Winer, Georg Benedict
Winer, Georg Benedict a German theologian and author, whose work is of permanent value to the Church no less for what it accomplished directly than for the indirect results obtained through its influence over the improvement of Biblical science. He was born at Leipsic, April 13, 1789, of parents in the common walks: of life, was early orphaned, and, by the decease of al aunt who was the last of his relatives to assume the charge of his childhood years, exposed to such penury as deprived him of sufficient and proper food, and obliged him to do without books necessary to his course in the St. Nicolai School of his native town. He obtained a Greek grammar by writing it out, and thus began the philological labors in which he was in time to become a master and win an imperishable reputation. He distinguished himself in the scientific contests of the students, and acquired such proficiency in the Hebrew language as enabled him to become the instructor of persons older than himself. His teachers embodied words prophetic of his coming importance as a scholar in his certificate of graduation.
In 1817 Winer began the academical career which extended over forty years of industrious and useful labor. Nine of these years 1823-32-were given to the University of Erlangen, where he was professor of theology, and all the remaining years to Leipsic. He lectured on theological methodology, and, besides, on subjects drawn from every section of exegetical, systematic, and even practical theology. In historical theology he confined his lectures to the history of theological sciences. The general world knows him only through his writings, and acknowledges his influence as a comprehensively and profoundly learned man and a thoroughly scientific character; but the students who thronged his lecture- room to the very end of his public life bear testimony to the power of his clear oral statements and to his decided sympathy for all that is pure and good, as also to his serious and pronounced religious character. He was accustomed to precede or follow his lectures with addresses in which he surveyed, often with truly prophetic vision, the movement of events in the world or the Church; and on those occasions he often rose to the regions of true impassioned eloquence, and wrought impressions which his hearers were not likely to forget. It remains to be added that his tendency was thoroughly orthodox, and that all his impulses grew out of his perfect devotion to moral goodness. He was, however, too earnest a lover of truth to engage in the building of original systems which can only be founded in air since their authors will not recognize the soundness of any truth that is old and approved, and also too devoted to the service of truth to endorse and repeat the old simply because it is old.
Of the written products of his life a small number belong to the department of symbolics-namely, the Comparative Darstellung des Lehrbegriffs der venschiedenen christlichen Kirchenparteien (1824, 2 ed. 1837), a thoroughly scientific work: — his edition of the Augsburg Confession, with notes (1825): — and two addresses on the idea of the Church as contained in the creeds (1852-53). In bibliography his Handbuch der theologischen Literatur (1821, ad ed. 1838-40, 2 vols.; and supplement, 1842) is a monument of genuine German industry, and is valuable for its brief biographies of authors. The central object, however, about which all of Winer's literary activity turned was the Bible. Not only had most of his works reference to the Bible, but his most original, meritorious, and permanently useful work for theology was done in the field of Biblical science. He barely touched upon Biblical theology indeed, and gave but passing attention to either the lower or the higher criticism; but in isagogical science he contributed valuable papers to the elucidation of questions respecting versions of the Old Test., e.g. the character of the Samaritan Pentateuch, the value of the Chaldee paraphrases, especially of Onkelos and Pseudo-Jonathan. The interpretation of Scripture engaged his attention more than any other study. He expounded all the books of the New Test. before his classes. But of the results of his labors he gave the world no considerable quantity a single book, the Epistle to the Galatians (1821, 3 ed. 1829), and sections from other epistles constituting the whole. As the fruit of a whole life given to the study of exegesis this is exceedingly little. But in the discussion of matters of fact from Scripture history he was, on the other hand, very busy with his pen. He wrote dissertations on the taking of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar (1848); on the question whether the δεῖπνον of Jesus and his disciples (John 13) were a Passover supper or not (1847); on whether the feet of crucified persons were nailed to the cross or not (1845), etc. His Biblishes Realwörterbuch, finally, is a comprehensive and thorough dictionary, in alphabetical order, of material objects, events, etc., belonging to Biblical science-a positive mine of historical, geographical, archaeological, and physical information.
Of still greater value for theological science were his contributions to the study of the languages of the Bible whether lexical or grammatical. He cultivated the Old-Test. Chaldee with special fondness. In 1824 he published Grammatik des biblischen und targumischen Chalddismus (2d ed. 1842), and in 1825 a Chaldee Reader. In 1826 he issued a Specimen Lexici Hebraici, and in 1828 a complete Lexicon of the Hebrew and Chaldee Languages, based on a revision of the Handwörterbuch by Simon and Eichhorn. The most important of all his works is, however, unquestionably the Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Sprachidioms, etc. (1822, and often). It was rendered into English by American scholars in 1825, and has since appeared in repeated editions, which conform to the changes introduced in the original from time to time; and it was translated into Swedish in 1827. The merit of this work consists in its demonstrating that the structure of the Greek language is preserved in the forms and idioms of the New-Test. language, and that vague assumptions of the Hebraizing character of New-Test. Greek, and unrestrained willfulness in its interpretation, are out of place. The work had its inception in a spirit of reverence for the Bible and in earnest love of truth, and it has achieved gratifying results in the more systematic methods of interpretation, the profounder and yet more elevated modes of exposition, which it helped to introduce. A year after the appearance of the Grammattik, Winer published a Beitrag uzur Verbesserung der neutestamentlichen Lexikoqn-aphie, and he had made extended preparations for a New-Test. lexicon; but he was not permitted to enter in the writing of this work. His sight failed during the last five years of his life. His last course of lectures, on the doctrinal and ethical principles of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, was delivered in the winter term, 1857-58; and after a violent illness of six days duration, he died, May 12, 1858, and was buried two days afterwards, amid the lamentations of the university and the entire town. — Herzog Real Encyklop. s.v.