Is the Bible a Product of Divine or Human Will?

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield has become a bit of a hero of mine, which is odd, because until tonight I had not finished a single complete work of his. B.B. Warfield, as he is known, was a professor of theology at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until his death in 1921.  He is considered by many to have been the last of the great conservative theologians at Princeton, an institute which also employed famed theological thinkers Archibald Alexander, and Charles and A.A. Hodge.  I was first introduced to Warfield several years ago by Daniel B. Wallace in his article, My Take on Inerrancy, which I have commented on previously.  Since I have read a great many of Wallace's papers and have come to admire his expertise in a number of subjects, it was inevitable that I should also come to respect Warfield, a man who he respects.  Steve and I have begun reading Warfield's The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, and will likely post on it in the future.  Tonight, while out of town for business, I found an excellent used bookstore near my hotel where I happened upon a compilation of papers written by Warfield.  The book, called Evolution, Science, and Scripture1, claims to be an unedited selection of his works which articulate his views on... well, evolution, science, and scripture.  I will presently summarize and comment on the first of these essays, entitled The Divine and Human in the Bible.2

Three Views on the Divine and Human Elements in the Bible

The problem, which Warfield rightly states is most prominently before the minds of today's Bible students, is that of the relationship between the divine and human elements of scripture. Modern and Post-modern scholarship continue to make this a relevant issue by asking questions such as "Did the events recorded in scripture actually take place in history?", "Are the actions authorized and exemplified throughout scripture morally defensible?", or "Are the scriptures right to promote any kind of objective morality at all?" The reason these questions facilitate a narrowing of focus on the problem stated above is only tangentially related to their actual content and not at all dependent on their answers; it is because these questions focus the student's attention on the uniquely human aspects of scripture. And with that focus, the student is left wondering if the Bible really is a human book after all, or if it is divine, or some hybrid of both. This question applies to both the process which brought scripture about, and the product which has in the end been brought about  (that is, scripture itself). Most modern emphasis lies on the product of scripture, but Warfield argues that one cannot hold a proper view of the product of scripture without understanding the process which brought it about. In his paper, he describes three viewpoints of the problem, two which he holds to be quite in error:

1. The first view discussed is the extreme view of Either/Or. That is, either the Bible was brought about by humans qua fallible humans, or else it was brought about wholly by God, and either one leaves no room for the other. Warfield explains this as follows:

At one time there arose in the church, under the impulse of zeal to assert and safeguard the divinity of Scripture, a tendency toward so emphasizing the divine elements as to exclude the human. The human writers of Scripture were conceived as mere implements in the hands of the Holy Ghost, implements by which (rather than through whom) he wrote the Scriptures. Men were not content to call the human authors of Scripture merely penmen, the amanuenses of the Holy Spirit, but represented them as simply his pens. Inspiration, in this view, was conceived as a simple act of dictation; and it was denied that the human writers contributed any quality to the product, unless, indeed, it might be their handwriting.3

However, obvious evidences of human elements in the Bible, such as unique styles and vocabularies, render this view untenable. Equally problematic, on the other hand, is the view which denies divine authorship in favor of a completely human one:
Throughout all these [variants] the germinal conception persists that it was man and man alone who made the Bible, and that it is, therefore, a purely human book, although it may contain a human report of divine deeds and words.4
It should be easily understood why a Christian cannot hold this view.  Since Christ himself held such a very high view of Scripture as inspired, his followers would be poor indeed if they rejected it.
2. The second view which Warfield discusses is the one which differentiates which words, chapters, or books of the Bible were produced by humans, and which were produced by God. One problem here is that preliminary efforts to divide up the human elements of scripture from the divine, will likely end up reducing this theory to the rationalistic variety of the first theory:

On such a conception it is easy to see that every discovery of a human trait in Scripture is a disproving of the divinity of Scripture. If, then, it be discovered that the whole fabric of the Bible is human-- as assuredly is true-- men who start with this conception in mind must end with denying that the whole fabric of the Bible is divine.5

Thus, at the start, such a theory, crude as it may be, might appear to have merit. But how does one go about determining which elements of scripture are divine? Do humans really have the ability to directly recognize divine origin? If not, then any conclusion of divine element must be inferred by process of elimination starting with knowledge of human element. This ends up too far reaching since, as Warfield notes, the divine and human elements are quite inseparable.

3. Warfield concludes the paper by briefly explaining his idea of concurrence:

The fundamental principle of this conception is that the whole of scripture is the product of divine activities which enter it, not by superseding the activities of the human authors, but by working confluently with them, so that the Scriptures are the joint product of divine and human activities, both of which penetrate them at every point, working harmoniously together to the production of a writing which is not divine here and human there, but at once divine and human, the free product of human effort, in every part and word. And at the same time the whole Bible is recognized as divine, the Word of God, his utterances, of which he is in the truest sense the Author.6

Warfield, unfortunately, does not explain how this concurrence is possible, but only that it must be so in some sense. It is the only tenable alternative to (1) and (2), which have the problems of ultimately rejecting the divine authority of scripture or else rejecting that quality which makes it so unique when compared to other religious texts (that is, the diversity of human authorship throughout different languages, cultures, and times).  He leaves us with this insightful quote from Brook Foss Wescott: "The Bible is authoritative, for it is the word of God; it is intelligible, for it is the word of man."7

A Few Follow-up Thoughts

The preceding was little more than a summary of Warfield's views, as outlined in his paper. I have done my best to summarize those ideas in a way that was clear to the reader, as well as true to the author. I note this fact to clarify that I have not, as of yet, offered any opinion on whether I believe Warfield to be right or wrong. My initial reaction to his ideas is one of confusion; while I agree that views (1) and (2) are not defensible to a Christian, there is a part of me which also wishes to reject (3). The reason is because I know that Warfield's view of inspiration is firmly rooted in his view of God's providence, which I believe (though I could be wrong, having not completed any of his other writings) is one of premotion and omnicausality.  This Calvinistic conception of God is not one that I have fully accepted as of yet, and still makes me somewhat uncomfortable.  In short, I have a hard time understanding how the divine and human wills can act "concurrently" toward some end (such as the production of scripture) without the divine will supervening on the human.  However, I will note two things: first, it appears that the Molinistic view of God's providence is also compatible with Warfield's idea of concurrence in the production of scripture.  In this case, God's transcendent will would concur with the human biblical authors' by creating a world in which the human authors would freely choose to write His words.  Second, these thoughts of divine providence take us far beyond the scope of this post, and must therefore wait to be further discussed until another time.


1. Warfield, Noll and Livingstone, 2000.
2. Warfield, 1894.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Wescott, 1881.
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  1. Also worth checking out would be Pruss' "Prophecy without Middle Knowledge" since it might show how the third option is compatible with simple foreknowledge.

  2. Hi Brett,

    So I guess the idea of "concurrence" as Warfield terms it, would have to be compatible with one or more of the following:

    1. Determining Causation (God knows X because He decrees X)
    2. Middle Knowledge (God knows X because God knows that free agents would choose in such a way that X comes about, were world W instantiated, and God chooses to instantiate X)
    3. Simple Foreknowledge (God just knows X in a way that is irreducible to His decrees or Middle Knowledge)

    I can see how (1) and (2) solve the "problem" of how God can concurrently author Scripture with men, because they both involve some decision or action on God's part. I have a hard time seeing how Simple Foreknowledge could solve the issue, because in that case God knows something without having caused it in any way, right?

    I will probably read Pruss's paper when I have a chance. In the meantime, can you briefly explain how simple foreknowledge can entail concurrence?

  3. I'm not sure it would totally work but I might be able to give a sketch.

    Suppose inspiration in the sense of concurrence means something like the following: every speech act the inspired author makes is the one God wants them to make.

    Now let's take a concrete example and we will use Moses and the end of Exodus 3.2. "He [Moses] looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed." Now the speech act here is that Moses saw a bush, the bush was burning, and the bush was not consumed. If that is what God wants to communicate, then that would seemingly be easy enough because then, plausibly, all God must do is appear to Moses in the form of a burning bush that isn't consumed. So let's say God does that and then based on His foreknowledge He knows that Moses will write down what He wants. Moses writing of that sentence is then inspired. So it seems at least possible for that to be the case.

    However, let's say that God appears to Moses in that way but based on His foreknowledge God knows that Moses will not write that down. Given that, He can simply act in a certain way (say, mention the importance of the burning bush incident and how it needs to be written down when Moses receives the Ten Commandments) so as to bring about different circumstances wherein Moses action now would be different and God knows it through simple foreknowledge.

    Take one last point. Say that God knows that Moses will write that down and so it is inspired and yet God also wants the next sentence in Exodus to communicate a certain idea but based upon His foreknowledge Moses will not write down that sentence. Now Pruss argues in his article for the following principle: If C and C1 are circumstances differing in ways invisible to the agent x and such that x would freely act in C as well as in C1, and if x would have done A in C, then x would also have done A in C1. Now we might be able to alter that a bit and say that C and C1 are differeing in ways invisible to the making of the decision of the agent. Given that, then as long as God acts in certain ways that influence what Moses will write without it affecting the fact that he also writes about the burning bush incident, then both can be pulled off.

    Nonetheless, the person affirming simple foreknowledge and verbal plenary inspiration need not provide an account at all. They have reason to accept both presumably and so until a person comes along to show that they cannot accept both, then they are warranted in doing so. The burden of proof then rests on the person who wants to show that simple foreknowledge and verbal plenary inspiration are incompatible.


  4. Hi Brett,

    Great explanation. Thanks for taking the time to write that out. Based on the initial information you've given, I'm a bit skeptical. The reason is that what you've described sounds like it utilizes Middle Knowledge, which is what I thought we were trying to get away from under the Simple Foreknowledge account. Take this sentence:

    However, let's say that God appears to Moses in that way but based on His foreknowledge God knows that Moses will not write that down. Given that, He can simply act in a certain way (say, mention the importance of the burning bush incident and how it needs to be written down when Moses receives the Ten Commandments) so as to bring about different circumstances wherein Moses action now would be different and God knows it through simple foreknowledge.

    Up until the last six words of that portion, it sounds like a description of God using His Middle Knowledge. How else would God know the counter-factual propositions "Moses would not have written that down if God had not acted in such a way so as to show Moses the importance of burning bushes," or "Moses would have written that down even if God had not acted in such a way so as to show Moses the importance of burning bushes."

    Unless you mean to say that God might act in a certain way so as to bring about the desired speech act, wait (I realize this might not be an entirely accurate way to describe a timeless God, but I think it's OK for my purpose here) to see how Moses will freely respond, and then act in some other way if Moses does not freely choose the end that God wanted him to choose, etc, until Moses finally does bring about the end that God wants-- namely, making a speech act which is completely consistent with one that God wants him to make. But in such a case, it seems entirely possible that Moses would never freely choose to make the speech act that God wants him to make.

    As per your last paragraph, I think I agree to an extent. But I think if a specific account of God's providence can better explain an idea like concurrent inspiration, then that should be taken into account in its favor when weighing possible accounts (if we consider concurrent inspiration to be true).


  5. BTW, Brett, I'm hoping to finally crank out summary posts of Four Views of Divine Providence ( and a conclusion post with my own opinions soon. I hope you'll stick around to discuss those, because you seem to have a good understanding of the issues surrounding God's providence.

  6. Yes, the way I wrote it definitely sounds Molinistic. That was my mistake. However, your interpretation in the second to last paragraph is what I meant. Further, I agree that it could be the case that Moses would never freely choose for that to happen (in fact, I would say that's definitely true in some possible world). Moreover, I think the simple foreknowledge proponent can run into problems like that with regards to not putting in information that God wants. However, can that happen with regard to essential doctrines, I'm not sure.

    I also agree that an account with an explanation would be given more credence than an account without one. However, let's use a concrete example. Alexander Pruss thinks there are good arguments against Molinism (the fact of the full-blown PSR), in favor of libertarian free will (see his "Incompatibilism Proved"), and in favor of the Bible as both a divine and human book (the teachings of the Catholic church). Given that, my simple point is that although he may not be able to give an exact account of how simple foreknowledge and the Bible as a divine and human book fit together, he is certainly warranted in holding to the opinions he does. Put another way, while an explanation gives credence to a certain position, I don't think it gives very much in this instance.