What is one of the best ways to learn the glorious truths of the Christian faith so that we can pass them on to our children and the next generation? It is through the Catechism. Recently, I’ve been trying to understand why there are different versions and what really are the contents of the Baptist Catechism which is also known as “Keach Catechism.” I made some research on this and asked other reformed baptist brethren who might have knowledge about the Catechism.
Let me say at the outset that I prefer the edition made available by BaptistCatechism.org. Each question has “study” button that is linked directly to Bedome’s Scriptural Exposition and Jim Orrick’s Baptist Catechism Set to Music. If you like a shorter one, feel free to get the Baptist Catechism for kids. It is a Baptist revision of the “Catechism for Children” as an introduction to Westminster’s Shorter Catechism.
I found out that there are at least two commonly used versions of the Baptist Catechism. There are earlier and later editions (I chose the term earlier and later editions since there are 1693 and 1695 editions published online where their contents are interchangeable. Some 1693 has 118, some have 114 only; some 1695 has 118, and some have 114 only. See my findings below.)
Here are the differences between these two editions:
- The number of questions. The earlier has 118, while the latter has 114 only.
- The later edition changed the second question from “What is the chief end of man?” to “Ought every one to believe there is a God?”
- Omissions on the later edition.
- 5. How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?
- 89. What then is the purpose of the law since the fall?
- 99. Wherein do Baptism and the Lord’s Supper differ from the other ordinances of God?
- 105. What is the visible church?
- 106. What is the invisible church?
- Addition to the later edition
- 103. Who are the proper subjects of this ordinance?
FINDINGS: By inquiring from some Facebook groups that focus on Baptist Catechism, I discovered that Keach’s Catechism was published in 1677. It is the same text as the 1693 edition by William Collins that I commonly see on the web. What is perplexing to me is the differences among the materials available online. Here’s what I found out:
- A copy from Chapel Library which is a companion of the 1689 Baptist Confession has the 1693 edition but the content is the 1695 edition (114 Questions). It states, “Benjamin Keach, a pastor who was involved in the development of the Confession, is often attributed with writing this catechism, which is also commonly known as “Keach’s Catechism.” It is likely that it was actually compiled by William Collins, another prominent pastor involved in drafting the Confession. The catechism was officially published by the British Baptists in 1693.”
- The Wikipedia entry which an article from Desiring God referred to shows that Keach’s Catechism (also known as the 1677 Baptist Catechism or 1693 Baptist Catechism) is a Reformed Baptist catechism consisting of a set of 118 basic questions and answers from scripture teaching readers the basics of the Reformed Baptist faith.
- Baptistcatechism.org states that they are using the 1695 edition (114 Questions) which is the oldest known copy of the Baptist Catechism (1693).
- Reformedontheweb produced a document entitled the 1695 Baptist Catechism but it seems to have the content of 1677/1693 with 118 Questions.
- The Reformed Baptist Faith & Family Ministry printed the 1693 Baptist Catechism with 118 Questions in 2014.
- After quoting the introduction to the Catechism that “Mystery surrounds the origin of this catechism” Stephen Nichols states, “There is a general scholarly consensus that the catechism was first published in 1693, but the oldest copy comes to us from 1695.” He discussed the first three questions of the catechism and he wrote that the second question is “Ought everyone to believe that there is a God?” which follows the 114 Questions.
- The Founders.org which is a Reformed Baptist institution has the later edition (114 Questions) AS PRINTED BY THE CHARLESTON ASSOCIATION IN 1813 which may be found in the book, “Teaching Truth, Training Hearts” by Dr. Tom J. Nettles.
- Lastly, in Benjamin Bedome’s (23 January 1717 – 3 September 1795) A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism, he only expounded 114 Questions. In the book’s preface, we read, “That a catechism be drawn up, containing the substance of the Christian religion, for the instruction of children and servants; and that brother William Collins be desired to draw it up.” Furthermore, a pastor remarked, “It is the opinion of Ivimey, as referred to above, that the catechism was prepared by William Collins… The eminence of Mr. Collins as a scholar and theologian was very great. He is called by Mr. Piggott, that learned and judicious minister. He had studied under the celebrated Dr. Busby, and gained his approbation. He had lived several years in France and Italy, previously to his applying himself to theology in England.” (p.10).
Based on my findings above, I am beginning to think that the 1677 Baptish Catechism published by Keach (tentative) and 1693 by Collins may have the same content (118 Questions). However, Collins’ 1693 (also the 1695 5th edition) is more likely the original because of Bedome’s exposition which only has 114. And the most used content by Reformed Baptist websites has 114 questions only.
If you wish to memorize the catechism, I prefer 1695 since there are accompanying songs that make them easy to memorize. According to J.L. Reynolds, “…I have only to
suggest the importance of fixing it permanently in the memory of the learner. The Catechism upon which it is founded is a standard work prepared with great care, and expressing with comprehensive brevity the great principles of Christian truth. Such a treasure should be committed to the custody of the memory for life.”
The catechism is extremely important so that we may “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast” (Col. 1:23) and be urged to “attain to the unity of the… knowledge of the Son of God…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:13-14).
To God be the glory!