1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bengel, Johann Albrecht
BENGEL, JOHANN ALBRECHT (1687-1752), Lutheran divine and scholar, was born at Winnenden in Württemberg, on the 24th of June 1687. His father died in 1693, and Bengel was educated by a friend, who became a master in the gymnasium at Stuttgart. In 1703 Bengel left Stuttgart and entered the university of Tübingen, where, in his spare time, he devoted himself specially to the works of Aristotle and Spinoza, and in theology to those of Philipp Spener, Johann Arndt and August Franke. His knowledge of the metaphysics of Spinoza was such that he was selected by one of the professors to prepare materials for a treatise De Spinosismo, which was afterwards published. After taking his degree, Bengel devoted himself to theology. Even at this time he had religious doubts; it is interesting in view of his later work that one cause of his perplexities was the difficulty of ascertaining the true reading of certain passages in the Greek New Testament. In 1707 Bengel entered the ministry and was appointed to the parochial charge of Metzingen-unter-Urach. In the following year he was recalled to Tübingen to undertake the office of Repetent or theological tutor. Here he remained till 1713, when he was appointed head of a seminary recently established at Denkendorf as a preparatory school of theology. Before entering on his new duties he travelled through the greater part of Germany, studying the systems of education which were in use, and visiting the seminaries of the Jesuits as well as those of the Lutheran and Reformed churches. Among other places he went to Heidelberg and Halle, and had his attention directed at Heidelberg to the canons of scripture criticism published by Gerhard von Mästricht, and at Halle to C. Vitringa’s Anacrisis ad Apocalypsin. The influence exerted by these upon his theological studies is manifest in some of his works. For twenty-eight years—from 1713 to 1741—he was master (Klosterpräceptor) of the Klosterschule at Denkendorf, a seminary for candidates for the ministry established in a former monastery of the canons of the Holy Sepulchre. To these years, the period of his greatest intellectual activity, belong many of his chief works. In 1741 he was appointed prelate (i.e. General Superintendent) at Herbrechtingen, where he remained till 1749, when he was raised to the dignity of consistorial counsellor and prelate of Alpirspach, with a residence in Stuttgart. He now devoted himself to the discharge of his duties as a member of the consistory. A question of considerable difficulty was at that time occupying the attention of the church courts, viz. the manner in which those who separated themselves from the church were to be dealt with, and the amount of toleration which should be accorded to meetings held in private houses for the purpose of religious edification. The civil power (the duke of Württemberg was a Roman Catholic) was disposed to have recourse to measures of repression, while the members of the consistory, recognizing the good effects of such meetings, were inclined to concede considerable liberty. Bengel exerted himself on the side of the members of the consistory. In 1751 the university of Tübingen conferred upon him the degree of doctor of divinity. He died after a short illness, in 1752.
(B.) The other great work of Bengel, and that on which his reputation as an exegete is mainly based, is his Gnomon Novi Testamenti, or Exegetical Annotations on the New Testament, published in 1742. It was the fruit of twenty years’ labour, and exhibits with a brevity of expression, which, it has been said, “condenses more matter into a line than can be extracted from pages of other writers,” the results of his study. He modestly entitled his work a Gnomon or index, his object being rather to guide the reader to ascertain the meaning for himself, than to save him from the trouble of personal investigation. The principles of interpretation on which he proceeded were, to import nothing into Scripture, but to draw out of it everything that it really contained, in conformity with grammatico-historical rules; not to be hampered by dogmatical considerations; and not to be influenced by the symbolical books. Bengel’s hope that the Gnomon would help to rekindle a fresh interest in the study of the New Testament was fully realized. It has passed through many editions, has been translated into German and into English, and is still one of the books most valued by expositors of the New Testament. John Wesley made great use of it in compiling his Expository Notes upon the New Testament (1755).
Besides the two works already described, Bengel was the editor or author of many others, classical, patristic, ecclesiastical and expository. The more important are: Ordo Temporum, a treatise on the chronology of Scripture, in which he enters upon speculations regarding the end of the world, and an Exposition of the Apocalypse which enjoyed for a time great popularity in Germany, and was translated into several languages.
Authorities.—For full details regarding Bengel the reader is referred to Oskar Wächter’s J. A. Bengels Lebensabriss and to the Memoir of His Life and Writings (J. A. Bengels Leben und Wirken), by J. C. F. Burk, translated into English by Rev. R. F. Walker (London, 1837); see also Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie, and E. Nestle, Bengel als Gelehrter (1893).