Melchior Hoffman (1495-1543) was a German fur trader who spent his time being a missionary and theologian of multiple Christian denominations. He preached Lutheranism in Scandinavia and in the various domains of North Germany. He was always on the fringe of the denomination he preached. The Lutherans eventually shunned his interpretations of scripture and he was even banned from proselytizing in Denmark. In response, he converted to Anabaptism—yet, even among the Anabaptists, Hoffman was considered a flamboyant, dangerous extremist. Nevertheless, some consider Melchior Hoffman to be the father of Dutch Anabaptism.
Melchior Hoffman claimed that God gave him elaborate visions and the power of prophetic sight. From these visions and prophecies, Hoffman divined that the end was nigh—the world was going to end in 1533. In connection with the end of the world, he predicted that the city of Strasbourg would become the new Jerusalem. Therefore, in 1533, Melchior Hoffman journeyed to Strasbourg to witness the end-times and to partake in the creation of the new holy city.
Upon arrival, his expectations were crushed by reality. Instead of witnessing Armageddon and creating a new Jerusalem, the world continued to exist as usual, and the city of Strasbourg arrested Hoffman and threw him in jail. He would spend the rest of his life in prison until his death in 1543.
While he was imprisoned, Hoffman wrote down his visions and ideas in his work, “Concerning the Pure Fear of God” (1533). His ideas would go on to inspire other extreme Anabaptist leaders. Most notably, Melchior Hoffman’s theology was adopted by Bernard Rothmann, Mathijs and Jan of Leiden, who attempted to set up their own new Jerusalem in the city of Münster; but that is a disturbing and bizarre story for another time.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- The European Reformations (Second Edition) by Carter Lindberg. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.