by J. Randal Matheny, editor
The term “doctrine” has a simple meaning, that of “teaching.” In English, the term has acquired a negative connotation that is not present in the Greek language of the New Testament.
The two main Greek terms for doctrine are taken from the same word group: didaskalia is taken from “teacher” (didaskalos), and didache comes from the verb “to teach” (didasko). The first describes the teacher’s activity (active sense), while the second focuses on the content (passive sense), but this distinction is not always observed by Greek-language writers. Didache occurs 30 times in the New Testament (13 in the Gospels and Acts); didaskalia appears 21 times (15 in the Pastoral Epistles).
A notable fact about “doctrine” is that, when it refers to the teaching of Christ or of God, it always occurs in the singular (for example, Titus 2:10). But it is not uncommon to find the term in the plural when human doctrines are in view (Matthew 15:9; cf. also Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 13:9). Human doctrines are varied and multiplied, but only one teaching comes from God.
Today, each denomination has its own “doctrine.” (Else denominations could not exist!) This situation is strange to the New Testament, because the church of God has been given one doctrine for all. Paul spoke of his life in Christ, “just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17 NASB).
Teaching is an essential function for the church’s spiritual growth, its obedience to the first Teacher and its fulfillment of God’s mission in the world.
Although the gift of teaching exists (Romans 12:6-7) and teachers exercise that gift in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11; James 3:1), all should have the capacity to teach (Hebrews 5:12). Teaching activity is so prevalent in the church that even the songs should teach (Colossians 3:16).
Teaching in the church is different than in today’s schools. Christian teaching seeks not only to inform the student, but to invite the hearer to decide to follow Christ. It spurs the disciple to live for him and like him. It does not treat only the mind, but the will — it demands decision, requires action. Paul affirmed that part of the proclamation of the gospel was made up of teaching (Colossians 1:28). As such, Peter directs his hearers to repentance and immersion (Acts 2:38) and continues to insist, “Save yourselves from this perverse generation!” (v. 40).
Some today want to separate doctrine from the gospel message to those outside of Christ. They say further that the appeal to faith and obedience does not make up part of the gospel. Generally, such people, in the church, at least, have an agenda by which they hope to diminish the gospel to a minimal core in order to have communion with the denominations. They often deny as well the necessity of living according to the commandment of God.
Jesus taught the doctrine of his Father. That’s enough for us.
When it refers to the teaching of Christ or of God, “doctrine” always occurs in the singular.