The “Rule of Faith” and Patristic Biblical Exegesis -- By: Paul Hartog
TRINJ 28:1 (Spring 2007) p. 65
The “Rule of Faith” and Patristic Biblical Exegesis
* Paul Hartog is an Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Studies at Faith Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary in Ankeny, Iowa.
This essay will seek to demonstrate that Christians in the current setting have much to learn from their patristic forebears. They developed a community-oriented, theological hermeneutic coupled with an eye to spiritual formation that retains importance for our approach to the Bible today.
I. Defining “Rule of Faith”
Under various titles, early church leaders frequently referred to the phenomenon of the “Rule of Faith” or regula fidei.1 Eric Osborn laments, “The rule of faith, like many theological simplicities, is surrounded by an historical jungle which obscures its exact place and by a liturgical jungle which obscures its exact use.”2 Nevertheless, although the extant renditions exhibit a certain flexibility and elastic variation, they clearly serve as minimum statements of the common faith.3 Everett Ferguson describes the Rule of Faith as the “summary of the main points of Christian teaching,” “the form of preaching that served as the norm of Christian faith,” “the essential message … fixed by the gospel and the structure of Christian belief in one God, reception of salvation in Christ, and experience of the Holy Spirit.”4 The regula fidei was a concise
TRINJ 28:1 (Spring 2007) p. 66
statement of early Christian public preaching and communal belief, a normative compendium of the kerygma.5
In the early church, the Rule of Faith provided a “road map” for the proper interpretation of Scripture.6 According to Irenaeus, the interpreter who has abandoned the regula fidei “would always be inquiring but never finding, because he has rejected the very method of discovery.”7 Mary Ann Donovan explains that the Rule of Faith, in a circular (or dialogical) arrangement, “governs right exegesis, and the Scriptures (the object of the exegesis) explain the Rule of Faith.”8 The two entities mutually “breathe life into one another, developing a rich and evocative exegesis.”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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