Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Influence of Warfield

In the comments to an earlier post on Heroes of NT Textual Criticism (no, you haven’t missed the rest of the series, they are still, as they say ‘in preparation’) the question was raised as to whether B.B. Warfield should be regarded as an influential evangelical NT textual critic.

“Peter” was rather dismissive:
Well in my view, Warfield did nothing significant in the field of textual
criticism. Perhaps he did clarify some points of evangelical theology in
relation to the original text, but that was nothing new.
P.J. Williams was rather more positive:
I would agree that Warfield did little by way of research within textual criticism. However, he has had a profound effect on attitudes to textual criticism in the current evangelical constituency. ... If we look at effect on church constituency then Bengel, Warfield and Burgon seem to me to have had the biggest effect ...
Challenged to provide more evidence on this he wrote:
Measuring Warfield’s effect is very difficult, since even if he had published nothing on textual criticism it is certain that many within his constituency would have reached the same conclusions that he did. However, Warfield was the premier theologian of the early twentieth century among the Reformed evangelical constituency, and his favourable, though qualified, acceptance of the scholarly consensus of his day as far as textual criticism was concerned undoubtedly would have persuaded many minds against a more reactionary stance. There is discussion about the relationship between Warfield and the popularity of the doctrinal qualification of the scriptures as ‘inspired as originally given’ (or similar formulations). I haven’t done my homework to see how much is in this.
Well, all that is interesting background to my discovery today of A.T. Robertson’s book, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament (London: H&S, 1925).
Robertson dedicates his book ‘To the Memory of B.B. Warfield’ and describes the great help he had received from Warfield’s book (of the same title) until it went out of print. He tried to get Warfield to revise it, but Warfield refused on the basis that he was teaching Dogmatic Theology. ‘No one else outside of Hort ... had so clearly and fully set forth the principles of textual criticism that the student could readily grasp the science and apply it.’ Then he says that Warfield had urged him (i.e. Robertson) to revise the book. Which eventually he did, although in the end he had to write a new book.
So there is some evidence of the influence of Warfield on someone holding a similar position on Scripture (not presumably on other subjects since Robertson was a Southern Baptist, so no dancing), and who was a rare example of an evangelical scholar engaging in the scholarly endeavour.
PS. There is a rather interesting comment in the preface:
My task would have been greatly simplified if Gregory had carried out his purpose of preparing a new edition of Tischendorf’s Novum Testamentum Graece (1869) instead of going to the front and losing his life.
He continues:
That was a fine exhibition of patriotism for his adopted country (Germany) on the part of a man of seventy, but not the least of the tragedies of the world war.
He later says that he cherishes the hope
‘that some one who reads these words may take up the task that Gregory dropped and carry it on to completion.’
Enough already


  1. What are the best publications to get a flavo(u)r of Robertson's theology?

  2. Good question. I would think his Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research gives a flavour of his theology. For Robertson 'grammar is a means of grace'.

    Decker has some interesting chapters of a book on The Minister and His Greek New Testament (1923):

    And for an encomiastic biography see http://www.aletheiabaptistministries.org/A.T.%20Robertson.htm



  3. Interesting search for earlier evangelical text critics.

    Although data may be lacking on Warfield he seems to have taken a more balanced perspective toward critical scholarship, yet affirming a high view of Scripture.

    Church Historian Ken Stewart noted this balance in EvQ (July 2003). He argued that Warfield's interaction with Louis Gaussen's Theopneustia was more nuanced than later Fundamentalism/ Neo-evangelicalism.

    Maybe the 'Battle for the Bible' would not have left so many wounded if Warfield had written more on text critical issues?

    Thanks to all for the blog,

    Clint Humfrey

  4. Thanks, Clint. Warfield certainly did some balancing and was nuanced. Balancing for too long can cause wounds, and, while balance and nuance are generally beneficial, we should not assume that they are virtues in every context.

    What makes Warfield stand out to me is not how he balanced competing ideas, but how he clearly articulated his own and wrote in defence of them in a knowledgeable way, clearly engaging people who did not share his background.

    I'm not exactly a fan of neo-evangelicalism (British understatement), but neither am I sure that its advocates lack nuance.