Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy -- By: Moisés Silva

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 50:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy
Author: Moisés Silva


Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy*

Moisés Silva

Warm devotion to the Reformed faith. Noble aggressiveness in the defense of historical orthodoxy. Emphasis on the exegesis of the original languages of Scripture. Commitment to the blending of piety and intellect. Willingness to engage opposing viewpoints with scholarly courtesy and integrity. These and other qualities combined to give Princeton Theological Seminary, from its inception through the 1920s, a powerful distinctiveness in the ecclesiastical and academic worlds. It was this distinctiveness that the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary sought to preserve when the new institution was established in 1929.

We would betray the genius of this tradition if we were to identify any one issue as all-important or determinative. And yet, given the historical contexts that brought Princeton into new prominence in the late nineteenth century and that brought Westminster into existence half-a-century ago, one must fully acknowledge the unique role played by the doctrine of inerrancy as that doctrine has been understood by its best exponents, notably B. B. Warfield. It may be an exaggeration, but only a mild one, to say that the infallibility of Scripture, with its implications, has provided Westminster’s raison d’être. Indeed, as far as the present faculty is concerned, we would sooner pack up our books than abandon our conviction that the Scriptures are truly God’s very breath.

What I would like to stress in this chapter, however, is the definition of inerrancy implied by the words in the previous paragraph: as that doctrine has been understood by its best exponents. The contemporary debate regarding inerrancy appears hope-

* Revised version of an address delivered by the author on the occasion of his inauguration as Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary on February 19, 1985.

lessly vitiated by the failure—in both conservative and nonconservative camps—to mark how carefully nuanced were Warfield’s formulations. The heat generated by today’s controversies has not always been accompanied by the expected light, and for every truly helpful statement one will easily encounter ten that blur the issues. The unfortunate result is that large numbers of writers and students assume, quite incorrectly, that their ideas about inerrancy correspond with the classic conception.

One effective way to demonstrate this point would be to conduct a survey that asked people to identify selected quotations. Take the following statement on biblical inspiration:

It is not merely in the matter of verbal expression or literary c...

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