Ted Letis - infallibility and inerrancy - the Benjamin Warfield shell game - astronomy as inerrancy source?

Steven Avery

sister PBF threads

Benjamin Warfield and ethereal inerrancy


this thread

Ted Letis - infallibility and inerrancy - the Benjamin Warfield shell game - astronomy as inerrancy source?
Facebook Discussion

Pure Bible - April 16, 2015

inerrancy and infallibility - Theodore Letis on the Warfield usage

Theodore Peter Letis (1952-2005) wrote a lot of interesting material on this issue, and many others. Some material is online, however the The Ecclesiastical Text - Text Criticism, Biblical Authority and the Popular Mind, 2000 2nd edition, is not.

Over the years the inerrancy/infallibility distinction has come up, most recently in a discussion with Mark Brown, you can see the thread here:

On p. 78 comes one reference that is often in the middle of the discussion, is inerrancy an astronomy term improperly co-opted by the Warfieldians? (added: the astronomy issue is mentioned en passant on p. 67.)


"B: Inerrancy
Arthur Carl Piepkorn .. 1965... found it was a very recent word in theological parlance. Its original meaning was as a technical term for "fixed stars" ... used in 1652 ... as an astronomical term. It does not appear in a theological context until the nineteenth century where Thomas Hartwell Horne ... says "Absolute inerrancy is impracticable in any printed book." It is first used in a religious context when Edward Pusey referred in 1865 to "The old ultra-montane doctrine of the inerrancy of the Pope, i.e., that of his preservation from error. (p. 78-79)

Later, I will try to go more into the implications. And try to condense the material in one spot.

Let's point out that from Thomas Hartwell Horne we also have:

"Dr. Owen was a learned and sober critic, but no advocate for the absolute inerrancy and integrity of the Hebrew text."

the two Horne two uses go back to about 1828, yet the second one is very much akin to the positive usage that Letis considers MIA.

And let us note, for now briefly, how it is claimed that Warfield did this to create a connection between inerrancy and original autographs, rather than tangible, readable, Bibles (the apographa.) There are problems with that construct, e.g. the main article from Warfield does in fact have a solid infallibility quotient. (This should be double-checked.)
Peter Heisey
1.) "Absolute inerrancy is impracticable in any printed book." Ans: His "God" is too small. (II Tim. 3:15-17; Psa. 12:6-7) [Why not just say, "... in any book."? -- But an unbiblical presupposition in any case.]

2.) "Dr. Owen was a learned and sober critic, but no advocate for the absolute inerrancy and integrity of the Hebrew text." Ans: To what was Owen referring? Some available edition of the Hebrew O.T.? Because I highly doubt that Owen was referring to the original text (readings) of the Hebrew scriptures (if indeed Owen was refferring, in his denial of the inerrancy and integrity of some Hebrew text).
Steven Avery
The context I was giving was the history of the word inerrancy, compared to the thoughts from Letis.

The reference from Horne was to a book by Henry Owen, (1716-1795) , not the scholar and Bible defender John Owen (1616-1683)

The context is a little tricky on some of this.


And I decided that that the Theodore Letis book is one of the rare books that deserves the distinction of being fully read, cover to cover, without much note-taking in the first pass. (Allowing occasional decisions to pass over footnotes with a skim.)


Now, on p.22 Letis quotes what I have long thought was one of the most famboozagle quotes I ever saw. It is from Benjamin Warfield with A. A. Hodge The short quote from:

The Presbyterian Review, Volume 2 - April, 1881
Inspiration -
Warfield and Archibald Alexander Hodge
http://www.archive.org/stream/westminsterdoct00howi#page/48/mode/2up (1891)

is in two parts (it is followed by additional equivocations and weakenings, but that will not be covered here.)

WARFIELD - 1st part
“We do not assert that the common text, but only that the original autographic text was inspired

This is frequently quoted, by Geisler, et. al, even last month:

Do You Have To Be A Calvinist To Believe In Inerrancy?
From Norman Geisler on Mar 28, 2015

omitting the amazing 2nd part..
Which he did include and pass over in 2004:

Decide for Yourself: How History Views the Bible (2004)
By Norman Geisler
The Geisler glossing over goes back at least to 1980:
Inerrancy (1980)

Sidenote: One gentleman, Jon Gleasaon, properly emphasized that Warfield changed scriptural inspiration to a past event, not available today (note the further discussion of 2 Timothy 3:16, including grammar and context).

Warfield’s Redefinition of Inspiration (Feb 17, 2012)
Jon Gleason

"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."
Now the key trickster component:

WARFIELD - 2nd part
No " error " can be asserted, therefore, which cannot be proved to have been aboriginal in the text.
Letis returns to this on p. 26:

"....Warfield persuaded nearly everyone within the old Princeton tradition .. that his apologetic technique was correct. It placed Scripture forever beyond the reach of antagonistic critics since only the yet-to-be-reconstructed autographic text could be criticized."
(And I will find out later if Letis returns to this again.)


Amazingly, if it is the opponent of the Bible, the skeptic, the mythicist, the liberal, who is being asked, demanded, to show the "aboriginal" text. They will, of course, be laughing in guffaws. Since their position can be that the Bible is simply a patch-quilt of legend, myth and forgery. From their perspective, the aboriginal text could have been written by semi-literate aboriginies. (e.g. the bronze age goat-herder theory.)

And Warfield is de facto actually giving us by simple logic the following:

"No Christian Bible doctrine or truth, or consistency or accuracy, can be asserted which can not be proved to have been aboriginal in the text."
So, clearly, Warfield has not a single Bible truth. Since he has not proven a single verse of scripture (one problem of the probability text.) However, these type of Hortian writers (and Warfield was a true Hortian) are very weak on logic and consistency.


And I do not think that the massive fail of Logic 101 has been sufficiently noted.

Not even in the better literature, like that of Theodore Letis (so far) or Patrick Baskwell, The Presbyterian Controversy, 2009 (who uses the material from Letis.)

Even the best writer of the 1800s who tore to shreds the Warfield autographic inspiration position, Thomas Martin Lindsay (1843-1914), missed the huge logic fail here.


In fact, the writer I have seen who most clearly laid out the shell game of the Popperian unfalsifiablity of Warfieldian inerrancy is Ernest Robert Sandeen (1931-1982)

"Warfield... phrased his defense of the inerrancy of the original autographs in such a way that no further discussion was possible. In retreating to the original autographs, Warfield, whether intentionally or not, brought the Princeton apologetic to a triumphant conclusion... Since in order to prove the Bible in error it now became necessary to find the original manuscripts. Warfield might have concluded... by announcing that inerrancy could never be denied.' (Roots of Fundamentalism, Ernest Sandeen 1898 p. 129-130 quoted in Worship as Meaning, Graham Hughes 2003)
Simply put, Warfield plays you for a fool. Here is a bit more as Sandeen continued, with a spot of humor:

"The original manuscripts had been lost, and therefore the critic might just as well turn his attention to Homer or the Koran for all the effect his work would have upon the followers of the Princeton orthodoxy. This was the shape of the Princeton doctrine of the Scriptures- one of the forms of biblical literalism in late nineteenth-century Protestantism. The problems raised by biblical criticism demanded a new formulation of the doctrine of the Scriptures. Both conservatives and liberals worked at the theological task, but the Princeton professors' insistence that they were doing nothing new, while creating a unique apologetic which flew in the face of the standards they were claiming to protect, cannot be judged as a historically honest or laudable program. Although he continued to remark, with apparent sincerity, that every biblical scholar must continue to examine the evidence turned up by critical investigation, he so defined the problem that no possible error could be discovered." (Roots of Fundamentalism, Ernest Sandeen 1898 p. 129-130 quoted in Worship as Meaning, Graham Hughes 2003)

btw, I had noted this Warfield trickery here:

Benjamin Warfield, Ethereal Inerrancy and Impossible Stipulations

"Benjamin Warfield was simply a logical trickster, and he was nabbed by writers on both sides."

And really began this study around 2010.

Warfield's ethereal original autographs -May, 2010 - fundamental forums, now defunct

And going back further, when the skeptics were emphasizing the trickery, in 2007.

Does Christian fundamentalism require the belief that the Bible is inerrant?

"As Sandeen and others have shown, Warfield constructed a case now recognized as unfalsifiable and thus inoperable"
This can be recognized by anyone. Although the Geisler and Wallace parrots and dupes will struggle.

However, the roots of the problem were not tangible infallibility and inerrancy, defended strongly by AV defender brethren. The roots were the Warfield-Niagara-Chicago shell games.


Steven Avery
Peter Heisey
One problem is that the word "inerrant" is not a specifically biblical description of scripture/the word(s) of God. Thus, it leaves wiggle room for those who wish to change the words of the KJB. Generally, "inerrant" means "without error/mistake", while "infallible" means "incapable of error/mistake". At least the word "infallible" is a biblical word. :)

Steven Avery

Continuing on a related point:

Steven Avery

Let me now take two points from Theodore Letis that could have a negative in the excellent book.

Ted Letis
"Yahweh is said to compose the very words of the Decalog with his own finger" p. 61
.It is surprising that some one so familiar with the German criticism movements would be duped into using the non-name / paganism "Yahweh".


Ted Letis
"My study, however, has pushed matters back even further. I have argued that the process of desacralization began in earnest not in the eighteenth, nor in the seventeenth, but in the sixteenth century when Desiderius Erasmus attempted to produce an improve edition of the Vugata Latina by means of an appeal to Greek MSS. Here began the quest for the historical text which I argue is always the precursor that inexorably leads to that later development: the quest for the historical Jesus." p. 62, The Language of Bible Authority
... and a theme that is repeated in his literature in various ways.

Ted Letis
"I believe it was the Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus, himself a disaffected monk, who in a decisive way disrupted the canon of the Western Church-putting in its place the Greek N. T. canon of the Eastern Church-and thus set in motion a process that by the nineteenth century culminated in the loss of the Bible as a sacred text in the West. What emerged was the Bible as a religious text." p. 96
(as a sidenote, todays textual critics have devalued the Bible to the level of a secular, and often even mythical and legendary, text.)


Letis is often showing how Erasmus and later Grotius could provide fodder for those with a questioning and at times even a skeptical mind towards the full authenticity of the scripture. And I believe there is an element of truth in that, even if you are unlikely to find this referenced by TR-AV defenders.

(Contras usually start their studies in 1800, or earliest 1700, so most have nothing to offer here. Or they are unbelievers like Jan Krans, similarly with nothing to offer about spiritual-scriptural insight. Or they are specialists like Henk de Jonge.)

What is missing from Letis, from what I can tell so far, is any acknowledgment that the 1500s was a time of special Bible text need, the restoration of the pure Bible by use of the Greek fountainhead mss with the Latin historical lines. With assistance from the ECW and the gift of God, a sound textual mind. And how Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza (unto the Geneva and AV) were used as the cornerstone scholars on the absolutely necessary Reformation Bible development. So there was, for one century, an imperative to not simply accept one ecclesisastical text.

So far, this is the conceptual weakness in the overview of Letis. As I find it addressed, or exacberated, I will come back to this post.


The quote on p. 96, and the section from p.93-96, can highlight the lack I am referencing. It is from a section "Brevard Childs and the Protestant Dogmaticians"

Note, though that the reasons that Erasmus was "disaffected" are easily seen in "In Praise of Folly" .. a full awareness of the pomp and pride and corruption of the ecclesia. It is a stretch to use that risky awareness against Erasmus :).
p. 94 has an interesting albeit questionable assertion:

"..the liturgy is that, broadly speaking, reflecting catholic orthodoxy from the fourth century, which in turn, reinforced the sacred text standard."
footnote "...the orthodoxy arrived at by the early Councils reinforced a canonical configuration of the N.T. text which best reflected this orthodoxy from among the several floating textual recensions"
In this section. Letis does do comparisons of the Greek and Latin churches, canon and Bibles.


Including on p. 95 a dubious footnote anachronistic quote about the Latin transmission from The Cambridge History of the Bible.

The Cambridge History of the Bible: Volume 2,
The West from the Fathers to the Reformation (1975)

"The Medieval History of the Latin Vulgate"
Raphael Loewe
Thus in the centuries following Jerome's death, the spread of both the new version [Jerome's] and the Old Latin remained ungoverned by self- conscious consistency or the canons of responsible textual criticism ... Heterogeneous interpolations would be included to meet the requirements of the immediate situation, and the text thus modified would become perpetuated as it was diffused in the course of missionary activity."
Loewe's quote is a mess in different ways. the interpolation period was in the Old Latin in the 2nd century, and was actually weeded out by Jerome. And the textual skills of men like Victor of Capua and Cassiodorus were quite fine. And please, since textual criticism today is a mess of porridge, stop trying to place it back anachronistically. Loewe shows a couple of places where Gregory the Great used an Old Latin text instead of Jerome's, that is easily understood in that the normalization to Jerome's text as the base Latin Bible text took a couple of hundred years.


By contrast here is a well-informed quote:

Ted Letis
"As the church divided in the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) communities, the canonical dimensions of the sacred text experienced a diversity. A Greek vulgate became the standard in the Eastern Church, corresponding to a Latin vulgate in the West. Eventually the antagonism between these two bodies extended beyond doctrinal disputes to the belief that the canonical texts used to affirm each opposing community's distinctives, were themselves corrupted: the Greeks distrusted the Latin Biblical texts and the Latins were convinced that Greeks had altered their texts" p. 95
Yet, amazingly, Letis does not see (or at least he does not express) the Reformation Bible labours as Erasmus, Stephanus and Beza as having resolved this critical divide. He misses the providential solution.

(This does not mean he is wrong about some of the results of the Erasmian labours, leading to providing a justification for a less reverent textual assault, it does mean that he misses the critical ecclesiastical and scriptural support for those labours.)

Steven Avery

Jack McElroy - superb poster

Posted in various spots: 22554888_10155110891657615_5964979499762009273_n.jpg

Jack McElroy Facebook thead:

A lot of good discussion, David Jackson discusses evolution and Warfield and Calvin, one correction to the above on the Westminster Confession was made, for now just my main post:

Steven Avery
Spot-on Jack.

Warfield was a real joker, he even insisted that the person who claimed the error would have to prove first what was the original text in error. Even if he is an unbeliever. Talk about shifting the burden of proof!

"No "error" can be asserted, therefore, which cannot be proved to have been aboriginal in the text.”

And a few people take this type of charade shell game seriously?

Info here:

Benjamin Warfield and ethereal inerrancy

Benjamin Warfield and ethereal inerrancy -Dec 2014

inerrancy and infallibility - Theodore Letis on the Warfield usage
April, 2015

Steven Avery

Steven Avery

Leonard Woods and Robert Haldane - precursors to Warfield on original autograph emphasis (not using "infallible")

Leonard Woods and Robert Haldane (1828 to 1844) - precursors to Warfield on original autograph emphasis (not using "infallible")

This is discussed by Ronald E. Satta here:

The Sacred Text: Biblical Authority in Nineteenth-Century America (2007)
Ronald F. Satta

Freewill Baptist Quarterly, 1855.
Also Enoch Pond in 1858.
Lemuel Moss - Baptist
Alvah Hovey - Baptist

And more.