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Aug 4, 2010

Michaelis on Bengel

Excerpt: Michaelis, Introduction to the NT, Vol II. P.I Eng., (London, 1802), pp. 469-70

Page Index

J.A. Bengel - from Michaelis (1802)
    TC Canons - philosophy of editing
    Graded System - variants evaluated
    Reliance on Mill - collations of predecessor

J.A. Bengel - excerpts: M.Marlowe's Online NT Bibliography
    Greek NT - (1734) critical text
    Gnomon - (1742) NT commentary
    Monita - (1742) Bengel's Canons of TC

Michaelis on Bengel

J.A. Bengel's Greek NT (1734)

14. John Albert Bengel,(Greek NT: 1734 A.D.) Abbot of Alpirspach in the Dutchy of Wurtemberg, became a critic, as he himself expresses it, per tentationem, or, in other words, he directed his attention to sacred criticism, in consequence of serious and anxious doubts. While he was a student at the University, he made use of that edition of the Greek Testament, which Prosessor Frank had printed at Halle from that of Bishop Fell ; and being resolved not to form his principles of Theology from the system adopted in the academical lectures, he had recourse to the Greek Testament itself; but finding so great a number of various readings, which seemed to render his faith uncertain, he fell into a kind of despondency, which he concealed from his tutor, because he doubted whether he should obtain the satisfaction he required. 2 But this uneasiness, and the influence which it had on this mode

2. See the account of his life in the Apparatus criticus, p. 699. 703. 2nd ed.

of study, were very beneficial in their effefts : and the consequence followed, which might be naturally expected, since a man who seeks after the genuine reading through scruples of conscience, will not only be more industrious in searching for materials of information, but will probably be more scrupulously exact in examining the evidence which they afford, than a man who exercises the art of criticism, merely because it is his profession, or because the study of it either gratifies his ambition, or indulges his private inclination.

Bengel was not only diligent in the examination of various readings, but in the strictest sense of the word conscientious ; for he considered it as an offence against the Deity, if through his own fault, that is, through levity or carelessness, he introduced a false reading into the sacred text. His object was not merely to make a collection of readings, and leave the choice of them to the judgement of the reader, but to examine the evidence on both sides, and draw the inference : yet he has not given his own opinion so frequently as Mill, whom he resembled in his reverence for the Latin version, and in the preference which he gave to harsh and difficult readings, before those which were smooth and flowing.

It may be observed in general, that he had a cool and found judgement, though it did not prevent him from thinking too highly of the Latin readings, and of the Codex Alexandrinus, with other latinizing manuscripts. But it was certainly a fault in him, that he was too much attached to the opinions, which he had once formed, and that in the materials, which he left for a second edition of the Apparatus criticus, he paid so little attention to the objections which other critics had made to the mistakes of the first edition.

It may be said however, as an extenuation of this fault, that, his character being naturally firm, he was induced to pay less attention to objections in general, because he had been often attacked by men without learning, and without judgement.

Principles of Reconstruction

Canons and Philosophy

Spiritual Guidance or Magical Thinking?

There is another imperfection in his judgement, which I would have passed over in silence, if Wetstein had not taken particular notice of it.

Namely, Bengel was of opinion,, that in certain cases a kind of inward and spiritual grace might enable us to distinguish the genuine reading of the sacred text, from that which proceeded merely from human hands. Now I recollect no passage of scripture, in which the Deity has given a promise of this critical grace ; and I am really of opinion, that if we followed its call, it would lead different critics to different conclusions.

But whatever sentiments we entertain of the execution of his work in general, he will always retain the merit of being the first perion who removed those suspicions, which had been entertained of sacred criticism and of rendering its study more general, especially in Germany.

He made known his design by a Prodromus printed at Tubingen in 1725, which was followed nine years afterwards by the Greek Testament itself, which was published at Tubingen in 1734 . He prefixed to it his Introductio in crisin Novi Testamenti, and subjoined to it his Apparatus criticus, and Epilogus. In his Introductio in crisin he treated of the manuscripts, versions, and editions, adding at the same time very rational critical rules; and he executed the whole in so clear and concise a manner, that the clergy in general, who had not directed their attention to sacred criticism, began to think that it was less dangerous, than they had imagined.

The writings of Bengel therefore had more readers, than those of most critics ; and his readers have become in general his friends and disciples.

He did not, as Mill had done, simply reprint the text of a former edition, but he really improved it, as far as he was able. But his diffidence, and caution, which was at that time necessary, prevented him from inserting in the text any reading, that had not already appeared in some printed edition, even though he believed it to be the genuine reading; by which means he avoided the reproach, which some persons might have made, of having publisfied a new Bible. (57)

Only in the book of Revelations did he take the liberty of inserting readings, which had never been printed, because this book had been printed from so few manulcripts, and in one passage had been printed by Erasmus from no manuscript whatsoever.

Graded Variant System

Probability Estimates added

Under the text he placed some select readings, but without quoting the evidence in their favour, which he reserved for his Apparatus criticus. His opinion of those marginal readings he expressed by Greek letters:

α β γ δ ε - [i.e., α = strong, β = less sure etc.]

... and some few other marks : α denotes that he held it for genuine; β that its genuineness was not ablolutely certain, but that the reading was still preferable to that in the text ; γ that the reading of the margin was equal in value to the reading of the text, and that he doubted which of them he should prefer; δ that the marginal reading was of less value ; and ε that it was absolutely spurious, though some critics had defended it.

Now, whatever Wetstein may assert to the contrary, it cannot be denied that this is a very convenient method of improving the text,

His whole collection of various readings, with the evidence in their favour, and sometimes with his own sentiments upon them, he placed in his Apparatus criticus. This collection was chiefly taken from that of Mill; but Bengel omitted whatever he thought was of no importance, for which he has been censured by Wetstein, and, I believe, with reason.

If Bengel had printed his various readings under the text, he might have been allowed to print only select readings, in order to have room : but as he printed them apart, and was not confined to a small compass of paper, he ought to have made his Apparatus as complete as possible. A reading, which seemed unimportant to Bengel, might appear to another critic to be of some consequence; and when extracts were given from manuscripts, which had never been collated before, every man wished to be acquainted even with such readmgs, as were manifest errata, in order to form a judgement of the value of the manulcripts themselves. 3

3. Bengel himself acknowledges that it is useful to quote seemingly unimportant readings, and he is in this respect one of the most strenuous advocates of Mill. See his Prodromis, or his Apparatus criticus, p. 628. 2nd ed.

Reliance on Mill's Collations

criticism from Westein

To the readings, which Bengel borrowed from Mill, he made very considerable additions, which consisted partly in extracts from manuscripts, which had never been collated, partly in extracts, which had been printed by others, but had neven been collected into one mass, and partly in readings, which he selected with greater accuracy than his predecessors, from the ancient versions. 4

These additions to Mill's collection make Bengel's Apparatus indispensable to a critic, not only because Wetstein has neglected to use a great part of Bengel's materials, but also because in those extracts, which Wetstein has copied from Bengel, errata may have taken place, which can be corrected only by referring to the original edition. It is likewise indispensable on the following account : Bengel quotes the authorities that are in favour of the text, as well as those which are in favour of the various readings, whereas Wetstein quotes only the latter, and leaves the reader therefore in a state of uncertainty, whether the reading of the text is supported by the authority of a hundred manuscripts, or by no authority whatsoever. (58)

From Bengel's Greek Testament have been printed several smaller editions, in which the critical apparatus is left out : but this was republished in 1763, after the death of the author, with those alterations, additions, and answers to objections, which he had left in manuscript, under the title of Apparatus criticus ad Novum Testamentum ; which title includes more than in the first edition, in which the title of Apparatus was given to the collection of readings alone.

' His own words are as follows, Non solum Auguslanos septem, Byjantinum, Hirlaugiensem, Moscuenlem, UfFenbachianos duos MSS. codices contuli, quos duodecim Censura memorat. Sunt praeterea Basileenses tres, BodJeianus unus apud Waltonum, Camerarianus, Dionysianus apud Gagna;um, Gehlianus, Parismus iinus apud Simonium, Wolfiani duo, complures apud L. Vallam, et J. Fabrum Stapulensem, fragmenta alia et excerpta, qu;c Millio et Kustero inta6la in apparatu naeo congesTi. Antiquissima; et longe gravislimaj translationi Latina; tantundem facile operse dicavi, quantum ipsi textui Graeco. Acceslere versionis Copticse et Arniena:, in libris N. T. a Millio hac parte praetermissis, a celeberrimo La Croze rogatu meo revisis, et multa alia versionum patrumque supplementa. Appar.crit. p. 656. 2nd ed.

In the second edition, Bengel has not paid sufficient attention to the objections of his opponents, and he has let errors remain, which they had pointed out ; for instance, Rev. 15:6. compared with Wetstein's Prolegomena, p. 161. n. 12.

But perhaps he would have made more alterations, than what he left written in the margin of his book, if he had lived to superintend the new edition himself.

I cannot conclude the account of Bengel's edition, without mentioning the principal persons who wrote against him; for the attacks, which were made on him by the illiterate, neither merited the notice of Bengel, nor deserve to be mentioned here.

Wolf has in his Curae made several objections to Bengel in respect to the Revelation of St. John, and Baumgarten has done the same in his Examen variantium lestionum in epistola Jacobi; to whom Bengel has replied in the second edition of his Apparatus. My father in his Tractatio critica de variis ledtionibus N. T. has made several objections to the opinions, which Bengel entertained of the Codex Alexandrinus, and he corrected several mistakes, which Bengel had made in regard to the Syriac version.

This gave rise to a controversy, which was conducted with great coolness, and by no means affected the friendship that subsisted between the two parties. Whoever wishes to examine the arguments, which were advanced on both sides, may consult Bengelii tractatio critica de finceritate N. T. Graeci tuenda, cum adspersis hic illic ab editore Christiano Benedicto Michaelis annotatiunculis. Halae, 1750.

A warm adversary, and among the warm adversaries of Bengel by far the most able, was the celebrated Wetstein. This eminent critic used frequently in the latter part of his life to break out in expressions of violence against Bengel, which he would certainly have been ashamed to commit to writing ; but even in his writings he spcaks of him with no inconsidcrable warmth. Yet he sometimes censures, where he ouglit to have commended : for instance, p. 157. of his Prolegomena, he accuses Bengel of having in several instances altered his opinion ; as if it were a disgrace to an author to enlarge his views during the progress of his work, and as if he had not done it himself in the period that elapsed between the publication of his first Prolegomena, and his edition of the Greek Teslament, or between the time, when he formed his original plan, and the publication of his first Prolegomena.

What Wetstein wrote against Bengel is contained partly in the Bibliotheque raiionnee, partly in the Prolegomena to the first part of his Greek Teslament, p. 156 — 170. To the objedions made in the former, Bengel replied in his Defensio N. T. Grieci Tubingae editi, which was published in 1737; but I know of no reply, that has been given to the objections made in the latter.

Notwithstanding the violence, which Wetstein has displayed in his attacks upon Bengel, yet he was a man of such profound learning, that his objections deserve to be carefully examined. They relate either to errors of judgement, or mistakes in matters of fact ; but the number of the latter is so inconsiderable, that the credit of Bengel's collection of various readings, in point of accuracy, has rather gained than lost by the controversy. Every man engaged in a work of considerable extent is exposed to the danger of error, and, though I have never examined the quotations of Wetstein with the same attention, as he has done those of Bengel, I could easily produce a greater number of mistakes from Wetstein's edition, than Wetstein has produced from that of Bengel.

Marlowe on Bengel

Excerpt from M. Marlowe's online NT Bibliography(2009)

Bengel, 1725. Johann Albrecht Bengel, Prodromus Novi Testamenti recte cauteque ordinandi [Forerunner of a New Testament to be settled rightly and carefully], published as an appendix to Chrysostomi libri VI de sacerdotio (Denkendorf, 1725). Reprinted in Burk 1763.

In this essay J.A. Bengel, a Lutheran schoolmaster, published a prospectus for an edition of the Greek Testament which he had already begun to prepare (see Bengel 1734). In it he outlines his text-critical principles, which included a novel classification of manuscripts into two primitive groups: the Asiatic and the African. The first group he supposed to be of Byzantine origin, and to it belonged the majority of modern manuscripts and the Syriac version; the second, of Egyptian provenance, was represented by Codex Alexandrinus and the manuscripts of the early Latin and Coptic versions. Bengel also brought into prominence, as a proposed rule of criticism, Mill's preference for harder readings (see Mill 1707); this rule he expressed in four pregnant words, proclivi scriptioni praestat ardua "before the easy reading, stands the difficult." Bengel sent a letter to a friend in 1726, indicating that before long his Greek Testament would be ready for the press; but he delayed to publish it until after it became clear that Bentley's proposed edition was not forthcoming (see Bentley 1720). He had hoped to learn somewhat from Bentley's proposed Prolegomena, and to correct and supplement his own edition from Bentley's notes. Bengel's reputation as a pious man and a sober scholar protected him from the calumny to which Bentley was exposed, and his Prodromus met encouragement even from those who had attacked Bentley's Proposals.

Greek NT

Bengel, 1734. Johann Albrecht Bengel, H KAINH DIAQHKH. Novum Testamentum Græcum ita adornatum ut Textus probatarum editionem medullam, Margo variantium lectionum in suas classes distributarum locorumque parallelorum delectum, apparatus subjunctus criseos sacræ Millianæ præsertim compendium limam supplementum ac fractum exhibeat, inserviente J.A.B. [The Greek New Testament, so prepared that the approved text of the editions is in the middle, and in the margin selected various readings distributed into their ranks of preference, and collateral places, with an appended apparatus, featuring principally a revised compendium of the sacred criticism of Mill, supplemented and also abridged, by the service of J.A.B.]. Edente Jo. Albert Bengel. Tubingæ, 1734 (4 vols.); 1753 (manual); 1763 (revised Apparatus only); 1776 (manual).

Bengel's edition is remarkable for its completeness and its practical usefulness as a resource for study. Preceding the text is a lengthy Introduction modelled after Mill's (see Mill 1707). The text was the first to be presented in paragraphs. It is accompanied by a selection of noteworthy readings in the margin (drawn from Mill's apparatus), each graded according to its relative worthiness to be considered as the original reading. This was done by assigning to each a letter of the Greek alphabet (a, b, g, d, e), according to whether the reading was, in his judgment, much preferable, somewhat preferable, equal, somewhat inferior, or much inferior to the one displayed in the body of the text (which was composed only of readings to be found in previous editions of the Received Text). Following the text is a lengthy Apparatus Criticus [Critical Apparatus] in which the various readings are discussed, and the reasons for the evaluations given. Here he bases these evaluations upon an innovative theory of manuscript groups, in which the readings are referred to either the debased Asiatic (Byzantine) family, or to the more pristine African (Alexandrian) family, which was often seconded by the old Latin and Greek-Latin manuscripts. Unlike previous editors, he also gives citations both for and against each deviation from the Received text, so that if a manuscript is not mentioned in a given place the reader would not be left doubting whether it supported the text or not.

Readings of the following fifteen Greek manuscripts (here designated by the notation of Scrivener and Miller 1894) were first published in Bengel's Apparatus Criticus:


Evan. V (9th century)
Paul. M (10th century)


Evan.1 (10th cent.) Evan.2 (15th cent.) Evan.83 (11th cent.) Evan.84 (12th cent.) Evan.85 (13th cent.) Evan.86 (10th cent.) Evan.97 (15th cent.) Evan.101 (16th cent.)

Act.45 (15th cent.) Act.46 (11th cent.)

Paul.54 (12th cent.)
Apoc.80 (12th cent.)

Lectionary Evst.24 (10th cent.)

Bengel encountered some opposition from writers who were offended by his recommended changes to the Received text, but in general his work was widely appreciated and commended. This is due partly to Bengel's prudent decision not to cause needless offense by introducing the changes into the text itself. It should also be noticed that Bengel did not recommend the omission of the disputed clause in 1 John 5:7 (see Erasmus 1516), but rather defended it; and so he gained the respect of persons who might otherwise have attacked his work. Count Zinzendorf, the patron of the Moravian Brethren, announced that Bengel's text was to be the basis of the German version to be used in their churches; and John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, also used Bengel's text for his English version (see Wesley 1755).

Bengel died in 1752, after having also provided a complete exegetical commentary to his text (see Bengel 1742). A manual edition of his text was brought out in 1753, minus the Apparatus Criticus, with revised estimates of the marginal readings. An enlarged and corrected edition of his Apparatus Criticus appeared in 1763, prepared by his son-in-law Philip David Burk (see Burk 1763). Beginning with the manual edition of 1776, edited by Bengel's son Ernst, there is included a Tabula quae criseos Bengelianae diversas periodos exhibet, showing all differences between the editions and the readings preferred by Bengel in his Gnomon Novi Testamenti (see Bengel 1742). For an account of Bengel's life see John Christian Frederic Burk, A Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Albert Bengel. Translated by R.F. Walker (London: W. Ball, 1837).


NT Commentary

Bengel, 1742. Johann Albrecht Bengel, Joannis Bengelii Gnomon Novi Testamenti, in quo, ex nativa Verborum Vi, Simplicitas, Profunditas, Concinnitas, et Salubritas sensuum coelestium, indicatur. [Johann Albrecht Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament, in which, from the natural force of the words, the simplicity, depth, harmony, and saving power of the heavenly meanings, is indicated] Tubingen, 1742; 2nd ed., edited by Ernst Bengel, 1759; 3rd ed., edited by Ernst Bengel, 1773; with notes added by J. Steudal, 1835, and reprinted 1855.

Bengel's Gnomon is an exegetical commentary on the Greek text, written in Latin, which indicates the readings preferred by him at the time it was written. These do not always correspond to the readings preferred in his earlier critical edition (see Bengel 1734).

Bengel's exegesis frequently dwells upon rhetorical aspects of the text, and he especially notices structural parallelisms and figures of speech. The exegetical commentary is also accompanied by text-critical remarks which supplement the textual commentary of his earlier Apparatus Criticus (1734). In many places it is clear that Bengel's rhetorical analysis has played a large part in his choice of readings, so that the exegetical and critical aspects of the commentary cannot be separated. His treatment of 1 John 5:7-8, in which he defends the authenticity of the disputed Trinitarian clause, is a notable example of this, for he defends the clause quite impressively on rhetorical grounds alone.

Like his text, Bengel's Gnomon was a great success, and was frequently reprinted after his death. John Wesley used it as the basis of his Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (see Scanlin 1988, pp. 103-4). At length an English translation of the entire work was made: Gnomon of the New Testament by John Albert Bengel, now first translated into English. With original Notes explanatory and illustrative. Revised and edited by Rev. Andrew R. Fausset, M.A., of Trinity College, Dublin (4 vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1857). Title page of volume 1: Gnomon of the New Testament by John Albert Bengel, according to the edition originally brought out by his son, M. Ernest Bengel; and subsequently completed by J.C.F. Steudel. With corrections and additions from the ed. secunda of 1759. Fausset's English edition is not to be confused with the more widely available American edition, Gnomon of the New Testament, &c. by Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent (Philadelphia: Perkinpine & Higgins, 1864), which has recently been reprinted under the inapt title, New Testament Word Studies by John Albert Bengel, A New Translation by Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1971). Fausset's English edition is a faithful translation of Bengel's Gnomon, "revised" only by the addition of footnotes which give comments found in Bengel's other works; Lewis and Vincent, on the other hand, present a thorough revision, in which extracts from Bengel's remarks are attached to an entirely different critical text and discussion. Remarks of Bengel which depend upon his own text, or which for any other reason are not in accordance with the views of Lewis and Vincent, are suppressed or contradicted.


Bengel's Canons of Textual Criticism

The "Monita" of Bengel

In Bengel's Preface to his Gnomon he includes an enumerated list of 27 "suggestions" (Monita) which may be taken as a summary of his critical principles. The following extract of these is taken from pages 13 through 17 of Fausset's translation:

  1. By far the more numerous portions of the Sacred Text (thanks be to God) labour under no variety of reading deserving notice.
  2. These portions contain the whole scheme of salvation, and establish every particular of it by every test of truth.
  3. Every various reading ought and may be referred to these portions, and decided by them as by a normal standard.
  4. The text and various readings of the New Testament are found in manuscripts and in books printed from manuscripts, whether Greek, Latin, Graeco-Latin. . .Syriac, etc., Latinizing Greek, or other languages, the clear quotations of Irenaeus, etc., according as Divine Providence dispenses its bounty to each generation. We include all these under the title of Codices, which has sometimes as comprehensive a signification.
  5. These codices, however, have been diffused through churches of all ages and countries, and approach so near to the original autographs, that, when taken together, in all the multitude of their varieties, they exhibit the genuine text.
  6. No conjecture is ever on any consideration to be listened to. It is safer to bracket any portion of the text, which may haply to appear to labour under inextricable difficulties.
  7. All the codices taken together, should form the normal standard, by which to decide in the case of each taken separately.
  8. The Greek codices, which possess an antiquity so high, that it surpasses even the very variety of reading, are very few in number: the rest are very numerous.
  9. Although versions and fathers are of little authority where they differ from the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, yet, where the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament differ from each other, those have the greatest authority, with which versions and fathers agree.
  10. The text of the Latin Vulgate, where it is supported by the consent of the Latin fathers, or even of other competent witnesses, deserves the utmost consideration, on account of its singular antiquity.
  11. The number of witnesses who support each reading of every passage ought to be carefully examined: and to that end, in so doing, we should separate those codices which contain only the Gospels, from those which contain the Acts and the Epistles, with or without the Apocalypse, or those which contain that book alone; those which are entire, from those which have been mutilated; those which have been collated for the Stephanic edition, from those which have been collated for the Complutensian, or the Elzevirian, or any obscure edition; those which are known to have been carefully collated, as, for instance, the Alexandrine, from those which are not known to have been carefully collated, or which are known to have been carelessly collated, as for instance the Vatican MS., which otherwise would be almost without an equal.
  12. And so, in fine, more witnesses are to be preferred to fewer; and, which is more important, witnesses who differ in country, age, and language, are to be preferred to those who are closely connected with each other; and, which is most important of all, ancient witnesses are to be preferred to modern ones. For, since the original autographs (and they were written in Greek) can alone claim to be the well-spring, the amount of authority due to codices drawn from primitive sources, Latin, Greek, etc., depends upon their nearness to that fountain-head.
  13. A Reading, which does not allure by too great facility, but shines with its own native dignity of truth, is always to be preferred to those which may fairly be supposed to owe their origin to either the carelessness or the injudicious care of copyists.
  14. Thus, a corrupted text is often betrayed by alliteration, parallelism, or the convenience of an Ecclesiastical Lection, especially at the beginning or conclusion of it; from the occurrence of the same words, we are led to suspect an omission; from too great facility, a gloss. Where the passage labours under a manifold variety of readings, the middle reading is the best.
  15. There are, therefore, five principal criteria, by which to determine a disputed text. The antiquity of the witnesses, the diversity of their extraction, and their multitude; the apparent origin of the corrupt reading, and the native colour of the genuine one.
  16. When these criteria all concur, no doubt can exist, except in the mind of a skeptic.
  17. When, however, it happens that some of these criteria may be adduced in favour of one reading, and some in favour of another, the critic may be drawn sometimes in this, sometimes in that direction; or, even should he decide, others may be less ready to submit to his decision. When one man excels another in powers of vision, whether bodily or mental, discussion is vain. In such a case, one man can neither obtrude on another his own conviction, nor destroy the conviction of another; unless, indeed, the original autograph Scriptures should ever come to light."

Following this are ten more paragraphs, numbered 18 through 27, which do not pertain to the evaluation of various readings, but instead contain sundry remarks relative to the design and use of his critical edition. The seventeen given above may therefore be taken as Bengel's formally stated canons of criticism.

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