B. B. Warfield on the Trinity -- By: Fred Zaspel

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 10:1 (Spring 2006)
Article: B. B. Warfield on the Trinity
Author: Fred Zaspel


B. B. Warfield on the Trinity

Fred Zaspel

Fred Zaspel is Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church of Skippack, Pennsylvania. For several years he served as adjunct lecturer in Religious Studies at Penn State University. Pastor Zaspel has authored many articles in various religious publications and has co-authored (with Tom Wells) New Covenant Theology (New Covenant Media, 2002).

Trinitarian concerns loom large in B. B. Warfield.1 First and foremost a “Christologian,” yet as an heir of the best of reformed orthodoxy, Warfield manifests throughout his works an enthusiastic and robust Trinitarianism. He acknowledges his indebtedness to the tradition—e.g., Tertullian, Augustine, the Nicene Creed, Calvin, and the Puritans—but Warfield does not merely rehash the work of those who went before him. Both in method of exposition and in substance, Warfield offers substantive contribution to the discussion.

Biblical Approach: The Revelation of the Trinity

Progressive Revelation

The common approach to the doctrine of the Trinity involves a successive examination of the following propositions: (1) There is but one God; (2) the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God; (3) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. These more traditional propositions, found commonly with slight variations in the standard theological texts, are useful for Warfield, and he summarizes them at various points.2 But he gives comparatively little attention to them. His treatment of these familiar lines of argument are relatively brief and not of primary interest for him. For Warfield, the Trinity is a mysterious truth about God that was progressively revealed with and because of the unfolding of his purpose in grace. Full benefit from the doctrine is not found in a systematic presentation of its static, constituent elements but in observing its progressive revelation in gospel history. Accordingly, Warfield’s primary method of treating this doctrine is exegetical and redemptive-historical.

Warfield takes this approach in his article entitled “God,” written for the Bible Dictionary (1898). But here he states his case only concisely and in broad strokes. It is spelled out more fully in his article “Trinity,” written originally for the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE, 1915).3 Warfield emphasizes that the doctrine of the Trinity is purely revealed truth. It is a truth about God that is neither discovered nor discoverable by natural reason. Nor is it provable by human reason. Nor are there any analogies to it in...

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