Tag: Axioms

Testable Doctrine – Pure Theory


All doctrine should be testable doctrine – with this one idea we can create an axiomatic faith.

What is an axiomatic faith?

Axiomatic means something that is self-evidently true. So a faith (or more accurately a doctrine) is one which by its own evidence is true.

I am going to add in one external axiom (unquestionable truth) that something can only be true if it is not false. I’ve talked before about the idea of agnosis – that we cannot know everything. This is an extension of that. Each doctrinal idea can be considered true (sound doctrine) only in the absence of evidence against it.

Think of axiomatic faith as the result of a court hearing. A single idea fails if the prosecution can provide reasonable doubt. Where there are competing doctrinal ideas only those ideas that are likely to be true on the balance of probabilities shall be taken as true. In other words, we seek a doctrine that is the least likely to be false or at least fatally flawed.

A scriptural basis for testing doctrines

In 1 John 4:1 we are urged to diligently test everything so as to avoid false prophets. 2 Peter 2:1 tells us to expect not just false prophets but false teachers too. Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says to test all prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:29 says that a few should speak and everyone else must weigh what is said.

Acts 17:11 holds those that check the scriptures to see if what they were told was true in very high regard. In a similar way, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns against believing things simply because we wish them to be true.

Tested as with fire

Each doctrine can be exposed to a number of testing fires. Each designed to ask the same question – is this a true (and sound) doctrine?

The fire of scripture

Using Axiom Zero – that scripture is good for establishing doctrine – the doctrine to be accepted must be the one with the best fit with scripture. That is to say, doctrine with the least scripture that could potentially contradict it.

One approach to applying this fire is to list all scriptural passages that address the topic of doctrine and then assess if that passage on its own (but within context) supports, is indifferent to, or disputes the doctrine. The doctrine with the best support and least conflict passes that test.

The fire of reason

This is an idea I first expressed when I introduced the Axioms of Faith. Having passed the test of being rooted strongly in scripture a doctrine must also be examined to see if it is reasonable.

This test acts as a check against concluding wildly irrational and foolish notions because they can be deduced from a specific reading of scripture. Established axioms can, therefore, be used as a reasoned test of doctrine.

The fire of existing doctrine

Doctrine can and perhaps should be tested against other doctrines. A doctrine that is internally consistent but at odds with other dearly held doctrines highlights only that one or more doctrines is in error.

Therefore, should a doctrine fail in this comparison, both doctrines must be re-examined. This cycle must continue until such time that all existing doctrine are consistent with each other.

Other reasonable tests

Other tests of doctrine, such as listed here, might include a comparison to the teachings of the early church, spiritual discernment, fruit, prayer, the origin of doctrine, relevance to spiritual growth, and comparison to long-standing traditions and practices of the church.

The ideal doctrine would pass through all these tests unscathed. At the very least, it should pass most and bring the remainder into reasoned testing.

Sola scriptura

The phrase sola scriptura literally means from scripture alone.

Specifically, sola scriptura is a doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. This is a touch more specific than I got with my zeroth axiom (which just states that scripture can be used to establish doctrine).

Sola scriptura is a formal principle of many Protestant denominations. It has been assumed in almost all that I have encountered. Charismatic churches seem to preach some variation of it.

Sola scriptura sits very happily with doctrines that ascribe infallibility to scripture. It is not the same as prima scriptura – which is that the scriptures come first and above all else.

Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Reformation held by the Reformers. The reformers taught that authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.

Sola scriptura and the Axioms of Faith.

As far as the axioms that I have published so far go, both sola scriptura and prima scriptura are compatible with the axioms. Axiom Zero assumes that one of the two is true.

Criticisms of sola scriptura

I don’t intend to get into one right now but I thought I would list some of the objections to sola scriptura.

Please correct me if I get any of these wrong.

One argument is that if scripture is seen as the only source of infallible teaching, its interpretation is subject to fallible interpretation. Generally, these arguments go on to state the need for an infallible interpreter in order to reach a certainty of Christian belief.

Sola scriptura can be argued to be self-referentially incoherent. The Bible itself does not specifically seem to teach sola scriptura. Therefore, the belief that the Scriptures are the only source of Christian belief is self-contradicting because it cannot be supported without extra-scriptural doctrine. (I hope I’ve presented that clearly enough).

Sola scriptura is not so different to the teachings of the Sadducees that held only to the written law and not the oral traditions. I’m not sure what sort of objection that is but I thought I would mention it. You might want to look at Karaite Judaism if this interests you as Karaite Judaism holds the Tanakh alone as its supreme authority in Halakha (Jewish religious law) and theology. I don’t know enough to say if Karaite Judaism and the Sadducees are the similar (or not).

I read about a writer called Dave Armstrong. Armstrong apparently made the point that, since Jesus and the Apostles acknowledge authoritative Jewish oral tradition, Christians cannot dispute oral tradition’s legitimacy and authority. However, as found in Scripture, Jesus also challenges some Jewish oral tradition. Therefore, Christians can dispute some of that tradition’s authority since they hold that Jesus’ authority is greater. The conclusion of total infallibility is therefore brought into question.

How I intend to use the phrase “sola scriptura”.

I’ve not really thought about using it but I think I might write about the differences between sola scriptura and prima scriptura and try to come down one way or the other. It is a big can of worms, as evidenced by the arguments against it. I might leave that topic for a while.


Agnosis is the first of the seven principles I listed in an essay I wrote called, “Travellers along the path of The Way of Yeshua”.

It comes from the Greek, and means literally “lacking knowledge”. ἀ- (a-, “without”, “lacking”) + γνῶσις (gnôsis, “knowledge”).

In my essay I wrote:

Man is ignorant and the full truth is inherently unknowable to us. All that we think we know is faulty due to our own limitations. Our own best knowledge, doctrines, and understanding are forever flawed and full of error. We seek to embrace metanoia – a change in our thinking – freely confessing our ignorance and, in doing so, we allow our nature to be changed into the nature of Yeshua.

The concept of agnosis is that there is simply so much that we do not know about The Father and about even ourselves. It follows that as we are finite and God is infinite that we cannot possibly know as He knows.

Many of the other principles flow from this one. Along with love, and trust in Yeshua, you could easily work out the others.

Embracing our own agnosis requires humility. Appreciating our own agnosis keeps us from being proud about what we do know. Agnosis keeps us open to learning from others. Which is why I recommend it for the Church of tomorrow.

Agnosis from the axioms of faith.

The principle of agnosis can be reached from the axioms of faith. The zeroth axiom states that all scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

  • Luke 10:21 and Matthew 11:25 show us that there are things that The Father has hidden from us.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.”
  • Romans 3:23 tells us that all have erred (sinned) and therefore we are flawed.

Scripture never asks us to understand everything, only to trust Father, and walk humbly in righteousness.

How I intend to use the words agnosis and agnosia.

Sparingly. However, when I do use these words it is always as a reminder (to myself) of the limits of human understanding.

Axiom zero: All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

For the purpose of this blog, we shall take as a given one single axiom. An axiom zero, if you will.

All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

This axiom is based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Everything else that I write here is based on the assumption that this is a self-evident truth.

By taking it as a given that scripture can be used to understand scripture and form doctrine we bypass a lot of logical and doctrinal gymnastics attempting to get ourselves to the same point. Or, in other words, you have to trust something and I am happy to trust scripture.

The Axioms of Faith

An enquiry into doctrine using both reasoning and scripture.

In an attempt to develop a clear and systematic understanding of scripture (internally and externally consistent) I have, over the years, found myself questioning and examining foundational principles of doctrine. With each re-evaluation, I have had to revisit many assumptions and found that while some doctrines were strengthened by this process others were fatally undermined.

This state of constant flux was no way to study.

I have found it useful to start from the very beginning, with few if any assumptions and build upwards from there. While I state that I am starting with only a single assumption (that scripture can be used for establishing doctrine, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) I have no doubt that I bring to this study my own theological and cultural assumptions (as anyone would).

What is an axiom and why would I want one?

An axiom is a statement that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy or question.

Well-founded doctrinal axioms are, therefore, useful tools for examining our faith and exposing our own flawed thinking and unreasoned assumptions. In this, establishing axioms – that is, points of agreement which are beyond question – we lay a foundation for a reasoned examination of scripture.

I am not interested in being right. I am interested in what is true.

When a doctrine is in conflict with a doctrinal axiom we must carefully consider if our axioms are flawed or if our doctrine is flawed. While it is technically possible to make great efforts to explain away the conflict with special cases and complex additional doctrines, what we are at risk of doing is simply saying that we are determined to be right regardless of what is true.

To avoid such proud attempts, the axioms presented here (in this blog) will be built carefully, one upon another. So that each branch grows from a good root. If you disagree with the case I make for a given axiom then you should reject it and all axioms that rest upon it.