B.B. Warfield Was A Biblical Theologian

bb-warfield1Over the last few weeks, I have been reading some Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield.  He was a prolific systematic theologian (see his collected Works) and an unashamed apologist for the Bible.  So I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that entering into his writings that one quickly discovers just how biblical he is.  For instance, his article on the Trinity, originally published in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, presents the systematic doctrine from both the Old Testament and the New.  In developing the Old Testament doctrine, Warfield demonstrates  the way in which both Testaments speak of the doctrine.  Yet, his approach is not some kind of clumsy proof-texting; rather, the Old Princetonian stalwart sees and understands the progressive revelation of Scripture and develops his doctrine of the Trinity with sensitivity to the OT’s hiddeness, mystery, and subtle adumbrations.  In short, he proves that the best systematicians are biblical theologians. 

Consider just a few of his balanced and illuminating statements about the Trinity in the Old Testament.  They show both that the God of Israel is the New Testament Trinity, and how the full revelation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is reserved for the Son’s Incarnation and Pentecost.  Warfield introduces his essays on “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity” like this:

The doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assembled the disjecta membra into the their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture (The Works of Benjamin Warfield, vol. 1.  [Oxford University Press, 1932; Reprint: Baker Books, 2003], 133).

Later addressing the text of Genesis 1:26-28, which hints at plurality within the Godhead, Warfield says,

In the light of the later revelation [i.e. the NT],  the Trinitarian interpretation remains the most natural one of the phenomena which the older writers frankly interpreted as intimations of the Trinity… This is not an illegitimate reading of the New Testament ideas back into the text of the Old Testament; it is only reading the text of the Old Testament under the illumination of the New Testament revelation.  The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted: the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what is in it but was only dimly or even not at all perceived before (141).

He goes on to speak more generally of the Old Testament revelation,

The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament, but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view.  Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but only perfected, extended, and enlarged (141-42).

Finally, speaking more specifically about the interpretive methods of the New Testament apostles, Warfield asserts,

Without apparent misgiving, they take over Old Testament passages and apply them to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit indifferently.  Obviously they understand themselves, and wish to be understood, as setting forth Father, Son, and Holy Spirit just the one God that the God of the Old Testament revelation is; and they are as far as possible from recognizing any breach between themselves and the Fathers in presenting their enlarged conception of the Divine Being.  This may not amount to saying that they saw the doctrine of the Trinity everywhere taught in the Old Testament.  It certainly amounts to saying that they saw the Triune God whom they worshipped in the God of the Old Testament revelation, and felt no incongruity in speaking of their Triune God in terms of the Old Testament revelation.  The God of the Old Testament was their God, and their God was a Trinity, and their sense of the identity of the two was so complete that no question as to it was raised in their minds…[Therefore, as Warfield says later], The relation of the two Testaments to this revelation is in the one case that of preparation for it, and in the other that of [sic] product of it (142-43, 145).

Well said.  In handling the doctrine of the Trinity this way, Warfield shows himself to be a truly biblical systematician and a biblical theologian par excellence.  In a world full of false teachers and novel interpretations, Warfield stands tall as a model of biblical fidelty who calls us back to the orthodox doctrines of the church.  May we consider his works and imitate his faith.  For more Warfield.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

4 thoughts on “B.B. Warfield Was A Biblical Theologian

  1. Dave,
    Good post. I just wanted to point out that Dr. Gentry argues, convincingly I think, that Gen. 1:26-28 is speaking about the heavenly court and not the Trinity. With the seminary website having been changed I can’t seem to locate the appropriate article in the SBTS journal. It is there nonetheless.

    – Josh

    • Josh, I will look for that article. Do you know what edition or topic in the Journal it was?

      I know that Waltke makes the same argument as Gentry, but I see some troublesome entailments, theologically, if it is the divine council. But I am not the Hebrew scholar, so I would appreciate his perspective.


  2. I’m not a Hebrew scholar either, to be sure! But I still think you can justify a Trinitarian understanding of creation, including man, and still see the language of 1:26-28 as referring to the divine council. Additionally, if Psalm 8 (“heavenly beings”) is a commentary on Genesis 1 then it should clear that the heavenly council is being referred to at some point in the creation narrative.

    I’m not trying to challenge you on anything, I just figured I would point out what Gentry has said about that passage. :)

  3. Got it!

    Peter Gentry, “Kingdom Through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image,” in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Vol. 12 No. 1, 33-37.

    He mentions at the end of this section how it is not necessary to hold either the phrase as referring to the Godhead or to angels. However, if it does refer to angels, “it is in harmony with [Gen. 1:26-27] because it fits the interpretation of the divine image as expressing the theme of Kingdom Through Covenant. God has communicated to the divine assembly that his rule in the world will be effected largely through humans, not through ‘gods’ or ‘angels’.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s