Friday, July 16, 2010

Warfield on WCF Chapter 1 "Of the Holy Scripture"

I am headlong in to a study of the Westminster Assembly and it's theology so I haven't had much time to blog. B.B. Warfield made a statement in his book "The Westminster Assembly and It's Work" that is worth sharing with you.

The opening chapter of the Westminster Confession contains the clearest, most accurate statement on the Bible ever penned, in my opinion. I have long thought this to be the case. Warfield said it better than I ever could-

“There is certainly in the whole mass of confessional literature no more nobly conceived or ably wrought-out statement of doctrine than the chapter “Of the Holy Scripture,” which the Westminster Divines placed at the head of their Confession and laid at the foundation of their system of doctrine. It has commanded the hearty admiration of all competent readers.”

I have great admiration for the whole of the Westminster Confession, but chapter 1 represents the Assembly's finest work.

Read the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1 here.


Zach said...

Yes, it's a beautifully worded document, but its crux has always struck me as exceedingly weak:

[O]ur full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

Not that the Holy Spirit doesn't bear witness to truth within our hearts, but such personal witness is no way to determine foundational tenets of the faith, such as the canon of Scripture. Combining the WCF with your recent statement that "[S]uch documents [as the WCF] should be continually examined by Scripture," I cannot help but conclude that there's a possibility that the canon of Scripture might be subject to additional Protestant revision, yes?

Of course, we see such a novel revision reflected in the WCF itself, which breaks with previous Reformed usage (as reflected in Wycliffe's Bible, Luther's German Bible, the Zurich Bible, the Geneva Bible, Coverdale's Bible, the King James Version, etc.), which was faithful (albeit grudgingly in some cases) to the age-old inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books within the pages of Scripture.

Reepicheep said...

I certainly appreciate your point. For you the notion of the Holy Spirit confirming cannon "inwardly" is too bold a claim. For me the notion of a Pope and his "magesterium" essentially taking on the roll of canon is too bold a claim.

Now, As you your emphasis on the Holy Spirit's "personal witness", clarification is needed. Such a statement doesn't mean each Christian is a walking identifier of Canon due to the Holy Spirit indwelling. Rather, the Holy Spirit HAS WORKED to confirm the Canon in the Church. Protestants believe in the council of believes to determin God's Will as the Holy Spirit leads. Acts 15 and the Jerusaelm Council is a prime example. We don't believe the Holy Spirit has vested special knowledge with one person (the Pope) or a papal magesterium as such.

We could go on and on about this matter of Canon. It's amazing how two reasonable people could be confident in two different authority sources.

I do recommend for those interested, read the ESV's excellent outline of Canon. To say the WCF is guilty of some sort of "novel" revision is simply not an accurate description of what that excellent statement reflects.

See here:

Woody Woodward said...

I wonder if my former pastor has ever read Warfield confession of the WCF? I am sure if he has, he would poo-paw it away and then call a Sunday night meeting to defend his “opinion”! I will never forget the very first question I ask you and Nathan at lunch at Nick and Jake’s, Tuesday, January 25 of 2005. “Where do you and Nathan stand on inerrancy of Scripture?” And your reply, “Woody, if we didn’t’ stand for inerrancy of Scripture we wouldn’t call ourselves preachers.” That’s all that I needed to hear for me to be excited about being part of Redeemer.

Zach said...

Thanks for your reply, Tony. I hope you don't mind my pressing the point -- I'm honestly trying to understand the process in play.

I'm still not certain I understand who in Protestantism gets to make the call as to the contents of the canon. You say the Holy Spirit HAS WORKED to confirm the canon, but how is that made manifest to your average Protestant? Are you saying there is some council (analogous to the Council of Jerusalem) through which the Holy Spirit has authoritatively set down the canon? Maybe you're thinking of the gathering that produced the WCF?

My question is how binding and authoritative would such a ruling be? Just for argument's sake (humor me here), let's assume that a Reformed Protestant -- we'll call him Rick Halohan -- tiptoes behind the church and starts reading the Deuterocanonical book of Wisdom. He is amazed to find that it reflects the character of Holy Scripture. He even finds passages that seem prophetic of Our Lord's saving work:

"Let us therefore lie in wait for the just, because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law, and divulgeth against us the sins of our way of life. He boasteth that he hath the knowledge of God, and calleth himself the son of God. He is become a censurer of our thoughts. He is grievous unto us, even to behold: for his life is not like other men's, and his ways are very different. We are esteemed by him as triflers, and he abstaineth from our ways as from filthiness, and he preferreth the latter end of the just, and glorieth that he hath God for his father. Let us see then if his words be true, and let us prove what shall happen to him, and we shall know what his end shall be. For if he be the true son of God, he will defend him, and will deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him by outrages and tortures, that we may know his meekness and try his patience. Let us condemn him to a most shameful death: for there shall be respect had unto him by his words. These things they thought, and were deceived: for their own malice blinded them." Wisdom 2:12-21

Maybe then, out of innocent curiosity, Rick decides to brush up on the history of Wisdom. He finds almost the entirety of Christ's Church throughout history affirming that Wisdom is Scripture (Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc. ad inifinitum). . . with basically only Jerome, post-Christian Judaism, and some assorted riffraff calling it into question -- until Protestantism came along.

If Rick prayerfully discerns that the Holy Spirit is confirming to him the canonicity of Wisdom, would that be an acceptable position under the Reformed Protestant paradigm?

Reepicheep said...


Simply put, the book of “Wisdom” doesn’t fit the criteria for a canonical book. It’s not that there’s nothing profitable in that book, but it’s not to be viewed on par with canonical Scripture, that’s all. Despite your insistence, the apocryphal books like Wisdom never really was viewed as canonical until the canon question was pressed and Rome lashed back with Trent, but that’s a different discussion.

It’s not a matter of “who in Protestantism makes the call” regarding the contents of the canon, it’s a matter of careful observation to determine what books are canonical. Long before Protestantism the Church was wrestling with the contents of the Canon. The subject of Canonicity is a long, involved one. See this website for the literally dozens of solid explanations of canoncity and the criteria for the same-

I don’t have time to walk through the way canonical criteria was determined, so if you are really interested, check out the above reference or any of the references in the link I include next.

You suggest far too much by stating that the whole of the church accepted the book of Wisdom as canonical. In fact, the Hebrew bible did not include this book. Upon closer analysis you will see the Wisdom of Solomon was not included until the Greek Septuigant- and only in some of those copies at that. See:

Several of the fathers did NOT accept the book of Wisdom as canonical- Cyril didn’t, Athanasius didn’t (he’d be a big one), in addition to Jerome, as you mention. Further, Wisdom isn’t mentioned by other key figures like Gregory and Origen to name a few. You should retract your “ad inifinitum” qualifier for those who accepted Wisdom, it’s just not so. See:

Recognition of the Canon took centuries, but keep in mind, over the years Canon was being identified, the core of the Scriptural books as we have them in our bibles remained constant. No one disputed, for instance, the Canonicity of the Hebrew bible or the gospels, Paul’s books, and more. These books give us a great “rule” for determining what other books may be canonical.

Canon isn’t a Protestant device, it’s something God has revealed through His Apostles, to His Church, by the Holy Spirit. It’s unfortunate that Romanism has so botched Canon, but it also makes sense in light of her view of authority.

We’ll disagree on this so long as we disagree on authority. But while I’m at it, you know what ticks me off? The statement made by Trent concerning Canonicity. Trent reacted to the Reformers identifying of the Canon by adding apocryphal books and others- kind of as an “in your face” move toward the Protestants. Then, after listing the Roman Canon, include this statement-

“But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.”

How lame of Popery to say such a thing. But you know what Zach, in light of what you said, it’s interesting the Vulgate is written by Jerome, who didn’t personally believe Wisdom was part of the Canon!!! Interesting.

Here’s another great source for no extra charge:

You can have the last word…I’m out of time.

Zach said...


You didn't really answer my question: Is our mythical Rick at liberty to embrace Wisdom as Scripture, or is he somehow constrained by the fugitive tide of Protestant consensus?

There are also many problems with your last comment, as follows:

- "Wisdom doesn't fit the criteria for a canonical book. . . it's not to be viewed on par with canonical Scripture." Just 'cause you say so?

- "Wisdom never really was viewed as canonical until. . . Trent." I think this must be a typo.

- "The Hebrew bible did not include [Wisdom]. . . until the Greek Septuagint." Inaccurate. There wasn't even real progress made in closing the Jewish canon until the middle of the second century A.D. And what's wrong with the Septuagint? It is, after all, the version of the Old Testament used by Our Lord and the Apostles -- if it (and the Deuterocanonical books it contained) was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me. In the words of Origen, should we "coax the Jews, and persuade them to give us copies which shall be untampered with and free from forgery!. . . In all these cases consider whether it would not be well to remember the words, 'Thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.'"

- "Cyril didn't, Athanasius didn't [accept Wisdom's canonicity]" Cyril, maybe not, although he certainly recommends it to be read. You're wrong about Athanasius, though. He explicitly refers to it as "Scripture" in many of his writings.

- "Wisdom isn't mentioned by. . . Gregory and Origen." Not sure what the faulty source is on this, but both Origen and Gregory (Nazianzus, I assume) absolutely quote Wisdom in their writings as Scripture. In case you meant Gregory the Great, he, too, quotes Wisdom as Scripture in his writings over a dozen times.

- "No one disputed, for instance, the Canonicity of the Hebrew Bible or the gospels, Paul's books, and more." Wrong. Your very own link details that Esther was a much disputed book in the early Church. As was James, Revelation -- you get the picture. Oh yes, and Luther disputed these three books, as well, I seem to remember.

- "Trent reacted to the Reformers. . . by adding apocryphal books and others." Not sure what "others" you could be referring to, but surely it cannot be considered a petulant and arbitrary "adding" of books when the Church followed Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Origen, Dionysius, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, the Councils of Rome (382) Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) -- not to mention the constant and unbroken liturgical use from time immemorial in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches -- in accepting the Deuterocanonical books.

- "How lame of Popery to say such a thing." Not if they're right!

- "It's interesting the Vulgate is written by Jerome, who didn't personally believe Wisdom was part of the Canon!!!" Portions of the Vulgate are translated by Jerome, yes, but I will note that the entire Deuterocanon appeared in the Vulgate despite Jerome's objections. That should tell you something about how isolated Jerome's opinion was.

Reepicheep said...


Rick should scan the course of Church history and notice how Wisdom came to be recognized as non-canonical by scrutinizing the book by the criteria outlined in one of my links.

Such recognition pre-dated Protestantism and the foolishness of medieval Romanism.

That's really my final word...

Zach said...

So he's free to examine the evidence and follow the Holy Spirit's prompting in the matter -- as long as his conclusion syncs up with Got it!

Too bad Augustine and friends didn't have the internet! I guess they -- as well as post-schism Eastern Orthodoxy -- were just preveniently duped by the foolishness of medieval Popery. You know those Eastern Orthodox are just papal lap dogs! :)

Reepicheep said...

No Zach, that's not what i'm saying.

I'm saying that the Church is made up of those who have held to the Apostolic faith outlined by the Scriptures. The Church has borne witness for many centuries concerning sacred writings. Over time it has become clearer regarding which books are canonical and which are not. For centuries before the Reformation there were debates about which books were to be considered canonical. One of the fruits of the Reformation was a clarifying of just that question. Trent reacted to the Reformation in many ways, but one of the sharpest was their own list of canonical books. You see, they can do that, because authority in Romanism rests with the Papacy and his minions. Heck, Sports Illustrated might be in their newest revision of canon.

Virtually no branch of Christendom disagrees about 60 of the 66 books Protestants acknowledge as Canon. These books have helped discern the canonicity of the remaining books in question.

As I just said, i'll say it another way- An important factor to keep in mind when a Romanist is discussing canon with a Reformed person- we have different doctrines of Scripture and authority. Romanists can make any book sacred and somehow binding so long as their Pontiff says. Really, it doesn't matter if several books in the Roman Canon lack historical veracity or don't comport with the other books of the bible- No problem- the Pope and the magical Magesterium will let you know what to believe anyways. The bible is not that useful in Romanism...especially when a lowly monk showed them how little their Cardinals new about it.

Really, as I have said before, it comes down to this- you trust in the Pope to tell you what is true. I trust in the Word of God given, transmitted, preserved, and delivered to the Saints by the Holy Spirit.

I don't think you're genuinely interested in understanding the Reformed position about Canon, but there are excellent explanations given- far better than I could give- on

If you're really searching for clarity on this, check there, but if you've found peace resting in Rome, there's probably not much us stupid Protestants can help you with.

Zach said...


I don't think Reformed folk are "stupid" at all -- far from it. I just think that, when it comes right down to it, Church history means very little to y'all. I think that's a big problem.

You pay it a great deal of lip service, but, at the end of the day, you believe what you believe -- and if historical Christianity doesn't comport with your beliefs, you resort to obfuscation of the historical record and baseless ad hominem attacks on the Catholic Church. "Romanism", "magical Magisterium", "Popery", "Sports Illustrated might be in their latest canon." Give me a break, dude! You may disagree with the canon adopted at Trent, but you're much too learned to pretend that it represented something new that the Catholic Church invented because it likes to make stuff up and boss people around.