Posted in theology

“Preach the Bible not Doctrine”; “Bible, not Commentaries”

by Elizabeth Prata

OT Commentaries

If you’re on social media for any length of time, and you post anything mentioning doctrine, or speak of doctrine itself, invariably someone will make the comment that I put in the title “Preach the Bible not doctrine” (which is an actual quote from someone, though not aimed at me). Or they may say if you mention a commentary, “All you need is Jesus, not doctrine,” or “Read just the Bible, not theology.” “I prefer teachings of God to teachings of man”. That last one irks me in its self-righteous piety.

These are not right responses.

The Bible in 2 Timothy 3:16 makes the claim of itself, All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,

The word in Greek used there for ‘teaching’ IS doctrine. Strong’s explains,

1319 didaskalía (a feminine noun derived from 1321 /didáskō, “teach”) – properly applied-teaching; Christian doctrine (teaching) as it especially extends to its necessary lifestyle (applications).

We grow in the faith through teaching and learning. What we teach and learn IS doctrine, which is simply a teaching then applied to life.

If you explain who Jesus is, you’ve just explained the doctrine of Christology. If you say you’re a sinner, you just mentioned the doctrine of Hamartiology. If you say ‘I can’t wait for Jesus to return’, you’ve just delved into the doctrine of Eschatology.

From whence do you obtain this knowledge of Christ, sin, or His return? The Bible, through doctrine. AKA teaching.

I’ve often struggled with formulating a pithy response to someone who says to avoid doctrine or commentaries. I follow a man named Mckinley Caughman on social media. He often is engaged in apologetics regarding Calvinism. The other day he showed a photo of his hand holding a book on Calvinism and stated he was reading it on his break. The very first reply to his post was the quote in the title. In all-caps no less (which is the equivalent of shouting):


Mckinley Caughman replied to that in a way that I think speaks well to the issue. Here is his response:

“Sound doctrine is important because our faith is based on a specific message. The overall teaching of the church contains many elements, but the primary message is explicitly defined: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures [and] . . . he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is the unambiguous good news, and it is “of first importance.” Change that message, and the basis of faith shifts from Christ to something else. Our eternal destiny depends upon hearing “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13; see also 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

How do you know what the message IS unless you learn it or been taught it? And there you’ve gone and done it, dabbled in doctrine.

The word doctrine simply means “teaching.” And it’s ludicrous to say that Christ is anti-teaching. The central imperative of His Great Commission is the command to teach (Matthew 28:18–20).

John MacArthur, “Doctrine is Practical”

I hope that clarifies some things for you. The same goes for commentaries. Some say that “Commentaries are not Scripture, Scripture is Scripture.” Yes, read the Bible, first and foremost. But Jesus didn’t raise up pastors, teachers, and theologians who produced great works only to have them sink into obscurity right away. No, they are there for the edification of the saints. We benefit from their knowledge. Plus, their works provide a chain of history extending back to the beginning, which is also worthwhile.

Don’t you ever use reference materials in any of your other studies? Look at a published academic paper when you were in college? use an encyclopedia or Google to look up something? Use a dictionary or thesaurus? These are reference materials. So are commentaries.

So don’t be afraid to read a commentary or be put off by people who make you think that ‘doctrine’ is somehow a nasty word. Here are a few quotes,

Because of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, the central message of the Bible can indeed be understood through simply reading the text, with no outside helps. But that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from assistance. In fact, instead of preventing beneficial study, good commentaries can protect us from heretical interpretations, correct our personal biases, and help us come to the conclusions God intended when he wrote his Word.

Yes, Bring Commentaries to Bible Study Christine Gordon

Because of these barriers that can confuse the text for us, we need the help of people who have spent years studying the historical and literary contexts to help us. A good commentary or study Bible comes alongside us to help us unravel these mysteries so we can better understand and apply God’s Word.

Should I Use a Commentary for Bible Study? By Lara d’Entremont

1. Connect with God. This, of course, is our ultimate goal. God has chosen to communicate to us through his Word. Commentaries are singularly focused on understanding God’s Word and are written by men and women who have dedicated their lives to it. This is not just about mastering information, it is about letting God’s message penetrate our hearts and minds so we become more like him.

by Kevin R. O’Brien, Study Bible and Reference Brand Manager at Tyndale 


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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