Bengel, Johann Albrecht
Bengel, Johann Albrecht a German theologian of profound critical judgment, extensive learning, and solid piety. He was born June 24,1687, at Winnenden, Wurtemberg, where his father was pastor; and from him the boy received his early education. After the death of his father he was received into his tutor's house; and from 1699 to 1703 he studied at the Gymnasium of Stuttgart, then admirably kept. Thoroughly prepared in philological elements, he entered the University of Tubingen in 1703, and devoted himself especially to the study of the sacred text. From his childhood he had been earnestly pious; and his favourite reading, while at the university, apart from his severer studies, consisted of the pietist writers, Arndt, Spener, and Francke. At the same time, he did not neglect philosophy. According to his own account, he studied Spinoza thoroughly, and it was not without mental struggles that he arrived at clearness of view on the relations of philosophy to faith.
In 1705 he was brought very low by a severe illness at Maulbronn; but he was strengthened against the fear of death by Ps 118:17, "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord." He returned to his studies with greater zeal, and with a deeper religious life. After a year spent in the ministry as vicar at Metzingen, he became theological repetent at Tubingen; and in 1713 he was appointed professor at the cloister-school of Denkendorf, a seminary for the early training of candidates for the ministry. During this year he made a literary journey, visiting several of the schools of Germany, and among them those of the Jesuits. His theological culture, by all these means, became many-sided. An illustration of the spirit, both of his studies and of his teaching, is afforded by the theme chosen for his inaugural at Denkendorf, viz'. "True godliness the surest road to true science." He remained in this post for twenty-eight years-years of labor, zeal, and success as teacher, preacher, student, and writer. Here he published, for the use of his pupils, an edition of Ciceronis Epist. ad Familiares, with notes (Stuttgart, 1719); also, Gregorii Thaumaturgi Panegyricus ad Originem, Gr. et Lat. (1722); and Chrysostomi libr. vi. de Sacerdotio (1725). But his chief toil was given to the New Testament; for the results of which, see below. In 1749 he was appointed councillor and prelate of Alpirsbach, with a residence in Stuttgart, where he died, Nov. 2, 1751.
Bengel was the first Lutheran divine who applied to the criticism of the New Testament a grasp of mind which embraced the subject in its whole extent, and a patience of investigation which the study required. While a student, he was much perplexed by the various readings, which led him to form the determination of making a text for himself, which he executed in a very careful and scrupulous manner, according to very rational and critical rules, excepting that he would not admit any reading into the text which had not been previously printed in some edition. In the book of Revelation alone he deviated from this rule. His conscientious piety tended greatly to allay the fears which had been excited among the clergy with respect to various readings, and to him belongs the honor of having struck out that path which has since been followed by Wetstein, Griesbach, and others. His Gnomon N.T. was so highly valued by John Wesley that he translated most of its notes and incorporated them into his Explanatory Notes on the N.T. The least valuable part of Bengel's exegetical labors is that which he spent on the Apocalypse. His chief works are:
1. Apparatus Criticus ad N.T. ed. secunda, cur. P. D. Burkii (Tubing. 1763, 4to): —
2. Gnomon Novi Testamenti. 3d ed. adjuv. Steudel (Tubing. 1850, 2 vols. 8vo):
3. An Explication of the Book of the Revelation of St. John (Stuttg. 1710, 1746, 8vo); translated by Robertson (Lond. 1757, 8vo): —
4. Harmony of the Gospels (Tubing. 1736, 1747, 1766, 8vo): —
5. Ordo temporum a principio per periodos aeconomiae divinae, etc. (Stuttg. 1753): —
6. Cyclus sive de anno magno solis, ad incrementum doctrine propheticae (Ulm, 1745, 8vo).
His chronological works, endeavoring to fix the "number of the beast," the date of the "millennium" (he was positive in fixing the beginning of the millennium at the year 1836), etc., have rather detracted from iis reputation for solidity of judgment. His fame will permanently rest on his Gnomon, which, as a brief and suggestive commentary on the New Testament, remains unrivalled. New editions, both in Latin (Berlin, 1860; Tubingen, 1860; Stuttgart, 1860) and German, have recently appeared, and an English translation was published in Clark's Library (Edinburgh, 1857-58, 5 vols. 8vo), of which a greatly improved and enlarged edition has been issued in this country by Professors Lewis and Vincent (Philadelphia, 1860- 61, 2 vols. 8vo). His Life and Letters, by Burk, translated by Walker, appeared in 1837 (London, 8vo); and a brief biography, by Fausset, is given in the 5th volume of the English translation of the Gnomon. An able article on his peculiar Significance as a Theologian was published in the Jahrbucher fur deutsche Theologie, 1861, and translated in the British and Foreign Evangelical Review, April, 1862. A new Life has just appeared (1865) under the title J. A. Bengel's Lebensabriss, Charakter, etc., von Dr. O. Wachter (Stuttgart, 8vo), which gives a large amount of new material, found in Bengel's MS. diary and other papers, which have only recently been given up by his family for publication. Among other curious facts, it appears that Bengel had the use of but one eye during his life-long studies, and that he sedulously concealed this privation even from his wife! In a supplement to the volume are given a number of Bengel's sermons, addresses, and poems. Dr. Wachter also published a volume containing "Remarks on Bengel as an exegetical writer, and in particular on the Gnomon" (Beitrage zu J. A. Bengel's Schrifterklarung, etc., Leipzig, 18(f5). See Hagenbach, German Rationalism, 126; Herzog, Real- Encyklopadie, 2, 57.