“The Doctrine of Christ”

By Dudley Ross Spears

A Few More Thoughts

I just finished reading Ron Halbrook’s book, The Doctrine of Christ and Unity of the Saints. I really enjoyed the book, especially the documentation and valuable information it has. I recommend it to everyone. The greatest portion is devoted to an exposition of the expression, “the doctrine of Christ.” I thought he gave some excellent answers to the suppositions, conjectures and objections of those who are asserting that this expression is limited to the teaching about Christ and His Deity – that it was not intended to limit fellowship among those who may differ on particular things Jesus taught.

There are some who have criticized the book as hard to read, too scholarly and too many footnotes, which, say they, detract from the reading. Perhaps that is true, but my interest in the subject matter of the book made it easy to read and useful in learning. It has provoked me to do some more thinking on the subject, and I hope it will not be intrusive for me to submit a few of those thoughts to you in this article.

The word “doctrine” comes from two Greek words in the New Testament which have the same root meaning. That root meaning always has to do with the acts of teaching or the subject taught. The word “doctrine” is the equivalent of “teaching” and some translations use “teaching” where you find “doctrine” in the King James Version. The word seldom appears in the Old Testament. It is found in Deut. 32:2; Job 11:4; Prov. 4:2; Isa. 28:9; Isa. 29:24 and Jer. 10:8. I do not believe the Septuagint uses the Greek word that is used in the New Testament for “doctrine.” Even if that be true, there is something important to notice from the uses of the word in the Old Testament. “Doctrine,” like instruction, or the “message,” must always lend itself to learning, understanding and mental acumen. The reference to Isa. 28:9 is, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?” Doctrine is inseparably tied to imparting information, giving knowledge, the learning process, etc.

But what of the doctrine that is said to be “of Christ”? 2 John 9 says, “Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God” (ASV). Does it, as Halbrook has clearly shown, embrace all that Jesus taught and commissioned to be taught in His name? Or, is it limited to the teaching about Jesus and His Deity? Was it written to confine Christians to the teaching of Jesus and the apostles or was it written to offset certain first and second century heresies about the Deity of Christ? The evidence is in favor of the former and not the latter. This passage sets the basis of fellowship with God and all who are in the fellowship of the saved. It sets a confining limit to what we teach and practice with the fearful warning that those who go beyond and disregard what is in the teaching lose their fellowship with God and the saved.

The Halbrook book has a considerable amount of space devoted to the use of the genitive case in the Greek text. ,I do not claim to be a Greek grammarian, but there is an important idea that should be considered by those who study this question. A.T. Robertson, one of the most respected grammarians known, said that one could not determine if the genitive case was subjective or objective by the grammar. He affirmed that it must be determined by context alone. “The Subjective genitive. It can be distinguished from the objective use only by the context. Sometimes the matter is not clear. This genitive is the common possessive genitive looked at from another angle. In itself the genitive is neither subjective nor objective, but lends itself readily to either point of view. The subjective genitive can indeed be applied to the merely possessive genitive noted above” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, page 499).

Robertson cited a few examples of his statement. He said, “doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1) is an example of the subjective genitive. This means that the “doctrines of demons” has reference to the subject matter taught by demons or doctrines that demons representatively expounded through their ministers. One could not successfully argue that the expression, “doctrines of demons,” meant several doctrines all having to do with the nature and personality of demons. In H.A.W. Meyer’s fine commentary there is a quotation from a scholar named Heydenreich as saying, “doctrines regarding demons, a characteristic of Essene-gnostic heretics who spoke so much of the higher world of spirits or aeons.” Then Meyer adds, “The demons are the source of the doctrines which are opposed to the truth.”

Those who argue that the “doctrine of Christ” is limited teaching concerning Christ and His Deity must affirm that the genitive case here in 2 John 9 is objective and not subjective. Thus, Christ is the object of the doctrine, and not the source of it. But is there anything in the context which would force anyone to that conclusion? Or, is there objection to the statement of Robertson that context is the only way to determine the difference in subjective and objective genitive? If not, then it is really one giant assumption to say it is objective genitive, thus merely a teaching that has Christ as the object and not the source.

There is a passage of Scripture that is almost identical to 2 John 9, particularly the phrase, “doctrine of Christ.” It is as follows:

4. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.

5. And when they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John as their attendant.

6. And when they had gone through the whole island unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Jesus;

7. Who was with the proconsul, Serguis Paulus, a man of understanding. The same called unto him Barnabas and Saul, and sought to hear the word of God.

8. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith.

9. But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him,

10. and said, O full of all guile and all villany, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?

11. And now, behold the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.

12. Then the proconsul when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.’

The reader should notice that I have emphasized a few phrases in this passage. They are “the word of God,” “the faith,” and the “right ways of the Lord.” All of them mean exactly what is meant in verse 12, “the teaching of the Lord.” It is parallel to 2 John 9. Notice:

The Doctrine (teaching) of Christ – 2 John 9

The Doctrine (teaching) of the Lord – Acts 13:12

Summing up Acts 13, “the faith” is the same as “the teaching of the Lord.” That means all that is included in the system of faith. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Faith is produced by apostolic preaching and we walk by faith in following the teaching Jesus and the apostles did (2 Cor. 5:7). If it means a teaching done by the Lord and His apostles in Acts 13:12, that is precisely what it means in 2 John 9. Back to the grammar – they are both examples (from context) of the subjective genitive.

There is another place where a similar expression is found. Jesus wrote to the church at Pergamos of those who held the “doctrine (teaching) of the Nicolaitans” and “the teaching of Balaam.” Surely we will not say that the “teaching of Balaam” was a detailed examination of the personality, character and habits of this man Balaam – indeed subject matter is here under consideration again. The subject matter related to Balaam and the philosophy of the Nicolaitans.

Some of the commentators throw interesting light on the expression, “Teaching of Balaam” and “Teaching of the Nicolaitans.” Henry Swete wrote, “a party in the church at Pergamum which taught as Balaam had done ., . . Balaam made it his aim to teach Balak how to beguile Israel into the double sin of idolatry and fornication. The reference is to Num. xxxi. 16, where the sin of Peor is traced to Balaam’s suggestion” (The Apocalypse of St. John, page 36-37). Concerning the Nicolaitans he said, “that they were the spiritual descendents of the libertines who perverted the Pauline doctrine and against whom St. Paul strongly protests. In the next century these views were embraced by certain Gnostic teachers” (Ibid.), S.T. Bloomfield says, “. . . such doctrines as, like Balaam’s suggestion to Balak, breed iniquity among the people of God, by turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, which is in I Pet. ii, 10-15, and Jude 4, called the way or sinful course of Balaam.” These two scholars considered the teaching in both cases as subjective and not objective.

The doctrine of Christ is the sum total of all His teaching and it is given to us in the New Testament. When we act without any sanction or approval from Christ and His apostles, we “go beyond the doctrine of Christ” and lose our fellowship with God. God drew that line around the doctrine and prescribed the area within the doctrine as the ground on which fellowship with Him is established and held. Sometimes we must recognize that line and have no association with those who are not careful enough in what they teach and practice to stay within the boundary lines of the “doctrine of Christ.”

Truth Magazine XXIII: 48, pp. 774-775
December 6, 1979