Q: #404. What is the difference between theology and doctrine?
By: Steve Shirley
A: There are websites out there that go into great detail on this subject, but this is going to be the simplified answer. Here is how I understand why theology is different from doctrine.
Theology comes from two Greek words "theos" meaning "God," and "logos" meaning "word." Therefore, it essentially, and primarily means "the word about God," or the more common definition is "the study of God." Theology, in general, is not necessarily confined to the "study of" the God of the Bible, but can also include the "god" or "gods" of other religions (a wider definition can also include the study of different religions, and incorporate such things as tradition, philosophy, logic, science, history, etc...). However, since this is a Christian website, we will confine this to "Christian Theology." Therefore, Christian Theology would be the "study of God" that is found in the Bible. This study would include all aspects of God, including such things as His: deity, nature, purpose, attributes, relationship to the world and other beings, and more.
Doctrine, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word "doctrina," meaning "teaching" or "instruction." This "teaching" or "instruction" can apply to a number of things, but again, we will look at it from a Christian viewpoint. The word "doctrine" is used 56 times in the Bible (51 in the New Testament). (The word "theology" is not used in the Bible.) Two Greek words are used for "doctrine" in the New Testament: "didaktos" and "didache." As with the Latin, both mean "teaching" or "instruction." Therefore, this would mean the teaching and instruction of God's Word (the Bible).
(2 Tim 3:16) says the Bible is "profitable for doctrine." In (Jn 7:16-17) Jesus said of the doctrine he taught, "... My doctrine (teaching) is not mine, but his that sent me. (17) If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine (teaching), whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
Of course, different people view and understand the Bible differently. Therefore, different people and different churches (religions) have differing doctrine. There is what are called "Essential Doctrines," and "Secondary Doctrines." Essential Doctrines are what ALL Christians MUST agree with and be united on. These would include such things as: the infallibility of God's Word, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, the Resurrection, and a few more things. (I list them them all here.) Secondary Doctrines are things on which Christians can differ, but do not have to divide over. Examples of this would be the meaning and importance of baptism, what spiritual gifts are for today, predestination, and eternal security or not.
However, there are also "doctrines" that are not found in the Bible, and run contrary to what is in it. These are "man-made," and "false doctrines." The Bible warns us to beware of false doctrine (Col 2:20-22)(2 Tim 4:3-4)(1 Tim 1:8-11)(Heb 13:9), and those who teach it (Mt 16:12)(Rom 16:17)(1 Tim 1:3)(1 Tim 4:1-2)(1 Tim 6:3-5)(2 Jn 1:9-10)(Mt 15:9)(Mk 7:7).
Unfortunately, some examples of these can be found within the Catholic Church. These include "doctrines" such things as Papal infallibility, purgatory, Mariolatry (the veneration and worship of Mary: i.e. making her sinless and a co-redeemer with Christ), and that there can be salvation and forgiveness through the sacraments. In fact, false doctrines are found throughout all false religions, i.e. Latter-day Saints, Jehovah Witnesses, and Islam to name a few.
Therefore, there is clearly a difference between theology and doctrine.