Warfield & Inspiration: The Sufficiency of Scripture

B.B. Warfield is well known for his writings on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture. The rise in higher criticism and schools of thought that cast doubt upon the origins of God’s Word required Warfield to spend much of his time defending biblical authority. However, when it came to the Scriptures, there was hardly a topic that Warfield did not address at one time or another. Therefore, I set out to discover what, if anything, he had written about the sufficiency of Scripture.

Unfortunately, I had trouble finding anything on that particular subject. There were endless pages about the authorship, character, and inspiration of the Bible, but little on its sufficiency. Fred Zaspel, who has written at length about Warfield, informed me that this was because there was not as much of a debate at the time over Scripture’s sufficiency. Fortunately, I was able to find one place where Warfield addressed the topic. It appears in his writings about the Westminster Confession of Faith. He has this to say in regard to the first chapter of the confession.

“Here the absolute objective completeness of Scripture for the great and primary purpose for which it is given is affirmed; and the necessity of any supplement to it is denied, with reference especially to the ‘new revelations’ of the sectaries and the ‘traditions’ of Rome. It is not affirmed that the Scriptures contain all truth, or even all religious truth; or that no other truth, or even religious truth, is attainable or verifiable by man through other sources of knowledge. This would be inconsistent with the frank recognition in section 1 of the light of nature as a real and trustworthy source of knowledge concerning God. There is only a strong assertion of the completeness and the finality of the Scriptural revelation of truth, for the specific purpose for which Scripture is given. God may give men knowledge concerning Him through the forms of the reason; and the amount of knowledge so attainable, as outlined by the Confession in the first section, is asserted to be enough to render men inexcusable for withholding from God the worship and service which is His due. The memory of the revelations which He may have supernaturally given to men in the past may be, more or less fully or purely, preserved in historical records or institutions; and this is especially true of those revelations which He has embodied in the institution, and in the institutions, of the Church which He has established in the world: the truths so preserved will exert their power over men’s consciences, when conveyed to their knowledge by the ordinary testimony of men or by the offices and testimony of the Church. The Confession does not deny either the existence or the value of truth so obtained or so preserved for man. But it does deny the need of such sources of knowledge to supplement what is set down in Scripture, in order to instruct us what ‘man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.’ It does affirm the absolute objective completeness of Scripture as a guide to the service of God, to faith, and to life. And it does deny that aught in the way of truth required by God to be believed, or in the way of duty required by Him to be performed, in order that we may attain salvation, is to be added from any other source whatever to what is revealed in Scripture.”[1]

Warfield hits on several different points mentioned in the WCF. There is a certain degree of general revelation that leaves men without excuse. However, Warfield stresses “the absolute completeness of Scripture as a guide to the service of God, to faith, and to life”. He speaks of the “completeness and the finality of the Scriptural revelation of truth”. Nothing about what we ought to believe or which duties we ought to perform should be added to Scripture’s revelation from any other source.

Perhaps it seems silly to focus on a single paragraph in Warfield’s writings, but I think its message is particularly important for the Church today. The battle over Scripture’s inerrancy seems clear enough, but the case for its sufficiency is less clear. Historically, the Church has struggled more with the proclamation of what Warfield calls “new revelations” and “traditions” than it has with people doubting that the Bible is actually God’s Word. Our post-Enlightenment age has certainly turned the tables, but old errors are still present even as new ones arise. Therefore, we must cling to the sufficiency of Scripture as fiercely as we cling to its inerrancy, for they are two sides of the same coin.

Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at www.amymantravadi.com or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.

[1] The Westminster Assembly and Its Work. Vol. 6 of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1927–32. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981. Pgs. 224-225.


Amy Mantravadi