B.B. Warfield on “Antichrist”
According to Warfield, Antichrist then is not so much a person, but any heresy denying the incarnation (and by implication, the Trinity). To deny that Jesus is God in flesh is to do the work of Antichrist. This applied to the proto-Gnostics of John’s day and certainly to the Arians in the centuries which followed.
One of the most thought provoking discussions of “Antichrist” comes from B.B. Warfield. In one of his last essays written for publication before his death in February of 1921, Warfield addressed the matter of the biblical use of the term “Antichrist” as found in John’s epistles. The Lion of Princeton acknowledges that there is a broader use of the term (the so-called theological use, i.e., “the Antichrist”), which he describes as a composite photograph made up of John’s “antichrist” (found in his epistles), Paul’s “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12), and the beast and false prophet from the Book of Revelation (chapter 13). Warfield finds the evidence for such a composite photograph of an Antichrist far from compelling.
In this essay (re-printed in B.B. Warfield, “Antichrist” in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1, ed John E. Meeter (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980), Warfield addresses John’s use of the term “Antichrist” in his epistles. Warfield asks and answers the question, “to what does John refer when he speaks of Antichrist?”
Warfield begins with an important qualification—the context for John’s warning about this foe.
We read of Antichrist nowhere in the New Testament except in certain passages of the Epistles of John (1 John ii. 18, 22; iv. 3; 2 John 7). What is taught in these passages constitutes the whole New Testament doctrine of Antichrist. It is common it is true, to connect with this doctrine what is said by our Lord of false christs and false prophets; by Paul of the Man of Sin; by the Apocalypse of the Beasts which come up out of the deep and the sea. The warrant for labeling the composite photograph thus obtained with the name of Antichrist is not very apparent . . . .The name of Antichrist occurs in connection with none of them, except that presented in the passages of the Epistles of John already indicated; and both the name and the figure denoted by it, to all appearance, occur there first in extant literature.
Warfield’s point is an important one and rarely considered. There is a specific biblical usage of the term Antichrist as found in John’s epistles, the only place where the word appears in Scripture. Warfield contends that this evidence ought to be considered quite apart from Paul’s “man of lawlessness” and John’s beast and false prophet.
When seen in this light, it is clear that Antichrist was already a source of controversy in the apostolic church. John does not identity a specific individual who warned of a coming Antichrist, but he does allude to false teaching then present in the churches of Asia Minor. Says Warfield…