Overview of Bible Study

Christian Doctrine


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Christian Doctrine

As churches grew, Christians began to ask questions about their faith. What exactly did Jesus say? Is it necessary for Christian gentiles to be circumcised? How should the Lord’s Supper be celebrated? How are church leaders to be chosen? What should be done about sin?

While the apostles were living, these questions were generally referred to them.

The apostles were always willing to teach, and to tell about the acts and words of Jesus, but as they died, a need arose for a more permanent record of their teachings.

Compiling the Bible Record

The Bible RecordAn obvious collection of writings to be included in the Christian Bible were the Old Testament manuscripts. By the end of the 1st century, the contents of the Old Testament were fixed as including the 39 books which we now have. A few others, known as the Deuterocanonical books, were accepted by some just as they are now accepted as a lesser authority by some Christian churches today.

As for the more recent writings, there was wide support for the inclusion of Paul’s letters and the four Gospels. Written by apostles, they represented a firsthand knowledge of the acts and words of Christ. Other writings were more controversial, with arguments over the letters of Jude, John, and Peter. Hebrews, James, and Revelation also required discussion. Some churches thought that other writings, such as The Shepherd of Hermas and the Letter of Barnabas, should be included, but eventually they settled on the New Testament as we know it today. We have no record of it before AD 369, but it represents a consensus of the writings whose authority stood out from the rest, that which had proven to clarify the doctrines of the church.

Threats to Basic Beliefs

The leaders of the Christian church saw a great need for a consensus on the books that make up Christian doctrine, as unorthodox beliefs were competing with orthodox faith.

The Gnostics, for example, rejected the Old Testament, claiming secret knowledge of God, humanity, and the rest of the universe of which the general Christian community was unaware, and which was only loosely based on accepted Scripture.

Another threat to orthodox Christianity came from Marcion, the son of a bishop. Marcion regarded the created world as evil. He rejected the Old Testament writings altogether, along with those New Testament writings that linked the New Testament promises with the God of Old Testament law. He reduced the words of the apostles to those which spoke only of the God of love, and the God of salvation. In some ways, the New Age teachings of today resemble that of Marcion.

Creeds and Councils

Over the years, statements began to emerge summing up the basic tenets of Christianity. In time, the early leaders of the church added to, modified, or explained these statements of faith.


Irenaeus came from Lyons in Gaul, which is present-day France. He spent much of his time defending the faith against such heresies as Gnosticism. He was careful always to base his arguments in Bible teaching, illuminating the core beliefs of the church.


By contrast, Tertullian came from Carthage in North Africa. Trained as a lawyer, he was able to present a clear defense of Origenhis beliefs. He rejected earlier attempts at making Christianity fit in with Greek philosophy.


Origen came from Alexandria, another center of Christian activity, but one where Greek thinking rivaled Christianity. A giant among intellectuals, Origen was responsible for introducing new ways of expressing Christian beliefs.

Church Councils

Next came a series of Church Councils, entrusted with the task of clearly expressing two paradoxes of the Christian faith:

  • There is one God, yet God has revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Christ has both a divine and a human nature, being both God and man.

Council of NicaeaIt took several meetings, and a lot of discussion, in order to come to anything resembling a consensus. Councils met at Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon between AD 325 and AD 451.

There was a lot to talk about. Critics have pointed to the fact that there is no direct reference to the Trinity in Scripture. Arius, once a student of Lucian, taught that the Son was subordinate to the Father. His opinions were hotly debated, and eventually rejected, at Nicaea.

Eventually, a consensus was formed around the following statement:

    We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
    The Son of God,
    begotten of the Father,
    only-begotten, that is, of the
    substance of the Father,
    God of Light,
    true God of true God,
    begotten not made,
    of one substance with the Father,
    through whom all things were made ...

The second problem was how to say at one and the same time that Jesus was fully man -- the figure from the Gospels who suffered, wept and died -- and fully God. This too, led to a long debate, and accusations of heresy, but finally they came up with a long, but precise, statement at the Council of Chalcedon, claiming Christ to be ...

    one and the same .. Son, Lord, Only-begotten,
    to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion,
    without change, without division, or without separation.













Overview of Bible Study