The One Book: B. B. Warfield’s Revelation and Inspiration

It is not surprising that a book addressing the presence, nature, and function of the Old and New Testament should have a profound impact on us. Yet, much of what has been written about the Bible has been an attack on it. Wonderful are those books that helps us understand the power, authority and majesty of God’s holy Word. B. B. Warfield’s Revelation and Inspiration does the latter. But beware, it is meat. Indeed, it is several full course meals! Still, anyone who can read at least at the high school level and who is willing to put in the work will be able to profit greatly from this magisterial work.

Since there are a variety of opinions about Warfield among biblical and historical scholars, it is perhaps necessary to clarify some of the matters pertaining to those opinions, especially as they relate to Revelation and Inspiration.

First, like the other nine volumes in Warfield’s Collected Works, Revelation and Inspiration consists mostly of “stand-alone” essays. The ones in R & I were written from the early 1890’s to about 1915. They address attacks on the nature and authority of the Bible primarily by Protestant liberal scholars. Some knowledge of those attacks is necessary for a thoroughly accurate understanding of not only those essays, but also all of Warfield’s writing.

Second, some of the essays include arguments using the original biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. While those portions will be a challenge to anyone not knowledgeable in those languages, the essays can still be read for great reward even if you lack this knowledge.

Thirdly, part of this reward is working at becoming a better reader as one recognizes that particular historical events and a particular command of the English language by a brilliant (not an exaggeration) scholar forces the reader to work at understanding what the author meant by what he wrote. Sadly, many of Warfield’s critics, even in the conservative Reformed world, have failed at the most basic level of reading. They have failed to work at understanding the historical situations of Warfield’s writings and have failed to understand him on his terms. If you think a failure in basic reading is beyond the capability of learned people, observe how many times Jesus confronted the religious leaders of God’s covenant people with this question: “Have you not read?”

Part of the benefit of reading anyone outside our time and place in history is recognizing that if we are going to understand that person, we have to learn how they communicated in their writing. Put another way, we need to work at “listening” to them. To the degree that we get caught up in our thoughts about and evaluation of what we are reading, to that degree we tend to lose sight of the author’s meaning; we are too busy listening to ourselves! Thoughts and evaluations of an author are unavoidable, but they should only come after having read a great amount from that author. Of course, this raises at least this question: How much of Warfield’s writings will one have to read in order to gain an accurate understanding of him?

There is no definitive answer to the above question, but the necessary condition for getting to it will be a desire to understand Warfield. Revelation and Inspiration is a worthy place to start, because in it you will not only discover Warfield’s understanding of how God is providentially, and thereby supernaturally, bringing about what he eternally decreed, but also that this is unavoidably joined to and corresponds with the very character of his entire creation, in both its sinless and sinful conditions, and most specifically, how all this relates to humans in both those conditions.

The reader will discover that Warfield’s controlling view in these matters is rightly labeled organic. He regards Christian revelation as an organism, both in its historical deeds and doctrinal affirmations—for Warfield the two are organically and inseparably related. Just as God accomplished his work of creation by his Word and Spirit, so too, he accomplishes his work of redemption, or rescue from sin, by his Word and Spirit revealing Him. Thus, the very nature of the Christian faith and life is that it is an organically progressive historical process received from God by which sin is overcome and God is revealed. As Warfield stated (prior to the public rejection of God as creator of Man as male and female!):

One of the most grievous of the effects of sin is the deformation of the image of God reflected in the human mind, and there can be no recovery from sin which does not bring with it the correction of this deformation and the reflection in the soul of man of the whole glory of the Lord God Almighty. Man is an intelligent being; his superiority over the brute is found, among other things, precisely in the direction of all his life by his intelligence; and his blessedness is rooted in the true knowledge of his God—for this is life eternal, that we should know the only true God and Him whom He has sent. Dealing with man as an intelligent being, God the Lord has saved him by means of a revelation, by which he has been brought into an ever more and more adequate knowledge of God, and been led ever more and more to do his part in working out his own salvation with fear and trembling as he perceived with ever more and more clearness how God is working it out for him through mighty deeds of grace.  (“The Biblical Idea of Revelation,” CW 1:13, italics mine)

Read Warfield.

David P. Smith (Ph.D.) is the author of B. B. Warfield's Scientifically Constructive Theological Scholarship (Wipf & Stock) and co author with Ronald Hoch of Old School, New Clothes: The Cultural Blindness of Christian Education Wipf & Stock). David is Pastor of Covenant Fellowship A.R.P. Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  

David Smith