Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (November 5, 1851 - February 16, 1921) was the principal of Princeton Seminary from 1887 to 1921. He is considered the last great Princeton theologian before the split in 1929 that formed Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Like many children born into a wealthy family, Warfield's childhood education was private. Warfield entered Princeton University in 1868 and graduated in 1871 with high honors. After this he entered Princeton Seminary in 1873, in order to train for Presbyterian ministry. He graduated in 1876.
For a short time in 1876 he preached in Presbyterian churches in Concord, Kentucky and Dayton, Ohio as a "supply pastor" - the latter church calling him to be their ordained minister (which he politely refused). In late 1876 Warfield and his new wife moved to Germany where he studied under Ernst Luthardt and Franz Delitzsch. Warfield was the assistant pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland for a short time. Then he became an instructor at Western Theological Seminary, which is now called Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He was ordained on April 26, 1879.
In 1881 Warfield wrote a joint article with A. A. Hodge on the inspiration of the Bible. It drew attention because of its scholarly and forceful defense of the inerrancy of the Bible. In many of his writings, Warfield attempted to demonstrate that the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy was simply orthodox Christian teaching, and not merely a concept invented in the nineteenth century. His passion was to refute the liberal element within Presbyterianism and within Christianity at large.
Throughout his life, he continued to write books and articles, which are still widely read today.
In 1887 Warfield was appointed to the Charles Hodge Chair at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he succeeded Hodge's son A. A. Hodge. Warfield remained there until his death. As the last conservative successor to Hodge to live prior to the re-organization of Princeton Seminary, Warfield is often regarded as the last of the Princeton theologians.
During his tenure, his primary thrust (and that of the seminary) was an authoritative view of the Bible. This view was held in contrast to the emotionalism of the revival movements, the rationalism of higher criticism, and the heterodox teachings of various New religious movements that were emerging. The seminary held fast to the Reformed confessional tradition — that is, it faithfully followed the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Warfield believed that modernist theology was problematic, since it relied upon the thoughts of the Biblical interpreter rather than upon the divine author of Scripture. He therefore preached and believed the doctrine of sola scriptura — that the Bible is God's inspired word and is sufficient for the Christian to live his or her faith.
Much of Warfield's work centered upon the Bible's "inspiration" by God — that while the authors of the Bible were men, the ultimate author was God himself. The growing influence of modernist theology denied that the Bible was inspired, and alternative theories of the origin of the Christian faith were being explored.
Because of the Bible's style of writing, many modernist scholars had pointed out the unquestionably "human" traits of certain Biblical books. Grammatical and linguistic styles were contrasted and compared, which proved beyond doubt that humans wrote the text of the Bible. Unfortunately for Warfield and other conservatives, some resulted in a belief that the Bible was therefore not written by God at all, but by men. Warfield was instrumental in countering this by arguing that the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit did not lead to a form of "mechanical" inspiration (whereby the human authors merely wrote down what God dictated to them) but one in which the human author's intellect was fully able to express itself linguistically, while at the same time being supervised by the Holy Spirit to ensure its inspiration. This important argument is used by many Reformed and Evangelical Christians today as part of their understanding of what the Bible is.
Underpinning much of Warfield's theology was his adherence to Calvinism as espoused by the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is sometimes forgotten that, in his battles against Modernism on the one hand, and against revivalism on the other, that he was simply expressing the Reformed faith when applied to certain situations.
It was Warfield's belief that the 16th century Reformers, as well as the 17th century Confessional writers, were merely summarizing the content and application of scripture. New revelations, whether from the minds of celebrated scholars or popular revivalists, were therefore inconsistent with these confessional statements (and therefore inconsistent with Scripture). Throughout his ministry, Warfield contended that modern world events and thinking could never render such confessions obsolete. Such an attitude still prevails today in many Reformed churches and Christians who embrace Calvinism.
Calvinism is just religion in its purity. We have only, therefore, to conceive of religion in its purity, and that is Calvinism. (Selected Shorter Writings, I, p. 389)
- Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary. Crossway; IVP-UK, 2010.
- Gary L. W. Johnson, ed. B. B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought. P&R, 2007.
- BBWarfield.com: a site dedicated to the life and writings of B. B. Warfield
- Samuel G. Craig - Benjamin B. Warfield - Biographical Sketch
- Dr. Carl Trueman - The Glory of Christ: B.B. Warfield on Jesus of Nazareth
- Reading Warfield . . . Where to Begin?, by Kim Riddlebarger
- The Lion of Princeton -- Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield: Apologist, Polemicist (PDF), by Kim Riddlebarger - 1997 edited doctoral dissertation under Richard Muller
- Photographic tour of Warfield's grave in Princeton
- Collection of Warfield's Writings
Essays and Sermons
- Edwards and the New England Theology
- Atonement - article
- The Leading of the Spirit
- What is Calvinism?
- A Brief and Untechnical Statement of the Reformed Faith
- Calvinism - The Meaning And Uses of the Term
- The Theology of John Calvin
- Augustine & The Pelagian Controversy: The Origin & Nature of Pelagianism
- Augustine & The Pelagian Controversy: The Theology of Grace
- Augustine & The Pelagian Controversy: The External History of the Pelagian Controversy
- Inspiration (of Scripture)
- The Formation of the Canon of the New Testament
- God-Inspired Scripture
- Calvin and the Bible
- Calvin and the Reformation
- John Calvin The Theologian
- Some Thoughts on Predestination
- The Plan of Salvation (Part I) (Part II) (Part III) (Part IV) (Part V)
- The Works of B.B. Warfield
- Faith and life 'conferences' in the Oratory of Princeton seminary (1916)
- The plan of salvation : five lectures delivered at the Princeton Summer School of Theology (June, 1914)
- Counterfeit Miracles
- The Religious Life of Theological Students (PDF), a short work written in 1911 and republished in this article
- Inauguration of the Rev. Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D., as professor of didactic and polemic theology (1888)
- An introduction to the textual criticism of the New Testament (1890)
- An introduction to the study of the books of the New Testament : with an introductory note by Benjamin B. Warfield (1892)
- Some difficult passages in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians (1886)