Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Pietist Critique of Inerrancy? J. A. Bengel's Gnomon as a Test Case

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Pietist Critique of Inerrancy? J. A. Bengel's Gnomon as a Test Case

Article excerpt

On the first page of his controversial and widely influential 1678 work, Histoire critique du Vieux Testament, the French Roman Catholic priest Richard Simon states without apology that the universally held view of Scripture for both Jews and Christians was that Scripture is infallible,1 has divine authority, comes directly from God, and is the pure word of God. Simon also highlights the fact that the original manuscripts have been lost and that changes have been introduced to copies over time. he then begins his work (which went on to argue for a "public scribes hypothesis" for the authorship of the Pentateuch) by quoting Augustine in support of the need to examine the copies critically.2 Critics of inerrancy, however, often argue that the doctrine of the inerrancy of the "original autographs" of Scripture (i.e. the truthfulness of Scripture in all that it affirms) is only a relatively recent development in the history of the church and point to an article by A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield on "Inspiration" in 1881 as the classic formulation of the doctrine.3 Although A. A. Hodge claimed that his defense of the inspiration and inerrancy of the original autographs was in line with what had universally been held by the church, many assert that the "original autograph" proposal was a novel development to combat the rise of higher criticism.4 The view that Princeton theologians developed the doctrine of inerrant original autographs does not necessarily prove that this doctrine is wrong. Nevertheless, careful responses have demonstrated the falsity of this claim point by point.5

The Pietists are one particular group who continue to be put forward as evidence for the novelty of the doctrine of inerrancy. Although they were not mentioned in the studies of Sandeen and Rogers and McKim, and hence did not need detailed examination in the responses of Woodbridge and others, it is frequently claimed that the Pietists (and their doctrine of Scripture) have been neglected and even suppressed by those who maintain that Scripture is inerrant. The Pietists are said to have held to a more "dynamic" and less "mechanical" view of Scripture-even deliberately rejecting an inerrant view of Scripture. Proponents of this argument (see below) often group Johann Albrecht Bengel together with the Pietists as those who held such a "non-inerrant" view of Scripture. In examining this supposed Pietist tradition, this article will focus specifically on Bengel-in particular, his renowned commentary, the Gnomon of the New Testament.6 The argument of this article is that Bengel would wholeheartedly agree with formulations such as the doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society that "|t|he Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs." Before clarifying the arguments for Bengel's "non-inerrant" view of Scripture and responding to these arguments from his own statements in the Gnomon, a brief introduction to Bengel the scholar and his Gnomon will be given to help highlight the significance of these claims.

I. UNDERSTANDING BENGEL THE SCHOLAR AS A SETTING FOR THIS DEBATE

To have Bengel on your side as a critic of inerrancy is to have a "heavy hitter" in the history of the Christian church. Although he is now largely confined to a passing comment in discussions of the history of textual criticism, Bengel has been described as a leading figure in the history of Lutheran theology-comparable to Martin Luther, J. C. K. von Hofmann, and Adolf Schlatter.7 he has been described as "the exegete of pietism"8 and even "the most important exegete since Calvin."9 In fact, although he is readily recognized as the father of modern textual criticism,10 Helmbold claims that he is also the father of modern scientific exegesis, modern eschatological study, and even the father of those seeking unity among Evangelicals.11

Whether or not one agrees with these estimations (Helmbold's claims, in particular, seem rather generous), Bengel can hardly be dismissed as an "uncritical" pietist with a simplistic faith and little intellectual ability. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.