He was educated at the gymnasium in Gotha, and afterwards at the universities of Erfurt, Kiel, where he came under the influence of the pietist Christian Kortholt (1633-1694), and Leipzig. During his student career he made a special study of Hebrew and Greek; and in order to learn Hebrew more thoroughly, he for some time put himself under the instructions of Rabbi Ezra Edzardi at Hamburg. He graduated at Leipzig, where in 1685 he became a Privatdozent.
A year later, by the help of his friend P Anton, and with the approval and encouragement of PJ Spener, he founded the Collegium Philobiblicum, at which a number of graduates were accustomed to meet for the systematic study of the Bible, philologically and practically. He next passed some months at Lüneburg as assistant or curate to the learned superintendent, KH Sandhagen (1639-1697), and there his religious life was remarkably quickened, and deepened. On leaving Lüneburg he spent some time in Hamburg, where he became a teacher in a private school, and made the acquaintance of Nikolaus Lange (1659-1720).
After a long visit to Spener, who was at that time a court preacher in Dresden, he returned to Leipzig in the spring of 1689, and began to give Bible lectures of an exegetical and practical kind, at the same time resuming the Collegium Philobiblicum of earlier days. He soon became popular as a lecturer; but the peculiarities of his teaching almost immediately aroused a violent opposition on the part of the university authorities; and before the end of the year he was interdicted from lecturing on the ground of his alleged pietism.
Thus it was that Francke's name first came to be publicly associated with that of Spener, and with pietism. Prohibited from lecturing in Leipzig, Francke in 1690 found work at Erfurt as "deacon" of one of the city churches. Here his evangelistic fervour attracted multitudes to his preaching, including Roman Catholics, but at the same time excited the anger of his opponents; and the result of their opposition was that after a ministry of fifteen months he was commanded by the civil authorities (September 27 1691) to leave Erfurt within forty-eight hours. The same year witnessed the expulsion of Spener from Dresden.
In December, through Spener's influence, Francke accepted an invitation to fill the chair of Greek and oriental languages in the new university of Halle, which was at that time being organized by the elector Frederick III of Brandenburg; and at the same time, the chair having no salary attached to it, he was appointed pastor of Glaucha in the immediate neighbourhood of the town. He afterwards became professor of theology.
Here, for the next thirty-six years, until his death on the 8th of June 1727, he continued to discharge the twofold office of pastor and professor with rare energy and success. At the very outset of his labours he had been profoundly impressed with a sense of his responsibility towards the numerous outcast children who were growing up around him in ignorance and crime. After a number of tentative plans, he resolved in 1695 to institute what is often called a "ragged school," supported by public charity. A single room was at first sufficient, but within a year it was found necessary to purchase a house, to which another was added in 1697.
In 1698 there were 100 orphans under his charge to be clothed and fed, besides 500 children who were taught as day scholars. The schools grew in importance and were later known as the Franckesche Stiftungen. The education given was strictly religious. Hebrew was included, while the Greek and Latin classics were neglected; the Homilies of Macanus took the place of Thucydides. The same principle was consistently applied in his university teaching. Even as professor of Greek he had given great prominence in his lectures to the study of the Scriptures; but he found a much more congenial sphere when, in 1698, he was appointed to the chair of theology. Yet his first courses of lectures in that department were readings and expositions of the Old and New Testament; and to this, as also to hermeneutics, he always attached special importance, believing that for theology a sound exegesis was the one indispensable requisite. "Theologus nascitur in scripturis," he used to say; but during his occupancy of the theological chair he lectured at various times upon other branches of theology also. Amongst his colleagues were Paul Anton (1661-1730), Joachim J Breithaupt (1658-1732) and Joachim Lange (1670-1744)--men like-minded with himself. Through their influence upon the students, Halle became a centre from which pietism became very widely diffused over Germany.
His principal contributions to theological literature were: Manuductio ad lectionem Scripturae Sacrae (1693); Praelectiones hermeneuticae (1717); Commentatio de scopo librorum Veteris et Novi Testamenti (1724); and Lectiones paraeneticae (1726-1736). The Manuductio was translated into English in 1813, under the title A Guide to the Reading and Study of the Holy Scriptures.
An account of his orphanage, entitled Segensvolle Fußstapfen, etc. (1709), which subsequently passed through several editions, has also been partially translated, under the title The Footsteps of Divine Providence: or, The bountjful Hand of Heaven defraying the Expenses of Faith. See HEF Guericke's A. H. Francke (1827), which has been translated into English (The Life of A. H. Francke, 1837); Gustave Kramer's Beiträge zur Geschichte A. H. Francke's (1861), and Neue Beiträge (1875); A Stein, A. H. Francke (3rd ed., 1894); article in Herzog-Hauck's Realencykiopädie (ed. 1899); Knuth, Die Franckeschen Stiftungen (2nd ed., 1903).