The Final Word

from Mar 24, 2009 Category: Articles

Tolle Lege: Take Up and Read

In the early part of the twentieth century, one would have been hard pressed to find a greater theological mind than that of Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921). Sadly, both he and his work are virtually unknown today outside of certain circles in the Reformed churches. During his lifetime, however, his scholarship was world-renowned. Although a great theologian, Warfield never wrote a complete systematic theology text. He did, however, write extensively on a wide range of topics, at both the popular and academic levels. His collected works fill ten volumes, and his breadth and depth of knowledge remain something to behold. One subject to which Warfield made a lasting contribution is the doctrine of Scripture. The various essays on this doctrine found in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (P&R Publishing, 1948) are of such quality that they have made this volume a modern-day classic.

Warfield lived and wrote at a time when liberalism was at the peak of its influence. In the latter years of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, numerous authors were confidently touting the “assured results” of higher criticism and dismissing as outdated and outlandish doctrines such as the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. Warfield put his scholarly training to work by effectively and thoroughly countering the attacks of the liberal churchmen. Although the nineteenth-century form of liberalism has come and gone, the skepticism it encouraged still exists in many guises. Warfield’s work, then, remains amazingly relevant even a century after it was written.

The first chapter in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible explains the biblical doctrine of revelation. Here Warfield examines the distinctive nature of Christianity as a revealed religion and the meaning of “revelation” itself. The second chapter concerns the church’s doctrine of inspiration. Warfield points out that until very recently, the church has always and everywhere confessed her faith in the divine trustworthiness of Scripture. Protestantism in particular has emphasized the divine authority of Scripture. In chapter three, Warfield sets forth the biblical teaching on the doctrine of inspiration. He examines in detail texts such as 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21; and John 10:34-35.

In chapter four, “The Real Problem of Inspiration,” Warfield carefully demonstrates that the rejection of the traditional doctrine of inspiration is not merely the rejection of a particular doctrinal theory. It is the doctrine of the Lord and His apostles, and “in abandoning it we are abandoning them as our doctrinal teachers and guides” (p. 180). We do not adopt the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Scripture on some sentimental grounds. We adopt it because it is taught by Christ and His apostles.

The final four chapters of the book are articles of a somewhat more academic nature. In chapter five, Warfield examines the way the New Testament uses the terms scripture and scriptures. Chapter six is a thoroughly exhaustive study of the Greek word theopneustos, which is found in 2 Timothy 3:16 and is translated “inspired” or “God-breathed.” In contrast with the liberal scholars of his day, Warfield concludes that the word has to do with the origin of Scripture rather than its nature or effects (p. 296). In chapter seven, Warfield looks at the way the authors of Scripture appeal to the written words of the Old Testament as direct utterances of God. He also examines the way in which some passages of Scripture are spoken of as if they were God, and how God is sometimes spoken of as if He were the Scriptures. The final chapter looks at the New Testament use of the term “oracles of God” to see how it contributes to our understanding of Scripture.

Since Warfield’s day, numerous authors have written on the doctrine of Scripture. Few, however, have had as thorough a grasp of all the relevant issues as Warfield. Those who ignore his contributions for whatever reasons do so only at a loss to themselves. Warfield’s work is valuable not only for the defense of biblical authority that it provides, but also for its model of orthodox scholarship. Warfield was a staunch defender of biblical authority and inerrancy, yet unlike some who have attempted to follow in his footsteps, he loathed anti-intellectualism and obscurantism. He modeled believing scholarship. In other words, he demonstrated in his own work that it is possible to be both a faithful believer in biblical inerrancy as well as a thorough scholar. Those of us who count ourselves among his heirs would do well to heed his example.

*****

Dr. Keith A. Mathison is an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine, academic dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies, and author of the book The Shape of Sola Scriptura.

The vast number of books published each year makes it difficult for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Dr. Keith A. Mathison helps us sort out the good books from the bad each month in his book review column Tolle Lege.

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