(Gk. didaskalia [didaskaliva]). Act of teaching or that which is taught. The use of the term in Scripture, however, is broader than a simple reference to information passed on from one person to another or from one generation to the next. Christianity is a religion founded on a message of good news rooted in the significance of the life of Jesus Christ. In Scripture, then, doctrine refers to the entire body of essential theological truths that define and describe that message ( 1 Tim 1:10 ; 4:16 ; 6:3 ; Titus 1:9 ). The message includes historical facts, such as those regarding the events of the life of Jesus Christ ( 1 Cor 11:23 ). But it is deeper than biographical facts alone. As J. Gresham Machen pointed out years ago, Jesus' death is an integral historical fact but it is not doctrine. Jesus' death for sins ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) is doctrine. Doctrine, then, is scriptural teaching on theological truths.
Doctrine is indispensable to Christianity. Christianity does not exist without it. The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the value and importance of sound doctrine, sound instruction ( 1 Tim 6:3 ), and a pattern of sound teaching ( 2 Tim 1:13-14 ). The apostles defended the faithful proclamation of the gospel ( Gal 1:8 ). They formulated Christian faith in doctrinal terms, then called for its preservation. They were adamant about the protection, appropriation, and propagation of doctrine because it contained the truth about Jesus Christ. Knowing the truth was and is the only way that a person can come to faith. So the apostles delivered a body of theological truth to the church ( 1 Cor 15:3 ). They encouraged believers to be faithful to that body of information they had heard and received in the beginning ( 1 John 2:7 1 John 2:24 1 John 2:26 ; 3:11 ), that "faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints'' (Jude 3). Believers, in general, were instructed to guard the faith, that is, to stand firm in sound doctrine ( 2 Tim 1:13-14 ). Pastors in particular were admonished to cleave to sound doctrine so that they could be good ministers of the gospel ( 1 Tim 4:6 ).
The use of the term "doctrine" in Scripture is important for at least three reasons. First, it affirms that the primitive church was confessional. The first generation of believers confessed apostolic teaching about the significance of the life of Christ. They delivered a body of information that included facts about Christ with interpretation of their importance. Second, the use of the term reflects development of thought in the primitive church. Didaskalia [didaskaliva] is used in the Pastorals with reference to the sum of teaching, especially of that which had come from the lips of the apostles. Doctrine plays a small role in Judaism and in the New Testament apart from the Pastoral Epistles, and yet is very important in the latter. By the time of the Pastorals the apostolic message had been transformed into traditional teaching. Third, it affirms the indispensable link between spirituality and doctrine. Christianity is a way of life founded on doctrine. Some disparage doctrine in favor of the spiritual life. Paul, however, taught that spiritual growth in Christ is dependent on faithfulness to sound doctrine, for its truth provides the means of growth ( Col 2:6 ). The apostle John developed three tests for discerning authentic spirituality: believing right doctrine ( 1 Jo 2:18-27 ), obedience to right doctrine (2:28-3:10), and giving expression to right doctrine with love (2:7-11). Faithful obedience and love, then, are not alternatives to sound doctrine. They are the fruit of right doctrine as it works itself out in the believer's character and relationships.
Sam Hamstra, Jr.
Bibliography. J. G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism; D. F. Wells, No Place For Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology; TDNT, 2:160-63.
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The act or result of teaching.
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; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. ( 2 Timothy 1:1 Luke 4:3-4 )
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
(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 =
(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 =
(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);
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" (1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2 Timothy 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.
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