It was these common views of Scripture and of Jesus that B.B. Warfield was confronting when he defended the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Contrary to the beliefs of higher criticism, Warfield taught that all of Scripture was inspired by God, not in the sense of God dictating to or possessing the human body that then channeled God’s words. Instead, Warfield taught that “every word indicted under the analogous influence of inspiration was at one and the same time the consciously self-chosen word of the writer and the divinely-inspired word of the Spirit.”
The Bible is the Word of God in such a way that when the Bible speaks, God speaks. – B.B. Warfield
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21, NASB
B.B. Warfield, Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary at the turn of the 20th century, is well-known for his work defending the divine inspiration of Scripture. During his time at Princeton Seminary, a debate was raging over the authority of the Bible. Were the words of Scripture actually God’s words, or were they merely the words of men with a “divine element” mixed in?
In the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s, a particular school of thought had developed regarding how to interpret the Bible. This view, often called higher criticism, developed through the work of various German theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, David Friedrich Strauss, and Ludwig Feuerbach. In their study of Scripture, those who followed a higher criticism approach attempted to verify the historical accuracy of the Bible’s description of events.
The text of the Bible was treated like any other historical, ancient text and subject to independent verification. The goal was to understand the original meaning of the text to the original audience and to weed out any later additions to the original accounts. In this way, the scholars believed they could arrive at the nuggets of truth that had been buried in the embellished versions. Generally, all miraculous elements were deemed later additions and not historically accurate.
Notably, the theologians who developed higher criticism denied the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. According to them, the Bible was written and edited by men and reflected the same errors and mistakes of any ancient text. Some of the more common conclusions that scholars of higher criticism reached include that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch. Rather, the first five books of the Bible were pieced together from four much later sources known as the J.E.D.P. (Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomy, and Priestly sources).
Genesis 1 and 2 are considered to be an example of two different sources’ accounts of creation that have been stitched together. Other common conclusions regarding Scripture include that David did not write the Psalms, Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes, Isaiah is the work of several men including Isaiah and a “Deutero-Isaiah”, and Daniel was not written by Daniel.
In the New Testament, many attempts have been made with higher criticism to separate the Jesus as presented in Scripture from the Jesus who actually existed in history.