In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Baptists

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • Origins
  • English Baptists
  • African American Baptists
  • Canadian Baptists
  • Seventh Day Baptists

Atlantic History Baptists
Janet Moore Lindman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0192


The Baptist religion began in Continental Europe during the early 16th century. Known as Anabaptism, it emerged as a radical alternative to Lutheranism. A variety of Anabaptists formed in Switzerland, Holland, and the German states. For their nonconformity, such as refusing to have their children baptized, believers suffered persecution. They would coalesce into sectarian groups, such as the Hutterites, Swiss Brethren, and Mennonites. British Baptists surfaced in the early 17th century, influenced by English Separatism and Dutch Anabaptism. The religion then spread to Ireland, Wales, and the American colonies. A primary tenet of Anabaptists and Baptists is adult baptism. They also endorse justification by grace, divine sovereignty, the priesthood of all believers, the authority of the Bible, and congregationalism. Membership in a Baptist congregation demands authentic conversion to gain entry. Adult baptism by immersion, officiated by a regenerate minister, is a primary rite of the church; communion is also practiced, though its frequency varied by congregation. Variations within the religion include Regular, Separate, Seventh Day, Six-Principle, and Free Will Baptists. By the 19th century, some American Baptists would diverge into splinter groups (e.g., Primitive Baptists) and develop new denominations (e.g., the Disciples of Christ). Two basic types of Baptists developed: General and Particular. General Baptists endorsed Arminianism and asserted general salvation or universal redemption of all believers, meaning that anyone can attain saving grace from God. Particular Baptists, influenced by Calvinism, advocated the doctrine of election or particular salvation, meaning only the elect could be saved. This led to the practice of closed communion, in which only members could participate in church rituals. Opponents labeled Baptists as Anabaptists, Catabaptists, and Anti-Paedobaptists to connote their refutation of infant baptism. Early converts referred to themselves as “Baptized Believers” or “Christians.” Continental Anabaptists, who disliked this expression, used the “Brethren,” as in the “Swiss Brethren,” or simply “brothers and sisters” (Brüder und Schwestern). In Holland and northern Germany they were called Doopsgezinde, meaning “baptismally minded.” English Baptists also rejected the term Anabaptist; their 1644 Confession of Faith stated that they had been “falsely” identified with this sobriquet. 18th-century Anabaptists were dubbed Domplelaars (those who dunk) and became known as the Dunkers; they called themselves the New Baptists (Neue Täufer).

General Overviews

First published in 1813, Benedict 1971 is one of the earliest general surveys of American Baptists. Underwood 1947 provides a general synthesis of British Baptists. Lumpkin 1961 considers the Separate Baptists in the 18th-century South. McBeth 1987 follows a standard chronology to discuss the religion from its British origins to its American development. Bebbington 2010 describes the Baptist religion as a global movement. Durso and Durso 2006 covers groups that are often overlooked in general histories. Leonard 2005 discusses race and gender as well as the social issues that divide modern Baptists. Brackney 2004 is a “genetic history” that includes a discussion of the contributions of African Americans to the Baptist faith.

  • Bebbington, David. Baptists through the Centuries: A History of a Global People. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010.

    A synthetic history that covers Baptists over four centuries, with heavy emphasis on the United States and Europe; the last two chapters tackle the global context.

  • Benedict, David. A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Other Parts of the World. 2 vols. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries, 1971.

    Baptists from Canada to the West Indies to the western territories of the early United States are described. Biographical sketches of American ministers are included.

  • Brackney, William H. A Genetic History of Baptist Thought: With Special Reference to Baptists in Britain and North America. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2004.

    The theological “genes” of British and American Baptists are followed through confessions of faith, hymns, ministers, theologians, and academics.

  • Durso, Paula R., and Keith E. Durso. The Story of Baptists in the United States. Brentwood, TN: Baptist History and Heritage Society, 2006.

    A chronological survey of groups commonly ignored in other general works, including women, African Americans, ethnic minorities, and small denominations. Contains photos and illustrations.

  • Leonard, Bill J. Baptists in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

    Appraises Anglo-American Baptists from the 17th through the 20th centuries, discussing the doctrinal and social issues of modern America.

  • Lumpkin, William L. Baptist Foundations in the South: Tracing through the Separates the Influence of the Great Awakening, 1754–1787. Nashville: Broadman, 1961.

    A general introduction to the spread of the Separate Baptists throughout the early American South.

  • McBeth, H. Leon. The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness. Nashville: Broadman, 1987.

    Reviews the Baptist religion based on the British and American experience, and explains the origins debate. Has a select bibliography.

  • Underwood, A. C. History of English Baptists. London: Kingsgate, 1947.

    Outlines the history of English Baptists from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

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