DOCTRINE (διδασκαλία, διδαχή, basically meaning teaching, usually emphasizing the content of what is taught). These two words occur forty-eight times in the NT and are tr. “doctrine” in all but two instances in the KJV. The RSV and NEB more often tr. them “teaching” or “instruction.” There is no single OT word which means “doctrine,” but see תּוֹרָה, H9368, “law,” esp. in later Judaism; לָמַד, H4340, to “teach,” or “instruct” or “learn,” אֱמוּנָה, H575, “truth.”

In the Gr. world, teaching (esp. didaskalia) implied the communication of knowledge, either of an intellectual or technical nature. For the most part it had a clear intellectual character.

Among the Jews, esp. in the OT, teaching served not for the communication of religious truth, but rather to bring the one taught into direct confrontation with the divine will. What is taught are the commandments; what is expected is obedience. Thus Moses is taught what he should do (Exod 4:15), and he in turn teaches Israel the commandments (Deut 4:1, 5, et al.), which they likewise are to teach to their children (Deut 6:1, 6, 7, et al.). Therefore, although a “doctrine” of the unity of God or of divine election is presupposed in OT teaching, such teaching is not the communication of such “doctrines” but instruction in the divine will.

For the most part the NT use of didaskalia and didachē corresponds more to the OT idea than to the Gr. That is, teaching usually implies the content of ethical instruction and seldom the content of dogmas or the intellectual apprehension of truth. For example, in the Pastoral Epistles “sound doctrine” which is “in accordance with the glorious gospel” is contrasted with all kinds of immoral living (1 Tim 1:9-11; cf. 6:1, 3; Titus 1:9; 2:1-5, 9, 10). Also the later work entitled the Didachē, or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a manual of ethical instruction and church discipline with scarcely any theological content.

In the NT this usage is strengthened by the relationship of didachē to kerygma, or preaching. It was by means of the kerygma that men were brought to faith in Christ (1 Cor 1:21); and the content of that kerygma included the essential data of the Christian message: the life, work, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s decisive act for man’s salvation (cf. Acts 2:14-36). Those who responded to the preaching would then be instructed in the ethical principles and obligations of the Christian life (2:42).

This relationship may be seen throughout the NT. Thus Jesus “preaches” the in-breaking of the kingdom of God (Matt 4:17; 11:28). Men are called to decision by His mighty words and deeds. But His teaching, which astonished the crowds for its authority, was replete with ethical demands (cf. the sixfold “you have heard that it was said...but I say to you” in Matt 5). So also Paul in his epistles often followed the kerygmatic content of his gospel with its ethical demands (Rom, Gal, Eph, Col). Such ethical demands were seen as the inevitable corollary of response to the kerygma.

One may note, therefore, that “doctrine” in contemporary parlance would derive more from the content of the kerygma than from the didachē in the NT.

However, since ethical instruction, or obedience to the divine will in the NT is so closely related to response to the preaching with its “doctrinal” content, it is not surprising that teaching itself eventually came to include the essential data of the faith. Thus “the elder” uses didachē to refer to the truth of the incarnation, belief in which, of course, should eventuate in love (2 John 9, 10).

This latter meaning of “teaching,” as including the essential beliefs of the Christian faith, ultimately prevailed in the Early Church and continues in vogue today by the tr. of “doctrine” for didachē and didaskalia.


K. H. Rengstorff, διδάσκω, G1438, TDNT, II (1935), 135-165; C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (1936); id. Gospel and Law (1951); D. M. Stanley, “Didache As a Constitutive Element of the Gospel-Form,” CBQ, XVII (1955), 216-228; J.-L. Leuba, “Teaching,” VB (Fr. orig. 1956), 414-416; J. J. Vincent, “Didactic Kerygma in the Synoptic Gospels,” SJT, X (1957), 262-273; E. F. Harrison, “Some Patterns of the New Testament Didache,” BS, CXIX (1961), 118-128; O. A. Piper, “Gospel (Message),” IDB (1962), II, 442-448; P. H. Menoud, “Preaching,” IDB (1962), III, 868, 869.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

dok’-trin: Latin doctrina, from doceo, "to teach," denotes both the act of teaching and that which is taught; now used exclusively in the latter sense.

1. Meaning of Terms:

(1) In the Old Testament for

(a) leqach "what is received," hence, "the matter taught" (De 32:2; Job 11:4; Pr 4:2; Isa 29:24, the American Standard Revised Version "instruction");

(b) she-mu`ah, "what is heard" (Isa 28:9, the Revised Version (British and American) "message," the Revised Version, margin "report");

(c) mucar, "discipline" (Jet 10:8 margin), "The stock is a doctrine" (the Revised Version British and American) "instruction" of vanities, i. e. "The discipline of unreal gods is wood (is like themselves, destitute of true moral force" (BDB)).

(2) In the nodetitle for

(i) didaskalia =

(a) "the act of teaching" (1Ti 4:13,16; 5:17; 2Ti 3:10,16), all in the Revised Version (British and American) "teaching";

(b) "what is taught" (Mt 15:9; 2Ti 4:3). In some passages the meaning is ambiguous as between (a) and (b).

(ii) didache, always translated "teaching" in the Revised Version (British and American), except in Ro 16:17, where "doctrine" is retained in the text and "teaching" inserted in the margin =

(a) the act of teaching (Mr 4:2; Ac 2:42, the King James Version "doctrine");

(b) what is taught (Joh 7:16,17; Re 2:14,15,24, the King James Version "doctrine"). In some places the meaning is ambiguous as between (a) and (b) and in Mt 7:28; Mr 1:22; Ac 13:12, the manner, rather than the act or matter of teaching is denoted, namely, with authority and power.

2. Christ’s Teaching Informal:

The meaning of these words in the New Testament varied as the church developed the content of its experience into a system of thought, and came to regard such a system as an integral part of saving faith (compare the development of the meaning of the term "faith"):

(1) The doctrines of the Pharisees were a fairly compact and definite body of teaching, a fixed tradition handed down from one generation of teachers to another (Mt 16:12, the King James Version "doctrine"; compare Mt 15:9; Mr 7:7).

(2) In contrast with the Pharisaic system, the teaching of Jesus was unconventional and occasional, discursive and unsystematic; it derived its power from His personality, character and works, more than from His words, so that His contemporaries were astonished at it and recognized it as a new teaching (Mt 7:28; 22:33; Mr 1:22,27; Lu 4:32). So we find it in the nodetitle, and the more systematic form given to it in the Johannine discourses is undoubtedly the work of the evangelist, who wrote rather to interpret Christ than to record His ipsissima verba (Joh 20:31).

3. Apostolic Doctrines:

The earliest teaching of the apostles consisted essentially of three propositions:

(a) that Jesus was the Christ (Ac 3:18);

(b) that He was risen from the dead (Ac 1:22; 2:24,32); and

(c) that salvation was by faith in His name (Ac 2:38; 3:16). While proclaiming these truths, it was necessary to coordinate them with Hebrew faith, as based upon Old Testament revelation.

The method of the earliest reconstruction may be gathered from the speeches of Peter and Stephen (Ac 2:14-36; 5:29-32; 7:2-53). A more thorough reconstruction of the coordination of the Christian facts, not only with Hebrew history, but with universal history, and with a view of the world as a whole, was undertaken by Paul. Both types of doctrine are found in his speeches in Acts, the former type in that delivered at Antioch (Ac 13:16-41), and the latter in the speeches delivered at Lystra (Ac 14:15-17) and at Athens (Ac 17:22-31). The ideas given in outline in these speeches are more fully developed into a doctrinal system, with its center removed from the resurrection to the death of Christ, in the epistles, especially in Galatians, Romans, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. But as yet it is the theological system of one teacher, and there is no sign of any attempt to impose it by authority on the church as a whole. As a matter of fact the Pauline system never was generally accepted by the church. Compare James and the Apostolic Fathers.

4. Beginnings of Dogma: