Four Characteristics of Sound Doctrine

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Four Characteristics of Sound Doctrine

Given all the teaching that we have put on this website in regard to heretics, wolves, and doctrinal error, it would seem to be more than a little appropriate to take some time to teach WHAT constitutes sound doctrine. Anything else would seem to be a bit unfair, as it leaves our readers without the tools for forming good teaching by which to live a pleasing life in Christ before God.

Now, I will not go into many doctrinal specifics within this post—except for the obvious one at hand: The doctrine of how to form good doctrine itself (with perhaps a few examples thrown in for good measure too). In short, what I want to do is teach the fundamentals regarding FORMING sound doctrine, and thus, reveal how any teaching can be evaluated to see if it is indeed sound or not. To begin this study, let’s first look at what Paul told Titus to do to ensure that he stayed on track, and provided sound exegesis to the believers in Crete.


Elements of Sound Doctrine

Note what Paul explained to his protege and partner in ministry:

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine:… in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

(An excerpt from Titus chapter 2, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Paul points out FOUR key things that constitute sound doctrine:

  1. Integrity
  2. Reverence
  3. Incorruptibility
  4. Sound speech, that cannot be “condemned”

Let’s look at these in order, and in the process explain a few subtopics that are directly related.


Integrity of Doctrine

The Greek word translated “integrity” above is adiaphthoria (Strong’s #90), and it means “incorruptibility, soundness, integrity.” It is derived from the Greek word, phtheirō (Strong’s #5351) which means “to corrupt, to destroy.” Thus, the integrity that we are talking about here is that which prevents corruption or destruction.

Thayer’s Lexicon goes on to explain about this root word phtheirō, “In the opinion of the Jews, the temple was corrupted or ‘destroyed’, when any one defiled, or in the slightest degree, damaged anything in it, or if its guardians neglected their duties.” In other words, if the integrity of the temple was compromised in any way, then the temple was “corrupted” or even “destroyed” in their minds, because absolute purity was dictated by God’s Law. You can see how the Jews demonstrated such an attitude in this famous passage from the Old Testament:

But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. So Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him were eighty priests of the LORD—valiant men. And they withstood King Uzziah, and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed! You shall have no honor from the LORD God.”

Then Uzziah became furious; and he had a censer in his hand to burn incense. And while he was angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead, before the priests in the house of the LORD, beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and there, on his forehead, he was leprous; so they thrust him out of that place. Indeed he also hurried to get out, because the LORD had struck him.

(2 Chronicles 26:16-20, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Uzziah was obviously breaching protocol by intruding into the holy place to burn incense, and the priest made it VERY clear that they intended to put a stop to that. However, the real urgency of the matter occurred when God struck him with leprosy (considered ceremonially “unclean” and a sign of cursing). The priests realized he was defiled, and that he was “corrupting” the Holy Place of the temple (sanctuary) which was directly before the curtain, behind which was the Holy of Holies where the Ark of God was kept. At that point, ALL conversation was OVER, and the priests attacked him to get him out of the holy place, which he had defiled.

(Oh, I pray that more righteous men and women of God would do that today, with regard to thrusting heretics out of pulpits once their contagious doctrinal “leprosy” became apparent—at least verbally, if not also physically removing them from the pulpit.)

Returning to our point about this Greek word adiaphthoria: For a doctrine to show “integrity” it must NOT be corrupted from biblical purity by any means. This is the point being conveyed by the apostle Paul to Titus when he told him, “showing yourself a pattern of good works…[and] in doctrine showing integrity.”

To make this point even more clear, we need to look at the English word “integrity” a bit more, because the sense of that word being used here in the English translation of the Bible is NOT that which is commonly used within everyday speech. It is derived from the Latin word integritās, which means, “complete , whole, entire, intact” (Cassell’s Latin Dictionary). Consequently, the meaning of the word we are focusing upon is, “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished,” (

For Christian doctrine to be biblical, it MUST have integrity; It must be “complete”; It must be “whole”; It must be “entire”; And it must be “intact.”  This necessitates internal integrity (that the doctrine is logically sound, and not  self-contradictory) as well as biblical integrity (that the doctrine agrees with the whole of Scripture, including ALL the passages directly or indirectly related to that topic). Let’s look at something else that Paul said, and then build upon this concept some more…


The Whole Counsel of God

In Acts chapter twenty we see that Paul called the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him in Miletus, at which time he reviewed his ministry before them in order to emphasize the example they were to follow:

“You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ….

…Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

(An excerpt from Acts chapter 20, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Paul pointed out that he held back NOTHING that was “profitable” to their spiritual welfare, and that he did not refrain from declaring the “whole counsel of God” to the people he preached and taught. So here is another, and related, major key:

In order to have biblical integrity, the doctrine must be based upon the whole of Scripture and NOT merely a few “proof” texts. In other words, it cannot ignore, and thus,  fail to reconcile, passages that may challenge that alleged doctrine; but it must endeavor to account for all relevant precepts and examples from Scripture, in order to PROVE both balance and integrity.

Let me illustrate that by citing an example. Did you know that the “prosperity gospel” heretics actually have ADMITTED that their doctrine is in error, and does NOT accurately reflect the mind of God on financial matters? I once heard Joel Osteen say something within a TV interview that went something like, “I know that there are people who look at other passages in the Bible that talk about poverty and trials, but we choose to look at the other passages and believe this way.” In short, he has declared:

  • He knows that there are passages in the Bible than conflict with his teaching on prosperity.
  • He has ignored those passages in forming his own doctrine.
  • He has chosen to emphasize passages that confirm his doctrine instead.
  • And thus, logically, he has admitted that he does NOT accurately convey the mind of God on that subject, because he has not accounted for everything God has said about it and related topics.

To illustrate this further, let’s say that you spoke publicly seven things about a subject:

  1. You like pickles on sandwiches.
  2. You like pickles so much, that you eat them often right out of the jar.
  3. You do not understand why everybody doesn’t like pickles.
  4. However, you do not like pickles on hamburgers or hotdogs.
  5. You think it is ridiculous to put pickles into meat loaf, or within most dinner casseroles.
  6. You hate pickles in salad.
  7. If it came to a choice between pickles and other types of food, you would certainly reject the pickles in order to eat what would be best for your body.

Now along comes Joel, and he decides that he likes your first three statements, but not your last four. So he goes around telling everyone that you are so in love with pickles, that you are constantly devouring them. In fact, you love them so much, you think everybody is crazy who does not eat them all the time like you do. After a while, Joel gives you the reputation of being a “pickle fanatic” and people start to wonder if you have some nutritional deficiency (or mental problems), because you seem to be totally CONSUMED with the idea of eating pickles. Some become concerned for you, in fact, because they believe you will eventually end up in the hospital if you do not get a proper diet.

Has Joel accurately conveyed your thoughts in pickles in the example above? No, he misrepresented your ideas about pickles by emphasizing some points while totally ignoring others. Has he given others an accurate representation of your character and life? No, because you discuss MANY other issues, and live your life in MANY ways, that have NOTHING to do with pickles. You have family; you have friends; you have a job, ministry, or business (at least hopefully you have some of these, at a minimum); you may even have hobbies that you enjoy. “Pickles” are NOT the sum total of who you are. However, by majoring on that one unbalanced point, Joel has given everyone the idea that you think of nothing else but pickles.

In this same way, Joel Osteen has misrepresented God and His character through the false “prosperity” teaching that he propagates, because Joel has totally ignored MANY passages of Scripture that deal with monetary issues, covetousness, sacrifice, persecution, and other things, in order to promote his “preferred” doctrine instead. He does not even have the decency to acknowledge the supremacy of Jesus Christ in the salvation of souls. Thus, Joel is a heretic.

Thus, unlike the apostle Paul: Joel Osteen, and all other similar heretics, have blood on their hands.


Biblical and Internal Integrity


For a doctrine to have biblical integrity, it MUST agree with the whole of Scripture. The teacher must consider passages that seem at times to conflict with his or her understanding of certain principles, and then seek to reconcile these things in order to build a doctrine that accurately represents God’s expressed views on the subject (i.e. to the best of their ability). That is why Paul told Timothy:

Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15, KJV, modernized slightly for our foreign language translator, emphasis mine)

For a doctrine to ALSO have internal integrity, these various elements of Scripture need to be reconciled to the point that the teaching does not contradict itself. God is logical, and He created both mathematics (which is considered the most pure form of logic) and our minds (which are supposed to function logically, by accurately understanding connections between various ideas). Therefore, those who have truly good doctrine are those who are similarly logical:

Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.

And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”

(Excerpts from Acts 17:2-3, 17; 18:4, 19; 24:24-25, NKJV, emphasis mine)

In all the instances above (and many more I could have provided you), the Greek word translated as “reasoned” is dialegomai (Strong’s #1256), which means “to think different things with one’s self, mingle thought with thought; to ponder, resolve in mind.” Or in other words, Paul used LOGIC to first develop his own doctrine accurately from the WHOLE of the Scriptures, and then he conveyed that same LOGIC when reasoning with others about the Truth of the Gospel. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, must have similarly used both biblical and logical integrity to developed his own doctrine, because it says of him:

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.

(Acts 6:8-10, NKJV, emphasis mine)

The Greek word translated as “resist” above is anthistēmi (Strong’s #436), which means, “to set against, to set one’s self against, to withstand, resist, oppose.” In short, they could NOT refute his teaching and doctrine, because it was both irrefutably logical and thoroughly scriptural. That is the type of doctrine we should base our lives upon, and not the “ear tickling” doctrines of demons which are lacking these very characteristics:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…

(1 Timothy 4:1-2, NKJV, emphasis mine)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

(2 Timothy 3:11-4:4 in a continuous quote, NKJV, emphasis mine)

If we are to be “sound in the faith” then we must be “sound in doctrine” by necessity. This can ONLY be achieved when our doctrine is based upon the WHOLE counsel of God, and demonstrates both biblical integrity (i.e. is truly scriptural) and internal integrity (i.e. is truly logical, and reflects sound reasoning from the Scriptures).


Well-Balanced, But Not Omniscient

This, however, brings me to a point that I need to address for a moment before we move on: None of us is omniscient (all knowing), and thus ALL of us are in error to some degree, as we press forward toward embracing absolute Truth. This is a point often overlooked, as people blind themselves from truth by assuming they already KNOW all truth:

Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”

But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

(Matthew 15:12-14, NKJV, emphasis mine)

I saw then in my dream so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch: that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished (Psalm 69:14- 15).

Again, behold, on the left hand, there was a very dangerous quagmire, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. Into that quagmire king David once did fall, and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not HE that is able plucked him out.

The pathway was here also exceeding narrow, and therefore good Christian was the more put to it; for when he sought, in the dark, to shun the ditch on the one hand, he was ready to tip over into the mire on the other; also when he sought to escape the mire, without great carefulness he would be ready to fall into the ditch. Thus he went on, and I heard him here sigh bitterly; for besides the dangers mentioned above, the pathway was here so dark, that ofttimes, when he lift up his foot to set forward, he knew not where, or upon what he should set it next.

(An excerpt from Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan)

Instead of acting like the Pharisees of long ago, we should not be so blind as to assume that we possess all truth. Those religious men were “offended” at something that God Himself had said…not realizing Who He really was, because of their own blind conceit and ignorance.

Thus, while we need to be sure of what constitutes SOUND doctrine—and distinguish that from what truly constitutes heresy and/or gross error—we need to avoid the “quagmire” of pride, by realizing that NONE of us are omniscient. All of us who love the Truth are pressing forward to understand that truth…but we do not yet understand ALL truth.

Like faithful Christian’s journey through the Valley of the Shadow of death, described in the citation above, we are to to walk the straight and NARROW way toward the Celestial City (i.e. Heaven) regardless of what darkness surrounds us. In so doing, we need to endeavor to stay in the MIDDLE of that narrow way, so as to avoid the ditches on either side:

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

(Matthew 7:13-14, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.

(1 Peter 5:8-9, AMP, emphasis mine)

Sound doctrine that possesses both biblical and internal integrity will also be BALANCED, and will carry the understanding that none of us omniscient. Sound doctrine will also keep in the center of the Narrow Way that leads us further and further into God’s Truth, as we head towards Eternity, where we will STILL be learning His absolute Truth:

[God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

(Ephesians 2:5-7, NKJV, bracketed clarification and emphasis added)


Three More Points

Returning now to our opening passage from Titus, let us pick up with our discussion and advance further:

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine:… in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

(An excerpt from Titus chapter 2, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Again, Paul points out FOUR things that constitute sound doctrine:

  1. Integrity (both types already discussed above, with some discourse on “balance” as well)
  2. Reverence
  3. Incorruptibility
  4. Sound speech, that cannot be “condemned”

Let’s now look at the last three of these.



The Greek word translated as “reverence” in the passage above is semnotēs (Strong’s #4587), which means, “that characteristic of a person or thing which entitles to reverence or respect, dignity, gravity, majesty, sanctity.” In other words, our doctrine should be reverent toward the LORD and show Him due regard for His majesty and dignity. We should not be like those who “pimp” their doctrines blasphemously, in order to “sell” it to the masses (or to pump up our own ego). We need to ensure that our doctrine is in accordance with a proper reverential fear of God, for it is HIM that we are to both serve and represent:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction….The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding….The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.

(Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

(2 Corinthians 5:20, NKJV, emphasis mine)

…and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

(Revelation 22:19, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Any and all self-serving doctrines are, by their very nature, irreverent. Thus, they are essentially blasphemous, as the Joel Osteen example above should suffice to illustrate clearly.

St. Augustine once said, “Pride is the mother of all heresies.” That is certainly biblical, as no heretic shows TRUE humility (thought they oftentimes show false humility) when they spread such doctrines. Such people do NOT have any reverence for the Lord because they do not have any genuine FEAR of God before their eyes, as the prophet said in the Psalm:

An oracle within my heart concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes,when he finds out his iniquity and when he hates. The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit; He has ceased to be wise and to do good.

(Psalm 36:1-3, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Did you notice how self-flattery (pride) went hand-in-hand with the wicked man’s verbal deception (which would include heresy)? Did you notice that ALL of this was predicated by the wicked person’s lack of the FEAR of God? The same thing is true with all heretics and wolves: They are WHAT they are, because they LACK the beginning of wisdom, which is the fear of God (see Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10)



The Greek word translated in this instance is different that the one for “integrity” before, though it is related. This Greek word is aphtharsia (Strong’s #861), which means, “incorruptibly, perpetuity” and is even used to discuss “the body of a man exempt from decay after the resurrection…of a blessed immortality.” In other words, our doctrine should be ETERNAL in its nature, and not merely a “fashion of the day” or “fad” that will soon pass.

Since the Word of God itself is ETERNAL, this should be an obvious point:

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.

(Psalm 119:89, NKJV, emphasis mine)

Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior…”

(Titus 1:1-3, NKJV, emphasis mine)

God Word is eternal, because His Word is a part of Himself (note John chapter 1). So His Word existed BEFORE time began, and at various points in time, He “manifested” His Word to humanity through the Holy apostles and prophets He chose to write the Bible. (See also 2 Peter 1:21.)

Thus, GOOD and accurate doctrine must be ETERNAL in that it can be applied today (i.e. within a modern context) as much as it could be when the Bible was written.

Any “fad” type of doctrines are demonic in their essence, and will soon pass as the next “fad” of popular teaching comes sweeping through like a new wind:

…for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect [mature] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—…”

(Excerpt from Ephesians chapter 4, NKJV, bracketed note and emphasis mine)

It is time for the Body of Christ to grow up…and sound doctrine is key to avoiding “windy” doctrinal “fads” that do nothing more than give spiritual “children” a sugar crash when the euphoria wears off.


Sound Speech, Which Cannot Be Condemned

And this brings us to our last point for sound doctrine: Sound speech. This phrase is a combination of two Greek words, actually:

  • hygiēs (Strong’s #5199), which means, “sound (as in body),” i.e. to be whole or even healthy.


  • logos (Strong’s #3056), which means “speech” in the general sense, but Thayer’s lexicon explains that it also means “a collecting, collection” referring to “those things which are put together in thought, as of those which, having been thought, i.e. gathered together in the mind, are expressed in words.” Thayer’s then continues to explain that logos can refer to either “a word” or even more fully, “what someone has said.” Thus, we can observer also WHY this Greek term is also used to describe the Bible in general: In reference to the Scriptures, it reflects the “collection” of what God has said.

Of course, sound speech can ONLY be possible if ALL the other key characteristics of sound doctrine are in place. So what is the Holy Spirit telling us with this about our doctrine? In conjunction with the previous terms He used, the Lord is telling us to:

  • Have “healthy” and “wholesome” speech, which is a collection of God’s thoughts…
  • That convey eternal doctrines (i.e. doctrines with no dependence upon time; not “fads”) which are based upon His Eternal truth (the word of God)…
  • That are reverential and based upon a godly fear of God, which honors His dignity and majesty, and…
  • That are based upon the WHOLE counsel of God, and possess both biblical integrity (i.e. harmony with the whole of Scripture) and internal integrity (i.e. are logical, and not self-contradictory), and which is DEMONSTRATED by proper balance (i.e. an aversion to the “ditches” of error).

That, my brothers and sisters, is “sound speech which cannot be condemned” or refuted by those in opposition. That is “sound speech” which brings healing and wholeness to ourselves and others. That is “sound speech” which edifies the hearers, and helps them to mature in Christ.

THOSE, my friends, are some of the major keys which constitute SOUND DOCTRINE.

In closing, please remember the times we are living in. It is of the utmost importance (a critical necessity) that we have SOUND doctrine with which to protect ourselves, AND to combat error and heresy:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

(2 Timothy 4:1-5, NKJV, emphasis mine)

I hope this article was clear and understandable, and proves to be helpful to many. Please feel free to post your comments below to discuss these points further. Please also tell others about it, to whom you feel that this article might be profitable.

Lastly: Are you interested in learning more about logic and biblical reasoning? Then let me recommend that you spend some time studying that particular sub-page of our new Recommendations section, which entitled Logic, Apologetics, and Evangelism.

Always in Jesus,