(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.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Doctrine'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".