Warfield, Infallibility, and the Westminster Confession

Published: Reformed Theological Review 80, issue 1, April 2021, 49–75.
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B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) is best known for his defence of the divine inspiration of Scripture through the framing of the doctrine of inerrancy. With A. A. Hodge (1823–1886), he insisted that everything said in Scripture is without error in all that is asserted to be true, whether in matters of theology, philosophy, history, science, and so on. Two clarifications followed, first, that this entire truthfulness belonged to the ancient texts authored by the apostles and prophets, and secondly, Scripture’s statements are not to be taken in a woodenly literal way so that its truth intentions are misunderstood, but, for example, genre, metaphor, and phenomenological language need to be accounted for. Mark Thompson’s article in this issue of RTR covers these matters superbly, and nothing more needs to be said on that now.

The matter of concern here is the degree to which Hodge’s and especially Warfield’s understanding of inerrancy is consistent with the Westminster Confession. Does their emphasising of truthfulness as a dominating quality of Scripture correlate with the Confession’s perspective? Is their concept of the unerring ancient texts present in the Confession? Did they retreat from what the Confession says about the purity of the extant original-language copies of Scripture? It will be argued that the answer to all three questions is broadly in the affirmative, with appropriate qualifications.