[K:JNWTS 20/2 (Sep 2005) 3-9]

The Bentheim Confession (1613/1617)

James T. Dennison, Jr.

The Bentheim region (Grafschaft/Graaschap Bentheim) of Germany borders Overijsel in the Netherlands on the east. Noted for its Castle (erected by the Romans when the Tubanten people inhabited the region), its forest and therapeutic sulpher springs, Bentheim came into the Protestant camp in the 16th century and moved towards Calvinism by the 17th. The catalyst in this evolution was Anna of Tecklenburg (1532-1582), wife of Everwin III (b. 1532), governor of Grafschaft Bentheim from 1553 until his premature death in 1562. Anna had become persuaded of more than the teachings of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon—she had discovered John Calvin.1 Upon the death of her husband, she devoted her two children, Arnold (1554-1606) and Walpurgis, to being trained in the Reformed faith. The oldest son and future governor of Grafschaft Bentheim was sent to Strasbourg in 1571 to be educated in the academy of the city where John Calvin and Martin Bucer had labored. On his return to Bentheim to assume his role as governor, Count Arnold II called Johan Kemmener to be court preacher in 1576. Kemmener preached through the life of Jesus and the disciples in order to establish the biblical foundation for Reformed doctrine and worship.

Meanwhile, Count Arnold's mother had advanced the Reformed faith in Tecklenburg since 1574. Most of the pastors there were Reformed in conviction, but observed some Roman Catholic formalities in worship (i.e., the use of an altar and wafers instead of bread in communion). In 1587, Arnold II summoned an ecclesiastical conference for Tecklenburg and its neighboring cities, Schuttorf and Nordhorn. Arnold advanced a new "Church Order" which declared Reformed worship alone to be acceptable. The directory had been prepared by Arnold's brother, Adolf, Count of Neuenar, Meurs and Limburg. The directory had also been submitted to the leaders of the church in Heidelberg for endorsement. When unanimously approved by the church conference in Tecklenburg, it became known as "The Church Order of 1587." On Christmas day 1587, the Lord's Supper was observed for the first time according to the Reformed rubric (i.e., at tables, not at an altar). Bentheim and the other cities of Grafschaft Bentheim followed suit.

Arnold now applied the educational policy of his mother to his realm. A Latin school at Schuttorf was moved to Steinfort in 1591 in order to become a theological academy for ministerial training. But his choice of Conrad Vorstius (1569-1622) to serve as professor of theology (1596) was to prove disastrous. Vorstius had been trained at Heidelberg, Basel and Geneva. He had impressed Theodore Beza during his sojourn in the latter city (1595-96). But in 1599, he was summoned to defend his views on the Trinity by the faculty at Heidelberg. Suspected of Socinianism, Vorstius parried the accusation with a deft defense of his alleged orthodoxy. Count Arnold II rewarded him with appointment as court preacher in 1602. His influence in Steinfort was immense and when he was appointed James Arminius's (1560-1609) successor at Leiden in 1610, his semi-Pelagian sympathies were evident. His translation of select works of Socinus, the notorious Unitarian, clearly indicated his own Socinian tendencies. Vigorously opposed by Francis Gomarus (1563-1641), Vorstius was forced to withdraw from Leiden in 1612. At the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), he was condemned as a heretic and forced into hiding until his death.

In 1604, Count Arnold II summoned a General Synod to convene in Schuttorf. Representatives from the provinces of Tecklenburg, Steinfort and Bentheim were present. Reemphasizing the foundation of the church on the Word of God alone, this Synod renewed the Church Order of 1587 and resolved to meet annually.

On his death in 1606, Arnold's five sons divided the territory over which he had ruled. Arnold Jost received Bentheim; he would govern from 1610-1643. This son, unlike his father, arrogated to himself control over the church. He formed a "High Consistory" on October 13, 1613 to which every congregation in Bentheim was responsible. All church officers, including pastors, were appointed (and removed) by this magisterial board. At the same time, Arnold Jost renewed his commitment to the Reformed faith by placing the Bentheim Confession (below) alongside the Heidelberg Catechism. This was done to assure his people and the churches that in doctrine, the Calvinism of his grandmother remained. Every parishioner from 1617 to 1651 was required to sign these twelve articles. But the future of the Bentheim church was as the ruler of Bentheim. And when Arnold Jost's son and successor, Ernst Willem (1623-1693), converted to Catholicism (1668) it marked the inevitable downgrade of a hierarchical state-church.

The twelve articles of the Bentheim Confession are a clear affirmation of Trinitarian and Calvinistic distinctives. In the context of Vorstius's anti-Trinitarianism as well as his Arminianism, the Bentheimers were formulating succinct statements of their orthodox and Reformed convictions. The controversy which was to peak at Dort over the Remonstrance and Counter-Remonstrance is also part of the larger context of this brief confession.

It will be of interest to the readers of this journal that the father of Geerhardus Vos, Rev. Jan H. Vos, was from Graftschap Bentheim. He was raised in the Old Reformed (Oudgereformeerde Kerken in Nedersaken) tradition that includes the ancestors of the Bentheim Confession. His first pastorate was in Uelsen, at the Old Reformed church there (province of Bentheim). He next became a minister of the Christian Reformed Church (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken) in Holland (1860-1881). When Geerhardus was born in 1862, his father was minister in Hereenveen. After migrating to the United States in 1881 in order to become the pastor of the Spring Street Christian Reformed Church, Jan H. Vos served with distinction until his retirement in 1900. He then moved to Graafschap, Michigan, a settlement near Lake Michigan composed mostly of immigrants from the Bentheim region of Germany. There he died in 1913.


Background for this introduction to the Bentheim Confession has been gathered from several encyclopedias and essays. Most important is the little booklet written by Geerhardus Vos's uncle, Dr. Hendrik Beuker, entitled Tubantia: Church-State Conflicts in Graafschap Bentheim Germany. This work was published in Dutch by J.H. Kok (Kampen) in 1897. An English edition was prepared by the Historical Library Committee of the Graafschap Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan in 1986.

I am particularly indebted to Hans-Jürgen Schmidt and his forthcoming essay "Die zwölf Bentheimer Artikel von 1613 und der arminianische Streit in den Niederlanden." Schmidt's essay is scheduled for publication in the Bentheimer Jahrbuch 2006. Pastor Gerrit Jan Beuker of Hoogstede, Germany was also very helpful in providing German materials.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the kindness of my son-in-law, Dr. Tucker McElroy, for translating several German documents into English for me. All in all, this article has been a joint project of the saints past and present. Soli Deo gloria!


The translation of the Bentheim Confession that follows was part of a joint class assignment in the Ecclesiastical Latin course at Northwest Theological Seminary during the academic year 2004-2005. The translation of the original Latin version2 was then compared with an English translation of the German version supplied through the article by Schmidt. Dr. Tucker McElroy translated the German version for us. The final version of our translation is indebted to both the Latin and the German editions, though we have focused on the Latin text primarily.

To our knowledge, this is the first translation of this document into English. It was a great joy for the class to work on and perfect what you are about to read. Gratias tibi ago, discipuli!

Bentheim Confession (1613/1617)

(Translated by James T. Dennison, Jr., Kuldip S. Gangar, Peter M. Gangar, Alice L. Hamstra, Adam D. King, Margaret A. Luckel, John W. Ming and Samuel Son)

Articles proposed by the preachers in the ecclesiastical visitation of the Imperial Count of Bentheim in the year 1613 in the month of March and received again and approved in the solemn and also extraordinary assembly in the Castle at Bentheim in the year 1617 in the month of April.

It is asked

I. Concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence

Whether you believe that the divine essence is one and undivided or that Jehovah, our God, is one in number.

II. Concerning the Trinity of Persons

Whether you believe that in the unity of the divine essence or Godhead there are three distinct, equal and coessential persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

III. Concerning the Person of Jesus Christ

Whether you believe that Jesus Christ is true God in one person, begotten from eternity in an ineffable manner by the Father, and3 true man, born in time without sin from the virgin Mary.

IV. Concerning the Office of Christ in General

Whether you believe that Jesus Christ was given to us by God [and4] was ordained as Prophet, Priest and King.

V. Concerning the Prophetic Office of Christ in Particular

Whether you believe that Christ [as5] Prophet has declared to us salvation and his way6, and therefore as Arbitrator7 and Internuncio8, is our Mediator.

VI. Concerning the Priestly Office

Whether you believe that Christ as Priest has interceded for us not only in these earthly things, yet also intercedes with the Father in heavenly things; but that also by his suffering and death, as an all-sufficient sacrifice, he has freed us from our sins and eternal death; and so also by way of intercession and payment9, is our Mediator.

VII. Concerning the Kingly Office

Whether you believe that Jesus Christ brought forth and established grace by his suffering, to apply it to true believers and penitents efficaciously by the Spirit, the Word and the Sacraments, and to keep them perseveringly in that grace; and likewise finally through this mode of application and preservation, is our Mediator.

VIII. Concerning the Efficacy of the Merit of Christ

Whether you believe that no salvation is able to be possessed and retained apart from Christ and therefore, the fathers of the Old Testament have been justified and saved no less by faith in Christ, at that time about to come, than we in the New Testament are justified and saved by faith in Christ now displayed10.

IX. Concerning Infant Baptism

Whether you believe that infants, no less than adults, belong to the gracious covenant of God and the sign and seal of that covenant, namely baptism, is not to be denied them.

X. Concerning Election

Whether you believe that God before he laid the foundation of the world has chosen us in Christ Jesus; and has ordained us unto the adoption of sons, according to the good pleasure of his will, unto the praise of his glorious grace; and even for this11, that we might live holy and blameless before him in love.

XI. Concerning Salvation

Whether you believe that God wills that all believing and penitent persons be saved: but unbelievers and the impenitent, who obstinately persevere in impiety and unbelief to the end, certainly are going to be sentenced to eternal damnation.

XII. Concerning the Means of Salvation

Whether you believe that in the means of salvation, the beginning, middle and end ought to be altogether ascribed to God, but should not be granted by the powers and works of man and their merits, either completely or in part: notwithstanding12 God working unto salvation, the pious and faithful cooperate through the grace of God.


1 Count Arnold (†1553) had governed Bentheim as a committed Roman Catholic until 1535. His court preacher, Johan van Loen, had devoured the works of Martin Luther. Van Loen provided Arnold with books by Luther and Melanchthon urging him to compare them with the inspired Scriptures. Arnold then examined Luther's Catechism, the Smalkald Articles and the Augsburg Confession. In 1544, he commanded van Loen that all the clerics of his region were to preach according to the Augsburg Confession. Bentheim was solidly Lutheran until 1587.

2 The Latin text is found in E.F.K. Müller, Die Bekenntnisschriften der reformierten Kirche (Leipzig, 1903) 833-34.

3 German: und (zugleich) wahrer Mensch = "and (at the same time) true man."

4 German: und.

5 German: als.

6 Latin: ejus viam; German: den Weg zu ihm (= "the way to him").

7 Latin: Arbitri meaning "referee" (i.e., between two parties).

8 Latin: Internuntii meaning "messenger" (i.e., between two parties).

9 Latin: solutionis meaning "payment of a debt"; German: Erlösung = "redemption".

10 Latin: exhibitum; German: geoffenbarten = "manifested".

11 German: und dazu = "for the purpose that".

12 German: obwohl.