Odenbach, Johann (16th century)

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Johann Odenbach was the pastor at Moscheln below Landsberg, which is the old name of the town of Obermoschel in the Palatinate, Germany, between Kreuznach and Kaiserslautern. The ruins of the Landsberg fortress still dominate the handsome little town. This was the scene of Johann Odenbach's preaching during the Reformation. His was a tolerant soul, extraordinarily rare at the time. This is shown in the letter he wrote in 1528 to the judges of Alzey, when they were deciding on the life or death of several Anabaptists imprisoned there. The letter is titled, "Ein Sendbrief und Ratschlag an verordnete Richter über die armen Gefangenen in Alzey, so man nennet Wiedertäufer."

Odenbach opened the letter by reminding the judges that they must hold just judgment, citing Deuteronomy 1:15-17 and Deuteronomy 17; they were inexperienced in the divine Scripture and had not learned responsibility for faith, therefore they could not conduct nor fathom this legal matter. The case must be conducted by instruction from the Word of God. "If one wanted to punish the error of faith of their heresy which is not founded on the Word of God, then priests, monks, Junkers, pope, and cardinals would be much more liable to punishment who have earned a thousandfold greater punishment before God than these poor Anabaptists, although I do not praise them either. One should provide better, more pious, upright, learned and good preachers, then all great and small errors would soon be removed. These poor Anabaptists have not committed such a great sin against God through their Anabaptism that He would condemn their souls for it, nor had they so wantonly disobeyed the government, that they had forfeited their lives. Neither true baptism or Anabaptism possesses such power that it can save or damn a man; for that pertains not to a man or to a symbol, but to God alone." "Therefore do not become guilty of presumptuous sin, that the wrath of God may not come upon you, greater than upon the Sodomites and all the evildoers upon earth. You have seen many thieves, murderers, and rogues treated more mercifully in prison than these poor people who have not stolen, murdered, robbed, burned, betrayed, or committed any shameful misdeed, but have only to the honor of God and to nobody's injury, but in good simplicity of intention and out of a slight error let themselves be baptized and have promised to desist from it if they could be shown from the Bible a better course. And how can you in your heart and conscience find a basis to say or to confess that they should be therefore beheaded or condemned? If you would deal with them as is fitting for Christian judges and if you knew how to instruct them from the Bible, no executioner would be needed; they would without doubt give place to the truth and would be severely enough punished with imprisonment." In conclusion Odenbach offered to come for a public examination, if he would be promised safe conduct, so that judgment would be passed not with fire and sword, but with instruction from God's Word.

Unfortunately this warm appeal was not heeded. The voice of the pastor of Obermoschel remained an isolated phenomenon in the general murdering and raging against the Anabaptists. Odenbach was arrested upon a complaint of Elector Louis V of the Palatinate, "because of some writings," but was soon released, for they were convinced of his "honesty and innocent teaching and life." But it was impressed upon him that he must publish nothing more without government permission.


Hege, Christian. Die Täufer in der Kurpfalz. Frankfurt, 1908: 53.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 292.

Jung, Fr. Johannes Schwebel, der Reformator von Zweibrücken. Kaiserslautern, 1910: 199.

Mennonitische Blätter (1876): 76 ff.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Neff, Christian. "Odenbach, Johann (16th century)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 19 Oct 2019. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Odenbach,_Johann_(16th_century)&oldid=145952.

APA style

Neff, Christian. (1959). Odenbach, Johann (16th century). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 October 2019, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Odenbach,_Johann_(16th_century)&oldid=145952.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 17-18. All rights reserved.

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