Tag Archives: rule of faith

What is the “Rule of Faith”?

What is the “rule of faith”? Often times scholars refer to the “rule of faith” as an interpretive guideline but never actually define it. In this regard Tomas Bokedal’s essay, “The Rule of Faith: Tracing Its Origins” is helpful[1]. He states that the “rule” can be traced back to the apostolic period and was often times used in reference to baptismal confessions. In short, it is the “sum content of the apostolic teaching” (234). For example, we find an early reference to this “rule” in 1 Clement 7:1, “Therefore let us abandon empty and futile thoughts, and let us conform to the glorious and holy rule of our tradition.” The “rule of faith” can be referred to in a number of ways such as[2]: regula fidei (rule of faith), the rule, the faith, the truth, and the rule of truth. Later in Irenaeus we find a more fuller explanation of “the faith”:

the Church, though spread throughout the whole world … received from the apostles and their disciples the faith in one GOD the FATHER Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; and in one CHRIST JESUS, the SON of GOD, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy SPIRIT, who through the prophets proclaimed the economies, and the coming, and the birth from the Virgin, and the passion, and the resur­ rection from the dead, and the ascension of the beloved CHRIST JESUS our LORD in the flesh into the heavens, and his coming from the heav­ ens in the glory of the FATHER to recapitulate all things and to raise up all flesh of the whole human race. (Haer.1, io.i)[3]

Bokedal notes sixth observations regarding Irenaeus’s definition (238):

  1. The “rule” goes back to the apostolic period
  2. Contains traditional “Christ-creed material”
  3. “A focus on the divine Name — the appeal to Jewish and Christian monotheistic belief”
  4. Contains both “flexibility and fixity”
  5. Apostolic tradition
  6. Reflects similarities to the nomina-sacra

There is more to be said about this topic such as is the rule of faith the same throughout the early church, if it does differ then how, how did the early church actually use the rule of faith when interpreting Scripture, and many others. I hope this is a helpful starting point into understanding the rule.

Do you think using the Rule of Faith is a helpful interpretive guideline?

  1. Tomas Bokedal. “The Rule of Faith: Tracing Its Origins.” Journal of Theological Interpretation 7, no. 2 (2013): 233–55.  ↩

  2. This is not an exhaustive list but a catalog of key examples.  ↩

  3. p. 238  ↩

Origen Against the Literal Interpretation of the Heterodox

In chapter 9 of Peter Martens, Origen and Scripture, he discusses Origen’s exegesis against the heterodox. Origen commonly wrote against three individuals: Valentinus, Basilides, and Marcion. He often grouped these by categorizing them as “heretics” or “heterodox” (108–109). He charges them by saying, “Scripture is not discerned according to its spiritual sense, but is understood according to the mere letter (107).” It would be easy to assume that Origen thinks his opponents should read allegorically. But this is not the distinction that Origen is arguing for. Martens argues that Origen’s two main issues with this group was their uncritical use of secular teaching and not staying within the Church’s rule of faith (108). When his opponents interpret outside these two boundaries that is when they are reading the “mere letter.” Martens goes on to say that "as a rule, Origen was targeting a more basic and deficient doctrinal current that ran through Gnostic scriptural interoperation: its phonology was deficient when (and only when) it promulgated a teaching at odds with the sort of Christianity Origen represented (115).

This chapter continues to show that Origen was not just a mere allegorist who did not take literal meaning (in modern terms) seriously. Origen believed the ideal interpreter should read the scriptures within the rule of faith that had been passed down by the apostles (113). This rule of faith is one of the boundary markers in exegesis. When one interprets outside these boundaries then one is not following in the tradition of the apostles. Origen sums this up well by saying,

Therefore we must show to those who believe that the sacred books are writings not from men, but that they were composed and have come down to us from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the will of the Father of the universe through Jesus Christ, what are the apparent ways [of interpretation] for those who hold to the rule of the heavenly church of Jesus Christ through the succession of the apostles (130).

Thanks to Oxford University Press for this review copy. I will post a full review when I have completed this book.

Martens, Peter W. Origen and Scripture: The Contours of the Exegetical Life (Oxford Early Christian Studies). Oxford University Press, USA, 2012.