What is doctrine? Is it important? By Jack Kettler
In this study, we will seek to understand what the Bible says about doctrine.
Many have heard people proclaim; “Don’t give me doctrine; I just want to follow Jesus” or “No creed but Christ.” Doctrine as will be seen means, teaching, instruction, and other similar words. First, note that this type of assertion decrying doctrine is itself a doctrine, albeit, a simplistic one. Second, note that this type of assertion is contradictory since the asserter has some doctrinal knowledge of the person of Christ in order to make the assertion.
Do people making assertions like these want to know Christ and follow him? Consider:
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)
Jesus taught doctrine, and if you are going to be his disciple, you must learn his teachings. Besides, we are to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, see 2Peter 3:18. Non-doctrinal Christianity is impossible because even non-doctrinal religion is doctrinal. In Christianity, doctrines are unavoidable; the question should be what type of doctrine you should have?
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4) Do you want to know God’s paths?
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.
A set of accepted beliefs held by a group. In religion, it is the set of true beliefs that define the parameters of that belief system. Hence, there is true doctrine and false doctrine relative to each belief set. In Christianity, for example, a true biblical doctrine is that there is only one God in all existence (Isaiah 43:10; Isa 44:6; Isa 44:8). A false doctrine is that there is more than one God in all existence. *
Question: “What is doctrine?”
Answer: The word translated “doctrine” means “instruction, especially as it applies to lifestyle application.” In other words, doctrine is teaching imparted by an authoritative source. In the Bible, the word always refers to spiritually related fields of study. The Bible says of itself that it is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Timothy 3:16). We are to be careful about what we believe and present as truth. First Timothy 4:16 says, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” **
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary on doctrine:
1. (n.) Teaching; instruction.
2. (n.) That which is taught; what is held, put forth as true, and supported by a teacher, a school, or a sect; a principle or position, or the body of principles, in any branch of knowledge; any tenet or dogma; a principle of faith; as, the doctrine of atoms; the doctrine of chances.
Synonyms for doctrine:
Axioms, beliefs, concepts, creeds, dogmas, precepts, statutes, propositions, rules, statements, teachings, tenets, articles of faith, declarations, gospel, instructions, and edicts. These synonyms presuppose predominantly written documents. The written Word is essential since we learn of Christ in His word.
From the Scriptures about doctrine:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8)
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” (John 20:31)
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” (1Timothy 4:16)
“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness.” (1Timothy 6:3)
“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 1:13)
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (2Timothy 2:2)
“In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” (2Timothy 2:25)
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 3:14-15)
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Timothy 3:16-17)
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” (2Timothy 4:3)
“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.” (1Timothy 4:6 )
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:9)
“For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:13-14)
Featured commentary from Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Hebrews 5:13-14 and the need for growth in doctrinal truth:
“The Spirit proves these Hebrews such infants by describing the state of them, and of their contrary, and tacitly applying it to them under a metaphor or allegory started by him before.
For every one that useth milk; for, saith he, every one of you who take in nothing but the elements and weakest kind of doctrines, and can bear no other, have not digested the first principles of the oracles of God.
Is unskilful in the word of righteousness; are apeirov, not truly knowing, not proving nor experiencing, never exercised or practiced in, the word of righteousness, the gospel doctrine, which is in itself an eternal certain truth, the revelation of the righteousness of God to faith, Romans 1:16,17, and the instrumental conveyer of it to faith; a perfect rule of righteousness, making Christians conform exactly to the mind and will of God, and so reaching the state of strong and perfect ones, Colossians 1:25-29.
For he is a babe; he is but a new-born Christian, a child in Christ’s school, one that cannot be experienced in the perfections of God’s word, because he is weak in knowledge, ignorant and unconstant like an infant, 1 Corinthians 14:20; compare Ephesians 4:14.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age; but those great, deep, and high mysteries of the gospel concerning Christ’s natures, their hypostatical union, his offices, his actual fulfilling all his types in the Old Testament both personal and mystical, with the prophecies of his gospel church state, and his mediatory kingdom, &c., these are the strong meat and food of grown Christians, who have reached some maturity in the knowledge of these gospel mysteries, and are of a full age in understanding, 1 Corinthians 2:6 1 Corinthians 14:20 Philippians 3:15; reaching on to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ in knowledge and grace, Ephesians 4:13.
Even those who by reason of use; even those who dia thn ezin, by a gracious habit of wisdom and knowledge infused and perfected by long study, practice, and exercise of themselves in the word of righteousness, by which they are able to apprehend and improve the highest doctrines of the mystery of Christ.
Have their senses: ta aisyhthria are, strictly, organs or instruments of sense, as the eye, the tongue, and the hand, by a metonymy, express seeing, tasting, and feeling; and so is by analogy applied to the inward senses and faculties of the soul, whereby they discern and relish gospel doctrines.
Exercised: gegumnasmena strictly notes such an exercise as wrestlers use for a victory with all their might and strength, being trained up to it by long exercise. The spiritual organs or faculties of Christians are well instructed, practiced, made apt and ready, as the external ones are, for their proper work.
To discern both good and evil: prov diakrisin, for the discerning and differencing things, so as the mind discerns what doctrine is true and what is false by the word of righteousness, and the will chooseth what is good and refuseth what is evil, the affections love good and hate evil. As the senses external can by exercise discern what food is gustful, pleasing, and wholesome for the person, and what is nauseous and unwholesome; so the grown Christian is improved by the exercise of his spiritual senses, that can by his enlightened mind discern higher gospel doctrines, and by his renewed will relish the sublimer mysteries of Christ as they are revealed to him. Such the Christian Hebrews ought to have been, so able proficients in the school of Christ.” (1)
Doctrine from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[1, G1322, didache]
Akin to No. 1, under DOCTOR, denotes teaching, either
(a) That which is taught, e.g., Matthew 7:28, AV, “doctrine,” RV, “teaching;” Titus 1:9, RV; Revelation 2:14-Revelation 2:15, Revelation 2:24, or
(b) The act of teaching, instruction, e.g., Mark 4:2, AV, “doctrine,” RV, “teaching;” the RV has “the doctrine” in Romans 16:17. See NOTE
[2, G1319, didaskalia]
Denotes, as No. 1 (from which, however, it is to be distinguished),
(a) “that which is taught, doctrine,” Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Timothy 4:1, 1 Timothy 4:6; 1 Timothy 6:1, 1 Timothy 6:3; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9 (“doctrine,” in last part of verse: See also No. 1); Titus 2:1, Titus 2:10;
(b) “teaching, instruction,” Romans 12:7, “teaching;” Romans 15:4, “learning;’ 1 Timothy 4:13, AV, “doctrine,” RV, “teaching;” 1 Timothy 4:16, AV, “the doctrine,” RV, (correctly) “thy teaching; 1 Timothy 5:17, AV, “doctrine,” RV “teaching;” 2 Timothy 3:10, 2 Timothy 3:16 (ditto); Titus 2:7, “thy doctrine.” Cp. No. 1, under DOCTOR. See LEARNING.
(1) Whereas didache is used only twice in the Pastoral Epistles, 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9, didaskalia occurs fifteen times. Both are used in the Active and Passive senses (i.e., the act of teaching and what is taught), the Passive is predominant in didache, the Active in didaskalia; the former stresses the authority, the latter the act (Cremer). Apart from the Apostle Paul, other writers make use of didache only, save in Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7 (didaskalia).
(2) In Hebrews 6:1, logos, “a word,” is translated “doctrine,” AV; the RV margin gives the lit. rendering, “the word (of the beginning of Christ),” and, in the text, “the (first) principles (of Christ).” (2)
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia on Doctrine:
Latin doctrina, from doceo, “to teach,” denotes both the act of teaching and that which is taught; now used exclusively in the latter sense.
1. Meaning of Terms:
(1) In the Old Testament for
(a) leqach “what is received,” hence, “the matter taught” (Deuteronomy 32:2; Job 11:4; Proverbs 4:2; Isaiah 29:24, the American Standard Revised Version “instruction”);
(b) she-mu`ah, “what is heard” (Isaiah 28:9, the Revised Version (British and American) “message,” the Revised Version, margin “report”);
(c) mucar, “discipline” (Jet 10:8 margin), “The stock is a doctrine” (the Revised Version British and American) “instruction” of vanities, i. e. “The discipline of unreal gods is wood (is like themselves, destitute of true moral force” (BDB)).
(2) In the New Testament for
(i) didaskalia =
(a) “the act of teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13,16; 5:17; 2 Timothy 3:10,16), all in the Revised Version (British and American) “teaching”;
(b) “what is taught” (Matthew 15:9; 2 Timothy 4:3). In some passages the meaning is ambiguous as between (a) and (b).
(ii) didache, always translated “teaching” in the Revised Version (British and American), except in Romans 16:17, where “doctrine” is retained in the text and “teaching” inserted in the margin =
(a) the act of teaching (Mark 4:2; Acts 2:42, the King James Version “doctrine”);
(b) what is taught (John 7:16,17; Revelation 2:14,15,24, the King James Version “doctrine”). In some places the meaning is ambiguous as between (a) and (b) and in Matthew 7:28; Mark 1:22; Acts 13:12, the manner, rather than the act or matter of teaching is denoted, namely, with authority and power.
2. Christ’s Teaching Informal:
The meaning of these words in the New Testament varied as the church developed the content of its experience into a system of thought, and came to regard such a system as an integral part of saving faith (compare the development of the meaning of the term “faith”):
(1) The doctrines of the Pharisees were a fairly compact and definite body of teaching, a fixed tradition handed down from one generation of teachers to another (Matthew 16:12, the King James Version “doctrine”; compare Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7).
(2) In contrast with the Pharisaic system, the teaching of Jesus was unconventional and occasional, discursive and unsystematic; it derived its power from His personality, character and works, more than from His words, so that His contemporaries were astonished at it and recognized it as a new teaching (Matthew 7:28; 22:33; Mark 1:22,27; Luke 4:32). So we find it in the Synoptic Gospels, and the more systematic form given to it in the Johannine discourses is undoubtedly the work of the evangelist, who wrote rather to interpret Christ than to record His ipsissima verba (John 20:31).
3. Apostolic Doctrines:
The earliest teaching of the apostles consisted essentially of three propositions:
(a) that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 3:18);
(b) that He was risen from the dead (Acts 1:22; 2:24,32); and
(c) that salvation was by faith in His name (Acts 2:38; 3:16). While proclaiming these truths, it was necessary to coordinate them with Hebrew faith, as based upon Old Testament revelation.
The method of the earliest reconstruction may be gathered from the speeches of Peter and Stephen (Acts 2:14-36; 5:29-32; 7:2-53). A more thorough reconstruction of the coordination of the Christian facts, not only with Hebrew history, but with universal history, and with a view of the world as a whole, was undertaken by Paul. Both types of doctrine are found in his speeches in Acts, the former type in that delivered at Antioch (Acts 13:16-41), and the latter in the speeches delivered at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17) and at Athens (Acts 17:22-31). The ideas given in outline in these speeches are more fully developed into a doctrinal system, with its center removed from the resurrection to the death of Christ, in the epistles, especially in Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. But as yet it is the theological system of one teacher, and there is no sign of any attempt to impose it by authority on the church as a whole. As a matter of fact the Pauline system never was generally accepted by the church. Compare James and the Apostolic Fathers.
4. Beginnings of Dogma:
In the Pastoral and General Epistles a new state of things appears. The repeated emphasis on “sound” or “healthy doctrine” (1Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1), “good doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6) implies that a body of teaching had now emerged which was generally accepted, and which should serve as a standard of orthodoxy. The faith has become a body of truth “once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). The content of this “sound doctrine” is nowhere formally given, but it is a probable inference that it corresponded very nearly to the Roman formula that became known as the Apostles’ Creed. See DOGMA. T. Rees (3)
After reading the above scriptures, it should be evident that it would be impossible for a church not to have doctrines. How could you have a sermon without doctrine? A non-doctrinal sermon would be 30 minutes of silence.
You cannot and should not avoid the doctrines of Scripture. As you read Scripture, you will be learning doctrine. Good doctrines or bad doctrines that is the choice. How do we avoid bad doctrines? Chiefly, through the continued reading of the Scriptures and staying in the fellowship of believers.
To repeat, Jesus taught doctrine, and if you are going to be his disciple, you must learn his teachings. Non-doctrinal Christianity is impossible because even such a thing would be doctrinal and self-contradictory. In Christianity, doctrines are unavoidable; the question should be what type of doctrines you should have? We are warned in Scripture about false teachers. Consequently, there are wicked doctrines.
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30) Having correct doctrine is a biblical imperative.
Stay in the Word:
“These were nobler than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
Church confessions are helpful. A confession of faith is a formal statement setting out the vital religious doctrine of the church body. A confession is more detailed than the typical evangelical statement of beliefs found in the church bulletin. See below for Bible Study Resources.
1. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, vol. 3, (Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, 1985) p. 830.
2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), pp. 223-224.
3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 866-867.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
* CARM Theological Dictionary https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ctd.html
** Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/
What is false doctrine? https://www.gotquestions.org/false-doctrine.html
Why Do We Need Creeds and Confessions?