Review of Early Normative Christian Biblical Interpretation
In the NT, Jesus is already interpreted. The point is not to find the “historical Jesus” but Jesus “according to the Scriptures [OT].” We cannot separate Scripture and Tradition. If “Scripture” (OT and NT) were the sole authority, then how did we obtain the canon we have? If tradition is understood in a general, vague sense, or as the “thing” we could call “Christianity,” then what criterion allows us to choose between Gnostic texts and canonical texts?
Tradition is a verb. Tradition has an interpretive relationship with the Scriptures. As St. Paul put it: “I traditioned to you as of first importance, what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; that he was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures [1 Cor 15:3-4].” This tradition, or traditioning, rather, is what distinguished Christianity from Judaism on the one hand and Gnosticism on the other.
Rule of Faith
The Rule of Faith was explicitly stated by the second century, but it operates as an assumption behind the writings of Ss. Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr. This is:
One God, the Father
One Lord, Jesus the Christ (who is human and divine)
One Holy Spirit (The One who guides Scriptural Interpretation and resides fully within the Church)
Importance of Christ for Early Christian Biblical Interpretation
Christ opens the Scriptures to their meaning
The Scriptures everywhere speak of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen
The hypothesis that Jesus is human and divine is part of the Rule of Faith
The Rule of Faith became codified in the Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed and its details were further articulated in the Seven Ecumenical Councils. The concern for hypothesis and how the Scriptures speak “Christ” will continue to be at play in the ongoing articulation of Christian theology.
I am indebted to Fr. John Behr for the material presented here. Those wishing to investigate early Christian interpretation more thoroughly are encouraged to read John Behr, Formation of Christian Theology,Vol 1, The Way to Nicea (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001). Another useful text is John Barton, Holy Writings, Sacred Text: The Canon in Early Christianity (Louiseville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997).