Westminster Confession According to the Text of the First Edition, and with the Original Scripture Proofs. With Notes Showing the Changes Introduced by Church Synods up to the Present Day.

Edited with an Introduction by Michael Marlowe

© 1996 by Michael D. Marlowe


Introduction and Bibliography
Annotated Text of the Confession (1647)
Appendix A: Major Changes of the Savoy Declaration (1658)
Appendix B: Major Changes of the PCUSA (1788-1958)
Appendix C: Major Changes of the UPCUSA and PCUS (1958-1983)


Historical Setting of the Confession

The Westminster Confession of Faith is one document of several commissioned by the English parliament during the English Civil War (1642-1649), in which armies raised by the parliament, in league with Scotland, battled forces loyal to the tyrannical King Charles I and his bishops. The Confession was commissioned from an assembly of 121 Puritan clergymen meeting in Westminster Abbey, called the Westminster Assembly, which was convened in 1643 for the purpose of drafting official documents for the reformation of the Church of England. This was done in fulfillment of a Solemn League and Covenant(1) made with the Scottish parliament and people in the same year, to the effect that the episcopal Anglican establishment, which for many years had harassed and persecuted the Presbyterian Scottish church, should be abolished even in England, and replaced with a Presbyterian establishment which would constantly adhere to Calvinistic standards of doctrine and worship. It was only under such terms that the Scots were willing to join the parliamentary forces in their war against the King.

Reception of the Confession in Britain.

In 1647 the completed Confession of Faith, which was entirely satisfactory to the Scottish commissioners present at the Assembly, was sent to the English parliament for ratification. It was returned to the Assembly by the House of Commons, which required the Assembly to present a copy of the Confession with proof texts from Scripture.(2) After a period of debate the Confession was then partly adopted by the English parliament as Articles of Christian Religion in 1648, with the omission of 4 of chapter 20, 4-6 of chapter 24, and all of chapters 30 and 31. The Westminster Confession was adopted entire by the General Assembly of the Scottish Church in 1647 and ratified by the Scottish parliament in 1649. These acts of the English and Scottish parliaments were then nullified at the restoration of the Anglican episcopacy together with the British monarchy in 1660. After the Revolution of 1688, in which the intolerable Roman Catholic King James II was replaced by William of Orange, the Scottish parliament again ratified the Confession without change in 1690, to which the royal sanction was promptly granted by the new King.

In 1658, just two years before the restoration of the monarchy, about 200 delegates from the Congregational churches of England gathered in the Savoy palace in London to compose a revision of the Confession in which the principles of congregational independence and legal toleration would replace the established Presbyterianism implicit in the Confession's statements touching Church government and discipline. This revision, known as The Savoy Declaration,(3) prefixed a lengthy Preface, substantially altered chapters 25 and 26, deleted chapters 30 and 31, inserted a new chapter, "Of the Gospel," and added a platform of Congregational polity titled "Of the Institution of Churches, and the Order Appointed in them by Jesus Christ." The Savoy Declaration was designed to encourage agreement on important matters between churches; but, true to the nature of Congregational polity, it was not intended to be a legal or corporate instrument, as was the Westminster Confession.

Reception and Use in America

In the American colonies the Westminster Confession was widely adopted by both ecclesiastical and civil authorities, although with important reservations along the lines of the Savoy Declaration. In 1648 the delegates of the Congregational churches of New England gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and adopted as their common declaration of faith the Westminster Confession minus chapters 25, 30, and 31, for which chapters they substituted a separate document, prepared by them, called The Cambridge Platform of Church Discipline. After the publication of the Savoy Declaration in England, a synod of the same Congregational churches held in Boston, 1680, adopted and published the Savoy Declaration with the Cambridge Platform for a common Confession of Faith.

In 1729 the first organized synod of Presbyterians in America, meeting in Philadelphia, adopted the original Westminster Confession, with some reservations, as its official statement of doctrine, requiring every candidate for ordination to disclose any disagreement with the Confession, in which case the Presbytery must refuse him ordination if it finds him to be in disagreement with "essential and necessary articles." In 1788 the united Synod of Philadelphia and New York adopted a revision of the Confession which reflected the new political situation of the United States, in which there was to be no church establishment; the important changes were to chapter 20 4, chapter 23 3, and chapter 31 1-2. Most Presbyterian bodies which now exist in the United States have approved some form of the Confession of 1788, with relatively minor changes, as a touchstone for Reformed orthodoxy.

Features of this Edition

The text presented in this edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith corresponds to the text printed in Philip Schaff's Creeds of Christendom (6th edition; New York, 1931), which is taken from the earliest published edition, printed in 1647 under the title, The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament Sitting at Westminster, Concerning a Confession of Faith: with the Quotations and Text of Scripture Annexed. Presented by Them Lately to Both Houses of Parliament. Only the spelling, punctuation, numeration and reference style have been modernized. The "Quotations and Text of Scripture," which in the original edition appeared as mere references in the lateral margins, are here arranged in order after each paragraph.(4)

Significant changes of the Savoy Declaration are given (after Schaff) either in the notes or, in the case of the larger changes, in Appendix A. Also in the notes, and in appendices B and C, are all changes to the Confession adopted by the larger Presbyterian bodies of America: the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1789); the Presbyterian Church in the United States;(5) the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America;(6) the Orthodox Presbyterian Church; and the Presbyterian Church in America. Also indicated are the readings of two widely-used editions of the Confession published by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The editions referred to in the notes are:

PCUSA 1789. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1789), according to the notes of Schaff's edition.

PCUS. The Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism (Richmond, Virginia, 1948).

UPCUSA. The Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Part I: Book of Confessions (Philadelphia, 1966).

OPC. The Westminster Confession of Faith in the form adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, with a parallel Modern English Study Version (Norcross, Ga: OPC Committee on Christian Education, 1993).

PCA. The Confession of Faith together with the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism with the Scripture Proofs. 3rd Edition (Atlanta: PCA Committee for Christian Education and Publications, 1990). NOTE: The many errata of this edition are not indicated.

FPCS 1973. The Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, with the Scripture Proofs at Large, together with the Sum of Saving Knowledge, etc. (Glasgow, 1973).

FPCS 1994. Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow, 1994). This edition purports to follow the text of S.W. Carruthers, The Westminster Confession of Faith, Being an Account of the Preparation and Printing of Its Seven Leading Editions, to which is Appended a Critical Text of the Confession with Notes Thereon (Manchester, 1937). This text is preferred by many scholars as being the most accurate representation of the Confession as adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1647.

FPCS. Agreement of the two FPSC editions named above.


The following expositions of the Confession are recommended:

Francis Beattie, The Presbyterian Standards: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Richmond, Virginia: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1896.(7)

Archibald Hodge, A Commentary on the Confession of Faith. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1869.

John MacPherson, ed., The Westminster Confession of Faith, with Introduction and Notes. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1882.(7)

Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. London: Blackie, 1861.(7)

G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1964.

Rowland S. Ward, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Study Guide. A verbal modernisation of the text as adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1647 with analysis and commentary. Melbourne, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 1996. Available from Crown and Covenant Publications in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For the history of the Westminster Assembly and its significance:

Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Confession of Faith: a Contribution to the Study of its Historical Relations and to the Defence of its Teaching. 3rd edition. Edinburg, 1867.

Benjamin Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work. New York: Oxford University Press, 1931.

For a history and bibliography of editions:

Benjamin Warfield, The Printing of the Westminster Confession. Philadelphia: MacCalla, 1902. (Extracted from articles published in the Presbyterian and Reformed Review from October 1901 to October 1902.)(7)

On the American revisions of 1903:

D. G. Hart and John R. Muether, "Turning Points in American Presbyterian History — Part 8: Confessional Revision in 1903," New Horizons, August/September 2005.

For modern English paraphrase:

The Westminster Confession of Faith with a Parallel Modern English Study Version. Norcross, Georgia: Great Commission Publications, 1993.

Rowland S. Ward, The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Study Guide. A verbal modernisation of the text as adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1647 with analysis and commentary. Melbourne, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 1996. Available from Crown and Covenant Publications in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For detailed comparison with other Protestant confessions:

Peter Hall, The Harmony of Protestant Confessions, Exhibiting the Faith of the Churches of Christ Reformed after the Pure and Holy Doctrine of the Gospel throughout Europe. Revised edition. London: J. F. Shaw, 1842.(7)