Warfield’s Fist-Fight

Princeton College alumni who remembered Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield’s student days at Princeton recall that on November 6, 1870, the young Warfield and a certain James Steen, “distinguished themselves by indulging in a little Sunday fight in front of the chapel after Dr. McCosh’s afternoon lecture.” Warfield, it seems, “in lieu of taking notes” during Dr. McCosh’s lecture, took great delight in sketching an “exceedingly uncomplimentary picture of Steen,” which was subsequently circulated among the students.[1]  The resulting fist-fight between the two young men ultimately didn’t amount to much, but it earned Warfield the nickname—”the pugilist.”[2]
B. B. Warfield’s earliest days at Princeton, as well as his last, were characterized by a passionate defense of his personal honor. Princeton Seminary colleague, Oswald T. Allis, tells the story about Dr. Warfield’s encounter with Mrs. Stevenson, the wife of the Seminary President, shortly before Warfield’s death and during the height of the controversy at Princeton over an “inclusive” Presbyterian church. When Mrs. Stevenson and Dr. Warfield passed each other on the walk outside the Seminary, some pleasantries were exchanged, and then Mrs. Stevenson reportedly said to the good doctor, “Oh, Dr. Warfield, I am praying that everything will go harmoniously at the [General] Assembly!” To which Warfield responded,
“Why, Mrs. Stevenson, I am praying that there may be a fight.”

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Kim Riddlebarger | “November 6: The Pugilist” | November 6, 2014


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    B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) was a scholar of the New Testament, textual criticism, historical theology, and systematic theology. He studied at what would become Princeton University and abroad, taught at Western Theological Seminary for nine years, and then at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was one of the most important exponents of Reformed theology in American history.

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