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I hear many people talking about “sound doctrine,” but they all seem to have different ideas about what it is. Every believer in Christ, regardless of persuasion, claims to have “sound doctrine.” Many of them are ready to denounce all others as heretics.


When we turn to Scripture, we find a definition of sound doctrine far different from those we hear from the most avid supporters of the need for sound doctrine.

The two Greek words translated sound in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, one a verb and the other an adjective from the same word family, are medical words.

The adjective, hugies, Thayer defines as “(1) sound, as of a man who is sound in body, (2) to make one whole, i.e. restore him to health, or (3) metaphorically, teaching which does not deviate from the truth.”

Similarly, the verb, hugiaino, he defines as “(1) to be sound, to be well, to be in good health; (2) metaphorically, (2a) of Christians whose opinions are free from any mixture of error, (2b) of one who keeps the graces and is strong.”

These two words appear seventeen times in the four Gospels and Acts, nine times in the Pastorals, and only once in the other epistles. That is in 3rd John 2 where John wrote, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”

This is typical the use of these words in the Gospels as well.

The man with a withered hand was made whole (hugies) in Matthew 12:13 (also Mark 3:5 & Luke 6:10). In Matthew 15:31 people were amazed when they saw a lame made well. In Acts 4:10, Peter said that it was by the name of Jesus that the crippled man was healed (NIV) or whole (KJV). Jesus said, “It is not the healthy [hugiaino] who need a doctor” (Luke 5:31). The centurion who had great faith found his servant well (Luke 7:10), and the Prodigal Son came home “safe and sound” (Luke 15:27).

John 5:1-15 uses the adjective seven times with reference to the man who had been lame thirty-eight years whom Jesus healed at the Pool of Bethesda. The various translations in the NIV are cured (v.4), get well (v.6), was cured (v.9), made well (v.11), was healed (v.13), you are well (v.14) and made well (v.15). This is the same man under consideration in John 7:23 where Jesus asked, “Why are you angry with me for healing the whole [i.e., entire] man on the Sabbath?”

The only other times either of these words appears in the New Testament are in the Pastorals. Hugies is there only once – in Titus 2:10 (sound speech). Hugiaino appears eight times: in 1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9 & Titus 2:1 (sound doctrine), 1 Timothy 6:3 (wholesome words), 2 Timothy 1:13 (sound words), Titus 1:13 (sound in faith), and Titus 2:2 (sound in faith, in love, and in patience).

The only places where the metaphorical meanings apply, according to Thayer’s definition, are in the Pastoral Epistles. I believe it is fair to say the metaphorical meaning there has a strong affinity to the literal meaning. In fact, the literal meaning of health applies here as well if we understand it to be spiritual health.


The word doctrine comes from the Greek word didaskalia, which is a derivative of didaskalos or teacher. Thayer defines didaskalia, as follows: “(1) teaching, instruction; (2) teaching – (2a) that which is taught, doctrine, (2b) teachings, precepts.” It can be either the act of teaching or the thing taught.

Teacher appears fifty-eight times in the New Testament, forty-nine of which are in the Gospels and Acts. Most of those refer to Jesus Himself. Of the nine times teacher is in the epistles, only three are in the Pastorals. Twice, Paul says he was appointed as a preacher, apostle, and teacher (1 Timothy 2:7 & 2 Timothy 1:11). Also in 2 Timothy 4:3, those who refuse to listen to sound doctrine heap up for themselves teachers who will scratch their itching ears.

Doctrine or teaching appears twenty-one times, fifteen of which are in the Pastorals. There we have sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9 & 2:1), things taught by demons (1 Timothy 4:1), and good [or beautiful] teaching (1 Timothy 4:6). Timothy is to give attention to… teaching (1 Timothy 4:13), take heed to yourself and your teaching (1 Timothy 4:16), and give double honor to elders who labor in preaching and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). Paul gives a plea for good behavior so that God’s name and our teaching not be blasphemed (1 Timothy 6:1), speaks again of my teaching (2 Timothy 3:10), and declares that all Scripture… is useful for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). He exhorts Titus to in teaching show integrity to be an example for the young men (Titus 2:7), and to teach slaves to live so as to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (Titus 2:10).

It is interesting that the NIV only translates this word as doctrine when it is sound doctrine. It makes me suspect that they preserved this familiar expression from the KJV, not because of the intrinsic meaning of the words but for its very familiarity.

Sound Doctrine

“Sound doctrine” literally means healthy teaching – that is spiritually healthy teaching. Some teaching is not healthy. At all periods of Greek history, from the most ancient through the New Testament period and the time of the early church, both words for healthy carried the idea of that which is balanced. If a man’s body was out of balance, the result was poor health. We have some measures of health today that operate on a similar principle.

Applying that to sound doctrine in the Pastorals, we see that teaching must be balanced to be healthy. Unbalanced teaching is not healthy.

In this series, we will look for what the Scripture has to say about what is healthy teaching. We will also look at what happens when teaching is not healthy. Jesus, speaking of false prophets, said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You will know them by their fruit.” Their teachings are not sound and do not result in healthy Christian character or in healthy churches. In looking at what is in Scripture about these, we will also apply this to Christian lives and to churches of today.

Since all of the occurrences of sound (except for its literal use) and most of the occurrences of doctrine are in the Pastorals, this series will mostly look at the teaching of these three epistles. When we understand the principles Paul presents for preachers in these books, we will understand what sound doctrine really means – and it will not be a “code” expression to talk about a particular set of beliefs or opinions about church organization, its membership, and its worship – though there will be implications for these things. Rather, we will discover that it is about the good news concerning Jesus, our relationship to God in Him, and life in the world that reflects the glory of God to those still in darkness.

NEXT (2): – What Makes For Healthy Teaching?

One Response

  1. I just received a comment from PHILOSOPHY WOMAN in the last few minutes asking me to email her as she had been trying to email me. I tried to email her and promptly deleted the comment, which would have appeared here.

    My email to her did not go through (apparently her computer and mine are not on speaking terms!). Now, I do not know how to contact her. So, Philosophy Woman, if you see this, please respond and I’ll not delete your message so quickly next time.

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