Adversus Marcionem : a case study in "regular hermeneutics"'>

Tertullian's Adversus Marcionem : a case study in "regular hermeneutics"

Litfin, Bryan Mark, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Wilken, Robert, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Kovacs, Judith, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Tertullian of Carthage has been studied intensely with respect to his ·hermeneutics. This dissertation argues that the most important aspect of his exegesis is his use of the Rule of Faith as an interpretive device. Tertullian's most ambitious exegetical endeavor—the final two books of his massive work Adversus Marcionem—serve as a case study for investigating his biblical exegesis. We see that in Book IV, Tertullian established the coherence of Christ and the Creator's prior revelation in the Old Testament. Then, in Book V he extended the meaning of Jesus forward into the Church, which is the community of the apostles and the Spirit.

Tertullian was executing in Adversus Marcionem the systematic hermeneutical program he had announced in De Praescriptione Haereticorum. The earlier work served as a theoretical charter for the specific task of the later, revealing his systematic intentions. Tertullian's interpretive approach is best described as "regular hermeneutics." The term refers to his desire to read Scripture in light of the over-arching narrative encapsulated in the regula fidei—a narrative which is rooted in biblical salvation history and which recounts God's actions in Christ within our world. Tertullian understood the Christian story to recount a cosmic Christology of creation, prediction, incarnation, redemption, and consummation. Thus the two Testaments are united in their joint Christological proclamation. The Old Testament must be read in light of Jesus of Nazareth, just like the New. Tertullian could use a variety of interpretive methods—such as verbal and thematic associations or Christian allegory—so long as the content of his exegesis focused on the living Christ. When his interpretive approach is compared with that of Irenaeus, we discover Tertullian operated with a hermeneutical outlook which was common in his day.

Tertullian understood the Bible as the Church's book. As such, it everywhere proclaimed the Church's savior. The Rule of Faith, which also belonged to the Church, likewise proclaimed an outline of the Christian narrative, over against other "heretical" myths. Because Scripture and the Rule are united in their subject matter, they must be read in tandem. To fully grasp Tertullian's biblical interpretation, we must understand his "regular hermeneutics."

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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