Warfield was born to William and Mary Cabell Breckinridge Warfield
in the rolling bluegrass country of Lexington, Kentucky, on
November 5, 1851. His father bred cattle and horses and was
a descendant of Richard Warfield, who lived and prospered in
Maryland in the seventeenth century. William also served as
a Union officer during the Civil War. Benjamin enjoyed both
the finances and heritage of the Breckinridges of Kentucky,
along with the prosperity and ancestry of the Warfields. His
mothers father was the minister Robert Jefferson Breckinridge,
who was a leader of the Old School Presbyterians, an author,
a prominent Kentucky educational administrator, a periodical
editor, and a politician. The Warfields financial
prosperity enabled them to have Benjamin educated through
private tutoring provided by Lewis G. Barbour,
who became a professor
of mathematics at Central University, and James K. Patterson,
who became president of the State College of
Kentucky. L. G. Barbour wrote some articles
for the Southern Presbyterian Review
on scientific subjects and his own scientific interests may
have encouraged Benjamin in a scientific
direction. Ethelbert D. Warfield, Benjamins brother,
has commented that:
Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield
His early tastes were strongly
scientific. He collected birds eggs, butterflies and moths,
and geological specimens; studied the fauna and flora of his neighborhood;
read Darwins newly published books with enthusiasm; and counted
Audubons works on American birds and mammals his chief treasure.
He was so certain that he was to follow a scientific career that
he strenuously objected to studying Greek. (page vi).
Following the years of private tutorial instruction, Benjamin entered
the sophomore class of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University)
in 1868 and was graduated from there in 1871 with highest honors
at only nineteen years of age. Having concluded his college years,
he then traveled in Europe beginning in February of 1872 following
a delayed departure due to illness in his family. After spending
some time in Edinburgh and then Heidelberg, he wrote home in mid-summer
announcing his intent to enter the ministry. This change in vocational
direction came as quite a surprise to his family. He returned to
Kentucky from Europe sometime in 1873 and was for a short time the
livestock editor of the Farmers Home Journal.
Benjamin pursued his theological education in preparation for the
ministry by entering Princeton Theological Seminary in September
of 1873. He was licensed to preach the gospel by Ebenezer Presbytery
on May 8, 1875. Following licensure, he tested his ministerial
abilities by supplying the Concord Presbyterian Church in Kentucky
from June through August of 1875. After he received his divinity
degree in 1876, he supplied the First Presbyterian Church of Dayton,
Ohio, and while he was in Dayton, he married Annie Pearce Kinkead,
the daughter of a prominent attorney, on August 3, 1876. Soon after
he married Annie, the couple set sail on an extended study trip
in Europe for the winter of 1876-1877. It was sometime during this
voyage that the newly weds went through a great storm and Annie
suffered an injury that debilitated her for the rest of her life;
the biographers differ as to whether the injury was emotional, physical,
or a combination of the two. Sometime during 1877, according to
Ethelbert Warfield, Benjamin was offered the opportunity to teach
Old Testament at Western Seminary, but he turned the position down
because he had turned his study emphasis to the New Testament despite
his early aversion to Greek (vii). In November 1877, he began his
supply ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, where
he continued until the following March. He returned to Kentucky
and was ordained as an evangelist by Ebenezer Presbytery on April
In September of 1878, Benjamin began his career as a theological
educator when he became an instructor in New Testament Literature
and Exegesis at Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. Western
Seminary had been formed by the merger of existing seminaries including
Danville Seminary, which R. J. Breckinridge, Benjamins grandfather,
had been involved in founding. The following year he was made professor
of the same subject and he continued in that position until 1887.
In his inaugural address for Professor of New Testament Exegesis
and Literature, April 20, 1880, he set the theme for many of his
writing efforts in the succeeding years by defending historic Christianity.
The purpose of his lecture was to answer the question, Is
the Church Doctrine of the Plenary Inspiration of the New Testament
Endangered by the Assured Results of Modern Biblical Criticism.
Professor Warfield affirmed the inspiration, authority and reliability
of Gods Word in opposition to the critics of his era. He
quickly established his academic reputation for thoroughness and
defense of the Bible. Many heard of his academic acumen and his
scholarship was awarded by eastern academia when his alma mater,
the College of New Jersey, awarded him an honorary D. D. in 1880.
|According to Samuel Craig, Dr. Warfield was offered
the Chair of Theology at the Theological Seminary of the Northwest
in Chicago in 1881, but he did not end his service at Western
until he went to teach at Princeton Theological Seminary beginning
the fall semester of 1887. He succeeded Archibald Alexander
Hodge as the Charles Hodge Professor of Didactic and Polemic
Theology. His inaugural address, delivered May 8, 1888, was
titled The Idea of Systematic Theology Considered as a
Science. As he taught theology, he did so using Hodges
Systematic Theology and continued the Hodge tradition. The
constant care Annie required and the duties associated with
teaching at Princeton, resulted in a limited involvement in
presbytery, synod, and general assembly. Annie lived a homebound
life limiting herself
| primarily to the Princeton campus where Benjamin
was never-too-far from home. The Warfields lived in the same
campus home where Charles and Archibald Alexander Hodge lived
during their years at Princeton.
Benjamin enjoyed a busy schedule at Princeton. One of his duties
at Princeton included editing the Presbyterian Review, succeeding
Francis L. Patton. When the Presbyterian Review was discontinued,
he planned and produced the Presbyterian and Reformed Review
until the Faculty of Princeton renamed it the Princeton Theological
Review in 1902. During his Princeton years he was awarded several
times with honorary degrees in addition to his D.D. including:
the LL.D. by the College of New Jersey in 1892, the LL.D. by Davidson
College in 1892, the Litt.D. by Lafayette College in 1911, and the
S.T.D. by the University of Utrecht in 1913.
||After thirty-nine years of marriage, Annie died
November 19, 1915. She was buried in the Princeton cemetery
of what is now the Nassau Street Presbyterian Church with a
bronze, vault sized ground plate marking her location. Benjamin
continued to teach at Princeton until he was taken ill suddenly
on Christmas Eve of 1920. Until this illness, Dr. Warfield
had followed an active and busy teaching schedule into his seventieth
year of life. His condition was serious for a time, but he
improved enough that he resumed partial teaching responsibilities
on February 16, 1921. Despite not feeling ill effects from
the class he taught that day, he died of coronary problems later
that evening. He was buried next to his beloved Annie with
a similar marker for his grave. The Warfields did not have
B. B. Warfields collected writings were massive, but he is
not known for writing a systematic theology and publishing books
was the exception rather than the rule; his writings were primarily
articles for periodicals, book reviews and notices, papers, pamphlets
and lectures. Sometimes his articles would be republished in pamphlet
or book form. His apologetic sense for responding to error in a
timely fashion most often led him to use scholarly journals and
other periodicals. Francis Pattons memorial speech for Warfield
confirms this perspective as he commented that, It was the
discussion of particular doctrine in connection with the most recent
phases of thought that he gave the greater part of his attention
(A Memorial, 386). Some of Warfields chief concerns
included: the inspiration and authenticity of the Scriptures, perfectionism,
evolution, the history and theology of the Westminster
Confession of Faith, and the canonicity of the books of Scripture.
In connection with his interest in the Westminster Confession,
he had opportunities to write concerning revising the Confession
in both the 1880s and the early twentieth century. One area
of particular concern Warfield addressed frequently was defending
the New Testament against the German higher critics and their teachings.
Some have wondered why B. B Warfield did not publish a systematic
theology. Francis Pattons perspective on this was that B.
B. Warfield believed Charles Hodges three volumes constituted
the best text for teaching systematic theology (A Memorial,
Some of the issues Dr. Warfield addressed are still contended today
including: deaconesses, issues related to the Freedmen
(i.e. African Americans), evolution, seminary curriculum, ministerial
education, baptism, the victorious Christian life, can dreams convey
revelation, and women speaking in the church. He also published,
in 1889, selections from Dr. John Arrowsmiths Armilla Catechetica.
Warfields gifts included writing poetry and composing hymns,
including a hymn for the inauguration of Robert Dick Wilson as a
professor at Princeton Seminary. A short pamphlet of Dr. Warfields
hymns and poems was published by him titled, Four Hymns and Some
Religious Verses by Benjamin B. Warfield. Consistent with his
Breckinridge heritage, he wrote the biographical entry
for his grandfather, Robert J. Breckinridge, in Nevins Encyclopedia
of the Presbyterian Church. The readers of his works were not
limited to English speakers since some of his publications were
translated into other languages such as, On the Antiquity
and Unity of the Human Race (1911), which was translated into
Chinese, and The Theology of the Reformation (1917)
and The Plan of Salvation, (1915), which were both translated
into Japanese. Other works were translated into Dutch and Spanish.
The tremendously helpful bibliography of Warfields works by
James Meeter and Roger Nicole shows the diversity of his interests,
which included not only subjects of direct relevance to his discipline
but subjects of little or no relevance as well. One of his non-theological
interests was collecting postcards. In the early twentieth century,
the production of postcards was a growing industry that supplied
the new hobby of postcard collecting. The colorful, inexpensive,
and handy cards were used by tourists to inform their friends of
the progress of their trips and give them a glimpse of lands they
would probably not be able to see otherwise. Postcard collecting
was an activity that the Warfields could have enjoyed together,
though Annie may have had the greatest involvement in the collection
due to her homebound situation. Included in the collection are
cards from Switzerland, France, Italy, England, Kentucky, California,
Holland, Canada, Scotland, Germany, Pennsylvania, California, Mexico,
and many other places. One card was from C. D. Kinkead, presumably
one of Annies relatives, and it pictures the auditorium where
Calvin lectured on theology in Geneva. Another card shows Samuel
Rutherfords grave marker in Divinity Corner at
St. Andrews Cathedral. There are several cards from Oxford University
picturing scenes from the various colleges. Another view is of
Luthers study in the Wartburg, which was sent by J.
C. Stout. One card, postmarked 1908, shows the beautiful
old sanctuary and majestic steeple of the Independent Presbyterian
Church of Savannah, Georgia. Each of the cards collected by the
Warfields was placed carefully in its album and ordered according
to the part of the world from which it came. Whether the collection
of cards reveals Benjamins desire for further foreign study,
or Annies yearning to be free of her infirmity and travel
to the places pictured, or a combination of the two, are questions
that will remain unanswered.
B. B. Warfield was particularly prolific in publishing book notices
and reviews. Meeter and Nicole note in the preface to their bibliography
that they excluded over a thousand book reviews and notices that
were less than one page in length or judged of little interest to
the typical theologically oriented user of their book. Despite
these exclusions, the list of reviews show a diversity of subject
matter including: the personal life of the missionary David Livingstone,
ancient Egyptian life, the spiritual life of Charles Darwin, the
history of the Old South Church, plantation life before slave emancipation,
poetry, E. A. Poes poetry, Medieval book printing, Martin
Luthers letters, monasticism and mysticism. The items excluded
by Meeter and Nicole included notices and reviews concerned with
architecture, novels, brain development and growth, sociology and
travel. Dr. Warfields academic efforts were often directed
towards issues concerning the Westminster Confession and
this is reflected in books he read about the lives of Westminster
Assembly members including Sir Henry Vane, Jr. and Alexander Henderson,
as well as books addressing the theology and history of the Confession.
Warfields intellectual capacity, diversity of interests,
and penetrating analysis could be placed at the apex of the scholarly
pyramid of his contemporaries. Consider the course of academic
events in his life. When he accepted the position in New Testament
at Western Seminary, the previous year he had already turned down
an appointment at the same institution to teach Old Testament.
When he went from Western to Princeton Seminary, he went from New
Testament to a position combining the disciplines of Systematic
Theology and Apologetics. When we consider that he was also known
for his historical studies on the background and editions of the
Westminster Confession, as well as the relationship between
Augustine and John Calvin, it is not going too far to say that he
could have qualified, in his era, as a one man seminary faculty
with abilities in Old Testament, New Testament, Apologetics, Systematics,
and Church History.
|When Benjamin Warfield died, there were notices, memorial
services, and eulogies in many parts of the nation. Warfields
own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the United States
of America, adopted a statement at its General Assembly that
described his loss as irreparable and described
him as probably the most distinguished and learned theologian
of the Reformed Faith in our day. Following the adoption
of this statement, the Assembly heard a brief tribute to him
by President Kelso of the Western Theological Seminary, which
was followed with prayer led by President Landon of the San
Francisco Theological Seminary (Minutes, 128). In Dr.
Warfields home state of Kentucky, sentiments were expressed
in a special memorial service held in the Harbeson Memorial
Chapel of the Theological Seminary of Kentucky. During the
service each of the seminary professors, all of whom but one
had known him personally, spoke tenderly of the man and
his great work and his abiding influence on every continent
of the world (The Presbyterian 91:9, March 3, 1921,
31). One writer, known only as G. P. D., wrote
of his three-year experience as a student of Warfield. He said
that one man stood out above all others as a teacher and
as a man of God: and that man is Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge
Warfield. Dr. Warfield had taught him to stand solidly
upon the Rock of Ages and he exemplified an unswerving
loyalty to the Word of God.
The author also remembered Dr. Warfields continued instruction
to his students to seek the resolution of difficult issues by seeing
what the Word of God says about that. Showing his affection
for Dr. Warfield, the author mentioned that he and his fellow students
thought of him as Bennie, a name that would not likely
have been used in his presence (91:10, March 10, 1921, 10). J.
Gresham Machen, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Princeton,
received a letter from LeRoy Gresham, Dr. Machens cousin,
expressing in his own personal sorrow the sentiments of many regarding
the loss of B. B. Warfield:
You may well believe that I was inexpressibly
grieved and shocked at the death of Dr. Warfield. Truly there is
a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel. Where shall
we ever find his like as a defender of the faith once delivered
to the saints? I know what it will mean to you personally, especially
at a time when the tendency is to fill our faculties with men who
represent a lower ideal of scholarship. It will be hard indeed
to fill his place. (Letter dated March 5, 1921)
Little did either LeRoy Gresham or Dr. Machen realize the prophetic
sense of this comment, for it would not be long before Dr. Machen
would become a defender of the faith once delivered to the
saints as he faced the modernist controversy.
Geoff Thomas has observed that Dr. Warfield died about three months
after the death of Abraham Kuyper and about five months before another
Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, passed away. The deaths of these
three signified the end of an era in the history of Reformed Theology.
Despite B. B. Warfields obvious significance, Mark Noll could
make the statement in 1999 in his American National Biography
article that, There is no full account of either Warfields
life or his thought. Anyone attempting to give a full
account of Dr. Warfields life and thought would be undertaking
a considerable task due to the depth, extent, and breadth of his
Note: The letter to
J. Gresham Machen is in the Machen collection of the archives at
Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.
Calhoun, David. Princeton
Seminary: The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929. Edinburgh: Banner
of Truth Trust, 1996. See particularly pages 313-327 for Dr. Warfield.
Craig, Samuel G. Benjamin
B. Warfield. At: http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org.
D., G. P. The
Last of the High Calvinists. The Presbyterian 91:10,
March 10, 1921. Pages 9-10. [The anonymous author responded to
an article from another publication in which Warfield was described
negatively as a high Calvinist.]
by the Inauguration of Benj. B. Warfield, D.D. to the Chair of New
Testament Exegesis and Literature, in Western Theological Seminary,
Delivered on the Evening of Tuesday, April 20th, 1880,
in the North Presbyterian Church, Allegheny, Pa. Pittsburgh:
Printed by Nevin Brothers, 1880. Includes the charge to Warfield
by Elliott E. Swift and Warfields inaugural address.
Four Hymns and Some
Religious Verses by Benjamin B. Warfield. Philadelphia: The
Westminster Press, 1910.
Hoffecker, W. A. Warfield,
Benjamin Breckinridge (1851-1921). Dictionary of the Presbyterian
and Reformed Tradition in America. D. G. Hart and Mark A. Noll,
eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999.
Meeter, John E. and Roger
Nicole. A Bibliography of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, 1851-1921.
Nutley: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974.
Minutes of the General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. New series,
vol. XXI, August 1921. Proceedings of the 133rd General
Assembly. Philadelphia: Office of the General Assembly, 1921.
Nichols, Robert Hastings.
Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. Dictionary of American
Biography. New York: Charles Scribners, 1946.
Noll, Mark A. Warfield,
Benjamin Breckinridge. American National Biography.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Patton, Francis. Benjamin
Breckinridge Warfield, D.D., L.L. D., Litt. D. A Memorial Address.
The Princeton Theological Review 19:3 (July 1921): 369-391.
Roberts, Edward Howell.
Biographical Catalogue of the Princeton Theological Seminary,
1815-1932. Princeton: Trustees of the Theological Seminary
of the Presbyterian Church, Princeton, NJ, 1933.
Scrapbooks, 8 folio vols.
at the Luce Archives of Princeton Theological Seminary. These personal
collections contain postcards and newspaper clippings.
of Kentucky. The Presbyterian 91:9, March 3, 1921,
Thomas, Geoff. Benjamin
Breckinridge Warfield: If they Do Not Do What is Right, There May
be a Mighty Battle. Banner of Truth web-site at: http://www.banneroftruth.
Warfield, E. D. Biographical
Sketch of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. Works, vol.
1, Revelation and Inspiration, v-ix.
many writings were published in pamphlets, books, and periodical
articles over a period of many years. The 10 volume set of his
Works along with the 2 volume set on the shorter writings
provide the best collection of his work, but these two sets together
do not contain all his writings.]. For a comprehensive list of Warfield's
works, see A Bibliography of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield,
1851-1921, by John E. Meeter and Roger Nicole (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian
and Reformed Publishing Company, 1974).
Meeter, John E., ed.
Benjamin B. Warfield: Selected Shorter Writings. 2 vols.
Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1970, 1973.
Noll, Mark A. and David
Livingston. B. B. Warfield: Evolution, Science, and Scripture,
Selected Writings. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. This contains
an article on Scripture, The Divine and Human in the Bible,
as well as thirty-nine articles, lectures, and reviews on the books
subject. This is one of Warfields more controversial areas
of thought because he accepted the possibility of evolution in some
form while denying Darwinism.
Warfield, Ethelbert D.,
William Park Armstrong, and Caspar Wistar Hodge, eds. The Works
of Benjamin B. Warfield. 10 vols. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1932; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.
McClanahan, James Samuel.
Benjamin B. Warfield: Historian of Doctrine in Defense of
Orthodoxy, 1881-1921. Ph.D. dissertation, Union Theological
Seminary in Virginia, 1988.
Riddlebarger, Kim. The
Lion of Princeton: Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield on Apologetics,
Theological Method and Polemics. Ph. D. dissertation, Fuller
Theological Seminary, 1997.
Articles appearing in The Southern Presbyterian
Dr. Edwin A. Abbott on the Genuineness of
Second Peter, 34.2 (April 1883) 390-445.
Some Recent Apocryphal Gospels, 35.4 (October 1884) 711-759.
The Canonicity of Second Peter, 33.1 (January 1882) 45-75.
Articles appearing in The Presbyterian Quarterly-
New Testament Terms Descriptive of the Great
Change, 5.1 (January 1891) 91-100.
Paul's Doctrine of the Old Testament, 3.3 (July 1889) 389-406.
Some Perils of Missionary Life, 13.3 (July 1899) 385-404.
The Constitution of the Seminary Curriculum, 10.4 (October 1896)
The Doctrine of Inspiration of the Westminster Divines, 8.1 (January
The Latest Phase of Historical Rationalism, 9.1 (January 1895) 36-67
and 9.2 (April 1895) 185-210.
The Polemics of Infant Baptism, 13.2 (April 1899) 313-334.