Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 26, 1951

That Campbell-Walker Debate

Earl West, Indianapolis, Indiana

(Editor's Note: The following material is an excerpt from the Introduction to the reprinting of this famous debate. Brother West wrote a lengthy explanation of the occasion, background, and arguments of the discussion, from which we take this article. See also Editorial, this issue.)

That Alexander Campbell's debate with John Walker was an important milestone in the Restoration Movement no serious student would deny. Some have been prone to date the beginning of the movement with this debate, and this is not without some basis in fact. Certainly the debate had a far-reaching influence on the thinking of the people but even more important is the influence of the discussion on Campbell's own thinking. He was now convinced of the value of public discussions, and were it not for this, the great debates of Campbell with McCalla, Owen, Purcell, and Rice would never have followed.

Walker's first speech lasted only two minutes, and in the written debate occupies only twelve lines. It is not unlikely that he was extremely overconfident of his position, and hoped to allow his opponent to lead the way. Campbell, since he had never previously conducted a debate, had no reputation for power along this line. As Walker's speeches went by, he laid down the old premise that (1) Baptism came in the place of circumcision, (2) The Jews and Christians (as a body politic) are identical, and (3) The two covenants of the Scriptures are identical. To substantiate his claims, Walker quoted a few verses from the Song of Solomon, which were really irrelevant, although it was a common thing to use this book in an allegorical manner.

Campbell's reply substantially was a review of the position he had taken four years earlier when he delivered his famous Sermon On the Law before the Redstone Association at Cross Creek. He blasted away at Walker by showing his arguments to be merely assumptions for which his opponent had offered no scriptural proof. He used the eighth chapter of Hebrews and the thirty-first chapter of Jeremiah to show that the covenants were not identical, and that, furthermore, the first covenant had been abrogated. He charged that the Seceders did not themselves believe that baptism came in the place of circumcision. If they did, said Campbell, they would only baptize males, they would perform it on the eighth day, and would make this the mark of citizenship in the church.

Walker made no attempt to reply to Campbell, but simply repeated his assertions without adding any proof, a thing that always irritated Campbell. He replied to Walker with a powerful speech on the authority of the scripture. He affirmed that for every positive ordinance there must be a positive command. Since there was no positive command for infant baptism, the Pedo-baptists were left without any foundation. Walker's reply turned toward the "household arguments' of the book of Acts. He cited the verses where several households were baptized, and assumed the presence of infants in every case. Campbell's answer took up a minute study of each case of household baptism in which he showed that the language in every case excluded infant baptism. Walker also argued the antiquity of the practice as a proof, but Campbell brushed this off by showing that it was not as old as the New Testament, which made its only authority rest upon tradition.

At this point Walker announced that the debate would close in one more speech. The announcement came as a surprise to both Campbell and his moderator, Jacob Martin, since neither had been consulted. Campbell insisted upon two more speeches for each speaker, and closed his part of the debate with an offer to debate any Pedo-baptists.


The debate was taken down by a clerk and the first edition of one thousand copies was published in Steubenville, Ohio. This edition immediately sold out. The second edition of only three hundred copies was printed at Pittsburgh two years later, but there was now a noticeable difference in this edition. It came as follows:

The feeling among the Presbyterians was that Walker had ""let them down.' Campbell himself, sensing that he had won a signal victory over Walker, was led to issue his challenge for a discussion with another man. In this statement Campbell anticipated the Presbyterian feeling that Campbell had defeated only a weak man. He was determined that he would not be denied the sweet taste of victory by the assertion that a stronger man could have met his arguments. Findley (Walker's moderator) complained that Walker was unprepared. This was the general feeling among the Presbyterians.

When the first edition of the debate began circulating, it proved the occasion of great embarrassment to the Seceders. They determined to stop its full effect. Samuel Ralston, pastor of the United Presbyterian congregations of Mingo Creek and Williamsport, published a series of tracts in the form of letters to the two congregations, attempting to answer Campbell. These were printed in a Presbyterian paper in Philadelphia. These tracts were later gathered up and published in 1825 as the Presbyterian answer to Campbell. So important did the Presbyterians consider Ralston's work that they gave him an honorary D.D. degree from Washington College.

In the two years between the publishing of the first edition of the debate, and the printing of the second, the Ralston letters had been circulated. Consequently, when Campbell issued the second edition of the debate, he included about seventy pages of additional material in answer to Samuel Ralston.

The reprinting of the Campbell-Walker debate is long overdue, but it will easily be seen that the second edition is a far more valuable one to reprint than the first, for the additional material that it contains. In bringing this debate to the public it is hoped that it will be a valuable aid to the student of restoration history, an easily accessible book as a collector's item, and a worthwhile source for the student dealing in religious polemics.


(The Campbell-Walker Debate ($3.25) can be ordered from Roy E. Cogdill Publishing Co., Box 980, Lufkin, Texas.)


M. S. Gabbard, 365 Harrison Ave., Campbell, Calif., July 7: "I will begin a meeting with the church in Springer, N. M., July 16. Brother E. M. Borden, Jr., labors with the church there.'