Volume VI - (2004-2005)

The End-Time Calculation of Johann Albrecht Bengel

Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 11, 2010 - Pages 137-166

Recently, “The End” has been on the minds of many people. According to various New Age prognosticators, the Mayan Long Count Calendar indicates that “the End” will occur on December 21, 2012. Mayan culture flourished during “the Classic Period (from about 250 A.D. until around 900 A.D.).” During this period, the Maya practiced human sacrifice, built elaborate temples, created numerous works of art and writings, and carried on elaborate astronomical observations. From Mayan ruins, archaeologists recovered as many as seventeen different calendars. One of them, known as the Long Count Calendar, is reset to zero every 1,872,000 days, a period known as The Great Circle. The next reset date is December 21, 2012—precisely at 11:11 a.m. Universal Time.[1] For many, this 2012 date has aroused considerable fear and trepidation. Knowledge of past failed apocalyptic dates alleviates unwarranted fear and helps us gain a deeper understanding of God’s true plan for the ages.

June 18, 1836 was one such date for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It was proposed by Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), one of the greatest Bible scholars of the eighteenth century.[2] Placed within the context of Bengel’s total scholarly output, we are left to wonder why “this man of eminent piety and vast and sound learning”[3] felt compelled to calculate a date for the end-times, and how he arrived at this particular date. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the life and work of Bengel, this article will explore the apparent contradiction between Bengel the meticulous Bible scholar and Bengel the apocalyptic speculator.

Isaacs1

Johann Albrecht Bengel
(1687-1752)

Although largely forgotten and ne­glected today, Bengel had an enormous influence upon his contemporaries, notab­ly John Wesley (1703–1791). Then there was Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817), a German oculist, economist, mystic and novelist, who incor­porated Bengel’s 1836 date into his influential novel Das Heimweh (i.e., Homesickness or Nostalgia).[4] This inspired certain German Pietists, who came to regard Das Heimweh as a second Bible, to emigrate east toward Siberia seeking “a place of refuge”[5] until the Second Coming of Christ.

In Wesley’s case, he was so impressed with Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti [6] that he translated most of it into English and incorporated it into his widely read Explanatory on the New Testament (London, 1715, 1755). In addition, Wesley carefully studied Bengel’s commentary on the Book of Revelation, Erklärte Offenbarung.[7] Thus, “Bengel [via John Wesley] became part of the confessional corpus of the Methodist Church.”[8]

Yet most American Protestants who have an interest in the Book of Revelation are not aware of Bengel. This is due first to the language barrier: Bengel wrote in Latin, and his works were later translated into German. While Bengel, especially his Erklärte Offenbarung, was read and appreciated in the German speaking world, his unique apocalyptic insights—including his famous 1836 date—were not widely known in English.

Moreover, in Great Britain and in the United States Bengel’s 1836 schema was overshadowed by two alternative Millennialist[9] scenarios: the Millerites, followers of William Miller (1782-1849), and the Premillennial Dispensationalists. These two influential eschatological scenarios developed independently from one another at approximately the same period of time, in the early nineteenth century. As a result, in Great Britain and in the United States, Adventist groups and sects follow the Millerite schema, while a majority of Conservative Evangelicals and non-denominational churches embrace the Premillennial Dispensationalist system.

 

Forgotten and Ignored by the Main-Stream

Within the ranks of mainstream Protestantism Bengel is largely ignored, forgotten, and neglected for three reasons.

First, if he is known at all, due to his failed 1836 prediction Bengel is dismissed as merely another misguided end-times crank.

Second, Bengel is dismissed as merely a pre-critical scholar. Historical Criticism, associated with Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918) and Karl Heinrich Graf (1815-1869), is accepted by the majority of mainstream Bible scholars. Norman Geisler, a harsh critic of the historical-critical method, argues that, “much of modern Biblical Criticism springs from unbiblical philosophical presuppositions, such as Deism, materialism, skepticism, agnosticism, German Idealism (Hegelianism), and existentialism. Beneath all these is a prevailing naturalism, or antisupernaturalism, that is intuitively suspicious of any document containing miracle stories.”[10] For Bengel, who “sought the truth as God revealed in His Word, and not what men thought about it,”[11] the entire Higher Critical program would have been unimaginable.

Third, Bengel has been described as “the heir and continuator of all that was best in Pietism.”[12] Yet many influential twentieth century theologians, such as Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Paul Tillich (1886-1965), dismissed Pietism as an anti-intellectual, hyper-legalistic, and totally discredited movement. For example, Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) argued that the Pietist movement was tainted by “dishonest hypocrites” and “all kinds of narrow-minded groups.”[13] This was due mainly to the influence of Albrecht Ritschl’s harsh critique in Geschichte des Pietismus (1880-1886).[14]

The contributions and insights of Pietist exegetes such as Bengel were dismissed by Ritschl and his followers because their “traditional doctrine of verbal inspiration was regarded as a passé seventeenth century viewpoint that was understandable in its day, but untenable in the modern world.”[15]>The Ritschlian view that “the Bible merely contains the Word of God, instead of actually being the Word of God”[16] represented a major break from Bengel’s form of Pietism which tended to hold a high view of Holy Scripture. For example, Bengel writes, “for it is because they contain God’s words, and are the Lord’s Book, that they are called ‘Holy Scripture.’”[17] He adds, “the Old and New Testament form a most reliable and precious system of Divine testimonies… [they are] one complete and harmonious body, unimpaired by excess or defects.”[18] According to Jaroslav Pelikan, Bengel’s thought repre­sented “the biblical antithesis to the humanistic aspects of nineteenth century liberalism [German Classical Liberalism].”[19] Yet it was ignored during the subsequent conflict over liberalism by its neo-Orthodox opponents.

In sum, the language barrier and the crowding out effect of the Millerite and the Premillennial Dispensationalist matrix caused rejection by the fundamentalist right, while his “passé” Pietist world-view and the domination of the Higher Critical method led to rejection by the theological left. Hence to this day, Bengel’s contributions and insights remain neglected and largely unknown.

 

Life of Johann Albrecht Bengel

Johann Albrecht Bengel, “the exegete of Pietism,”[20] was the son of a Lutheran minister. He was born on June 24, 1687 in Winnenden, Württemberg, Germany—a small town twelve miles northeast of Stuttgart.[21] Interestingly, Bengel was an exact contemporary of the great German Lutheran Baroque musician and composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

As an infant Bengel was frail and sickly. From his youth he had the use of only one eye. Bengel—who spent years as a scholar closely reading, examining, and studying ancient Biblical texts, manuscripts, and reprints of manuscripts—must have strained and suffered as he attempted to focus and to discern subtle variations among these ancient texts.

In addition to his chronic eye problem, his general health was not vigorous. Once, as a student, he became so ill that “his friends gave up on him.” In the face of this illness he reached a moment of inner assurance when he recalled the words of Psalm 118:17, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”[22] Fritsch notes that, “during his life he passed through several severe illnesses which he always looked upon as a means of grace whereby he was drawn closer to God.”[23]

His father, Albrecht Bengel, M.A., assistant parochial minister in the town of Winnenden, was his first teacher and role model in the Christian faith. He died on April 21, 1693 at age forty-three of “a malignant fever then prevailing.”[24] Pastor Bengel caught “the fever” while ministering in the homes of infected members of his congregation. At the time of his father’s death Bengel was only six years old.

Only four months later, during one of many plunder campaigns of Swabia under King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715),[25] the town—including his widowed mother’s house—was “miserably destroyed and burnt to ashes by the French.”[26] This tragic fire not only caused the loss of their home, but also lost to young Bengel was his father’s valuable theological library. Later in life, typical of his deep faith in God, Bengel thanked God for this tragedy stating “the providence of God had removed from him the temptation of reading too great a variety of books.”[27] Instead Bengel was left with the Bible alone to study.

After attending Tübingen University, Bengel was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1706. In 1708 he was invited back to Tübingen as a repetens, a kind of teaching fellow.[28] He became a vicar in the Tübingen Church under Professor Johannes Andreas Adam Hochstetter (1637-1720).[29] For five years Bengel did theological and philological research in the Tübingen University library. Pelikan notes, “Much of the material which later appeared in Bengel’s works came from this period almost uninterrupted study.”[30]

In 1713 Bengel was invited to teach at the Evangelical Cloister School in Denkendorf, a seminary for young boys, ages fourteen to sixteen, preparing for theological study.[31] From 1713 to 1741 Bengel devoted himself totally to guiding and teaching more than three hundred students,[32] many of whom went on to serve as Pietist Lutheran pastors.

In 1741 he was made prelate of Herbrechtingen. In 1749 he was named a member of the consistory and prelate of Alpirsbach, near Stuttgart. Two years later, Tübingen University honored him with a doctorate. He remained in Stuttgart until his retirement and death on November 2, 1752.[33] Bengel and his wife were the parents of twelve children, six of whom reached adulthood.[34]

 

The Württemberg Pietist Worldview

Bengel’s thought, his writings, and his apocalyptic speculations can only be understood within the context of the Pietist weltanschauung. The Pietist movement, often labeled “the Second Reformation,”[35] was a dynamic reform movement that attempted to infuse more heart and emotion into a dead, stiff, and formal orthodoxy that dominated German Lutheranism during the seventeenth century. It began with the writings of Johann Arndt[36] (1555-1621) and Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), whose reformist tract Pia Desideria, [Pious Desires] (1675)[37] became the manifesto of Pietism.[38]

Pietists regarded their movement, as an extension or second phase of the Reformation. In the face of harsh orthodox Lutheran criticism, Spener and his disciples insisted that they were Lutheran, rooted in the teachings of both Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions.[39] The Pietism of Spener and August Herman Francke (1663-1727) was centered at the remarkable Halle Institution in Germany, which had a comprehensive focus on education, evangelism, Bible and tract publishing, charity and social reform, as well as cross-cultural and global mission. Halle-trained missionaries and pastors were sent out to North America, Africa, and India.

After Spener and Francke, the first generation of Pietist reformers, German Pietism evolved into two distinct branches. These were the radicals who followed the teachings of Gottfried Arnold (1666-1714) and Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), and the more conservative Württemberg Pietists. The radical form of Pietism tended to have no interest in internal reform of the Church. Rather, like followers of the Quaker movement in England, they tended to cultivate the experience of “the inner word” and “the inner light.”[40] The more conservative branch, known as “Württemberg Pietism,”[41] was intensely evangelistic and interested in scholarship and educational reform. Its theological orientation also included strong eschatological tendencies.

Bengel is the best example of “Württemberg Pietism.”[42] Unlike the radical Pietists, Bengel—like Arndt, Spener and Francke before him—always remained a Lutheran. He admired Martin Luther, and during his career he continually claimed a strict adherence to the Lutheran Confessions.[43] Yet with often bitter polemics in an effort to refute and discredit the movement, orthodox Lutheran critics of Pietism tended to lump both radical and Württemberg Pietists together.

 

Studies in Mathematics

While the Bible was the center of his faith and spiritual life, young Bengel also “advanced most satisfactorily in the dead languages [Latin, Classical Greek, and Koine Greek], and gained very competent acquaintance with history, mathematics, French, and Italian.”[44] He loved the classics and philosophy, and was particularly attracted to the thought of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677).[45]

It is interesting to note Bengel’s high regard for mathematics. Like William Miller, a self-educated Upstate New York farmer and Bible student who became the leader of one of “the most dramatic of the religious eruptions”[46] of the nineteenth century when he calculated the Second Coming for October 23, 1843, then 1844; Edgar C. Whisenant, a former NASA engineer who predicted that the Rapture would occur on September 11, 12, or 13 of 1988;[47] and Harold Camping, a former civil engineer and a radio evangelist who predicted the Second Coming “between September 15 and September 27, 1994;”[48] Bengel approached the Bible with a mathematical frame of mind.[49]

During the fifteenth century, numbers and calculations had come into wide use in Western Europe for two reasons. First, the introduction, gradual acceptance, and widespread use of Hindu-Arabic numerals [e.g., “123”] in Europe, displacing the old Roman numeral system [e.g., “CXXIII”], made greater precision and higher level mathematics possible. “Arabic numerals… made possible simplified and orderly arithmetical calculations that were impracticable with Roman numerals… [and] algebraic notation, derived from India and Egypt, later allowed Galileo, Descartes, Napier, Newton, and Leibniz to carry on the development of mathematics to calculus.” [50] Second, the invention of movable type on the printing press by Johannes Guttenberg (c. 1453) helped to expedite the wide use and general acceptance of the more efficient and accurate Hindu-Arabic numeral system.

It is also important to recall that during Bengel’s lifetime the Scientific Revolution was in full bloom in Europe. Supported by the precision of the “new math,” Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a German Lutheran mathematician, astrologer and astronomer, became a key figure in the Scientific Revolution.[51]

A high view of God, plus biblical literalism [a high view of Scripture], plus the rise of mathematical precision and the Scientific Revolution, became a formula for predictive apocalyptic disaster. The intellectual, scientific, and theological stars were aligned for Bengel’s 1836 date.

 

Bengel’s Scholarly Work

Underlying Bengel’s scholarly work are several important assumptions. These are:

First, “The Scriptures… form a most sure and precious system of divine testimonies. For not only are the various writings, when considered separately, worthy of God, but also, when received as a whole, they exhibit one entire and perfect body, unencumbered by excess, unimpaired by defect. The Holy Bible is, indeed, the true fountain of wisdom, which they, who have once actually tasted it, prefer to all mere compositions of men, however holy, however experienced, however devout, and however wise.”[52] That is, Bengel starts with a high view of the authority of Holy Scripture.

Second, for Bengel, and his Pietist contemporaries, the system of truth disclosed by God in the original manuscripts of the Bible was not equally available to all. Bengel bases this assumption on the Pietist notion that to gain a full human understanding of Scripture, two conditions must be fulfilled:

  1. A student of the Scriptures must be regenerated [modern Evangelicals would say have a “Born Again” experience (John 3:1-17)].[53]
  2. A Bible scholar must be willing to labor in proper and careful research.

Central to the eighteenth century Spener-Halle Pietist program was their concept that individual Christians should be regenerated, and these regenerated individuals would bind themselves together into a community, “a church within the Church.” Thus, the Pietist scholar, with prayer and led by the Holy Spirit, practicing faith within this context and community, would be in a unique position to uncover long-hidden Biblical truths. This assumption is very important. Pietist scholars such as Bengel believed that they enjoyed a spiritual advantage that was apparently denied to the anti-Pietist orthodox party. They viewed themselves as pioneers encountering the ancient text of the Holy Bible with new sight and new vision. Hence, new and unique insights could be anticipated from Spirit-led Pietist exegesis.

In Bengel’s case, it helps us understand why he was not troubled by his unique prediction of the 1836 date. This assumption also explains why generations of “unregenerated” Roman Catholic and orthodox Lutheran scholars had failed to calculate the correct date for Christ’s Second Coming. Pietism was more than just an interesting reform movement; it introduced a bold new epistemology which raised the possibility for astonishing new theological insights and breakthroughs. Hence, while orthodox scholars were checked, limited, and restricted by dogmas and doctrines passed down from the ages—“the Tradition” reflected in The Lutheran Book of Concord (1580), Pietists regarded themselves as free and open to new higher levels of understanding revealed by God in His Word.

Third, Bengel assumes that for the people of God the Bible is meant to be more than a guide to salvation, or a reservoir for proof-texts used for constructing dogmatic propositions that could be used in polemical disputes. Properly read and interpreted, the Bible could be a path to new light and higher truth. This assumption incorporates Spener’s call for “more extensive use of the Word of God among us.”[54] In addition to being a guide for salvation, the Bible was regarded as a divinely provided text which could—with correct interpretation—offer a glimpse into the fullness of God’s purposes to the final glorification of the entire natural order. This is what Bengel means when he tells us that the Bible is “an incomparable report about the divine economy regarding the human race, from the beginning to the end of all things.”[55] Thus, Bengel believed that, “only he who is grounded in faith in Christ can have this panoramic vision of the divine economy.”[56] This third assumption is vital in grasping Bengel’s purpose in constructing elaborate chronologies of sacred and profane history.

Fourth, Bengel was deeply distressed by the tendency of his day among orthodox, Enthusiasts, and Enlightenment critics to read into the Scripture their own preconceived notions or to superimpose upon the Scriptures their own theories, dogmas, and systems.[57] Bengel’s desire was “that the Bible should speak for itself without the intrusion of human theories and doctrines.”[58]

In Pia Desideria Spener wrote, “We must beware how we conduct ourselves in religious controversies.”[59] The hallmark of the seventeenth century was religious intolerance, endless hairsplitting disputations, and polemical fights between various Christian sects, schools, and factions.[60] Pietists felt that the witness of the Church was being neutralized by these endless and fruitless disputes. In harmony with Spener’s reform program, Bengel shunned petty religious controversies. His avowed aim was to circumvent the plurality of theological and philosophical opinions of his day through basic exegetical pointers to uncover the true intention of the writers of the Bible. His hope was that with a clear understanding of the plain words of the Biblical text “the truth of God would finally prevail in the land.”[61]

Bengel believed that when the truth of God prevailed—today we might say a “scholarly consensus”—harmony and an end to factionalism and sectarianism would follow. Thus, for Bengel, the key to reforming and reuniting the fractured and divided Church catholic was the proper understanding of the Scripture [Sola Scriptura].

 

Bengel’s Four-Fold Program

Bengel’s scholarly work can be divided into four distinct and interrelated types. These are: Textual Criticism; Exegetical Writings; Chronological Writings; and Apocalyptic Writings.

Textual Criticism

Bengel is “the father of modern textual criticism.”[62] As a sensitive and meticulous theology student, trained in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, Bengel was perplexed by the variant readings in the Textus Receptus of the Greek New Testament.[63] His concerns were heightened with the publication of a new critical edition of the Oxford Greek New Testament by John Mill (1645-1707), which included an extensive critical apparatus cataloguing more than 31,000 variant readings. For many scholars, these variants raised disturbing questions about the validity of the Textus Receptus.[64]

Troubled by Mill’s Oxford Greek New Testament and driven by his own doubts and philological curiosity, Bengel developed a life-long passion for textual criticism. He wondered, “Have we the New Testament as it was first written?”[65] Compelled by his “intellectual precisionism… his very orderly, mathematical mind was disturbed by all loose ends, and he had long practiced resolving such problems himself.” [66] Bengel’s goal was to recover and reconstruct the best possible original text. To complete this task, he procured copies of all known editions, manuscripts, and translations, then analyzed and classified them.[67]

In 1734, after years of meticulous work, Bengel published his Novum Testamentum Graecum with his appended Apparatus Criticus.[68] In the Apparatus Criticus, Bengel adopted the now standard practice of presenting textual evidence both for and against particular variant readings. To this day, this practice continues to be followed, e.g. in the Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament edited by Bruce M. Metzger.[69] Metzger notes that “after extensive study, Bengel came to the conclusion that the variant readings were fewer in number than might have been expected, and that they did not shake any article of evangelic doctrine.”[70]

Bengel also pioneered the division of extant manuscripts into two classes. These were the “African family,” which included the oldest Greek manuscripts and versions (Codex A, the Greco-Latin codices, and the Ethiopic, Coptic, and Latin versions), and the “Asiatic family,” consisting of the more recent Greek manuscripts and versions.[71]

In his Apparatus Criticus Bengel also included a special section on the complex set of textual problems associated with the Book of Revelation.[72] The Apocalypse is the New Testament book with the greatest number of textual variants. His careful analysis and reconstruction of the text of Revelation became a milestone in the history of biblical scholarship. Krodel explains that Bengel “recognized… that Erasmus’s Greek text of Revelation was based on only one late and mutilated minuscule, a fact that obliged Erasmus to supply the missing portions by translating the Latin text [back] into Koine Greek.”[73] A century later, Bengel’s findings were confirmed when Franz Julius Delitzsch (1813-1890) discovered Erasmus’ original annotated manuscript.[74] Bengel’s extensive textual work on Revelation contributed to his desire to re-examine and “re-calculate” the mysterious passages found in that book.

Bengel also promulgated the famous rule,“Proclivi scriptioni praestat arua,” orThe more difficult reading is to be preferred.”[75] He reasoned that a scribe, to clarify meaning, would add explanatory material to a difficult text. Bengel’s maxim, that “the more difficult reading is to be preferred,” is still used by critical scholars for determining the correct or most accurate textual variant.[76]

A Gospel Harmony

His Greek New Testament with Apparatus provided “the integrating center of Bengel’s thought world.”[77] From here, Bengel went on to construct a harmony of the Gospels entitled The True Harmony of the Four Evangelists (1736, 1747). Bengel’s purpose was to “seek to establish a natural order of things, not just in the case of the Gospels, but in the entire biblical story with the aim of piety and edification.”[78]

In his True Harmony Bengel repudiated and transcended, the widely accepted method adopted by Andreas Osiander the Elder (1498-1552)[79] in his Harmonia Evangelistarum (1537). Osiander had argued that each Evangelist presented essentially a chronological narrative. If an event, such as the anointing of Jesus, appeared in two or more Gospels, then the event must have occurred more than once. The problem with this approach is that it leads to irreconcilable contradictions. For example, did Jesus cleanse the Temple at the beginning of his ministry, as the Gospel of John reports,[80] or the end as the Synoptics state?[81] Thinking organically and holistically, Bengel saw compliments and unity rather than contradictions, fragmentation and discontinuity. At the same time, while presenting each episode in parallel columns, Bengel noted each apparent discrepancy between the various Gospel accounts.

A New German Translation

Bengel also used his Greek New Testament text to produce an updated German translation of the New Testament (1752). Luther’s classic 1522 German translation had been based on the 1519 second edition of Erasmus’ 1516 Greek New Testament.[82] While Erasmus’ Greek New Testament was a remarkable scholarly achievement, as Bengel’s textual work had revealed, this text was now inferior. Clearly, there was a need for a new translation based on the best Greek manuscripts.

With his improved German New Testament, Bengel was attempting to make his scholarly research available to the common people. Bengel’s Pietistic goal—in the tradition of Spener—was to serve and edify the people of God in a pastoral way. The New Revised Standard Version (1988) and a host of other rigorous new translations continue this Bengelian tradition.

Exegetical Writings

Bengel also had a passion for the right interpretation and application of the Greek New Testament, the text he had labored for years to correct, restore, and reconstruct. Bengel’s central principle of interpretation is “to read nothing into the Scriptures, but draw everything from them, and suffer nothing to remain hidden that is really in them.”[83]

To this end, in 1742, Bengel published an exegetical masterpiece entitled the Gnomon Novi Testamenti. His word study and commentary presents the reader with a detailed analysis of vital Greek words and ideas. For Bengel, the Greek words are the atoms and basic building blocks of the New Testament. Like a scientist looking at pond water under a microscope, Bengel sought to explore the inner details of the text. As a “gnomon” is the pointer on a sundial, in the Gnomon, the reader is pointed, led, and drawn into a deeper understanding of the Word.

The Gnomon reflected progressive Pietistic teaching methods. Rather than forcing students to memorize and recite empty facts, as the orthodox might have done, Bengel believed it was the teacher’s task to elicit meaning and to promote reflection by the students. Instead of being authoritarian lecturers passing down a fixed body of right doctrine, teachers, in Christian love, are to point and lead students toward the truth.[84] Hence, despite his extensive knowledge of Bible, history and tradition, Bengel remains in the background. His Gnomon is not the light or the truth, i.e., the last and final authoritative interpretation of the sacred text, but merely a pointer toward the truth. As a result, the Gnomon remains fresh, interesting, and useful.

Chronological Writings

Bengel also had a deep interest in Biblical chronology and history. As a teacher of potential pastors, Bengel believed that students ought to be taught history—secular and profane—from an early age.[85] Moreover, Bengel lived in an age pregnant with history, when “everywhere the signs of the breakup of traditional values and attitudes” were apparent.[86]

When Bengel studied the Bible he noticed many dates, time periods, and life spans running from Genesis through Revelation. As a mathematically inclined person, these dates and numbers attracted his interest. He wondered: why would God, the author of good order—in contrast to Satan the author of confusion—leave these Bible dates and numbers so disconnected. With his holistic Pietist world-view and his high view of the Scriptures, Bengel began to search the Scriptures seeking a discernable chronological pattern.

Since one cannot speak of God acting in history without taking biblical chronology seriously, Bengel constructed an elaborate chronology for the interpretation of the mighty acts of God in history, culminating in Christ’s parousia, the Millennium, and the new creation. Hence, in conjunction with his apocalyptic writings, Bengel worked out an elaborate chronological schema. After years of research, Bengel concluded, “the chronological line from Genesis to the Apocalypse establishes, in the firmest way, the immutable truth of all Scripture.”[87]

In 1741 Bengel published his Ordo temporum, and in 1745 his Cyclus sive de Anno Magno solis, lunae, stellarum consideratio. In these chronological works, written in the spirit of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon’s earlier chronological efforts,[88] Bengel not only attempted to construct a viable biblical chronology by tying it to known “secular” history; he endeavored to fix the “number of the beast,” and the date of the “Millennium,” which he ultimately placed in the year 1836.

In the Cyclus Bengel made use of Johannes Kepler’s latest astronomical calculations to support and substantiate his previous apocalyptic computations.[89] Rather than viewing science as “anti-biblical” or as an enemy of religion, Bengel freely employed the most recent scientific findings and extant historical dates and chronologies. Again, Bengel’s Pietism gave him the epistemological permission to consider the possibility that new discoveries could and would be found as the Holy Spirit moves in the hearts and minds of regenerated Christians who happened to be involved in scientific discovery and innovation.

His Ordo temporum, writes Pelikan, is a painstaking effort to establish the sequence of events not only in the life of Jesus Christ, but in the entire Bible.[90] In this effort, Bengel made use of every fixed date he could derive from the Scriptures. He then sought to correlate these fixed dates with extant and secular history. Again, before we dismiss Bengel for this, we need to remember that he was doing this remarkable research in the middle of the eighteenth century without the benefit of the findings of biblical archeology and modern Bible scholarship. After establishing what he felt was a solid record of the biblical past, Bengel felt reasonably confident with extrapolating dates and times into the future.

Apocalyptic Writings

If Bengel had merely published the Novum Testamentum Graecum (1734), Gnomon (1742), and Ordo temporum (1741) he would have earned a place in the pantheon of great Christian scholars. However, Bengel did not stop here. Armed with his corrected Greek text, a solid system of interpretation in the Gnomon, and a chronology supported with extant dates, Bengel went on to attempt to unlock the mysteries of the Book of Revelation.

For Luther, Wesley, and Barth, St. Paul’s letter to the Romans provided the key to the Holy Bible. For Bengel, the key was the Book of Revelation. Bengel reasoned that since God acts in history, it was not Luther’s dialectic of Law and Gospel that opens the Scripture. Rather, the key to the Scripture was the unfolding unity of the mighty acts of God in history. Moreover, these unfolding acts of God find their climactic conclusion in the Apocalypse.

Thus, unlike Luther, who in 1522 wrote, “My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book,”[91] Bengel appreciated the unique quality and prophetic nature of the Book of Revelation. He wrote:

The whole structure of it [Revelation] breathes the art of God, comprising in the most finished compendium, things to come, many, various; near, intermediate, remote; the greatest, the least; terrible, comfortable; old, new; long, short; and these interwoven together, opposite, composite; relative to each other at a small, at a great distance; and therefore sometimes as it were disappearing, broken off, suspended, and afterwards unexpectedly and most seasonably appearing again. In all its parts it has an admirable variety, with the most exact harmony, beautifully illustrated by those digressions which seem to interrupt it. In this manner does it display the manifold wisdom of God shining in the economy of the Church through so many ages.[92]

 

Revealing Assumptions

After completing his meticulous textual research, Bengal must have known that his work with The Apocalypse was an important scholarly achievement. Bengel must have reasoned that his reconstructed Revelation text demanded a commentary in light of this breakthrough. He believed the content of The Apocalypse to be genuine and profound. He wrote, “John… received from Christ a peculiar revelation and manifestation of Him as the King, Messiah, and of the glory of the kingdom; all which he has particularly described in the Apocalypse.”[93] Bengel believed that there is unity of purpose between the Old Testament and the New Testament, expressed in a meaningful harmony and orderliness in the chronological statements from Genesis to its culmination in Revelation.[94] Therefore, Bengel “believed that the particular providence of God, which had watched over all the canonical books in general, had especially watched over this the last of them, and had a wise and good design in adding it to their number.”[95] Thus, unlike Luther[96] and Calvin,[97] Bengel had no qualms about the canonical status and importance—even priority—of the Book of Revelation. These ideas led him to regard the Apocalypse as the new frontier in Bible research.

Furthermore, Bengel “believed in the possibility of arriving at a correct interpretation of this book of prophecy, even before its complete fulfillment.”[98] Here Bengel assumes that “in spite of the multiplicity of failures, hitherto, it is possible to expound the Apocalypse correctly, even before it is entirely fulfilled.”[99] He reasoned that, “it was probable that the development of such periods would become clearer and more satisfactory as time advances; and that at present it was enough to be able to show that each past generation had received as much insight into the Apocalypse as was requisite for its own particular use.”[100] To this end, Bengel’s high view of mathematics would lead him: “the main points to be regarded [in the text] are the facts and the numbers.”[101]

Bengel believed that without reckoning dates, predicted events would count for nothing: “An expositor who concerns himself only with its predicted events, and not also with their dates is a useless interpreter of anything predicted in it.”[102] In reckoning dates, Bengel took his cue from the distinctive Greek word employed to characterize each one. For example, according to Bengel, of the twenty periods of time mentioned in The Apocalypse, seven different Greek words are used. These are hour [ώρα], day [ἡμέρα], month [μη̂ν], year [έτος], season [χρόνος], time [καιρός] and age/era [αιών].[103] While modern critical scholars tend to dismiss these distinctions as arbitrary, or as poor writing and editing by someone claiming to be John of Patmos, for Bengel, armed with his high view of Scripture, these distinctions are vital and significant.

Bengel derives his “seven distinctions” from passages such as Rev. 9:15, “So the four angels were released, who had been held ready for the hour [ὥρα], the day [ἡμέρα], the month [μη̂ν], and the year [ἐνιαυτόν], to kill a third of humankind.” Thus, concludes Bengel, the book’s “Divine Author had connected these dates with their respective predicted events.”[104]

Armed with these assumptions Bengel, the careful textual critic and exacting exegete, considered the Book of Revelation to be a blueprint for the future and biblical prophecy to be prefigured history.

The Exalted Jesus Knows the Time

With Bengel’s extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, why did he not consider texts such as Mark 13:32, i.e., “about that day or hour [i.e., hour of His return] no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Or Acts 1:7, “when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ Jesus replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times [χρόνος] or periods/seasons [καιρός] that the Father has set by his own authority.’”

Bengel was fully aware of the words of Jesus in Mark 13:32 and Matt. 24:36. Yet, Bengel reasoned, “at that time [i.e., ‘in His state of humiliation’[105]], of course, no one knew it, not even the Son, but He had afterwards learned of it and had communicated it in the Revelation.”[106] Bengel argues that prior to His ascension Jesus did not know the time of the End. However, in the Apocalypse, the Risen and Ascended Jesus Christ communicated to John the complete revelation that God the Father had given to Him after His exaltation (Rev. 1:1-3).[107] Thus, the words of the earthly Jesus, who had spoken in Mark 13:32 and Matt. 24:36, had been transcended by the Risen Lord presented in the Apocalypse!

 

Bengel’s Calculations

In a December 22, 1724 letter to his friend Jeremias Friedrich Reuss (1700-1777),[108] Bengel wrote,

It is impossible for me to withhold from you a disclosure, which, however, I must request you keep entirely to yourself. By the help of the Lord I have found the number of the Beast [Inveni numerum Bestiae, Domino dante![109]]. It is 666 years, from A.D. 1143 to A.D. 1809 [i.e., ‘the period of papal domination’[110]]. This key to the Apocalypse is of importance, and even a consolation to me, with respect to the repeated losses of my infant children; for those who are born in this generation are entering into troubling times. You, also, my friend, may well make ready to meet such times; for wisdom will be greatly needed. But “Blessed be He that cometh! (Psalm 26; Luke 13:35).”[111]

Armed with this 666 “key to the Apocalypse” Bengel carried out a complex series of calculations leading to the construction of his elaborate chronological system.

For Bengel, the Greek word ψηφισάτω found in Rev. 13:18, meaning, “let him calculate,” [112] is a command to be taken literally. Bengel writes, “We must calculate; therefore, the numbers which enter into the calculation, and those which answer to these, must be taken precisely, he who has νου̂ν, [understanding] is ordered to calculate… [thus] let him not despise and trample upon calculation.”[113] To calculate [ψηφισάτω], reasoned Bengel, we are required the use of at least two numbers. To derive these essential two numbers Bengel argues that John intends to establish a distinction between “common time” and “prophetic (or mystical) time.”[114]

The 666 years of “common time” or “ordinary time,” in Rev. 13:18[115] is the key to explaining the 42 months of “prophetic time” or “prophetic months”[116] of Rev. 13:5.[117] Dividing 666 years [common time] by 42 months [prophetic time] Bengel concludes that 15 and 6/7 chronological years is the correct value of a prophetic month. With the “prophetic month” equal to exactly 15 6/7 chronological years, Bengel believed that he had the basic data for constructing an accurate apocalyptic timetable. From here, he deduced that a “prophetic day” is about half a year. With this distinction Bengel believed that he could open not only the previously fulfilled predictions [i.e., the past], but also the unfolding events and dates of the Apocalyptic future.

Bengel went on to calculate the meaning of “a half time” which is 111 1/9 years. The apocalyptic “time” of Daniel and Revelation consists of 222 2/9 years, “two times” consequently are 444 4/9 years; a “half a chronos” is 555 5/9 years; the number of the beast (Rev. 13:18) refers to exactly 666 6/9 years. The “time and times and half time” (Rev. 12:14) lasts 777 7/9 years; a “little time” (Rev. 5:11) lasts 888 8/9 years; a full “chronos” lasts 1,111 1/9 years (hence the “non-chronos” of 10:6 which is translated with “no more delay” must be shorter than 1,111 years); an “age” (αιών) lasts 2,222 2/9 years, while the world will last 7,777 1/9 years, and so forth[118] (Table 1).

 

Table 1. J.A. Bengel’s “Table of Periods”[119] 

A Half-time is in ordinary years, [the apocalyptic century]... 111 1/9

A time (καιρός = kairos) ...................................................... 222 2/9

Time and a Half ................................................................... 333 1/3

Two Times …………..………………………………….………... 444 4/9

A Half Period (half χρόνος = chronos)................................. 555 5/9

The Number of the Beast ..................................................... 666 6/9

Time, Times, and Half-times ................................................ 777 7/9

A Short Time, ὀλίγον καιρὸν (Revelation 12:12) ................. 888 8/9

A Millennium ...................................................................... 999 9/9

A Period, καιρός ................................................................ 1111 1/9

An Aeon (αιών) and Age, or double period ........................ 2222 2/9

 

These are Bengel’s calculations of calendar dates[120] in an abbreviated form, taken from Krodel:[121]

  • 96 A.D. the Book of Revelation is written and the future is disclosed.
  • 97-98 A.D. the seals are opened as promised in Revelation 6 and the “chronos” is indicated in the fifth seal (Rev. 6:11).
  • The second, third, fourth, and fifth centuries are filled with the blasts of the first four trumpets (Rev. 8:6-13); the second century is marked by, the scattering of the Jews by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (Rev. 8:7); the third century sees the invasion of the barbarians (Rev. 8:8); and the fourth century witnesses the Arian heresy (Rev. 8:10).
  • Through the fifth trumpet the Roman Empire in the West comes to an end in 410 A.D. (Rev. 8:12).[122]
  • The “first woe” (Rev. 8:13; 9:12) is dated between 510 and 589 A.D. and comprises the tribulation of the Jews in Persia (Rev. 9:1).
  • From 589 to 634 A.D. is the interval between the first and the second woe.
  • The second woe lasts from 634 to 847 A.D. (Rev. 9:13-19) and is filled with murder perpetrated by the Islamic Saracens (Rev. 9:13) as well as with the unsuccessful struggle against idolatrous images (Rev. 9:20) in the East. [e.g., Mohammad (c.571-632 A.D.) to the Battle of Tours (732 A.D.)]
  • December 25, 800 A.D. begins the “non-chronos” of Rev. 10:6 with the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (742-814 A.D.), followed by a line of many “kings” (Rev. 10:11).
  • 847-947 A.D. is the interval between the second and the third woe. The third woe lasts from 947 to 1836 (Rev. 12:12).
  • 940-1617 A.D. comprises the 1,260 days of the woman (Rev. 12:6).
  • 1058-1836 A.D. is the “time and times and a half time” of Rev. 12:14.
  • In 1614 “the angel with the eternal gospel appears” (Rev. 14:6), i.e., Johann Arndt (1555-1621), the father of Lutheran Pietism.
  • June 18, 1836 A.D., will see the beginning of the thousand-year imprisonment of Satan and the destruction of Antichrist (Rev. 19:11-20:3).

 

Other Views of 666

For Bengel, 666 was the key that could be used to unlock—with the proper calculations—the previously hidden divine plan of the Holy Bible. Historically, there have been many conflicting and strange opinions about “six hundred threescore and six”[123] in the Book of Revelation. Mitchell G. Reddish admits that “the identity of this mark of the beast had ‘bedeviled’ readers of the book since antiquity.”[124]

The number 666 has been linked to the attempt to calculate the identity of the Antichrist. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and a host of other reformers calculated that the papacy was the Antichrist. Thomas Müntzer (c.1489-1525), the Radical Anabaptist during the Peasant’s War of 1525, joined Roman Catholic apologists in naming Luther as the Antichrist. Luther’s name rendered in Latin [Martin Luthera] totals 666.[125] During the Revolutionary War King George III was given the title of Antichrist based on a calculation from the phrase “Royal Supremacy in Great Britain.” To arrive at 666, this phrase had to be translated into either Greek or Hebrew letters.[126]

During the 1930s and 1940s numerologists devise clever ways of assigning numbers to letters so that the letters of a name will add up to the symbolic 666 number. Probably the best-known scheme has A=100, B=101, and so on. With this code, the name “Hitler” adds up to 666. Benito Mussolini was thought to be the 666 Antichrist.[127]

In more recent times, some have pointed out that John F. Kennedy received 666 votes for president at the 1956 Democrat convention.[128] In claiming that Ronald Wilson Reagan [6 letters three times] equals 666, calculators pointed out that former president’s Bel-Air, California, street address was house number 666 until Nancy Reagan had it changed to 668. Another interesting numerological oddity regarding Reagan is that the sum of the enumerated phrase “Ronald Reagan President and Chief Executive of the United States of America” equals 666.

Apocalyptic sensationalist Salem Kirban argued that Henry Kissinger is the Antichrist. Not only did Kissinger support the “New World Order,” his name in Hebrew adds up to 111, or 666 divided by 6. Or, starting with multiples of 6 (A=6; B=12; C=18, etc.), Kissinger’s named adds up to 666.[129]

John Nelson Darby, the father of Premillennial Dispensationalism, from whom we would expect an elaborate exposition of the correct meaning of 666, wrote, “I confess my ignorance as to the number 666. I cannot present you with anything satisfactory to myself. We find, answering to the number 666, the words apostasy and tradition, but I cannot say anything positive in the point.”[130] According to Hal Lindsey, Premillennial Dispensationalist author of the best selling apocalyptic book of the 1970s, The Late Great Planet Earth, “Everyone [following the Rapture, during the Tribulation] will be given a tattoo or mark on either his forehead or forehand, only if he swears allegiance to the Dictator as being God. Symbolically, this mark will be 666.”[131] Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Premillennial Dispensationalist authors of the mega-bestselling Left Behind series, follow the same line.[132]

Some have sought to solve the riddle through Roman numerals. In his study of pagan symbolism Robert Graves suggests that 666 was an abbreviation for the Latin sentence Domitianus Caesar Legatos Xti Violenter Interfecit, or “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ.”[133] In Roman numerals 666 also represents all the numbers from 1 to 500 in descending order, namely D (500) + C (100) + L (50) + X (10) + V (5) + I (1), or DCLXVI. Another reading in Roman numerals regards DCLXVI as an anagram of DIC LVX, which is said to be an abbreviation of Dicit Lux, “the light speaks.” Still others say that DCLXVI represents trade or the economic system of the Roman Empire, and thus is a metaphor for the whore of Babylon in Revelation. Supporters of this idea claim that the meaning was not so cryptic, and it would have been easily understood in Roman times.

Some view the number as a riddle, to be solved like a brain teaser.[134] For example, 666 is a “triangular number.”[135] For example, “10 is the triangular number of 4.” That is, if one were to add 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10. 666 is the triangular number of 36, and 36 is the triangular number of 8 which could be a key to 666.

Others have pointed out that the numbers on a roulette table, i.e., 1 to 36, add up to the sum of “666.”

One of the most plausible interpretations is in terms of gematria, i.e., using letters as numbers. Recalling that the Greek verb ψηφισάτω, meaning “to calculate, to reckon” (Rev. 13:18), also points in this direction. Hebrew as well as Greek letters of the alphabet also served as numbers. Thus A = 1; B = 2; I = 10; K = 20. By adding the numerical value of the letters of a name, it is possible to calculate the number of the name.

The consensus among those who take this approach is that 666 is the number of Nero Caesar on the basis of the Hebrew alphabet. It would be written nron qsr (nun = 50 + resh = 200 + waw = 6 + nun = 50 + qoph = 100 + samekh = 60 + resh = 200). The spelling nron qsr has been found on a document from Murabet, thus eliminating earlier objections to this solution.[136] Koester concurs, “Given the allusions to Nero in Revelation 13, it seems likely that 666 corresponds to Neron Kaisar, which is the Hebrew form of the name Nero Caesar.”[137]

Others prefer a less ambitious symbolic interpretation. “666 falls three times short of seven, the number of perfection.”[138] Hence, 666 is a symbolic way of saying “failure upon failure upon failure.” Accordingly neither the Roman Empire, nor the Caesars, nor imperial policies are perfect or divine. They are merely three human sixes, not three divine sevens. Some complain that this proposed solution “fails to do justice to the text,” which demands that we discover in this number the name of a human being.[139] But for many Christians it is enough to know that 666 is “the triple six.” Six in the Bible is the “number of man.”[140] It falls one short of seven, the number of God—God rested on the seventh day, and God’s work is seen in the matrix of sevens in The Apocalypse. Taken as a whole chapter, Revelation 13 presents the horrific image of the rise of the two principle evil characters of the end of the age who, with Satan, form a “Satanic trinity.”[141] Satan, “the ape of God”[142] and “the parody of God,”[143] will form a trinity that will consist of “Satan as God, Antichrist, the counterfeit Christ, as Christ, and the false prophet, a travesty of the Holy Spirit.”[144]

“Unique,” “curious,” “unconventional,” “peculiar,” “nontraditional,” and “odd” would be six words that best describe Johann Albrecht Bengel’s interpretation of 666. The core of Bengel’s problem is his unique and eccentric understanding of “666.” The point is, despite many and various opinions and theories about the meaning of 666, Bengel’s 666 interpretation is unconventional and clearly outside the consensus view. In fact, Bengel’s odd interpretation of 666 does not find support, agreement, or confirmation from any scholar before or after his time. Furthermore, an unconventional interpretation of 666 would not have been a problem if Bengel had not proceeded to construct an elaborate and unified meta-narrative of past, present, and future history based on this number. Hence, the 666 keystone number is the chief weakness in his entire system. This faulty premise leads directly to the failure of his infamous 1836 calculation.

 

Conclusion

Bengel was certainly wrong about June 18, 1836. But, what can be learned from Bengel’s error? Pelikan notes that while many “condescending” historians of Christian thought and orthodox dogmaticians “see to it that these aberrations in his thought are not forgotten by subsequent generations,”[145] at least Bengel was determined to take Biblical eschatology seriously.[146]

Two points are at play here. First, orthodox Lutheran critics, attempting to score points in the often bitter intellectual conflict with Pietism, have fueled Bengel’s reputation as just another failed eschatological speculator. Hence, over the years, Bengel’s 1836 error has been unfairly amplified and built into a colossal straw man in this long running Orthodox-Pietist dispute.

Like Bengel, Luther also set a date for Christ’s Second Coming. Like Bengel, Luther constructed elaborate timetables and chronologies.[147] Yet, among the orthodox, Luther is not remembered as an apocalyptic crank. Luther’s eccentricities in this area have been conveniently neglected and forgotten.

Meanwhile, Bengel’s notorious 1836 “prediction” is treated as if it were the locus of his life’s work. Bengel’s famous date appears almost as an afterthought within the greater context of his elaborate chronology that mingles both extant secular and Biblical dates. Furthermore, compared to his work as a teacher, textual critic, Bible translator and commentator, 1836 was almost a footnote.

Second, in the eighteenth century, at a time when Enlightenment thinkers had begun to secularize, ignore, and even attack Christian eschatology, Bengel attempted to drive the faithful back to the Scriptures. He believed that only those who were truly grounded in faith in Christ and the Word of God could have the joy and comfort of a panoramic view of the divine economy in history. With Christ at the center of history, Bengel attempted to discern the presence of Christ in this time and in this place. Yet Bengel violated his own marvelous precept, “to read nothing into the Scriptures, but draw everything from them, and suffer nothing to remain hidden that is really in them”[148] by reading in his complex and sophisticated chronological system into his interpretation of Scripture.

Like William Miller, John Nelson Darby, C.I. Scofield, Harold Camping, and Jung-Stilling, Bengel made the mistake of taking the numbers [often symbolic] and dates [estimated and reconstructed dates] of the Bible too literally. Also, like Miller, Darby, Scofield, and other Millennialists, Bengel made the error of assuming the Bible had a system or a code embedded within the text that later scholars and students of the Scripture could decrypt.

Again, like Miller and Camping, Bengel set a specific date for Christ’s return. In the Bible, Jesus Christ warns us against date setting, and despite this warning, many well-meaning scholars have sought to rationalize their findings as they set dates–typically within their own lifetimes. There is a strange tendency for students of apocalyptic literature to regard their own time as the most decadent and apostate generation.

Reading Bengel and these other Millennialists helps to provide us with a sense of historical perspective. Knowing their failings and their failed predictions serves to immunize us from the claims of next wave of system builders and apocalyptic prognosticators. This would include the latest 2012 Mayan calendar prediction.

Bengel is interesting—and important—because his careful study of Revelation is independent of the Anglo-American Dispensationalism that tends to dominate, cloud, and taint the views of many. It is important—and humbling—to know that there are many ways to read and interpret apocalyptic literature. There is not just one system or meta-narrative, but many different ways to interpret the Book of Revelation.

Bengel, and his system, leading up to the 1836 date, also reminds us that, “great men make great mistakes.”[149] Even when his conclusion is incorrect, it is a joy to reflect on his complex calculations.

Bengel helps us to understand, as Fritch explains, why “prophecy must not be divorced from history, that is, redemptive history.” He explains, if it is, “it degenerates into mere oracle predictions and fanciful speculations which are used to ‘prove’ any number of eschatological systems.”[150] Fritch correctly concludes that “the only thing that saved Bengel from this sort of disgraceful end was his deep spiritual character and insight.”[151]

 

Notes

[1]       Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking, 2005), 167.

[2]       John Christian Frederic Burk, Dr. Johann Albrecht Bengels Leben und Wirken (Stuttgart, 1831), English translation by R.F. Walker and published as A Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Albert Bengel, Prelate of Wurttemberg, Compiled Principally from Original Manuscripts (London: William Ball, 1837), 294.

[3]      “Bengel, Johann Albrecht,” Lutheran Cyclopedia: A Concise In-Home Reference for the Christian Family, Edwin L. Lueker, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1984), 84.

[4]      E.H.B. Neff, “Jung-Stilling, Johann Heinrich,” Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 3 (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Mennonite Publishing House, 1957), 127-128.

[5]       Ibid.

[6]      John Albert Bengel, [Gnomon Novi Testamenti]: Bengel’s New Testament Commentary, translation by Charlton T. Lewis and Marvin R. Vincent (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1981).

[7]     Johann Albrecht Bengel, Erklärte Offenbarung Johannis oder vielmehr Jesu Christi (Stuttgart: Paulus, 1740, 1773, 1834). Translated into English by John Robertson (London, 1757).

[8]     Donald K. McKim, ed., Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters (Downers Grove:, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 292.

[9]      The Millennium, and Millennialism, is a vital feature of eschatological cosmology. The word Millennium is derived from Rev. 20:5, τὰ χίλια, “Chilia,” or Millennia in Latin. It refers to a period of one thousand years.

[10]      Norman L. Geisler and Willim E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 440.

[11]      Charles T. Fritsch, “The Interpreter at Work: Bengel, Student of Scripture,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 5/2 (April 1951): 203.

[12]     Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 61.

[13]     Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches, trans. Olive Wyon (Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1912, 1931, 1992), 787.

[14]     Peter C. Erb, ed., Pietists: Selected Writings, The Library of Spiritual Classics (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 1.

[15]    Geisler and Nix, 146.

[16]     Ibid.

[17]    Bengel, Gnomon, “Author’s Preface,” xii.

[18]   Ibid.

[19]     Jaroslav Pelikan, “In Memoriam: Johann Albrecht Bengel, June 24, 1687 to November 2, 1752,” Concordia Theological Journal 23/11 (November 1952): 792.

[20]     Kurt Aland, quoted by McKim, 289.

[21]     Burk, 1, and Pelikan, 785.

[22]    W. Claus and Rev. H.C. Stuckenberg, “Extracts from the Life and Labors of Bengel,” The Lutheran Quarterly 19/1 (Gettysburg: J.E. Wible Printer, 1889), 106.

[23]   Fritsch, 205.

[24]   Burk, 2.

[25]    During this time, in the years 1688-1692, the “plundering hordes” of Louis XIV made many “ill-famed campaigns of plunder” into the Württemberg region. F. Ernest Stoeffler, German Pietism during the Eighteenth Century (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1973), 89, 94.

[26]   Burk, 2.

[27]   Gnomon, “Author’s Preface,” xxxiii.

[28] Pelikan, 786.

[29]   Ibid., 786.

[30]    Ibid., 787.

[31]   Burk, 37.

[32]   Pelikan, 787.

[33] Burk, 528.

[34] Ferdinand Piper, ed., Lives of the Leaders of Our Church Universal, trans. Henry Mitchell MacCracken (New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1879), 472.

[35]        Christian History: Pietism (Carol Stream IL: Christianity Today, 1986), notes, “Pietists generally believed and often asserted that their movement was an extension of, or second phase of, the Reformation.”

[36] Johann ­Arndt, True Christianity, trans. Peter Erb, Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1979).

[37]         Philip Jacob Spener, Pia Desideria, translation by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964).

[38]         Christian History: Pietism.

[39]       Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959).

[40]      Conrad Bergendoff, The Church of the Lutheran Reformation: A Historical Survey of Lutheranism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1967), 167.

[41]     Christian History: Pietism.

[42]     Stoeffler, 94.

[43]    Orthodox critics of Bengel unfairly dismiss his work as both Millennialist [i.e., in contradiction to Augsburg Confession, XVII] and “un-Lutheran.”

[44]    Burk, 3.

[45]     Gnomon, “Author’s Preface,” xxxiii.

[46]    Clarence B. Carson, A Basic History of the United States: Volume Three: The Sections and the Civil War, 1826-1877 (Phenix City, AL: American Textbook Committee, 1985), 83.

[47]   Edgar C. Whisenant, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988: New Expanded Edition (Nashville: World Bible Society, 1988).

[48]   Harold Camping, 1994? (New York: Vantage, 1992), 525. Since Jesus failed to appear in 1994, based on “new information” Camping now teaches that Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011. On that day true Christians will be Raptured, and everyone else will come under the judgment of Christ for a period of five months, ending on October 21, 2011.

[49]    In economics, the over-use and abuse of mathematics is called “the Ricardian vice,” after David Ricardo (1771-1823) the great British economist who had a propensity for translating human actions into complex mathematical equations.

[50]       Harry Elmer Barnes, An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World, (New York: Dover, 1937, 1965), vol. 1, 791.

[51]       Ibid.

[52]      J.A. Bengel, Gnomon of the New Testament, Bandinel and Fausset translation (1860), vol. I, 7.

[53]     The fifth of Spener’s six proposed reforms in Pia Desideria was that “clergy must be regenerated [we would say ‘born again’] Christians.” See Spener, 103-104.

[54]     Spener, 87.

[55]      Stoeffler, quoting Bengel’s Ordo Temporum, 99.

[56]     Fritsch, 214.

[57]     Stoeffler, 100.

[58]    Fritsch, 212.

[59]     Spener, 97.

[60]      e.g., The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

[61]     Stoeffler, 100.

[62]     Fritsch, 203.

[63]    The textus receptus is Erasmus’ 1516 Greek New Testament.

[64]    Geisler and Nix, 386.

[65]     Piper, 470.

[66]    Harry Yeide, Jr., Studies in Classical Pietism: The Flowering of the Ecclesiola (New York: Peter Lang, 1997), 93.

[67]   McKim, 293.

[68]   Gnomon, “Life and Writings of J.A. Bengel,” xxxviii.

[69]    Bruce M. Metzger, ed., A Textual Commentary of the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1971).

[70]     Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 112.

[71]    The Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman, ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 6, 912.

[72]   Pelikan, 789.

[73]   Gerhard A. Krodel, Revelation, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament (Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1989), 15.

[74]   Ibid.

[75]   Pelikan, 789.

[76]   Geisler and Nix, 387.

[77] Yeide, 95.

[78]         McKim, 292.

[79]   Interestingly, Andreas Osiander the Elder identified the papacy as the Antichrist and calculated the end of the world as 1656. Lueker, ed., Lutheran Cyclopedia, 593.

[80]   John 2:13-17.

[81]   Matt. 21:10-17; Mark 11:11, 15-17; and Luke 19:45-46.

[82] Geisler and Nix, 384.

[83]         Lutheran Quarterly (1889), 113.

[84]         McKim, 291.

[85] Burk, 28.

[86]         Stoeffler, 103.

[87]         Fritsch, 213, quoting Bengel’s Ordo Temporum (Chapter XI, section 13).

[88]        In his “Chronicles,” or “Reckoning Years of the World, [i.e., Supputatio annorum mundi (1541)],” [revised in 1545] Martin Luther, who “inherited the diverse spiritual, historical, and polemical traditions of earlier generations,” followed the traditional medieval scheme of viewing world history as a succession of millennia analogous to the seven days of creation, with the seventh day being “the day of eternal Sabbath.” Luther’s book, Supputatio annorum mundi (1541), grew out of a 1531 manuscript originally prepared for his own use. In turn, this 1531 chronological project was prepared with Philipp Melanchthon’s assistance and based on the earlier work of the mathematician John Carion. Melanchthon also had a lifelong interest in interfacing biblical and secular chronologies. Interestingly, Luther’s Chronicles have never been translated into English. They can be found in The Weimar Edition (WA), 53:22-184. See Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986), 108.

[89]         Pelikan, 791.

[90]     Ibid., 790.

[91]     E. Theodore Bachmann, ed., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960), vol. 35, 399.

[92]    Gnomon, 1026 on Rev. 1:1; quoted in John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (General Books, 2009), 2:313.

[93]   Burk, 334.

[94]   Fritsch, 205.

[95]    Burk, 282.

[96]   In 1522 Luther concluded, “My spirit cannot accommodate itself to this book… [it is] neither apostolic nor prophetic (Luther’s Works, vol. 35, 398-399).”

[97]   Calvin Commentaries cover the entire New Testament, except for 2 and 3 John and Revelation. W. Gary Crampton, What Calvin Says: An Introduction to the Theology of John Calvin (Unicoi, TN: Trinity Foundation, 1992), 19.

[98] Burk, 282.

[99]   Gnomon, 831.

[100]       Burk, 282-283.

[101]      Gnomon, 831.

[102]     “It cannot be for nothing,” writes Bengel, “that twenty definite numbers are determined in this book.” Gnomon, 831.

[103]     Burk, 287.

[104]     Ibid., 282.

[105]     Gnomon, 364.

[106]     Lutheran Quarterly (1889), 111. In his comment on Matthew 24:36, Bengel explains that the hour and day were unknown, “when this discourse was delivered… [but that it would] be revealed after the Ascension of the Lord and the Apocalypse given to John (Gnomon, 278).”

[107]    For Bengel, John of Patmos merely functioned as scribe of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. The true author was Jesus Christ who is “coming soon” (e.g., Rev. 1:1-3; 22:7-12).

[108]   J.F. Reuss took Württemberg Pietism to Scandinavia after being appointed court preacher in Denmark and later professor of theology at Copenhagen. Stoeffler, 105.

[109]     Burk, 44.

[110]     Bengel notes that “It was with great pleasure I lately noticed Luther’s remark upon Revelation 13:18; for I find that he too interpreted the number of the Beast as denoting 666 years for the period of papal domination; only according to him, that period commenced under Hildebrand [i.e., Pope Gregory VII (c.1020-1085)] in A.D. 1013. (Burk, 282).”

[111]     Burk, 284.

[112]    “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”

[113]   Gnomon, 898.

[114]   Burk, 288.

[115]    Lutheran Quarterly (1889), 112.

[116]   Ibid.

[117]   “The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months (Rev. 13:5).”

[118] Burk, 290.

[119]   Gnomon, 898, and Burk, 290.

[120]    Bengel’s fully detailed, complex and mind-boggling Chronological Table is present in English in Burk, p 291-295.

[121]   Krodel, 17.

[122]   Eusebius (c.260-339) gives 5,611 years from creation to Alaric the Visigoth’s August 24, 410 A.D. sack of Rome. See also the important Western Christian theological-historical explanation for the fall of the Eternal City of Rome in St. Augustine, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans (New York: Penguin, 1984).

[123] Rev. 13:18, KJV

[124] Mitchell G. Reddish, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary: Revelation (Macon, Georgia: Smyth and Helwys, 2001), 260.

[125]   B.J. Oropeza, 99 Reasons Why No One Knows When Christ Will Return (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 151.

[126] Ibid., 152.

[127]         Ibid., 148-149, and Tim LaHaye, Revelation Unveiled, 227.

[128]         Oropeza, 150.

[129] Ibid., 150.

[130]   J.N. Darby, Notes on the Apocalypse, quoted by John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 210.

[131] Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), 101.

[132]         Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End-times? (1999), 195-196.

[133]         Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1948, 1966).

[134]         Krodel, 257.

[135]         Another interesting possible use of a triangle number in the Bible is the 153 fish caught in John 21:11.

[136]         Krodel quotes R.H. Charles, International Critical Commentary: The Revelation of St. John (Edinburgh, Scotland: T&T Clark, 1920, 2000), vol. 1, 367.

[137]        Koester, 133.

[138]       Krodel, 258.

[139]         Ibid.

[140]     Walvoord, 210.

[141]    Krodel states that this concept was coined by Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740-1817), 253.

[142]   Martin Luther explains that “the devil is always the imitator (Affe = ape) of our Lord God, forever poses as divine and creates the impression the he is God.” Ewald M. Plass, ed., What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959, 1986), saying no. 1166, 396.

[143]   Krodel, 253.

[144]   Walvoord, 211.

[145]   Pelikan, 791.

[146]   Ibid., 793.

[147] Martin Luther’s Chronicles has never been translated in the English. They can be found in The Weimar Edition (WA), 53:22-184.

[148]         Lutheran Quarterly (1889), 113.

[149]   Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).

[150]      Fritsch, 215.

[151]     Ibid.

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  • Bartholomew Onah Akogwu Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:49

    I am very happy to have this write up and to study.And i would like to have more of this in my E mail.

    about 9 months ago
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