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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Analogy of Faith

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This has been often and largely descanted upon as an important rule for interpreting Scripture, founded, as it is said, upon Romans 12:6 , "Let us prophesy according to the proportion" ( analogy ) "of faith."

The principle of this rule has been thus stated: It is evident the Almighty doth not act without a design in the system of Christianity, any more than in the works of nature. Now this design must be uniform; for as in the system of the universe every part is proportioned to the whole, and made subservient to it,—so, in the system of the Gospel, all the various truths, doctrines, declarations, precepts, and promises must correspond with, and tend to, the end designed. For instance, supposing the glory of God in the salvation of sinners by free grace be the grand design,—then, whatever doctrine, assertion, or hypothesis agrees not with this, it is to be considered as false. The effect however of this view of the case appears to be often delusive. If nothing more be meant than that, what is obscure in a revelation should be interpreted by that which is plain, the same rule applies to all sober interpretations of any book whatever; but if we call our opinions, perhaps hastily taken up, or admitted on some authority without examination by the light of Scripture, "the analogy of faith," we shall greatly err. On this subject Dr. Cambell remarks:—

"In vain do we search the Scriptures for their testimony concerning Christ, if, independently of these Scriptures, we have received a testimony from another quarter, and are determined to admit nothing as the testimony of Scripture which will not perfectly

quadrate with that formerly received. This was the very source of the blindness of the Jews in our Saviour's time. They searched the Scriptures as much as we do; but, in the disposition they were in, they would never have discovered what that sacred volume testifies of Christ. Why? because their great rule of interpretation was the analogy of the faith; or, in other words, the system of the

Pharisean scribes, the doctrine then in vogue, and in the profound veneration of which they had been educated. This is that veil by which the understandings of that people were darkened, even in reading the law, and of which the Apostle observed, that it remained unremoved in his day, and of which we ourselves have occasion to observe, that it remains unremoved in ours. And is it not precisely in the same way that the phrase is used by every sect of Christians, for the particular system or digest of tenets for which

they themselves have the greatest reverence? The Latin church, and even the Greek, are explicit in their declarations on this article.

With each, the analogy of the faith is their own system alone. And that different parties of Protestants, though more reserved in their manner of speaking, aim at the same thing, is undeniable; the same, I mean, considered relatively to the speakers; for, absolutely

considered, every party means a different thing. ‘But,' say some, ‘is not this mode of interpretation warranted by Apostolical authority? Does not Paul, Romans 12:6 , in speaking of the exercise of the spiritual gifts, enjoin the prophets to prophesy κατα την αναλογιαν της πιστεως , according to the proportion of faith, as our translators render it, but as some critics explain it, according to the analogy of the faith?' Though this exposition has been admitted into some versions, and adopted by Hammond and other commentators, and may be called literal, it is suited neither to the ordinary meaning of the words, nor to the tenor of the context. The word αναλογια strictly denotes proportion, measure, rate, but by no means that complex notion conveyed in the aforesaid phrase by the term analogy, which has been well observed by Whitby to be particularly unsuitable in this place, where the Apostle treats of those who speak by inspiration, not of those who explain what has been thus spoken by others. The context manifestly leads us to understand αναλογια πιστεως , Romans 12:6 , as equivalent to μετρον πιστεως , Romans 12:3 . And for the better understanding of this phrase, the measure of faith, it may be proper to observe,

1. That a strong conviction of any tenet, from whatever cause it arises, is in Scripture sometimes termed faith. Thus in the same epistle, Romans 14:22 , the Apostle says, ‘Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God.' The scope of his reasoning shows that nothing is there meant by faith, but a conviction of the truth in regard to the article of which he had been treating, namely, the equality of days and meats, in point of sanctity, under the Gospel dispensation. The same is evidently the meaning of the word, Romans 14:23 , ‘Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin;' where, without regard to the morality of an action abstractly considered, that is concluded to be sin which is done by one who doubts of its lawfulness.

2. As to spiritual gifts, prophecy and inspiration in particular, they appear to have been accompanied with such a faith or conviction that they came from the Spirit, as left no room for hesitation. And indeed it is easy to perceive that something of this kind was absolutely necessary to enable the inspired person to distinguish what proceeded from the Spirit of God, from what was the creature of his own imagination. The prophets of God were not acted upon like machines in delivering their predictions, as the diviners were supposed to be among the Heathen, but had then, as at other times, the free use of their faculties, both of body and mind." This caution is therefore with great propriety given them by the Apostle, to induce them to be attentive in prophesying, not to exceed the precise measure allowed them, (for different measures of the same gift were committed to different persons,) and not to mingle aught of their own with the things of God's Spirit. Let him prophesy according to the proportion in which he has received this gift, which is in proportion to his faith. Though a sense somewhat different has been given to the words by some ancient Greek expositors, none of them seems to have formed a conception of that sense, which, as was observed above, has been given by some moderns. This has, nevertheless, a sound and sober principle included in it, although capable of great abuse. Undoubtedly there is a class of great and leading truths in the Scriptures so clearly revealed as to afford principles of interpretation in doubtful passages, and these are so obvious that persons of sound minds and hearts will not need those formal rules for the application of the analogy of faith to interpretation, which have been drawn up by several writers, and which when not misleading, are generally superfluous.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Analogy of Faith'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/a/analogy-of-faith.html. 1831-2.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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