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Why there are Differences in Biblical Doctrines


1. We must be tolerant!

     There are certain doctrines about which we are and must be absolutely final, and they are the doctrines that are essential to the way of salvation. There must be no disputing about the person of Jesus Christ, about the miraculous and the supernatural, about the substitutionary death upon the cross and about the literal, physical resurrection. There is no argument there. This is final. This is absolute.

     But, there are certain matters in the Scriptures about which we cannot speak with absolute finality. There are certain things about which equally saintly and capable men and women are not agreed and cannot agree. That is why there are differences in Biblical Doctrines amongst Christians

     With regard to matters where we cannot be final and absolute, let us be sympathetic. Let us be tolerant. Let us admit our inability to prove. Let us together enjoy the great salvation in Christ in which we all participate.


2. Why a clear understanding of Biblical Doctrines is important?

     What a man believes does matter. What a man believes in detail does count. What a man believes is going to determine his conduct. His conduct is determined by what he believes, so false teachings or misguided beliefs are going to lead to wrong conduct. A man who is loose in doctrine eventually becomes loose also in his life and in his behaviour. We cannot believe a wrong thing and still live a right life, says Paul. Why? Because `evil communications corrupt good manners' (1 Corinthians 15:33 KJV). Doctrine and conduct are indissolubly linked. Thus what a man believes is ultimately going to determine his life.


3. Where do we start on Biblical Doctrines?

     We start with the Bible. In its essence, the Bible is the grand story of redemption. It is the history of what God has done about men and women as the result of their sin, and everything else that we find in the Bible is, in reality, incidental to that. The Bible is concerned with presenting to us the message of redemption by God and from God. It is done in a way that we can understand and see and believe. So when we talk about biblical doctrines we mean these aspects of redemption which are unfolded to us in the Bible. They are the various truths that we find in the Bible about this great question of redemption.


4. Can we accept the Bible’s testimony about itself?

     We need to start by believing that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 TEV) And that "Everything written in the Scriptures was written to teach us, in order that we might have hope through the patience and encouragement which the Scriptures give us." (Romans 15:4 TEV) St Paul says “I have complete confidence in the Gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. For the Gospel reveals how God puts people right with Himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the Scripture says, ‘The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.’”(Romans 1:16-17 TEV) 
   Thus, what the Bible claim is that all it contains is an inspired record by God. Therefore it is an infallible record. The Bible claims that it is not only the record of divine revelation. It goes on to claim that it is God’s Word. It claims to be divinely inspired, and its authority is based upon that. We therefore have to accept it as full and final and infallible in all matters of faith and practice.


5. What does the Bible mean by inspired record?

     Inspired really means ‘God-breathed’. It means that God breathed these messages into men and through them wrote the Scriptures. These Scriptures are the result of that divine action. We believe that they were produced by the creative breath of the almighty God. We mean that the Scriptures are a divine product breathed out by God. We mean that everything we have here has been given by God to man. And, of course, this obviously carries with it the idea that this is true of every particular word. So we have to try to demonstrate that the Bible claims for itself what is called verbal inspiration. It is not merely that the thoughts are inspired, not merely the ideas, but the actual record, down to the particular words. It is not merely that the statements are correct, but that every word is divinely inspired.

     By verbal inspiration we do not mean that the writers sat down, as it were, as a shorthand-writer does, and that God dictated all the words to them. The difference of style between the writers is evidence that that is not the case. We notice that each one seems to have his own idiosyncrasies and habits, his own individual style. We can tell at once that something has been written by Paul rather than by Peter or John.

     So our whole conception of inspiration must allow not only for the individual writer and his characteristics, but also for his research, intuitive insight and for his consulting of other authorities. What, then, does divine inspiration mean? It means that the writer has been controlled by the Holy Spirit of God in such a way that he cannot be guilty of error in what he writes.

     There have been many illustrations of this. The best is the one that thinks of it in terms of a man on horseback riding from one place another. Today he rides one horse, then tomorrow he takes the same journey but on a different horse. The horse he rides today is high-spirited, full of verve and of power. The horse he will ride tomorrow is rather older and has become tired and lethargic. Now in both instances the man riding the horse goes to and from the same places, but the particular way in which the two horses carry him may be altogether different. One may prance about a good deal, but he is kept on the route until he reaches the destination. The mannerisms---the style, as it were---vary tremendously, but both horses are guided and controlled by the same rider, and the result is the same.

     Verbal inspiration means that the Holy Spirit has thus overruled and controlled and guided these men, even in the choice of particular words, in such a way as to prevent any error, and above all to produce the result that was originally intended by God.


6. What do we mean when we talk about Biblical Doctrines?

     The answer is that the Bible is particularly concerned about teaching certain truths. All its teaching is designed to a certain end. It is a book which has a very definite objective. The Bible is concerned with putting before us its doctrines. The doctrines are the particular truths or various truths which it wants to emphasise and to impress upon the minds of all of us.


7. Did the Early Christians believe in the exactly the same truths or doctrines?

      In the early Churches there were people, all claiming to believe the truth, but some, says John, had left them: `They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. . .Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son' (1 John 2:19, 22 NKJV). Therefore, some were guilty of error and of heresy somewhere or another.

      As it was in the days of the early Church, so it is still today. Do we know what we believe and why we believe it? Do we believe in what we ought to believe? We must be in a position to explain to people where they go wrong and where they are not biblical, and to help them to understand the source of their error.


8. What are the differences between Biblical Doctrines and theology?

      Biblical doctrines confine itself to what the Bible says and to what the Bible alone says and nothing else.

      Now theology does not do that; it takes in a wider field. Theology starts by saying that God has not only revealed Himself in the Bible, but in history. He reveals Himself experientially in experience, and theology says that before it gives you biblical doctrine, biblical dogma, it must take into consideration these other aspects of revelation. Of course, theology includes that as well, but theology includes more than the Bible. In other words, the theologian does something like this: he goes to the Bible; he studies it; he traces and extracts its doctrines or he considers what somebody else has already done. He then proceeds to reflect upon these doctrines; he thinks about them and analyses them. He tries to bring them into a scheme. He brings in philosophy, which means human thought and thinking, and he takes all these things together and reflects upon them, and the end of that process is what is called theology.


9. How Biblical Doctrines are found?

     We need to see that spiritual things must be understood in a spiritual way. Therefore we start always by asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, to illumine us, to keep us from error and subtle dangers and to lead us into all truth. Then, having done that, we come to our Bible; and, with a mind which already knows its limits, and which is thus enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we begin to discover the doctrines of the Bible.

     What we do is: we discover every statement that we can find in the Bible on a particular subject; we collect the texts and we compile and collate them. Then, we proceed to discover the doctrine which lies at the foundation. We ask: What is the doctrine they are expounding? What are they telling us? What is this basic something that is common to all these statements? How do we find the doctrine that is in them?

     There are two main ways we arrive at the doctrines. Sometimes it is quite a simple matter to deduce the doctrine from the statements. We just look at the statements, and we say, `It inevitably means this and this.' That is deduction---we draw out the meaning.

     But there is another method, and that is called `induction'. Take for an example of induction the doctrine of the Trinity. You will not find the doctrine of the Trinity stated either implicitly or explicitly anywhere in the Bible. But you will find that there are references to `God the Father', ---`God the Son', and `God the Holy Spiritt'---and, having come across these statements, you say to yourself, `Now I adduce the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is One yet three Persons. That is not deduction, it is induction. You are building up the doctrine from certain statements. So we arrive at your doctrine by the two processes of deduction and induction.


10. What are the general rules to observe to arrive at the Biblical Doctrines?

       First, any doctrine that we claim to believe is from the Bible must always be clearly found in the Bible. It must be capable of demonstration from the Bible. If we cannot prove that the doctrine which we do hold is found in the Bible then we must reject it. If it cannot be proved and established in and from the Scripture, it must be rejected.

       Second, the doctrine must be plain and clear in the Scriptures. True scriptural doctrine is always plain and clear. Scripture itself emphasises that everywhere. It presumes it.

       The epistles were not written to professors of doctrine at Oxford and Cambridge, but to slaves, and to common, ordinary people! We should be able to arrive at the meaning of the doctrine from the text of the passage. We need no special authority to dictate to us in these matters. The apostle John says that we have no need of teaching in that sense because of this anointing. ‘you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him' (1 John 2:27 NKJV). These documents were written for ordinary people like us, and we and they were meant to understand them.

       Third, we must never found our doctrine on just one statement in the Bible, still less on part of a statement. There are people who have gone wrong because they have done this, sometimes even relying on half a verse. They forget the other half because this is the one that suits them. That is something we must never do.

       Fourth, we must never arrive at any conclusion from Scripture which makes us contradict something which is stated in Scripture. We must always compare Scripture with Scripture. We must be `workmen' who are `rightly dividing the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15 NKJV). That is a scriptural exhortation. So if we have arrived at a doctrine, and then find that something else clearly stated in the Bible is contradicted, then we know that our doctrine must be wrong. The Bible is one great message. It always forms a complete whole, so that one point must never contradict another. It is amazing to notice in the history of the Church how some of the chief heresies have arisen because great men have forgotten this simple rule.


11. Are we to accept what cannot be fully understood or explained?

       We are going to try to know God, and to study the doctrine concerning Him, and it must be the case that these truths are beyond our total understanding. If I could understand God, I would be equal with Him. If my mind were able to comprehend and to span the whole truth about God, then it would mean that my mind is equal to the mind of God, and that, of course, is absolutely wrong.

       So we must accept truths where we cannot even understand them or fully explain them. Not only must we agree that we cannot, of necessity, understand everything, but also, when we come up against particular doctrines and truths, we must accept them if they are in the Bible, irrespective of the fact that we can or cannot understand them. We accept on faith, which means that men and women decide deliberately to be content only with what they have in the Bible, and that they stop asking further questions.

       We can tell if a man is a true man of faith or not. Just listen to him. Some people are always asking questions: `But I do not see this, and I cannot understand that.' But faith means that we are content to be shut up to this book, and that we say quite readily, `God has revealed everything He wants to reveal, and everything that is good for me to know is in the Bible. If it is not in the Bible, I am content not to know it.' Bear that in mind, for instance, when we are discussing the problem of evil---how it entered into this world. The Bible does not tell us why God ever allowed it, and therefore if we take the faith position, we will not even ask questions about it. We are just content to say, `I do not know; the Bible doesn't tell me, and I know nothing beyond what the Bible does tell me.' This is a most important principle.

       We are ever ready to reject certain doctrines, or, perhaps, if we do not actually reject them, we hesitate to believe them, though they are clearly taught in the Bible. We do this because we cannot understand them, or because we cannot explain them, or because they do not seem to fit into our scheme of things. Quite often when we confront people with a specific statement from the Bible, instead of saying, `Well, I am prepared to believe that though I do not understand it,' they say, `But, if that is right, then how can God be a God of love?' or something like that. The moment they speak like that they are speaking as philosophers, and if we examine ourselves we will find it is something that we do quite frequently.

       Indeed, many of us are very often guilty of being most inconsistent at this point. We argue with a so-called modern ‘computer geek’ and we say, `Fancy! He doesn't believe in miracles, and he doesn't believe in the supernatural, because he says he cannot understand a miracle'---and we denounce that. Yes; but sometimes when we come up against some of these great terms, which we will find in the first chapter of Ephesians, like predestined and elect according to the foreknowledge of God, we begin to say, `Well, if that is right I don't see how God is fair,' and so on.

       That is exactly the same thing as our ‘geek’ friend was doing with regard to miracles. We see it very clearly in his case because we happen to believe in miracles and he does not. But when it is a doctrine we do not understand or take to so readily, we use exactly the same argument as the ‘geek’ who brings out his philosophy. So this is something that applies to all of us. So, we must not hesitate to believe a doctrine because we cannot fit it in; neither must we reject a doctrine because we cannot understand it. If this is the truth of God, and the thing is clearly taught in the Bible, then we are to accept it whether we understand it or not.


12. Why there are differences in the Biblical Doctrines

       We must start by acknowledging that Christian writers will have different ways to guide and help them to arrive at the Biblical Doctrines. We have to accept that there are bound to be various interpretations and reasons.

       The first reason is that some people based their doctrine exclusively on Scripture. To them it must be pure, unadulterated Scripture. Not only will they reject all doctrine that has come from outside the Scriptures, they will not accept a doctrine that is partly scriptural and partly something else. But there are people who will insist God is not bound within the covers of His Book, or they base their doctrine on one text or on revelations of the Holy Spirit, or on something like that. If people do such things, there must be differences of opinion. So, we have two schools of thought without going any further.

       Another cause for differences is that there is always this tendency to start with a theory, and, having started, people try to fit in Scripture into their theory. They do not base all their doctrines upon the Bible. They claim that some doctrines have come to them from outside the Bible, and that what is given is equal to what is found in the Bible. It is vital that we do not come with preconceived ideas and prejudices and philosophical theories as this is a very prolific cause of trouble and disputation.

       Another way in which people arrive at these differences is that very often they elaborate their theory on details about which there can be no certainty. An illustration of that is the word `prophecy'. Perhaps this is the greatest danger where this subject is concerned. When we study prophecy we tend to elaborate on details about which no one can be absolutely certain. People say, `I am certain,' and then out comes the theory. But if we cannot demonstrate the points from the Bible, we have no right to elaborate a theory.

      Another cause of trouble is that people will persist in taking as literal that which is obviously meant to be symbolical.

      And lastly, of course, is vested interest or the party spirit. It is the greatest curse of denominationalism that we start with certain prejudices because we were brought up with them, and our fathers believed in them, and we say they must be defended at all costs. That is a terrible way to approach God's truth. So let us pray to be delivered from this vested or party spirit and the prejudices that are always characteristic of such a spirit.


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