Text

[17] . A book that appeared shortly after the death of Twisck and gives Mennonite principles of Bible interpretation from the viewpoint of an opponent is Kort Bewijs van de menighvuldige doolingen der Wederdoopers ofte Mennisten by Pierre Bontemps (Haarlem, 1641). Among other matters Bontemps, French Reformed minister, vigorously attacks the Mennonite distinction between the Old and New Testaments. This book and the replies to it would shed light on Mennonite Bible interpretation of that era. Amos Hoover of Denver, Pennsylvania brought this book to my attention.-ME 1:387. Return to Text

[18] . Menno Simons also states this idea plainly: "If the word of the literal law was . . . in its time unchangeable, although given only through a servant and sealed by perishable blood, how much more powerful . . . and unchangeable is the free law of the Spirit, given by the Son Himself and confirmed by the blood of the eternal covenant!"-The Complete Writings of Menno Simons c. 1496-1561, ed. John Christian Wenger (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1956), 219 [hereafter cited as CW]. Return to Text

[19] . As an illustration of this Menno says, "To swear truly was allowed to the Jews under the Law; but the Gospel forbids this to Christians."-CW, 519. Menno also speaks of the "imperfectness" of the Old Testament and of the "perfectness" of the New Testament.-CW, 518. Return to Text

[20] . The Preface does imply the principle by saying that Christ the Lamb-identified with the Spirit of Christ, or the Holy Spirit, intimately guiding the believer into an understanding of Scripture-opens the book of Scripture for us and gives us the correct interpretation, emphasizing the importance of Christ. Return to Text

[21] . CW, 216. Return to Text

[22] . CW, 925. Return to Text

[23] . CW, 445. Return to Text

[24] . "Hij in sijner herten von Godt geleert is. . . ." Menno Simons, Opera Omnia Theologica (Amsterdam, 1681. Rpt. Amsterdam: De Bataafsche Leeuw, 1989), 474, but the words "in sijner herten" are lost in the English translation. Also, "that which the Holy Spirit advises, teaches, and commands in the holy Scriptures."-CW, 479. Return to Text

[25] . "Die Heylige Godts Geest die oprechte Leermeester," Opera Omnia, 423. Cf. CW, 271. Dirk Philips laments that religious leaders have studied in advanced schools, but "they have not yet been in the school of Christ and they have not yet had the true master teacher, namely, the Holy Spirit."-The Writings of Dirk Philips 1504-1568, trans., Cornelius J. Dyck, William E. Keeney, and Alvin J. Beachy (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1992), 199 [hereafter cited as DP]. Adrian Corneliss says in 1552, "We have not studied in Latin universities, but in the highly celebrated school of the Gospel, of which the Spirit of God is teacher."-Martyrs' Mirror, 534. Return to Text

[26] . CW, 335; see also p. 159. Return to Text

[27] . CW, 127; see also p. 81. Return to Text

[28] . CW, 339. Return to Text

[29] . CW, 312. "All the Scriptures, both the Old and the New Testaments . . . point us to Christ Jesus that we are to follow Him."-CW, 749; see also pp. 186, 404, 683. Return to Text

[30] . CW, 177. Return to Text

[31] . CW, 268. Return to Text

[32] . CW, 696; see also DP, 144. Return to Text

[33] . Schijn, 2:516. Return to Text

[34] . CW, 65; see also p. 452. Return to Text

[35] . MQR 41 (Oct. 1967), 304. Return to Text

[36] . I Cor. 14:29. Return to Text

[37] . John Oyer has discovered the practice of Zeugnis as early as 1528 among Anabaptists of Esslingen.-"Early Forms of Anabaptist Zeugnis After Sermons," MQR 72 (July 1998), 449-54. Zeugnis after the sermon was a regular part of the worship service at Baldenheim in the Alsace in 1680.-ME 1:215. Ernst MĀller mentions those who give Zeugnis in worship services of Anabaptist churches in Bern in 1709.-Geschichte der Bernischen TĄufer (Frauenfeld: J. Hubers Verlag, 1895), 254-55; and Steven Blaupot ten Cate states that Swiss Amish preachers in Groningen, Sappemeer and Kampen customarily asked for getuigenis, or testimony, after the sermon during the eighteenth century.-Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Groningen, Overijssel en Oost-Friesland. Tweede Deel (Leeuwarden: W. Eekhoff en J. B. Wolters, 1842), 141. See also Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition, 16, 157-85. Other evidence remains from another part of the movement, not in books, but in the traditional practices of churches of Swiss Anabaptist origin. Among some Mennonite communities, the Old Order Mennonites and Amish churches, the minister after preaching the Sunday morning sermon asks for testimony, or Zeugnis, by the other ministers, or in some cases by older brethren, as to the truth of the morning's preaching or its need for correction. Further, in such churches in the counsel or inquiry meeting the congregation is asked for its discernment as to whether the church is in scriptural harmony to proceed with communion. In some churches the voice of one member is so valued that one dissenting vote halts the observance of communion. The same consultation is needed for receiving new members or for matters of discipline. These evidences of the hermeneutic community among the early Anabaptists survive to the present. Return to Text

[38] . The full title of the book for which this is the preface is Schriftuerelijcke Vereeniginge. Ofte, Korte verklaringe en over-een-brenginge van veel strijdigh-schijnende Spreucken, ofte verscheyden Passagien der Heyliger Schriftuere, dewelcke schijnen teghen malkander te strijden/ ende nochtans/ elck in sijn rechte sin ghenomen/ niet strijdigh en zijn. Alles tot leeringhe voor-ghestelt door Pieter Iansz. Twisck. Na d'eyghen handt van den Autheur, en noyt voor desen ghedruckt. (Hoorn: Pieter Zachariasz. Harteveldt, 1661). Thanks to William E. Keeney of Bluffton, Ohio for his help in checking and improving my translation of the preface, pages 3-8 of Twisck's book. Return to Text

[39] . Caspar Schwenckfeld expresses similar ideas in the same order. His opponents complained, "The Scriptures are obscure . . . dark and contradictory." Schwenckfeld replied, "The Scriptures . . . are wholly a bright light. . . . .It is not the fault of the Scriptures if we do not understand them, but our own darkened hearts are to blame." This comes from his epistle to the Bishop of Breslau, first published as Ein Christliche Ermanung zu furdern das wortt Gottis in 1524. It is quoted in Selina Gerhard Schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig (1489-1561) (Norristown, Pa,: Board of Publication of the Schwenckfelder Church, 1946) 33, 43. Return to Text

[40] . gedicteert. Menno Simons says, "Moses . . . speaks to you out of the mouth of God," and then quotes Deuteronomy 18:18.-CW, 216. Return to Text

[41] . Spirit of tangles, Spirit of knots. Return to Text

[42] . This is the principle that the Bible is self-interpreting even to the unlearned, but with the qualification of the need for an enlightened heart. Return to Text

[43] . Here, and again later in the Preface, Twisck raises the issue of Letter versus Spirit, but does not develop it.-Cf. CW, 996, and DP, 318, 348. Return to Text

[44] . Schermen, "to fight with a long slender sword," or "to talk hot air." Return to Text

[45] . Menno also objects to the opinions of men and glosses.-CW, 126, 242, 452, 871. Return to Text

[46] . For which my Concordance, published in 1615 is useful [Twisck's comment]. This refers to volume I of his concordance. He worked on volume II from June 1624 to January 1632. Return to Text

[47] . Jan Uytenbogaert (1557-1644) was a Remonstrant leader and author, a preacher in The Hague, banished for a time. Arminius, Uytenbogaert, and Vorstius were three of the primary founders of the Remonstrant movement, with which Twisck could have felt some kinship.-A Religious Encyclopedia, ed. Philip Schaff (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1894), 4:2443. Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998), 35-36, 75. Brief mention is also made of Uytenbogaert in the Real-EncycklopĄdie fĀr protestantische Theologie und Kirche, ed. J. J. Herzog and G. T. Plitt (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung, 1877), 1:684, 686. Return to Text

[48] . Twisck is referring to Isaiah 11:2 apparently only in Dutch. The seven spirits of the Lord are very plainly given in both the Vulgate and Septuagint translations in verses 2 and 3 of this striking passage. The other reference is to Revelation 5:1-9. Twisck's seven evil seals are parallel in an interesting way to the seven spirits of Isaiah 11.-Cf. DP, 271, 447 Return to Text

[49] . Twisck may have I Corinthians 2:10-12 in mind. Return to Text

[50] . Here Twisck recommends his concordance. Return to Text

[51] . Schriftuerelijcke Vereeniginge, 142-43. Return to Text

[52] . Ibid., 249. 368 The Mennonite Quarterly Review 369 Pieter Jansz Twisck on Biblical Interpretation 355 374 The Mennonite Quarterly Review 373 Pieter Jansz Twisck on Biblical Interpretation 355