THE INERRANCY OF THE BIBLE:
Biblical Inerrancy in the Theologies of
A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield
A Research Paper In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
THEO 525 (Spring 2012)
Systematic Theology I
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary
Rick Mangrum (ID# 21757355)
March 9, 2012
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IMPORTANCE OF INERRANCY——————————————————————-3
DEFINITION OF INERRANCY———————————————————————5
LEVELS OF INERRANCY—————————————————————————5
INERRANCY AND INFALLABILITY————————————————————-8
ARGUMENTS FOR INERRANCY —————————————————————-9
INERRANCY IN THE THEOLOGY OF A.A. HODGE—————————————–11
INERRANCY IN THE THEOLOGY OF B.B. WARFIELD————————————14
Biblical inerrancy, the doctrinal position that the Bible is “without error”, the actual word of God to Man, is a fundamental position of the Christian Church and supported by the lives and work of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, two of the church’s greatest theologians.
This work will explore the importance of inerrancy, its definition, different levels, and the biblical, historical and epistemological arguments for this doctrine. The lives and work of these two theologians will illustrate their life long dedication to this doctrine. A summary of the work will be provided along with a conclusion. The purpose of this work is to introduce the topic, define it along with its most important characteristics, and then illustrate it in the lives and work of two theologians.
IMPORTANCE OF INERRANCY
The first step is to determine the importance of this topic. The authority of the Bible is at the heart of the question of inerrancy. If the Bible is to be believed as the true word of God upon which lives can be based, it must be known to be true. Inerrancy is the “central and crucial property of the Bible,” a fundamental part of “its utter truthfulness.” We must know that “God speaks the truth” in his book. If the Bible is not free of error, as the actual word of God it has no real authority. If we cannot trust all of it we cannot trust any of it. A proof of and belief in this doctrine is necessary for any Christian wishing to follow the Bible, basing their life on the teachings of Christ.
The importance of this topic is not unique to contemporary Christians. “Each generation of Christian believers must deal afresh” with this issue.The modern believer “demands” a proof of inerrancy. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this issue.
Inerrancy has been an issue of importance since the distribution of the first scriptures. It was a question from the beginning. Every reader should understand the truth and authority of any book of knowledge seeking to influence life whether it is a scroll of papyrus or a leather-bound Bible. This issue existed long before the existence of the United States. It first came to America through the works of the two theologians examined in this work. The issue of inerrancy “broke on the American scene in the late 1800’s with the work of A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield.” Its discussion continues through modern America, a central issue of the Southern Baptist Convention as recently as 1987.
Inerrancy is important to all believers regardless of national origin or denomination. It is the question of “whether or not God utters only the truth.” The truth of the Bible in its biggest, most dramatic stories as well as in its “smallest part” is the question of inerrancy. In summary, from Thomas Aquinas in 405 to Southern Baptists in 1987, biblical inerrancy has been an important doctrine to be understood by any believer.
DEFINITION OF INERRRANCY
The next step is to clearly define this important topic. Biblical inerrancy is defined as the idea that in its original form, in its original texts, the Bible is “wholly true in everything.” The entire Bible has been “breathed by God.” He used Earthly writers to record his word but “kept them free from error” during the entire process. These writers recorded the words given them by God exactly as they were received. Since God can make no mistakes, his writers recorded his mistake-free guide to life which we today call the Bible.
This doctrine only applies to the Bible in its original form, from the hand of its original writers. Only the “original copies of the Bible” were truly inerrant. As scripture has been copied, printed and distributed through the world over six billion times, the best-selling book of all time, errors may have occurred. They probably have occurred. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy states that there were no errors of any kind in the original form of the Bible recorded by its original writers. In “its original autographs and correctly interpreted (it) is entirely true and never false in all it affirms.”
This doctrine applies to all of scripture and its content. It applies to all biblical teachings “whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical or life sciences.”All of the Bible is inerrant. It was all sent from God to us through its original writers.
LEVELS OF INERRANCY
The question of different levels in inerrancy is our next step. Many different levels of inerrancy have been developed and researched by knowledgeable theologians. As with many important doctrines there are different ways to examine the topic. There are many “Christians who for one reason or another wish to maintain a different or lower view” of inerrancy than others.This work will review three commonly discussed levels. They are full or unlimited inerrancy, limited inerrancy and inerrancy as irrelevant.
Full or unlimited inerrancy “has a venerable history…rooted in the early fathers of the church, expressed emphatically in Augustine and Aquinas.” St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas both spent much of their theological lives teaching this doctrine. Augustine declared in 405 than the full or unlimited inerrancy of scripture was “a nonnegotiable church doctrine that there are no errors” in any part of the original texts. The doctrine of full or unlimited inerrancy holds that every word is true. To the mathematician or scientist reading the Bible, some details may appear suspicious as to their accuracy. The details of creation’s timeline in Genesis, the dimensions of Noah’s ark, or the description of the molten sea in 2 Chronicles may seem unbelievable. This doctrine of inerrancy holds that they are in fact exact descriptions of what occurred, given to the original biblical writers by God himself.
The doctrine of limited inerrancy also teaches that the Bible is the fully error-free word of God. Those who hold this believe those of “quite a conservative position…a person of very traditional loyalties.” This is the traditional position of the Roman Catholic and “evangelical Protestant” believers with long-held, historic positions. The position is that the writer of the original script was limited by the current understanding of the world they lived in at the time of the writing. Biblical references to timelines, scientific or mathematical references were made in the context of their society. While every biblical word is error-free it may be different empirically than the world we live in today. “God did not reveal science” to the original writers. He revealed the meaning and context of the teaching he wished to communicate. Overall, this doctrine of inerrancy is very, very close to full inerrancy.
There have been theologians who have sought to take the concept of limited inerrancy a step further by using this phrase to mean that the inerrancy of scripture is limited to certain parts or themes. For example, Daniel P. Fuller in1972 sought to prove that inerrancy was limited to only passages of scripture that dealt with “the saving or revelatory content of the Bible.” He and other theologians over time have used the word limited in a different context. For the purposes of this work, limited inerrancy will refer to the more traditional view of overall error-free scripture.
A third commonly held view of inerrancy is that it is, as a doctrine, irrelevant. This position may seem contrary to the argument already expressed as to the importance of the issue. Those who hold to the doctrine of the irrelevancy of inerrancy believe in God and that he sent his life-guide in the form of the Bible. We should have faith in his word as we have faith in him. They believe the issue important but not literal. In studying the Bible the reader is to “enquire of each passage what it inerrant teaching is” for the reader on the issue discussed. The literal inerrancy of each word just is not important. Holders of this position believe that “the Bible does not have to be without error to be authoritative.”
The three views of inerrancy presented here do not represent all that have been developed. Although there are many more that have been researched and presented by theologians since the scriptures first appeared, an understanding of full, limited and irrelevant inerrancy give the biblical student a firm foundation for the beginning of understanding the doctrine of inerrancy.
INERRANCY AND INFALLABILITY
Before moving forward in our study of inerrancy, an understanding of the doctrine of infallibility is appropriate. To many the two terms may seem identical. Like inerrancy, infallibility “has a long history of theological use.” Defined as “the quality of being trustworthy” it seems very close to inerrant. It is very different. The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally held to the inerrancy of the Bible and the infallibility of the Church. The Bible is without error and the Church is without the intent of error is another way of expressing that idea.
Infallibility is an idea also embraced by some who hold to the doctrine of limited inerrancy. While scientific or mathematical data presented in scripture may not seem accurate today, there is a foundation of trust in the intent of the original meaning. Or while the original text of scripture was inerrant, perhaps the current translations are infallible in that they are intended to be error-free versions of the original, despite translation or transmission errors that may have occurred over time.
It is important for the student of inerrancy to understand the distinctions between the two terms. They are often used interchangeably by contemporary writers. That use may be viewed as incorrect, or errant, by some.
ARGUMENTS FOR INERRANCY
Before moving to the lives and work of the two principal subjects of this work, Hodge and Warfield, an understanding of the traditional arguments for the concept of inerrancy is necessary. The topic has been established as important, defined, broken into levels and contrasted with other similar terms. There are at least three significant arguments for the doctrine of inerrancy to be understood before moving on to the work of our two noted theologians.
They are the biblical, historical and epistemological arguments for inerrancy.
In the biblical argument for inerrancy, some would say the Bible makes its own claims to be the error-free word of God. “Throughout its record the Bible presupposes its own authority.” It speaks for God. Common phrases such as “just as God said,”“the scripture…preached the gospel,” and “for the scripture says” clearly connect the Bible and the literal authority of God. The Bible also affirms its own authority by stating “it is trustworthy.” It does this five times in the short book of 1 Timothy alone along with many other places in scripture. The Bible clearly states that it is the word of God. “All scripture is inspired by God.”
For a work to claim its own authority is not unique. There are two other strong arguments for biblical inerrancy as well. One is the historical record: the support over a long period of time by many different people of this doctrine. There is a clear and detailed timeline of inerrancy, tracing it back to St. Augustine in 405. Augustine’s “all or nothing” stance on inerrancy was “central” to church doctrine and tradition from its beginning. From Augustine one can move to Johannes Eck in 1518 and his criticism of Erasmus, one of that era’s most brilliant theologians. Erasmus had implied that Matthew had made a mistake in his choice of words in one passage. Eck was clear and loud in his public response on behalf of the church. There is the work of Richard Simon in 1689, Pope Leo XIII in 1893, Hodge and Warfield in 1881, Pope Pius XII in 1943, Billy Graham in 1956 and C.F. Henry in 1991. The work of Luther and Calvin are background to many other examples. Biblical inerrancy has historically been a doctrine embarrassed by believers for almost the entire history of the church.
A third argument for biblical inerrancy is epistemological. Defined as a “branch of philosophy that investigates the origin of ideas”, epistemology would examine the source of scripture for credibility. This argument for inerrancy says that we must hold to all biblical positions and teachings, or none of them at all. Some refer to this argument as “over belief.” You believe all of it or none of it.
The biblical, historical and epistemological arguments for inerrancy are just three of many developed by theologians. They are not a complete representation of the arguments for this doctrine but do summarize much of the commonly held arguments.
INERRANCY IN THE THEOLOGY OF A.A. HODGE
The doctrine of biblical inerrancy will now be illustrated as part of the lives and work of two of Christianity’s great theologians, A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield. Their work is often linked together because their lives were also linked. Their work on biblical inerrancy helps any hungry student better understand the subject.
Archibald Alexander Hodge was born in 1823 to Charles Hodge, then the Chair of the School of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) in Princeton, New Jersey. Hodge’s ties to PTS were not just the employment of his learned father. He was named for Archibald Alexander, the original leader of the seminary, the predecessor of Hodge’s father in that role. A.A. Hodge was in the audience the day PTS was founded and Alexander named its leader. The institution would dominate his life.
After a childhood as the son of a professor theology, Hodge attended a state university, the College of New Jersey, followed by the prestigious and private Princeton University. He would then receive his graduate degree from PTS. Three years as a missionary in India prepared him for the pastorate of three churches in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In 1864 he returned to PTS as an as associate professor under his father’s leadership until succeeding his father as a leader of PTS in 1878. His father had held that position for fifty eight years. A.A. Hodge would hold it for eight years, until his death in 1886.
Hodge would prove himself not only a devoted theologian throughout his life but also a devoted son. He wrote an extensive biography of his father and referenced it often in his classroom teaching. He greatly admired his father’s dedication to this work but also his dedication to basing his personal theology on the Bible rather than on modern beliefs or currently available textbooks or teachings. Charles Hodge saw the title of Biblical Scholar as a great honor. His dedication to the Bible greatly impacted his son.
A.A .Hodge’s life work would become based on the premise that God’s word was the Bible and that the Bible was the true word of God. His first lecture in 1864 as a teacher at PTS titled “Nature and the Evidence of Truth”, used that idea as its premise. His first published work, “The Way of Life”, written while a student many years earlier in 1842 had the same theme. As an eighteen year old writer, Hodge outlined four arguments for the doctrine of full or unlimited inerrancy in the Bible. He detailed his version of the biblical argument, showing “internal” support of the Bible’s authority. He also gave support for other internal and external support of biblical inerrancy. Hodge, even at age eighteen, expressed what would become his life-long Calvinistic view of inerrancy that faith must also be a component of a believer’s view of the Bible’s authority. Before he had ever attended seminary formally, the young Hodge was already studying and writing about biblical inerrancy.
His best known work may be Systematic Theology written in 1871 and still in print today. This book was the basis for a series of lectures he taught for his entire career at PTS. Through his leadership, PTS became known as a “bastion in the defense of biblical inerrancy.” Hodge clearly spoke of, taught, preached and defined the issue for all that would listen.
Hodge not only taught that the Bible was true in every word, he taught it “must always be true.” It is not a textbook for a classroom but a guide for life, given to us by God himself. Hodge not only saw the Bible as a guide for life but as a potential bridge from the scientific world to the religious world. He believed that the story of creation and other biblical accounts had no conflict with scientific thinking. In his view the world of science and the world of theology could be completely aligned if only more scientists would study the Bible and more theologians would study science. He loved both and saw them as totally aligned.
Hodge also saw the Bible as superior to all other sources of information or guidance. He believed that a good theologian used all available resources, secular or religious, scientific or popular, historical or contemporary. In the end however, the Bible was the good theologian’s final source of all information and knowledge.
Hodge based his life on the study of the Bible, the teaching of others about the scriptures and the writing of commentaries and textbooks, many of which are still in print today. In addition to eighteen published books and many articles, Hodge would also become well known for his collaboration with the second theologian in this focus on biblical inerrancy, B.B. Warfield. The two of them together wrote one of most well-known and studied articles ever published on the subject, “Inspiration”. It was published in The Presbyterian Review in 1881.
INERRANCY IN THE THEOLOGY OF B.B. WARFIELD
It is difficult to research the topic of biblical inerrancy and not see the name of B.B. Warfield, along with the name A.A. Hodge. These two theologians will be forever linked to this topic. Their lives also had as much in common as their work. Like Hodge, Warfield was born into a successful and intellectual family, his grandfather a minister, his great grandfather a United States Senator and Attorney General of the United States and his uncle a former Vice President of the United States. Like Hodge he would attend Princeton University and PTS.He was a student of A.A. Hodge’s father, Charles Hodge.
Like A.A. Hodge he would spend years of his early professional life working outside of the United States and as a church pastor. In Warfield’s case, he was never a full-time pastor but worked as a substitute. Warfield did most of his work and study from his home, not from a church or a university office. At age twenty five, he married Anne Kinkeid. A few years later, while studying in Germany, his wife was struck by lightning in a fierce thunderstorm. She was completely paralyzed and remained so for the rest of her life. Warfield cared for her daily and seldom left their home for more than a few hours at a time. His work as a substitute pastor and later teaching professor allowed him to study and work at home, travelling briefly to his church or classroom to lecture, then return home. At PTS, he often had students in his home for study or lecture.
The central theme of Warfield’s professional life as a pastor, theologian and teacher was his view of the absolute authority and inerrancy 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.”This view probably helped from his friendship with A.A. Hodge that would last for many years. This view also made him an attractive candidate to replace Hodge in his position at PTS when Hodge died in 1878. Warfield would hold that position until his death in 1921. After the years of Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, PTS would change its theological direction to a more liberal theology. Warfield is considered by many to the last of the great PTS theologians.
Warfield’s firm view of the inerrant authority of the Bible was not the mainstream view of his day. Higher criticism and more liberal theologies were gaining credibility in the country’s universities and seminaries. Warfield and PTS were firm in their views. In Warfield’s view, the physical writers of the Bible may have been men, but “the ultimate author was God himself.”
Warfield wrote many books and published many essays and articles in his lifetime, almost all of them dealing directly or referencing indirectly the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. He famously penned the phrase that in following the word of God given to us in the Bible, “the scripture cannot be broken.” “It cannot be annulled…be denied…be contravened.”
In a collection of the writings of Warfield relating to biblical authority and inerrancy from 1948, Samuel G. Craig published Warfield articles on biblical revelation, the church doctrine of inspiration, the biblical idea and proof of inspiration, the real problem of biblical inspiration, God inspired scripture and the Bible as the “Oracle of God.” Each Warfield article speaks directly to the full and unlimited inerrancy of the Bible. As an example, in “The Real Problem of Inspiration” published by Warfield in 1893, Warfield details the contemporary opposition to biblical inerrancy of his day from the scientific community. That was a common source of resistance to the authority of the Bible. Scientists of his day were saying that due to modern understanding of evolution and archaeology, the Bible was “not infallible…its laws inadequate and morally defective.” Warfield did not back down from this fight! “The doctrine…is open to all legitimate criticism.” He detailed the historical position of the church’s view of full inerrancy and how contemporary criticism of this view has emerged and dissolved time and time again over the years. The opinion of contemporary science was just that, a contemporary opinion. The historical position of biblical inerrancy had stood the test of time for centuries and would continue to do so. Looking back now, most of the scientific opinion from Warfield’s day has been since proved false and still today, study and support for the historic view of biblical inerrancy continues.
The life of Warfield was tied to A.A. Hodge not only in their professional paths, their views on inerrancy and their common work at PTS. It is tied to Hodge in one of his most famous writings, an article written with Hodge in 1881, “Inspiration.” It was considered the most scholarly and forceful defense of biblical inerrancy ever written up to that time. That article is still a subject of study in universities and seminaries today, reprints still on sale.
Like A.A. Hodge, the life of B.B. Warfield was dominated by his work and support of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. His work is still in print today. His life is still studied. In many ways, he is still an authority on the subject, ninety years after his death.
Biblical inerrancy has been a doctrine of importance since the first written texts of the Bible appeared. It is a doctrine fundamental to the Christian faith and supported historically by many of the church’s greatest leaders. Since the authority of the church is based in large part on the authority of the Bible, it is one of the church’s most important doctrines. It is also essential to the individual believer.
Different levels have been developed by theologians over the years. Three of the most commonly held, full, limited and irrivalent, all seek to support the Bible as God’s error free word for believers from different perspectives. As with any important doctrine, there are different perspectives of it all seeking to support the same end result. It this case the end result is that the Bible is the word of God sent to man, without error in its original form.
There are also different arguments for the establishment of this doctrine. Biblical, historical and epistemological, all seek to establish the doctrine as essential for any believer. Some may use inerrancy and infallibility as interchangeable terms. That use is incorrect. As with any complicated doctrine, there are misunderstandings that develop over the language used. Understanding the difference between these two terms is important.
Among the many biblical scholars in the history of the church, A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield are among the most respected who supported the concept of full inerrancy of the Bible their entire lives. Their work still stands today and is still studied as authoritative sources on the subject of inerrancy.
In conclusion, the study and understanding of inerrancy have given this writer a deeper appreciation for the need to clearly understand this core foundation of Christian life. Appreciating the error free nature of God’s word for man makes it even more magnetic in its appeal for further study. If God sent us his word in such a direct manner, understanding that word and exactly what is says to man should be a theme of the life of any believer. A singular theme in the life of their work made A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield great figures in the history of Christian theology. How many of us today have such focus and dedication? Their example is clearly a source of inspiration.
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Norman L. Geisler, William C. Roach, Defending Inerrancy: Affirming the Accuracy of Scripture for a New Generation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), p133.
 John Warwick Montgomery, God’s Inerrant Word: In International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1974), p9.
 Ibid, p242.
 Norman L. Geisler, Inerrancy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980), p23
 Ibid, p36.
 Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), p345.
 Ibid, p338.
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 Walter A. Elwell, Evanbelical Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), p156.
 Giesler, p294.
 Montgomery, p201.
 Giesler, p12.
John D. Woodbridge, Gospel Coalition Conservative Christian Website, http://thegospelcoalition.org/resources/a/evangelical self-identity and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.com, (accessed 2/10/2012).
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1998), p248.
 Montgomery, p145.
 Erickson, p249.
 Montgomery, p147.
 Ibid, p149.
 McDowell, p345.
 Giesler, p287.
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The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, (Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), p1742.
 Ibid, p1760.
 Ibid, p1678.
 Ibid, p1830.
 Giesler, p152.
 MacArthur Study Bible, p1849.
 Montgomery, p146.
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 Elwell, p158.
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John A. Battle, “Charles Hodge, Inspiration, Textual Criticism, and The Princeton Doctrine of Scripture”, WRS Journal 4/2, August 1997, p28.
 Theologue.org, (accessed 2/17/2012).
 Battle, p29.
 Ibid, p30.
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 Battle, p31.
 Battle, p35.
 B.B. Warfield Biography Website, http://bbwarfield.com/biography, (accessed 2/27/2012).
 Theology Encyclopedic Website, http://theopedia.com/b_b_warfield, (accessed 2/22/2012).
 Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2010), p130.
 Benjamin Breckinridge and Samuel G. Craig, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible,( Phillipsburg, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948), p3.
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