For the past several posts we have been looking at portions of great writings on Biblical inerrancy that have been composed by some of the ablest theological minds of the past century or more. The point of this series of posts is to equip readers with resources that most thoroughly and clearly assert the historic and Biblical doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. In the last post we considered a piece from the late 19th century theologian Dr. A.A Hodge who was a Professor for many years at Princeton Theological seminary. In today’s post we want to consider what is arguably his greatest protege and the one scholar who advanced the cause for Biblical inerrancy into the 20th century: Dr. B.B Warfield. Admittedly this particular piece is among the most thoroughly comprehensive arguments for inerrancy in this current blog series. I urge the reader to work through it sentence by sentence and re-read if necessary (as I had to do when I read it the first time). It is worth the effort, since the piece brings the discussion of inerrancy to a whole new level.
Like Dr. Hodge, Dr. Warfield taught for many years at Princeton (called by historians “Old Princeton”). One of the greatest living New Testament scholars today, Dr. Daniel Wallace, has commented on his blog regarding B.B Warfield’s contribution to the subject on Biblical inerrancy:1
“We are not asked to take a leap of faith in believing the Bible to be the word of God, or even to believe that it is historically reliable; we have evidence that this is the case. I enlist on my behalf that towering figure of Reformed biblical scholarship, Benjamin B. Warfield. In his Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Warfield lays out an argument for inerrancy that has been all but forgotten by today’s evangelicals. Essentially, he makes a case for inerrancy on the basis of inductive evidence, rather than deductive reasoning. Most evangelicals today follow E. J. Young’s deductive approach toward bibliology, forgetting the great, early articulator of inerrancy. But Warfield starts with the evidencethat the Bible is a historical document, rather than with the presupposition that it is inspired.”
I won’t reproduce Dr. Wallace’s thoughts in this post, but would rather encourage readers to go to the link to his blog included in the endnotes section of today’s post. What I want to do instead is reproduce the larger context of Dr. Warfield’s argument. This will enable readers to see why a man of Dr. Wallace’s stature would commend this argument as representing a major reason for his own position on Biblical inerrancy. What makes Dr. Warfield’s argument so potent is that it is on the offensive rather than the defensive on the doctrine of inerrancy – that is to say – it is putting the burden of proof on the shoulders of critics. In the course of the quote I will put in bold print the portion Dr. Wallace identifies as the heart of the argument. Without further delay, I present to the reader Dr. B.B Warfield’s piece on Biblical inerrancy.2
“Now if this doctrine is to be assailed on critical grounds, it is very clear that, first of all, criticism must be required to proceed against the evidence on which it is based. This evidence, it is obvious, is two-fold.
First, there is exegetical evidence that the doctrine held and taught by the church is the doctrine held and taught by the Biblical writers themselves.
And secondly, there is the whole mass of evidence-internal and external, objective and subjective, historical and philosophical, human and divine – which goes to showthat the Biblical writersare trustworthy as doctrinal guides.
If they are trustworthy teachers of doctrine and if they held and taught this doctrine, then this doctrine is true, and is to be accepted and acted upon as ture by us all. In that case, any objections brought against the doctrine from other spheres of inquiry are inoperative; it being a settled logical principle that so long as the proper evidence by which the proposition is established remains unrefuted, all so-called objections brought against it pass out of the category of objections to its truth into the category of difficulties to be adjusted to it.”
Let me just pause long enough to remind the reader that in Dr. Wallace’s estimation, the next two sentences constitute the heart of Warfield’s point: “If criticism is to assail this doctrine, therefore, it must proceed against and fairly overcome one or the other element of its proper proof. It must either show that this doctrine is not the doctrine of the Biblical writers, or it must show that the Biblical writers are not trustworthy as doctrinal guides.” With that main thought in mind, we continue on with Warfield’s argument:
“If fair criticism envinces that this is not the doctrine of the Biblical writers, then of course it has ‘destroyed’ the doctrine which is confessedly based on that supposition. Failing in this, however, it can ‘destroy’ the doctrine, strictly speaking, only by unndermining its foundation in our confidence in the trustworthiness of scripture as a witness to doctrine.
The possibility of this latter alternative must, no doubt, be firmly placed in our investigation of the phenomena of the Bible; but the weight of the evidence, be it small or great, for the general trustworthiness of the Bible as a source of doctrine, throws itself, in the form of a presumption, against the reality of any phenomena, alleged to be discovered which make against its testimony. No doubt this presumption may be overcome by clear demonstration. But clear demonstration is requisite.
For, certainly, if it is critically established that what is sometimes called, not without a touch of scorn, ‘the traditional doctrine,’ is just the Bible’s own doctrine of inspiration, the real conflict is no longer with the ‘traditional theory of inspiration,’ but with the credibility of the Bible. The really decisive question among Christian scholars (among whom alone, it would seem, could a question of inspiration be profitably discussed), is thus seen to be, ‘What does an exact and scientific exegesis determine to be the Biblical doctrine of inspiration?’
2. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. The Presbyerian and Reformed Publishing Company. 1964. Pages 174-175