WHY EVEN CONSIDER JOHANN BENGEL'S
300 YEAR OLD COMMENTARY?
C H Spurgeon wrote that Bengel's NT commentary "is the Scholar's
delight! Bengel condensed more matter into a line than can be extracted
from pages of other writers."
John Wesley said of Bengel "I know of no
commentator on the Bible equal to Bengel" and referred to him as "The great light of
the Christian world."
Edward C Fredrich reviewed the contributions of Johann Bengel in
the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly (Vol 82. No. 1. Winter, 1985) writing
that "In the face of growing skepticism and unbelief (early 1700's) over
against the teaching of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, Bengel clung
with a simple, childlike faith to the conviction that in the Bible God had
condescended to man to reveal his plan of salvation. Bengel developed
principles of hermeneutics (the method and techniques used to interpret
written texts) still largely valid. One stated:
'Import nothing into Scripture,
but draw everything out of it,
and overlook nothing.'
(Ed: Touché!)...In an age (late 1600's, early 1700's) noted for
extremely wordy and dull commentaries Bengel's work was concise, meaty.
Noting words or phrases in the Biblical text that he considers needing an
explanation, Bengel with a phrase or brief sentence points at the
essential thought rather than burying it in a paragraph or page of
verbiage. The Latin term "gnomon" (Ed: the name given
to his NT commentary) refers to the hand or pointer of a sun dial. With
his brief comments, Bengel sought to point the reader to the thought and
intent of the text and to send him back to and keep him primarily in the
Biblical text rather than leading him away from it. Of all the theological
literature produced by the
Pietists, Bengel's Gnomon
merits consideration as the best."
writes "This work (Gnomon), originally issued in 1742, has considerable
comment on the Greek, flavoring the effort with judicious details about
the spiritual life. It has much that helps...." (Commentaries
for Biblical Expositors: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works
Haddon Spurgeon -- "'A Critical New Testament, so compiled as to
enable a reader, unacquainted with Greek, to ascertain the exact English
force and meaning of the language of the New Testament, and to appreciate
the latest results of modern criticism.' Such is the professed aim of this
commentary, and the cocempilers have very fairly carried out their
intentions. The whole of Bengel’s Gnomon is bodily transferred into the
work, and as one hundred and twenty years have elapsed since the first
issue of that book, it may be supposed that much has since been added to
the wealth of Scripture exposition; the substance of this has been
incorporated in brackets, so as to bring it down to the present advanced
state of knowledge. We strongly advise the purchase of this book, as it is multum in parvo, and will well repay an attentive perusal. Tischendorf and
Alford have contributed largely, with other German and English critics, to
make this one of the most lucid and concise commentaries on the text and
teachings of the New Testament" (Spurgeon,
C. H. Lectures to my Students, Vol. 4: Commenting and Commentaries;
Lectures Addressed to the students of the Pastors' College, Metropolitan
notes that Bengel's comments are "a marvel of condensation and spiritual
insight, must always remain a classic."
J. Weborg adds that "the Gnomon
draws deeply from tradition, both classical and Christian, and in pithy
aphorisms captures both the letter and the spirit of the Scriptures." (Historical
Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters or
The Evangelical Dictionary of
Theology notes that Bengel is "often regarded as the father of modern
Marvin Vincent author of the
highly acclaimed "Word Studies in the New Testament" quotes Bengel 142
times, reflecting his high regard for Bengel's scholarship.
Spurgeon records the following
story about Bengel - During an illness, that illustrious scholar
Bengel sent for a student in the Theological Institution, and requested
him to impart a word of consolation. The youth replied, "Sir, I am but a
pupil, a mere learner; I don’t know what to say to a teacher like you."
"What!" said Bengel, "a divinity student, and not able to communicate a
word of scriptural comfort!" The student, abashed, contrived to utter the
text, "The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth us from all
sin." "That is the very word I want," said Bengel, "it is quite enough,"
and taking him affectionately by the hand dismissed him. (My Note Book - C
Albert Hauck writes that Bengel would "read nothing into the
Scriptures, but draw everything from them, and suffer nothing to remain
hidden that is really in them."
Bengel's famous rule for determining a textual variant was "The
more difficult reading is to be preferred", reasoning that it was more
likely that a scribe would change a more difficult reading to an easier
one than vice versa.
W. J. Hart tells the following
anecdote -- "There was a godly man in Germany, named Bengel, who was
noted for his intimacy with Christ. A friend desired to watch the saintly
man at his devotions. So he concealed himself one night in his room.
Bengel sat long at his table, reading his New Testament. The hours passed.
At length the clock struck midnight, and the old man spread out his hands
and said with great joy, "Dear Lord Jesus, we are on the same old terms."
Then closing his book, he was soon in bed and asleep. He had learned the
secret of friendship with Christ."
Spurgeon quotes Bengel "The
historical matters of Scripture, both narrative and prophecy, constitute
as it were the bones of its system; whereas the spiritual matters are as
its muscles, blood-vessels and nerves. As the bones are necessary to the
human system, so Scripture must have its historical matters. The expositor
who nullifies the historical ground-work of Scripture for the sake of
finding only spiritual truths everywhere, brings death on all correct
Robert Culver notes that German
Lutheran scholar Bengel was "credited with making the word ‘millennium’
respectable in Europe in the eighteenth century."
Charles Ryrie - The modern period has witnessed the rise of
premillennial teaching. A number of commentators (like J. A. Bengel and
Henry Alford) wrote from this viewpoint. (Ryrie's Basic Theology)
Bengel commenting on Jude 1:15, 16 said "A sinner is bad...one who
sins without fear is worse."
F W Farrar writes that Bengel's
"Gnomon is a mine of priceless gems. It contains sentence after
sentence exquisitely terse and finished, and throbbing with spiritual
light. Few writers have so admirably succeeded in expressing in a few
words the inmost purpose of each of the Epistles. A generation crowded
with writers whose theology abounded in mutual anathemas is yet redeemed
from the charge of sterility which has produced such a theologian as
Bengel. His work must continue to have its value so long as men can
recognise the richest fruits of a noble intellect, a pure spirit, and a
blameless life. "Lord Jesus, unto Thee I live, unto Thee I suffer, unto
Thee I die; Thine I am, living or dying." These words were repeated to
him in his last moments, and on hearing them he pointed with his right
hand to his heart, and fell asleep in peace." (Amen!) (History of
Interpretation: Eight Lectures Preached Before the University of Oxford in
the Year 1885).