Confessing the Faith

Biblical Evidence for Doctrine and Confession of Faith

The topic of this paper is a Biblical justification for confessing the faith in private and corporate Christian life. Beyond the obvious fact that all have confessions and doctrine whether they know it or not, the Bible explicitly teaches us to formulate, trust in, and live by doctrine. Here is a defense of this thesis and catalogue of some verses on this topic.[1]

Doctrine is the use of human terms and learning in order to interpret, describe, define, and apply God’s revelation in Scripture. We need to reinterpret our views of all things in light of the way the Bible speaks. Nevertheless, we need to use human language in order to do that. The task then is to pour Biblical meanings into the human words used in these formulations.

We are here defending against Biblicism. Biblicism sounds like a great term, but the historical context from whence it comes is not Biblical. Throughout church history there have been some who tend toward the view of confessions and creeds encapsulated in the slogans, “no creed but Christ,” “it is not a religion, it is a relationship,” “deeds not creeds.” However, Christianity is most certainly is about creeds. There are two reasons for this. First, we need creeds. Second, the Bible teaches the church to formulate doctrine and creedal documents.

The Need for Creed:

First, we need creeds because they define terms biblically. The church has its own definitions of terms which are separate from the secular philosophers. Think for example of the distinction between the ancient Greek and Christian meanings of the term hypostasis or persona.[2]  If this is so, we have to define philosophical terms based on the way the Bible describes them.

The church has historically had to use pagan philosophical categories (or human language) in order to describe Biblical concepts accurately. However, very often, human language was limited by the meanings it carried in its contemporary context. For example, the church adopted the term homoousias to describe that the three subsistences of the Triune God share a common substance. This met with opposition from eastern delegates to the council of Nicaea because the term was interchangeable for the Greek term for subsistence (hypostasis). The eastern ministers eventually gave into the use of the term because it was properly reinterpreted with the Biblical definition of the person.[3] Letham quoted R.P.C. Hanson, who pointed out the irony of this use of language, “Tertullian may have certainly supplied the West with its Trinitarian vocabulary; he certainly did not supply the east with its Trinitarian Theology.”[4] Terms and meanings are not statically connected, but are changed through usage. Thus the church was able to use Tertullian’s accurate categories, yet not all of his theology.

So the church has historically used human language, Biblically defined, to describe Biblical beliefs. Of course, this is not without its problems. As Letham informed his readers, “The creed of Nicaea bequeathed to the church a lexical minefield that would cause many casualties in the decades ahead.”[5] Nevertheless, we are constrained to argue that the parent of heresy was not the categories but the pagan meaning poured into them. The daughter of careful theology is not always orthodoxy, but the daughter of ignorance is always heresy.

The real problem for Biblicism is that without standard definitions (which come from the Bible’s teachings) Biblicists inevitably will supplement the interpretation of scripture by way of the categories which they already know from secular/unbiblical sources. When the Bible uses the term spirit and soul, or mind and will, it must be interpreted in light of the context. But without this work of context and standardization of the meaning of terms from the Bible, one inevitably will define these terms, and others by humanistic contexts.

The Bible alone was the source of the Anabaptist theology which eventually led to the peasant uprising in the 1500s. A whole host of people today follow their footsteps, who say, “I am just reading my Bible.”  This has historically been the case. It makes sense logically that it would come about, since human language is not checked in light of Biblical contexts. Thus we should expect no different in the future from the no “creed but Christ” crowd in the future.

In a very prominent way, creedal formulation is the quest for context. It seeks the Biblical context by the various theological disciplines, exegetical, Biblical, and systematic theology. It also has the obstacle of the current context into which the creedal formula will communicate. The quest is to find terms that fit, or can be easily reinterpreted to fit, a given doctrine. The discipline of historical theology is one way to gain these contexts.

One common example of this is what inevitably occurs when at our Church we confess the Apostles’ Creed. There never ceases to be a line of visitors at our church waiting to ask the Pastor, “Why do you confess the catholic church if you are protestants?” The term means universal yet causes consternation because the contemporary manifestation of the Roman Catholic church is defined by the term Roman. This modifier of the term Catholic implies that there is one church, and it is in Rome alone. This was even more clearly stated in the Papal Bull, Unum Sanctum, which denies any other Christian church to be part of the catholic church, if they are not within the Roman Communion.[6]

Historically the catholicity of the church has been confessed, not because of initial unity of the church, though this was the case, but because of Biblical precedence. Ephesians 4:4-6 reads, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  (5)  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  (6)  one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” There can only be one church that is defined, not by the Papal Bishop of Rome, but by the Ministry of the Gospel, used by the Spirit, to gather one Body into trust in the one Faith, to the praise of one God. The term catholic historically means this Biblical principle, therefore the protestant church confesses it.

The Bible Teaches the Church to Confess the Faith

Second, we should not succumb to the fallacy that the Bible does not teach doctrine. We define doctrine as using human language to interpret, define, describe, and apply God’s speech. What came above demonstrates clearly that the Bible itself defined terms, confessed the faith, commanded adherence to, and practiced life on its basis.

Texts Historically Used for Doctrinal Formulations in Worship (besides the Psalter):

Doctrine is formulated, practiced, commanded in the Bible itself. Doctrinal formulation was practiced in the Bible. We see this for example in the texts used in the Covenant Renewal ceremonies. Deuteronomy 6:4 reads, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” This means, not simply that he is singular, but that he is the one and only God. Yahweh is the only true God. This is clear from the context. Idols are not only false God’s but they are not even living beings (Deut 4:28; 6:14). This creedal formulation tersely confessed that Yahweh was the only living and true God. More important for our thesis is the fact that it is a creedal to be confessed by the people. Creedal formulation did not begin with the Christian church, nor the New Testament, but in the Old Testament.  Further, Deuteronomy 6:6 reads, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” This referred to memorization of the words, specifically, the “Ten Words.” This creed is a summary of the larger creed, the Ten Commandments (Ex 20, Deut 5).  

Moses then taught the people to “teach them diligently to your children.” (Deut 6:6-7). This became and remained the practice of faithful Israelites down through the centuries. It is even assumed in the teaching methods of the Apostle Paul. He taught Timothy “the standard of sound words.” A similar phrase appears in Rom 2:20 where Paul talked about those who have the pattern of knowledge. This refers to knowledge which is learned in a certain pattern, e.g. a catechism.[7]  

Paul not only spoke about the practice of creating forms. He practiced them. This is clear from the “Trustworthy Statement(s)” in the Pastoral Epistles. For example, 1Timothy 1:15 reads, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” Also, 1Timothy 4:9-10 reads, “It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.  (10)  For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” Paul’s use of the “trustworthy statement” formula shows his practice of teaching by forms, i.e. creedal formulations.

There is evidence for other creedal forms in Paul’s writings. For example, Colossians 1:15-20 reads,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  (16)  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him.  (17)  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  (18)  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.  (19)  For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him,  (20)  and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”

This section of Scripture is evidently a creedal form regarding Jesus’ deity, work, and exultation.

Luke/Acts Described How the Gospel (a Doctrine) went to the ends of the earth. Luke was written for the sake of certainty of doctrine that had been taught to Theolphilus (Luke 1:4). Acts 15 and the Jerusalem council is evidence of the importance of doctrine. Acts 1:3, and 28:30-31, begins with Jesus and ends with Paul teaching the doctrine of the inauguration of the Kingdom.

Most importantly, the work of Christ was taught by the whole Old Testament and Jesus himself defined this practice of doctrinal formulation about the Son of God incarnate from the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Luke 24:25-27 said, “And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  (26)  “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”  (27) Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”  Thus, doctrinal formulation was not something originated out of thin air. Doctrinal formulation is something biblical and necessary for the Christian church.


 

Bibliography

Kirsch, Johann Peter. “Unum Sanctam.” No pages. Cited 03/15/2011. Online: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15126a.htm.

Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004.

Bauer, W., ed. A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Translated by F.W Danker, W.F. Arndt, and F.W. Gengrich. 1 vols. 4. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida, eds. Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2 vols. 2nd. New York, NY: United Bible Society, 1989.

 


 

Appendix: Doctrinally Oriented Texts

Texts which describe forming Doctrine

Pro 4:4  Then he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live;

Psa 19:7-12  The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.  (8)  The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.  (9)  The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.  (10)  They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.  (11)  Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.  (12)  Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.

Psa 119:102  I have not turned aside from Your ordinances, For You Yourself have taught me.

Texts which command holding to doctrine which is already standing

Deu 4:5  “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it.

Deu 6:8  “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.

Deu 11:18  “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.

Rev 7:3  saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.”

1Co 15:3-6  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  (4)  and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  (5)  and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (6)  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;

2Pe 1:12  Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.

Pro 23:23  Buy truth, and do not sell it, Get wisdom and instruction and understanding.

2Th 2:15  So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

2Ti 2:13-15  If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.  (14)  Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.  (15)  Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

Rev 3:3  ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

Especially for Elders and Deacons

Tit 1:9  holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

2Ti 2:2  The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Jud 1:3  Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Tit 2:1  But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine.

Tit 2:7-8  in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,  (8)  sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

Luk 1:1-4  Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us,  (2)  just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word,  (3)  it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;  (4)  so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.

Texts that describe how to learn doctrine

Pro 1:5  A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,

Pro 9:8-9  Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, Reprove a wise man and he will love you.  (9)  Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.

Rom 15:14-15  And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.  (15)  But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God,

Psa 119:11  Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You

Texts that describe those who remain ignorant

Eph 4:14  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

Heb 5:12  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

Text that describe heretics

Jer 32:33  “They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction.

1Ti 4:6  In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

1Ti 6:1-4  All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.  (2)  Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.  (3)  If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,  (4)  he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,

2Ti 4:3  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,

Tit 1:10-11  For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,  (11)  who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.

Act 18:28  for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

2Ti 2:25  with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,

Jud 1:16-18  These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.  (17)  But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ,  (18)  that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”

1Jn 2:21-24  I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.  (22)  Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.  (23)  Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.  (24)  As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.

Gal 1:8-9  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  (9)  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accurse


[1] This is not meant to be an exegetical argument, but simply an edifying catalogue of verses that teach the confession of faith from various angles.  See the Appendix below.

[2] See Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 89-184. Letham shows the historical development of the doctrine of the Triune God as it was apprehended by the early Church.

[3] Letham, The Holy Trinity, 119

[4] R.P.C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988), 184

[5] Letham, the Holy Trinity, 118

[6]   Johann Peter Kirsch, “Unum Sanctam,” n.p. [cited 03/15/2011]. Online: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15126a.htm.

[7] L&N 58.63, the term in 2Timothy I the context of pattern of sound words, means a model based off lager works. This is why the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Cattechism, and Canons of Dort are called together the Three Forms of Unity. The meaning of “form” goes back to this Greek context of patterned teaching. Paul evidently used it. For a similar meaning of Morphe see L&N 58:2, and the surrounding synonyms.

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