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Bible Commentaries

Bengel's Gnomon of the New Testament


- Revelation

by Johann Albrecht Bengel




I have prepared two Commentaries on the Apocalypse at the same time; the one in German , separately published, [1] for the sake of those who, although they are unacquainted with Latin, are yet searchers after the truth; the other in Latin , which is this last part of the Gnomon of the New Testament. Do not imagine, Reader, that these differ only in language: there is a much greater difference between them, on account of which they may be used together , or rather, they ought to be so used. That treatise in German is full, regular, and without intermission; but these annotations in Latin exhibit a kind of miscellaneous gleaning, which is also serviceable in its class. For I judged, that the testimonies of antiquity, the explanation of Greek phrases, critical supplements, [2] and the refutation of false opinions, would be set forth more conveniently in Latin than in my vernacular language. Therefore the things which are there more diffusely explained, are here only touched upon: the things which were scarcely introduced there, are here more copiously treated. The two commentaries are altogether distinct: each is something complete in its own way. [3] He who shall use the two together, will say that they are like one work, but he will reap a double advantage.

[1] The first edition of this came from the press A. 1740; the second, without any change in the principal matters, and furnished with a new Prologue, A. 1746: respecting the others, which were published after the death of my sainted father, as also respecting the Sacred Discourses on the Apocalypse which followed , A. 1747, 60 erbauliche Reden, of which likewise several editions are now published, there is no reason why I should speak. There is only one thing which I wish those unacquainted with it to know: Es waren keine öffentliche Predigten (wie man sie sehon genenuet hat), sondern Vertrauliche Vorträge, die in sogenannten Erbauungs-Stunden gemacht worden. E. B.

[2] These here, for the greatest part, on account of the reasons alleged in my Introduction, I have now removed: why I have not thought, however , that s o me, though inserted in the Apparatus, should be cut out , the matter speaks for itself. E. B.

[3] No one will on this account think that the whole of that German Commentary was to be set forth to the readers of the Gnomon, by that plan in which I inserted short notes upon the Vers. Germ. E. B.

2) But is criticism , you will say, inculcated here also? I am more weary of this kind of labour than I may appear to many. For when Robert Stephens divided the text of the Apocalypse into more than 400 verses, the mere revision of the Apocalypse before required from me a labour of perhaps as many days (if any one is not aware of the importance of this labour, let him pardon me). I am unwilling to exaggerate, by setting forth, in an ambitious manner, how protracted a task it is to compare the printed editions, and the most important of them word by word, to revise the edition of Kuster from that of Mill itself, to examine the Greek and Latin Manuscripts, to arrange the extracts of Manuscripts brought forward by others from various quarters, to consult the Versions, to search the Greek and Latin Fathers, to adjust the punctuation; and yet I thought that this very labour ought not here to be wholly concealed. For it is most properly required from those who would give a just opinion in a matter of this kind, that, in addition to their other qualifications, however excellent, they should be readily conversant with the reading and purport of the Manuscripts, Versions, and Fathers, and be thoroughly acquainted with the character of these witnesses, their number, their points of agreement and disagreement, and the weight due to their testimony, at one time greater, at another time less: and that they should not suppose that the passages on which they have fallen, can be explained separately by a hasty judgment, but that they should rather seek for the settlement of differences from the generally-agreeing results of the whole investigation. To this point the Foundations of criticism on the Apocalypse , in the Apparatus, from page 776 to 789 [Ed. ii. p. 487, and following], have a manifest reference, in which I have entered into a consideration of the Apocalypse as a whole , and that in no cursory manner; and have thus prepared light and strength for the critical examination of separate passages which follows in the same treatise. I have given a summary of the Foundations in a second Defence; [4] and I will here repeat a part of that summary. “Erasmus, as he himself admits , had only one Greek Manuscript on the Apocalypse, by Jo. Capnio, and the commentary of Andreas of Cæsarea, with which the text ( τὸ κείμενον ) was interspersed. From that , he says, WE TOOK CARE that the words of the context should be written down . And since the book was mutilated , he supplied the text, in a hasty manner , from the Vulgate, which was not yet revised; and he did this without great care , since he did not very highly esteem this prophecy. Stephens, who was a man of learning, but overwhelmed with business as a printer, published, word for word , the text of the Apocalypse as given by Erasmus, though it was of such a character, especially in his last edition, which so many other editors have followed. This is evident to the eye . But before these two, that is before the Reformation, in the Complutensian edition, a text of the Apocalypse very remarkable, and of signal efficacy as to its testimony against the Papacy, and one which we ought by no means to disparage , came forth in the midst of Spain, and was spread far and wide in other countries of Europe. Afterwards the Oriental languages and Versions were studied: the most ancient Latin Version was restored, in which I gained a gleaning similar to that which my Apparatus exhibits: and many Greek and Latin Fathers , and those too, Fathers who make copious and strong allusions to the Apocalypse, have been brought to light and examined. Greek Manuscripts of the Apocalypse, so rarely met with in former times, have been procured in considerable numbers and at different places; and of two, which came into my hands, one fortunately contained the same commentary of Andreas of Cæsarea; by the aid of which I more accurately perceived in what part Erasmus was correct, and in what he was at fault. And the Alexandrian Codex [5] (which is a matter of great importance) has been introduced into the West a manuscript which is acknowledged by true critics to be incomparable, on account of its antiquity , and in the Apocalypse especially, on account of its purity and authority . And Erasmus and Stephens, if they were alive at the present day, would most gladly avail themselves of these aids furnished by God, and more readily so than the whole band of their followers; and they would with one mouth declare, that the text of the Apocalypse is presented to us in its purest state, not by those editions which they themselves published with such difficulty, and which others after them perpetuated with such scrupulous exactness, but by both classes of editions conjointly, and indeed by the whole of Christian antiquity , and the Marrow of its documents. These are all the foundations on which my criticism is based. In such a manner not only many passages of lesser, though undoubtedly of some, weight, but also some of the greatest importance , having reference to the Divine economy, are renewed afresh in the Apocalypse by the ROYAL PROCLAMATION of Jesus Christ to those who love His appearance. Many good souls now acknowledge this. They give thanks to God, and turn the matter to their own use.” Since the matter comes to this point, I do not think it burdensome, and I consider it my duty, to note down by the way further observations, which, from time to time, of their own accord occur to me, perhaps more than to any other man, however learned, even when I am engaged on other business; and to add vindications of their truth, where there is occasion to do so.

[4] App. Crit. Ed. ii. P. iv. N. ix.

[5] Marked usually as A. It was given to Charles I. by Cyril Lucar, Patriarch of Alexandria, and afterwards of Constantinople; now in the Brit. Museum. Edited fac-simile by Woide, 1786. E.

3) To those resources, which I employed in the Apparatus, is now added a commentary upon the Apocalypse, attributed to Apringius , respecting whom it will be useful to make some remarks. Apringius , whom many call Aprigius (some use other slight variations of the name), was Bishop of Pax Julia, in Spain, about the year 540. His Commentary on the Apocalypse, quoted by Isidorus of Seville, and by others, was regarded by some as lost. But Garsias Loaisa , according to Fabricius, says, “There is extant a great work in MS. on the Apocalypse.” But when I had seen the Gothic Legionensian Codex, written in the thousand and eighth year, I perceived that no certain knowledge was to be gained from thence respecting the name of the author, but that the work was composed for the gratification of a certain Æterius. Moreover the author says in his preface, that he has collected his writings from the books of Victorinus, Isidorus, and Aprigius . Another copy on parchment, transcribed at Barcinona, in the year 1042, from another copy of greater antiquity (perhaps the Legionensian), was brought from Spain into Denmark in the preceding century. At Arna , in that country, by the permission of Magnæus Islandus , a professor at Copenhagen, the well-known abbot I. L. Moshemius formerly copied the book: and he informed me, that the original MSS. were destroyed in the fire at Copenhagen; he however obligingly sent me as a present his own copy, most accurately derived from them. In that MS. the name of Apringius occurs throughout: and this very treatise, at the beginning and end , is attributed to the Bishop Apringius . However, it plainly appears that the work is interpolated. In one place, John is said to have written the Apocalypse during the reign of Claudius; in another place, during that of Domitian. The number 666 (DCLXVI) is reduced to the word DICLUX, of which device Ambrose Ansbert professed himself the inventor, two or three centuries after Apringius. The Commentary of Apringius himself, in his own name, in one or two places is so intermingled with that of the rest, that the preceding parts must be assigned for that very reason to other authors. I am not at present concerned to say anything as to the character of that commentary: Moshemius, in accordance with the object which he then had in view, in most instances wrote out the text, interwoven with the commentary, in such a manner, that he expressed only the first and last words of the paragraphs; but still the readings of many passages are brought to light, which here and there show the integrity of the Vulgate translator, and everywhere confirm my own opinions, formed before I had any knowledge of Apringius. Where I quote Apringius by name, the reader will remember that the readings of the Copenhagen copy are those meant by me, although the identical readings of Apringius can scarcely be distinguished from the rest: nor is it of great consequence, since the interpolations themselves are of sufficient antiquity, and some of them are taken from authors perhaps more ancient than Apringius, and agree either with the text of Apringius himself, or with that of other Latin copies of the New Testament. We can undoubtedly collect here and there the Spanish reading of the Latin Apocalypse, which is scarcely to be met with elsewhere.

4) Moreover, my edition of the New Testament with critical apparatus came into the hands of John Christopher Wolf , of pious memory, before he published his fourth volume of Cnræ on the New Test.: therefore he especially paid attention to my annotations in the Apocalypse.

He would sometimes, as I believe, have arrived at a different judgment, if the haste, of which his excellent work bears traces at the close, had allowed more accurate consideration. He has indeed frequently confirmed my opinion by his own suffrage: and this agreement of a man most highly praised, ought to cause many to lay aside the prejudices which are so common in cases of this kind. In other places, he has expressed his disagreement with my opinions, or at any rate his doubt; at the same time mentioning his reasons, with the courtesy of a theologian. I have thought that such things ought to be declared, by me again and again on this account, that I might contend with one who is dead, not more in arguments than in kindness. I do not now repeat, in one place, the explanations which I have given on that ground-work; they who have any interest in the matter may read them in my Apparatus. At each place separately, I have given such admonitions as were befitting: from which the attentive reader would not, as I hope, depart without profit. For respecting those passages, in which the controversy turns on the expression, I have not said much, but I have more carefully vindicated some most important readings. [6]

[6] Which readings are to be sought in the 2d Edition of this very App. Crit., as I have said. E. B.

5) Nor however does this gleaning of criticisms overwhelm, much less exclude, Exegesis , which is the object at which I chiefly aim in this book. You may say that the treatise is composed of two threads. For I have made it my aim, that this part should not turn out too meagre, and that it might not be out of character with the weighty consideration of the other books of the New Testament in this Gnomon , the exegetical part of which has frequently been quoted in the critical Apparatus even on the Apocalypse. I have indicated by their titles only, forcibly and concisely, the principal subjects comprised in any portion of the prophecy. I have made my own treatise more clear, by examining in many places the opinions of a distinguished commentator, D. Joachim Lange . But you will remember that a fuller explanation of the arguments and emblems is to be sought for from my German commentary.

6) I introduce here, at the very threshold, a Synopsis of the whole Apocalypse, which is natural, as I hope, and serviceable.

The Apocalypse contains:

I. The INTRODUCTION: 1. The title of the Book, Revelation 1:1-66.1.3 2. The inscription, Revelation 1:4-66.1.6 3. The sum and substance, Revelation 1:7-66.1.8 4. A glorious vision, in which the Lord Jesus a . instructs John to write, Revelation 1:9-66.1.20 b . stirs up the angels of the seven churches, at Ephesus and Smyrna and Pergamos, and at Thyatira and Sardis, and at Philadelphia and Laodicea, to prepare themselves in a befitting manner for His coming, promising future blessings “To him that overcometh.” Revelation 2:0 ; Revelation 3:0 . II. The shewing of those things which shall come to pass. Here in one continued vision is set forth: 1. Generally and universally, all power in heaven and in earth, given by Him that sits on the throne to the Lamb, on the opening of the seven seals of the sealed book, ch. 4, 5. In the first four seals are comprised visible things, towards the east, and west, and south, and north: ch. Revelation 6:1-66.6.8 : in the remaining three, invisible things; ch. Revelation 6:9 . etc. The seventh, as being of greatest moment, a . has a special preparation, Revelation 7:0 b . contains silence in heaven, seven angels with trumpets, and a great burning of incense, Revelation 8:1-66.8.6 2. A particular judgment, by which, under the seven angels and their trumpets, the kingdom of the world is convulsed, until it becomes the kingdom of God and of Christ. Here are to be considered, A. The first four angels, with their trumpets, Revelation 8:7-66.8.12 B. The three remaining angels, with their trumpets; and the three woes, by means of the locusts, the horsemen, and the beast, Revelation 8:13 ; Revelation 9:1 , etc. The trumpet of the seventh angel is the most ample: from which is to he noted, a . The oath of the angel concerning the consummation of the Divine mystery under the trumpet of the seventh angel; and the approaching change of the great city, Revelation 10:0 ; Revelation 11:0 . b . The trumpet itself, and under it, I. A summary and setting forth of events, Revelation 11:15 II. A previous giving of thanks on the part of the elders for the judgment, Revelation 11:16-66.11.18 III. The judgment itself, Revelation 11:19 Here are related a. The birth of the man-child, and the casting out of the original enemy from heaven, Revelation 12:1-66.12.12 b . A delay on the earth, the third horrible woe: in which, 1. The woe itself is stirred up: 1. by the dragon, Revelation 12:12 2. by the two beasts, Revelation 12:13 2. In the meantime men 1. are admonished by three angels, Revelation 14:6 2. are gathered together by the harvest and vintage, Revelation 14:14 3. are afflicted by seven plagues or vials, and invited to repentance, Revelation 14:15-66.14.16 . 3. The great whore, together with the beast, suffers accumulated calamity, Revelation 17:0 c . A royal victory, in which those enemies are removed out of the way, in inverted order. For, 1. The great whore is judged, and the kingdom of God prevails,. Revelation 18:19 2. The beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire, Revelation 19:0 3. The devil is bound, Revelation 20:0 d . The kingdom freed from all hindrances. For that kingdom, after the former steps, in succession before the trumpet of the seventh angel, ch. Revelation 7:9 , and especially after those mentioned under it, Revelation 14:1 ; Revelation 14:13 , Revelation 15:2 , now altogether flourishes. 1. The nations are not led astray by Satan, but are fed by Christ, Revelation 20:3 2. Those who have a part in the first resurrection reign together with Christ, Revelation 20:4 3. Gog and Magog are destroyed; and the devil, having been loosed for a short time (chronus), is cast into the lake of fire, Revelation 20:7 4. The dead are judged, Revelation 20:11 5. The new heaven, and new earth: the New Jerusalem, the kingdom which remaineth for ever and ever, Rev 20:21, 22 III. The Conclusion, exactly answering to the introduction of the Book, Revelation 22:6-66.22.21 The well-known D. Joachim Lange has also prefixed a Table to his Commentary on the Apocalypse. Whether that of his, or mine, sets forth the genuine connection of the prophecy, I wish those to declare who understand the matter.

7) He who shall take the trouble to fix in his mind my Table , and to take the more palatable Notes , apart from the critical, although they sometimes coalesce, and, though they are few, thoroughly to weigh their force, will certainly, as I confidently trust, derive some advantage, and will not only avoid the vague inventions of many, but will also acknowledge the assistance which it furnishes towards a true interpretation. We resolve the prophetic times into those in ordinary use at their respective places: but the demonstration of this fact (and it ought to be sufficient to have mentioned this once for all) is given especially at ch. Revelation 13:18 .