Re-post, as previously mentioned….
Redefining a Word
In the late 19th century, Benjamin Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary changed the focus of theological discussion of inspiration. Warfield was a great theologian who was contending rightly for the authority and inerrancy of Scripture in the face of heretical challenges. Unfortunately, in his focus on the theological problem, he effectively redefined theopneustos to what had previously been called “immediate inspiration.”
Warfield’s first major article on inspiration was written jointly with A.A. Hodge in 1881. In this article Warfield signaled what the rest of his writings on inspiration were going to do, and he was quite clear about it. He was adopting a narrower definition of inspiration than that which had been used in the past — and narrower than the Scriptural usage.
The history of theology is full of parallel instances, in which terms of the highest import have come to be accepted in a more fixed and narrow sense than they bore at first either in scriptural or early ecclesiastical usage (emphasis mine).
Warfield here puts his readers on notice: he is not going to be bound by the Scriptural usage in defining terms. As long as a person is very careful to explain his terms, that is not necessarily wrong — but it is dangerous with a Scriptural term, because it runs the risk of creating confusion over terms as your technical definition and the Scriptural term get mixed up.
Later in that same article (Tractate on Inspiration) he and Hodge wrote:
We have restricted the word “Inspiration” to a narrower sphere than that in which it has been used by many in the past.
We do not assert that the common text, but only that the original autographic text, was inspired (emphasis mine).
The redefinition is obvious. It extended even to using “was,” in contrast to the Scriptural usage “is.” The Bible says Scripture “is” inspired, but they said it “was” inspired. “Inspiration” for Warfield and Hodge was redefined from a statement about the origin and nature of the Scriptures to simply a statement about the historical act by which God gave the Scriptures, the act which had previously been called “immediate inspiration.”
Without going into great detail, Warfield found this new definition of inspiration useful through the years as he effectively refuted several errors.
- There were those who advocated the false teaching that theopneustos, instead of signifying “breathed by God,” meant that the Scriptures were breathing God. In other words, it wasn’t telling us that the Scriptures came from God, but rather that they tell us about God. Warfield refuted this false teaching.
- Some had suggested that the Scriptures were a human product which God then “inspired” (breathed divine nature into). Warfield rightly argued that the Scriptures were a divine product from the very beginning.
- Some had suggested (and some still do) that the “in-breathing” referred to by inspiration was God breathing into the human authors, so that they were inspired to write. Warfield rightly refuted this error.
However, the new definition wasn’t really needed to refute these errors — and redefining Scriptural terms so that the meaning does not match Scriptural usage unsurprisingly led to problems.
In another article, God-Inspired Scripture, Warfield wrote:
From all points of approach alike we appear to be conducted to the conclusion that it is primarily expressive of the origination of Scripture, not of its nature and much less of its effects…. What it affirms is that the Scriptures owe their origin to an activity of God the Holy Ghost and are in the highest and truest sense His creation. It is on this foundation of Divine origin that all the high attributes of Scripture are built.
When Warfield writes (in the second half of this citation) about the origin of Scripture, he is completely correct. But his denial that theopneustos refers to the nature and effects of Scripture as well as the origin ignores the context, the connotations of the breath of God, and other evidence as well.
There is no reason to charge Warfield with evil intent. His zeal for the truth of the Scriptures and the integrity of God is evident in all his writings. His doctrine of what had previously been known as “immediate inspiration” is masterful. In refuting a false teaching which minimised divine authorship, he rightly emphasised what theopneustos implies about the origin of Scripture.
He erred, however, in adopting a false choice — a simple error in logic, which is rather surprising in a scholar of his ability. We do not have to choose between origin, nature, and effect — we can choose two of them, or even all three. His opponents had created the false choice, saying in error that the word is only referring to effect, and Warfield unfortunately let them frame the terms of the discussion.
Why did he fall into that logical trap? Very simply, he had adopted his own redefinition, and was now applying it to the Biblical term. He began by saying that he was adopting a technical term which was more narrow than Biblical usage, but before long he was arguing (as in this article) that the Biblical usage was identical to his redefined meaning. It is quite one thing to say, “I’m using it differently from the way the Bible uses it for a specific purpose, and here is what I mean.” It is quite another when you then start to say that your definition is the same as the Biblical usage.
We understand more of Warfield’s thinking when he says in an article for the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.
This is very true, but again he constructs a false choice, between the divine origin of the Scriptures and an in-breathing of divine nature. We can certainly choose both. Warfield could not because he had adopted his own redefinition. Thus, I suggest Warfield’s statement should have read something like this:
The Biblical writers conceive of the Scriptures as a divine product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus given living divine qualities; it is a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.
We should certainly agree with Warfield when he refutes any ideas of human origin for the Scriptures. Furthermore, he is correct in asserting elsewhere in this article that the word does not mean that God breathed into the writers. It is the Scriptures that are theopneustos, not the writers. But the valuable service he provided in refuting these errors does not logically force us to accept his limited definition of the word. We should note that again in this citation, Warfield is now directly applying his redefinition of inspiration to “the Biblical writers.”
Again, in his ISBE article on Inspiration:
The Greek term has, however, nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of a “spiring” or “spiration.” What it says of Scripture is, not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of the Divine “inbreathing” into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, “God-breathed,” the product of the creative breath of God.
Warfield here used etymology alone (ignoring other factors such as connotation and context) to say that theopneustos means “spiring” or “spiration”, rather than “inspiration”. But then, having rejected “inspired” (breathed into) because the etymology doesn’t lead him to that conclusion, he moves from “spiring” to “ex-spired” (breathed out), without any real basis at all — except his own narrow technical definition.
In Warfield’s writings, then, “in-spired” became “ex-spired”, breathed out. No longer referring to both the divine origin and the divine quality or nature of the Scriptures, he now taught that inspiration meant only the divine origin. He believed his own redefinition, and began to write that his definition was what the Scriptural writers had in mind. Certainly, his excellently developed theology of “immediate inspiration” appears to match the Scriptural teaching — about “immediate inspiration.”
However, his definition did not match the Scriptural usage of theopneustos, “given by inspiration of God.” For Warfield and those who followed his teaching, inspiration no longer applies to Timothy’s (and your) Book-in-hand. It became entirely a matter of history, relating only to the original autographs:
We do not assert that the common text, but only that the original autographic text, was inspired.
Main article: The Scriptures — Inspired or Expired?