Johann Albrecht Bengel

Johann Albrecht Bengel, who is also known by the English rendering: John Albert Bengel, was born in Württemberg i Germany in 1687. He died in 1752. He was contemporary with Johann Sebastian Bach who lived from 1685 to 1750. While Bach was a North German, Bengel was from the South of Germany.

Bengel served as a pastor and an ecclesiastical leader in the beginning and in the end of his career. For twenty-eight years, however, he lived at Denkendorf where he headed the cloister school that prepared young men for an education for Lutheran ministry as the University of Tübingen (1714-1741).

Bengel became “the father of textual criticism” (K. Aland, cited in Weborg, p. 185). Bengel was very proficient at languages and prepared critical editions of Latin and Greek texts, including the New Testament.

Influenced perhaps by Spinoza and certainly by Francke of Leipzig, Bengel explored “the role of the feelings in interpretation” (John Weborg, p. 186, citing Bengel’s New Testament Word Studies [The Gnomon]. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel, 1978, nos. 12 and 15). Bengel “developed Cocceius’s exegesis of biblical prophecies and his chiliastic orientation” (Willem J. van Asselt, in: Trevor A. Hart, The Dictionary of Historical Theology, p. 133 [Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 2000]).

Bengel’s influence was enormous. His Gnomon was republished many times, and through John Wesley, “Bengel became part of the the confessional corpus of the Methodist church” (Weborg, p. 186). Indeed, the Lutheran Jaroslav Pelikan says that Bengel’s Gnomon “was commonplace in the libraries of evangelical pastors” (Weborg, p. 186).

Apocalyptic interests

Of most interest at this site is Bengel’s apocalyptic interests:

Bengel is noted for his apocalyptic interests. He calculated a date for the beginning of the thousand-year reign of Christ: 1836. He wrote two major books on the Book of Revelation and two works specifically coordinating time, nature and astronomy with the prophetic material. His Ordo temporum (1741) attempted to be a history of the divine economy [one of the major interests of Bengel] and a proper accounting of prophecy and how parts and whole form one story. The Cyclus (1945) especially tried to link astronomy with prophetic material, and the Explained Revelation (1740), a massive commentary on the text, concludes with six excurses detailing the history of the exegesis of Revelation. (Weborg, p. 187).

Bengel’s Explained Revelation, i.e. Erklärte Offenbarung Johannis, is now accessible at Google Books in its 3rd, 1758 edition. Bengel also published sixty devotional speeches on Revelation: “Sechzig erbauliche Reden über die Offenbarung Johannis” (1747). According to Weborg, this work has a strong “theocentric character” and “a strong emphasis on God’s glory and holiness” (p. 187).

Bengel’s interpretation of Revelation was of the historicist type, as was, e.g., Luthers. Bengel, however, lacked Luther’s reservations about the validity of this approach.

The exegete of Pietism

Bengel was “the exegete of Pietism” (J. Weborg, DMBI, p. 184). Weborg is right in mentioning the Lutheran Johann Brenz as part of Bengel’s context. One may question, however, whether Brenz would have approved of Bengel’s pietism. In fact, Bengel was criticised by Lutherans for his eschatological and apocalyptic views. When Weborg states that the critics of Bengel based “their criticism on Article 17 of the Augsburg Confession,” one may add that they did so because they were certain that this article was based on the clear teachings of the Bible. Thus, “many Lutheran scholars accused him of being either Judaistic or Anabaptistic because of his defense of an earthly millennium and literal fulfillment of prophecy” (Weborg, p. 187).

As to the significance of Bengel, see John Weborg’s concluding section.

Select online sources

More on Bengel in Wikipedia and Wikisource, and, especially, in Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon.

Select bibliography:

Bengel, Johann Albrecht. 60 erbauliche Reden über die Offenbarung Johannis oder vielmehr Jesu Christi …. Stuttgardt, 1748.
________. Bengel’s New Testament Commentary. Translated by Charlton Thomas Lewis, and Marvin Richardson Vincent. [1864]. Repr. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1981.
________. Erbauliche Reden über die Offenbarung Johannis. [Berlin-Dahlem]: Der Christliche Zeitschriftenverlag, 1946.
________. Gnomon. Translated by C. F. Werner. 8. Aufl. Mit einem Vorwort von Egon W. Gerdes; und dem Vorwort von Johann Albrecht Bengel ed. Stuttgart: Steinkopf, 1970.
________. Die Offenbarung des Johannes: Nach d. Auslegung von Johann Albrecht Bengel. Translated by Berthold Burgbacher. Metzingen, Württemberg: Franz, 1975.

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