And what is sound doctrine?
Ultimately we must agree that sound doctrine is that which is found in Scripture alone, and we should agree that believers will grow in knowing more sound doctrine as one hears and reads and listens to the Word.
Two slightly different ways to define the word “doctrine”: 1. How is it used in the NT? 2. How people currently use it. We will misunderstand Scripture if we only use the second definition.
Let’s briefly define and then set aside how the term is commonly used today, then walk through the verse, and ultimately define our terms in light of all of Scripture.
So, doctrine, in extra-biblical definitions, usually refers to how a religious group organizes its teachings. It could also refer to a set of beliefs, held by any group, not necessarily religious. Some will say you hold a theology, and within that theology are all the supporting doctrines. And so within Christianity, you’ll see the word used of “The Doctrine of the Church.” or “The Doctrine of God.” or even fancy words like “Soteriology” meaning “The study of the doctrines of salvation” or “Christology” or the “Study of the doctrine of Christ.” This is by no means exhaustive.
Sound Doctrine, According to Scripture
But how does Paul use the term, and how does the Spirit lead us to understand the word? This is a word used often in the Pastoral epistles, so as believers we must resist the temptation to get rid of the term–do not let anyone tell you it is outdated.
Titus 2:1 But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.
As for you, Titus–as the elder, the mentor, the teacher, the one responsible for setting up a healthy structure for a healthy church, you who are not like the false teachers described at the end of chapter 1.
Speak. These are to be shared words. They are important for all Christians to hear, be nourished on, feast on, delight in, grow in understanding of, and live thereby. These words are not for Titus and any fellow elders, they are for the body of Christ.
Fitting for, appropriate for the health and edification of, wholesome and life-giving.
“Sound” here means wholesome. Whole. In Christ we are whole, in His Words we are wholesome and healthy and flourishing, like green trees in the court of our God–see Psalm 92. Sound and wholesome, that the man of God may be complete! 2 Tim 3:17 His Words are spirit and life John 6.
Doctrine. Teaching, from the Word made Flesh, the Son of God. Doctrine–the teachings handed down to us, that we must cling to in faith, that we understand through the Holy Spirit illumining our minds (more of that here!).
Take a moment to read: 2 Timothy 3:14-16; 1 John 5:11; Hebrews 1:1-4. How did the Holy Spirit guide and instruct in OT? Through prophets. How does He guide now, that we may know Him, and all that He desires to teach us? He inspired men to write, and then: 1 Cor 2:4-16; 2 Cor 3:12-4:6; Hebrews 3:7ff; 1 John 2:20-27 He guides inwardly as we read or listen to the Word. No magic, no conjuring; just the faithful promise to guide and teach and grant understanding.
A little exercise: read through a few passages, and journal about how Paul used the term “Sound Doctrine” to get a full picture: 1 Timothy 1:8-15 1 Timothy 6:3-5 2 Timothy 4:1-5, 1:13-14
An answer: The Scriptures (that we as the Old Testament), the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, handed down orally and written (that we know as the New Testament)–so that whether we hear or read, we too can know and understand and grow in our knowledge of sound doctrine.
From Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion:
In order that my readers may better profit from this present work, I should like to indicate briefly the benefit they may derive from it. For, in doing this, I shall show them the purpose to which they ought to bend and direct their intention while reading it. Although Holy Scripture contains a perfect doctrine, to which one can add nothing, since in it our Lord has meant to display the infinite treasures of his wisdom, yet a person who has not much practice in it has good reason for some guidance and direction, to know what he ought to look for in it, in order not to wander hither and thither, but to hold to a sure path, that he may always be pressing toward the end to which the Holy Spirit calls him. Perhaps the dirty of those who have received from God fuller light than others is to help simple folk at this point, and as it were to lend them a hand, in order to guide them and help them to find the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word.John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press; 1960) Page 6.
In Titus 2:1, Titus is told to speak things fitting for sound doctrine, and the remainder of the letter details how this sound doctrine will impact family life, and community life. So who needs sound doctrine? O brethren, grieve not the Spirit, abide in the Word–all of us! We all need sound doctrine, and we all need to grow in our love of His truth and wisdom. (For further reflection: Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30; Hab 1:13; Isaiah 63:7-19; Acts 7:51)
Sound Doctrine does not mean “the teachings of men” or merely “the organized manner in which we teach” or even any particular system. So while it is not necessary, having a system of organizing and therefore being able to find answers to questions quickly is good and helpful!
But seriously, WHY?!!!
One prime example, the beginnings of which are in the 200s but come to full blown argument in the 300s and the Council of Nicea in 325 (Nicene Creed):Is a vowel important? Is it worth clarifying?
Homoousious (of one substance)
Homoiousious (of similar substance)
So is Jesus God, or similar to God? Arius vs Athanasius, Trinity vs heresy of many gods, or a godlike son who is not the Son of God. Sound doctrine matters if you are to know Jesus for Who He is. Teaching sound doctrine matters. We need to be taught, we need to learn and pass on what we’ve learned within the community of believers, within the local church God has placed you in. All of us ought to be growing to maturity, such that our elders could one day say to us “and concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” (Romans 15:14)
So speak those things that are fitting and healthy and wholesome for healthy and wholesome sound doctrine…that the people of God may live by it, whether interacting in community life, family life, or among any other sphere of influence. We all need sound doctrine, and ought to adorn the doctrine of God (do you love that phrase from Titus as much as I do?).