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  ↩