Warfield: A Christianity Without The Virgin Birth Is Christless Christianity

I am, of course, well aware that this doctrine of redemption, and as well the doctrine of sin which underlies it, is nowadays scouted in wide circles. With that, however, I have no present concern. I cheerfully admit that to a “Christianity” which knows nothing of race-sin and atonement, the necessity of the supernatural birth of the “Redeemer,” if it be recognized at all, must rest on other, and perhaps on less stringent, grounds. But I have not undertaken to investigate the possible place of the supernatural birth of Jesus in the varied forms of so-called “Christianity” prevalent in the modern world, many of which stand in no other relation to the Christianity of the New Testament than that of contradiction. Nor am I to be deterred from recognizing the doctrines of “original sin” and of “satisfaction” as fundamental elements in the Christianity of the New Testament, by the habit which has grown up among those who do not like them, of speaking of them scornfully as “Augustinian” and “Anselmic.” What rather attracts my attention is that it seems to be universally allowed that, on these “Augustinian” and “Anselmic” presuppositions, the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus is an absolutely essential element of Christianity. In so far, then, as it is admitted that the doctrines of “original sin” and of “satisfaction” are constituent elements of the Christianity of the New Testament, it may be taken as acknowledged that the virgin birth of our Lord is confessedly essential to it.

If, then, it cannot be denied that the supernatural birth of Jesus enters constitutively into the substance of that system which is taught in the New Testament as Christianity—that it is the expression of its supernaturalism, the safeguard of its doctrine of incarnation, the condition of its doctrine of redemption—are we to go on and say that no one can be saved who does not hold this faith whole and entire? The question is thoroughly impertinent. We are discussing, not the terms of salvation, but the essential content of the Christian system; not what we must do to be saved, but what it behooved Jesus Christ to be and to do that he might save us. Say that faith is the instrument by which salvation is laid hold upon; the instrument by which the prerequisites of the salvation laid hold of by faith are investigated is the intellect. As it is certain that the only Jesus, faith in whom can save, is the Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin Mary, according to the Scriptures, it is equally certain that the act of faith by which he is savingly apprehended involves these presuppositions, were its implicates soundly developed. But our logical capacity can scarcely be made the condition of our salvation.9 The Scriptures do not encourage us to believe that only the wise are called. They even graciously assure us that blasphemy itself against the Son may be forgiven. It would surely be unfortunate if weakness of intellect were more fatal than wickedness of heart. On the whole, we may congratulate ourselves that it was more imperative that Jesus, by whom the salvation has been wrought, should know what it behooved him to be and to do that he might save us, than it is that we should fully understand it. But, on the other hand, it will scarcely do to represent ignorance or error as advantageous to salvation. It certainly is worth while to put our trust in Jesus as intelligently as it may be given to us to do so. And it certainly will over and over again be verified in experience that he who casts himself upon Jesus as his divine Redeemer, will find the fact of the virgin birth of this Saviour not only consonant with his faith and an aid to it, but a postulate of it without which he would be puzzled and distressed.

Benjamin B. Warfield “Christless Christianity” in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Christology and Criticism, vol. 3 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), 456–58.


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    B. B. Warfield (1851–1921) was a scholar of the New Testament, textual criticism, historical theology, and systematic theology. He studied at what would become Princeton University and abroad, taught at Western Theological Seminary for nine years, and then at Princeton Theological Seminary. He was one of the most important exponents of Reformed theology in American history.

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