Benjamin Warfield fought the modernists' view of the inspiration of the Scriptures incisively and fully.
The "inspiration," "trustworthiness," and "authority" of the Bible are topics absolutely vital to the faith of God's people. Few men recognized and emphasized those ideas with the scholarship and insight of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton University from 1886 till his death in 1921. 1880 to 1920 were the peak years of a new theology known as "modernism," a viewpoint that sought to supplant the scriptural position of biblical scholars on the "verbal" and "plenary" inspiration of the Scriptures. Warfield challenged the position of the modernists with a vigor, logic, and thoroughness that is mindboggling.
I first learned about Warfield in an off the cuff remark by Pat Hardeman in a series of lectures at Florida College in the spring of l955. Speaking on "Revelation and Inspiration," Hardeman gave high praise and credit to Warfield for much of what he himself had learned about these topics. As best I can remember, Hardeman said he had studied Warfield's books on The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible and The Person and Work of Christ and felt he understood only a 1/10 of the former and about a 1/20 of the latter. Coming from the lips of a brother acclaimed by other brethren for his brilliance and scholarship, this seemed so unlikely. Yet, the remark intrigued me and has stayed with me all these years.
Hardeman's assessment of the depth and fullness of Warfield's discussion of these topics was right on target. Since the late 1960's and early 1970's I have found myself returning to both of these works again and again to search out and study these fundamental themes. Each time I delve into Warfield's analysis of the Scriptures, follow his reasoning, and assess his conclusions, I'm astounded at his complete and rich development of what the Scriptures say about themselves and about Jesus. It is difficult to recommend these works to the average member of the church, but I have no hesitation challenging serious Bible students to take six months to a year and plod through these studies sentence by sentence and argument by argument. Although I favor neither of these books over the other, I have spent much more time in and reaped greater benefits from The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.
Warfield's book on the Bible is actually a collection of articles he wrote over the span of some 20 years in various encyclopedias and scholarly journals. They include: "The Biblical Idea of Revelation"; The Church Doctrine of Inspiration"; The Biblical Idea of Inspiration"; The Real Problem of Inspiration"; "The Terms 'Scripture' and 'Scriptures' as Employed in the New Testament"; "God Inspired Scripture"; "'It Says,' 'Scripture Says,' 'God Says'"; and "The Oracles of God." I recommend skipping the "Introduction" by Cornelius Van Til.
Warfield's first goal was to define the New Testament word theopneustos, which is translated "inspiration of God" or "inspired of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). While he was not fond of the word "inspiration," he believed it was too well entrenched in the thinking and vocabulary of scholars to discard. He preferred literally "God-breathed" or "God-uttered" and explained the process as the work of God in "bearing" or "moving" men along by the Holy Spirit as they spoke and wrote (see 2 Pet. 1:20,21).
The writer's second goal was to defend "plenary" and "verbal" inspiration of the Bible, meaning that the Bible is fully inspired word by word. He argues that this is the belief of Jesus, the view of the apostles, the teaching of Scripture, and the "doctrine of the church" until modern times. If we fail at this point, Warfield believed, we forfeit the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. This view of inspiration means that the authors of the Bible have erred in nothing in their writings
Finally, Warfield concludes that since the Scriptures are God-uttered word for word, they are authoritative. The Bible, he affirms, is the Divine word delivered through men, but is the pure word of God, he concludes it is "trustworthy in all its assertions" and "authoritative in all its declarations."
In a simplistic review like this it is impossible to impress our readers with the vast array of Scriptures that Warfield analyzes to reach these conclusions; with the subtle but clear insigts he draws from passage after passage; with the depth and soundness of logic he employs to answer his critics; with the fullness and thoroughness of his treatment of this vital topic. Good Bible students, in some cases, could spend hours and days and months poring over one or two chapters of this book under the titles "Inspiration" and "Revelation" in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
We remind our readers that, as with all the books reviewed in this issue of Biblical Insights, that these authors are human and must be read with caution and discretion. Warfield, for example, is an avowed and devoted Calvinist and it is occasionally reflected in some of his statements and arguments. But for the most part you will find The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible biblically sound.
By L.A. Stauffer in Biblical Insights, Vol. 5, No. 10, Oct. 2005.
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