Scripture Does Not Equal Doctrine

Recently I had the misfortune of watching a short video where a nice, clean cut gentleman told me that I can get “an idea of how sincere my love for Jesus is” by asking myself, “How much do I love the Scriptures?”
So far, we’re doing good. But then he goes one step further and equates Scripture with doctrine. He even goes so far to imply that if someone does not “passionately defend” doctrinal truth they may not be sincere. He told me that doctrinal truth bears the image of Christ.  He informed me that if I don’t defend doctrine I couldn’t love Christ.  “There is no room for personal interpretation,” he confidently informs his listeners and me. It was no surprise then when I found other videos that this gentleman did where he “solved” the age-old disagreement between Armenians and Calvinists. Think about the audacity of that statement. In yet another clip he tells me that God may not talk to me or anyone else anymore.
I’m sure this fellow is a good guy. I imagine that he is pretty devoted to his faith and in following Christ. I’m not here to attack him, but I do want to look at his assertion that Scripture equals doctrine.
We should first start with what the Bible tells us about what is truth. In John 14 Jesus tells us that he is “the way, the truth and the life.” Almost all of us would agree that God is truth. That is to say, that God is the embodiment of all truth. There can be no truth apart from God.  God is truth.  God is absolute truth. It is at this point that most conversations will usually turn a little “snarky.”
Is the Bible in your house truth? Is it pure truth? Are there any errors in it? At this point, I have to step back and ask you the reader to stay with me to the end. The truth is we have many translations of the Bible today and I believe what we have is the face of what God wants us to have, but there are errors in each translation. The original text that God gave us was perfect. We do not have that text any longer. What is amazing is you can take one copy of a passage and another copy both being hundreds of years apart in age and they are almost identical.  This lends credence to their validity.
There was a guy named Erasmus who actually admitted to adding a few things when he made a copy because it helped explain the Trinity better. The Bible was originally written in languages other than English (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic). Translating anything from one language to another is a difficult task. For one, the mindset of the hearer will almost certainly be different in the original language. This is why it is so important to understand how the original listeners would have understood whatever passage of Scripture you are looking at.
God is Truth. The Original text is perfect. The Bible(s) I have in my house and the one’s you have in your house are not perfect they are translations of copies.
Now, for years preachers and those in charge have tried to minimize or hide this truth. The fear is that it will open the door for us the simple to start questioning everything there is to know about God.  A guy I really respect once related a story to me about how a young lady rejected all of Scripture because a well known preacher began Absolutetruth_2“monkeying” with the text.
As I have attempted to illustrate in my drawing by the time we get to doctrine we are a few steps away from absolute truth. Your doctrine is a result of interpretation of translations of copies of the original truth.
At this point you are faced with one of two choices (I hate that phrase because I am sure there is probably more choices out there but these are the most common choices). You can either end up in Peter Ruckman’s  camp and spout something just short of insanity about how the KJV is the authoritative version or you have to be willing to wrestle with tension.
The great danger in Christianity has always been that we try to make everything manageable, we try to make incredibly complex things makes sense.  Christianity, especially conservative, Calvinistic Christianity has attempted to reduce the Bible to something that is a compilation of logical, irrefutable arguments. The result has been a bastardized version of honest faith. We’ve compared having a relationship with God to sitting on a chair, we’ve created two diagnostic questions and done all sorts of stupid things. Worse, we’ve created our little doctrine clubs and call it church. We’ve elevated doctrine above God. We worship at the alter of doctrine and systematic theology. What other conclusion can be drawn when a man takes the time to make a movie where he compares love of Scripture with love of doctrine?
So you can chose the absolute way, where there is no room for discussion…or…you can chose the honest way. You can chose to admit that our doctrine is the best interpretation we have, but there is room for discussion. I believe that the Bible is the face of what God wants us to have. In other words the key doctrines are clearly in all of the copies.
We as a bride of Christ need to decide how many doctrines are we willing to die over. We need to decide as a Church where is the line between this is what I believe but I could be wrong. Absolutetruth2

I know there are those who fear this will open up all of the Scriptures to be questioned but is that bad? Didn’t Paul tell the Bereans to test everything? What is so bad if every doctrine we have is tested?
Most of the people I know who would oppose this idea are afraid. They are afraid of what might happen. You can “what if” yourself to death. If what we say we believe is true (and I believe it is) then it cannot be stopped.  Truth always finds its way to the top.
I know for some of you that is a scary proposition and you may even be reacting with some anger for me right now—that’s ok. Embrace the tension; embrace the mystery. If you think your theology and doctrine is helping you explain the more difficult aspects of the gospel be cautious. Remember one ancient writer put it this way, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
How do you “prove” or explain something you can’t see? If you and I desire to truly be relevant it is high time we admit that there is a tension in the Scriptures.

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About Joe

I am a simple guy. I live in West Michigan and have a counseling business. I also do public speaking. I'd love to hear your story.

15 thoughts on “Scripture Does Not Equal Doctrine

  1. Hey Joe, Sounds like this guy is whacked and believes “his” own truth.

    Thanks for a balanced approach and no fear. I’m not gonna run around thinking, “What the heck am I gonna do now. All the Bible’s are wrong.”

    Sounds like He is majoring on some things that in my opinion don’t matter in the face of a deteriorating church. What should matter to more and more pastors and churches today is that when the world looks at us they are not seeing something they like. And it is the reason “Church” is not growing. Although some would argue with that.

    What should matter is that more and more people are dying and going to hell each and every day.

  2. I agree. It’s one thing to defend the scriptures as God’s word but it’s another to equate doctrinal interpretations of the Bible as God’s word as well.
    I think that they are afraid. They’ve seen how loose interpretation of the Bible can be misconstrued and used by evil people and false teachers to lead people astray, i.e. Jim Jones, the Branch Dividians, etc.
    Unfortunately, a defense of a personal doctrine as God’s direct word for all is the same thing that these cult leaders used to get their followers to commit to suicide. Kinda scary, actually.

  3. We always have to be very careful with what God has given us, especially His Word. Now, I have heard many people say that over time translations and such wear down the authenticity of Biblical statements and I won’t even try and refute that because it is pure speculation. I’m sure all of you know how the whole translation process works, and in all honesty I believe that the translation of Scripture isn’t where the problem lies, but in its interpretation. The original Bible started in Aramaic and continued into Hebrew and Greek, and all of our translations are derived from the Greek and Hebrew texts. The common misconception is that translation after translation after translation will wear away the authenticity of the true text, but all of it is being translated from the same source, so that’s hardly credible. Of course, there are versions out there like the NLT (New Living Translation) which isn’t really a translation at all but a paraphrase, so in those situations I can see the discrepancy in the actual text.

    I think it is very reasonable to base doctrine off of the text of Scripture, that is what we consider to be God’s word to His creation is it not? Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that He is the Way the Truth and the Life? That is doctrine. Can we say that those interpretations of Scripture are equated to God’s word? Well, I say we can because that is what God’s word says. If our doctrine deviates from Scripture, then of course we wouldn’t be able to equate that to being from God. Or if we have a personal conviction that isn’t stated in Scripture, like watching movies or something, then of course we wouldn’t be able to push that as doctrine. There is a very obvious push these days to stay relevant and have an open mind, but the whole point of having an open mind at all is to close it around something solid and true.

    I am not saying there are things I don’t understand either, I have no clue how to react to the idea of free-will vs. predestination. The more I read in Scripture the more I am confused by the whole concept, and I am willing to admit that. I don’t understand God in 3 persons, it is a concept so foreign to me that I can’t even begin to define it.

    My question is, if we cannot equate Scripture to doctrine, then where in the world should we be getting our doctrine? From lofty thoughts and human experience?

  4. Jeremy, Thank you for a well thought out response. I agree with some of what you said, and disagree with some of it. One of the biggest things I disagree with is your understanding of how the Bible was originally written. Please see the reference to Erasmus. That is not a debated topic. He admits it in his journal late in life. The Bible was originally written in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. Not one first then the next two. That is simply not historically accurate. Secondly, I would disagree with your rendering of the NLT as a paraphrase. The original Living Bible was indeed a paraphrase but the NLT was/is a translation.
    Also, any serious student of translational issues knows that one of the most amazing things is how the scrolls were copied and how you can find two scrolls of the same text being hundreds of years apart in age and yet they say almost the exact same thing. In many cases there is no difference. The same # of words can be found in the corresponding area.
    I also agree with you that there are core doctrines which are incontrovertible. But there has to be a line, where we say, “this is what I believe, but I could be wrong.” There are those I’ve met who would say that your salvation is in question because you seem to believe that the Bible might allow for free will.
    Of course you are right the interpretation issue plays a huge role in all of this as I’ve already stated in my post, so I won’t rehash it here.
    What about tongues? Do you speak in tongues? Do you believe in them for today? Some don’t. That is a doctrine that is not easily defined from the text. What do you do with that? Do you elevate to the same place as Scripture? If so, are those who disagree with you heretics?

  5. Joe,

    It was no surprise then when I found other videos that this gentleman did where he “solved” the age-old disagreement between Armenians and Calvinists.

    I’m planning on doing a post on Calvinism soon. What’s the link to this video?

    aA

  6. Having just graduated from Bible school, this is a very interesting topic to me. I have been caught in a fair number of cyber Bible debates and have walked away exhausted and anything but edified. I stumbled into a lot of these when I was about twelve or thirteen, and for the next five years, “theology” and “doctrine” almost seemed like offensive words to me. Theology was what the smart people argued over. Doctrine was what caused church splits. These were terms signifying something I wanted to stay the heck away from.

    However, that began to change for me as I got somewhere that began to actually teach me how to study the Bible. Theology is not just about arguing concepts. Theology is about knowing God (“Theos” = God; “-ology” = study of). The more I learn theology and doctrine, the more I find my heart is moving in love for Him.

    Now, I absolutely agree that we should not stake everything on the nitty-gritty debatable points. We need to hold the line on the things that the Bible is clear on, things concerning the nature of God, the truth about Jesus, salvation, etc. However, we should not have to have massive dissention over things like infant baptism, or whether you should use only one loaf when taking communion. We need to be strong on the points that the Bible is strong on, and soft on the points that the Bible is (intentionally) vague about.

    I do think that studying doctrine, as it is found in Scripture, is tremendously important. Whether or not we know the works of Barth or Wesley or Calvin or anyone else is not the main point. The point is that we dig into the Word of God, trying to know Him better. We learn how to discern truth from the lies… so, for instance, we don’t get thrown off when people try to quote Scripture to prove that Jesus is not really the only Way, because we’ve studied the doctrine of salvation enough to know what is and isn’t true. When people try to say, oh, just for example, that they’ve unearthed Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem, we will not be shaken in our faith, because we know for sure that He has risen from the dead. We can have peace and confidence about where we are headed eternally, because we know the doctrine of the resurrection.

    So I totally agree that not all doctrine is equal to Scripture, not by a long shot. But Scripture is loaded with awesome, life-changing doctrine that is far more relevant to our world than most people give it credit for…

    I guess I’m sort of on a personal mission to redeem the terms “doctrine” and “theology” to mean what they were originally supposed to mean. Sorry if I rambled too much!

  7. Ha, Jimmy Speechless! Don’t believe it.

    Amanda, I really resonate with much of what you’ve written. I would ask for clarification on one point. You said,

    We need to be strong on the points that the Bible is strong on, and soft on the points that the Bible is (intentionally) vague about.

    I do think that studying doctrine, as it is found in Scripture, is tremendously important.

    The thing is, I’m not sure many people can agree on what those things are because it will upset their little club called church and its dogma called doctrine. For instance, you may believe that the reformed view is the way to go. (especially if you are from a reformed background or went to a reformed Bible school) and I can surely find people who believe that the reformed view is just shy of heresy. I’m trying to show how we get to our doctrine. Whether we like it or not our doctrine is found in in our interpretation. The list of things I’d be willing to die for is quite small. Beyond that I have doctrinal beliefs but I have to create room that I could be wrong.
    The thing is everyone believes that all of their doctrine is found in the Bible.

  8. Right. But, as you mentioned above, there are the things that are incontrovertible.

    Things like, Jesus is the only Way to the Father (John 14:6 says it straight out). Jesus is fully God (John 1:1-3). Jesus became completely human (John 1:14). Things like confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart that Jesus is Lord in order to receive salvation (Rom 10:9-10). I’m talking about “doctrine” in the sense of basic orthodoxy, what it means to be a Christian as opposed to being in a cult. The “doctrine” I’m referring to in my above comment is the stuff that is explicitly spelled out in Scripture referring to the nature of God (all three Persons of the Trinity) and salvation.

    But then we get to things like Calvinism (Reformed) versus Arminianism. The Bible does not straight out say that God chooses people to be saved or go to hell before they are born. Nor does it explicitly state that God waits around for people to make their descision to accept or reject Him before He can do anything with their life. This is stuff that does depend greatly on interpretation, and this is the stuff that should not become the defining factors of our faith.

    I totally agree that we (believers at large) can get way too defensive about things that don’t matter in light of eternity. The list of things we are willing to die for should be quite small, because the Gospel is quite simple. I completely agree that we need to have the humility to be willing to reexamine our theological position when it’s on something of more subjective interpretation.

    My point in commenting above is that I, as a twenty-something year old, have been grieved to observe that most of my generation is all but biblically illiterate. If you pressed somebody about how they knew that Jesus was actually a literal human being, they probably wouldn’t know. If you pressed them as to how they knew He was fully God, they probably wouldn’t know, or if they did, they would not be able to identify where in the Bible it talks about it. They wouldn’t know if it was important that he actually raised from the dead or not. Yet these are pillars of our faith that we cannot afford to be unsure about.

    There is an increasing attack against Christianity, and most especially against the Person of Christ in our society. I have seen too many young people seriously shaken in their faith by this. I’m thinking of things like the DaVinci Code and the supposed Jesus Tomb in Jerusalem, where the claims are not even very substantial, and I’ve seen people actually unable to withstand the pressure. I don’t want to keep losing my brothers and sisters to a cynical, athiestic society that mocks God.

    I hope that helps bring clarity to my position.

  9. Doctrine (Latin: doctrina) is a code of beliefs or “a body of teachings” or “instructions”, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system.

    I have to say that this post has a very muddy effect on the topic. I was very confused at every point in reading this post. But I am going to try to place some explanation from my view of this whole thing and hope that I don’t mess it up to much. I started out with looking up the word doctrine just to get an idea of what exactly I was trying to understand between the debate of scripture vs. doctrine. Now most people that are Christians believe that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God. There is total truth in the fact that in the translation of the original works there was some lost words or untranslatable phrases that would come across. But do we dare accuse the writings of being false or incorrect because of translation.

    Doctrine I find comes from an unquestionable fact of the way in which the system of religion has taken a path. The many doctrines that are taught are only reflections of a society or person(s) that has chosen to follow only parts of scripture(s). Taken out of context, any number of scriptures can be pieced together and made into a set of rules that whoever you can convince to follow will provide a sufficient doctrine.

    We must all come to an understanding that each of us should take the words of God and read them for ourselves, analyzing the meaning to us and live accordingly to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Doctrine is only as narrow as the mind that choses to embrace those ways of thinking.

  10. I think you should name your source where

    Erasmus actuall y said ” Hey I threw in this non authentic verse because it helps the cause of the Trinity.” Why would (or is it did?)God not preserve his perfect word and make it available to believers anyway? Not everyone who uses the KJV is in the Ruckman camp.

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