Founder of the New Testament-oriented pacifist anabaptists (Swiss Brethren); b. Zurich, c. 1498; d. Maienfeld, c. 1526, Grebel, of a patrician family, was a humanist who had studied in Basel, Vienna, and Paris (1514–20); he was interested mainly in philology and the natural sciences. Upon his return to Zurich (1520) he became associated with Ulrich Zwingli and other Swiss humanists with whom he engaged in Biblical studies in the original languages. In 1522 Grebel's marriage to a girl of more humble origin caused a break with his family. Soon after, still under the influence of Zwingli, he experienced a conversion to a personal Christian faith. Unwilling, however, to accept Zwingli's inclusive view of the church, Grebel soon broke with his mentor (1523), hoping to establish a voluntary and disciplined Christian community conforming to his idea of New Testament Christianity. This meant also the abolition of infant baptism and the introduction of "believer's baptism." Attempting to rally all groups similarly inclined, he wrote a letter to Thomas mÜnzer seeking to form an alliance and warning him at the same time against the use of force, thus distinguishing his group clearly from the revolutionaries. The letter never reached its destination and the effort to establish an alliance failed. Grebel remained a leader of the Swiss Anabaptists, sharing their trials until his death from the plague at the age of 28.
Bibliography: h. s. bender, Conrad Grebel (Goshen, Ind. 1950). g. h. williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia 1962). h. fast, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 1957–63) 3 2:1834.
[g. w. forell]