January 2006 In This Issue


Few topics in the Reformation era of the sixteenth century were more central-or more contested-than the place of Scripture in Christian faith and practice. Luther’s famous appeal to “Scripture alone” (sola scriptura) proved to be a powerful rallying cry, attracting a wide range of reformers who embraced it as an alternative to the authority of church tradition and the institutional hierarchy of the Roman Church. A great deal of scholarship has emerged on the newfound accessibility to Scripture in the early sixteenth century, the competing hermeneutical principles for interpreting its meaning, and its specific application as an instrument of reform or repression. By comparison, we know very little about the debate unfolding at the same time over the nature of the biblical canon itself- especially the status of the so-called apocryphal, or inter-testamental, texts. The standard Bible of the Middle Ages, the Latin Vulgate, generally included the Apocrypha as part of the biblical canon. Luther, by contrast, had a more fluid understanding of canonical texts-indeed, his condemnation of the Epistle of James for its alleged defense of works-righteousness helped to spark a broader Reformation discussion about the true nature of the canon.

It is not surprising that the Anabaptists, who had a high view of biblical authority, should have also engaged these questions regarding the canonicity of the apocryphal writings. In this issue of The Mennonite Quarterly Review, Jonathan R. Seiling considers the historical context of the debate and then surveys Anabaptist attitudes toward the Apocrypha. His study of biblical references in Anabaptist writings suggests that the Anabaptists were quite familiar with the apocryphal texts, drawing especially on several specific texts to support their understanding of the freedom of the will. Most Anabaptists appear to have regarded the Apocrypha as being equal in authority to the rest of Scripture. Seiling follows his essay with a translation of one of the few primary sources that addresses this question explicitly: Ludwig Htzer’s preface to his translation of the apocryphal texts Baruch, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon from the Latin into German.

Over the past several decades the field of conflict transformation studies has become a rapidly growing specialization, one that has attracted numerous theoreticians and practitioners in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. Yet, as Mark Thiessen Nation suggests, the theological foundations of this applied discipline are more often assumed than explicitly developed. Nation, who teaches theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, brings the insights of the renowned Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder into conversation with recent trends in conflict transformation studies. Implicit in his essay is a call for a more self-conscious grounding of this emerging discipline in the particularistic language of Christian theology.

According to several recent studies, the current rate at which Amish and Old Order groups are retaining their young people is remarkably high-more than 90 percent in many communities. Yet some individuals in each generation choose to leave the Amish. Paul W. Nisly, who grew up in the Beachy Amish tradition and is now a professor of English at Messiah College, has surveyed a group of former Amish and Beachy Amish individuals who have pursued higher education and entered into professional occupations. In his study, Nisly attempted to discover the reasons for leaving the Amish community and how the attitudes and values shaped by an Amish upbringing have translated into the world of the professions. Though the results of his inquiry are more suggestive than conclusive, a significant majority of Nisly’s respondents indicated a deep appreciation for their Amish past; and they continue to affirm many of the principles instilled in their formative years.

Two research notes round out this issue of MQR. In 1991 Steven K. Smith introduced MQR readers to Abraham Isaak, an early-twentieth-century anarchist who was raised in a Russian Mennonite family. In this issue, Smith fills in some further details regarding Isaak’s fascinating life, including newly-discovered genealogical material on his extended family; information about his (mistaken) arrest in relation to the assassination of William McKinley; and new sources related to Isaak’s effort to establish a communal society in the opening decade of the twentieth century. Finally, Christoph Dejung offers a research note on recent developments in the scholarship of Sebastian Franck, a mercurial and complex Reformation personality whose writings have confounded readers throughout the centuries. A Spiritualist and occasional defender of Anabaptists, Franck couched his arguments in layers of irony and satire-not always easy to untangle. Dejung summarizes key findings in a recent publication of a critical edition and commentary of Franck’s early works.

– John D. Roth, editor

The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review