Johann Albrecht Bengel and John Wesley - mariner's compass, Gnomon, Sermon on the Trinity

Steven Avery

Johann Albrecht Bengel - (1687-1752)

A Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Albert Bengel: Prelate in Würtemberg : Compiled Principallly from Original Manuscripts Never Before Published (1842)

It should also be noticed that Bengel did not recommend the omission of the disputed clause in 1 John 5:7 (see Erasmus 1516 ), but rather defended it; and so he gained the respect of persons who might otherwise have attacked his work. Count Zinzendorf, the patron of the Moravian Brethren, announced that Bengel's text was to be the basis of the German version to be used in their churches; and John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, also used Bengel's text for his English version (see Wesley 1755 ).


Dates of major works, covering heavenly witnesses.

Appartus Criticus is 1734
With GNT (these editions are not found online)

Gnomon, Latin 1742 - Grantley bibliographic ref
Gnomon Novi Testamenti, or Exegetical Annotations on the New Testament,

Appartus Criticus is 1763 - Latin .. still 2nd edition

Gnomon is 1858, English - good read, lacks ECW depth, notes by Fausset, Steudel
-------- Steudel passed in 1837, he is listed in the 1835 Latin edition - Vol 5

William Lewery Blackley translation of Bengel's Gnomon (1876) - Volume 1 Gospels - 3rd edition - Volume 3 includes 1 John - 3rd edition
Heavenly Witnesses
Blackley starts the section with a stupid modernist contra stuff from Lücke, after that it looks ok.
Congeries Symperasma (defined)


Defence of the Greek Text of His New Testament, prefixed to Harmony of the Four Gospels, published in 1736,

Richtige Harmonie der vier Evangelisten (1747)


Mariners compass - mild note, Wesley had new version!
Switch verses 7 and 8 - yes, referenced


5. Who is he that overcometh the world - That is superior to all worldly care, desire, fear? Every believer, and none else. The seventh verse (usually so reckoned) is a brief recapitulation of all which has been before advanced concerning the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It is cited, in conjunction with the sixth and eighth, 1 John v, 6, 8 by Tertullian, Cyprian, and an uninterrupted train of Fathers.

And, indeed, what the sun is in the world,
what the heart is in a man,
what the needle is in the mariner's compass,
this verse is in the epistle.

By this the sixth, eighth, and ninth verses 1 John v, 6, 8, 9 are indissolubly connected; as will be evident, beyond all contradiction, when they are accurately considered.


LATIN is the same in these two editions

Adnotationes Millii
p. 96-179

Apparatus Critici - 1763
p. 452-481
p. 762-785 (dups?)


Vol 2 - 1860 - p. 804-812

Vol 5 - 1858 - p. 135-150



Critque of Wells from Wolfius

II. Not a few of those, who rightly and religiously defend this very expression, are too eager in seeking out and employing support even of such a kind as have no strength. That has occurred to a distinguished man, Leonard Twells, whose miscellaneous production Wolf has translated from English into Latin, and with a few corrections, has put forth on this passage, pp. 300-313. I read and attentively considered Twells before the publication of my Apparatus : Wherefore, when I proceeded with more of self-distrust than he did, I did not do so without good reason, and I would have the reader imagine that there is matter for deliberation. I am not aware that anything new needs particularly to be supplied : I will mention a few points, which bear upon the subject.

Bengel does a fantastic job of avoiding the Greek manuscript errors!


Check and correct these two

Also 1860 is positive


Twells from Wolfius is referenced from here
p. 300-313

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Steven Avery

Grantley's great weakness here is omission. Bengel has a large and robust section about pro-authenticity ECW evidences, and it is simply omitted from his discussion.

Apparatus Critici, especially p. 458-464.
( Adnotationes Milli, c. 114-137)

To be fair, Grantley sneaks in one comment in talking of Wesley talking of Bengel:
"A large number of fathers from Africa, Spain, Gaul and Italy had used this translation over an unbroken period of time"
taken from the Latin Gnomon


Good section, except for the typical psycho-babble that does not take his robust support of the verse as his actual beliefs. And the slipping away nonsense. (And the major omission of ECW evidences supporting authenticity.)

RGA - p. 251
When Johann Albrecht Bengel published his edition of the New Testament in 1734, he retained the comma, perhaps wary after observing Wettstein’s fate, though his notes suggest that he wanted to do otherwise. For there Bengel noted that the comma is present in no Greek manuscript of any authority. He rejected Montfortianus as a new and Latinising manuscript.291 He also suggested that the reading in the Codex Britannicus (which he distinguished from Montfortianus) was taken from the Complutensian edition before its publication, pointing out the Spanish connexion at the English royal court through Catherine of Aragon. The fact that both the Complutensian edition and Britannicus put the end of verse 8 (“these three are [unto] one”) on the end of verse 7 was for Bengel convincing evidence of their relationship.292 He also noted that none of the Greek Fathers made use of the comma, and that many Latin Fathers also omit the words when quoting the entire passage. Despite the textual difficulties of the verse, Bengel was still inclined to defend its status as an original part of the text, expressly denying that it arose from an allegorical gloss of verse 8. He likewise denied that the verse had been excised by Arians, pointing out that its apparent excision predated the birth of Arius. Bizarrely, Bengel attributed the excision instead to early Catholics who removed the comma from public copies of the Epistle to avoid the great mystery of the Trinity being profaned by being generally known, until at length the words were lost.293 In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (1754), John Wesley adopted Bengel’s position on the comma: “What Bengelius has advanced, both concerning the transposition of these two verses, and the authority of the controverted verse, partly in his Gnomon, and partly in his Apparatus Criticus, will abundantly satisfy any impartial person.”294 Wesley himself implicitly contradicted Calvin by giving a specifically ontological interpretation of the comma: “[Father, Son and Holy Spirit] are one in essence, in knowledge, in will, and in their testimony.”295 But as scholarly work on the text of the bible advanced over the eighteenth century, especially at the hands of Michaelis and Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812), the grounds for retaining the comma seemed to be slipping away.296

291 Bengel, 1763, 458.

292 Bengel, 1763, 453-454:
“Britannicum illum codicem, vti vocant, aliquis Britannorum (quorum tum rex Hispanam in matrimonio habebat,) ex Complutensi recensione, antequam ea publicaretur, nactus est & Erasmo misit. Etenim primum Britannicus codex comma ultimum versus octavi omittit, ut Erasmus annotat: (quanquam Erasmus in verbis postmodum adjectis, ejus rei oblitus est : ) omittit autem id comma Complu- [454] tensis quoque editio invitis ms. Græcis omnibus. deinde codex Britannicus & editio Complutensis versum 7 & 8 eodem ordine exhibet, invitis documentis […] antiquioribus. Potest injici, Comp. editionem per se (ut res loquitur,) & sic quoque Britannicum codicem sine Complutensium opera, Latinorum codicum auctoritate, versum 8 & in extremo mutilasse, & versui 7 postposuisse. Atque hoc ipsum satis esset ad prodendam indolem Britannici codicis, etiam ab Erasmo, quo erat judicio, agnitam.”

293 Bengel, 1763, 474: “Quod reliquum est, efficacissimam cogimur agnoscere prætermissi Dicti causam (quæ Schelstrateno quoque in mentem venit,) disciplinam Arcani. Hæc seculo II est introducta: hæc jam tum multos, ut apparet, induxit, ut initio a codicibus publicæ duntaxat lectioni destinatis Dictum removeretur, qui ceteros brevi tempore apud Græcos absorpserunt.”

294 Wesley, 1847, 639.

295 Wesley, 1847, 640.

296 Griesbach, 1810, 2:687-688, mentions the circumstances of Erasmus’ inclusion of the verse, but makes no hint of a promise on his part.

Here comes the heavy drinking Richard Porson.

RGA p. 259
Porson felt that the desire to maintain the appearance of orthodoxy lay at the root of Bengel’s vacillation: “I pity Bengelius. He had the weakness (which fools call candour) to reject some of the arguments that had been employed in defence of this celebrated verse, and brought upon himself a severe but just rebuke from an opposer of De Missy (Journ. Brit. X. p. 133); where he is ranked with those, ‘who under pretext of defending the three heavenly witnesses with moderation, defend them so gently, that a suspicious reader might doubt whether they defended them in earnest; though God forbid that we should wish to insinuate any suspicion of Mr. Bengelius’s orthodoxy.’”322

322 Porson, 1790, 18-19. César de Missy, chaplain of the French church at St James’ in London, contributed several letters on the subject of the comma to the Journal britannique: 8 (May-June 1752), 194-211; (July-Aug. 1752), 274-296; 9 (Sept.-Oct. 1752), 44-66; 11 (May-June 1753), 66-98; 15 (Sept.-Oct. 1754), 148-151, followed by a French paraphrase by de Missy of Newton’s letter to Locke, 151-190. There was a reply in the Journal britannique 10 (Jan.-Feb. 1753), 127-134.


Porson - 1789 - candour quote

Bengel, Johann Albrecht. Apparatus criticus ad novum testamentum, 2nd ed. Tübingen: Cotta, 1763.


BCEME - p. 241
While Wells’ and Mace’s work was quickly forgotten, Bengel’s Pietist commentary worked upon later readers such as John Wesley.

BCEME - p. 243-244
The 1734 New Testament edition of Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687–1752) was a different production entirely. Bengel developed Bentley’s insight that errors could be used systematically to distinguish good readings from bad ones. While Richard Simon sneered that the apparent instability of the biblical text was fatal to the principle of sola scriptura, Bengel’s systematic exploitation of variants turned this apparent liability to profit. His method of judging the authority of individual manuscripts and then extracting their textual data as the basis for a reconstruction of the earliest text transformed the codices from theological or literary texts into non-literary documents, of limited worth in isolation but of great value when compared with other documents. Bengel’s manner of presenting the resulting data was conservative. He retained the textus receptus as his body text, and gave significant variants in the margin, marked α (certainly correct) to ε (certainly incorrect) to indicate his judgement of their authenticity. Having laid out the evidence, Bengel thus left it to his readers to make of it what they would. The devotional tone of Bengel’s accompanying commentary endeared it to many pietistic readers, including John Wesley.515

Bengel gave the matter of the comma considerable thought. On 14 March 1727, he complained to his friend Matthias Marthius that he wanted to bring out his edition soon, but still wished to wait until Bentley’s edition had appeared, so that he might profit from his ‘incomparable’ critical apparatus. Bengel had heard a report that Jerome had prepared a Dalmatian translation of the Scriptures, and wondered if manuscripts of this translation might still be extant in the Balkans, for ‘I would obviously like to know how he translated that famous passage,’ the comma.516 Marthius expressed his doubts about the existence of the Dalmatian translation. He also mentioned that Le Clerc had noted that the comma is not found in Codex Alexandrinus.517 On 12 April 1728, Bengel suggested to Marthius that Le Clerc’s notes on the comma showed an unhealthy desire to set textual critics and believers at each other’s throats.518 On 21 December 1728 Bengel mentioned to Jeremias Friedrich Reuß that he had spent almost the whole month working on the comma, and was convinced that he could demonstrate its genuineness, although he acknowledged that he would have to base his reading on the Latin rather than the Greek textual tradition. He also suggested that the order of vv. 7 and 8 should be reversed.519 On 5 September 1729 Bengel wrote confidently to Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach that he had put an end to the disagreements over this passage, and had thus removed one weapon from the Antitrinitarians’ arsenal. He also asked Uffenbach to check the order of vv. 7 and 8 in manuscripts available to him.520 On 19 September 1729 Bengel made a similar request to Philipp Jacob Crophius.521

Bengel presented the results of his investigation in the commentary to his New Testament edition (1734). Having rejected Montfortianus as a Latinising manuscript written after the invention of printing, he admitted that the comma is not present in any Greek manuscript of any authority. 522 In the belief that both the Complutensian Polyglot and Erasmus’ Codex Britannicus (which he distinguished from Montfortianus) give καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν in reference to the heavenly witnesses (in fact, this is not the reading in Montfortianus), Bengel suggested that the reading in Codex Britannicus was taken from the Complutensian edition before its publication, proposing that an agent of Catherine of Aragon brought the materials from Alcalá to England.523 Bengel noted that none of the Greek fathers cite the comma, and that many Latin fathers omit the comma when quoting the immediate context. Nevertheless, Bengel defended the comma as an original part of the text, denying that it had arisen from an allegorical gloss of v. 8. He also rejected the argument that the verse had been removed by Arians, pointing out that it was apparently absent from the text even before the birth of Arius. Rather, Bengel attributed the disappearance of the comma to the disciplina arcani, the practice of reserving the highest and holiest mysteries and ceremonies in the early church to the fully initiated. Isaac Casaubon had mounted a similar argument to explain why the early Christian authors were so taciturn about the Trinity.524 Bengel suggested that the comma, a witness to the great mystery of the Trinity, was removed from copies of the Catholic Epistles read by the uninitiated. In time, these public copies supplanted those containing the fuller, esoteric text of the epistle.525 In his Gnomon Novi Testamenti (1742), Bengel praised the comma as central to the meaning of the chapter, ‘as the sun is in the universe, as the needle of a magnet, as the heart in the body’.526 However, some conservative readers feared that Bengel, by conceding too much to modern criticism, had opened the door to doubt. One reviewer placed him amongst those who, ‘under pretext of defending the three heavenly witnesses with moderation, defend them so gently, that a suspicious reader might doubt whether they defended them in earnest; though God forbid that we should wish to insinuate any suspicion of Mr. Bengelius’s orthodoxy’.527

515 Further, see Sheehan 2005, 93–114, esp. 101–105.
516 Bengel to Matthias Marthius, 14 March 1727, in Bengel 2012, 522.
517 Marthius to Bengel, 31 March 1727, in Bengel 2012, 525, 529.
518 Bengel to Marthius, 12 April 1728, in Bengel 2012, 591.
519 Bengel to Reuß, 21 December 1728, in Bengel 2012, 628.
520 Bengel to Uffenfach, 5 September 1729, in Bengel 2012, 650.
521 Bengel to Crophius, 19 September 1729, in Bengel 2012, 651.
522 Bengel 1734, 749.
523 Bengel 1734, 746.
524 See Haugen 2011, 197–198.
525 Bengel 1734, 765.
526 Bengel 1742, 1061.
527 Anon. 1753, 133; the translation is from Porson 1790, 18–19.

BCEME - p. 261

Wesley was aware of the critical difficulties attending the comma, but maintained its authenticity. He noted that although Bengel, ‘the most pious, the most judicious, and the most laborious, of all the modern Commentators on the new Testament’, was initially sceptical about the authenticity of the comma, he became convinced of its genuineness by three considerations:

1. That tho’ it is wanting in many Copies, yet it is found in more, and those, Copies of the greatest authority.

2. That it is cited by a whole train of ancient Writers, from the time of St John to that of Constantine. This argument is conclusive: for they could not have cited it, had it not then been in the sacred Canon.

3. That we can easily account for its being after that time wanting in many Copies, when we remember, that Constantine’s Successor was a zealous Arian, who used every means to promote his bad cause, to spread Arianism throughout the Empire: In particular, the erasing this text out of as many Copies as fell into his hands.595

Even though Wesley did not have a copy of Bengel’s commentary to (sic) hand, his presentation of Bengel’s position on the comma was misleading. What Bengel in fact said was that the number of Greek codices containing the Epistles is rather small. Advocates of the authenticity of the verse therefore had to rely on the witness of the Latin translation, which Bengel praised as ‘very ancient and very faithful’. A large number of fathers from Africa, Spain, Gaul and Italy had used this translation over an unbroken period of time, despite the temptation to make their reading agree with that of the Arians.596 Those who heard Wesley’s sermon in Cork or subsequently read the printed version received an incorrect impression of the reasons that Bengel had put forward in favour of the verse.

595 Wesley 1775, 14.
596 Bengel 1742, 1066.

Bengel, Johann Albrecht,

ed. Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη. Novum Testamentum graecum. Tübingen: Cotta, 1734.

Gnomon Novi Testamenti. Tübingen: Schramm, 1742.

Apparatus criticus ad novum testamentum. 2nd ed. Tübingen: Cotta, 1763.

Briefwechsel: Briefe 1723–1731. Ed. Dieter Ising. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.


Notice that the bibliography does NOT include any English edition of Gnomon.
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Steven Avery

Wesley's Sermon on the Trinity - Omitting the Key Section

John Wesley (1703-1791)

Sermon - Wesley said not to be concerned about persons and Trinity

BCEME p. 266
But I know not how any one can be a Christian Believer, ’till he hath (as
St. John speaks) the witness in himself: ’till the Spirit of GOD witnesses with
his spirit, that he is a child of GOD: that is, in effect, ’till GOD the Holy
Ghost witnesses that GOD the Father has accepted him, thro’ the merits
of GOD the Son; and having this witness, he honours the Son, and the
blessed Spirit, even as he honours the Father.608

For Wesley, the experience of accepting the witness of the Spirit that
we are saved and accepted as children of God through the merits of
Jesus leads naturally to the worship of all three persons of the Trinity
equally: ‘Therefore I do not see how it is possible for any to have vital
Religion, who denies that these three are one.’609 ....

Wesley's sermon on the Trinity was prized by Methodists, especially for its forceful advocacy of belief in the Trinity as the only reasonable response to the experience of being saved.

608 Wesley 1775, 29.
609 Wesley 1775, 30.
610 See for example Crowther 1815, 170–175, which consists largely of a paraphrase of the sermon; Ward 1815, 18; Exley 1818, 53.

Wesley, John. Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament. New York: Lane and Tippet, 1847.


Wesley, John.

Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. London: Bowyer, 1755.

A Sermon on 1st John, v. 7. Dublin: William Kidd for William Whitestone, 1775.

The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America. With Other Occasional Services. London: [n. p.], 1784. (1867 edition)

The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley. Ed. Nehemiah Curnock and John Telford. 8 vols. London: Kelly, 1909–1916.

Works of John Wesley. 34 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975–1983.
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Steven Avery

Words from John Calvin 1537 are ascribed to Michael Servetus, misunderstanding John Wesley commentary


Putting aside the quoting blunder, Grantley acknowledges here that Wesley was not so doctrinaire on Trinity issues.

RGA - p. 261
However, amongst those doctrines with ‘a close connexion with vital Religion’ is that expressed in the Johannine comma. Wesley denied that it is important to believe one particular explication of these words, and said that no one person can understand all the implications. As Jonathan Swift wrote in his sermon on the Trinity, all those who have attempted to do so have lost their way and ‘hurt the cause, which they intended to promote’. Wesley even had his scruples about subscribing to the Athanasian creed, until he realised that the anathema pronounced upon those who reject this formulation applies only to those who know the truth and reject it, and that the creed requires adherence only to the substance of the doctrine it promotes, not to its philosophical illustrations. Perhaps suspecting that his congregation included some Unitarians, he stated that he ‘dare not insist upon any one’s using the word Trinity, or Person. I use them myself without any scruple, because I know of none better: But if any man has any scruple concerning them, who shall constrain him to use them? I cannot.’ As an illustration of the evils to which an insistence on such matter can lead, he mentioned that the ‘merciful John Calvin’ had burned Servet for asserting that although he believed that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all God, nevertheless he hesitated to use the words ‘Trinity’ and ‘persons’, since they were not found in the bible. By contrast, Wesley would insist only that his hearers embrace the words of the comma ‘as they lie in the text’

4. I dare not insist upon any one's using the word Trinity, or Person. I use them myself without any scruple, because I know of none better: But if any man has any scruple concerning them, who shall constrain him to use them? I cannot: Much less would I burn a man alive, and that with moist, green wood, for saying, ~Though I believe the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God; yet I scruple using the words Trinity and Persons, because I do not find those terms in the Bible." These are the words which merciful John Calvin cites as wrote by Servitus in a letter to himself. I would insist only on the direct words, unexplained, just as they lie in the text: "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: And these three are one." 5. "As they lie in the text :" -- but here arises a question: Is that text genuine? Was it originally written by the Apostle, or inserted in later ages? Many have doubted of this; and, in particular, the great light of the Christian
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Steven Avery

Bengel's theory of switching verse placements is a non-starter.

Ironically, his commentator, Andrew Robert Fausset, has to give an awkward attempt to handle the short text solecism, which would also be the solecism if the verses are reversed.

Gnomon of the New Testament, Volume 5
By John A. Bengel
Andrew R. Fausset - notes


More importantly, Bengel has to go through hoops, which is put in Gnomon:

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