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.
Essays and Sermons