Warfield & Inspiration: Testimonium Spiritus Sancti

One of the more contentious issues in the history bibliology has been over the relationship between the human and divine in Scripture, an issue to which B.B. Warfield devoted so much of his attention. Jeff Stivason has served us well in recapturing Warfield’s emphasis on concursus, an idea perhaps best summarized through the words of 1 Peter 1:12, where Peter can attribute Scriptures authorship to be both entirely human as well as entirely (and primarily) of God. God the Holy Spirit inspired thinking men to write the very words God intended to be written to produce a perfect, innerrant product: the Bible.

And yet, this issue of concursus has further ramifications for how fallen humanity can ever come to know the inspired nature of Scripture. Later in 1 Peter 1 the apostle reminds us that we have been “born again... through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Peter therefore is clear, it is God’s living word which brings a man to have faith.

And yet the Scriptures are also clear that is also the Spirit of God who makes a man to believe (John 3:5). In fact, the apostle Paul explicitly states that we only come to understand the Bible to be divine by the Spirit working in us. “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).

Warfield therefore was keen to keep this balance between Scripture’s self-attesting divinity, a quality which God used to bring men to faith (1 Peter 1:23); but he also realized man’s utter need for the work of the Spirit in seeing Scripture’s divine authority (1 Cor. 2:12-14). In terms of the Scripture’s self-attesting divine witness Warfield was clear that there is a “characteristic self-demonstration of the Word of God, and [this] has sufficed to maintain the unabated catholicity of the strict doctrine of Inspiration through all changes of time and in spite of all opposition.”[1] Fred Zaspel, commenting on this, rightly notes that for Warfield, “the loftiness of the Bible’s teachings reflects a heavenly origin, and in this way Scripture is self-authenticating and carries with it its own authority and convincing power.”[2]

But essential to this was “the other side of the coin” where the Spirit was needed to open our blind eyes to see Scripture for what it really is. Two hundred years before Warfield, John Owen famously stated that if we did not have the Holy Spirit “we may as well burn our Bibles.” And of course, 1600 years before Owen the Apostle Paul said the same thing when he wrote that “our gospel [savingly] came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).[3]

But for Warfield, the work of the Spirit in opening our eyes happened in conjunction with, or perhaps we could say in concursivity with, the Bible’s self-attesting nature. Warfield thus stated that the testimony of the Spirit within a believer “is a power of God clarifying reason in its use of the Scriptures and acting only confluently with them.”[4]

Again, Fred Zaspel comments on this: “Warfield insists that [the mode of the Spirit’s testimony] is a grounded faith that the Spirit gives. His witness within [a person] is not apart from the indicia (information, evidences) of Scripture’s divinity. The faith he produces does not arise from nowhere but arises with and by means of the indicia. The Spirit of God attests to a divinity that is actually present in the Scriptures. His work ‘presupposes the objective revelation’ and does not create a ‘new sense’ in the person; rather, it prepares the heart by restoring to it a right spiritual sense by which God is recognized in his Word... enabling him to ‘taste’ the divinity of Scripture that is already present in them.”[5]

For Warfield, a man who was a thorough going Calvinist, mankind was completely unable in his own blindness to make sense of or see rightly the things of God, and this included God’s Holy Word. But as a Reformed theologian he also understood that God uses ordinary means in extraordinary ways to bring about His purposes, using His inspired and inscripturated Word, by the power of the Spirit, to do the impossible - making blind men see.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again... through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven... you having been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:3, 12, 23).

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] A.A. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, Inspiration, ed. Roger Nicole (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979) 31-32

[2] Fred G. Zaspel,  The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 154

[4] Zaspel, The Theology of B.B. Warfield, 156

[5] ibid. 155


Stephen Unthank