The Analogy of Faith (Berkhof)

Louis Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation: Sacred Hermeneutics. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1950), 163–166.

THE ANALOGY OF FAITH OR OF SCRIPTURE. The term “Analogy of Faith” is derived from Rom. 12:6, where we read: “Having then gifts, differing according to the grace that is given unto us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith (κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως).” Some commentators mistakenly interpreted “faith” objectively here, in the sense of doctrine, and looked upon ἀναλογίαν as the designation of an external standard. Correctly interpreted, however, the whole expression simply means, according to the measure of your subjective faith. Hence the term, as derived from this passage, is based on a misunderstanding.

When the early Church Fathers spoke of the Analogia or Regula Fidei, they meant the general principles of faith, of which several summaries were given. In course of time the name was applied to the creeds that were accepted by the Church, as, for instance, the creed of Nicaea. The Roman Catholic Church even honored tradition as the rule of faith. But this is a mistaken use of the term. It is perfectly ridiculous to raise the Confessions of the Church to the dignity of Regulae Veritatis, for it makes that which is derived from Scripture a test of the truth of Scripture. The analogy of faith, rightly understood, is found in the Bible itself. Cellerier, in his Hermeneutics, speaks of two superior and two inferior degrees of this analogy, but at the same time declares that the inferior degrees are really not worthy of the name.
a.      There are two degrees of the analogy of faith with which the interpreter of the Bible is concerned.

  1. Positive Analogy. The first and most important of these is the positive analogy, which is immediately founded upon Scriptural passages. It consists of those teachings of the Bible that are so clearly and positively stated, and supported by so many passages, that there can be no doubt of their meaning and value. Such truths are those of the existence of a God of infinite perfection, holy and righteous, but also merciful and gracious; of the providential rule of God and his beneficial purpose of the existence and heinousness of sin; of the redeeming grace revealed in Jesus Christ; and of a future life and retribution.
  2. General Analogy. The second degree is called the general analogy of faith. It does not rest on the explicit statements of the Bible, but on the obvious scope and import of its teachings as a whole, and on the religious impressions they leave on mankind. Thus it is plain that the spirit of the Mosaic law as well as of the New Testament is inimical to human slavery. It is also perfectly clear that the Bible is hostile to pure formalism in religion, and makes for spiritual worship.

These two degrees of the analogy of faith constitute a standard of interpretation. As a connoisseur, in judging a masterpiece of painting, fixes his attention, first of all, on the central object of interest, and considers the details in their relation to this; so the interpreter must study the particular teachings of the Bible in the light of its fundamental truths.
b.      The analogy of faith will not always have the same degree of evidential value and authority. This will depend on four factors.

  1. The number of passages that contain the same doctrine. The analogy is stronger when it is founded on twelve, than when it is based on six passages.
  2. The unanimity or correspondence of the different passages. The value of the analogy will be in proportion to the agreement of the passages on which it is founded.
  3. The clearness of the passage. Naturally, an analogy that rests wholly, or, to a great extent, on obscure passages, is of very dubious value.
  4. The distribution of the passages. If the analogy is founded on passages derived from a single book, or from a few writings, it will not be as valuable as when it is based on passages of both the Old and the New Testaments, dating from various times, and coming from different authors.

c.      When employing the analogy of faith in the interpretation of the Bible, the interpreter should bear the following rules in mind.

  1. A doctrine that is clearly supported by the analogy of faith cannot be contradicted by a contrary and obscure passage. Think of 1 John 3:6, and the general teaching of the Bible that believers also sin.
  2. A passage that is neither supported nor contradicted by the analogy of faith may serve as the positive foundation for a doctrine, provided it is clear in its teaching. Yet the doctrine so established will not have the same force as one that is founded on the analogy of faith.
  3. When a doctrine is supported by an obscure passage of Scripture only, and finds no support in the analogy of faith, it can only be accepted with great reserve. Possibly, not to say probably, the passage requires a different interpretation than the one put upon it. Cf. Rev. 20:1-4.
  4. In cases where the analogy of Scripture leads to the establishment of two doctrines that appear contradictory, both doctrines should be accepted as Scriptural in the confident belief that they resolve themselves into a higher unity. Think of the doctrines of predestination and free will, of total depravity and human responsibility.