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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Bible Basics: An Introduction to Christian Beliefs

Don Stewart :: What Basic Assumptions Should Be Made Before Studying Christian Doctrine?

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What Basic Assumptions Should Be Made Before Studying Christian Doctrine?

Bible Basics – Question 4

Before one begins the study of Christian doctrine there are a number of basic assumptions, or starting points, that need to be made. They include the following:

1. The God of the Bible Exists

The first assumption must be that the God of the Bible exists. This is primary. We cannot properly study Christian doctrine, or Christian teaching, unless we assume that God actually exists.

In addition, it must be assumed that He is the only God who exists. There is no other God; either lesser or greater than He. This is our starting point.

2. God Has Spoken in the Bible

Not only does the God of the Bible exist, it should also be assumed that God has spoken to humanity by means of a number of sacred writings. These writings have been collected into one Book; the Bible.

3. God Has Spoken Truthfully

It is essential to believe that God has spoken truthfully to humanity. It is not enough to believe that He has spoken; one must also believe that everything God has said is truthful; He is not a God who would lie in His communication to humanity.

4. The Old Testament Is Interpreted by the New Testament

One basic rule of the interpretation of the Bible is that the Old Testament must be fully interpreted in light of the New Testament. The New Testament is the later, fuller revelation from God. It fulfills what the Old Testament predicts and anticipates. Consequently, the Old Testament must be viewed in the light of the New Testament to understand its complete meaning.

5. It Is Proper to Cite Proof Texts to Establish Doctrine

When establishing Christian doctrine, it is proper to cite individual verses, or proof texts. This is an acceptable practice. The idea is to collect all the passages that deal with a particular topic and then summarize the results.

There Are a Number of Questions to Be Asked When Citing Proof Texts

While it is acceptable to cite proof texts to establish Christian doctrine, a number of questions need to be asked. They include the following:

1. Is God, or One of His Spokesmen, Doing the Speaking?

To begin with, it must be determined if God is actually speaking, or one of His hand-picked spokesmen. The Bible contains the speech of hundreds of people and not all of them were speaking God’s truth. Only certain individuals were chosen by the Lord to speak His truth.

For example, in the Book of Job, the discussion between Job and his three friends was called, by God, “words without knowledge.” Scripture says:

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (Job 38:1-2 NIV)

Consequently, all the statements made in this section of Scripture cannot be used to derive doctrines about who God is and what He does. There is truth mixed with error in what these people said. Therefore, their words must be evaluated in light of other portions of Scripture where we know that the Lord has spoken.

2. Is the Spokesmen Actually Speaking for the Lord?

There is also the need to determine whether one of God’s prophets, or spokesmen, was actually speaking for the Lord when the statement was recorded. We know that on one occasion the prophet Nathan spoke presumptuously when he claimed to speak for the Lord. The account is as follows.

David asked Nathan if he could build a temple for the Lord. Nathan told David the Lord wanted him to go ahead. That night the Lord appeared to Nathan and told him that He did not want David to build Him a temple. Therefore, the original word of the prophet was not divinely given. Thus, the context will determine whether the statements in any part of Scripture are to be accepted as God’s divine truth or merely the thoughts of humans.

3. Does the Verse Clearly Teach the Doctrine?

When looking at a particular verse as a proof text, it should be determined if the verse clearly teaches a doctrine. The verses that contain clear statements can, and should, be used to compile Christian doctrine.

4. Is There a Clear Inference in the Text?

If there is not a clear statement about a particular doctrine, then is there a clear inference? When a passage clearly infers Christian truth, then it can be used as a proof text.

5. Is There Some Type of Inference in the Text?

After the categories of clear statements and clear inferences comes the category of general inferences. Does the text infer some Christian truth? Passages in this category do not lend as strong a support as those that have clear statements and clear inferences.

We must be careful about using these types of statements to compile Christian doctrine. Thus, we must ask ourselves, “Does the passage really infer something, or is there some other possible way of understanding it?”

Doctrine should, therefore, be compiled from clear statements and clear inferences. Inferences that may or may not be that clear should be used cautiously.

The Scriptures Must Be Interpreted in Their Normal Sense

Finally, when interpreting the Scripture to establish Christian doctrine, we must interpret the language in its normal sense. This has also been called the “historical-grammatical method.” Simply stated, it means that we interpret the Bible as we would any other writing. We understand the words in their normal sense, unless something in the context tells us otherwise.

These are some of the basic assumptions that believers should use when attempting to put together a system of Christian doctrine. While not exhaustive, this list provides a good starting point for establishing what the Bible teaches about the subjects it deals with.

Summary – Question 4
What Basic Assumptions Should Be Made Before Studying Christian Doctrine?

Before establishing Christian doctrine, it is important that we make a few basic assumptions. They are as follows:

First, we should assume that the God of the Bible exists. This is primary.

In addition, He has spoken to humanity in one Book alone; the Bible. Indeed, no other source, written or oral, can rightfully be called the Word of God.

Furthermore, He has spoken truthfully in Scripture. Everything He teaches is the truth. There should be no question about this. When examining the Bible to compile doctrine, the Old Testament should be interpreted in light of the New Testament. The Old Testament is incomplete and the New Testament is based upon the Old. In other words, we need both.

Proof texts from Scripture, can and should be used to compile doctrine. There are statements in the Bible which we can trust.

However, these proof texts must come from statements of the Lord or from His chosen spokesmen. Statements of unbelievers have no divine authority.

In addition, these statements should be meant to teach God’s truth.

Doctrines should only be compiled from clear statements of Scripture or clear inferences. We should not attempt to compile doctrines out of obscure teachings.

These are some of the basic starting points that should be used when someone wants to study the Scripture and compile Christian doctrine.

What Source or Sources Should Be Used to Compile Christian Doctrine? (The Bible or the Church?) ← Prior Section
What Is the Place of Tradition in Determining Christian Doctrine? Next Section →
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