Christology and Criticism by B. B. Warfield

B. B. Warfield. Christology and Criticism. Baker, 2000. 459 pp.

This volume, Christology and Criticism, is the third of ten volumes in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield. It is a collection of essays and articles previously published in various encyclopedias and journals. Warfield’s writings are not for the casual reader. In-depth interaction with higher-critical theories pervades these discussions. Scattered throughout are words and phrases in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and German, often without any translation. Profuse footnotes occupy many of the pages. As always, however, the reader who is willing and able to work through this material will profit from this great scholar and theologian.

The book contains discussions of the divine Messiah of the Old Testament, the divine Christ of the New Testament, the two natures of Christ, the blasphemy of the Son of Man, Jesus’ alleged confession of sin, the supernatural birth of Jesus, and the twentieth-century Christ.

The Messiah that the Old Testament predicted was arguably a divine being. This is not inconsistent with its strict monotheism. Whether the Old Testament hinted at a multiplicity in the Godhead is a separate issue. The New Testament’s quotation of the Old provides one of the clearest testimonies to the divine Messiah. The author of Hebrews is most notable in affirming that the Old Testament promised a supernatural Messiah. The Psalms-especially the second, forty-fifth, and hundred-and-tenth-more than any other book provide the clearest testimonies to this divine Messianic hope. No human could fulfill the things promised about Him. With titles such as “Son of God,” “God,” “God-Hero,” and “Father of Eternity,” the Messiah’s divinity was incontestably set forth. All attempts to discount such language are profoundly deficient.

The same Christ who is presented as a divine being in the Old Testament is even more clearly presented as such in the New. That Christ is God is not just a conclusion drawn from a few scattered passages. It is the conclusion of every portion of the New Testament. Christianity is utterly unexplainable apart from the supernatural Christ of Scripture. Though higher criticism would like to sift the supernatural from Jesus, such an attempt is impossible without eliminating the historical Jesus altogether. While the antisupernaturalistic critic would like to call the Christ of Scripture a myth, it is actually the desupernaturalized Jesus who is the mythical figure. Such a man leaves the whole of Christianity without any historical explanation. The Jesus of Scripture is not a manmade invention. No one could ever have designed such a story unless it was indeed the truth of God.

There is possibly no more foundational doctrine to the teachings of the New Testament than the two natures of Christ. This doctrine is intricately connected to the doctrine of the incarnation: the two rise or fall together. The trend of early liberalism was to deny this teaching. Higher critics begin with the a prioriassumption that the divine and human are mutually exclusive. Christ, therefore, could not have had two natures. Undoubtedly, He was a man; thus, they reason, He could not have been divine. It is interesting that even throughout the early Christological controversies, the two natures were not denied. It was this very doctrine of a dual-natured Christ that led to the heresies of Arianism, Apollinarianism, et al (264). That the New Testament teaches Christ’s divine nature is not without sufficient evidence. Romans 9:5 testifies that Christ is God over all. Attempts to avoid this conclusion are all clearly straining to evade the natural reading of the passage. Romans 9:5 is not alone. Paul affirms this same point, however, elsewhere. Philippians 2:6 places Christ as God’s equal who possesses the very nature and characteristics of God Himself. Colossians 2:9 is no less significant, declaring that all the divine fullness dwells in Christ in bodily form. Beyond this, the term ku,rioj bears the same connotations as the term qeo,j (272), so that to call Jesus “Lord” was of no less import than to call Him “God.” Some try to place Johannine Christology on a level above Paul’s, but the former is a mere copy of the latter. The Scriptures and Christian tradition know nothing of a one-natured Christ. He only exists in the minds of those who refuse the true God in human flesh. One must choose between the supernatural Christ of Scripture and a mythical Christ who did not exist. No other option exists.

Warfield’s discussions of key Christological issues are nearly as valuable and applicable today as they were when he wrote them nearly a century ago. The theories of higher critics do not stand up against his logical, sound-minded assessment. Though at times the discussion is difficult to follow and requires a rereading, its value cannot be overestimated. Every theologian should be well acquainted with the writings of this great theologian.

One Response to Christology and Criticism by B. B. Warfield

  1. Dennis Tooker April 17, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    Thank you for your work. The article was very helpful. As Arminianism is man’s default birth-soteriology requiring divine illumination to see sovereign grace, so Arianism et al is man’s default birth Christology requiring divine illumination to see sovereign incarnation. Excellent summary. Keep it up. Dennis

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